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With so many great local breweries now in New Zealand, who do you trust to make the best craft beer that’s reliably tasty and of high quality?

The New World Beer and Cider Awards are a great starting place. Each year we select the top-30 beers, plus the top-100 highly commended. 

But there are some breweries who regularly come to the party with beer that the New World judges love. Here are the best of the best. 

8 Wired

Warkworth-based brainchild of Soren Eriksen who started brewing when his wife Monique gave him a homebrew kit for Christmas. He learned his trade at Renaissance in Blenheim where he moonlighted to create 8 Wired. Eriksen parlayed his winnings as New Zealand poker champion into one of New Zealand’s unique breweries, specialising in sour, barrel-aged and fruit-influenced beers such as his vintage Wild Feijoa Ale and Cucumber Hippy.

 

2020 Top 30 award-winning beers

 
8 Wired iStout Renaissance Elemental Porter Kererū Night Spirit Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout Sunshine Brewing Stout


Bach Brewing

Craig Cooper was part of NZ’s early craft beer revolution in the late 1990s with Limburg in Hawke’s Bay. After that, brewer Chris O’Leary headed to Dunedin to join Emerson’s and Cooper headed overseas to learn more about the beer business. On his return he launched Bach Brewing, initially using some old Limburg recipes. With his beach-themed labels Bach has carved out a niche, producing a range of excellent hop-driven beers.

 

2020 Top 30 award-winning beers

Bach Brewing JUICY AF


Behemoth

Former lawyer turned homebrewer Andrew Childs, set up Behemoth on the back of a home brew competition, where he created the delightfully named Celia Wade-Brown Ale in honour of the woman who was mayor of wellington at the time. Punny names, a fascination with TV shows and movies plus an easily recognised logo known as Churly are iconic, but Behemoth’s strength is a fast-moving creativity and some brilliant, hazy IPAs.

 

2020 Top 30 award-winning beers

Behemoth Me Time Mosaic Hazy IPA


Boneface

Like so many good brewers, Matt Dainty learned his craft at Renaissance in Blenheim before moving to Upper Hutt to work at Panhead Custom Ales. In 2017 he and his wife Selena branched out on their own with a sci-fi themed brand with a back-story set on the planet Hoptron (The Planet of the Hops). Boneface produces a tight but varied core range featuring hoppy, sour and malty beers with distinctive branding and bold flavours.



Brave

Former national home brew champion Matt Smith has gradually stepped his way up from a small garage operation to become a major player in the Hawke’s Bay craft beer scene. His beers consistently win medals at the highest level and he found national recognition with his People’s Pils in the 2020 New World Beer and Cider Awards.

2020 Top 30 award-winning beers:

Brave Brewing Co The People's Pils


Deep Creek

Deep Creek started life as a quaint seaside brew pub in Auckland’s Browns Bay and soon grew too big to be contained in the small suburban footprint, so they moved up to a major production brewery in Silverdale. Deep Creek won Champion International Small Brewery at the Australian International Beer Awards in 2017 and consistently bag medals for their beers. On top of their core range they explore other beer flavours through their various ‘Projects’ – with their hazy and fruited sour beers reliably good.



Emerson’s

Richard Emerson, who was born deaf, believes he has an enhanced sense of smell and that’s truly validated by the beers he creates in his home town of Dunedin. Emerson’s beers are classical, driven by a passion for European styles but often with a Kiwi twist. Their Bookbinder English-style bitter is the epitome of drinkability while Emerson’s Pilsner is a landmark beer – defining the style now known as New Zealand Pilsner. Today they make modern pale ales, hazies and sours – all with a dedication to quality first.



Epic

Luke Nicholas went from avid homebrewer to professional brewer by volunteering his services at the old – but not forgotten – Cock & Bull chain of brewpubs in Auckland. When he eventually worked his way up to head brewer he immediately changed the recipes to reflect his love of American hops. When the chance came to start a separate brand for packaged beer Nicholas took the reins at Epic and proceeded to lead the charge towards American-style hoppy beers. If one brewery rewrote the drinking agenda in the early 21st century; it was Epic and their hop-driven beers.

2020 Top 30 award-winning beers:

Epic Shotgun XPA Epic Hopshine Pale Ale


Garage Project

Famously set-up in an old church, St George’s in Hamilton, Good George has grown into one of New Zealand’s most recognised brands. There are two major bars in Auckland and many more through the Waikato and Bay of Plenty. 

Good George was the brainchild of a group of friends who, after years working in hospitality and brewing, decided it was time to create their own craft beer brand.  International Beer Judge Brian Watson was so impressed with the concept that he asked if he could brew beer for them.   

They’ve been a brewer ever since marrying beer and great dining experiences, producing some of New Zealand’s tastiest pale ales.

2020 Top 30 award-winning beers:

Garage Project Fresh IPA 2020 Garage Project Electric Dry Hop Acid Test


Good George

Famously set-up in an old church, St George’s in Hamilton, Good George has grown into one of New Zealand’s most recognised brands with two major bars in Auckland and many more through the Waikato and Bay of Plenty. The outfit was a joint venture between brewer Brian Watson and hospitality group xxxx. They’ve married beer and great dining experiences as well as producing some of New Zealand’s tastiest pale ales.

2020 Top 30 award-winning beers:
Good George APA Good George Passionfruit Cider


Kereru

One of the collection of breweries in the Upper Hutt, collectively known as Brewtown, Kereru was the original in the area. Owner-brewer Chris Mills creates an eclectic range of beers from the classical to the inventively spiced and fruited, including some of New Zealand’s most complex barrel-aged beer. Kereru was a pioneer of gluten-free beer with Auro and have recently released a gluten-free pale ale, Apex.



Liberty

Joe Wood is one of the more outrageous characters in New Zealand brewing and that’s reflected in his bold, hop-driven beers. Wood and his wife Christina run Liberty as a family business based in Helensville, west Auckland, after starting as a classic garage microbrewery in New Plymouth when they were also running Liberty home brew supplies. Wood’s range of IPAs – Kush, Knife Party, Sauvin Bomb and the hugely popular C!tra – define the craft beer category in New Zealand.



McLeod's

What started out as a small brewery attached to a pizza restaurant in Waipu, two hours north of Auckland, has bloomed into an award-winning brewery in its own right (although the Pizza Barn restaurant is definitely worth a visit). The arrival of brewer Jason Bathgate – from Renaissance via 8 Wired – lifted the beer quality to truly world class. Originally from Vermont, USA, the spiritual home of hazy IPA, it’s no surprise Bathgate also makes some of the best unfiltered IPAs in New Zealand. His sour and barrel-aged programme has a great repertoire too.

2020 Top 30 award-winning beers:
McLeod's Great Migration IPA McLeod's Longboarder Lager


Panhead Custom Ales

Panhead became symbolic of the potential within New Zealand’s craft beer scene after Lion paid $15m upfront (with another $10m to be paid over four years) for a brand that had only been in existence for three years. It all had to do with the power of the petrol-head brand created by Mike Neilson – he even set it up in an old Dunlop tyre factory to double down on the theme. The beers were the driving force behind the brand – including the uber-popular Supercharger American Pale Ale, which broke down barriers across demographics to bring craft beer to a wider audience. Other hop-driven stars in the Panhead garage include Port Road Pils and Quickchange XPA.

2020 Top 30 award-winning beers:

Panhead The Vandal NZIPA Panhead Port Rd Pilsner


Parrotdog

A charming story of three guys called Matt, a parrot called Schmee and a beer named Bitterbitch (the original brew was extremely bitter and a bitch to brew) propelled Parrotdog to fandom at Beervana in 2012. After setting up in Vivian St in central Wellington, the Matts – Warner, Kristofski and Stevens – raised a scarcely believable $2m in crowd-funding to build a new brewery, taproom and bar in Lyall Bay and they continue to forge an independent path. Well-designed beers, simple but attractive packaging and a genuine “nice” vibe defines the brand.

2020 Top 30 award-winning beers:

Parrotdog Falcon


Sawmill

Sawmill Brewery started life attached to a café and bar of the same name in Leigh, a quaint fishing village just over an hour north of Auckland. The original beers were good, but nothing to write home about. When owners Mike Sutherland and Kirsty McKay bought the brewery as a separate entity and from the café and forged a new identity in nearby Matakana, the beers really blossomed as did the packaging. Sawmill are strong on hop-forward styles but are equally well known for their malty beers such as the iconic doppelbock, The Doctor, and the fabulously lush Baltic Porter.

2020 Top 30 award-winning beers:

Sawmill Pilsner


Sprig & Fern

Founder Tracy Banner has long been hailed as the mother of craft brewing in New Zealand. She learned her trade in England and then in New Zealand for Mac’s in Nelson and Speight’s in Dunedin before returning to Nelson to buy Sprig & Fern. They make reliably good beer, often traditional European and British styles such as their gorgeous Scotch Ale – a regular in the New World Beer and Cider Awards Top-30. A chain of pubs under the Sprig & Fern banner make this one of New Zealand’s most visible suburban Breweries.

2020 Top 30 award-winning beers:

Sprig & Fern Scotch Ale


Sunshine

An original New Zealand craft brewery having been set up in 1989. Famed for their Gisborne Gold lager which changed the way Wellington students drank in the 1990s, Sunshine were in the advance guard of the craft beer revolution in the capital. The brewery was sold in 2013 and one of the original owners has passed away. But the operation is in good hands with brewer Dave Huff creating brilliantly modern beers.

2020 Top 30 award-winning beers:

Sunshine Brewing Stout Sunshine Brewing Summer Ale


Three Boys

A Christchurch institution founded by Ralph Bungard, Three Boys is a flag-bearer for locals. They are staunchly and proudly Cantabrian and parochial South Islanders. Their array of eclectic beers continue to glean awards but they are best known for a couple of more exotic styles – their famed Oyster Stout is an annual release made with Bluff oysters, and their Wheat beer is a benchmark for the classic European style.

2020 Top 30 award-winning beers:

Sprig & Fern Scotch Ale


Tuatara

One of the Kiwi craft originals, Tuatara was started by brewer Carl Vasta in the hills above Waikanae on the Kapiti Coast. One thing that set Tuatara apart in the early days was their distinctive textured bottles designed to resemble the skin of a Tuatara. The brand’s strong popularity made it a target for a buy-out and in 2017 DB jumped in to buy them. The brewery is now located in Paraparaumu.

 

Click here to see Top 100 beers and ciders
2020 New World Beer & Cider Awards 


 

About the author

 

Michael Donaldson is one of New Zealand’s most renowned beer writers and was named Beer Writer of the Year by the Brewers Guild of New Zealand for a third time in 2018. He has been the Chair of Judges for the New World Beer & Cider Awards since 2016.

His writing appears in North & South, The New Zealand Herald, Stuff and Drinksbiz. He is also the editor of The Pursuit of Hoppiness magazine published by the Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA).

He is the author of New Zealand's definitive beer history Beer Nation - the Art and Heart of Kiwi Beer as well as The Big Book of Home Brew: a Kiwi Guide and The Hopfather, the biography of Emerson's founder Richard Emerson.