Some of my top 10 for 2021 is going to be reflective of the Brewers Guild Awards, since reviewing the trophy winners for Pursuit of Hoppiness gave me access and insight into those beers, as well as leaving them fresh in my mind. But as ever there’s the overlooked, the underappreciated and the releases that were just special to me for some reason or another. Just 10 picks are never enough to give a year in beer its full due, but here’s my attempt to capture it nonetheless.
10: Speights: Mid Ale
One that really grew on me this year. A light beer (almost) with real malt character that reminded me just how much like drinking soda-water most light lager is. The hot days have really started to kick in down here in Christchurch, and ripping an extra-cold one of these out of the fridge and destroying it in about sixty seconds is a profoundly satisfying experience on a thirty degree day.
9: Garage Project ‘Proper Crisp’ Potato IPA
Although this one might be in the naughty corner for its category shirking shenanigans at the awards (Champion Pale Ale), I can’t fault the beer in the slightest. The brightest of bright IPAs, superbly clean-drinking with an absolute clarity of flavour.
8: Urbanaut ‘Small Can’ range
No other series of releases has kept me so consistently engaged as what Urbanaut are doing with their tiny (250ml) cans, and they’ve somehow managed to keep up the pace with them this year. Fresh, unusual, unexpected and often ridiculously strong, these tiny cans are a godsend for people like me who are perpetually on the hunt for new flavours.
7: Stoke ‘Legacy’ West Coast IPA
Although it may not be out to win any trophies like some other beers on this list, this ‘ordinary’ West Coast IPA is both soundly brewed and staggeringly well-priced, proving that the point of diminishing returns in the price of craft beer kicks in far earlier than than the producers selling $11 cans might want us to think.
6: Panhead ‘Sandman’ Hazy Pale Ale
A hazy that aims for (and resolutely achieves) consistency and drinkability rather than juice-bomb shock value. I ended up drinking quite a lot of this due to being rather over-supplied with pre-release samples, and it really grew on me in a way that no hazy has done before. I’m taking it as a good sign the New Zealand hazy style is finally beginning to resolve and mature beyond the aforementioned juice-bombs that kicked it off.
5: Garage Project ‘Chance Luck & Magic’ Barrel Aged Spontaneous
More special than this beer itself (and it’s a pretty damned special beer) was what it pulled off at the awards. The first gueuze-style to win a trophy in the European Ale category, blowing open the doors for this fantastically exciting yet critically underappreciated style of beer to get the recognition it deserves.
4: Wilderness ‘Felicity’ Barrel Aged Spontaneous
Which brings me straight to my next pick. It may have been the might of GP that broke open the category this year, but there’s incredible spontaneous beers being brewed all over the country if you look. ‘Felicity’ from Wilderness is one of them, and for my pick it’s an even better beer.
3: Emporium ‘Cultured Left Foot’ ESB
I don’t get the reference in the name and I’m not even going to look it up (it’s probably soccer). That’s not what’s important. What’s important is that a few brewers are still (occasionally) producing examples of the critically endangered English styles like this ESB. They’re all important, this one just happened to be hands down the best ESB I’ve tried all year.
2: Hop Federation ‘Green Limousine’ Fresh Hop IPA
This was an absolutely cracking year for fresh hop beers, with a huge number produced as well as some of the best releases. Green Limousine from Hop Fed was my pick of the bunch this year, and I damn near tried them all (you can find my top-10 elsewhere below). Just an incredible parade of the most gorgeous New Zealand hop flavours I have tasted in some time.
1: Burkes ‘Unforgiven’ Porter
The beer that saw me drive all the way to Tekapo just to taste it. The Brewers Guild Awards supreme champion beer, and without a doubt one of the most superlatively good ‘straight’ porters ever brewed in the country. Just profoundly good stuff.