I was born in Germany, where I grew up and spent most of my adult life. Consequently, Germany was also the place where my taste buds got introduced to beer. After an epic journey trying various German beer styles Pilsner was one of my favorites.
Fast forward to the year 2007. I had moved to New Zealand and arrived in a country whose beer offerings was dominated by a brewery duopoly. These two breweries produced various beers, most of which tasted almost identical (to my Germanic taste buds they did not taste like beer at all). I almost got the impression that they were following 3 or 4 recipes and just changed the labels on the bottles/kegs to market them in different regions across New Zealand. Well, I might do them injustice but nothing tasted anywhere close to a German beer and the flavour was miles from my beloved Pilsner.
Then I discovered Emerson’s Pilsner and shortly after Tuatara Pilsner and my belief in New Zealand brewing was restored. Back then these beers were my gateway to the growing craft beer scene. Fast forward again: over the past 10 or so years I have turned into a full on ‘hop head’ who cannot get enough of the savoury bitterness of NZ IPA, West Cost IPA and all the other great beers now brewed in New Zealand.
I do not miss German beers anymore (although the odd Pilsner or Hefeweizen/Kristallweizen will always have a place in my heart).
And this is where my ambiguous relationship with Zeelandt might have its roots.
Zeelandt Brewery specializes in brewing German beer styles. Beers I thought I had grown out of.
“Jerry Rig Helles is our best-selling beer by far,” says Chris Barber, brewer and owner of Zeelandt. “It’s a classic style Munich Lager, which will probably bring back memories to some who visited the Hofbräuhaus on a holiday or during their OE. It is very easy on the palate and my experience is that it often is a gateway beer to New Zealand craft for people that are used to drinking green bottled international lagers.”
Barber’s fondness of brewing German style beers started during his own travels around Europe. “I like the simple but balanced flavour profile. I prefer to sip my wine but skull my beer. I don’t want beer to challenge my taste buds, but I want something flavourful to drink — hence European and mainly German styles tick those boxes for me.”
That affinity for German — and more so Bavarian — beers has, over time, “worked out to be a niche market that suits us well,” Barber says.
“We sell a fair share of our beers to restaurants both on taps as well as in bottles. I guess diners who do not want a glass of wine with their meal also do not want a hop dominant IPA to overpower their palate. This is where our classic European beer styles show their strength. Jerry Rig Helles, our Good Thief Pilsner or for example the Four Stoke Pacific Pale Ale are brewed to have enough refreshing savouriness without being one-dimensionally over hopped or malty.”
Where Barber gets me, and my reminiscence of my German beer heritage is when he and his team venture for seasonal or special releases. Brünhilde’s Fate is a Rauchbier (= smoked beer) that Zeelandt brewed in collaboration with Small Gods in Auckland and is a great example of the style. “I will not go as far as to compare it with the Rauchbier brewed by the Bavarian masters,” Barber admits, “but the team at Schlenkerla Brewery in Bavaria had several hundred years of tweaking the recipe to get their brew to another level.”
Another seasonal release that is not covered by many other brewers in New Zealand is Zeelandt’s annual Oktoberfestbier called Revelry. A very easy drinking beer — and if you have been to the beer fest in Munich you will know what I mean.
To stay with the Bavarian beer styles Barber has also brew various versions of wheat beer. Their Hefeweizen (a classic unfiltered wheat with slight hints of banana flavour) or the Dunkelweizen (using darker malts giving the brew a more earthy feel) are a great thirst quencher on a hot summer’s day.
I personally could not wait to see Zeelandt’s Altbier back on the brew list. Barber’s version of the amber-coloured pale ale, originating from the Rhineland region around the city of Düsseldorf, is the closest Zeelandt has brought me back to my early drinking years. I had my fingers crossed that it was available in time for the grand opening of the new tap room (which opened its doors in the week before Christmas) — and so it was.
The taproom is a long-awaited addition to the Hawke’s Bay beer scene.
“Well, we had the idea to build a tap room and restaurant with on-license for quite some time. We got serious on it just before the pandemic hit —so congratulations to us for the impeccable timing,” Barber says with a laugh.
“The build got delayed multiple times due to lockdowns, material delays and resource constraints but we finally opened in time for the summer season. The venue is called Cone & Flower and although it is sort of an extension to our brewery right in the Esk Valley it is not just about our beer. The garden bar/cellar door concept will also offer wines from my family’s Petane winery which is only a stone’s throw down the road. Probably a bit of ‘best of both worlds’ some could say.”