Does Australia or New Zealand brew better beer?

The selection of Aussie and New Zealand brews put to the test.
The selection of Aussie and New Zealand brews put to the test.  

Relaxing with a beer in front of the cricket is a treasured pastime on both sides of the ditch. But all neighbourly bonds will be set aside this week when Australia and New Zealand go head to head in the Cricket World Cup.

I was recently made aware of another classic trans-Tasman battle that's been heating up in recent years. I was gently sledging a proud Kiwi about the upcoming game when he hit back at me. "You might win the cricket, but at least we make better beer."

Ouch. But his hypothesis surely needed some testing. And as we're quite fond of trans-Tasman rivalries here at Executive Style, an experiment was obviously necessary. So I visited some local breweries, brew pubs and bottle shops to consult the experts, and realised that the most scientific way to test the premise was a simple blind tasting with some proper beer folk.

After organising the judging panel, I consulted the highly regarded Purvis Beer store in Melbourne's east to help me figure out which Aussie and Kiwi brews would best suit the occasion. We tried to choose beers that were similar in style, flavour and production, but that still asked some interesting questions of both industries.

I presented the tasting panel with each round blind and asked them to select a preference instead of awarding points (the Australian International Beer Awards is a few months away if you'd like something more rigorous).The panel was encouraged to think about which beer engaged them more, what they'd recommend, and what they'd regularly like to drink.

Round 1: Popular lagers

Victoria Bitter (AU) v Steinlager Pure (NZ)

First up, I thought it'd be fun to see how these two popular beers stacked up against each other in a blind tasting. When approaching the VB, Miro Bellini, beer ambassador and co-founder of the Good Beer Week festival, found salty peanuts on the nose and biscuits on the palate. Others got wet cardboard, a light bitterness, and a dry, short finish. Most found it pleasant, quaffable, but boring.

New Zealand's main export beer fared slightly better. John Cope-Williams, certified beer judge and importer of some top New Zealand beers, found the Steinlager quite creamy, with some grassy and citrus notes. "A good lawn mowing beer," he said.

The other judges sided with the Steinlager, and the Kiwi's off to a bright start.

Round 2: Ale

Feral Hop Hog (AU) v Panhead XPA (NZ)

The confusion around beer styles was a big talking point during the tasting. The Hop Hog, one of Australia's most lauded beers, has never fit neatly into a style category. And while we thought the Panhead XPA (extra pale ale) would match up nicely to the Hop Hog, it probably suffered from being a bit lighter and less full bodied.

As a result, when tasting them blind Toby Martin from The Local Taphouse was won over by the bolder, dryer length of the Hop Hog and its tropical, spicy notes.

In the end, the rest agreed, and Feral edged out the Panhead to even things up.

Round 3: Porter

Red Duck Porter (AU) v Tuatara Porter (NZ)

Porter can be traced back to the very beginnings of the two colonies, and the dark beers from these two proud breweries are based on the London porter style.

Anders Norman, brewer at Temple Brewing Company, was swayed by the stewed fruit, chocolate and slight hop aroma of the Tuatara. While Miro Bellini warmed to the Red Duck's cherry ripe and dried fruit characters on the nose, and its softness across the palate.

The judges were evenly split on the porters though, and the score remained even.

Round 4: Experimental

Moon Dog Bad Boy Bubbly (AU) v Yeastie Boys The Sly Persuader (NZ)

These two breweries often ask questions about what beer is, and what it can be. The Bad Boy Bubbly by Moon Dog uses a champagne yeast and a few other tricks to create something that pours more like a sparkling wine than a beer. Toying with a similar idea, Yeastie Boys' The Sly Persuader adds a wine-derived candi-sugar and uses Nelson Sauvin hops to give a Sauvignon Blanc character. Sounds like satire, doesn't it?

Yet we all had a lot of fun with these wacky brews. Toby Martin thought the Moon Dog would be perfect for wine drinkers who don't like beer. "That's the kind of beer I want behind the bar when someone says I only drink white wine," he said.

But John Cope-Williams found the Moon Dog a bit too sweet, and preferred the light, buttery, slight yeasty character of The Sly Persuader.

The results fell towards the Bad Boy Bubbly. Our panel felt it was a great example of how far you could to take the concept of beer, pushing Australia ahead.

Round 5: IPA

Kaiju! Metamorphosis IPA (AU) v 8 Wired Hopwired IPA (NZ)

Our seasoned judges enjoyed this match up the most. The Hopwired is uniquely Kiwi, using 100 per cent New Zealand hops and locally grown pale ale malt, while the Kaiju! team is often credited with producing some of Australia's hoppiest brews.

Half of our beer nuts went for the Hopwired, preferring its fresh, floral, lychee flavours, and long lasting bitterness, while the other half preferred the Metamorphosis and its rich, hoppy, malty booziness.

And that's that, a draw here meant that the Aussies unconvincingly held on to the slightest of wins.

Verdict

Hundreds of different beers - including pilsners, pale ales, session ales, wheat beers, etc - could have easily replaced the brews we selected, such is the growth of the brewing industries in Australia and New Zealand.

Kiwi brewers in particular have led the way in pushing the boundaries in this part of the world, as Cope-Williams pointed out: "Many Kiwi brewers stuck their necks out a lot earlier than the Aussies, and tested what the market really wanted, instead of just producing a beer that was going to sell."

The success of New Zealand's hop growers also gave the industry a significant advantage, added Miro Bellini. "Their whole supply chain is so strong. It's like a chef using fantastic ingredients; amazing hops make any brewer excited."

Our curious little tasting shows that Australian brewers are right there with them. Brewers from both countries are pushing each other forward, and we can continue to expect more unique, quality beer into the future.

What's your favourite local beer, and why? 

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