Visit to New Zealand Pilsner


New Zealand Pilsner has become both a gateway beer and a fall-back favorite. Many New Zealand brewers make one as standard and it’s the country’s unique entry in beer’s style guide, where it takes a body of pale malts and uses lots of the fruity local Kiwi hop varieties to give their famously tropical aromas.

Visit to New Zealand Pilsner Photo Gallery

In flavor, these beers are not exact Pilsner clones; hops aside, the base brews are different from their European cousins. In New Zealand Pilsners you get a richer malt base, cookies, and some tangy, chewy grains, rounder but still firm and without chubby sweetness—they’re often closer to a Kölsch or Golden Ale than the snap of a German Pils or the caramels of a Czech Pilsner. But it’s the hops that make these beers special, giving the grape, gooseberry, tropical fruits, lime, passion fruit, and ripe stone-fruit qualities of Kiwi varieties to add a distinct local accent. It’s the combination of clean, rich, pale malts, gentle lager fermentation, and super-fruity hops that make this a favorite Kiwi beer style.

One of the reasons these beers work so well is the parentage of the hops, with many of the lushest, fruitiest hops being bred from European noble hops: Motueka and Riwaka are the daughters of Saaz, while Wakatu, Wai-iti, Kohatu, and Pacifica are bred from Hallertau. The cross-breeds, plus the growing conditions, have allowed these varieties to take on extremely fruity, tropical aromatics, while retaining the kind of clean, focused bitterness of noble hops.

While traveling around the country, I tried to drink as many NZ Pilsners as possible, loving the mix of the lager base brew with the lushness of the hops. I loved Emerson’s Pilsner (see post 191), which is the original of the style. Other great examples include Tuatara’s Mot Eureka, brewed with a few hop varieties that are all grown in Motueka; Panhead’s Port Road Pils was a glass of passion fruit juice with a spritz of Sauvignon Blanc; and Hop Federation, brewed in Riwaka with Riwaka, Motueka, and Nelson Sauvin hops, was mangoes, tropical fruits, and juicy oranges, and, while it veers toward Pale Ale, the taut body pulls it into the shape of a Pilsner.

Just like the locals would say, “The New Zealand Pilsner is Kiwi-as.”

Three great New Zealand Pilsners. They really do deserve more exposure outside of their home territory. If you see one of these bottles, buy it.

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