The revival of the traditional Kiwi beer

by Neil Miller / 08 February, 2018
Brought to you by the Brewers Association of New Zealand

Bottoms up!

Classic Kiwi lagers make a comeback as a voluntary labelling system responds to buyer demand for nutritional information.

The Kiwi beer scene is ablaze with new and often outrageous beer styles - pale ales made with lemongrass, Vietnamese mint and chilli, sour beers brewed with sea water and berries, and dark porters featuring whole coconuts roasted in the oven of the local pizzeria. For the record, these beers do exist.

Sometimes though, the beers of old retain their charm.

In America, Pabst Blue Label - better known as PBR - has become a hipster drink of choice, after decades of being considered distinctly uncool and often regarded as “your dad’s beer”. It’s a simple and uncomplicated light lager, which a new generation of drinkers is beginning to appreciate again. They are realising that a beer can just be a beer - it doesn’t have to change the world or torment your taste buds.

In New Zealand, retro brands such as Double Brown and Lion Red are making comebacks to rival Sir Paul McCartney’s recent stellar visit to New Zealand. Double Brown is a classic New Zealand draught beer - some sweet caramel and nuttiness before a bitter finish. Lion Red (or Leon Rouge, as it was called where I grew up on the mean streets of Tawa) was an early New Zealand lager - dry, crisp and clean.

When I was playing cricket, my team was firmly divided into the Lion Brown camp and the Tui camp. Both are New Zealand draught beers, with Lion Brown slightly sweeter and Tui slightly more bitter. The joy of a shared jug of Tui or Double Brown while watching the Ashes cricket in a pub continues all these years later. The fact that I have a proper Tui couch and a Tui television set indicate which side of that particular debate I was on, back in the day.

These four kinda-hip-again beers have something very new in common, something I would not have expected in my younger days. Each can or bottle displays full nutritional information for all the beers.

They are part of “Beer: The Beautiful Truth” campaign, a voluntary labelling system supported by the two biggest breweries. Around two-thirds of all beers sold in New Zealand now have the standardised nutritional information panels. “Beer: The Beautiful Truth” was launched largely in response to Colmar Brunton polling showing that 75 percent of Kiwis would like to know exactly what’s in their beer. That figure is even higher for women. The campaign is open to all breweries in New Zealand.

It’s truly a new world out there, but sometimes it pays to kick it old school.

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