Why Are New Zealand Hops so Good in Lagers?

Words & Photo - Matthew Curtis

This is my third trip to New Zealand and it began in pretty much the same way as the last two – sipping beers on the deck as we fight off the grip of jetlag around our eyeballs.

The first beer of this trip was a Pilsner from The Sawmill Brewery, based in Matakana, near the top of New Zealand’s North Island. A mere stones throw from where we're staying. It was as crisp and refreshing as any good Pilsner should be, but with a body buoyed by flavours of passion fruit and gooseberry, with hints of white pepper and spice in the finish also adding a complimentary note. It was a world away from the ubiquitous NZ draught I was drinking on my first visit to the country back in 2011. 

After a few more Sawmill Pilsners and a few beers with similar characteristics from other New Zealand breweries such as Tuatara and Panhead I began to consider just how well the local hops lend themselves to lager brewing. British hops are too earthy and spicy to really compliment this style, they lack the finesse of European noble varieties such as Saaz. I enjoy US hopped lagers, especially the boisterously hopped India Pale Lagers such as Lost and Grounded’s Running with Sceptres. However, when US hops are involved they often tend to dominate proceedings. They do it well but when used in this style of brewing cannot match the subtlety of a noble hopped lager, no matter how delicately they might be used.

New Zealand hops, on the other hand, seem to compliment a lager perfectly, much in the same way that noble hops do. The fruit is omnipresent but never overpowers and the spice in the finish works in much the same way as the “green”, herbaceous snap of hops does in my favourite European lagers. Maybe its because their flavour is so similar to the grape varieties grown nearby or maybe there’s no reason at all, they just work.

Either way, I’d like to see a lot more brewers playing with New Zealand hops in lagers because it’s something I’d like to drink a lot more of. It's a shame that their high demand makes them difficult for many brewers to get hold of.