Beer Reviews: 22 New Zealand Lagers

Little Empire Pearse’s Pilsner

Little Empire Brewery
0% Pilsener
Faintly hazed effervescent gold. Snappy noble hops give it a bright spice and lemon pith oiliness. Warm baked baguette pilsner malt is rich and hearty and intoxicating. Wonderfully balanced, luscious mouth presence, velvet softness. Medium body, prickly, grassy and pithy. Medium-low sweetness with quenching acid. Herbal and peppery with endless depth... it’s very obviously a Pilsner Urquell clone, easily one of the best I’ve had. Floral, rustic, expressive, superbly clean. Lovely in every way, really. Took me by surprise and I stayed around for three(!) pints of it. Very comforting beer with lemon-y Spalt accents on a strong Saaz pepper / spice / must core. Damn fine Pilsner.

Garage Project Pils ’n’ Thrills

Garage Project
5.5% Pilsener
Multiple pints on tap. Lightly hazed gold body with a short white head. Snazzy, snappy hop aroma: green, vegetal, peppery / spicy, Saaz-like in it’s cheesy mustiness and pithiness but more Spalt-like in it’s lemon juiciness (I have no idea what hops are used, they say all American). Luscious body, wonderfully soft malt, clean Pilsner malt biscuit / baked bread presentation. Lightly sweet, strongly hoppy but not strongly bitter. A lemon balm bomb of a hoppy Pilsner, not a touch of hop resin whatsoever, it’s expressive and clean and the soft carbonation and malt contrast well with the pithy, almost-bitter lemon and passion fruit character. Similar in appearance, body, aroma and flavor to Evil Twin Yellow Cab.

Liberty Halo Pilsner

Liberty Brewing Co
5.4% Pilsener
A juicy single-hopped New World Pilsner that shows well the Sauvignon Blanc character of Nelson hops. Toasty baked bread Pilsner malt with faint doughiness. Burnt pineapple, dry white wine, lemon zest and faint green onion hops. Medium-light body, lightly tart, bitterness moderated well by lightly-sweet malt. Frothy, fine carbonation and enjoyably soft malt contrast with an acidic washing of hop oils. Sparkling gold with noticeable chill haze, from bottle.

Schipper’s Mistress Pilsner

A stunning and flavorful zwickelpils with Saphir-like lemon, cheese and musty hop character, very Old World in nature but certainly New World in execution. Exceptionally soft malt combined with a touch of yeast in the bottle gives it a creamy and velvety body with matching softness from low natural carbonation. Take the lemon and peppercorn spice of Spalt and the nectar / juiciness of Hallertau, amp them up a few decibels, combine with that cheesy / musty Saphir character and here we go... lemon pith, dried citrus, faint tropical gum touches with a strong pepperiness like Tettnanger on steroids. First impression was surprise, Wakatu and Pacifica hops, I’ve never had a clear taste of them until now, but by the end of the bottle I’ve fallen in love. No resin, no Christmas tree, no onion, diesel, cat pee or vegetable root, these are the Kiwi hops that need more attention, and this brewer, only two years in business, has certainly got my attention. First 4.0-level beer of the New Zealand trip and I would be happy to drink nothing but this for the rest of my time here. Re-rate: first bottle at home has noticeable diacetyl, very yeasty, cooked / over-kilned grains and corn kernels... I’m stumped.

Galbraith Munich Lager

Far from a Helles, this is a hoppy and clean Pilsner showcasing bright German Spalt hops and toasty Czech pale malt. Lemon and lemongrass and spice, cut grass, touches of leafy greens and peppercorns... the hops are juicy and vibrant and oily and lip-smacking. Malt is toasty, cracker-like and lean, only a faint touch of raw barley malt showing through after it opens. Highly attenuated so it dries quickly in the finish as the bitterness adds to the perception of dryness. All the while the body holds up remarkably, it’s crisp, smacking, a little savory, the carbonation is low but soft... there are no flaws or faults, every component is expressed well and the integration is seamless. From bottle dated best by October 2014, so best guess is 2.5 months old.

Garage Project Hops on Pointe

Garage Project
6.7% Premium Lager
An unfiltered, sparkling, strong golden lager which has undergone secondary fermentation with Champagne yeast. From the bright tank it was highly gassy with a billowy white head. Champagne yeast is immediately evident with a strong calcium minerality and bright phenol profile, it’s airy, dusty, earthy but clean with developing floral perfume character. Wonderfully clean with high carbonation, soft malt texture, medium sweetness, medium bitterness with a rich, filling mouth feel. Nelson hops giving it that obligatory Sauvignon Blanc fruitiness with softer touches of dried grass and herbs. Well-made and interesting but novel; likable in small amounts.

Duncans Founders 1946 Pilsner

Lemon juice and zest, sweet tea (with lemon), lime meringue, dried grass, flowers, etc. Very fragrant beer and a joy to sniff, lots of fruit and flowers with no resin. Expressive malt sugar well matched with vibrant hoppiness, it’s bitter but remains lip smacking and quenching. Light touch of yeast softened the already-creamy Pilsner malt mouthfeel, and the pillowy carbonation adds to the enjoyment.. Not the most complex drinker but very easy to get into. From draft.

Queenstown Brewers Pilsner

Queenstown Brewers
5% Pilsener
Hazed lemon gold body with a short white head, this is a rare unfiltered Pilsner (Zwickl!) in New Zealand. Floral aroma of lemon and spice is much like German noble hops, but the yeast gives it an unpleasant banana ester odor, at a strength that’s really only seen in Hefeweizen and perhaps some American-made Belgian Ales/Saisons. The yeast doesn’t do much here other than muddle the nose, leaving it estery, banana-heavy and yogurt-like. Medium body, dry, a little tart, with an enjoyably creamy mouth feel. Banana, lemon, yeast and pithy bitterness in the finish. A bit of a mess given the yeast, and with a cleaner strain or perhaps light filtration it could be a low 4. Still the body is nice, making it one of the softer beers I’ve found while on travel in New Zealand. The pepper, grass, and lemon pith hop bitterness is the highlight, though it creeps over into astringent lemon peel territory at times. Quite good for a "ho-hum" beer served throughout Queenstown to people who are happy enough drinking Tui.

Hawkes Bay Pilsner

Draft at the Tap Haus in Wellington. Clear pale gold, effervescent with a white head. Quiet malty nose presents Pilsner malt well with a baked cracker and sourdough bread quality, mineral water and touches of sulfur and phosphorus and mild German noble hop spice and lemon. Medium body, lightly sweet, moderately bitter with lingering herb and dried grass in the finish. Very clean and the body has enough richness and succulence to work with the quiet lemon / spice hops. It’s not a game changer, but it is nice to see a clean and malty German-inspired Pilsner in the land of aggressively hopped NZ Pilsners.

Sawmill Pilsner

Sawmill Brewing Company
4.8% Pilsener
A soft-textured, strongly-hopped Pilsner with strong Nelson Sauvignon blanc wine notes to go with more subtle shallot and green onion. The malt is superbly soft and the nose very elegant with savory sea shell and brine notes. Mild sweetness, medium bitterness, strong hoppiness... this has potential if only the brewers would replace the Moasic (or whatever) with something more elegant like German noble hops, or a new world strain at least. Still, the brewer should be commended for a soft, elegant beer with a lot of upside. Lightly hazed gold with some sediment at the bottom. From 500ml bottle.

Bach Brewing Czechmate Pilsner

Bach Brewing Ltd
5% Czech Pilsner (Světlý)
Czech Saaz on steroids. Lemon balm, sulfur, herbs, grass, cheese rind and touches of BO, the Saaz character is powerful and may be the strongest I’ve experienced. Exceptionally soft malt is creamy, silky and velvety and delivers the strong spice, peppercorn, cheese rind must, lemon oil and herbs with prickly, lively acids... succulent and juicy and savory. I want to say the bitterness is extreme but I don’t find it overbearing, on the contrary I’m marveling... smacking and quenching, frothy and creamy, pithy and zesty and minerallic... very intense sensory experience contrasted with the softest malt core I’ve found in New Zealand. I went through the entire bottle waiting for hop fatigue to set in but I only found it more appealing. A few more of these to be sure. Update: second bottle was so-so... Re-update: third bottle was quite basic like a better version (clone) of Pilsner Urquell. Score lowered from 4.0 to 3.6.

Little Empire Beekeeper Golden Lager

Little Empire Brewery
5.2% Premium Lager
Baguette warmth in the nose. Soft malt, medium low sweetness, low bitterness and medium-low acid. Fluffy and fine carbonation. Savory pilsner malt is clean, soft and velvety. Flavor has mild cracker, baguette, lemon and pepper / spice. From draft at The Crown/Little Empire in Auckland.

The Twisted Hop Sauvin Pilsner

The Twisted Hop
5% Pilsener
Sauvignon Blanc wine, pear, mineral water, floral esters, burnt pineapple. Soft body, moderately bitter but strongly hoppy. Savory soft mouthfeel, fine carbonation, off dry with moderately strong acidity. Pretty one dimensional but I guess it’s supposed to be. So it’s wine-like in the nose with little malt appeal but it’s a better Nelson Sauvin presentation than most single hop pilsner tried in NZ. Good aromatic representation of the hop.

Emerson’s Pilsner

An assertively hoppy New World Pilsner showing Sauvignon Blanc and burnt tropical fruit notes with faint green onion and diesel fumes (in one bottle but not the other). Mild metallic and rusty mineral smell; slight burnt quality to the malt; floral, herbal hop aromas show through as it opens. Some gumminess. Semi-sweet, bitter, hoppy. Filling, frothing medium body provides a soft, quenching wash of acid across the palate. Clear amber-tinted effervescent gold body. Twice from fresh bottles.

Boundary Road The Chosen One

Mild nose of toasted grain, dough, french bread and honey with faint touches of calcium and sulfur and toasted corn kernels. Medium body, lightly sweet, low bitterness, syrupy / chewy texture in the finish. The malt is corn-like and has a distinct twang across the middle before breaking into a crisp, lip-smacking finish. It lacks the minerality of the Czech-style Pilsner and it’s malt-focused, as it should be, but the extraction isn’t as clean, giving it a twangy, almost plastic-like flavor. Clear rich gold with a fine-bubbled white head, from bottle.

Moa Original

Moa Brewing Company
5% Premium Lager
A clean, dry, hoppy lager that shows faint glimpses of the white wine character that Nelson Sauvin are known well for. The fruitiness comes across much like skinless pear, Chardonnay, bubble gum and such, with a pale malt cracker and toasted bread character. Medium-light body, medium sweetness in the approach, drying in a relatively bitter finish. It’s cleanly fermented and the hops are juicy but the malt expression is mild. There is a noticeable twang of corn syrup and the carbonation seems forced rather than natural, which gives it a coarseness not found in other Moa products. Clear gold with a small white head. From bottle.

Aotearoa Mata Hip-Hop NZ Pilsner

Aotearoa Breweries
5% Pilsener
A bright, snappy hoppy Pilsner that shows Kiwi hops well. Burnt pineapple, green onion, bubble gum and papaya hop aroma. Medium body, bright hop acids, smacking crispness, lots of green tropical fruit flavors, rind and skin-like, a lighter touch of green onion. Lean, lightly sweet, a bit oily in the finish. Quenching hop acids. Clear gold a short film of a head. From Bottle.

Tuatara Bohemian Pilsner

Tuatara Brewing Company
5% Czech Pilsner (Světlý)
Bottle. Oily lemon, musty cheese, dried grass and herb hops with baked cracker and toast pale malt character. It’s a clean aroma, and more interesting than their other products, doesn’t show off the green onion or chemical cleaner aroma found in many NZ-hopped beers. Tingly washing of acid across the tongue is quenching and satisfying. Light body, off-dry, medium bitterness, everything in balance. Easily the best thing I’ve had from Tuatara and the only one I found flavorful enough to drink an entire portion.

Three Boys Pils

Three Boys Brewery
5.5% Czech Pilsner (Světlý)
A quiet, hoppy and clean Pilsner with notes of sulfur, grass, herbs, spice / pepper, leafy greens, small touch of celery seed, that’s the Saaz for sure. Malt is a tad crude, cereal-like and grainy. Light body, creamy carbonation but peaked mouth feel that could use more firmness and presence. The Saaz are nice, there’s no obvious defects, t’s well-made and spicy and a little green. Not a game changer but altogether solid stuff. From draft at Andrew Andrew in Auckland.

Mussel Inn Golden Goose

The Mussel Inn
4% Premium Lager
New World Kiwi hops give it a citrus character that’s reminiscent of Cascade and Hallertau (orange gelatin candy, apricot nectar, lemon balm, pepper / spice, a little bit of cheese rind mustiness) while a quieter intrusion of Nelson / Motueka give it that burnt pineapple / papaya and green onion character. Malt sits in the background with a soft honey succulence. Body is savory and rich but malt texture is brash, which the rough carbonation amplifies. Medium+ bitterness, medium sweetness, prickly acids which combined with the harsh texture make a half-glass about all I can stand. Flavor and aroma-wise this might be a high 3 if the body were smoothed out. From draft.

Zeelandt Pilsner

Zeelandt Brewery
4.7% Pilsener
Quiet nose of lemon and lime noble hops, dough, sulfur, calcium, bit of soap and cheese rind. Medium to heavy bitterness, dry body. Starchy and husky malt texture with an unbaked bread flavor and accompanying doughiness. A restrained Pilsner with Saphir and Tettnanger-like hoppiness but seems to suffer from husky astringency and a silt and soap yeast presence. Hazed gold with a white head. From bottle.

Panhead Port Road Pilsner

Panhead Custom Ales
5.2% Pilsener
Draft at Hashigo Zake in Wellington. Clear gold with a small white head. Medium body, highly bitter, medium-low sweetness, strong hop acidity. Chardonnay, lemon pith, gas fumes, white onion, spearmint bubble gum. Clean and bright, hoppy for sure, a lot of late boil / flame out hop oils without overt bitterness. Nicely balanced with a full mouth presence and substantial juiciness, just not my favorite type of hops.
BJCP-certified beer judge, photographer, and software developer from Boulder, Colorado. I use this site to chronicle my worldwide beer adventures shared through photography and stories, with a focus on traditional old world brewing practices.

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