Globe-trottin' hops

Nelson Sauvin and Motueka return to New Zealand in liquid form

Possible evidence of New Zealand's fondness for San Diego beer: At Hashigo Zake, Wellington's leading craft beer hub, the wifi password has been set to moderntimes.
  • Possible evidence of New Zealand's fondness for San Diego beer: At Hashigo Zake, Wellington's leading craft beer hub, the wifi password has been set to moderntimes.

Coronado Brewing Company announced it would begin distributing its Stingray IPA globally in January, shipping to six countries, including New Zealand. Among the four varieties of hops contributing to the IPA's tropical fruit flavors is Southern Cross, itself of New Zealand origins.

Thanks to distinctive flavors they add to beer, Kiwi hops have become popular among U.S. craft brewers and enthusiasts in recent years. Varietals such as Nelson Sauvin and Motueka are rapidly becoming part of the American beer drinker's vernacular. So, how are San Diego beers brewed with these hops received in New Zealand?

"At most, people find it amusing," says Garth Peterson, a Chicago native who owns the Canterbury bottle shop known as the Beer Library. "Hops have been shipped from [New Zealand], across the Pacific, turned into beer, and then shipped back across the Pacific."

However, there's still an appetite for American beers, in general.

"Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin is a top seller for us, not just among our imports, but out of all of our beers. Modern Times does very well, too."

He adds that West Coast IPAs have been particularly influential to the Kiwi craft scene, which seems to be the consensus among NZ craft professionals, who agree New Zealand is about five years behind the U.S., craft-beer-wise, but catching up.

"Since around 2005 there has been a renaissance in craft-beer brewing," says Adrian Hills, who acquired Dunedin bottle shop Henry's with his wife last April. "Within the space of a few years New Zealand now boasts over 130 breweries."

Hills points to Ballast Point, Coronado, Green Flash, and "the wonderfully titled Iron Fist" as big San Diego draws in his shop: "These breweries have gained a very loyal and ever-increasing following." However, he adds, they usually run about $15 to $25 per bottle.

A key exporter of these San Diego brands is Global Craft Trading, which has distributed to New Zealand since 2012. Cofounder Chris Roberts says the combination of taxes, a weak Kiwi dollar, and local competition means American brands aren't likely to reap a huge profit from sending beer that way.

"Nothing is ever going to do phenomenal," he points out. "It's a very small market with a ton of domestic craft, so you're never going to see large numbers."

On the import side, he works with NZ company Beer Without Borders, owned by Dominic Kelly, credited with establishing the Kiwi craft market when he opened his Wellington bar named Hashigo Zake.

"Our biggest brand here is Ballast Point," he says. “Their combination of having a great flagship beer [Sculpin], quality, diversity, frequent experimentation, and solid branding adds up to a really compelling offering."

And, since most New Zealand ales feature all Kiwi hops, newer American flavors are prized down there. "We've done a couple of small shipments of Karl Strauss and their Mosaic Session Ale should do really well once we bring it in regularly," says Kelly. "No New Zealand brewer seems to be regularly brewing with Mosaic [hops] yet."

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