Gone are the days of beers to swill, we take a look at what’s on tap.

The trend of beer drinkers turning to craft beer has meant a whole new nomenclature to get used to, but also a subtle change in culture.

Many bars now serve craft beers or at least big brewery imitation-craft beers, such as Crafty Beggars, Boundary Road, or Monteiths. Where previously we had draught beers now we have a variety of styles: from pilsners to chocolate oatmeal stouts to mango, chilli, and Vietnamese mint pale ales… walking into a bar can get very confusing.

There are also a few things that you should know as a consumer when it comes to the new beer market. Do you actually know what’s in the beer you’re drinking? What size drink will you get and how many of those high strength beers can you drink before you’re over the limit?

Styles of beer

It can be confusing with established beer styles being made alongside rediscovered older styles and new styles being invented. We’ve listed a number of popular styles to give you an idea of what to expect. We’ve also given a good example of the style that you might find in your supermarket or bottle store, based on the 2014 Brewer’s Guild award winners.

Lagers and pilsners

Lagers and pilsners are lighter beers made with different yeast to ales. Lagers tend to be crisper while pilsners have a softer flavour. Most mass marketed beers are lagers. If you haven’t tried a craft beer, this is the style to start with.

Why don’t you try: Galbraith's Munich Lager; Garage Project’s Beer; Sawmill Brewing’s The Doctor.

Pale ales

Pale ales are light coloured beers with a good amount of hop bitterness. There is a big range of pale ales, most with regional variations. British Pale Ales tend to be maltier with less harsh bitterness than other pale ale styles. American Pale Ales (APAs) have big hop flavours often described as “pine resin”. India Pale Ales (IPAs) are also known to be hoppy and nicely bitter, but without the dark resin flavour. New Zealand Pale Ales (NZPAs) are a newish style made using New Zealand hops that tend to give a nice “tropical” fruity hop bitterness to the beer.

Why don’t you try: Tuatara American Pale Ale; Tuatara Aotearoa Pale Ale; ParrotDog Bloody Dingo; Panhead Custom Ales Vindicator; Behemoth Brewing Chur NZ Pale Ale.

Wheat beers

Wheat beers are another style with a wide variety of versions, though they are far subtler than pale ales and all are brewed with wheat instead of a percentage of malt. Wheat beer flavours can range from citrus and coriander to banana. They also tend to be cloudier than other styles and softer on the palate.

Why don’t you try: Tuatara Hefe; Mac’s Great White.

Stouts and porters

Stouts and porters are dark beers with strong malt flavours. Often they will have notes of coffee and dark toast. Generally these darker beers have a higher alcohol percentage. In recent years some brewers have experimented with creating hoppy stouts and porters.

Why don’t you try: Garage Project Baltic Porter; Three Boys Brewery Oyster Stout; Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black.

Sour beers

Sour beers are pretty new to the New Zealand market. Sours can be made in a wide variety of styles. The most common are very light with strong citrusy sour flavours and usually less than 4% abv (alcohol by volume). Other, less common, sours are made by barrel-aging. These tend to be darker with a stronger flavour and much higher alcohol content. These barrel-aged beers are also perfect for aging at home like wine.

Why don’t you try: Townshend Brewery Flemish Stout; Hallertau Funkonnay.

Imperial beers

Imperial beers are larger sized beers made in various styles, but most often found as stouts. They average around 8-9% but can get upwards of 15%.

Why don’t you try: As there aren’t many imperial beers made as part of a regular line-up, we suggest you just check your local bar.

Consumer issues

Styles

The words "East India Pale Ale" adorn every bottle of Tui. It's a throwback to the original strong and bitter beer called Wagstaff's IPA, but the current version of Tui is a pale lager. The claim is reiterated on the Tui website (“This rather traditional IPA by modern standards…”). With the influx of new craft beers and all of the new popular styles this can be incredibly confusing to consumers not to mention a potential breach of the Fair Trading Act. We asked DB to comment but got no response.

DB also produces beer in its Monteith’s range marketed as a Radler. A traditional Radler is a low alcohol light beer with lemon-lime flavour added meant as a refreshing drink. Monteith’s version is 5% abv, much higher than any drinker would be expecting.

Labelling

The Reinheitsgebot, also known as the German Beer Purity Law, set beer ingredients in 16th century Germany to only include malt, hops and water (it was written before yeast was known as an ingredient). However, these days brewers are adding all kinds of interesting ingredients from chilli and chocolate to seaweed and ewe’s milk.

These new ingredients have the potential to set off a number of allergies. Annoyingly many beer labels do not list the ingredients. Milk stouts, for example, use lactose as a sugar as it’s not eaten by the yeast, but many milk stouts are not described as such. Nor are the ingredients listed.

Pint size

Unlike the UK, there is no official measure of a pint in New Zealand. In fact the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment advise that: “The use of Imperial measures (eg, 'pint') for trade is illegal, so avoid using this term.” Most New Zealand bars use a 425-473ml glass closer to the American pint than the Imperial. So if you go into a bar and ask for a pint, know that it is only a colloquial term here and you cannot expect a larger size.

With the increase in higher alcohol beers, more bars are offering half pints. These glasses can range in size from 250-300ml and offer consumers more choice in how they’re drinking.

Standard drinks

A standard drink is defined as the amount of alcohol the average person can process in an hour. So if a beer is listed as 1.5 standard drinks, that means you have roughly an hour and half before your body has processed that drink. Of course while standard drinks are a good guide, it will change slightly depending on your height, weight, age and health. But if you aren’t sure of what the standard drink measurement is then you can use this formula:

[drink volume in litres] x [%abv] x 0.789 = [standard drinks]

(abv is alcohol by volume)

So 500ml of 5% beer is: 0.5 x 5 x 0.789 = 1.97 standard drinks. This is a good number to have in mind while drinking as most beers hover around the 5% mark. If you were drinking the same amount of a 10% abv Imperial stout this number rises to 4 standard drinks. This is why half pints are a good idea.

Brewing at home

Home brewing is going through a renaissance in New Zealand as better beers and better brewing supplies have become available. We took a look at 7 brewing kits, from supermarket level can kits through to more complex kits that require extra hops.