Two Epic Weeks in Brew Zealand – Part II: The North Island
In continuation of Part I, a detailed account of my adventure in craft beer on the North Island of New Zealand. For reference, a list of breweries provided by the Brewers Guild of New Zealand. A map of the purveyors of beer in New Zealand.
I arrived in Auckland, New Zealand’s most populous city, on Easter Sunday. With an entire day ahead, I jumped onboard the Waiheke Island Vineyard Hopper. The first stop, Wild on Waiheke, was a unique vineyard experience, offering patrons a diverse range of outdoor activities (archery, laser clayboard shooting, and gigantic chess) and the opportunity to sample beers from Waiheke Island Brewery. I enjoyed the Onetangi Dark Ale, a light, hoppy porter of 4.3% ABV. The Vineyard Hopper also made a stop at Charlie Farley’s, which has a selection of local beer on draft and a great view of Onetangi Beach.
After the Vineyard Hopper tour, I returned to Auckland and explored the town. I noticed a sign for The Brewery Britomart and peaked inside, hoping to find a pint of local craft beer. It appeared to be closed for renovations. After doing some research, I learned The Brewery Britomart was recently sold and will soon re-open as a modern style brewpub serving hand-crafted beer with food pairings. Other notable locations in Auckland include Brew on Quay (which has both U.S. and New Zealand craft beer on tap) and Galbraith’s Alehouse (a brewery serving their own beers, as well as amazing guest taps from local boutique breweries).
If you’re looking for Epic, you may want to try New World Market, as the brewery is not open to the public (although, hopefully this will change in the future as their diverse line-up of beers sets the perfect stage for a tasting room). Few breweries are open to the public in New Zealand, so if you want to visit a particular brewery on your travels, check ahead. I tried Epic Armageddon on draft, an American-style IPA made entirely with US hops, which I highly recommend as it is distributed to the US and Luke Nicholas is a talented brewer. Nicholas started out his career home brewing in New Zealand and while studying in California he was exposed to the craft beer scene, where his love of American hops began. Nicholas has collaborated with many well known breweries, including Thornbridge Brewery in the UK and Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery. Nicholas and Calagoine’s collaboration was featured on the Discovery Channel series Brew Masters, where the pair created a beer called Portamarillo, brewed with Pohutakawa wood-smoked Tamarillo fruit. Following the collaboration with Calagoine, in 2011 Nicholas chronicled his journey of visiting 44 breweries in 17 days while travelling in a camper van on NZ Craft Beer TV. If you have an interest in New Zealand beer, NZ Craft Beer TV a good way to see some of the breweries which are not open to the public. Given Nicholas’ background and reputation, I’m curious to see what he does next.
Next stop on the tour was a night in Rotorua, which locals have nicknamed “Roto-Vegas” due to the number of tourists visiting the area to experience the geothermal attractions, spa and wellness, and other unique outdoor activities (including Zorb). Upon arriving at my hotel, I noticed a sign for “Brew Craft Beer Pub”, home of Croucher Brewing Company and a coffee roastery. I enjoyed a pint of the Patriot, an American Black Ale, of 5.5% ABV, paired with a trio of handmade sausages. There were excellent guest beers available (Epic, Harrington’s) as well as a decent bottle selection. I returned the next morning with the hope of trying their coffee, however, I learned they open at 4pm, so I continued on my journey to the East.
A nearby attraction to Rotorua is Hobbiton, a set used for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and The Hobbit for The Shire scenes. As part of the tour, visitors can step inside the Green Dragon, an exact reproduction of the set featured in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and enjoy specialty brewed ales, including Girdley Fine Grain Amber Ale or Oakbarton Brew Traditional English Ale. The tour is 75 NZD for an adult and includes one complimentary drink.
I arrived around 5pm or so in Napier and noticed a hand-written sign proclaiming “many craft beers on tap” located in front of the Econo Lodge, looking sketchy yet inviting at the same time. The Econo Lodge had a number of drafts, primarily of local craft beer, and an interesting bottle list. The bartender recommended Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black, an award winning black IPA (some refer to it as a hoppy porter), which was rich, dark, fresh and delicious. I found the servers to be knowledgeable of craft beer, particularly the New Zealand beer.
I had read about Naturale on the Quay, a brewery known for serving small-batch, eclectic beers, including a manuka beer with no hops, but was disappointed that it had closed. This seemed to be very common over the past few years – breweries, pubs, and beer bars opening their doors and closing within a year or two, or if they are lucky, selling and reopening under new ownership (in Part III I will feature a brewery for sale on the South Island in case you are considering relocating). I’m not entirely sure what is causing the instability as it appears craft beer is becoming more popular in New Zealand. It could be that while craft beer is trending in certain areas (notably Wellington), the trend has not reached other areas where the availability of craft beer is limited, meaning the consumer has limited resources to learn about the beer. In addition, many of the breweries in New Zealand produce limited batches of beer, which may not be enough to supply the demand locally, let alone distribution to other parts of New Zealand.
One location in Hawke’s Bay that is attempting to supply the market with beer and educate the consumer is The Filter Room, offering a selection of 18 ales and ciders on draft. If you’re headed for Hastings, you may want to check out Rooster’s Brew House, a microbrewery tucked away in an industrial area. Lastly, if you’re headed to Wellington by car, you may want to visit Tui Brewery, known for their beer widely distributed throughout New Zealand and their “Yeah. Right.” advertisements.
WELLINGTON – NEW ZEALAND’S BEER CAPITAL
After driving from Hawke’s Bay, I arrived in Wellington around 8pm. I was very excited to arrive in Wellington, as it is known as the craft beer capital and includes an official Craft Beer Trail. As I approached my hotel I noticed a Yeastie Boys sign illuminating the dark alley (later, I discovered this was the Little Beer Quarter aka “LBQ”). I looked across the street and saw “Tap Haus”. Welcome to Wellington! After settling in, I had a snack accompanied by a beer at Fork & Brewer, then ventured to The Malt House, which surprisingly had many US beers available on draft and by the bottle – an excellent place if you’re a local beer geek in New Zealand looking for a worldwide selection.
There are many purveyors of craft beer in Wellington. My favorites include (1) Hashigo Zake, New Zealand’s most extensive beer list and an ever changing draft list (note that they sell bottles to go), (2) Little Beer Quarter aka “LBQ”, a boutique beer bar with a small, yet well selected draft list and considerable bottle selection, and (3) Rogue and Vagabond, Wellington’s newest craft beer bar with unique draft selections and live music regularly.
In addition to many craft beer bars, Wellington has a few breweries. My favorite brewery visit was Garage Project as they seemed to be doing exciting things with beer, including barrel aging (which is not too common in New Zealand). Garage Project’s Cellar Door offers beer available to go. I selected a 1/2 gallon flagon to go of Summer Sommer (7.7% ABV), a double summer ale brewed in collaboration with Kjetil Jikiun of Nøgne ø. Yeastie Boys is unfortunately not open to the public. Similar to Epic, I hope this changes in the near future. However, in the meantime, a few other breweries you can visit in Wellington are Black Dog, Fork & Brewer, and Parrot Dog, each ranging in size and offerings. Most of the breweries and craft beer bars in Wellington are within a 1 mile radius, so I recommend charting out your desired stops on a map and walking from location to location, which also provides an opportunity to see the city – don’t miss Cuba Street and if you like artisanally roasted coffee, be sure to check out Mojo (there is one next door to Fork & Brewer).
As Wellington offered an excellent selection of craft beer, I decided to hedge my bets and purchase a few bottles of beer to take to the South Island. Moore Wilson’s is an excellent place to purchase a variety of bottles at a good price – from the commonly available to the rare, hard to find. Be sure to wander over to the fresh food area where you can find delicious, artisan foods (I highly recommend the pastries). Another equally as good option to buy beer is Regional Wine and Spirits, where you can also fill a flagon to go. Regional Wine and Spirits had a selection of US beer on draft (to take to go) and in bottle. The Hop Garden, a craft beer bar and restaurant, is located one block down from Regional Wine and Spirits.
A few notable selections I tried in Wellington include:
- 8 Wired C4 Double Coffee Brown, an attempt to make the “greatest beverage in the world”. As a beer and coffee advocate, I was excited to find this ale. I really enjoyed it as it was a rather unique ale.
- Eagle vs Dog Episode 2 – Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, a delicious imperial brown ale. The experience of drinking this beer is like “having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick” according to the commercial description. Hopefully this will lead to an Episode 3.
- 8 Wired Grand Cru, a barrel-aged sour quad. I was lucky to find it on draft at Pomeroy’s and purchase a bottle at Moore Wilson’s. Interesting, complex and wild.
- Yeastie Boys Her Majesty, a “warming strong ale”, complex and smooth.
This ends my journey on the North Island. Time to hop on the ferry and head to the South Island, where 8 Wired, Moa and Renaissance are located. Part III: The South Island, to be continued…