Two Epic Weeks in Brew Zealand – Part III: The South Island
In continuation of Part I and Part II, the final installment of my epic adventure in New Zealand (Brew Zealand), featuring craft beer on the South Island. For reference, a list of breweries provided by the Brewers Guild of New Zealand. A map of the purveyors of beer in New Zealand.
NELSON – New Zealand’s other craft beer capital
I arrived by ferry in Picton, a small town in the Marlborough region, the largest wine producing region in New Zealand. Marlborough produces world-class Sauvignon blanc, often attributed to the region’s “terroir” (the special set of characteristics unique to a region created by the interaction of the geography, geology and climate with plant genetics). The region also produces the Nelson Sauvin hop varietal known for its “crushed gooseberry” profile, a common descriptor used for Sauvignon blanc. If you want to sample the Nelson Sauvin hop, consider Alpine Beer Company’s “Nelson”, Mikkeller’s “Nelson Sauvin Brut”, or Widmer Brothers Brewing’s “Nelson Imperial IPA”.
In addition to world-class wineries, Marlborough is home to several breweries, many within the city of Nelson. Like Wellington, Nelson claims to be New Zealand’s craft beer capital, boasting an official craft beer trail. Unfortunately I did not have time for Nelson, so my travels took me to Blenheim, the most populated town in the Marlborough region. Blenheim offers locals a few notable craft brewery options, including 8 Wired, Moa and Renaissance. Moa is a nice place to stop in and taste beer as the Cellar Door is located in a historic home in the middle of a vineyard, although the variety of beer available to taste on draft when I visited was limited to their standard offerings (all of which I have seen in the US). I purchased a bottle of Moa’s Imperial Stout Aged in Pinot Barrels and St. Josephs to enjoy later on my journey, as I was certain the variety of beer would be limited in Fiordland. I have seen the Moa brand prominently featured on store shelves in my neighborhood (San Francisco) in a 4-pack box featuring various historical boxing figures, intending to show Moa’s support for the New Zealand Olympic team as the team’s official beer sponsor. In speaking with a few “kiwis” (New Zealand natives), Moa is beer made for and marketed to Americans. While I wasn’t sure what to think of this statement initially, Moa is one of New Zealand’s largest exporters of beer to the US. Unlike the extinct flightless bird it is named after, the brewery packs a lot of punch – the brand is backed by New Zealand entrepreneur Geoff Ross, who sold 42 Below, the controversial vodka brand, to Bicardi for a sum of $138 million in 2006. In 2012, the award-winning brewery raised $16 million through an IPO, some of which will be used to expand the brewery and increase production. With a focus on both the New Zealand and offshore markets, it will be interesting to see how Moa evolves over the next few years.
Continuing on the trail, 8 Wired and Renaissance are also located in Blenheim. 8 Wired is contract brewed at Renaissance, and the range of beers from both breweries are available next door at the Dodson Street Beer Garden. The 8 Wired’s brewer, Søren Eriksen, formerly worked as a brewer for Renaissance. Like Moa, you may have seen some of his beers in the US, including Hopwired IPA, Rewired Brown Ale, Saison Sauvin (a saison featuring the Nelson Sauvin hop) and iStout. However, while all of these are excellent beers, the real gem is 8 Wired’s Grand Cru, an exceptional barrel-aged sour quad. As mentioned in my last article, I found a bottle at Moore Wilson’s and on draft at Pomeroy’s (in Christchurch). If you’re a hop head, you may want to seek out 8 Wired’s Superconductor Double IPA. Another exceptional beer I had the opportunity to taste was the C4 Double Coffee Brown (found in Wellington), an attempt by Eriksen to make the “greatest beverage in the world” by combining his two favorite beverages. As a beer and coffee advocate, I am always excited when I see a marriage of the two (which is rooted in my Portland origins, home to Stumptown and many incredible breweries). In sampling Renaissance’s beers, I can see where Eriksen developed his talent. I especially enjoyed the Stonecutter Scotch ale and Elemental porter. Along my journey I also found a bottle of Renaissance’s Great Punkin, a beer in the “Enlightenment Range”, a series of limited release, one-off collaboration brews or experiments. The Dodson Street Beer Garden is a relaxing haven to sample both 8 Wired and Renaissance beers, with lots of indoor and outdoor seating.
I arrived at Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island, in the evening, which was difficult to navigate as many of the streets were barricaded. Cones and flashing lights redirected traffic away from the city center, where the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes devastated the city. After seeing rooftops laying on the ground from walls collapsing, deteriorating building frames hanging on for dear life, and huge piles of rubble encasing the devastation, I needed a beer. Pomeroy’s, a historic brewery inn, is one location which survived the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes and provides the people of Christchurch with hope in the form of delicious craft beer. Pomeroy’s offers 24 drafts of some of the best beer New Zealand has to offer. As the Pomeroy’s have a good relationship with many of the local brewers, you are likely to see a rare keg available on draft.
Christchurch is also home to Harrington’s, one of New Zealand’s larger breweries. Harrington’s brews a large variety of beers, including “classic beers” of 4% ABV, “premium beers” of 5% ABV, “strong beers” for the “conditioned palette”, “low strength” beers for the “conscientious drinker”, and the Brewers Selection, specially selected beers from the master brewers. As I have a specially conditioned palette, I tried the Baltic-Ler porter and Big John Special Reserve, both beers were interesting, medium bodied and tasty. For the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans, Harrington’s brewed special beers exclusively for the series so actors could perform while drinking an authentic looking beverage. The special beers are available to the public, including Sobering Thought and Hobbit Stout Lite, each a 1% ABV dark beer. Harrington’s can be found at many locations throughout New Zealand, including their 6 bottle shops in Christchurch, 2 bars in Christchurch, Harrington’s Beer Cafe in Nelson, and Harrington’s Bar in Blenheim. The brewery also offers tours to larger groups (15-25 people).
If you happen to visit the West side of the South Island, Monteith’s Brewing Company recently opened a beautiful new facility, featuring brewery tours and an airy, open space to watch the brewing process while sampling beer. If your travels do not take you through Greymouth, Monteith’s is widely distributed and commonly available throughout New Zealand. I ordered a bottle of the Barrel Aged Porter from the Brewer’s Series and a pint of the Black Beer, both were enjoyable. Monteith’s also sells awesome brewery memorabilia, like the Monteith’s Country tee featuring the brewery’s slogan. As my weakness is glassware, I went with a souvenir pint, which is actually not a pint by any standard as the size varies throughout New Zealand, rather a large glass of 560 milliliters (close to an imperial pint).
Wanaka is home to one of New Zealand’s pioneer breweries, Wanaka Beerworks, located in the same building as the Toy and Transport Museum. Owners Dave and Sue De Vylder purchased the brewery a few years ago and expanded the line-up to include many seasonal offerings, such as Jay Cee, an amber triple; Oompa Loopma, a golden double; Monk, a dark malty ale; and Zar, a Russian imperial stout. I was delighted to visit the brewery and taste a variety of the beers, all were interesting and a refreshing stray from the traditional 4-5% beers common in New Zealand. During my visit I was served by the brew master, Dave, as he was brewing a batch of beer. While I was impressed with the brewery, I was disappointed to hear it is currently is for sale.
If you are looking to purchase bottles in Wanaka, in addition to a New World Market there is a wine and spirits store with a decent selection of local New Zealand craft beer located at 24 Dungarvon Street.
END OF AN EPIC JOURNEY
After spending two epic weeks in New Zealand, I felt so grateful to experience the beer industry as craft beer is just starting to become major trend. The diverse range of enthusiastic, eclectic brewers each offered a unique and memorable experience. I am excited to see how the industry will unfold over the next few years, defining craft beer standards and possibly even a standard measurement for the pint. I am curious to see what will influence and drive the beer culture in New Zealand, as well as what role the US beer industry will play.
Luckily you don’t have to fly to New Zealand to experience the beer scene. I recommend picking up a bottle of 8 Wired, Epic, Moa or Yeastie Boys and watching New Zealand Craft Beer TV. Cheers mates!