Craft Beer in New Zealand
Over the past couple of decades, New Zealand, like the other “new world” countries, has undergone a beer revolution. From being dominated by a small number (two, to be precise) of large corporate breweries making, for the most part, bland and uninteresting beer, New Zealand has seen an explosion of micro or craft breweries producing all manner of beer varieties to suit the most sophisticated of tastes.
If you are a beer drinker, a visit to Aotearoa would not be complete without sampling some of these delightful offerings - and you should have no trouble finding a good selection at many bars, cafes, restaurant, bottle shops and even supermarkets. But if you have a bit more time and want to get the real New Zealand craft beer experience, why not visit some of these breweries in person? Just as wineries have become tourist oases with award-winning restaurants and relaxing pastoral settings, many microbreweries also reward the curious - and thirsty - tourist. Here are just some of the craft breweries you can visit in New Zealand. Cheers!
New Zealand’s largest city has a number of craft breweries worth squeezing into a busy day’s itinerary. Galbraith’s Alehouse is a beautiful English-style pub on the edge of the central city which pours a number of their own European-style beers along with other microbrews and a tasty selection of food, from bar snacks to full meals. Just a couple of blocks down the street you can find Brothers Brewery and Juke Joint, a cool urban craft brewery that also serves southern-style BBQ.
A little further afield, Hallertau Brewery and Restaurant, at Riverhead, a twenty minute drive west of downtown Auckland, is well worth a visit. They offer a dozen or so of their own beers alongside high-quality food, much of it sourced from their own kitchen garden.
Another brewery worth a day trip from Auckland city is Waiheke Island Brewery, part of the Wild on Waiheke vineyard/restaurant/brewery. Sample one of the brewery’s four beers, or try their cider or non-alcoholic ginger beer. Order some food and, while you wait, enjoy the beautiful vineyard setting or discover your inner archer at their archery range!
You can wet your craft beer whistle across from Auckland on the Coromandel peninsula, too. In the seaside town of Hahei, you can try Coromandel Brewing Company’s British-style ales and other brews at the Pour House. Not far away in Whenuakite you can visit a converted farm, now a holiday park, restaurant and Hot Water Brewing Company for good food and award-winning beer.
Elsewhere in the North Island, you’ll find tasty craft beers made by adventure-loving natives in the country’s mountain-biking capital of Rotorua at Brew, Croucher Brewing’s brewpub, and you can find another branch of the same establishment in Tauranga.
Another family-owned brewery is Aotearoa Breweries in the small Bay of Plenty timber town of Kawerau. They make their Mata brand beer with water from a deep ancient bore and offer such peculiarly New Zealand offerings as the Taniwha, which imparts the smoky flavour of a hangi (a Maori pit oven) and the Frisky Feijoa, a fruit beer made with the green fruit which is ubiquitous in parts of NZ in the late summer time.
Further down the east coast, in Gisborne, visit one of the country’s oldest microbreweries, Sunshine Brewery, whose signature lager, Gisborne Gold (affectionately known by all as “Gizzy Gold”!) has been enjoyed by beer lovers since 1989. The brewery has broadened it’s offering since then so that it offers about a dozen “Project” beers in addition to its three “Heritage” brews.
Across on the other side of the island, in the small Taranaki town of Urenui, Mike’s brewery lays claim to be the oldest operating craft brewer in the country - they also made their first beer in 1989, and their Mike’s Mild has been a staple drink for beer lovers for decades. In keeping with the bigger demand and wider palate of the country’s beer drinkers, Mike’s now also offers a vast range of styles, from sour beer to stout. They’re open every day of the week for pizza and beer or just to pick up a few flagons as you swing by on your road trip.
New Zealand’s capital city can also make a very good claim to be the capital of the craft brewing industry. One internationally-acclaimed producer of innovative brews is the Garage Project. Their taproom on Aro Street offers 19 taps and two cask lines. Pencil in an afternoon and probably an evening, too. Another well-respected producer of delicious craft beers is Tuatara - their beers are easy to spot in bottles that are textured like their namesake reptile’s scales. Visit them at their brewery up the coast from Wellington in Paraparaumu or at their “Temple of Taste” in Te Aro in the central city, The Third Eye. Their beers really hold up.
In the South Island, Nelson can also lay claim to having a special place in the history of NZ craft brewing. Here you will find McCashin’s brewery, run by the people who brought you Mac’s beers - probably the country’s most successful microbrewery before they were bought by Lion. Mac’s is not what it once was but, thankfully, McCashin’s produces the excellent Stoke beers and Rochdale ciders to continue their tradition of craft brewing excellence. You can visit their kitchen and bar or take a full tour of the brewery to learn about the its rich history. Over the Takaka Hill in Golden Bay, you will find the esteemed Mussel Inn - a pub, restaurant and music venue who also brew their own beer. All ingredients are locally-sourced, including water from a creek out the back and hops which they grow themselves. Try the Captain Cooker manuka beer which pays tribute to the first beer brewed, by Captain Cook, in New Zealand!
In the South Island’s largest city, you can slake your thirst for batch-brewed goodness at Cassels and Sons Brewery while dining on their gourmet thin-crust pizza. They offer a number of beers on tap as well as some traditionally-brewed cask-conditioned real ales. You can also find cask-conditioned ales at the Twisted Hop brewery in Woolston. They make their own as well as offering a selection of other fine beers and ciders to sample.
If you are going to be on the West Coast, the West Coast Brewery in Westport, first opened as Miners’ Brewery in the 1950s, offers tours. If you’re interested, you can book ahead on their website.
In beautiful Central Otago, you can visit the Wanaka Beerworks brewery and take a tour at 2pm any day except Sunday. Afterwards you can taste their range - they produce a number of beers named after local natural landmarks and also the exotic Jabberwocky range.
Across in Dunedin, you can visit craft brew royalty at Emerson’s Brewery, long known as producers of some of the country’s finest beers. Sticklers might say that Emerson’s is not strictly a craft brewer since being bought by Lion in 2012, but they did keep Richard Emerson on as head brewer and, so far, their range of outstanding beers does not seem to have suffered. Add to that the opening of an Emerson’s brewpub in 2016, and it is well worth a stop on your craft beer tour.
Travelling north to south, last but absolutely not least on your tour of NZ craft breweries will be the Invercargill Brewery. Their beers have received many accolades - visit the Cellar Door to pick up a rigger or three to take home. While you’re there, you can check out the work of other southern artisans in jewellery and glass, or on a Friday night, you can visit the Asylum performance space and enjoy some authentic Southern art and music.
Phew! That’s a lot of great beer! Of course, it’s best enjoyed in moderation and in combination with NZ’s great outdoors.