All posts by Merideth

The Zoigl Experience

Have you ever Zoigled? No? Well, I have and it is the most awesomely awkward beer travel experience I have ever had.

What Zoigl is all about

First a bit of history. Zoigl is a beer that is brewed in the Oberpfälzer Wald, a region in the far eastern  part of Bavaria very near the Czech border. For approximately 600 years, beer has been brewed in communal breweries owned by either a town or a group of home brewers. The wort is then given to each brewer who takes it home to ferment in their own cellar. When it’s ready, they put out a six-pointed star – a symbol of a brewers guild in Bavaria – to show they are open for business.

The beer is served directly from the lagering tank until it is gone. Then the next brewer puts out his star and opens until his beer is gone. And so it goes throughout the year. I find it best to think of Zoigl more as a brewing tradition than a beer style. For more information on the history, visit Zoigl.de.

Now, when we told our friends in Germany where we were going and what we were doing, they were all a bit perplexed. Even they were not very familiar with Zoigl or the area, except to say that the people there spoke a very strange dialect, even by Bavarian standards.

We arrived in Neustadt a.d. Waldnaab, our home for the next few nights, and immediately spied a six-pointed star hanging around the corner from our hotel. We later learned, however, that while there are a number of places that put out a star and call their beer Zoigl, there is a much smaller number actually brewing communally in a Kommunbrauhaus. The one around the corner was not brewing traditional Zoigl.

Each Zoiglstube is only open for a few days to a week at a time, so if you want to maximize the number of Zoiglstuben you visit, planning is important. Before we left, Chris consulted the yearly calendar on zoiglinfo.de (a different site than mentioned above). We later found that each town prints their own handy pocket calendar to keep track of who will be open when. Oh, and we decided beforehand that none of the Zoiglstuben would count on the List because no brewing takes place at the individual sites.

We found our first Zoiglstube

For our first real Zoigl experience, we drove a short distance to Windischeschenbach, one of the original Zoigl towns. I really had no idea what to expect. I knew to look for the star, but that was about it. We easily found Zum Roud’n, operated by the Heinl family. There was no other marker, except for the star, so I tentatively walked down a short corridor to find the door. Luckily, right by the door was a sign indicating we had found the right place. It had been a very long time since I had felt so unsure of myself while in Germany.

I opened the door and was immediately faced with a long table of about ten men. They all turned to look at me in the doorway. For a moment I thought perhaps I wasn’t supposed to be there because I didn’t see any other women. I turned around for reassurance from Chris and he wasn’t there. He was still outside taking pictures. I let the door close behind me, which necessitated a somewhat embarrassing second entrance, this time with Chris as back up.

The room was small with four long tables and a bit stuffy. To give you a sense of how it feels to be in a Zoiglstube, think if you were to open your dining room or patio to anyone and everyone for a week at a time every few months serving beer and a small menu of home cooked Bavarian fare. That is a Zoiglstube.

Like good ol’ Americans, we immediately chose the one table that had no other people. Within a few minutes, the owner approached and we successfully ordered our beers (There is only one kind, but different sizes). In addition to my welcoming committee of ten men, about three other people sat quietly drinking their beer. Frequent glances in our direction with accompanying snickers made it very awkward, but with beer in hand I had regained my confidence. What I didn’t know then, but was to discover as we visited more Zoiglstuben, is that the Zoiglstube is a local gathering spot. The men had turned to look at us not to wonder who the heck we were and what were we doing there (okay, that’s not completely true), but rather to see which neighbor was arriving. Their summation that we were not just out of towners, but also American tourists perplexed them more than anything. This part of Bavaria is not a tourist destination and my guess is that foreigners are far and few between.

Our first taste of Zoigl

Turns out we had arrived just in time, as the place filled up quickly and we were soon sharing our table with others. Now this felt more comfortable, not only because it was an atmosphere we enjoy, but also because the attention on us seemed to be dissipating. Everyone in the room, including ourselves, turned to look each time the door opened. All patrons pretty much showed the same somewhat startled look as they entered. They commented on the crowd, scanned the room for people they knew, and then found an open seat. As far as I could tell, friendly salutations were exchanged amongst whoever made eye contact.

The beer came in half liter mugs and was tallied just like they do in Köln, ticks on a beer mat. The amber colored beer was unfiltered with a strong malt presence, very little hop bitterness was detected. It was very tasty and it went down easily. All of the Zoiglstuben also have a small menu of traditional Bavarian fare. At Zum Roud’n, we ordered a cheese board, which turned out to be quite sizable. To round out the first awesomely awkward experience, we discovered that prices are extremely reasonable.  Six beers and a cheese plate set us back about $20.

We had visited Zum Roud’n on the last day they were open. The next day, the star was down and the man who had served us was on his roof making some repairs.

No longer Zoigl virgins

In Chris’ original plan, we were going to take a 12km round trip walk from our hotel to Windischeschenbach and Neuhaus visiting a Zoiglstube in each town. However, Mother Nature had other ideas and we didn’t want to chance getting caught halfway through in the pouring rain. What this did allow us to do, however, was take a drive out to Mitterteich to visit an additional Zoiglstube.

Trying to confuse us

Lugert is located at 12 Bachstrasse, otherwise known as Boozhaus. According to Lugert’s website, the Boozhaus had been a Zoiglstube for hundreds of years, but closed sometime in the 20th Century. It re-opened 16 years ago.

Like Zum Roud’n, Lugert was a little tricky in that there was not a big sign out front. There wasn’t even a six-pointed star. Hanging from a pole high above our heads was what looked like the top of a Christmas tree hanging upside down. But it wasn’t the bright cheery green of a Christmas tree. Hanging upside down it made me feel sadly curious, very Tim Burton-esque. Just below on the wall there was a green sign. It was the authentic Zoigl symbol (Echter Zoigl vom Kommunbrauer), which would become a familiar and comforting sight for us. It showed we were in the right place.

Despite the relative newness of the current establishment, Lugert maintains a traditional feel with the beer and food. Our waiter was in his 30s, by far the youngest of all those who waited on us. We thought it was our best chance to speak a bit of English and maybe get a firmer understanding of how all this Zoigl stuff worked. We were wrong and the waiter showed little interest in chatting with us in English or otherwise. The room was of medium capacity and similarly crowded when we arrived. We found a couple of seats at an empty table close to the door. A trio of older individuals joined us and it became quite cozy. At Lugert there were far fewer weird looks in our direction and we were feeling much more confident, having had one other Zoiglstube under our belt.

The beer was in a similar vein as Zum Roud’n, malt forward (though with a lighter body) with little hop presence. This one was not quite as cloudy, but still unfiltered and paired nicely with one of my favorite Bavarian specialties, Obatzda. Overall. It was a very enjoyable experience. One we would not have been afforded had the weather been more amenable to the long walk Chris had planned.

Our second Zoiglstube

We visited two other Zoiglstuben, Schlosshof in Windischeschenbach and Schoilmichl in Neuhaus, the other traditional Zoigl town.

The weather was trying to cooperate with us and the sun was shining through a bit more. This gave us the chance to walk around Windischeschenbach a bit. Not being a tourist town, the window shopping was minimal, but that was okay. We were just happy to be out and walking around.

The sun is out in the Biergarten

We found Schlosshof down some winding streets in a residential area. In fact, most of Windischeschenbach seemed residential. We entered a Biergarten in front and headed inside. We were immediately hit with the stifling warmth of a sauna. Although no one else was sitting outside, we went back out to sit in the pleasant Biergarten.

With only one kind of beer, you don’t have to think much about it and just order. I found all of the beers at the Zoiglstuben we visited to be nice and easy to drink. The food was great, too. At Schlosshof we opted to go bigger and I ordered the Schweinbraten with Kartoffelknödl, roast pork with a potato dumpling. Chris ordered the cold roast pork plate.

Sitting outside made it a somewhat solitary experience, but it was nice to sit in the sunlight. We watched as laboring men stopped by for a beer and small children were picked up for a play date. I imagine that parents whose home is the neighborhood gathering spot would feel right at home at Schlosshof.

Finished at the Schlosshof

One of the cool things about Schlosshof is that it has an apartment to rent. However, when Chris made our travel plans he found that the apartment was not available. I think it would be a cool place to stay for the ultimate Zoigl-centered trip.

The last Zoiglstuben we visited was Schoilmichl. It was unlike any of the other Zoiglstuben we visited. The other three were packed or became so soon after we arrived. We walked in Schoilmichl to find the place completely empty. An older gentleman came out to greet us and Chris did his best to ask in German if the place as open. As I said previously, the dialect is very different in Eastern Bavaria and it took a bit of deciphering to determine that 1) they were open, and 2) because it was their last day, there as no more food. This explained why the large room was empty.

Our Zoigl experience comes to an end

Owner Manfred Punzmann was a jolly, round man who tried very hard to communicate with us. Together we sat at a table, with no other people in the room, trying to communicate by using a lot of hand gestures, some poorly pronounced German, a tad bit of broken English, and a fair amount of a German dialect completely foreign to us. Another couple (friends of Manfred as far as we could tell) came in while we were there. Manfred explained that we were American and the man came over to try to speak to us in English. Overall, this was probably the most awkward of all the Zoiglstube experiences.

To be honest, we couldn’t drink our beer fast enough. At the same time, it was extremely rewarding in that Manfred and his friends were not about to give up and leave us alone because we couldn’t communicate. They wanted to interact with us, offering information on Zoigl and generally being very welcoming. In a world with waning customer service and increasingly isolated consumerism, Manfred’s attitude was refreshing and reassuring that interpersonal communication was alive and well, even if we barely knew what the other was saying. It fully embodied the Zoigl spirit and pretty much encapsulated my experience of this new beer adventure.

Aside from the generous attention and hospitality, the best part of our visit to Schoilmichl was that we could purchase beer vom fass to go. For 3, we purchased a one liter bottle of freshly filled Zoigl. We even went out to by some heavy duty tape to make sure the swing top didn’t open during the trip home. We shared it with friends at home about five days later. It was fully carbonated and just as good as when we had it at Schoilmichl. Sharing this beer with friends allowed us to bring a bit of our awesomely awkward adventure home to re-experience in an awesomely not-so-awkward way.

In a trip with a compressed schedule, we moved on from the Oberpfälzer Wald the next morning. Other Zoiglstube opened later in the week, but we would already be home in California. Awkward at times and despite not adding any breweries to the List, Zoigl was one of those truly special adventures in our long years of beer travel.

Cheers to Zoigl!

View all the Zoigl images…

We’re Back!

Life in the last few years has not been compatible with our beer travel pace of years past. Two old dogs and one new puppy later, we once again hit the road in search of the next great beer adventure. And boy did it feel great!

To avoid high airfares, we started our trip to Germany with a short detour to Ireland. This initially caused a bit of a stir for us, but we soon embraced it as an opportunity to see some friends and re-discover a city we hadn’t been to in years.

Ireland’s craft beer movement is growing by leaps and bounds. Relative to America, one might say leprechaun-sized leaps and bounds, but I say very impressive for a small country. Blink and a new brewery has popped up. We have visited Dublin numerous times before, but 5 years is by far the longest stretch between visits. It is an especially long absence when it comes to the beer scene. During our first visit in 1998, Ireland had less than 10 craft breweries. Today, an estimated 30 breweries are currently operating in the country, with an additional 20 brands brewing through contract.

We landed in Dublin in the morning and in probably one of our best arrivals ever, we took a cab directly from the airport to our friends Paul and Eilís who served us a home cooked Irish breakfast. A great way to start out a long day of beer drinking.

A pint of Galway Hooker, our traditional first beer in Dublin

By mid-day, the four of us found ourselves at the Palace Bar in Temple Bar. Like many Irish pubs, this one is steeped in history, literary history in particular. Operating since 1823, the pub eventually became the favorite watering hole of staffers from The Irish Times. It was the perfect place to meet “sources” and the writers frequently found their muse in pints of ale. With Paul and Eilís by our side, we settled in to drink away the jetlag.

Paul was the first one to tell us about the Palace Bar, a distinctly local bar in the not-so-local Temple Bar area. As far as I remember, the Palace Bar was one of the first traditional pubs to embrace Irish craft beer. I knew they offered Galway Hooker Irish Pale Ale, so with a pint of it in hand, I aimed to reclaim my beer travel mojo. At 4.4%, this easy drinking, well-balanced pale ale was the perfect start to what was to be a very late night. After a Galway Hooker, Chris also tried something new to us, the Coalface Black IPA (5.5%) from Carrig Brewing, a brewery in County Leitrim. His first BIPA from an Irish brewery, Chris found the beer to be more toasty than IPA like. Someday we’ll add Carrig to our brewery list, but not this trip.

Our first brewery of the trip was J.W. Sweetman, located a short distance away on Burgh Quay. Occupying the former Mssrs. Maguire brewery, this multi-story brewpub is easily located near the O’Connell Street bridge. We had not heard much about this new brewery and we had a full agenda for our Dublin pub crawl, so after a quick pint, the brewery was added to The List and we moved on. While I chose the Irish Red Ale, the rest of the group opted for the Pale Ale, an American style pale ale brewed with Cascade hops.

A beer after Chris’ heart

Back into Temple Bar, our next stop was The Porterhouse. They now boast several locations, but the Temple Bar location was the original, opening its doors in 1996. While the Porterhouse no longer brews at that location, it’s a sentimental favorite for us. It was one of the first Irish breweries we visited after Guinness and I think we have stopped in there on every one of our visits to Dublin. They have a nice selection of beers, a friendly atmosphere, and good food. They also have great music. Despite several floors, the place gets packed. Mid-day on Monday was quiet, though; perfect for a spot of lunch. Food was definitely a good idea since we were already several pints in and the pub crawl still had a few more stops.

The Porterhouse serves 3 different stouts (Plain, Oyster, and Wrasslers) and numerous other ales and lagers. Wrasslers 4X Stout bills itself as “a stout like your grandfather used to drink.” The XXXX denotes the strength of the beer, but don’t be intimidated, it comes in at an easy drinking 5%. Wanting to go light, I ordered Temple Brau, an Irish lager brewed with Hallertau hops and Irish malted barley. Chris went for the Hop Head, a 5% bitter pale ale. Generally speaking, there are plenty of lower alcohol Irish craft beers to choose from. The next day I would be thankful for that!

In a city with a traditional pub on every corner (and several in between), new-fangled American style beer bars are starting to pop up. Down the street from Christ Church is the newest one, The Beer Market, the 10th craft beer pub brought to you by Galway Bay Brewing. Opened in April of this year, The Beer Market is different in that it only serves craft beer — No macros. No Guinness. No wine. No spirits. They do have handmade pies, though, including chicken and mushroom, beef and stout, and veg options. We didn’t have one, but they created a wonderfully yummy aroma in the place.

Nothing but beer. We like that.

For many years we visited Ireland almost annually and we were able to keep close tabs on the growth of craft beer in the country. With a 5 year absence, it felt as if we’d lost personal touch with Irish craft beer and were only able to stay informed through social media. We were thrilled to meet up with our friends John “The Beer Nut” Duffy and  Mark Hilliard at the Beer Market, both are very involved with Beoir.org, an organization that promotes Ireland’s “native craft breweries.” They have a love of craft beer in general and are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Irish craft beer. Plus, they are just plain fun to hang out with.

While we drank some of the Irish beers that we had been reading about on social media, we caught up on what we had missed in our absence; which was a lot.

We ended our night at The Bull and Castle down the street. The Bull and Castle was probably the first craft beer gastropub we went to in Dublin. It was also a place where we stayed up until about midnight; not too shabby for a first night in Europe. I definitely recommend a whole day/night of drinking beer with friends to beat jetlag! Except if you have a train to Cork early next morning.

View all the Dublin images…

Added Bonus> Watch John The Beer Nut discuss Dublin brewing history.

Our Local Beer Scene: Valley Greens Gallery

As you know, the Monterey Peninsula has its fair share of art galleries; not that Chris and I are into that sort of thing. Or so we thought…

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Beer and art in Carmel Valley village

Several years ago, Valley Greens Gallery opened in Carmel Valley Village. Full of funky urban artwork, we mostly drove past it wondering what the heck it was and how it would ever survive in the Village, a place where every other storefront is a wine tasting room (and that’s no exaggeration!). But when we heard that artists/owners Leah Fusco and Neil Kirkpatrick wanted to add beer and cider to their gallery offerings, we knew we had to do our part to help the gallery survive. Nothing like having a good beer spot walking distance from your home.

The addition of beer came out of Leah and Neil’s love for the stuff (they own a bar in Birmingham, Alabama), as well as a desire to serve beer and cider at the art classes and private functions offered at the gallery. Add alcohol and even the self-proclaimed worst artist in the world begins to feel like Picasso or Van Gogh. Beer, art, and friends–what a wonderful way to pass a few hours!

Now you don’t have to wait for an art class or hold your own private function. Beer, art, and friends can be enjoyed at any time the gallery is open. A mellow alternative to the bar a few doors down that has been a Village staple for decades, Valley Greens Gallery is like going to a friend’s house for a few beers before heading home.

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Enjoying beer and art

Seating 7 at the bar, it is very likely you will run into someone you went to school with. And by school, I mean elementary school. But whether or not you have known each other your whole lives, the bar becomes one big conversation about miscellaneous stuff–the artwork, beer, local events, and even a bit of good-natured Village gossip. Everyone is welcome and you never feel like that loner at the end of the bar drinking alone. Leah is almost always behind the bar with her broad smile, 3 taps, numerous bottles, and sometimes a few bar snacks. Valley Greens doesn’t serve food, but bringing in your own is certainly allowed.

So, the next time you come out to Carmel Valley Village to enjoy the sunshine, be sure to stop by Valley Greens Gallery, located at 16A East Carmel Valley Rd. Hours are Tuesday-Sunday 11am-late evening. Be sure to tell Leah that Chris and Merideth sent you!

Our Local Beer Scene: Alvarado St. Brewery & Grill

It’s been a while since we were able to highlight developments in our local beer scene. Thank goodness the long wait is over with the opening of Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill in Old Monterey.

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The newest addition to the Monterey beer scene

Right up the street from Peter B’s Brewpub, Alvarado Street Brewery is a great addition to the Monterey Peninsula beer scene. Located in the renovated Regency Theater building, it also includes a small outdoor seating area with a great view of all the action on Alvarado Street. Inside, the marble counters and long, narrow shape give the place a sleek fancy feel, but don’t let that fool you. Alvarado Street is a comfortable and casual brewpub with an exciting menu and awesome beers!

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Unfltered Minesweeper IPA

Head Brewer, JC Hill, stays very busy, with an average of 8 different house beers on at any given time. And I do mean different. JC has already introduced dozens of beers since the place opened in May. The IPAs have, of course, been a big hit with the likes of Minesweeper, a dank brew made with Citra and Chinook hops (7.2% ABV) and Duane’s World, a 7.5% American IPA with Nelson and Amarillo hops, leading the way.

But while JC definitely knows his way around the hops, that’s not all he has to offer. A variety of Belgian-style beers have rotated through, including the Bixby Belgian Blonde (5%), Alvarado Street Table Beer (3.9% Belgian-style tafelbier), Grains of Wrath (6.8% Belgian Farmhouse) and Doc Brown (5.8% American Brown brewed with Belgian yeast).

One of the things I enjoy most about Alvarado Street is that there is something for everyone. The beer list, which also includes guest taps and bottles, is always varied with everything from IPAs for the Hopheads, low alcohol beers for those taking it easy, and German-, Belgian-, and English-style beers for a more international flare.

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Bright salads are one of the highlight the food menu

The food is also fantastic, ranging from small bites and fresh salads to flatbreads and larger dishes. I especially love the Mac-n-Cheese with white cheddar, brie, broccolini, and leeks (especially when I remember to ask for the addition of bacon!). The Artisan Cheese and Salumi plate also offers a substantial portion suitable to share before a main course. The flatbreads are tasty, with the Duck Ham (pineapple, gruyere, pickled chili and hoisin sauce) being a house favorite. Chris and I like the Butcher’s Bacon & Egg with a nice blend of cheeses, a Flander’s Red Ale tomato sauce and a fried egg on top. Admittedly, I have never had one of the larger plates, choosing instead to create a full meal from the small bites and salads. However, the desserts cannot be missed. The fresh and fluffy Beignets are terrific and be sure to ask for a spoon to finish off the bitter chocolate ale sauce.

Be forewarned, Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill’s reputation is growing and it is usually quite busy. With a knowledgeable and friendly staff, the bar is always a good option. Otherwise, be patient. It is well worth the wait. It can also be a bit loud in there, making it the perfect spot for socializing with friends and watching the game with fellow sports enthusiasts.

With the addition of Alvarado Street, I guess Chris and I can no longer call our home a beer backwater. Welcome to Monterey, the new California beer destination.

Craft Beer Capital of New Zealand

Welcoming us to North Island

The 3-hour early morning ferry ride from Nelson, the “Craft Brewing Capital of New Zealand,” to the North Island mostly lent itself to a nice little nap. Fortunately I woke up just in time to witness a pod of dolphins frolicking and leaping through the boat’s wakes as they escorted us into port. I looked forward to a day of exploring Wellington, the “Craft Beer Capital of New Zealand.” That’s right. The Craft Beer Capital of New Zealand; not to be confused with Nelson, the aforementioned Craft Brewing Capital of New Zealand.

Prior to leaving on our trip, Chris connected with a Twitter friend (@NikCarmichael) who eagerly offered to introduce us to the Wellington beer scene. We planned to meet Nikki for what we assumed was going to be a quick pint, so she could give us the lowdown on where to go. Much to our surprise, Nikki had no intention of simply offering a verbal report on Wellington beer. She wanted to show us herself! Beer brings people together and makes the world smaller and Nikki was a prime example of that.

Filling up at Garage Project

The first stop on Nikki’s tour was the innovative Garage Project, located in an old petrol station in the Aro Valley area of the city. Apothecary jars filled with beer sat above each tap, which offered us a quick glimpse of what to expect.

Garage Project combines the New Zealand hops we all love and know with ingredients such as chili, mango, Venusian Spear Fungus, and Manuka (New Zealand Tea Tree). This daring attitude made for the most experimental and memorable beers of our trip. Chris was especially enamored with the Pernicious Weed, a strong, hoppy brew using organic Rakau and whole cone Nelson Sauvin hops. Fulfilling the stereotype, I liked the pink beer best. Beyond the Pale, a sour beer made with sumac, lemon and hibiscus, was brewed for the New Zealand Fringe Festival and tasted refreshingly tart. From wildly experimental and super hoppy to delicious golden and ultra dark, Garage Project offered an impressive range of beers.

Diverting attention away from our obsessive focus on breweries, Nikki wanted us to experience Malthouse, Wellington’s original beer bar. The Malthouse boasts 150 different beers from around the world, including 27 taps and 2 handpumps. On a weekday afternoon we were the only ones in the place, but Nikki assured us that it gets hoppin’ at night. Our Irish bartender was attentive and even offered me a beer cocktail of his own creation. I initially protested, but somehow one made it into my hand and I was forced to admit that it was quite tasty.

Some of the choices at Malthouse

If your time in Wellington is short, the Malthouse is the perfect place to taste a variety of Kiwi beers. Although we didn’t order one, they also serve pizzas, which makes this a very convenient stop. The Malthouse proudly serves beer from Tuatara Brewery (located 60 km north of Wellington) and Baylands, the nano brewery owned and operated by Nikki, her husband, and a business partner.

Nikki already had her suggestion for where we should order lunch; Hashigo Zake. You may be wondering why a place with a name like that would be included on a beer tour of the city. Here’s the answer: they call themselves a “Cult Beer Bar” and have a great array of beers from New Zealand, Japan, and the United States. Plus, at the top of the entrance to their basement location there was a sign that I especially liked. “There is no such thing as a girlie beer.” Damn skippy.

yep

Hashigo Zake offers a dark and cozy atmosphere that is refreshingly mellow (at least when we were there). It gave us a nice break from our busy jaunt around the city. In addition to a  nice beer selection, Hashigo Zake has a yummy menu of asian-inspired cuisine, including udon noodle bowls. For the record, wasabi peas are now my favorite beer snack. I like having good food with my craft beer and this was the perfect place for that.

Nikki was the best tour guide we could have asked for as she took us on a brief detour from our beer stops. A drive up a steep winding street landed us on top of Mt. Victoria, the best view in Wellington. It was something we probably would not have had the time or energy to do if Nikki hadn’t been at the helm.

The happy beer travelers overlooking Wellington

We did need to get a move on, though, and our next brewery visit was to Parrot Dog. We had tried to make this our first stop of the day, but they were closed to catch up on some bottling. We were happy to see that with the bottling complete the tasting room was open later in the afternoon.

The happy beer travelers at Parrot Dog

The small tasting room was simple, yet inviting and definitely a must stop. Six beers were available for tasting, including Flaxen Feather Blonde Ale, Bitter Bitch IPA, and Bloody Dingo, an Imperial Red Ale. They also have an American IPA called Pitbull, which apparently drew ire from a Pitbull group because it defamed the breed. Apparently the Dingo Anti-defamation League is much less organized, as they never mounted a campaign against the name of the Imperial Red.

Parrot Dog (not to be confused with another brewery in town with ‘Dog’ in the name) crafted great beers. And very convenient for travelers, they sell beer to go in flagons, plastic 2-liter bottles. If you don’t have a chance to stop by the brewery, be sure to look for Parrot Dog beers at craft bars throughout the city.

Our final stop with Nikki was Fork & Brewer, an upscale brewery and restaurant. The main focal point (besides the brewery, of course) of the upstairs pub was the circular-shaped bar surrounding a large barrel that housed the kegs. Now the early evening, the bar was beginning to fill up with after-work drinkers. Our four-beer sampler included a Pilsner, IPA, Brown, and “Old World Pale Ale.” All the beers were quite good, but I bet you can guess which ones we liked best. If you said the Pils for me and the IPA, you’d be correct.

Our last Wellington brewery…

Nikki introduced us to the brewer, Lester, who sat down to talk New Zealand beer with us. An interesting, mellow guy with a thick curly mop for hair and a bushy beard, Lester would fit nicely into Santa Cruz or the Haight. For brewing such great beers, he was very humble and possessed a laid back attitude towards brewing.

Fork & Brewer serves up an awesome menu and at Lester’s suggestion we tried the chicken wings. Oven baked and coated in a spicy spent grain rub, they were deliciously spicy without being messy. The salt and pepper squid also paired nicely with our beer.

This was the end of our visit with Nikki. She was an amazingly energetic beer guide and she really made our day in Wellington memorable. When we first started beer traveling, we would hope to meet a local in a pub who would point us in the direction of great places while steering us away from the not-so-great ones.

All smiles after a great day in Wellington

Today, social media makes it easy to connect with local beer lovers no matter where your destination. And we’re finding that more often than not, people want to not only tell us where to go, but actually go there with us. The idea that beer brings people together may sound like a cliche, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

PS: Bin 44 Restaurant and Bar on Queens Wharf is another great stop. With 11 craft beer taps and another few dozen in bottles, Bin 44 also serves up good food. The walk along the water from our hotel topped off our night beautifully and once there, the outdoor seating offered fun people watching.

View all the Cook Strait Crossing images

View all the Wellington images