The Long Drive

No matter where we travel for our beer adventures, somehow a long drive always becomes involved. For New Zealand, this meant getting from the southern tip of North Island to its northern end setting Merideth and I up for our departure out of Auckland.

A welcome sight after a long drive

With a possible double digit hour drive ahead of us, we departed Wellington as early as our bodies could manage after the previous beer-filled day. Our route north would skirt the west coast of the lower North Island before heading inland at Whanganui. Then on to Hamilton, Auckland and beyond.

For the most part an uneventful drive from morning into the afternoon, we did see a giant apple and carrot (who said Australia had a monopoly on giant things) and passed through Te Kuiti, the “sheep shearing capital of the world.” Unfortunately, we were a month early for the World Championships. If we had only known.

After about six hours on the road, we reached Hamilton in the mid-afternoon. We didn’t get to see much of New Zealand’s fourth largest city except for the light industrial section which was home to Good George Brewing. Set amongst a bunch of home improvement stores, the only way we knew we were in the right place was the giant 32As (the address) on both sides of the entrance.

A bit saddle-sore, Merideth and I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough. Passing through the entrance, my eyes lit up when I saw the open air bar and expansive beer garden before me. Some sun therapy would be just the ticket to revitalize me for the next leg. We quickly picked a table and settled in for a five-beer, one-cider sample paddle and quick bite to eat.

A much needed break

We had reached the beer travel moment where we REALLY needed the beer to taste good. Anything less probably would have sent Merideth and I into a tailspin with many hours still to go in our journey. Merideth cautiously took her first sip of the White Ale, a Wheat beer with “New Zealand botanicals,” and immediately proclaimed it good. This was her favorite of the paddle.

With Merideth’s trademark endorsement, I eagerly dug into the samples. After the White Ale, there was Sparkling Ale, Amber, IPA and Stout. My star was the Sparkling Ale, a 4.5% ABV citrus-noted Blond Ale that paired well with my lunch of Salt and Pepper Squid.

At this point, we would have liked to buy a couple of pints, play scrabble and enjoy the beautiful summer day in Hamilton, New Zealand. However, no time to linger, we finished the paddle, our meal and trudged back to our vehicle.

Back on the highway heading north, I did some mental math of when we would be passing by Auckland, the countries largest and most populous city. According to my guess-timate, it would be right around rush hour. If we ever wondered whether New Zealand had annoying traffic jams, we soon found out as we passed south then west of the city at a snails pace.

Yes please!

The traffic didn’t completely suck the spirit out of us, but it did make us a bit punchy. Finally reaching Hallertau Brewbar & Restaurant, Merideth and I needlessly bickered (discussed?) where to park in their car-filled lot. Luckily, we resolved our differences and were soon sitting in Hallertau’s modern, industrial bar listening the the DJ spin cool grooves waiting for a sample paddle.

Maybe tuned into our mental state, the 4 regular beers, three ales and a lager, were designated with large numbers on coasters 1through 4. Somewhat confusing, there was a fifth numberless beer on the paddle, Maximus IPA. I really wanted a coaster with the number 5 on it.

Merideth really liked 1, also called Luxe, a 4.5% ABV light-bodied and refreshing Kölsch-style brew. Of course, the hoppy Maximus, weighing in at 6.8% was my favorite, although 4 on the paddle, Deception Schwarzbier, was also really nice.

A ways into our paddle, our waitress offered a sample of a sixth, special beer. A massive 12.5% and 180 IBUS, this Triple IPA was “possibly the hoppiest beer ever made in New Zealand.” Given who I work for, I got a kick out the name, “Hopocalypse,” almost laughing when our waitress said it. Safe to say, I prefer the Drake’s version better.

Friday night in Browns Bay

Back on the road heading not north but east, we felt our odyssey was nearing completion. Reaching Browns Bay on North Island’s eastern shore, we made yet another quick stop for dinner.

Walking into Deep Creek Brewing, Merideth and I felt a bit out of place as it was Friday night and the locals were getting their party on. The beach town atmosphere in the pub was loud and boisterous, fueled by beer and a band in the back corner. More interested in mellow, we weren’t quite sure we were up to being lively. But being the beer travel professionals we are, we sucked it up.

While I waded into the crowd to get beers, Merideth grabbed a couple of seats in an out of way corner. Given the large number of people trying to order beers, I didn’t bother inquiring whether a sample paddle was available. I ordered Little Armoured One, an Amber, for Merideth and 309, a Kiwi Pale Ale, for myself then joined Merideth in the corner.

Smiling at Deep Creek because the long drive is almost complete

Brewed with Motueka, Nelson Sauvin and Cascade, the 5% ABV 309 was a delightful and bright beer. It really hit the spot.

And luckily for us, during out time there the restaurant cleared out a bit and the din dropped. We were able to enjoy a nice dinner before finishing the journey.

In the scheme of our day, it was only a short drive up the coast to our final destination, Leigh. Thirteen hours after we left Wellington, we collapsed in the bed at our lodgings seeking much needed to rest up for our last few days in New Zealand.

View all the images: Hamilton | Northlands

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.


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.

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Craft Brewing Capital of New Zealand Part II

So pretty…

The following morning, we headed out to Golden Bay at the other end of the Nelson Beer Trail. As we drove along Hwy 60, vineyards and orchards flashed by, a countryside very similar to home. Hop fields emerged in the the patchwork of fields with their large, fragrant cones ready for harvest. Passing through hop-named towns Motueka and Riwaka, we crossed over the mountains on this scary, windy road into an idyllic-looking coastal plain with Golden Bay in the distance.

Pulling into the Te Waikoropupu Springs carpark, beer’s most under-appreciated ingredient (water) was not foremost on our minds. After that somewhat harrowing drive crossing the mountain, we fancied a bit of a walk to stretch our legs.

Water welling up from one of the eight main vents

Translated from Maori as “Place of the Dancing Sands,” the spring water was billed as some of the cleanest in the world. Most of the 30 minute board-walked loop took us through what appeared to me to be swampland, not really my idea of clear water. But at the very end, we emerged out of the trees to see a large pond with sparkling crystal clear water. The vents were clearly visible, bubbling at the surface. Given the warm weather, the water looked very inviting, but the springs are closed to all forms of contact as they are considered sacred to the Maori.

Worth the drive

Learning part of the day complete, our next destination was the Mussell Inn, the furthest most brewery along the beer trail. With a such a name, I expected the pub to sit on the water. All during the several hour drive I had visions of enjoying their beers with an ocean view. But in fact, the Mussel Inn was well hidden in a grove of trees, its location only given away by a sign along the road.

Combined with the scenery, the remoteness of the Mussel Inn reminded me of parts of coastal California, even down to the nouveau hippies strumming on guitars on the front patio as we entered. Still early in the day, only a few other customers milled about the dim interior of the pub. Merideth and I were focused on the task at hand and quickly ordered a sample flight and lunch.

With a 4-beer, 1-cider sample paddle in hand, we decided to sit in the outdoor area at the side. When I drop out of society to some remote coastal area or the Bavarian Alps, I picture my patio looking just like this. The roomy space was filled with large, natural wood furniture that encouraged community drinking. We were shaded from the summer sun by massive growth of hops interwoven into the beams overhead.

Mussel Chowder at the Mussel Inn

With the warm, slightly steamy weather, the two light colored beers, White Heron Wheat and Golden Goose Lager, both went down quite nicely. Although not cider drinkers, even the Apple Roughy, a “mix of Sturmers, Grannies and other random  apples from around the hood,” was a welcomed quencher.

The most anticipated beer was the 4.4% ABV deep amber Captain Cooker Manuka beer, brewed with freshly picked tips of the Manuka tree. Safe to say this was our very first beer brewed with this native shrub of New Zealand. Used for medicinal purposes for centuries, the tips gave the beer a slightly herbaceous quality.

I didn’t pair my lunch very well with the warm weather, but it seemed to me to be a requirement to eat mussels at the Mussel Inn. The hearty, warm chowder was thick and full of the meaty mollusks.The beer that paired best with the chowder, and thus my favorite, was Dark Horse Black Beer, a roasty 4% ABV brew.

Lunch over, it was time to brave the hill again. happily, the return didn’t seem as treacherous because we knew what to expect this time. Cresting the hill we could see the vast orchards and hop fields of Riwaka below. When we reached level ground we bee-lined for our next brewery stop which had already been spotted on the outward journey.

One of our favorites of the trip

It was mid afternoon when we parked in front of Hop Federation. In the summer heat, the ice cream parlor across the street was doing a crackin’ business. Meanwhile there was not even one customer in the brewery tasting room until Merideth and I stepped through the doorway. Well, besides the young gentleman behind the bar.

After exchanging greetings, he offered us four beers to sample: Golden and  Pale Ales, an American Brown and finally a Red IPA. Probably the first ‘wow’ brewery of our journey, all the beers were well-crafted and delicious. Merideth’s favorite beer of the trip was Hop Ferderation’s 4.5% ABV Brown Ale, which combined nice roast and chocolate notes with a lighter than expected body. I fancied the 6.4% ABV Red IPA. Hopped with Simcoe, New Zealand Cascade, Motueka and Southern Cross, this brew reminded me a lot of home.

As we sampled the beers, I perused the cold box. Hop Federation had bottled beers but much to my surprise beers were also available in 1.25 and 2 liter plastic bottles. Not something I normally associate with beer, I found out later plastic packaging was some popular on South Island.

Like a number of our favorite breweries on the trip, Hop Federation only served tastes. They were strictly an off-license. Liking the beer as we did, we would have hung out, had a pint or two and played scrabble. Disappointed that this idyllic vision wouldn’t pan out, we bought several bottles including one plastic and moved on.

We shared the American Brown Ale from the plastic bottle several weeks later with friends at home. It tasted great. Bring on the plastic bottle revolution!

Go Bears!

While the modern, industrial Golden Bear Brewing seemed somewhat out of place amongst the older structures of Mapua Wharf, it had one of the best feels of all the breweries we visited on the trip. In slow-paced New Zealand, the setting along the old wharf turned the pace down even another notch.

Being Cal grads, we were obviously very excited about going to a brewery called Golden Bear. This was despite the fact that the owner’s ties, a California ex-pat, were to our sister school to the south, UCLA. Even if we didn’t know this history going in, three of the ten available beers being IPAs hinted at West Coast roots.

No flight, we guessed at beers to sample before buying from the diverse selection available. A much easier task for me with the three IPAs on the board. Merideth started with the Watou-zea Wit but changed to Hot Lips Pils, a brew more to her liking. The three IPAs were all excellent. Seismic, dry-hopped with Simcoe, was probably my favorite, but I chose the lower ABV, Citra-hopped Fortress for a pint.

With pints in hand, Merideth and I grabbed a seat outside. We watched the Mapua community stroll by, most seemingly headed down to the nearby water for a swim. Every now and then, a dad would let the rest of the family go ahead while he grabbed a pint to go. Usually on the go when traveling, it felt very relaxing sitting at Mapua Wharf enjoying a beer.

Our destination in the distance…

Our last day on South Island was devoted to hiking. Given the rain and cold conditions we endured on our previous hike, we were excited to see this day dawn sunny and warm. On the road early, we re-traced part of our drive from the previous day on our way to Abel Tasman National Park.

The smallest of New Zealand’s national parks, the 87 square mile Abel Tasman is famous for its Coast Track. Following the coast line for 32 miles, it can be hiked in three to five days but is also accessible via water taxis that drop people off at different points in the park. We are not campers, so we opted for a speedy boat ride to Bark Bay in the middle of the park. From there, we would enjoy a seven mile hike to Anchorage, the beach were we would be picked up by another boat later.

Everything about the day in Abel Tasman was a sheer joy. The ride out in the small, speedy boat was exhilarating. The hike, while not too strenuous, was chalk full of great scenery and German tourists. And the big boat that we caught back had a snack bar that stocked beer. Merideth and I enjoyed a McCashins Pilsner keeping up our Hike-n-Beer tradition.

Enjoying a beer after a nice day on the trail

Prior to the trip, I looked at this three day leg as the focal point of our first New Zealand adventure. In a reflective mood on the 3-hour ferry ride to Wellington on the North Island the following morning, I couldn’t help but think what an almost perfect three days Merideth and I had visiting the “Craft Brewing Capital of New Zealand.” It’s always nice when traveling this far that reality meets expectation.

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Craft Brewing Capital of New Zealand Part I

One of the hardest tasks when planning a visit to a new country is where to go. While true for parts of our inaugural New Zealand trip, this was not the case for Nelson, the “Craft Brewing Capital of New Zealand.”


Stretching from Tasman Bay to Golden Bay on the upper part of South Island, we obviously had to explore the Nelson craft beer trail. It was just an added bonus that the region was also the hop growing center of New Zealand, filled with hiking possibilities and shared my surname.

After spending a cold, rainy day hiking in the Southern Alps, we eagerly hit the road the next morning. We headed north chasing sunshine and warmth as we drove to South Island’s northern coast. It took nearly four hours, but we finally spied our first hop field; a signal that we reached our destination.

Our first stop on the trail, Moutere (pronounced Moo-Ta-Ree) Inn, billed itself a New Zealand’s oldest pub. Founded in 1850, about the same time German immigrants settled in the area, the inn sat majestically on a small hill. Like many other weary travelers over the last 164 years, we were relieved to enter its welcoming doorway.

Lunch is served at Moutere Inn

We were one of only a half dozen customers on a Monday afternoon. After pouring over their extensive selection of beer, we ordered a four beer sample paddle that included the three house beers. Food ordered and paddle in hand, Merideth and I settled at a table in the expansive outdoor seating area.

The sun felt good as we delved into the sample paddle and our ploughman’s lunch. Harking back to the area’s roots, Moutere Inn brews German-style beers. Of the three, 1516 Pilsner, Neudorf Ale (an Alt-style), and Sarau Lager, the latter stood out for both of us. Sarau, the original name for the area, was a refreshing Munich-style Helles, one of our favorite styles.

Merideth relaxing at Moutere Inn

Revived by beer, food, warmth and sun, Merideth and I pressed on for the last part of the day’s journey. The mountains and rolling countryside that we experienced most of the day transformed into a mix of industrial and  suburbia as we got closer to Nelson.

It’s always a beer traveling bonus when we come across a brewery on our target list without even trying to look for it. On the way to our lodgings, Merideth spied a sign with a big beer bottle. About to pass McCashin’s Brewery, I quickly pulled over and parked. We were at our second brewery on the Nelson trail.

Merideth enjoying the McCashin’s sample paddle and Wifi

McCashin’s bar possessed the vibe prevalent in many American tap rooms. The bustling pub was filled with all manner of furniture and, for the lack of a better term, stuff. We bellied up to the bar and stared blankly at the menu.

Besides being on our target list, we knew very little about McCashin’s. Hence, the blank staring at the menu. In the end, we used the process of elimination as our guide to picking five of the eight beers available for the sample paddle. We nixed the two darks plus the smoked beer.

Armed with our paddle, we headed outside to enjoy the mid-afternoon sun, finally settling at a table under a large tree [Pro Tip: Don’t sit near the door by the bottling line if you want quiet time].

From McCashin’s Stoke range, three were of particular interest to me because the tasting notes said they were brewed with local hops. The Pilsner, Biscuit and Bohemian all had Nelson Sauvin with Motueka used in the first two as well. If Merideth and I fell in love with one type of beer while in New Zealand, it was Pils hopped with Nelson Sauvin.

In the evening, we made our way to Founders Heritage Park in Nelson. Located on the edge of town, I was a bit dumbfounded by what we stumbled upon. It seemed like a shopping mall but there were also some old-timey buildings. After some investigation, we discovered the the park depicted local life from the late 19th century to the 1930s. Though not adverse to educational opportunities, everything appeared closed by the time of our arrival. After a bit of a wander we discovered Founders Brewing towards the back of the property.

Chris sampling at Founders.

And just in the nick of time, too, as Founders Brewing was about to close. We turned on the charm and secured a sample paddle. Though now owned by one of the big Kiwi drinks conglomerates, Founders has a long history dating back to the 1850s and lasting six generations, including the current brewers. Starting with the 1854 Porter, each beer in the six paddle sample represented one of the generations. After the Porter came a Red Ale, then Stout, Pilsner and Pale Ale. Though not spectacular, all the beers were really solid and clean. Being of the modern generation, my favorite was the last in the series, the 5.3 % ABV 2009 IPA.

While we enjoyed the sample paddle and watching the birds play in the hop plants, we did arrive just before closing time, so we quickly finished the beers and thanked them for squeezing us in. Before calling it a night, we managed to have a pint at one of the Sprig and Ferns pubs in Central Nelson. The long day finally caught up with us, however, and we retired to our lodgings to rest up for the last two days on South Island.

The sun setting on Tasman Bay

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Being Californians, I think that we are quite earthquake aware. And we were aware there was a devastating earthquake in Christchurch several years back, but that was all in the back of our minds when planning a one day beer exploration of the South Island’s largest city.

Driving through the darkened streets of Christchurch after a late flight from Sydney, there really wasn’t much to see. All looked perfectly normal. Even the next morning when foraging for a cup of coffee from our just off the city center motel, I saw a few empty lots and a bit of construction. To me, it looked like a city well on the way to recovery.

Victoria Jubilee Clock Tower

By the time Merideth and I set out for our Christchurch Urban Beer Hike it was a bit warm and sticky. Our plan was for a leisurely three or four stop day that would be our introduction to New Zealand beer. We headed towards the city center which lay in the path to the first brewery stop a couple of miles away in the suburb of Woolston.

In a few minutes we reached the Victoria Jubilee Clock Tower. Surrounded by construction fencing, the historic clock was seriously damaged during the earthquake, the face still displaying the time of the disaster, 12:51. Continuing on, we entered what on my tourist map labeled the “Red Zone,” an area of limited access.

“Red Zone” probably should have been a clue. Not knowing what to expect, I guess we didn’t expect to find what we saw. We wandered somewhat in disbelief. Block after block of either empty lots or abandoned, tattered office blocks that looked like a set from some post-apocalyptic movie. Every now and then there was a buttressed building facade with no building behind it.

Palette Pavilion

Not that there wasn’t hope in all the devastation. Creativity sprouted up here and there. Empty lots hosted every sort of art installation. Palette Pavilion, stacks of blue-painted wooden palettes, was part cafe, part garden.

And just off the tram tracks was our favorite, Re:START, a shopping mall made of shipping containers. The eclectic mix of shops drew a good crowd of noontime shoppers. If it only had a beer bar, we would have spent more time there.

A shipping container mall

It was at Re:START that we made an interesting discovery. Reading a earthquake memorial plaque, we realized that coincidentally we were in Christchurch on the 3rd anniversary.

Continuing on, it was pretty much more of the same. Somewhat numb, we reached the other end of city center and exited the “Red Zone.” Passing from light industrial to residential, it was a straight shot out to Woolston.

The Brewery

In all the sensory overload of the city center, we completely forgot that it was a bit warm. Just when it felt like we had had enough of the heat, we reached our first brewery Cassels & Sons.

On arrival, the first thing we noticed were the cool brick buildings, tanneries built in the Victorian era which now were trendy-looking shops. Pre-earthquake, Cassels & Sons was housed in one of these buildings. Destroyed, it was reestablished as a brewpub, called the Brewery, at the front of the same complex, a 1970s building originally slated for demolition.

Compared to the somewhat somber mood of the city center, an energetic vibrancy welcomed us as we entered. Walkers, cyclists, bikers, families, and all manner of people were enjoying lunch and a beer or two on a nice Saturday afternoon. From the ample outdoor seating, Merideth and I chose a quiet corner in the covered section. We quickly ordered the six beer sample paddle.

Merideth enjoying her first ever pint of Kiwi beer

The diverse paddle ranged from Light Owl, a 2.5% ABV Pale Ale to a malty Dunkel that clocked in at 5.6% ABV. Parched from the long, hot walk, Merideth and I two-fisted the small samples of beer and ice water. Almost lost in the moment was the fact that these were our very first New Zealand beers on New Zealand soil. The honor of the very first went to their 4.8% ABV Lager, a beer perfect for the day.

Of the six, my favorite was the what I thought was there IPA. But  when I ordered a pint, I was corrected by our waitress. It wasn’t IPA but 1PA (One-PA), a single malt, single hop Pale Ale made with New Zealand Cascades. Very subtle in flavor, this was my baptism into local hops.

Our thirst sated, Merideth and I were able to enjoy a nice lunch. We were ready for what the rest of the day had to offer.

We didn’t walk all the way to Woolston for just for one brewery. Just a short distance away, mostly through a quaint park, was our New Zealand brewery number two. The Twisted Hop was located in the city center prior to the earthquake in a building that since has been demolished. Their Woolston location opened in October 2012.

The Twisted Hop

The cool air of the pub was very welcoming and we quickly had our second beer paddle in front of us. Another sextuplet of beers to sample, these ranged towards the lighter side of the spectrum except for the black/brown Twisted Ankle.

The paddle at Twisted Hop…

Despite specializing in English-style cask ales, it was the two lagers with a Kiwi twist that stood out for both of us. The refreshing Pacifckölsch was brewed entirely with New Zealand Pacifica hops, a local version of Hallertauer Mittlefrüh.

The star was Sauvin Pilsner, a crisp brew made with New Zealand’s signature hop. Undoubtedly, Pilsner purists would be up in arms but we enjoyed the Kiwi twist on the classic beer style. Sauvin Pilsner, for both of us, was one of the beers of the trip.

Somewhat out of character for us, we decided to take the bus back from the Twisted Hop rather than walk. More of a time issue, we did enjoy the air conditioned bus instead of being broiled by the midday sun. Back in the city, we took a rather circuitous route to our final Christchurch beer stop.

The “Pom”

Housed in an imposing 18th century red brick  building, Pomeroy’s Old Brewery Inn bustled with a late afternoon crowd. Families and groups of friends crowded most of the tables inside and out. We grabbed a booth for ourselves.

There were two reasons for us to visit the Pom. Not only were there 30 plus taps of mostly New Zealand beer but recently they had added an in house brewery, Four Avenues Brewing.

We quickly added Four Avenues to the List as there was only one beer to try. Half Nelson, that I am guessing was 50% Nelson Sauvin, was an easy drinking 3.8% ABV English-style Bitter. It paired nicely with the huge plate of crackling.


With a few beers still left in us, we chose from the menu two breweries that we knew we weren’t visiting. Farmhouse Pale from 8 Wired was a Pale Ale/Saison hybrid inspired by the brewers visit to Oxbow in Maine. I’ll need to fly back to Maine to try the Oxbow version again for comparison. Yeastie Boys Golden Perch, at 4.4% ABV, was similar in body to the Half Nelson but had much more hop character. Golden Perch was one of my favorite beers of the whole trip.

Taking a break at the end of the day…

Beered out, we called it a day and wandered back to our motel room. Later that night as we lay in bed, we could hear music and fireworks off in the distance, a commemoration of that terrible day three years ago. Beer travel doesn’t often make us reflective but this was one of those moments we were thankful for the day’s experience.

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