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.
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.
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.
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.
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.