WITH a bit of spare time and some forward planning it’s possible to sample a great range of Kiwi craft beer in the top half of the South Island. An Easter family holiday, combined with the SOBA ‘Weekend Away’, provided a good opportunity for me to get round some quality South Island brews.
But be warned, if I were to mention that our three young alpaca boys are named ‘Wheaty’, ‘Golden’ and ‘Porter’ in homage to a certain Cantabrian craft brewery, you may come to realise why there may unashamedly be more than just a passing mention of this particular enterprise and its products in the following article…..
Akaroa – Tres agreable, mais ou sont de bieres?
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Akaroa, but what a woeful choice of craft beer in such a beautiful spot. Thank heavens for Vangionis on Rue Lavaud, an atmospheric trattoria with Three Boys Pilsner on tap and the remainder of the range in bottle. Delicious food and enthusiastic, attentive, staff made for a great evening. The remainder of the dozen or so other bars, hotels and cafes are currently firmly tied up by the ‘big two’ in their various guises, so it was a fresh fruit ice cream instead of a Monteith’s Radler in the daytime and Canterbury Pinot instead of Canterbury Draught back at our lodge.
Christchurch – Escape from Jail
While the family flew back to Welly, I was banged up at the Jail Backpackers in Addington, but escaped for a morning visit to Three Boys Brewery and an evening session at Pomeroy’s, thus reluctantly bypassing the Twisted Hop on this occasion. Great to catch up with Ralph and even greater to sample 5 brews all straight from the conditioning tanks Pilsner, IPA, Wheat, Twisted Hop IPA and of course the scrumptious Oyster Stout. All tasting pretty spot on to me, so no more tinkering boss!
A first visit to Pomeroy’s, to the north-east of the city, with the bar filling up quickly early evening. One punter was Ally of Golden Ticket fame, so we proceeded to put the beer world to rights over a Harrington’s Saddleback Lager and an Emerson’s London Porter. With an early start on the Trans Scenic planned for the following day, I resisted the attempt to run through the other six kiwi tap beers on offer on this occasion. Rumour has it Oyster Stout may appear on a genuine handpump soon.
Blenheim – Rendezvous with the Crew
By some sort of logistical miracle, I managed to be collected from Blenheim Station as the last of our seventeen strong SOBA ‘Weekend Away’ party, at the designated time. This was no thanks to me as organiser, directing our splendid Bay Tours minibus driver, Marion, to the Interislander Terminal in Picton, when all those sailing actually came in via the
Bluebridge! So it was straight to Renaissance for a brilliantly animated and amusing description of the birth and evolution of the current Dodson Street brewery by Andy.
Many folk may not truly grasp the implications of purchasing kit in such an appalling condition from the former Marlborough Brewing Company, unless a description is heard first hand.
However, all the donkey work has proved worthwhile, with the Discovery, Porter and particularly the Perfection, all tasting good at the adjoining bar.
Onto Moa, despite cries for a ‘beer shop stop’ at Fresh Choice – Springlands, where we were treated to a very special tasting by Dave, which included jugs of barrel-aged St Joseph’s Triple and Imperial Russian Stout. The plant, situated amongst Alan Scott’s Cloudy Bay vineyard, was flat out preparing the more conventional brews for global distribution and ultimate world domination.
The final Marlborough area stop was former SOBA committee member Mike Pink’s Old Bank Bar in Redwoodtown, Blenheim. The branding reads ‘Real Beer, Real Kiwi, Real Food, Real Good’ and this aptly summed up a fine community local. Amongst the 8 craft beers on tap, I spied Soren’s 8Wired Rewired American style Brown Ale, so was more than happy sample a couple before setting our sights on Nelson. Look out for a permanent handpump installation in the near future.
Nelson – Divine Intervention
Driver regulations intervened to force our arrival in Nelson towards 8pm latest, giving plenty of time for backpacker checkin and a stroll to The Free House, Mic and Eelco’s divine church restoration tucked away on Collingwood Street. A dazzling display of ten taps and three handpumps, from which I selected Townshend ESB, Croucher Ale and of course, Three Boys Oyster Stout.
You can even now get your takeaway curry delivered to the pub from our favourite Indian restaurant across the road.
MarchFest – Worth the Wait?
As a prelude to MarchFest we took in a brief visit to Bays Brewery out by Nelson airport, maybe not the first choice on many people’s list to visit, but nonetheless a producer of three ‘craft beers’ which feature alongside their four ‘standard’ brews and deserving of SOBA support. The craft range comprises Amadeus Pilsner (5.2%), Bengal Tiger Pale Ale (5.2%) and Exclamator Doppelbock (7.5%), which we sampled from the fill your own rigger dispensers. Bengal Tiger has previously been spotted roaming Courtenay Place on the odd occasion, but unfortunately all three of these beers are now only distributed locally.
So to the centrepiece of the weekend, Marchfest, which sadly almost embarrassed itself this year, by virtue of the appallingly long wait for service at the relocated bar.
The flip side to this was that there was plenty of time for our volunteer SOBA crew to mix, mingle, recruit and hopefully educate some of the punters patiently waiting for one of the following specialty brews:
- Founder’s God Knows Best Bitter (autumn ale) 5.0%
- Golden Bear Liquifaction (pale ale) 6.3%
- LighthouseApril Fuel (amber ale) 5.5%
- Moa Blanc Resurrection (Belgian wit) 5.0%
- Monkey Wizard Golgotha (porter)5.5%
- Mussel Inn Missing Lynx (marzenbier) 5.2%
- Renaissance Funkelryesen (spiced rye beer) 5.0%
- Sprig & Fern De-Vine Inspiration (pilsner) 5.0%
- Totara Ninkasi Green (pale ale) 5.0%
- Townshend Roger Parks (IPA) 6.3%.
Those final three on the list were my personal favourites on the day.
A new and excellent feature this year, was the Brewers’ Seminar, where the creator of each of the above had the opportunity to expand on the recipe and processes used and also be prepared to answer those awkward questions from the audience. This feature could have been better advertised, but sessions were well attended nonetheless and those savvy enough realised they could get free samples without the queuing!
As the day wore on some punters were spotted reluctantly retreating to the local Sprig & Fern, but when the tills ran out of small change and price of a beer was correspondingly reduced to $5, there was a noticeable reduction in serving times.
In summary, the beers were of a superior quality to last year, the layout not so, the Immigrants are a great alt rock cover band, the SOBA stand was a success and Mic & Eelco were very quick to publish an email apologising to anyone who felt they experienced a less than satisfactory event this year.
The lure of the Free House once more proved too strong for yours truly and I whiled away the latter part of the evening catching up with old friends Helen and Kev from Christchurch over
a Three Boys Golden and of course an Oyster Stout or three.
Onekaka – Manonamission
My previous attempt at visiting the legendary Mussel Inn involved driving the visiting in-laws over the Takaka Hills from Kaiteriteri in a monsoon, only to arrive and find it closed for a private function! On this occasion, with almost military precision and bathed in glorious Autumnal sunshine, we arrived in good time at Golden Bay for a magical afternoon session.
With four beers plus an apple cider on tap, alongside seven beers plus a feijoa cider in 500ml bottles, the choice was bewilderingly awesome. Not being a manuka man, I bypassed the Captain Cooker, choosing the bottle conditioned 6% Pale Whale and the double hopped 8.5% Bitter Ass. This was topped of by the amazingly easy drinking 10% Monkey Puzzle strong ale.
Plenty of delicious homecooked food on offer to match whatever your selection may have been. We were treated to a fascinating tour of the miniature tower brewery out back by Andrew and then all too soon, it was time for a team photo, before heading
for the hills once more.
Riwaka – Pure Wizardry
As the tour drew to a close, I faced the ultimate dilemma of arranging to spend a little longer at Onekaka, versus allowing time for an ‘unofficial’ final stop at Monkey Wizard Brewery, which was directly en-route to Nelson airport. Logic won the day, we texted ahead to ensure the elusive Matt would still be open for us and sent the illustrious SOBA Press Officer, Greig McGill, ahead on a scouting mission.
In a race against time and as the sun set over Takaka Hill, we bombarded Matt and his partner for samples, riggers and bottles from one of the ‘rarer’ craft brewers. After tasting the delicate NZ Cascadehopped 4% Abel Ale and the five-malt 4% Fat Kelpie English Brown Ale, I opted for a rigger of the former and a special 750ml bottle of the latter. While these were being ordered, there was just enough time for peep out the back at the neat brewhouse, complete with boxer’s punchbag for when things may go awry.
Most of the Abel Ale only made it as far as Nelson Airport Departure Lounge, where the empty riggers were placed proudly on the top of the deserted chiller as a proud monument for all the small guys doing good.
A few years back it would have been impossible to have encountered the superb range of craft ales now available throughout this particular region.
The bars, cafes, restaurants, festival organisers (and supermarkets!) making this happen deserve our utmost support to help them thrive and spawn
further players in the market.
Nick Page, Editor