Once upon a time Wellington used to be grey and scary, but now we’re arty and bohemian. We can still land a commercial aircraft in a stiff breeze mind, but we can also kick Hollywood’s arse and throw an awesome party afterwards just to show there’s no hard feelings.
Most importantly, Wellington is the place to be when you want to immerse yourself in New Zealand boutique beer culture. Craft Beer Capital showcases the best places to find craft beer on tap or in the bottle.
Way back in the day when Mac's was considered edgy, Wellington was already drinking good beer from a smattering of craft brewers. Craft beer was introduced to the city by Regional Wines and Spirits
. Grant who owned the bottle store, had previously given the Martinborough vineyards a huge leg up by selling their wines for them. One by one, the wine labels left Regional to pursue opportunities with other larger distributors. Grant then decided to push craft beer. He helped all the small breweries who could hardly give their beer away. Back in the day there was Polar
breweries from Wellington, Mac's
of course, and Emerson's
from Dunedin was just getting started. This was all about 20 years ago; many of the craft breweries from then have disappeared, and been replaced by others.
Bar Bodega and the Malthouse were the two early adopters of craft beer as a point of difference in their respective bars. Bodega catered for the alternative drinking scene, and Malthouse took the suits by the jugular by setting up shop with 30 different beers spread over 40 taps. It was an instant hit, and became Wellington's favourite drinking hole. However many of the other bars had tight contracts with the big breweries, and did not follow what was obviously successful. Grant again championed the cause by getting craft beer stocked by all the better cafes and restaurants which were not on the big breweries' radar. This was particularly prevalent in Wellington's Cuba Street cafes who served great coffee by day, and great craft beer at night. It wasn't long before there were plenty of outlets serving craft beer. It's fair to say in the early days, craft was not always on song, as the brewers lacked the tools of the trade to ensure quality and consistency. In fact it was far from consistent, even changing wildly in alcohol percentage. As the brewers got busier, the consistency came with it, and great beer was being poured in Wellington's cooler drinking holes.
It's no secret that Wellington is the central hub for craft beer in New Zealand, so we have aptly named it our Craft Beer Capital.
Us Wellingtonians and our crafty tourists consume a third of the country's national craft beer output. Tuatara Brewery
, New Zealand's most productive craft brewery, is Wellington born and operated. Our local brewing talent is thriving, with internationally successful contract brewers Yeastie Boys
pioneering an age of experimentation and confidence that has borne two inner-city craft breweries in rapid succession, ParrotDog
& Garage Project
. Heck, even one of our supermarkets New World Thorndon
, at the time of writing this stocks over 500 predominantly craft beers! And every year, because of this enthusiasm, it only makes sense for us to host the country's premium beer event Beervana
and the national Brewers Guild of NZ awards
Now, there is a great trail whereby you can be assured of a great beer from Lambton Quay to Courtenay Place, and even in our suburbs as well. It seems as though Wellington is the only major city to be following the the great renaissance of craft beer as has been bubbling away in the States, in particular the West Coast and it's fabled capital of craft - Portland.
It's probably because Wellingtonians don't need to be told what to drink to be cool, or popular. We are Ok in our own skins, and don't conform to the badge of acceptance that you are a cultured drinker if you are swigging on an international green-bottle lager. The rest of the country will catch on eventually, but for now, let's take the next big step, and have the beer trail recognised for how truly good it is. You don't come to Wellington for the weather, but you can for the beer.
It's part of the maturing of drinking, and we are lucky to be living in a city that actually cares what is being drunk, not what badge is on it.