Last week, The Crafty Pint joined a huge contingent of Australian brewers and beer lovers to make the trek to Wellington. The Kiwi city now calls itself Craft Beer Capital and with good reason: Stu from the Yeastie Boys contends that 50 percent of draught beer consumed in the CBD is craft (probably rising to 80 percent last weekend) and there is a host of great venues as well as supermarkets with beer ranges to shame many of Austalia’s specialist bottleshops.
The reason for the trip was to attend the country’s biggest annual beer festival, Beervana, as well as the recently launched Road to Beervana while sampling the best the country’s brewers (and some beers flown in from Portland) had to offer.
What was it all about?
Beervana is now in its 13th year and attracts around 6,000 people to Wellington’s Westpac Stadium each year to sample beers, attend seminars, eat excellent food and meet awesome people. This year you could even have your beard trimmed at one stall or have genuine tattoos inked on another.
Originally founded under a different name by the NZ Brewers Guild, it later became Beervana and was sold a few years back to David Cryer, of Cryermalt, before moving to the stadium. Initially, it feels like an odd space in which to hold it – the stalls (some of them hugely impressive) line both sides of the concourse under the stands as it wends its way around the pitch, interspersed with stages for bands – but it doesn’t take long to adjust and turn your focus onto the mix of brewers and cider producers both large and small (with the latter drawing the bigger crowds).
It runs over four sessions at the end of a week that for the first time this year was tagged Road To Beervana. A bunch of passionate folks involved in various aspects of the local beer scene joined forces to pull together a series of events (tap takeovers, beer launches and the like) taking place across the city over the week then produced a sweet little fold out map and guide to help visitors navigate the city. It was highly reminiscent of the first Good Beer Week in 2011, albeit here they managed to pull everything together in a staggering four weeks – less than half the time it took Good Beer Week’s founders to go from idea to event.
Other elements of the week included a trade show and the annual NZ Brewers Guild Awards, where Nelson’s Townshend’s Brewery, a real ale specialist, took out the Champion Brewery title – full results here. There were also medals for a few Aussies, notably a Gold Medal for Two Birds' Taco and one for WILDE Gluten Free Pale Ale, with Mountain Goat and Stone & Wood also snapping up medals.
With Wellington on a Plate also on, there was much to tantalise on the food front, including more burgers than you could dream of and a pop-up from Melbourne’s Rockwell & Sons.
Which breweries were there?
Most of New Zealand was represented either at the festival or on the 100s of crafty taps across the city. Sadly (for the festival organisers as much as anyone) there was an absence of any Australian beers other than those who’d made arrangements to have beer outside the festival. The shipment for the Australia Bar at Beervana experienced a litany of disasters: the ship the container was on broke down and had to return to Melbourne; the container was moved to another ship that should have arrived just in time – except the container wasn’t actually moved; come Beervana, the container was still several days away from Wellington.
The bonus for Kiwi beer lovers wishing to sample what’s going on over here (little Australian beer is regularly imported to NZ) is that there are plans for follow up events once the beers land.
Other than that, this was the year Beervana launched a partnership with Portland, Oregon, which meant there were beers and brewers there from Commons, Gigantic and Widmer Brothers. The brewers starred at sold out seminars and were also on hand to chat about their beers and breweries at a dedicated stand.
Who was there?
At one point it seemed that every bar contained at least 25 percent Aussies as the beer world’s equivalent of the Student Exchange program between Wellington and Melbourne continued apace. It wasn’t just beer industry folk either with heaps of familiar “normal” (everything is relative) faces around the traps too. In fact, there were so many familiar faces, Aussie and Kiwi, that attempts to get to as many new venues as intended – or even take a refreshing walk (very refreshing – it was bitter and windy as hell!) – were regularly thwarted by a “Hey, Crafty! Fancy joining us at (enter venue name here)?”
Being invited to partake in the Media Brew judging after it became impossible to create another entry with Murray’s in time. There was a huge diversity in the entries, with the instruction to include one native Kiwi ingredient leading to multiple herbaceous drops, one with spring water, coconut and fresh raspberries that was like a refreshing soft drink, another that had lamb’s bones dropped into the boil and was served with a sprig of thyme and some wild beers too. The winner was a spontaneously fermented sour from Hallertau, pushed close by the Crafty Pint’s pick of the beers, J.A.F.A. from Liberty that used, among other things, BBQ’d Jaffa oranges.
An attempt to escape from the sampling for a walk by the water being thwarted by Callum, a Glaswegian formerly of the Terminus and now running a bar in Wellington, within 200m of leaving the Malthouse and ending up in C.G.R. Merchants & Co, the new venue with links to Flight of the Conchords, wherein we sampled delightful flavoured spirits.
Meeting the people behind ventures such as Road to Beervana and Craft Beer Capital and discovering kindred spirits.
The prevalence of well made, traditional real ales from the likes of Cassels & Sons and Townshend’s that are, for the most part, totally absent from the Australian beer scene.
Of the new (to Crafty) bars visited, Golding’s Free Dive. Beer Is Love indeed.
Sitting down to record a podcast with Ale of a Time at Little Beer Quarter, we opted for Townshend’s Sutton Hoo, an undemonstrative English style pale ale, as we fancied something light and sessionable. Among the weird, wild and wonderful, the hugely hopped and the barrel-aged, this was probably the most enjoyable beer of the trip, with every sip transporting us back to an old pub in the UK.
There were heaps of sours and wild beers around. Soren from 8 Wired had done plenty, with his Feijoa attracting the most attention but the Brett version of his Rewired Brown Ale the one we returned to (and pushed on others). Hat tip to Good George’s Kiwi Sour too.
Garage Project once again lived up to their hype, not just with the beers but their awesome war bunker themed pop-up venue (that just happened to be 270m from the hotel). Whether it was the Makers Mark barrel-aged numbers, such as the juicy as hell Double Barrel Cockswain’s Courage, or the Flat White (they pour a Coffee Russian Imperial Stout into the glass first then add milk in the form of a lactose-heavy cream ale) or much else besides, they truly are pushing the bounds of creativity and showmanship but with great beers as the result.
And then there were the hops, with a huge array of fine beers showcasing Kiwi hops from the old favourites such as Tuatara’s APA and Emerson’s Pilsner to those from relative newcomers such as Panhead and new beers from established brewers, such as Epic’s Lupulingus.
In terms of those not encountered before, thoroughly enjoyed the Commons beers and those from Kereru. Then there were many breweries we didn’t even get to and, well, we’ve been going on long enough so…
Summarise the event in three words:
Go next year.
Photography by Jed Soanes, Marty Melville and Crafty Pint