Beer Enlightenment in NZ

Posted by: James on: Tuesday, 9th August, 2011

There are three flavours of ale in NZ: the dark, the medium and the light – or as our friend Drew puts it, the black one, the brown one and the yellow one. These are the three standard flavours and whether you go for Macs, Monteiths or even a microbrew version like Sawmill from the Northland, you’ll not find much deviation from this set served at your average bar.

All three are served the same: cold and fizzy. Like a lager, but not a lager – in fact ‘the yellow one’ is so close to being a lager that I feel it should whip off it’s mask and declare “okay, you got me!”

Me and beer.

Practising my faith - around the world.

This was in an nutshell what I thought of the NZ beer scene before this weekend. I am a pretty faithful real ale drinker and I was hoping that I might find amongst the cultural elements so successfully retained from the old empire a love of proper beer and proper venues for the consumption thereof. How disappointed I was to find these three beers everywhere – and everywhere served at a temperature that rendered impossible the tastebuds’ distinction between them.

As I say, that was before this weekend, which we spent in Wellington, home to the ‘beervana’ beer festial. Beervana features about 80 different beers from up and down NZ – beers that go far beyond the strict tripartite boundaries of the national flavour. There were even a couple of brews that reminded me of home (I ended up haunting the beautifully lukewarm and carbonation-free Real Ale bar) – the Cassels best bitter actually sent me back to the Sussex countryside in the sun enjoying a blissful pint of Harveys.

In all I think we tried around 15 different brews each – the tasters were only 100ml each, so actually fairly well paced. Of course, there were a couple of duds, but the take-home message is that there is range here: not only is it possible to find a decent pint; it’s also possible to give it a sniff, swill it around a bit and claim to your mates that you’re enyoying the ‘heathery overtones’. Now the only question I have is “Where do I go to buy these things?” assuming that beervana is only on two days per year and doesn’t roadshow up to Auckland. Apart from brewing our own beer, we’re kinda stuck there.

There is one bastion of hope – Galbraiths Alehouse, which is just up the road and has a good range of artisan brews, which you can get in four half-pint taster format, complete with tasting notes. Galbraiths also brews its own beers onsite, so it’s got an added authenticity that comes with being able to see the process. If you don’t mind the spacious high ceilings and lack of pub-style dark corners, Galbraiths is pretty good (although expensive – did I mention that you pay about 8NZD (£4.25) for a pint in NZ, which at time of writing is about £1 above central London prices?). If you don’t like them apples – or hops – just go for wine, which is reasonably priced at the bar; dirt cheap at the supermarket.

Bottom line: for anyone asking “Will there be a decent brew on ex-pat island?”, yes there will, but you might have to go out of your way to find it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


A fairly loose blog about the places I go and the things I think. May also include left-leaning social commentary derived in part from video games.

What I’ve been on about: