The vibe on Wellington’s iconic Cuba Street is buzzing. Although the wind threatens to blow the water pouring from the bucket fountain all the way to Parliament, the atmosphere on the street is warm and calm. Wellingtonians are well known for being confident, quirky and experimental. Combined with being the most educated bunch in the country, this has been a huge contribution to why a handful of brave souls are now brewing some outstanding beer. The local craft beer culture has been thriving successfully for several years, since Grant from Regional Wines and Spirits took the leap almost 20 years ago to support and stock craft beer in his store. Inner-city craft breweries are popping up in rapid succession amongst the countless number of bars and restaurants in the city that are primarily devoted to craft beer. It is not surprising then, that these eclectic Wellingtonians and their visiting friends are drinking one third of the entire country’s national craft beer output. I was ready to contribute to that statistic.
While the afternoon sun was still showing it’s face, we visited our first craft beer bar, The Hop Garden. From the outside the building looks relatively unappealing, but on walking through the front door
to 40 taps situated on a gigantic barrel including several of their own brews to try. $15 tasting trays are offered, and a quick chat with the barman about your taste will have you sitting down with four perfect pours to try. We started with the Green Hopped American Pale Ale The Hop Stepper, brewed on site as part of the inaugural Hopstock festival which was running during our stay. The fresh hops make for a punchy beer, full of grapefruit and goodness. Fork & Brewer also concentrates on using products and by-products of their beer in their “traditional pub food with a twist” menu. The Bohemian Hipster (a F&B brewed pilsner) BBQ sauce is a house favourite used in several dishes on the menu. All dishes on the menu include a beer style match suggestion, showing
these guys are all about combining in any way possible.
Just around the corner lies Hashigo Zake, a hidden basement gem designed for the true beer connoisseur. The atmosphere here is in complete contrast to the other two bars we’d just visited; the dim lighting and dark brick create a rich moody and mysterious feeling. The focus down here is truly on offering fantastic craft beer. With no resident tap beers and over 160 bottled beers, you could come here every day for a year and never run out of beer to try. The import their international beers direct from the breweries as well, so the beer is always cold and fresh, and many of them can’t be found anywhere else in town. Although their passion is quite clearly beer, they’re also slowly reinventing the image of cider in New Zealand. I was apprehensive but branched away from my usual order of an IPA beer and tried a Peckham’s cider. I was intensely surprised at the off-dry style and tannins that made up the drink. Nothing like it’s sweet stereotype. While sipping on my classy ‘cider’, the barman told me about The Pacific Beer Expo which is held yearly over labour weekend at
the Boatshed on Wellington’s waterfront. If you’re in town over the 25th-26th October, their tickets will be on their website very soon.
For a more upmarket, away from the students type craft beer bar, I’d absolutely recommend Bin 44. It’s the only craft beer bar situated on Wellington’s beautiful Queen’s Wharf; and the wind had calmed so we very much enjoyed the walk there from Hashigo Zake. Bin 44 has an air of relaxed class, a professional cliental but not in any way pretentious. By this point we were getting a little peckish, and a bite before the next beer was definitely a good idea. We ordered a Pollo pizza; chicken, bacon and the most deliciously rich Yeastie Boys “Pot Kettle Black” BBQ sauce. As with Fork & Brewer, Bin 44 creatively adds beer to their dishes, teaming up with local breweries to produce a wonderful menu. Before moving on we tried an Epic Epicurean Coffee and Fig Oatmeal Stout, which instead of just having coffee notes as many stouts do, actually was made with beans from Wellington’s local coffee roaster L’affare.
One of the newer craft beer bars to enter the scene in Wellington is Rouge and Vagabond, an alternative, eccentric live music bar. I had heard that this was one not to miss, if not for the local jazz and blues bands playing six days a week, then absolutely for their icon, Bruce Robert Vagabond. This man is the most chilled, down to earth British Bulldog you’ll ever meet. Over a deliciously hoppy local Panhead Vandal, the
bartender told us about their art and music influence. The bar is host to a commission free, monthly changing exhibition space which when we visited was filled with beautiful cartoon-esk paintings of women. The bar is situated in Glover Park, just off Cuba, and if you visit in the summer they apparently have licensed a large area of the park and fill it with beanbags for an afternoon tipple. This is definitely one to visit if you want a snapshot of what Wellington is all about.
After a full afternoon sampling a generous amount of the region’s finest beer, we decided to end the evening at a new restaurant called Grill Meats Beer; a clearly suitable way to end our hop-filled adventure. Over grilled ribs, freshly ground beef burgers and one last beer we discussed the huge and ever growing success of craft beer in Wellington. Despite having started almost two decades ago, there is no sign that craft beer popularity will decline in the near future. New craft brewers and bars continue to appear almost monthly in the capital and with countless more still left to visit, a return trip is already in the calendar.