Brewers can show their stuff as well as winemakers, writes Don Kavanagh.

I've been lucky enough to get to two beer festivals on consecutive weekends, a situation as close to heaven as I can imagine.

They were very different festivals. One was an entirely craft event and the other contained a little bit of everything.

The Marchfest event was held in Nelson's Founder's Heritage Park, as cool a venue as you could imagine. Set among a mini-village of old-time shops, houses and stables, 14 local (and local-ish) breweries served brews made specially for the event, all with their own special flavour.

From Peckham's quince-laced Aphrodite Cider to the marmalade and toast of the Mussel Inn's Paddington Bear breakfast beer, there was innovation, cleverness, skill and, above all, flavour in every glass.


The weather was hideous, which was a surprise given Nelson's cherished claim to being one of the sunniest places in the country, but 4000 people decided that rain wasn't going to hurt them and set out to have a great time.

And it was a great time and the food excellent. The music was a bit much at times, but at least it wasn't drab barbecue reggae. The behaviour of the crowd was exemplary. Not a voice raised in anger, despite the presence of some biggish beers and an almost invisible security force. I think the organisers deserve a pat on the back for such a great festival.

The Auckland Beer Festival was a different beast entirely. Around 25 breweries were represented so it wasn't a solely craft event and attracted big names such as Mac's, Monteith's and Carlsberg.

There were some very good beers on show, including craft favourites such as Epic and Yeastie Boys as well as less-well known brews such as the 1010 beers from the Sale Street bar and Invercargill Brewery's mighty Boysenbeery.

It was a much better day weatherwise, but the unrelenting crowds that packed into the Cloud meant a 40-minute wait for a beer at some stands, which tends to take the edge off the day.

It was oddly disjointed, too, the frenetic crowd jostling inside contrasting with a laid-back outside area.

Despite those quibbles, it's great to see decent festivals in New Zealand and doubly encouraging to see that beer can put on a show just as well, if not better, than wine can.

Keep up the good work.