Winter in New Zealand is traditionally the time for two of the country's best craft beer festivals but unfortunately Wellington's Beervana has been moved to November, and the GABS festival in Auckland has been cancelled for 2020.
Instead, suggests Brett Atkinson, get your fix of interesting and innovative brews by visiting the best pubs and taprooms in and around our biggest cities.
Wood-fired pizza partners with McLeods' award-winning brews at the Pizza Barn in Waipū's former post office. Ask about their latest 802 beer, an ongoing series of fresh hazy brews harnessing different hop varieties. Further south in Matakana, 8 Wired's Barrelworks specialises in sour and barrel-aged beers, and food trucks drop by most weekends.
Food trucks — including Lucky Taco and Miso-ra Ramen — regularly team with beers from Urbanaut and Yeastie Boys at Urbanaut's Kingsland brewery, while other nearby venues along the Auckland Beer Mile include The Beer Spot, the Auckland taproom of Wellington's Garage Project, and Galbraith's Alehouse. Try their British-influenced ales and definitely book ahead for Galbraith's popular Sunday roast.
At the city end of Dominion Rd, Churly's Brew Pub & Eatery is scheduled to open around mid-July with housemade charcuterie partnering with big and bold beers from Behemoth Brewing. Settle into an Auckland winter with Behemoth's smooth Good Morning Vietnam imperial stout made with Vietnamese coffee.
Elsewhere in Auckland, Epic's Onehunga taproom is open on Friday and Saturday afternoons, with one of the country's pioneering craft breweries also partnering with local food trucks, while across on Waiheke Island, Alibi Brewing Company combines seasonal brews and vineyard views at Tantalus Estate.
There are now Good George brewpubs around the Waikato region — and also harbourside at Mission Bay and Wynyard Quarter in Auckland — but their original Hamilton location in Frankton's historical Church of St George is still the best. More world-famous-in-the-Waikato beers are poured at Brewaucracy's taproom just north of the city in industrial Te Rapa — try the Inappropriate Wit witbier — and the best bar in town on Hood St's after-dark strip is Craft. Open the unmarked door at nearby Wonder Horse for more crafty surprises.
Rightly regarded as one of the world's best beer cities, the nation's capital combines some of NZ's trailblazing craft breweries with more recently established neighbourhood brewpubs. Begin northeast of the city at Brewtown in Upper Hutt where Panhead, Boneface, Te Aro Brewing and Kereru all have adjacent taprooms. North of the city in Paraparaumu, Tuatara and Duncan's Brewing both have cellar doors — while further north on the Kapiti Coast, the Salt & Wood Collective showcases local beers from North End Brewery.
Back in the city, there's always interesting brews on the 40 taps at Fork & Brewer, with maestro Kelly Ryan continually tinkering with new hops, yeasts and brewing styles. Even more innovative are the beers from Garage Project in Te Aro. Fans of brewing's more experimental trends should seek out GP's barrel-aged sour beers and wild-fermented Wild Workshop brews.
Reflecting trends in popular beer destinations like Portland, Oregon, Wellington's new band of smaller, neighbourhood-focused breweries include Heyday Beer Co, Fortune Favours and Choice Bros at Husk Bar & Eatery. A final essential Wellington beer destination is Parrotdog's taproom south of the city at Lyall Bay.
There's more craft beer and wood-fired pizza wizardry at Cassels & Sons Brewing amid the heritage vibe of The Tannery in Woolston — their warming and winter-friendly Milk Stout was judged the world's best in 2019 — while Pomeroy's Old Brewery Inn is another contender for the city's cosiest drinking spot. Keep an eye out for local brews from the Beer Baroness. The city's pre-earthquake heritage also echoes at The Laboratory in Lincoln where beers with quirky scientific names are served among salvaged and repurposed building materials from the central city's laneways.
Queenstown & Wanaka
Adventure sports followed by beer is a tried-and-true combination, and brewers such as Searchlight, Altitude, Cargo and Canyon are all maintaining the tasty tradition around Queenstown. Try to visit from Friday to Sunday for the best opening hours.
Nearby in Arrowtown, Lake & Wood Brew Co's beers are available to partner great burgers and grilled chicken at Slow Cuts. Across the Crown Range in Wanaka, Rhyme & Reason, Ground Up and Wanaka Beerworks are all helping to make the Southern Lakes region one of NZ's most surprising beer destinations.
Brewing history abounds in Dunedin, and Emersons first beers were crafted back in 1992. Humble beginnings have evolved to include their sprawling and modern taproom and cellar door, a good place to try seasonal and experimental brews not available throughout the country. For the latest chapter in Dunedin's brewing history visit New New New for small-batch brews and Asian street food from the adjacent Yum Cat eatery.
See nzaletrail.com for more information on NZ's regional brewing scenes, and contact brewbus.co.nz for hop-fuelled excursions where someone else does the driving.
For more New Zealand travel ideas, go to newzealand.com/dosomethingnew