Wellington is a very easy city to love, and it's just about perfect for a food-and drink-filled weekend getaway. An argument could definitely be made for it being the craft beer capital of the country - craft beer infiltrates the city's very core, and there are many great ways to enjoy beer in the windy city.
It's the home to many of New Zealand's craft breweries, and you'd be hard pressed to find an establishment with a liquor licence that doesn't stock craft beer. But it's more than just bars. There are many ways to drink beer in Wellington and whether you're an expert fan or a novice, or even if you don't think beer is for you, it's the perfect destination for a weekend of imbibing. Ahead of August's Beervana festival, I went to investigate.
BEER AT A BAR
Bars are the obvious starting point for getting your craft beer fix. Malthouse on Courtenay Place has more than 150 beers from around the world at any one time, and Little Beer Quarter prides itself on being Wellington's "beer geek heaven" with its 14 rotating taps and 100+ beers in the fridge. Craft beer rockstars Garage Project have opened a taproom bar featuring their beers up in Aro Valley recently too.
The Hannahs Laneway precinct is a must-visit on a Wellington weekend, as food and beverage lovers of all kinds are covered with factories of chocolate, peanut butter, and artisan soda to name a few. Golding's free dive is partway down the laneway, and eclectically kitted out, expertly staffed and their food offerings come from laneway neighbour Pizza Pomodoro - Massimo's woodfired pizzas are some of the best in the business. With rotating beers on taps and plenty to try in the fridges, Golding's is ideal for a quick half-pint, or for settling in for the night.
AT THE CRAFT BEER COLLEGE
If you like a bit of education with your beer drinking, try a beer tour or tasting with Wellington's Craft Beer College. Celebrated beer writer and bartender Phil Cook meets me for a beer at another beer institution, Hashigo Zake, to talk all things educational. Cook is one half of CBC, along with Steph Coutts, and they're well established "beer nerds" about town, with CBC steadily growing since it began five years ago. Cook believes beer appreciation is not about snobbery but about helping and letting people find out what they like. And what does he think about people who say they don't like beer? "It's like saying you don't like art, or music, or movies, or food." He genuinely believes there is a beer for everyone, and that enjoying beer is completely contextual. Their intro course to Hops, Malt and Yeast is popular and features a fun exam at the end but tours can be completely tailored to your level of interest and knowledge. I'll drink to that.
BEER WITH FOOD
Food and beer matching is something local chefs are having a lot of fun with. Shaun Clouston of Logan Brown, and his more casual restaurant, Grill Meats Beer, was an early adopter, and Beervana manager Beth Brash thinks no other chef does food and beer matching like him. And what's the key? "It's all about balance." We tried his Kingfish curry matched with a crisp, clean lager from McLeod's Brewery. Clouston will be serving the match at Beervana and it was, as promised, beautifully balanced. Great burgers are their mainstay though, and with beer it's a tough match to beat.
AT THE SOURCE
Upper Hutt may not be a usual destination for drinking, but in this former industrial hub old factories are taking on new lives as breweries. One that has found such a home is Kereru Brewing Company, in the former Feltex factory, with brewery tours and a cellar door for your take-home needs. Founded by Chris Mills and his wife Natasha, Kereru began as a homebrew operation in their basement - a common start for many commercial brewers now. Down the road in Lower Hutt, Baylands has a tiny brewery and a street-front store, where you can taste and take home, or stock up on homebrew equipment.
AT BEERVANA (AUGUST 12-13, 2016)
Come August, beer fans fill the Westpac stadium concourse for Beervana, Wellington's beer festival. It's in its 15th year, and festival manager Beth Brash says it has grown up alongside the industry. "It began with about 200 people, and was a really niche, geeky thing." Now, much like the industry, Beervana has grown exponentially to reflect how we drink beer as customers more generally. Last year the visitor numbers hit 10,000, and this year the Wellington Culinary Event's Trust, which purchased Beervana last year, anticipate 12,000 through the door.
"We're so lucky to work in such a fun industry, and Beervana is a reflection of that" Brash tells me over lunch. "It really is a wonderful showcase of the industry and breweries embrace the festival element with crazy stands." There is also experimental beers and entertainment, and Brash promises much more of a holistic experience than you'd get doing a pub crawl.
AT A BREW PUB
We settle in for the afternoon at Fork and Brewer, a brew pub in Te Aro. Head brewer Kelly Ryan tells me that trying beer fresh from the tank is the best way to taste beer. "It's going to taste the best it's ever going to taste" he says, as we try a Flower Arranger, a West Coast USA style IPA, with eight different type of hops. He's a food scientist by training, but brings an incredible palette to back up his scientific approach to brewing. The brewery is right in the bar, and tasting trays ordered by beer tourists are becoming increasingly popular. Ryan spent time in the UK working at brew pubs, and loves the concept: it brings a holistic view of how the beer and customers work together. Any experimental brews have a captive audience, and he can watch not only what sells, but also customer reactions; this all helps make a better product. It also makes for a great atmosphere, with clientele ranging from after-work suits to American cruise-ship patrons. There is a wide range of different beer styles on offer, from the American pilsner, to Black IPA, to the oaked imperial stout, plus my favourite of the day: the raspberry and lemon berlinerweiss, served with a peppermint syrup. It goes to show there really is a beer for everyone.