New Zealand might be best known for its award-winning wines, but Kiwis are also beer drinkers and have developed a discerning palate that has prompted a boutique brewery boom.
While well established and internationally renowned Kiwi beer brands such as Steinlager, Speight’s and Tui continue to thrive, more than 50 boutique micro-breweries have sprung up in almost every region of New Zealand – each offering their own unique blends and identity.
Captain Cook’s Early Brew
New Zealand’s association with the amber fluid dates back to the late 18th century when Captain James Cook, the first European to chart the islands of New Zealand, brewed the country’s first beer.
Convinced that beer was essential for the health of his seamen, Cook mixed leaves from native trees – rimu, kahikatea and matai – with tea to produce a type of spruce beer.
In modern life, Cook’s brewing tradition has been picked up by The Mussel Inn at Onekaka – in the heart of Golden Bay near Nelson – where an all malt beer is flavoured with freshly picked tips of manuka leaves. Locally grown organic hops are added, and the brew is aptly named ‘Captain Cooker’.
NZ Brewing Heritage
New Zealand’s oldest breweries and pubs date back to the 19th century when pioneers first began to quench their thirst on the local product.
In the South Island, Dunedin’s Speight’s Brewery is a local icon that’s been serving up popular brews – like the revered ‘Pride of the South’ – since 1876. Brewery tours offer visitors a taste of both history and product.
On the other side of the Southern Alps in the West Coast town of Greymouth, Monteith’s Brewery maintains traditions that reach back to the mid-1880s gold rush times.
In the North Island, the Tui Brewery was established in 1889 on the banks of the Mangatainoka River – after founder Henry Wagstaff reputedly stopped for a cuppa and discovered the finest water he’d ever tasted. The Wairarapa brewery, which established a reputation for export-quality brews, is a NZ institution and a popular tourist attraction.
In the far north, the Duke of Marlborough Hotel – at Russell in the Bay of Islands – was New Zealand’s first licenced hotel and has been operating since 1827.
Beer Tourism Down Under
Many of New Zealand’s breweries are open for tours that reveal some of the age-old brewing techniques that make their tipples so exceptional.
The Beer Tourist website – an independent online guide to New Zealand's breweries and specialist craft beer outlets – offers downloadable maps and details about individual breweries, bars and pubs, including off-sales, brewery tours and accommodation.
In order to be listed, pubs and bars must offer a good selection of craft beers – usually about eight or more on tap, or a broad selection of bottled examples. www.beertourist.co.nz/index.html