With its abundance of small, independent breweries, the Nelson region can justifiably claim to be the Craft Brewing Capital of New Zealand, but when it comes to the enjoyment of fine beer, nowhere comes close to challenging Wellington.
With new bars, brewpubs and breweries popping up every few weeks, it's hard enough for locals to keep up with developments in the city, let alone those of us who live elsewhere. Now there's a new website to help visitors and locals track down Wellington's best craft beer outlets.
The site, craftbeercapital.com, lists the top bars and retailers and provides a useful map and a suggested trail to help craft beer lovers find their way around.
The website's "about us" page traces the history of craft beer in Wellington from the early days of Bar Bodega and the original Malthouse, before offering an insight into why the city has become such a craft beer haven.
"It's probably because Wellingtonians don't need to be told what to drink to be cool, or popular. We are OK in our own skins, and don't conform to the badge of acceptance that you are a cultured drinker if you are swigging on an international green-bottle lager."
Wellington's affinity for craft beer was reinforced to me once again last week when I spent several days in the windy city. In addition to calling in at favourite haunts such as The Malthouse, Hashigo Zake and The Hop Garden, during my stay, I visited a few new bars that I'd heard about. With knowledgeable, friendly bar staff and selections ranging from 10 to 40 tap beers, places such as Little Beer Quarter (LBQ), The Taphaus and The Fork & Brewer are welcome additions to Wellington's craft beer landscape.
But the main reason for my trip to the Capital was to co-present a beer options competition run by specialist craft beer retailer Regional Wines & Spirits.
Sponsored by Dunedin's Emerson's Brewery, the contest is an annual end-of-year finale to the Wellington store's schedule of tutored beer-tastings.
Modelled on wine options, it requires competing teams to sample a series of beers and use their senses to answer multiple-choice questions about them.
Over the course of three hours, the teams are presented with a series of six beers for sampling, with three questions asked in turn about each beer. The beers are served unidentified and can be of any style, colour and alcoholic strength, and from anywhere in the world. The questions are often demanding, requiring teams to correctly identify things such as a beer's specific style, strength, origin, or the ingredients employed. Points are awarded for each correct answer and the winners are awarded a trophy. Although it's highly competitive, there's plenty of fun too. In addition to prizes for the top three teams, there are awards for the best team name and the team that finishes last.
This year's competition, the 14th in the event's history, was held last Wednesday evening at Wellington College's Firth Hall.
Sixteen teams competed and the winners, for the third consecutive year, were a local team called The All Saaz. Former champions White Rino took second place after a tie-break question was needed to separate them from newcomers Codename: Black Hops.
As always, the beers were chosen to represent a broad cross-section of styles, strengths and origins. This year's beers were, Stoke IPA (5 per cent, Nelson), Anchor Humming Ale (5.9 per cent, California), Kloster Urstoff (5.4 per cent, Bavaria), Townshend NZPA (6.7 per cent, Upper Moutere), St Feuillien Saison (6.5 per cent, Hainaut, Belgium) and Liberty Never Go Back (10.6 per cent, Taranaki).
My congratulations to the winning teams.
With such a range of beer-savvy bars and retailers I always enjoy visiting Wellington.
As the new Craft Beer Capital website says, "The rest of the country will catch on eventually, but for now, let's take the next big step, and have the beer trail recognised for how truly good it is. You don't come to Wellington for the weather, but you can for the beer."
- The Marlborough Express