Free House top bar in Nelson

Last updated 13:00 28/12/2013
Free House owners Mic Dover, left, and Eelco Boswijk
BEST BAR NONE: Free House owners Mic Dover, left, and Eelco Boswijk celebrate winning the title of the region's best bar in the inaugural Society of Beer Advocates awards.

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The Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA) has declared The Free House the Nelson region's best bar.

Runner-up is iconic Golden Bay restaurant and brewery The Mussel Inn, in Onekaka.

As for off-licences, Freshchoice Nelson was deemed the region's best place to buy a rigger or six pack.

SOBA secretary Dale Cooper said the Free House was one of the best beer bars in the country.

"It's one of the few places in the country you can get proper English-style cask beer on tap.

"I mean there are only about three places in the country you can get that, where it's done in the right way."

The inaugural SOBA awards were based on voting by its members, all of whom are beer enthusiasts and many of whom are employed in the industry, Mr Cooper, of Wellington, said.

Although the capital city liked to boast it was New Zealand's craft beer capital, Nelson still held an honest claim to that title, Mr Cooper said.

"There are some really good bars and restaurants around your way. Wellington and Nelson are quite sort of similar in that respect.

"Nelson is certainly punching above its weight.

"I guess [Nelson is] kind of like one of New Zealand's little centres for brewing, I guess. There are so many breweries it's sort of out of proportion to the size of Nelson, it's great."

He said it did not matter where the "craft capital" was, or if there was one, so long as the country kept brewing good beer.

"I think it's all pretty friendly, I don't think anyone is really too stressed about any of that.

"A lot of the stuff made in Nelson gets drunk in Wellington, you know. We like good beer, wherever it comes from."

The Free House co-owner Eelco Boswijk said he no longer put much stock in the term "craft beer" as it was getting harder to distinguish between those smaller companies and the corporate players.

"A beer is a beer. If you like it, it's a good one," he said.

Mr Boswijk had yet to learn of his bar's latest honour when contacted by the Nelson Mail yesterday, but said it was "fantastic" on receiving the news.

"It's just great confirmation that we are still doing the right thing," he said.

Co-owner Mic Dover said placing ahead of the Onekaka watering hole was an "incredible achievement".

"Because Mussel Inn is one of the best pubs in the world, as far as I am concerned."

Mussel Inn co-owner Jane Dixon said the runners-up award was "great news". "We are having a very good summer. It's good and busy and the weather is fantastic, so that is great!"

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She said The Mussel Inn continued to swarm with visitors during the summer months.

Most came to sample the locally famous steamed seafood and home-brewed beers, with many more enjoying the variety of concerts held on site almost "every second night" over summer, Mrs Dixon said.

Mr Cooper said the awards were designed to promote the people and establishments that are excelling in what has rapidly become a sophisticated New Zealand beer market.

"In doing so we hope to encourage them and others to continue providing great products and services to New Zealand's beer consumers."

Auckland was the big winner, with best beer and best brewery going to Liberty Brewing Co. Blenheim's 8 Wired was runner-up best brewery.

- The Nelson Mail

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