Back from the brink

OH BROTHER: Brothers Beer is Auckland's hippest place for great ale.
OH BROTHER: Brothers Beer is Auckland's hippest place for great ale.

Once upon a time, Auckland had quite a reputation for beer. Some of this country's most innovative and influential brewing took place on the recently-vacated Newmarket site of Lion Breweries (now located in East Tamaki).

In 1859, Thomas Hancock bought the Captain Cook Inn, at the far end of Khyber Pass Rd, a semi-rural locale where Auckland's elite would go out to buy cattle. Hancock brewed beer out the back and sold it out the front.

He developed such a reputation that his brewpub became a central piece in our brewing history. It was there at the turn of the century that a German Jew called Moss Davis brewed New Zealand's first pale lager, revealing it to the world on Valentines Day 1900.

"This branch of the brewery trade should flourish exceedingly and become one of the leading industries of the colony," the Auckland Star reporter said after sipping Bismark lager, named for the recently-deceased German chancellor Otto von Bismarck. It was deemed an appropriate name by this newspaper's ancestor because the "great German was a most inveterate lager beer drinker".

Fast forward just over a century and Auckland, once synonymous with great ale, was an almost barren beer landscape.

While Nelson labels itself the craft brewing capital and Wellington has a craft beer trail to celebrate its status as the boutique capital of boutique beer, our biggest city was regarded as out of touch - punters still drinking variations of Moss Davis' lager, only this time from green bottles owned by massive European breweries.

Slowly, things have changed. In fact, Auckland is now the brewpub capital of New Zealand, with an array of pale-ale pit stops dotted downtown, in the suburbs and on the outskirts of the city.

The Shakespeare, 61 Albert St.

In 1986, then owner Peter Barraclough was ahead of his time when he put a micro-brewery in his pub. With brewer Barry Newman he created an iconic Auckland destination - the pub famed for its distinctive red brick exterior, multi-level bars and fabulous British-style beer. The brewery didn't exactly fall to rack and ruin but it lay idle until new owner Nick McIntyre decided to fire up the kettles again a couple of years ago. With a regular after-work business crowd, brewer Matt Short's beer is mainstream and approachable rather than "out there". Try: South Star Pale Ale

Brothers Beer, 50 Wellesley St West.

The hot and happening beer place in Auckland. Don't be deterred by the tables in the parking lot! In fact, sitting out on the asphalt watching people come and go is one of the treats of this retro-chic bar in its paved concrete setting. With an amazing array of beer from around the world, especially the United States, there's something for everyone. The only minor issue is that when it's busy it can take a while to be served and the place really needs a highly visible blackboard showing all the tap selections. But what the heck, the beer is always interesting, always changing. Try: Anything - it's all good

Galbraith's Alehouse, 2 Mt Eden Rd.

The doyen of Auckland's brewpub scene; the granddaddy pub that's been pouring beer made on the site of the old Grafton library for 25 years. Galbraith's is not flash looking - it's carpet and wood, not chrome and glass - but you're here for the beer (and, more recently the food, which has improved out of sight). What I like about Galbraith's is that you can get everything, including hand-pulled cask ales (beer that Kiwis used to describe as flat and warm). As well as its own array there are guest taps from other top brewers not to mention a fridge of bottles. Try: Grafton Porter and whatever is on hand-pull

1010 Brewings, 7 Sale St.

Forget the great big Heineken sign out the front, 1010 (named for the postcode) is a DB Breweries baby but one which produces an ever-changing array of pretty good beer. The venue is trendy, with a lovely outdoor area and a well-dressed crowd, and brewer Mike Stimpson's beer is worth the trip, especially when his Christmas Pudding ale is on tap. Try: Horopito Barley Ale (made with native horopito)

Little Empire, 69 Customs St East.

When Brewery Britomart opened a few years, it was a long-awaited, loudly welcomed addition to Auckland's dining hub. But for a variety of reasons the venture went belly-up and Lion with the Pack Group swept in, changing the pub's name to the Crown and the brewery to Little Empire. This place should work but it doesn't, and the beer brewed on site is OK but nothing to write home about. Try: American brown ale

Deep Creek, 111 Clyde Rd, Browns Bay.

A Sunday summer afternoon at Deep Creek brewery across the road from the beach at Browns Bay is an almost perfect way to relax. Great tucker, music and the city's only suburban brewery. Deep Creek tips its hat to the strong South African makeup of its local community with a classic southern African braai platter of boerewors, lamb chops and ribs. Try: Pontoon in a Monsoon IPA

Leigh Sawmill, 142 Pakiri Rd.

Leigh Matakana, about an hour north of Auckland, is a food and wine destination of some repute, but keep driving past the farmers' market to Leigh - a little fishing village with a delightful bay and even more delightful brewpub. As its name suggests, the sawmill was once at the heart of the lumber industry in the area. Also a music venue, Leigh Sawmill is almost the perfect location - great beer, super food (especially the pizza), music and accommodation on site if you have one too many! Try: The Doctor Dopplebock

Hallertau, 1171 Coatesville Riverhead Highway, Riverhead.

The best brewpub in Auckland without a shadow of a doubt. This country brewpub is a now joint venture between original owner Steve Plowman and Joe Wood, the force behind Liberty Brewing - formerly of Taranaki. Joe runs the cutter in the new brewery and is producing bang-on flavoursome beers for both labels. The bar is mainly focused on Hallertau beers and if you're not sure what to try, get a tasting paddle and work your way through the range. There will be some Liberty beer on tap as well. Try: Everything.

Sunday Star Times