It has been a couple of exciting weeks in beer, and we have a heap of topics that each deserve their own column, but we’ll just cram them all into this one.
First, we drove to Dunedin via Christchurch and back through Blenheim for the second annual Dunedin Craft Beer and Food Festival. Might seem a long way to go to hang out with a bunch of drunken scarfies, but it was a very well run and well behaved event. Held inside the new Forsythe Barr Stadium, it had a lovely indoor/outdoor feel with all the sun and none of the wind. It’s run by the Otago University Student Association, and they made excellent use of heaps of student labour to round up over 150 craft beers, wines and ciders, nearly 4000 attendees and an excellent array of food, education and entertainment. And all despite following another new beer festival that was run just two weeks before with 1500 attendees.
Everyone seemed happy with the event, including several small new breweries from around the South Island that found it a great exposure. Some breweries that traveled for the event were hoping for greater sales, but agreed it was a worthwhile marketing investment.
We were introduced to around 10 new or reinvented breweries, ranging from The Catlins Brewery to Hop Invaders. And beyond distinctively named brewers like Ghost Brewing and Velvet Worm Brewing, we found many creative and wide ranging beers also. Craftwork Brewery from Oamaru had a delicious Saison Anise, while the Kereru Karen Gose paired beautifully with our $10 half crayfish.
While in Dunedin, we couldn’t pass up a personal guided tour of the Emerson’s Brewery with Richard Emerson. Entertaining as always, he pointed out like old friends each tank and tun repurposed from his first two plants, dwarfed under huge new fermenters bursting the roof beams.
Then as we tasted mindblowing selections from his cellar, he painted a future that quenched any fears that he might be retiring into the sunset and letting Lion’s accountants start running things.
We also went along to a Beer Without Borders degustation meal at the lovely Portsider in Port Chalmers. We had 4 courses excellently prepared by chef Hanz paired with six beers amusingly narrated by BWB’s Ryan McArthur. The highlight pairing Hare 2 Ways paired with Southern Tier Plum Noir.
In Christchurch, we checked in with the Twisted Hop, Three Boys and Cassels and Sons. All showed evidence of the continuing rebuild and resurgence. The Hop is well into the build of a new brewery and second pub in Lincoln dubbed the Laboratory – new brewer Jim Holly is excitedly awaiting the move. Three Boys is sporting flash new silvery cans and has been getting crazy peachy flavours out of NZ Hop’s Orbit blend. Cassel’s Woolston Market is finally getting paving, and has obviously settled into its new brewery with a few experimental brews on tap.
We should mention that we passed through Blenheim on the way home to say bon voyage to Jason Bathgate and 8 Wired Brewing. They are bundling up their barrel warehouse for the move to their own brewery which owner Soren Eriksen is constructing in Warkworth north of Auckland. 8 Wired has always felt like one of our local breweries, and we’ll miss having them nearby. (Don’t miss the newly released Wirecutter barleywine strength Hoppy Scotch Ale– the departing collaboration with former hosts Rennaisance.)
We got back home just in time for three historic events. First, Plant & Food Research in Riwaka which creates all of the new NZ hop varieties has commissioned its own in house 50 litre brew system by local fabrication legend Chris Little. This should take some years off the development cycle by tasting the hops much sooner. Previously, they worked with larger breweries that required a substantial crop to make a beer. With the new system they can brew with a very small harvest and begin sensory analysis to find the “wow!” varieties quickly.
Back in Nelson in Founder’s Historic Park, a Beer and Hops Museum is set to launch. It will have 160 years of Nelson beer and hop history, with everything from brewing and bottling to kiln drying to politics.
And right in town on Hardy Street, the new Urban Oyster Bar will be the first “tied” gourmet craft beer bar in Nelson, with eight taps all from Golden Bear Brewery in Mapua. (Other breweries are represented in bottles.)
The craft beer scene keeps evolving and we wonder what big news will roll out this summer?
A version of this article appeared in the Nelson Mail