Auckland, finally, you did it – you made a downtown beer festival that rocked. Actually, that should read Dunedin, you did it … 

That’s because the brains behind Dunedin’s superb annual beer festival brought some southern smarts, and a few cheese rolls, to the big smoke and came up with a concept that should serve Auckland for years to come. 

After a dire attempt to host a beer festival at the charmless Cloud eight years ago, Auckland needed a city-centre beer festival to work. Yes, GABS have brought their great festival across from Australia and while that mid-winter festival has been instrumental in driving beer appreciation in Auckland the venue at the ASB Showground left a lot to be desired. It is cavernous, hard to get to and because it’s surrounded by parks, a race track, a hospital and busy roads … there’s nowhere to go afterwards. 

Putting on the Auckland Craft Beer and Food Festival at Spark Arena was genius. It worked on a multitude of levels. It’s an easy place to get in and out of by public transport as it’s right next door to Britomart Station. The 1pm-8pm hours were brilliant meant you could either go out afterwards into the city, where pubs, restaurants and other entertainment are right at hand – or just go home and crash.   

Holding the festival in March rather than mid-winter was also an excellent idea – it was warm, and still daylight at the finish. 

The venue itself was a dream. The outdoor area at the front had games, beer and food. The indoor arena was spacious with heaps of places to sit, including the grandstand which took on a charm of its own. If you were down on the floor it felt like you were part of a performance as the fans in the stand cheered you on. And if you went up to the stand, to rest or eat, you could watch all the goings-on from a nice perspective. 

The dark lighting and music gave it a nightclub vibe, although it was a little loud at time if you wanted to chat – which to me is the main point of this kind of thing. 

Auckland beer festival

But the victory stamp for the ideas team was the beer garden set-up out the back. Out there it was nicely packed – there was food, music, beer and a real sense of community. It felt like being in someone’s giant backyard and took me back – for some reason – to the Hawea Hotel and the glorious garden bar there – particularly on New Year’s Eve (although not the year the riot place came!). 

I took note of the fact that the next day the venue was set to host The Wiggles, with a show called “We’re All Fruit Salad” – which seemed about right given all the hazies on offer!  

Let’s do it again next year, Auckland. 

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