Axe throwing and beer. What could possibly go wrong?

Thankfully the first stop on Auckland’s newest beer tour is a palate cleanser before imbibing at two of the region’s best breweries, and despite my father being a competitive woodchopper in his youth, his lumberjack genes have definitely not been passed on. My score at Action Matakana of one successful throw out of 12 means I won’t be eyeing up the World Axe Throwing League anytime soon. Sorry Dad, I tried my best, but at least I know a bit about beer.

Søren Eriksen at 8 Wired knows more about beer than most, and the 8 Wired Barrelworks & Tap Room in Matakana village is a stellar progression from his days contract brewing at Renaissance in Blenheim. A decade ago, he crafted iStout and Hopwired IPA because no-one in NZ was making the beers he wanted to drink, and 8 Wired has now evolved to be one of the southern hemisphere’s biggest producers of barrel-aged beers.

Around 250 225-litre barrels line the walls of 8 Wired’s Matakana venue, aging brews alive with wild yeast and sometimes harnessing feijoas and grapefruit sourced from local Matakana orchards. At the brewery in Warkworth 10 more 2000-litre foeders are also utilised.

8 Wired’s versatility shines on a five-beer tasting flight featuring a German lager, Hopwired and a Texas brown ale, but the barrel-aged Black Wireless Black IPA is my beer of the day. A single barrel was rediscovered recently after being misplaced for five years, and the beer’s barnyard Brettanomyces funk partners a hop profile mellowed by half a decade being lost at the back of the fridge. More magic comes via a generous sampling from Matakana-based Bohemian Cider, especially the wild-fermented Original Cyn, and dumplings and ramen from Miso-Ra complete the experience as 8 Wired’s food truck of the week.

The tour’s next stop is nearby at the Sawmill Brewery & Smoko Room, fully resurrected after a devastating fire in October 2019, and absolutely humming just a week after reopening. Co-director Kirsty McKay explains Sawmill is the only New Zealand craft brewery to be awarded B Corp status, a rigorous certification guaranteeing sustainable practices, and social benchmarks including workplace diversity and paying a living wage. Fifty solar panels and the ability to source a million litres of water annually from their roof make Sawmill industry leaders in sustainability, and their beers also continue to impress.

Following the fire, Sawmill partnered with 14 breweries around the country to maintain production, and also embarked on monthly Homegrown collaborations with different breweries to showcase Kiwi malts and hops. Brewed with Crouchers in Rotorua, a double dry-hopped hazy packed with Nelson Sauvin and Motueka is a standout on my tasting flight, and a German-style Roggenbier and the choco-caramel dark lager hit of The Doctor both partner well with five courses of shared plates of the best brewery food in New Zealand.

With tastings of 15 beers and ciders, seven different dishes and 11 failed attempts at axe throwing it’s been a brilliant way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

See for details of craft beer tours offered by Auckland-based travel broker Bryce Read.