In the first of a two-part series, Brett Atkinson checks out the BOP beer scene
How many beer glasses is too many? Pawel Lewandowski, head brewer at Mount Brewing Co, reckons he’s got “about 50 at home, plus another 200 back in Poland.”
His mission to use the most appropriate glassware now extends to serving Mount Brewing’s Crazy Hazy Daze IPA in a flash tulip glass. Since graduating to head brewer, Pawel’s also reworked many recipes, doubling the amount of US hops in Mount Brewing’s popular Mermaid’s Mirth APA, and introducing several new beers. So far the accounting department hasn’t called him aside for a quiet chat.
Highlights from a tasting flight at Mount Brewing’s Rising Tide bar – 40 taps and great food onsite from Johney’s Dumpling House – are the hoppy hit of the Blackbeard Coffee Stout, and their Fresh Hop brew for 2021, a hazy IPA packed with Nelson Sauvin hops sourced on a manic road trip by Pawel and a few mates. He’s even embarked on a barrel-ageing programme, with a 10 per cent stout coming along nicely in Merlot barrels from Katikati’s Mills Reef Winery. That one will definitely need the right glass.
The Rising Tide is the day’s first stop with Brewbus, and throughout the afternoon it becomes evident the Bay of Plenty-based company really know their local Tauranga and Mount Maunganui beer scene. Sound-tracked by Dr Feelgood-inspired R&B from local band Brilleaux – chatty driver and guide Martine Jefferson is married to the band’s lead guitarist – it’s a short drive southeast to Papamoa. Across recent decades, the Papamoa Tavern (aka the Pap Tav) has endured a colourful reputation, but now it’s enjoying a summery makeover as The Island. The revamped old-school beer garden is family-friendly, there’s live music from Friday to Sunday, and a special R18 area for punters tucked away inside.
All brewed onsite, The Island’s beers are super-approachable, and while there’s no barrel-ageing on the brewery’s southern Pacific horizon, it’s obvious why the spot is so popular. Announced by the big yellow bus outside – formerly a surfboard-shaping business – Easy Lager is a summer-ready quaffer, while Puha Road is a sessionable IPA. The smooth Pony Club Pilsner is named after a nearby surf break, but my favourite is the juicy Dawn Daze hazy IPA. None of the beers will inspire FOMO from the Untappd crowd, but when the sun’s shining and there’s a live gig happening, The Island is an essential destination for beer-focused visitors to the Bay.
Next up we’re welcomed by excitable canine host Milo to Fitzpatrick’s Brewing’s taproom in semi-rural Pye’s Pa, and after he’s chased after his battered ball for a few minutes, he lets our group move to an introduction from Catherine Fitzpatrick. Husband Craig started brewing as a 16-year-old in 1987, and Fitzpatrick’s have established a loyal local following. They are regularly on tap at Tauranga’s Barrel Room and Hop House, often alongside contract-brewed beers from Stu Marshall at Mount Maunganui’s Rocky Knob Brewing.
Fitzpatrick’s taproom is open for tastings and takeaway sales on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, and growing in popularity are 10-litre mini-kegs. Recent sales include for “a one year-old’s birthday party and a funeral”.
Off the taps, my favourites are named after Craig’s interest in classic cars: EP90, a lean hop-driven West Coast IPA, and White Vinyl, a traditional Belgian Wit with coriander and kaffir lime. Factor in Small Block, a sessionable ESB made with New Zealand hops for more evidence that these are well-crafted brews are all true to style.
What’s in a name? When it’s Slab Brewing owned by Zach Heale and Nathan Shand, there’s the backstory of a hastily-poured backyard slab of concrete being too small to accommodate a nano-brewery shipped in from China. Fortunately, the good mates quickly found a 40sqm industrial lock-up and kicked off Tauranga’s smallest brewery in 2019. Despite the brewery and taproom’s diminutive dimensions, there’s a contrasting focus on big flavours with self-described Big Ass Cans delivering brews in freshly-poured 946 ml crowlers.
With a tagline of “Big Small Local”, Slab’s solid focus is the Tauranga and Mount Maunganui region. Brews are usually on tap at the Mount’s Fat Cow barbecue eatery, and “Small Ass” six-packs of Slab’s core range feature at bottle shops around town. Local tradies crowd in on Friday afternoons for the easy-drinking Mexican lager, but my favourites are Slab’s Double Ender double IPA and the craziness that is Mother Liquor, a 9 per cent Imperial Milk Stout. The quirky names continue with Pooh Beer, a just-tapped brown ale. I forget to ask if there’s any honey in the recipe.