During the October school holidays, the family and I went to Queenstown for a late season ski holiday. The Atlas Beer Cafe and Smiths Craft Beer House again get my vote as the best craft beer bars in town, though I also had a tasty burger and a good pint of hazy IPA at the historic Ballarat Hotel. I was also impressed by the $10 price point for a pint of craft beer at the top of a mountain when we visited the Cardrona ski field.

Back home in Welly, it was straight into the Visa Wellington on a Plate (WOAP) food and drink festival.

I always try to get to the beer-based entries in the cocktail competition. This year there was a wide variety on offer and the best one for me was LBQ’s Schubert’s Last Word made with gin and a Belgian kriek beer liqueur. I also enjoyed the offering from Garage Project – a stout, cold brew coffee and whisky number called Proof is in the Pudding. Another good entry was the sweet, salty and sour Choice Blood Bro from Choice Bros, which was based on their blood orange sour with mezcal adding the heft. An honourable mention goes to Charley Noble’s Big Smoke, a quenching and tropical-tasting mix of gin, smoked orange syrup and Garage Project White Mischief.

Sprig and Fern’s Beer No Evil, Pie No Evil event is a regular feature of my WOAP experience. The awesomeness of five gourmet pies each with a matching beer is just too good to miss. My winning combo from last year of a beef and blue cheese pie with a porter still held up – though the New York peppered steak pie with their British Best, and the bacon and egg pie with pilsner were knocking on the door. The Blazing Saddles chorizo and bean pie with cream cheese was different and exciting – although I couldn’t help wanting the crunch of taco chips!

As part of WOAP, LBQ ran a month-long celebration of Belgian-style beer. Called Little Belgie Quarter, range of Belgian-inspired local brews and imported Belgian classics were on tap. Over the month I had Sawmill’s spicy Witbier, McLeod’s perfumed Bonfire saison, North End’s smooth Vital Belgian Blonde, 8 Wired’s Jean Claude II – a grapefruity Belgian IPA – and Deep Creek’s Cassis, a full-bodied blackcurrant sour. Of the imports I tried, the sour apple-flavoured Boon Gueuze and the berry-licious Boon Framboise. We also had our October beer club at LBQ and the cheese entrée matched with a bottle of Saison Du Pont was fantastic.

There was a rugby double-header at the newly rebranded Sky Stadium one weekend in early October with the Wellington Lions and All Blacks both having home matches. While the results were underwhelming, there was a beer milestone of sorts with Panhead being available at a test in Wellington for the first time. XPA all day.

Hudson on Chews hosted their second annual “Lager than Life” competition in mid-October. I tried Parrotdog’s single hop (Nectaron) pilsner which was (surprise, surprise) fruity. I also had the eventual winner, Panhead’s Batch 122, a Japanese lager made with white Jasmine tea. Light-bodied, slightly sour with a sherbet note, there was also musky note in the aroma. I also had the third place-getter and people’s choice winner – an India Pale Lager from Baylands. Clean and fresh, this was lager as I remember it. Behemoth took out second place with Half Way Down, a rice lager.

The November beer club dinner was at the Hop Garden in the Mt Victoria foothills. The aperitif was Peckham’s Orange-A-Tang cider made with oranges as well as apples. Tart, tropical and tasty, this is one to try this summer. I then had the fruity and quaffable Tropospheric Haze from Baylands with the shared plates of jalapeno poppers, Sichuan cauliflower and salt and pepper squid. A medium hazy, more fruity than bitter, there was, however, enough hop to cut through and clean the palate. My main was a large and tasty piece of pork belly which I matched with Behemoth’s Referendum, which had a good bitterness and a grapefruit fruitiness. I only had room for a beer for dessert, so I chose a Cassels Double Milk Stout – as you do.

In the run-up to Beervana, there were a range of events under the Road to Beervana banner to build the hype. I succumbed and went to a few.

First up on the Sunday before showtime was a beer cocktail session at Double Vision Brewery in Miramar. I had the classy Uncle Sam’s Beergroni made with Expatriate APA. Integrated and refreshing, this was a lighter version of the classic Negroni gin cocktail and it was notable for its lack of sweetness.

On the Wednesday, it was Churvana at the Hudson as Behemoth came to celebrate the Hudson’s second birthday. Big Andrew was in the house and he recommended I taste Here’s Churly, his West Coast IPA that won the coveted Golden Gumboot at the Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge this year. Sweet red grapefruit on the nose, bitter fruit in the mouth and gooseberry in the finish. I also tried the Changemaker IPA, a social enterprise colab beer. With its cat’s pee aroma and strong bitterness, who knew being virtuous could taste this good?

On Thursday I was at Fork and Brewer for the Beer Witch Project, where brewer Kelly Ryan made available a range of small batch special brews. I started with a Kaori Old Ale, a damson plum sour which had rhubarb notes in the aroma and a refreshing upfront sourness. The Kids from O.W.L was an oaked wild lager with a sour aroma reminiscent of yoghurt, a tangy, sherbet taste and a slightly puckering finish. Bretty Boop was a barrel-fermented old ale with a mild smoky aroma, medium sour flavour and a residual malt note in a mellow sour finish. The 2018 Yoghurt and Bruesli was full-bodied, fun and funky. There were more fruit flavours than I remember, and it also felt smoother, but it retained its characteristic challenging persona.

Come Friday, I was at the Beervana evening session with a couple of beer club amigos. I tasted 18 beers, ate like pig, made it once around the Stadium and bought a beer tee-shirt and beanie. Best beer of the night for me was Eddyline Sipping Sunshine hazy pale ale, closely followed by Altitude Brewing’s Jam Session guava and passionfruit sour. The best beer and food match was the Salt & Wood Collective brisket and beer pie matched with North End’s Pit Boss smoked doppelbock. That only just beat the Mahurangi oysters and Shining Peak’s Bullock and Barge Oyster Porter. Beers I want to try again when sober included Choice Bros I Shook You nitro barleywine and 8 Wired’s Once Were Vikings Kveik IPA. The best themed beer stand was Abandoned Brewery’s industrial cleaning station with the staff in boilersuits and the beer in rubbish skips. All in all, another successful event.