Jono Galuszka’s four days in Christchurch were a mix of bold, busy and plain bonkers. Here’s his diary:
There is something about the flight from the North Island to the South which always makes me incredibly thirsty. The frothy clouds above the South Pacific Ocean? The vineyards you can barely see as you propel over Marlborough? The dirt becoming ever-drier the closer you get to Canterbury? Perhaps it’s just the thought of being in one of my favourite beer cities in New Zealand. Quality pubs, big 568mL pints and plenty of breweries – what else does a beer lover need?
I had forgotten how spread out Christchurch was, or how flat. It makes it easy to lose track of where you are, given the lack of visible landmarks at times. The fact my last trip involved driving around past midnight, doing my best to not get run off the road while a swarm of 100 boy and girl racers entrap my vehicle at every traffic light, is another hindrance. It is a much friendlier city during a sunny February day, being driven around in a Daihatsu Sirion, paying Matt Kamstra a visit at his recently opened blues-cum-dive boozer, 12 Bar. The space is a culmination of two of his loves, beer and blues music. While still being built when I visited, any place with figurines of Jake and Elwood Blues behind the bar gets the nod from me. Then, to his first bar, Moon Under Water, for pints of cask beer from The Laboratory. Kamstra may have a Liverpool shirt hung up, but this Gooner will forgive that given the excellent beer range and bonkers tabletop games on offer.
The carpark behind Pomeroy’s gives off a jovially dystopian feel. Is it the rough gravel, making walking after a couple beers in the dark somewhat awkward? Or the few buildings around still in a state of abandonment after the 2011 earthquake, proving canvases for graffiti artists? This time, I think it’s Behemoth Brewing’s Andrew Childs, a few beers deep, his 6-foot-5-inch frame well ensconced in a bean bag smack bang in the middle of the space. He has eaten a burger the size of his head. I ponder if he means the physical or metaphorical, then decide such thoughts are far too heavy without beer.
If you can measure the quality of a pub by the clientele, then Pomeroy’s is the best place to drink beer in Christchurch. In the space of 30 minutes I bump into Jos Ruffell, Tracy Banner, Carl Vasta and Ava Nakagawa (founders of Garage Project, Sprig & Fern, Tuatara and Beer Baroness, respectively). For the first three, it’s a chance to chill before the Great Kiwi Beer Fest on Saturday. For Ava, the pub full of people drinking a beer list featuring lager, hazy IPA, oyster stout, ESB and West Coast IPA is, well, Friday.
Punky Brewster is heaving. My driver has been leapt upon by brewery reps. Scott Taylor from Deep Creek, in rather good form, is behind the bar slinging pints. The overhead projector beams a sepia-tinged menu onto the wall. The sheer volume of delicious beer, much of it from Deep Creek and Craftwork, gives me a minor anxiety attack. I get a glass of Craftwork’s latest release, Un Deux Trois shoved into my hand. The result of six years of hard work, Un Deux Trois is a blend of one, two, and three-year-old spontaneously fermented beers combined into one of the best New Zealand-brewed beers I’ve ever had. Thoughts of smashing the now-empty glass, taking my driver hostage with the jagged remains and making him take me to Oamaru seriously weigh on my mind. I could ensconce myself into the corner of Craftwork’s tasting room, throw my wallet at whoever is behind the counter and get whatever Un Deux Trois they have poured into the biggest bucket they have. All I would need is a big stick to ward people away. But no. I have obligations. Maybe next time.
The sight of people running through Hagley Park on Friday afternoon has motivated me to get the blood moving. The oak trees, people playing rugby or cricket, geese giving lethargic joggers a hurry up with a few snaps of the beak – it really is the best spot in town to get some exercise done. It also gives a chance to check out the Great Kiwi Beer Fest site. Food trucks are already lining up to enter the site. In three hours, the line will be made of thousands of people itching to sample some of the 300 beers on offer, scoff souvlaki and sing along to bands including Dragon and The Mutton Birds.
There is one sure fire way to get people drinking all your beer at a beer festival: have a thing. It can be a crazy stand, mad beers, or being Garage Project. At a festival on a warm day in the middle of summer in Christchurch’s Hagley Park, it turns out that thing is a cola sour slushie you then blend with a cherry sour, topped with sour cola bottle lollies. At the Beer Baroness stand, where I was helping out for the day, that thing had people waiting for longer than 30 minutes as slushie machines waged a futile battle against the elements to turn liquid into sorta-ice.
I survived on a piece of Korean fried chicken, two wontons, a can of lemonade and 285mL of beer. The queue never ended. The people asking for the slushie, and their inevitably disappointed ‘whaaaaaaat?!’ when I say it has run out, never ended. The final chords of an eight-minute-long rendition of ‘’April Sun in Cuba’ ring out as thousands of sunburnt, beer-soaked punters leave Hagley Park for the pub, the fish ‘n’ chip shop, or home. The can of 8 Wired Cucumber Hippy – because what can make a light, hoppy, tart beer more refreshing than cucumber? – I stashed in the beer chiller was a smart move. It is the perfect beer to swill while riding a Lime e-scooter to the pub.
Who needs sleep when there is 8 Wired Mahu lager, a large steak dinner, a peppery shiraz and the Behemoth Brewing and Beer Baroness crews having impromptu Bon Jovi sing-a-longs at Pomeroy’s?
“Brrrrrm brrrrrrm.” Someone pulls up next to me at the lights. I’m on a Lime scooter in the cycle lane. He is on a Lime in the cycle lane. “Brrrrrm brrrrrm.” I thought taking the road around Hagley Park, avoiding any beer festival casualties, was the smart way to get back to my accommodation. “Brrrrrm brrrrrm.” Does he want a drag race on e-scooters? “BRRRRRRM BRRRRM BRRRRRM.” I knew Christchurch was a city of boy racers, but this is a trip. Is this how low you go when you live for the road but have lost your licence? I never got the time to ask. I left him to his antics while turning off for bed.
Matt Kamstra’s idea of a good time the day after a beer festival is organising the inaugural Great Kiwi Beer Fest Go Kart 600. Ten brewers, one hack, 10 minutes around a go kart track. He even had a trophy made. Beer Baroness brewer Damian Treacher turns up in the worst condition of all the entrants. So, of course, he wins.
Back to Moon Under Water. People are making shandies with Lemmy Lemonade and Heyday’s Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy, a sour lemon ale. Someone pulls out bottles of McLeod’s Smugglers Bay bourbon barrel-aged quadrupel. It tastes like Foxton Fizz Kola; so, it tastes like the best bourbon and coke you could ever imagine. Another person gets a bottle of Deep Creek Diep Kriek, the best beer in New Zealand according to the Brewers Guild of New Zealand awards. I find a way to extract myself before I end up in another e-scooter drag race.
Nowhere epitomises the change in Christchurch’s hospitality scene than The Terrace. A $140-million-plus development along the banks of the Avon River, it contains more than 12 different restaurants, cafes and bars in a handy precinct. For beer lovers, The Craft Embassy is probably the pick of the bunch. Making advantage of the first-floor views across the river, and boasting 24 taps and six handpumps, it’s a great place to treat yourself for lunch while everyone else heads to work.
There are three things on my list every time I head to Christchurch: go to Pomeroy’s, meet up with good people, drink Three Boys Wheat. There is something about the delicious lemon-and-coriander-tinged Belgian wit which always draws me in. It also helps the dairy beneath the apartment complex I am staying in tonight stocks it. I should probably call it a night after this. Writing to do. A morning flight to catch. A lack of sleep to compensate for.
I bloody love a good boilermaker. Ever since Richard Emerson talked me through the list of beer-and-whisky pairings he had on his phone, I’ve been hooked. The Last Word, arguably the best whisky bar in the city, is as good a place to sample a few. I stick to Islay, the whisky region I love the most since visiting the Scottish isle in 2018. There is something about the peat which melds so well with Cassels and Sons Milk Stout, with its wee iodine hit at the end of all the sweet lactose and hum of roast. It goes well with the three drams I had while gazing out of the window, absent-mindedly chewing olives, watching the tram go past again and again and again, while thinking of the next excuse to get to what must be one of New Zealand’s most underrated beer destinations.
Main pic: The Great Kiwi Beer Festival is huge day out in Christchurch. Photo: Triebels Photography