The first beer I fell in love with was something warm and whiffy in a warm and whiffy bar somewhere in London several decades ago. You never forget the first one, they say and when my youngest daughter moved to London recently, I urged her to have a pint for me in one of my old haunts.

Which she did eventually and reported back, “The beer was warm and tasted like bread. The pub smelt like a fireplace and a man told me Charles Dickens would be by later.” Which sounds, let’s face it, almost perfect, even if she wasn’t so sure.

So, when it came to beginning this column, which will be devoted to sampling a small selection of some of New Zealand’s many brew bars, it seemed I should choose a starting point that brought those funny old beery memories bubbling back.

And, for that old-world pub feeling down here in Aotearoa NZ, a long hop away on the other side of the world, it’s hard to beat Auckland’s Galbraith’s Alehouse, a brew bar that might make you feel like you wish you’d brought a book. Possibly because the elegant edifice that Galbraith’s has called home since 1995 was previously the Grafton Library, a high-ceilinged temple of a place with intimate acoustics, terrific food and old-fashioned ales, some of which may have a little hint of bread about their yeasty flavours.

Here, in this big comfortable ancient-feeling pub, the beers are listed on blackboards and the favourites are old-school real ales, brewed on-site, possibly where once “General Fiction” was situated. But there’s nothing fictive about the likes of ales like Man of Kent (“strong but restrained aromas, 5.5%”), Hudson’s Golden Ale (“tangy and refreshing, 4.4%”) and Bellringer’s Best Bitter (“soft old world aroma and bitterness, 4.8%”).

There are other, paler brews and, for the more modern hopster, there’s Galbraith’s Hazy Davy, a double dry-hopped pale ale in the American style and very tasty too.

And there are guest taps and even a Cocktail of the Week, when I visited, a pina colada. The food is cut-above pub grub, with a wide- ranging menu covering everything from classics (fish and chips, bangers and mash, both $29.90) to more adventurous options (smoked kahawai pate $14.90, Korean chicken $21.90).

Indoors is big and airy with well-spaced tables, perfect for catch-ups, birthday drinks, work dos and beery business lunches. There’s a fireplace for winter so the place could sometimes smell slightly like a fireplace. Out the back, on a sunny rise behind the 110-year-old building, there’s a big beautiful beer garden.

It’s a kind of heaven at the top of Mt Eden Road.

Over in another part of Mt Eden, lurks another sort of brewpub. In a light-industrial neighbourhood and tuned more to the now than the past of craft beer is Churly’s Brewpub, the bar/eatery of Behemoth, a new-world brewery with a thing about hazies and humorous beer branding.

In their 11 years, they’ve so far cooked up more than 350 beers (and counting), some of which, like Brain Smiles, have become ongoing fan favourites and award winners.

Churly’s is named for another of their beers, Chur, a punchy NZ pale ale. The bar is stylishly utilitarian, part high-stooled interior and part marquee-sized annex with an al fresco vibe. On tap – and displayed on a cinemascopic screen – are 20 or so of their beers and, on the menu, there are ever-changing options, prominently featuring Behemoth’s other big temptation, the in-house line of fine cured and fresh meats that the brewery also specialises in.

On the day I lunched, a line of bespoke pizzas (generous slice, $16) was featured, along with Churly’s regular snack options. The customers here are a younger crowd than Galbraith’s, which perhaps explains the conversation-killing level of the music, though it would have been a quiet Wednesday otherwise. But the carafe of Smashable (a low-carb, full-flavoured pale ale, 4.2%) slipped down a treat with that pizza.

And I do love Churly’s, a great spot with its friendly staff, beer-themed bathrooms and the occasional heart-quickening noseful of hoppiness from the adjacent brewery.

The best of brew bars should grab you by several senses at once, after all.  

Galbraith’s Alehouse, 2 Mt Eden Rd / Churly’s, 1A Charles St