This week, Wellington’s annual fresh hop festival, Hopstock, celebrates its 10th anniversary. The event has been a staple on the city’s craft beer calendar since 2013, when it was dreamed up by Craft Beer Capital — an organisation which promotes Wellington’s craft beer bars, restaurants and breweries.
Unlike most beer festivals, which are held at a single venue over the course of a session or two (or more), Hopstock encourages people to visit venues across the city, which all have a new, fresh hop beer on tap, and collect a stamp on their festival card while they’re there.
Pete Moran has been involved with Craft Beer Capital since it was started by Sean Murrie, the former co-owner of Tuatara Brewery and one of the owners of Malthouse and Fork & Brewer. Moran says the festival was born when the newly-formed organisation was looking for a way to promote its Wellington craft beer trail map. “It was decided we’d have an event over a few days, and it was just to get people around to our trail bars, which had special beers on.
“I guess ‘the rising tide lifts all boats’ was our mantra. If we were getting hundreds of people to go around all the [Craft Beer Capital] bars over the course of a week, even if they were just in your bar for one pint — it was still really valuable to have that patronage.”
Ten years ago, there were eight fresh hop beers featured on the taps of 12 of Wellington’s craft beer bars. Back then, very few breweries used fresh hops outside of the top of the South, making Tuatara the only brewery outside of Nelson, Tasman or Marlborough to feature at Hopstock in 2013.
Ten years on, Hopstock looks very different. Moran says over that time, not only have the number of breweries and venues grown, but also what the festival offers. There’s now a Hopstock tour bus which drives ticket holders to various venues across the city over the course of an afternoon, and people are encouraged to collect a stamp on a Hopstock trail card at each of the venues and submit it to win prizes, there was even a Hopstock Untappd badge that could be collected during the festival between 2015-2017.
“We stopped doing those because we got some reports back on how many people were getting the badge,” Moran says. “There were people all around the world checking in at the bars to get the badge, even though they weren’t actually doing Hopstock, and were based in like, the US.”
But Moran says probably one of the biggest changes has been that of the host responsibility side. “Especially as the number of beers and bars changed, we had to change our marketing. We couldn’t now say ‘go to all the bars and drink all the beers in a short window’. So, we started asking bars to sell tasting sizes and still giving out stamps for those, and also [giving stamps] to those buying food and non-alcoholic drinks — so if someone wanted a break, they could still go to a bar with a group and get the stamps.”
Current Craft Beer Capital president, Dave Wood, is organising this year’s Hopstock festival, which will boast 31 fresh hop beers at 26 brewpubs and bars across the city. Wood says there’s been some interesting trends with the beers made for the event over the years. “Hopstock is all about the fresh hop character, so you’ll generally see brewers making styles that showcase hop flavour and aroma —because that’s the whole point of fresh hops.
“There’s been the odd brewery that’s used homegrown hops and wild hops, but the vast majority tend to just focus on the big aroma New Zealand hops like Nelson Sauvin, Motueka and Riwaka and show them off in styles that aren’t super malty, like a pilsner or a lager. There’s also a large amount of IPAs, and of course recently, there’s a lot of hazy IPAs.”
Wood says last year was Hopstock’s year of Nectaron, with 2021 being the first time the recently-developed hop variety was available for purchase as a green hop. But 2022 promises a bit more diversity among the beers. “It’s looking like there’s a few new hop varieties from smaller growers who have been popping up,” Wood says. “So, we’re seeing some new hop names come through like Tropadelic and Arrowtown Bomber.”
New Plymouth’s Three Sisters is using Tropadelic in their red IPA, and Canyon from Queenstown is showcasing the Arrowtown Bomber in their ‘Latitude 45’ Pilsner. They are both breweries that are usually difficult to find on tap around the Wellington region, and Wood says that’s also part of what Hopstock is about.
“We have some breweries [that we invite each year] and all of our members who own breweries host their own beers at their own brew pubs. But it is always fun to look outside of Wellington and outside of the bigger breweries and see what some of the smaller ones are doing. We invite them to the festival and then hook them up with one of our venues to get in touch, make an order and hopefully foster a new relationship, to help expand Wellington’s beer scene and increase the diversity that we see on tap.”
With 31 beers and 26 venues, Hopstock can seem quite an intimidating event, but Wood has some sage advice. “Spread it out. Hopstock is not meant to be done in a day; it runs for five days for a reason. Try and get around some of the more suburban bars that you might not visit as often — it’s a good excuse to go out to Newtown, Miramar, or to Lyall Bay and try some beers at a venue that you haven’t seen in a while or haven’t visited before.”
Hopstock runs from April 27 to May 1. Full line-up here.