Funny that urge you sometimes get to head out of town for an interesting beer. And, really, it’s one of those urges you should just surrender to. Which is how I found myself, late on a Friday morning, departing the raging charms of Auckland for something altogether more bucolic. Not to mention hoppy.

An easy hour north of Auckland in the rich-cat country that includes the bespoke villages of Leigh and Matakana there are a couple of tempting taprooms I’ve been meaning to get to for some time, having so far sampled their wares mostly from the supermarket shelves.

Top of the list, and just a hop out into the country from Leigh by the sea is Sawmill Brewery’s Smoko Room, a big yet cosy place with an enormous carpark and loads of indoor and outdoor sitting-around space for the sipping and the nibbling.

There are 14 taps, featuring many of the elegant ales Sawmill are famous for across their 20-year lifespan. The Sawmill brand came from the brewery’s original building, a 19th century former timber mill in Leigh itself. But they moved from there eight years ago to the salubrious and sizeable new premises, where they’re open seven days a week.

Despite the dimensions, the bar has a very good vibe along with a tempting range of Sawmill’s finest, like the mood-elevating seasonal Fresh Hop Riwaka Hazy IPA, which hits spots I was previously unaware of. And there’s a major menu of eats, from nibbles through to heftier plates, many of the usual (and expected) brewpub suspects, though (among the nibbles) the St Louis smoked pork ribs with red cabbage slaw were exemplary.

More interesting, though was the Fiji-style tuna ceviche and the chargrilled broccolini with feta. And, being a family-friendly spot, there’s a kids’ menu featuring a rather tempting $13 platter.

And – as it should be with a brewpub – there’s no forgetting you’re supping in a working brewery. The tanks are right over there, sending out regular funky wafts of hoppy, malty pong from their beery side-products.


Up on the taps, there’s a good cross-cut of Sawmill products, from their no-alcohol Bare Beer, through pilsner and lager, a blackcurrant sour, stout, cider, and hard ginger beer and lemonade through to the brewery’s creative heart, their fine and ever-evolving range of pale ales.

Sawmill’s a place that begs a return visit and maybe an overnight stay to do them and their terrific brews true justice. But not far down the road, there’s another beer lurking out in the woods.

This one’s a goodie too, 8 Wired, who’ve been brewing since 2009, starting out in Marlborough before hopping up country and settling in a barn-sized venue in the popular little market town of Matakana. Here they serve a wide range of good stuff —  IPAs, saisons, stouts, sours, porters, with a leaning towards a speciality in barrel-aged old-world beers.

Their bar room is a cavernous space and it feels underpopulated on a sleepy Friday lunchtime, but the crowds doubtless arrive for the Sangria Sundays, the Flatbread Fridays and the weekly family quiz.

The food is the usual fare, served from a food truck-style set-up – pizza, burgers, chicken and the big tempter, the hot snack plate. At 8 Wired, the kids get to eat for $10 and, as for the beers, well 8 Wired make some of the best and they’re best tasted fresh out of a tap. I love their hazy Hop Salad and their stately Hopwired IPA, but I settle for a Daydream hazy pale ale, very tasty and just 4.7%.

Perfect for a dreamy drive back to Auckland, though I don’t really want to. A motel somewhere between these two breweries would be perfect. Perhaps for a long weekend.

Sawmill Brewing — 1004 Leigh Rd, Matakana

8 Wired — 56 Matakana Valley Rd, Matakana