Steph Coutts from Craft Beer College takes you on an insider’s journey around Wellington’s finest breweries, bars and cafes.
Beer is so deeply embedded in the capital culture you can start your taste journey long before you hit the central city.
Flying to Wellington
If you fly in to Wellington, it’s a short ride for brunch or lunch at Café Polo on the corner of Rotherham Terrace and Para St, Miramar. Have the hash browns, they are the best. The cafe’s got a tight but solid beer list, largely featuring local breweries. Once you’re seated, you can wander around the corner to the new Double Vision Brewery on Park Road. They’re making a range of hop-forward ales, but the Magic Bean Coffee stout is well worth trying.
As an alternative to Miramar, you can head under the airport runway – by car or foot – to Lyall Bay. The Botantist and Maranui (both on Lyall Bay Parade) are good eating spots. They’re super popular so it pays to book. But if you miss out, you can also eat American diner-style at the Parrotdog Brewery around the corner (on Kingsford Smith Street). It’s a must-visit, with a laid-back working club style and a range of interesting beers you won’t find outside the brewery. Try one of their freshly brewed IPAs and grab a Reincanation can to takeaway, one might bear your name.
Bringing the car
If you’re driving into town on State Highway 1, it’s worth taking a quick detour past Brew Union on Broadway Avenue, Palmerston North. They’ve got one of the best regional offerings in beer and gin, and the food is a treat as well. Try their well-made, lighter-style ales before driving on to Salt and Wood Collective, the home of North End Brewery on Ngaio Rd, Waikanae. You can eat your fill of American-style BBQ while working your way through a tasting tray. It should include their classic gose – Become the Ocean – and an Omahi Street Bitter from the handpull. You might want to save a can of Iron Sands Oat Rye Stout for later.
From Waikanae, you can head to Tuatara Brewery on Sheffield St, Paraparaumu and try a tasting tray. They’ve revised their beer range but, thankfully, preserved the multi-award winning Hefe. The new Hazy Pale Ale is a tasty drop – a super juicy concoction. Get it fresh in a six pack then head across the road to Duncan’s Brewery, where brewer-owner George Duncan staffs the cellar door. Duncan’s are nailing the New Zealand Pilsner and Pale Ale style at the moment. The Yum Yum Yuzu lager is also a bit of fun and they have a wealth on-trend dessert style beers on offer.
Heading into Wellington from the Wairarapa is also a treat. Make a detour to Martinborough Brewery on Ohio St, just off the square. Get the gooey cheese rolls and a glass of their Foxy Red before heading over the Rimutaka Hill into Upper Hutt. Your first stop should be Kereru Brewery on Maidstone Terrace. The taproom is bright lime green and fully stocked. It’s hard to go past their Feijoa Weisse, though it’s a controversial fruit. If you don’t like it, try the Karengose if you’re after something tart. Their Rojito Pale Lager is a surprising little gem and the coconut porters in all their forms are classics. They’ve also got a range of big barrel-aged beers to take home.
Around the corner from Kereru is Brewtown in the old South Pacific Industrial Park on Blenheim St. Panhead Custom Ales were followed there by Boneface Brewery and Te Aro Brewing, enticed by the generosity and support of Upper Hutt Council. You really need to spend the whole day here. Arrive hungry and thirsty, and start with a Te Aro Razzle Dazzle pilsner. Move on to sample the taproom-only treats at Panhead. Their Hermann Holeshot German Hopfenweisse is a delight if it’s available and you’re looking for something a bit different.
When at Brewtown, it’s hard to decide whether to eat BBQ at Panhead or a burger – that might just be cooked by the brewer Matt Danity – at Boneface. The big flavours on the Boneface menu compliment their hop-forward beers. Start with the Outlaw India Pale Lager and finish with the fresh and resinous The Darkness American Stout.
After leaving Paraparaumu, you can stop at Baylands Brewery on Victoria Street, Petone, on your way out of the Hutt. Petone is also home to OnTrays on Fitzherbert St if you’re into speciality foods. Another solid suburban stop is Newtown, which has Moon 1 with three rotating handpulls, and Bebemos – home to an open fire in winter and a solid tap line-up. Both are on Riddiford Street and a short bus ride out of town.
Wellington on foot
Once you’ve finally made it into Wellington central, you might need a coffee. Try Pour and Twist on Garret St. It’s conveniently located across the road from Rogue and Vagabond bar. This is your place for pizza and late-night music with a bustling vibe (Hashigo Zake on Taranaki Street also has a Saturday night band and requires slightly less energy, so you can sit a sup on a beer from their “naughty fridge”). Customs on Ghunzee St and Leeds Street Bakery also make great coffee if you can get in and get a seat. Try a salted caramel cookie from Leeds Street with your brew.
Then there’s Choice Bros on Ghunzee. They offer one of the best brunches in town, especially the hot smoked salmon. Stay a while and sample the beer range including the fun and spritzy Strung Out On Lasers Raspberry and Lime Gose and the clever Power of Voodoo White Stout. The Reet Petite is also a classic – you never know quite how much ginger you’re going to get on the aroma or the palate, but the more, the better.
The Hudson on Chews Lane at the bottom of Victoria Street is a new kid on the beer block at the corporate end of town and is a great place for a bottomless brunch on your way to Beervana at Sky Stadium, or for a refreshing gin or warming whisky on your way back. They focus on local, seasonal and sustainable, have 17 rotating taps, a gin bar and whisky lounge.
Another solid pre- or post-festival brunch is Yum Cha. Wellingtonians will fight for their favourite, but Dragon’s on Tory St comes with great service and a range of Garage Project lagers, as well as Yeastie Boys’ Pot Kettle Black. Grand Century, also on Tory St, is another solid option.
Breweries, brewpubs and even more beer
Start in the Aro Valley and visit the Garage Project cellar door and bar at 91 Aro St. The bar has 18 taps and two handpulls, which have all been designed so the serving temperature can be changed to what’s right for the beer. If they have a dark beer like their delicious Aro Noir on nitro, have it. You should also stop in at their Wild Workshop on Marion St for an amazing array of wild ferment beers.
After Aro St, wander down the road to Heyday Brewing on Cuba Street. Heyday is a bright and welcoming space which shares its floor with Southward Gin Distillery; their Wave edition has an unctuous and oily mouthfeel, and spicy, citrusy notes.
Further down Cuba St, you can stop at Grill Meats Beer. They have poutine! And a solid line up of taps and bottles. General manager Dustyn Ford knows his stuff and will make a solid recommendation. Fortune Favours are based on Leeds St and contract their packaged stock at B-Studio in Hawkes Bay. Try a beer and cheese platter while you’re there and ask for the Naturalist. It’s their unfiltered pale ale.
From Fortune Favours, take yourself across the road to Golding’s Free Dive. It’s a great dive bar with lots of visual stimulation and tightly curated taps. Ask if the Blue Collar Falconry Club is open, if it is, put your name on the door for some amazing cellared treats. While there, you can order in a DOC (denomination of controlled origin) pizza from Pomodoro’s or get yourself some Soul Shack chicken – but be careful what heat level you choose! It has ruined many a palate.
Just across the road from Golding’s, on the corner of Taranaki St and Ghunzee St, is Whistling Sisters Brewery. Its name honours one of the owner’s daughters who sadly passed away from cancer. Some profit from the brewery goes to raising money for the Karen Lousia foundation set up in her name. Their Rooty Toot Toot with ginger, galangal, tumeric and carrots is a treat. A gose, it has a surprisingly rich but tart mouthfeel. You can then wander over the road to the Mean Doses tap room on Tory Street for a takeaway, or on to Fork & Brewer on Bond St.
Fork Brewcorp won the Champion Small New Zealand Brewery in 2018 and head brewer Kelly Ryan is making excellent beer. There are 40 or so of them on tap. You might need to ask one of their knowledgeable bar staff to make a recommendation to suit your palate. The I.P.Yay! is hoppy deliciousness.
Not far from Fork & Brewer is Little Beer Quarter, tucked down a lane on Edward St. LBQ has the best selection of New Zealand beer on offer in Wellington and is the city’s best beer bar. The tap line-up is always solid and diverse, as are the clientele. They range from the usual after-work suits to the hippest of hipsters. You’ll always find Wellington beer people in the bar – they’re also to be found at The Malthouse on Courtney Place. It is an institution and in no small part is responsible for Wellington’s amazing beer scene. They’ve supported New Zealand beer for over 20 years and run an impressive tap line-up. And, they are open late.
Also open late is El Culo Del Mondo on Roxburgh Street. Their name, translated, means “arse end of the world”. It stems from a joke made by the owner’s Colombian in-laws, but it makes it difficult for them to advertise as Facebook thinks it is offensive. Their service can be a bit erratic, but you have to try their Tamarind Michelada. The rim is reminiscent of BBQ Shapes. It’s a top spot if The Malthouse is too crowded.
Or, you could go to bed. If you manage to pack all of this in alongside Beervana, you might need the rest!
Note: this is an edited version of the original article published in 2019.