I know what you are thinking – the South Island has way more and better craft beer than the North Island, why waste your time? Well, in fact the North Island has a lot to offer. Plus we didn’t have much time. Only a week could be spared away from our real jobs and kennel fees tend to be $$ for two big dogs.
The plan was to hit as many craft breweries as possible South of Auckland. The partner and I started on the trip at the end of February, driving to Rotorua. I was anxious to try the pub associated with Croucher, BREW (http://brewpub.co.nz/), and the plan was to eat lunch there. Alas, they are not open for lunch. One of the other attractions in this tourist town is the Luge, and fortunately the weather was beautiful to enjoy the speed while trying to not loose skin to the pavement.
Back at BREW, we found a warm and welcoming pub where we had a lovely pint. The bar manager was a wealth of information and kindly gave us directions to the brewery where Paul Coucher was brewing today. We stopped by the very small space, really not much bigger than a shed, just as Paul was pitching the yeast. Fortunate, as Paul has a rule that you can’t have a beer until you pitch the yeast. Nice timing! We got to try a brew called Galaxy. Named after a special hop from Australia, this lovely beer had an excellent aroma and well balanced malt. I highly recommend this beer. I heard recently that there is a keg at Auckland’s new fill-your-own shop, Hopscotch (http://www.hopscotch.co.nz/).
From Rotorua we drove to the East coast where we have friends near Ohope. Our next destination was Napier. I have heard people say that Napier is a bit of a waste-land when it comes to craft beer. But they do have good wine and cider. One of our favourite beers is made here too: Black Duck from Hawke’s Bay Independent Brewery. The brewery has a restaurant/pub called the Filter Room. We stopped here for a tasty lunch and managed to arrange a tour of the brewery. The brewery is no where near as large as Lion or DB but they are much larger than I had expected. At lunch we tried a tasting panel of cider and one of beer. The ciders were varied and generally nicely flavoured, not too sweet. It was very interesting tasting several beers side-by-side. After the 3rd or 4th, you start to detect a similar malt characteristic with not much to distinguish the different styles, and all were very light on hops. The tour confirmed my guess that all of the beers had the same base malt and only minor variations in speciality malts. Their main business was in the supply of kegs to local pubs and RSAs. While Black Duck and Hawke’s Bay Reserve are made as 1x batches, the other beers are made as concentrates, then diluted with water to end up at 1x. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that this is a business and remember that I really like the Black Duck Porter. But this was the first time I had seen beer brewed this way. An eye-opener to say the least.
Stay tuned for the rest of the trip…..