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A craft beer drinkers paradise in Nelson, New Zealand

26th Jan 2011

Following on from enjoying a Kiwi Christmas in the North Island of New Zealand I headed to the top of the South Island for a family holiday…with a little beer tasting thrown in!

We were staying at Marahau, which is situated at the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park – a highly recommended spot if you like glorious beaches, sea kayaking or hiking in the bush. The weather was perfect and the sun was hot which meant there was a need for a few days in the shade to refresh and rehydrate.

Our first beer stop was to the Monkey Wizard Brewery located in Riwaka. The brewery has been running for less than two years and appears to have created a significant following with the locals, brewing beers with highly distinctive flavours and aromas. The brewery is run on a very small scale, brewing 600 litre batches, with the beers only available from the brewery in riggers/flagons (1-2L bottles), or via one pub, The Freehouse in Nelson. Their range of beers includes interesting names such as Kiwifruit Wheat, Able Ale and Fat Kelpie Brown Ale – all of which are excellent tasting.

Following on from Monkey Wizard we headed to the Moutere Inn, which is believed to be New Zealand’s oldest pub having first been established in the 1850s. The pub was very popular in the 1970’s with the large local population of agricultural workers, looking for a drop after a hard days work, however it fell into decline in the 90’s. In 2008 a group of real beer enthusiasts purchased the pub and sought to turn it into a venue providing a range of great tasting beers from breweries throughout the Nelson area and wider New Zealand.

If you’re keen on mainstream beers you will still be well looked after, however if you’re after something slightly different, the wide selection  of brews will leave your thirst quenched with around 12 beers on tap, including a couple of hand pumped cask ales. While the beers on offer vary throughout the year, the beer coasters allow drinkers to rate their beers, with higher scoring beers put on tap more regularly. The pub is not only great for the beers on tap but also the locals it attracts, including a bloke by the name of Archie, who while we were there sold us some freshly dug spuds, garlic and capsicum to whip up our dinner – fresher, more tasty vegies I have not had.

After a stop at Neudorf Winery to pick up a couple of wines for something different we made our way to the Golden Bear Brewery located on the wharf at golden Mapua – a fantastic spot on a sunny day overlooking rich blue water. Golden Bear had 9 brews on offer, appearing to specialise it beers with real hop flavour. The brewery has been operating for just over 2 years, however with its smart looking setup you can see they have established themselves so they can go places. While tasting paddles are available I recommend the Toad Hop as a one off beer, or the Bear Trappe Belgian, which is a hand bottled, limited release golden Belgian ale brewed with black-boy peaches.

After a couple of days had passed and the flagons we had bought were empty it was time to visit a few other spots to refill the fridge. Heading to Stoke near Nelson we went to the McCashin’s brewery. The brewery is owned by the McCashins who were famous for the Mac’s range of beers that ex-All Black Terry McCashin established in the 80s. Mac’s developed a national fan base before then being sold to Lion Nathan. The new ‘Stoke’ range has been created by Terry’s son Dean who obviously has a love for the family profession. Three Stoke beers are on offer including Gold, Dark and the great tasting Amber. As well as the beers, the brewery also makes a wide range of great tasting ciders which are highly recommended.

Heading not far down the road and just around the corner we hit theSprig and Fern brewery, where we caught up with owner David Barrett. The brewery has been running for 14 years, formally as Tasman brewery and appears to be growing fairly rapidly brewing beer for its Sprig and Fern branded pubs located throughout the Nelson/Tasman region.  David owns Sprig and Fern with his business partner Tracy Banner who has significant brewing experience, previously as head brewer for Mac’s during its high growth days and also with Lion Nathan at the Speights plant in Dunedin.

Working with David they have produced a range of 14+ beers (including seasonals) that can be found in any of the Sprig and Fern pubs. The business seems to be onto a winner with it appearing strongly endorsed by locals and tourists alike with a something for everyone approach producing an easy drinking lager and pilsner to the more testing IPA and beaut Scotch Ale and Porter. While we were at the brewery David also took us for a bit of a tour to see the ‘business end’ of the brewery – with over 5,000 litres of Pilsner at various stages of the brewing cycle every week you can see demand and patronage at the various Sprig and Fern hotels must be high.

Although we didn’t quite manage to fit in a visit to a Sprig and Fern pub, speaking to David they sound like they are well worth the visit. With a focus on providing the traditional pub experience (no TV’s!) to gather, have a beer and enjoy a bite, it will definitely be on the list for a visit next time I get back to NZ.

With time running out this was the end of our tour – the sad thing was that there were 7 other breweries within 2 hours of each other that I didn’t get to visit…at least it is a great excuse for another visit!If you do make a trip to NZ for a spot of beer tasting I highly recommend a visit to the website – an excellent resource on the burgeoning craft brewing segment in New Zealand!