Wellington is a pretty unassuming capital city. It lacks the iconic Instagramable monuments or attractions that are ‘must-sees’ for visiting tourists, which many other capital cities boast. It doesn’t have amazing weather – one of its nicknames is Windy Wellington, owing to its position on the Cook Strait between New Zealand’s islands. It’s not even that easy to get to for a large swathe of the global population. But what it lacks in the typical, it makes up for tenfold in the atypical.
Wellington is probably one of the world’s best alternative capital cities – and more than 30 craft beer brewers based here proves that point rather neatly. Wellington’s charm lies in its culture and in its vibe. There are so many brewers here because there is so much passion to do something ‘real’. Its beer companies aren’t in it for the money (though some of them do very well), they’re in it for a whole range of different reasons that will resonate with any right-thinking craft beer fan. There’s a brewer set up in honour of a family’s lost love to breast cancer, a brewer that saved an old industrial building from demolition to call it home, and even a brewer that is named after and sponsors the existence of one of New Zealand’s badass endemic reptiles from back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.
Here’s what we learned (and drank) during a delightful 48 hours in New Zealand’s capital.
1. New Zealand has some banging hops.
The unique geographical location of Aotearoa (to give it its Maori name) means that it can grow some unique and complex hops that just don’t exist in other parts of the world. Some of our favourites include: Wai-iti, an aroma hop heavy on the peaches and apricots; Nelson Sauvin, a hop that brings flavour and aroma characteristics from New Zealand’s equally badass wine industry; and Wakatu, which delivers a punchy hit of floral and citrus tones that is unlike many others we’ve sampled.
2. It’s not all about IPAs.
Okay, so IPAs are still a big part of the scene here, but we really noticed a focus on trying to do things differently and concentrating on beer types that don’t always straddle the mainstream. Many brewers go heavy on the sours, pilsners and stouts (the country even has a claim to inventing the oyster stout). Kiwis can be quirky by nature, and their beers definitely follow that vibe.
Some of our favourites included Black Dog’s Melon Collie melon sour, Fortune Favour’s Necromancer Aotearoa stout, and Tuatara’s pilsner.
3. Craft beer is bread and butter.
Although the good word of craft is becoming a bigger thing in the UK than it ever has been, it is still not what you’d call mainstream. In Wellington, it’s a totally different story. Pretty much any bar or restaurant you head into in this place has a very decent selection of beers, and nearly all of those from the local brewers. We don’t know if this is true, but our guess is you could enjoy a month’s worth of beer without having anything brewed further than a couple of miles away from where you stand. The city’s love of craft beer means it’s totally the norm, and people from all walks of life enjoy it. Most supermarket shelves are stuffed with choice too – one branch of New World is said to have more than 500 different beer types!
4. Enjoying the beer is encouraged and supported.
Wellington is proud of being the place to enjoy craft beer in New Zealand and its pioneering adoption of forward-thinking brewing techniques. Because of this, it’s easy to find useful information and guides about the beer here. A great starting place is the Craft Beer Capital website, which not only lists all the places you can enjoy a fine drop, but also features craft beer trails on an illustrated map, shows you the latest beers that are pouring in each bar and keeps you bang up to date with hoppy news. There are also several good beer events in Wellington that promise unforgettable experiences – Beervana and the Brewers Guild of NZ Awards.