An Auckland craft beer hunt

Recreation of a historic Auckland boozer in the Auckland Museum

Considering New Zealand was the country where I learned to love real beer, and considering last time we visited (in 2007) we encountered a range of interesting craft beers, Auckland has proved a bit of a damp squib on the real beer front the past few days. Everywhere we went, there were your classic Kiwi blokes with pints and jugs of generic lager in front of them.

A restaurant (-ish) we went to on the waterfront in the recently redeveloped Wynyard Quarter had a few interesting craft beers – but they were Australian. Then further along the quay, a nominal brewpub just had Mac’s on tap. Now Mac’s was indeed the very beer that taught a teetotalling 24-year-old that beer could be delicious. The Mac’s brand was named after former All Black Terry McCashin, who founded a brewery in Nelson, in the north of the South Island, in 1980, in a former cider factory. McCashin’s a figure comparable to Italy’s Theo Musso of Baladin, in that he was at the forefront a nation’s new wave of real brewing establishments.

I was living not far from Nelson in 1994, and gallon jugs of Black Mac, filled from the tap in the nearest pub (15km away) introduced me to beer that could… gosh… taste nice, and be interesting – unlike all the foul filthy lagers that had been available to me as a teenager growing up in 1980s Britain, and put me off the whole concept of beer and booze.

Like so many interesting brews, though, the Mac’s brand was bought out by Lion Nathan (a part of Kirin, itself a part of Mitsubishi) and, really, the quality deteriorated, while the availability increased. Indeed, it reached a point where Mac’s was no longer brewed at the original McCashin’s brewery. Hence my lack of interest in the aforementioned brewpub. Mac’s tipped too far from craft into conglomerate-industrial for my liking.

I was starting to despair of Auckland being a washout for craft beer. Despite the rest of the country’s international fame for its hops, its array of craft beers, and some, like the Epic I mentioned in the last post, being made right in Auckland, it seemed the city itself didn’t have that many, if any, decent brewpubs or craft beer bars.

I’d really expected to see at least a couple on the Ponsonby Road, with its slew of cafés and eateries of varying degrees of poncyness. But nope. One promising looking place that called itself a “tap house and eatery” on the sign looked rather defunct, and another cool place we’d read about, well… it was too well stashed for our jetlagged selves to find the first time we walked past. In our defence, most of the block it sits in is being redeveloped, it’s got no sign, the address is on one road but the entrance is round the corner, and even that entrance has no sign or name. We found it yesterday though. And very nice it is too.

Hallertau taps at the Golden Dawn, Ponsonby, Auckland

It’s the Golden Dawn (134 Ponsonby Road – but entrance on Richmond Road). It’s got an atmospheric bare brick wall bar, and a fairly large courtyard, with another bar. It’s a gig venue; it does food that sounded intriguing (we didn’t eat); and it has a pretty extensive wine menu. It also had a reasonable amount of bottled craft beers, and five taps, with beer from Hallertau, a microbrewery in Riverhead, northwest of Auckland. (Warning – if, like my mum and my wife, the use of the word “pop”, in the sense of visit spontaneously, annoys you, don’t read the copy on the homepage of the brewery’s site.) The barman was friendly, and we even discussed Mac’s – apparently the McCashin’s are brewing again in their original brewery. Their whole story is available as a book, but it might be easier to just visit their new brand’s site.

As for beers at the Golden Dawn, Fran had a Hallertau #4 Deception Schwarzbier, which looks and tastes like certain porters: it’s very black, has a smell of dark berries and taste of charcoal and chocolate, but it’s actually bottom fermented, that is a black lager. I had one of Hallertau’s seasonal beers, a KomissionA NZ Pale Ale, which was a fruity, sweet, crisp ale, quite carbonated and bitterly hoppy only in a fairly mild-mannered sense. A mellow, easy-drinking beer, good for a summer’s evening. (Swapping hemispheres is odd. My body is confused.)

Hallertau pints, Golden Dawn

Anyway, we’ve only been in Auckland three days, so I know there will be more better beer bars out there somewhere. It’s such a sprawly city (1.5 million, but the size of LA – one of the least densely populated cities in the world), it’s hard to cover the ground by shank’s pony, the mode of transport I’m really preferring to stick to given my current unfitness.

For example, wandering around Grey Lynn earlier, I did spy Malt (442 Richmond Road). This looked like a place to check out… I restrained myself, and looking now, it’s branded as a Monteith’s bar. Monteith’s was another of NZ’s smaller scale breweries, based on the West Coast of the South Island – and like Mac’s, it was bought out, in this case by DB Breweries, one of the two big, internationally owned NZ beer brands. It’s a Dutch-Singaporean conglomerate these days. (The other big NZ beer brand, Lion, is also owned by Kirin/Mitsubishi.) So that kinda put me off, except that Malt at least had guest craft beers.

If I was here longer, I’d check out a few more places, like brewpub Galbraith’s, Three Lamps (also in Ponsonby – but we keep walking in the opposite direction, so I only just discovered it), Deep Creek (in Browns Bay, northeast Auckland) and others.

At least we’ve fitted in some cultcha, with a visit to the beautifully refurbished Auckland Art Gallery, and the Auckland Museum, which since my last visit a decade or so ago has also had some handsome new additions. Its curation leaves a little to be desired though – more contextualisation please!

Anyway, tomorrow we’re off down to Wellington. NZ’s capital is a great little town and one that, I read somewhere, has more cafés per square km than Manhattan. So hopefully some of them will also be craft beer bars. Certainly the last few years Wellington has started claiming to be the “craft beer capital of NZ”, vying with Nelson.

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5 Comments

Filed under Ale, beer, New Zealand beer, Travelling

5 responses to “An Auckland craft beer hunt

  1. Ma

    Hope you are finding your feet now – and that the hunt for real ale is productive.

  2. Envious of your brewery crawl there Dan.
    Here’s my cheeky half pints worth!
    Epic was enjoyable last time I supped downunder.
    Moa from Blenheim was pretty good but think they might have been bought out? Could always check out Renwick Brewery too. Tuatara had a couple of tasty drops, Stoke (the new Macs) is indeed a good drink and nice to be able to visit the home of Macs for a reminisce. If you are in Nelson, maybe checkout Founders – they even have a Vegan beer which might be up your street?
    Miners in Westport might still be there?
    Just googled to see if Roaring forties was on Steward Island but alas been a while http://www.realestate.co.nz/2038044
    Harringtons are a good crew if still about – Richmond and Christchurch and if you can track them down, you can probably fill a glass flagon like the old days (or more likely a plastic rigger/pub-pet). Cassels Brewery are a newbie in Christchurch and have a pleasant eatery.
    Don’t discount a trip to Canterbury Draught or Speights as these guys all started small once upon a time, and back in 2004 I got very good value for money (ratio of pints to door charge), as well as my current wife! It’s probably thanks to these guys and Macs of old et al that the demand for hops kept at levels such that fortunately there is still a research facility in Riwaka today (from which many a new cultivar seems to be originating).
    Cheers and good health.

    • Yep, I was wondering about Moa. Enjoyed their stuff last time. Also visited Founders last time, and tried Miners. Couple round Motueka I want to try too, and hopefully a visit to the Mussel Inn. Not sure we’ll make it to ChCh though.

  3. Wow, I remember that Centennial Street pub facade from the Auckland Museum when I was a kid. I thought that they had removed all of that to expand their war section quite a few years back?

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