Crafting inspired New Zealand beers

Simon and Nicki Nicholas left Auckland for rural New Zealand to brew up a new life trying their hand at making expertly crafted beer.

New Zealand has earned world attention for its great wines but, in more recent times, the craft beer scene has also come to the fore.

Boutique breweries all over the country have started perfecting their own beers as beer drinkers in New Zealand develop a more discerning palate.

Simon Nicholas and his wife Nicki are owner-operators of Hop Federation Brewery in Riwaka – near Nelson on the north-western coast of the South Island, and in the centre of the only place in New Zealand where hops are grown commercially.

Hop Federation

Hop Federation opened its doors in 2013 after Simon learned the finer points of brewing beer at Auckland’s Deep Creek and Hallertau breweries.

Hop Federation concentrates on four regular beers, American brown ale, pale ale, red IPA and golden ale. They use hops mostly grown within 100 kilometres of the brewery, and Gladfield malts from barley grown on the Canterbury Plains. Combine those with local ingredients, traditional methods, artistry and passion and you get beers with style and substance.

“We wanted to be consistent with the beers we produced, so that people would get to know our beers and ultimately enjoy them and come back for more,” Simon says. 

Simon and Nicki also produce seasonal beers, and this year they produced their first run of fresh hop brews.

“Being able to collect our hops from the farm just around the corner was awesome and we were delighted with the beer we made,” he says. “We aim to make more next year and more the year after – obviously, as it is a fresh hop, we can only make a limited amount.”

The couple love having visitors to the brewery and encourage them to sample their range of ales in the tasting room and buy beers to take away.

All in the family

It was no accident Simon got into brewing.

“My dad has brewed his own beer for as long as I can remember,” he says. “In some respects it was kind of a natural progression for me to try my hand at it. I was about 30 before I tried home brewing. It was great fun, playing around with different recipes and learning how to make beer and how to make it better each time.”

Originally Simon was based in Auckland working in a normal everyday job before he saw a brewery assistant job at Auckland brewery Hallertau. After perfecting the art of brewing, Simon, Nicki and their daughter headed south for a complete lifestyle change.

“We left the bright lights of Auckland and headed to the beautiful village of Riwaka in the Tasman region and haven't honestly looked back.”

Simon’s role is chief brewer while Nicki looks after the marketing and sales side of the business. They encourage visitors to learn about the brewing process and the different flavour notes of craft beers.

Craft beer in New Zealand

In recent times craft beer has had a massive growth in popularity in New Zealand.

Today there are more than 250 beers brewed in New Zealand - many have won international awards, some produced by tried and true traditional methods, others with modern technology and an organic and sustainable approach.

Visitors to New Zealand with a passion for the brown liquid will find any number of opportunities to sample and learn about Kiwi beers at establishments and breweries from the far north to the deep south.

“Perception of craft beer has changed considerably over the past 7-10 years,” Simon Nicholas of Hop Federation says. “I think it is becoming more main stream which can only be a good thing. There is a lot more variety and it’s great to see free houses across New Zealand offer such a varied range to their customers.”

Nelson – The Craft Brewing Capital

Beer has been an integral part of the Nelson-Tasman region since the first New Zealand settlements in the 1840s. 

The area has become renowned for its locally-owned, family-run breweries that welcome visitors into their premises to learn about the craft brewing process and sample their creations.

The Gentle Cycling Tour offers single day and multi-day journeys along custom cycle trails to different breweries, incorporating Nelson-Tasman’s beautiful coastline and local food producers. The tour takes cyclists to some of the region’s most famous breweries including the Lighthouse Brewery, Bays Brewery and McCashin’s Brewery and Café.

Nelson’s Founder’s Heritage Park is home to the Hop and Beer Museum which pays tribute to craft beer in the region. Explore a replica hop kiln, learn about the brewing process and listen to the arguments for and against prohibition in the Brewer's Office.

Garage Project 

Just across the waters of Cook Strait, Wellington’s Garage Project is famous for its quirky brews and ingredients. Take the Umami Monster for example, brewed using New Zealand grown kombu (kelp), Japanese katsuobushi (dried fermented bonito flakes), smoked malt and seawater, in an attempt to capture that most elusive and enigmatic of flavours – umami.

The Garage Project likes to take risks and create beer flavours most brewers wouldn’t dare dream about. The result is one of a kind beer you wouldn’t experience anywhere else in the world.

Mike’s Organic Brewery

Mike’s Organic Brewery is a small rural brewery at Urenui, in the Taranaki region, that makes premium organic beer. Passionate locals claim to make their brew without using "any stuff that doesn’t belong in real beer".

According to the family-run business, "Mother Nature provides all the ingredients for the full flavoured beers and Father Time matures them." Every year Mike’s stages an Oktoberfest at the organic brewery.

From larger scale operations like Monteith’s Brewery on the South Island’s West Coast to the smaller boutique spots like Mike’s Organic Brewery on the North Island, there is always somewhere nearby in New Zealand to sample a unique expertly crafted brew.