New Zealand beer destinations: North Island

New Zealand has a long history of brewing – from Captain Cook who brewed up the first beer in the 1770s to the establishment of the earliest pubs and breweries during 19th century colonial times.

New Zealand has a long history of brewing - from Captain Cook who brewed up the first beer in the 1770s to the establishment of the earliest pubs and breweries during 19th century colonial times.

Many of the longest running establishments are still producing and selling popular brews across the counter, but over the past decade they’ve been supplemented by a boom in production and consumption of boutique beers.

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.

New Zealand’s first liquor licence
In the far north, the Duke of Marlborough Hotel at Russell, in the Bay of Islands, is New Zealand's first licensed hotel and has been operating since 1827.

The historic waterside property is a favourite destination for tourists and boaties and has recently undergone major refurbishment. The grand colonial building is in fact the fourth on the site - the three earlier hotels were all burned to the ground.

Auckland brews
In the heart of Auckland city stands New Zealand’s first brewpub, the 109-year-old Shakespeare Brewery & Hotel - a 10-room boutique hotel. Award-winning beers including Summer’s Day Bohemian Pilsener and Puck’s Pixilation are brewed on site.

Other significant breweries in the Auckland region include the Leigh Sawmill Brewery, just north of Auckland. A Sawmill brew was named in 2010 as "one of the 1000 beers to drink before you die" by international beer critics.

Hallertau Brewery is a boutique brewery west of Auckland at Kumeu, and both Galbraith’s Brewing Co and the Epic Brewing Company have earned a reputation for real ales.

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

The range of full certified organic beers includes ales, lagers, a strawberry blond inspired by Belgian fruit beers, and a rare single batch whisky porter. Mike’s premium organic ale has won a string of medals including NZ International gold.

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.

Sunshine Brewery - Gisborne
Established in 1989, Gisborne’s Sunshine Brewery - and located appropriately in the first city in the world to see the sun each day - is one of New Zealand’s oldest craft breweries.

Sunshine beers, including the award-winning Gisborne Gold, are produced in a time-honoured way with no short cuts. For the freshest taste, clients can have their own containers filled at the onsite shop.

Mangatainoka - Yeah right
In 1889, as legend has it, entrepreneur Henry Wagstaff stopped for a cup of tea on the banks of the Mangatainoka River, in the Wairarapa region, and found the water to be the finest he’d ever tasted. He decided on the spot to build a brewery there.

Mangatainoka’s Tui Brewery was born and quickly established a reputation for fine export-quality brews. Today the iconic seven-storey brewery building is open for tours, and each year 40,000-plus tourists visit the museum, bar, shop and Tui National Park - complete with native bird life.

In New Zealand, the Tui brand is synonymous with humour - mostly due to the long-standing ‘Yeah right!’ marketing campaign, one of the most successful in local history.

The brewery is a popular destination and function venue, but the company is also responsible for several events which include a 12-hole golf tournament, a truck stop show and a Super 15 pre-season rugby game held in a paddock next door to the brewery where a makeshift stadium holds 10,000 people.

Wellington - craft beer capital
Wellington is sometimes referred to as New Zealand’s unofficial craft beer capital - not so much for its breweries as for the choice of fine beer-drinking venues supported by a discerning population of consumers.

That’s a claim backed up by Beer and Brewer magazine - Australasia's largest beer periodical - which lists the following must visit Wellington venues:

  • Best beer venue & small pub - Malthouse
  • People's choice / #2 best venue & small pub - Hashigo Zake
  • Best small bottle store - Moore Wilson’s
  • Best large bottle store - Regional Wines

And that wasn’t all because a raft of other Wellington establishments took second, third and fourth in their categories - including top four restaurants: Ortega’s Fish Shack (1), Martin Bosley's (2), Ambeli (3), Logan Brown (4).

The capital city’s only brewery is the highly successful Tuatara Brewing Company at Reikorangi, on the coast north of the city. Ranked NZ’s 34th fastest growing company in Deloittes 2010 Fast 50 List, Carl Vasta’s backyard passion of the 1980s has grown into a 35,000-litre capacity German-designed brew house.