New Zealand beer destinations: South 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 craft 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.

Hop territory - Nelson Tasman
No New Zealand beer tour could be complete without a visit to the Nelson Tasman region. The only place in New Zealand where hops are grown commercially has become the country's craft brewing centre with 10 craft breweries and 13 brands of craft beer.

McCashin’s Brewery founder Terry McCashin, who began making craft beers in 1981, can take some of the credit for today's craft beer culture. Back then, the only beers available in New Zealand were made by made by two major breweries.

The historic Rochdale Cider Factory at Stoke is the home of McCashin's Brewery. Rochdale Cider is still brewed on site, along with Stoke Beer, 26000 vodka, and other beverages. The Brewery offers daily tours, free tastings, a cafe, bottle store and bar.

Founders Brewery - Australasia’s first certified organic brewery - produces boutique beers including award-winning organic brews such as Long Black, Tall Blonde and Redhead.

Richmond brewery Sprig & Fern operates several bars througout the Nelson region, and their Milton St bar holds the title of the 2012 'best New Zealand bar'.

J J’s Tours runs the Natural Brewery Trail of Nelson taking in four local award winning breweries including Harrington’s which made the ale for The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. The tour also takes visitors to the Lighthouse Brewery, the smallest legal brewery in New Zealand.

The Mussel Inn - Nelson
The Mussel Inn - at Onekaka in the heart of Nelson’s Golden Bay - has a popular beer based on New Zealand’s first recorded brew which British explorer Captain James Cook made from a blend of tea and leaves from native forest trees.

The aptly named ‘Captain Cooker’ is an all malt beer made from locally grown organic hops and flavoured with freshly picked tips of the native manuka tree.

The Mussel Inn features under the category of 'Best Brews - The World's Finest Beer Headquarters', and the brewery’s restaurant has become famous for its steamed mussels and other fresh local fare.

When local flora was threatened by possums (a pest in New Zealand), The Mussel Inn offered its punters a "beer bounty" in which a free handle of beer was offered in exchange for every possum tail brought in. The motivation for the Mussel Inn's own brew was so strong, 5000 possums were duly eradicated.

Cycling beer country
The Great Taste Trail - a new walking and cycling trail - is one of the best ways to explore the Nelson region's best beer destinations.

The Gentle Cycling Company’s Moutere Wine & Beer Country Ride offers self-guided cycle tours on quiet country roads and cycleways, and finishing with beer tasting at New Zealand’s oldest pub, the Moutere Inn.

Trails are designed to be taken at a slower pace, allowing time to enjoy the countryside while discovering wineries, country pubs, historic buildings, ceramic studios, gardens and beaches. Optional gourmet picnics are available.

Methode traditionelle - Marlborough
In Marlborough - New Zealand’s top winemaking region - traditional viticulture is lending a hand to produce a unique New Zealand beer.

Winemaker Josh Scott, of Allan Scott Wines, uses winemaking methods to make the award-winning Moa Beer - putting the ‘sparkle’ into the brew using the time honoured ‘methode traditionelle’ used to put the bubbles into champagne.

Scott brews the beer using mainly local hops, malt, wheat or barley, adding yeast and sugar at the bottling stage. Just like champagne, the bubbles produced by this second fermentation dissolve in the liquid to produce a unique brew.

Recently Geoff Ross, the founder of internationally successful 42 Below vodka, has invested in Moa Brewery with the intention of creating a globally recognised New Zealand beer.

Extinct since the 19th century, the moa was a giant flightless bird that provided a major food source for the Maori people. Moa hunters frequented the Marlborough region, and archaeologists have uncovered many remains in the area where natural springs provide water for the beer.

Monteith’s Brewery - West Coast
The Monteith’s Brewery, in the West Coast town of Greymouth, maintains the traditions of the Monteith family who began a humble business 139 years ago - to meet a growing demand from thirsty Kiwi pioneers caught up in the mid-1880s gold rush.

Coal-fired boilers and open fermenters mean the brewer can see and smell the beer as it slowly matures, and each brew is carefully nurtured by hand in small batches to coax out full flavour.

A brewery tour takes beer fans through a step-by-step guide of the processes with magical names like mash tun, wortboiler and whirlpool featuring as part of the experience.

Today the brewery produces award winning beers - it won the Grande Gold prize at the prestigious 1999 Monde Brewing Awards in Brussels, and was voted best brewery in Australasia at the 1999 Australian International Brewing Awards.

Christchurch micro breweries
Christchurch city has several micro breweries offering tours and a chance to sample some of the region’s award-winning beers. There is also an eclectic choice of bars and night spots throughout the city.

At Three Boys Brewery each small-scale brew is a living product - unfiltered and unpasteurised, just as nature intended. The beers are brewed, bottled, and canned on site to guarantee quality and freshness. Private tours of the brewing space, led by one of the brewers, includes bread and cheese, beer tasters and a Three Boys branded souvenir glass to take home. Tours require a minimum of 12 people and pre-booking is essential.

Other breweries include Twisted Hop, Wigram, Rain Dogs, Cassels, Beer Baroness, Eagle and Two Thumb who all have breweries that can be visited. 

Wanaka brewing a craft beer scene
The small town of Wanaka in New Zealand’s Southern Lakes region is home to three small craft beer breweries. All capturing the essence of Wanaka in their recipes. It’s not just the mountain water and the lifestyle that gives these beers a distinct flavour, it’s the people behind them.

Wanaka Beerworks is considered a Wanaka institution operating since 1998 and grabbing a ‘Brewski‘ at Kai is a true ‘must-do’ in Wanaka. Wanaka Beerworks is Wanaka’s largest producing brewery. Producing over 100,000 Litres of beer a year, with renovations currently underway, they are increasing production by 30%. Distributing mainly in the South Island, the volume consumed is a real testament to their reputation. Having seven types of permanent beers, the crisp and distinctive Brewski 4.8% is easily their bestseller. 

Wanaka Beerworks operate tours every day with a tasting bar and café.

B.Effect and newcomers Ground Up are creating expertly crafted ales and growing the beer scene in Wanaka. Keep an eye out for B.Effect’s Cut Cat IPA and Ground Up’s KPA or Kiwi Pale Ale both delicious beers with distinct flavours. The KPA is made using 100% New Zealand Ingredients. Four hops and five New Zealand malts. 

A year round outdoors destination, Wanaka is a great place to whet your whistle with some of the locally made craft beers.

Speight’s Brewery - Dunedin
Dunedin city is renowned for good beer and Speight’s Brewery has become one of the Otago region’s biggest icons. The brewery’s famous brand known as ‘’The Pride of the South’’ is one of New Zealand’s most revered beers.

The brewery still occupies its original site and guided tours take visitors through the working brewery and museum onto the 19th century cobblestone streets where the Speight’s legend began in 1876.

The tour ends with a taste of Speight’s seven finest brews in the private Heritage Bar.

Speight’s have established 13 ale-houses throughout New Zealand, and last year shipped a full-functioning ale house to the UK to set up in London.

Dunedin’s new era brews
Emerson’s Brewery, Dunedin, produces premium beers with an emphasis on flavour, and has won a string of awards for its Organic Pilsner, American Pale Ale, Old 45, Oatmeal Stout and Weissbeir.

Another newer Dunedin local, Green Man Brewery was founded in 2004 and has a strong focus on sustainability. All beers are made with organic ingredients and without the use of Isinglass - a fish product often used to clear beer.

Green Man Brewery distributes spent ingredients to farms around Dunedin, and recycles cardboard packaging and plastics. The brewery also supports a bottle re-use initiative where Euro-style bottles are collected, commercially washed and re-used.

Invercargill Brewery
Invercargill Brewery in Southland is New Zealand’s southernmost brewery - and began as a hobby for father-and-son Gerry and Steve Nally.

Undeterred by their first "awful" result they bought a kit from the local supermarket and having had more success, went on to brew full mash beers and cider in their home garage.

In 1999 the duo decided to find somewhere bigger to carry on their hobby and took over a disused dairy shed on the city outskirts to convert into a brewery.

The tiny boutique brewery became such a favourite with locals and visitors that by 2005 the pair had to move out of the old dairy shed and into bigger premises in the heart of Invercargill to cope with increased demand.

Now the Invercargill Brewery’s most popular beer is ‘Stanley Green’ - a pale ale named after Lance Corporal Stanley Green who was Steve’s maternal grandfather.

Today Invercargill Brewery produces around 13,000 litres of beer per month, and more than 10,000 litres of apple cider a year.