It’s one of the coldest days of the year in the New Zealand capital, but I’m in a Wellington brew pub busily zesting a summery selection of plump oranges, knobbly limes and stout grapefruit.

Amid the shiny vats of the Fork & Brewer’s compact brewhouse, head brewer Kelly Ryan is carefully masterminding our collaboration for the Mediabrew competition of Beervana, New Zealand’s premier craft beer festival. Combining indigenous ingredients like peppery kawakawa and horopito leaves with wheat, barley, and a trio of distinctive Belgian saison yeasts, our Kiwi spin on a traditional farmhouse ale will also have a punch of citrusy hops from nearby Motueka on New Zealand’s South Island.

Before the brew debuts at Beervana in five weeks’ time, we’ll be adding a subtle, last minute infusion of grapefruit and lime juice from a popular New Zealand ice-block (popsicle, ice lolly), completing a beer that will go head to hoppy head with 20 other distinctive brews harnessing ingredients including chocolate, rum, wildberries and smoked shellfish.

Welcome to just another day in a great craft beer city.

The Rise of Wellington

Wellington’s rise as a world-beating destination for travelling hopheads is a relatively recent phenomenon. Fuelled by a liberal population combining musicians, IT start-up honchos, and the creative wizards behind Weta Workshop’s CGI magic for Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Avatar, it’s a tightly-focused scene arrayed in the streets around Wellington’s compact harbour. Just five years ago, only one of the region’s ten (and counting...) craft breweries was in business, but around 20 bars now ensure that 25% of all tap beer sold in the city is craft. Central city breweries with tasting rooms showcase top local brews like the Dead Canary pale ale at Parrot Dog and the mighty cocoa and chilli-infused Day of the Dead black lager at Garage Project, while craft beer-friendly pubs and laneway bars are concealed around the city. Beer lists are taken as seriously as wine lists in the city’s eclectic restaurants and cafes, and Wellington continues to fulfil its Lonely Planet accolade as the ‘coolest little capital in the world’.

A wide range of beers is on offer at Fork & Brewer. Image by Brett Atkinson / Lonely Planet

In the broader Wellington region, breweries include Tuatara on the Paraparaumu coast – look out for their Black Mojo Espresso Stout brewed in conjunction with Wellington’s Mojo Coffee – and Panhead Custom Ales Crammed full of New Zealand hops, Panhead’s The Vandal IPA (India Pale Ale) is tasty evidence showing why fragrant Kiwi hop varieties like Riwaka and Nelson Sauvin are increasingly valued by craft breweries from Camden Town to California. Tuatara’s major export markets include Australia and Hong Kong, and other Kiwi craft brewers, including Epic, Croucher and 8 Wired are available in Australia, Europe, the United States and Asia.

Sampling the scene

Like other craft beer hubs including Vancouver, London and Portland, Oregon, collaboration between Wellington brewers usually trumps competition, and a concise urban footprint makes it easy to discover the best of the city on two legs. Plan for at least a couple of nights exploring the following hoppy haunts. A handy reference is the online Craft Beer Capital Trail map plotting a craft beer safari through the city.

On your first night, kick things off at the Rogue & Vagabond, a bohemian bar with regular live music, and the considerable canine charms of Bruce, the bar’s resident British bulldog. From the R & V, it’s a short stroll via Cuba St – location of hip Wellington eateries like Grill Meats Beer (for barbecue and burgers) and Loretta (for innovative seasonal menus) – to Golding’s Free Dive Quirky décor combines with movie memorabilia – a model of Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon spaceship from Star Wars hangs from the ceiling – and interesting overseas brews join Wellington’s best on the taps. There’s more action at the cosy Little Beer Quarter, a short walk along nearby Dixon St. Look for the Yeastie Boys sign, an indicator that always-innovative brews from the Boys are on tap. Their Gunnamatta IPA infused with Earl Grey tea is a Kiwi classic.

Goldings. Image by Brett Atkinson / Lonely Planet

The following day, restorative single origin coffee and lazy brunches are best undertaken at The Hangar or Fidel’s, while essential daytime experiences include Te Papa, New Zealand’s spectacular harbour-front national museum, and the Weta Cave in the suburb of Miramar. Weta’s Workshop Tour is an interesting behind the scenes peek at modern-day movie-making magic, and the compact museum is a Tolkienesque shrine.

On your second night, begin at the Fork & Brewer for a tasting flight of brewer Kelly Ryan’s beers. Around 40 taps feature regular guest brews from around New Zealand, and the F & B’s own beers include Dark Vader, a moreish barrel-aged Imperial Ale. Continue to The Malthouse on Courtenay Place, established in 1993 as Wellington’s original craft beer bar. Check their website for regular tap takeovers from New Zealand craft brewers, and be dazzled by just maybe the biggest beer fridge in the Southern Hemisphere. An essential final Wellington stop is Hashigo Zake on nearby Taranaki St, definitely the place to bust out your inner beer geek, and a regular home to challenging brews from around New Zealand and beyond.

It can be tricky deciding what you want to drink at the Malthouse. Image by Brett Atkinson / Lonely Planet


Held annually across Friday and Saturday in late August, Wellington’s Beervana festival is New Zealand’s biggest celebration of craft beer. The 2014 event showcased more than 250 beers and ciders from more than 60 brewers from predominantly New Zealand, but also from Australia and the United States. Top Wellington restaurants operate pop-ups at the festival, new and seasonal beers are featured, and the annual Beervana Exchange facilitates visits from leading brewers from other craft beer cities around the world. At Beervana 2014 you could even get tattooed or get a beard trim. The festival’s annual Mediabrew competition partners media and journalists with New Zealand brewers to concoct interesting beers. In 2014, Lonely Planet teamed up with the Fork & Brewer, and the Farmhouse du Fru Ju saison beer was awarded Best Idea in the competition. Who knew combining an icy treat with zingy citrus zest and peppery New Zealand forest herbs could be so tasty?

Beard trimming and beer drinking at the Beervana festival. Image by Brett Atkinson / Lonely Planet

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