Last month, the boyf and I managed a short trip to Auckland for my little brother’s engagement party. While the Saturday was packed full of family stuff, I’d booked the flights back to Wellington late enough on the Sunday that we could check out some of Auckland’s growing beer scene.
2010 was the last time I spent time in Auckland, and a lot has changed since then. Two-and-a-half years ago, Galbraith’s Alehouse was really the only beer lovers retreat, and we spent days drinking their deliciously fresh wares and chowing down on their yummy food. But now, it would probably take at least two hands to count all the good beer bars in Auckland city alone.
So on the gorgeous Sunday afternoon, the boyf and I met Andrew Childs of Wellington beer geek fame¹ to start our Auckland craft beer tour.
We started at No. 1 Queen St Café and Bar, a newly opened glass box with four taps of goodness. Super-friendly staff and a good selection of craft beer despite the lack of space and taps, it was a great way to start the tour. Just one beer each² and we were off to the viaduct to see what the Sky Sports Bar and Grill fuss was all about.
While its adverts are full of crap³, the bar itself is not bad. It has a good outdoor area out the front, and a wide-ranging selection of beer on tap which celebrates locally made beer. I had a Customs 69 IPA from the now-closed Brewery Britomart⁴, which was a lovely, hazy, honey colour, had a full body and tasted of earth and a touch of sweet grain.
A brief stop off at Andrew Andrew only to find it wasn’t opening until 3pm, and then on to Brew on Quay, which I’d heard plenty of good things about. Situated in a beautiful old building, it had a great open area at the bar and then a number of separate rooms if you wanted to tuck yourself out of the way. It had a great bottle selection and some good tap offerings, but my favourite part was the wonderful ladies bathroom. Huge mirrors, proper towels for drying your hands, incredibly clean (though I’m pretty sure the only other female in the whole bar at this time was the helpful lady behind the bar) and there was an armchair to sit in if you were waiting for a stall to become free. I will definitely be going back there.
We then walked back to the bustle of Auckland city and stopped off for a beer at O’Carroll’s Freehouse. Yet another great selection of tap beers (at fantastic prices), we opted for pilsners and pale ales and headed out the front to the sun, where we attempted to get our tan on while contemplating our next move.
It was a bar of another kind that we had a quick stop-off at next – Moustache, a milk bar with the most delicious home-baked cookies. A quick snickers cookie and we were on our way to Brother’s Beer – a warehouse-turned craft beer bar with a wee beer store inside, and brewery aspirations.
And it was wonderful. The big space was filled with leaners and the comfiest retro lounge chairs⁵, with sun streaming through windows near the roof, 18 beers on tap and a vast bottle selection in the fridge. A recent Liberty tap takeover meant we happily selected some of Jo Wood’s tasty brews and enjoyed them while talking yeast strains and home-brewing.
The only man on deck for the bar that afternoon was the wonderful Nick, who, despite it being quite a steady Sunday afternoon with a decent number of customers, still managed to find time to describe the beers we hadn’t tried and offer small samples as if he had all of the time in the world to give to us. He was even able to find time to peel away from behind the bar to talk beer and hospo with us for short periods.
It was a beer bar experience I’d never had before. There wasn’t the same urgency that you experience from the customers and bar staff at most of the bars in Wellington, the space was large, open and well thought-out, creating an easy-going atmosphere, and Nick was just so darn nice and helpful, despite probably having a million other things to do behind the scenes. The experience was so good, I can barely remember the beers we had.
And so concluded our Auckland beer bar crawl. While we missed out on visiting many other fabulous bars, including the amazing Galbraith’s, all but one⁶ of places we stopped in at were new to us. And there will be many other opportunities to visit Auckland’s bar scene again, I’m sure.
¹ Brewer of the Wellington in a Pint Celia Wade Brown Ale and now a fresh-faced Aucklander, after making the move north to take up a job as Mangrove Jacks’ beer man.
² A Liberty XPA for me – a 5% American Pale Ale with a perfect balance between fruity, bitter, and malt sweetness. I can’t believe I missed the beer when it was pouring around Wellington
³ Where do I start? “New Zealand’s largest tap selection” my arse. Wellington’s Tap Haus generally has more than 40 beers on tap, and from what I can tell, Sky Sports 40 beers also includes some cider taps. And there could very well be other bars around the country with more taps too. They also explain that the term “rule of thumb” comes from when brewers tested the temperature of the hops by using their thumbs, before thermometers existed. What the fuck!? The hops are what you add to the wort when brewing. And you have to boil the wort to make the beer – you can tell the water is boiling without having to use a bloody thermometer. IT MAKES NO SENSE!
⁴ Brewery Britomart closed on the 28th of February after a falling out between the two owners. Unfortunately, the bar was closed on Sundays so I never got to check it out, and its beers never really made it to Wellington, so this one beer is the only beer I will ever get to try from these guys. Sigh.
⁵ We actually had to shift outside after our first pints because the soft couch paired with the sunlight streaming in was putting me to sleep.
⁶ It was our second visit to O’Carroll’s.