Travelling around the far-flung regions gave Witchdoctor’s craft beer expert HADYN GREEN a chance to try some local brews.
Road tripping through the North Island gave me a chance for one of my favourite pastimes: eating and drinking in places I’ve never been before.
The proliferation of craft beer and the ease of getting good brewing equipment has meant an explosion of small breweries around the country serving small communities rather than trying to take over the world (though some may still aspire to that).
We Started In Mt Maunganui
I’m originally from Mount Maunganui and Tauranga. I remember being a dirtbag teenager and coveting Pilot Bay Brewing’s Terminator, a 9% monster that only existed to get you drunk.
The craft beer trend saw the creation of Mount Brewing Co, Rocky Knob at the Mount, and Fitzpatrick’s over in Tauranga. The last few years have been good for visitors and locals wanting a beer made just down the road from where they’re drinking it.
However, as I walked down the main drag of the Mount on this trip, too many of the bars were tied to the big breweries. While this means it’s easy to find Panhead, Tuatara and Emerson’s, it’s become tough to get local beers. I did manage to find my favourite, Mermaid’s Mirth, at a taco bar (along with some excellent flautas).
What I didn’t do, due to time constraints, is head to the brewery. Mount Brewing Co’s Rising Tide bar is the spot if you want to try all their brews and maybe do a brewery tour. However, it’s in an industrial part of town and not really walkable if your hotel is down by Mauao.
Eat Streat Is Not A Typo
When we pulled up at our hotel in Rotorua a sign for the restaurant advertised proudly that they served Croucher, “our local beer”. It’s been that way for a decade.
I brewed a beer with Paul Croucher back in 2011, and even then he was delivering kegs to the local golf course, hotels, and many local bars. The locals took to Croucher quickly; so much so that when Paul opened his first bar, Brew, popularity exploded and he got a whole bunch of regulars.
I was stoked to see that Brew not only still existed but was in the middle of Rotorua’s Eat Streat (sic).
Rotorua has been doing tourism for a long time and they’re really good at this sort of thing. Eat Streat is a collection of restaurants and bars at the tourist end of the city centre. Brew is the only pure craft beer offering of the bunch but the whole thing is excellent and I highly recommend a visit.
I had the “basic” Pale Ale and my wife had the Pilsner. Both of these were staples of the Croucher line-up when they started. For a time Croucher Pilsner was as iconic as Emerson’s. Thankfully it still is, in Rotorua.
An Unexpected Find In Waitomo
I wasn’t expecting much in the tiny village of Waitomo, which is famous for being a hole in the ground. (I joke, it’s a lovely spot and a brilliant tourist destination). There’s a restaurant there called Huhu, like the beetle, which serves amazing food and has King Country Brewing on tap.
I had never heard of King Country Brewing (and if you’d asked me I would’ve said Waitomo was in the Waikato). Again, I had the IPA and my wife had the pilsner. Both were pretty sweet but otherwise tasty. Sadly we couldn’t try more because our hotel was a drive away.
There’s No Uber In Otorohanga
The downside of trying beers in a small town is a lack of transport options. Country pubs and remote breweries don’t have regular buses or taxi options. This is even true for places like North End in Waikanae where your best option is a very long train ride.
The only solutions to this are to either have a designated driver or drink less. Thankfully, we didn’t have this problem on any of our stops. Some far-flung breweries have offered a pick and drop off service for tourists wanting travel and drink, and I whole-heartedly support this idea.
Last Stop, Last Drinks
Mike’s Bistro was just a couple of doors down from our hotel so it would’ve been rude for us to not make it our first stop. We got a tasting flight each followed by a pint of Mata’s Cola Cuz. Mata is another brewery that’s been around forever, based up in Whakatane. While we never made it there on this trip, I love their beers, so wasn’t going past this one.
All my friends had said to go to Shining Peak, and we did on our last night. It was a fantastic venue, with the brewery down one side and seating alongside it. And the beers were so damn good!
They are also the only bar I know that makes a statement about giving money back into the community. Shining Peak donates 5 per cent of their revenue (not profit) to charities in the region. That’s a huge step for a small brewery but a great gesture.
If we’d had more time I would’ve done my part for charity by staying in the bar and tasting everything on tap. Instead, I had to make do with a takeaway six-pack of the pilsners.