27 August 2014 - Best Beer HQ

Is Nelson New Zealand’s best craft beer city?

Is Nelson New Zealand’s best craft beer city?

It seems Nelson is to craft beer what Marlborough, New Zealand’s most famous wine region, is to wine.

More than 10 craft breweries operate out of Nelson, a small city on the eastern shores of Tasman Bay, near the top of New Zealand’s South Island and immediately west of Marlborough.

You can follow the Nelson beer trail next time you’re visiting the area and try some craft beer at many of the craft breweries and craft beer pubs that operate in Nelson. Make sure you phone ahead, though, as some breweries are open by appointment only.

Craft breweries in Nelson include but are not limited to…

Bays Brewery

Bays Brewery’s naturally brewed craft beers include a Bays Golden Lager, which promises a delicate balance of European Hallertauer and Saaz hops, and Kiwi-style Bays Draught Ale that has a unique hop aroma with a malty flavour base.

Bays Brewery also produces light and dark-style ales, a New Zealand pale ale called Harleys Premium Ale, ciders and RTDs.

It has been operating in Nelson since 1993 and uses only traditional and natural brewing methods (i.e. no added sugar, preservatives or chemicals).

Dales Brewing

A new boy on the craft beer circuit, Dales Brewing has been brewing beer only since 2011. It was founded by a man called Dale Holland, who once took out the top prize at the Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA) National Homebrew Competition.

Check out Dale’s Belgian pale ale, Doppelbock and American amber ale at specialty craft beer shops throughout New Zealand.

Dead Good Beer

There’s not too much online about this brewer – and Best Beer HQ is yet to try anything from Dead Good Beer. We like the name, though, and apparently you’ll find Dead Good pilsner, IPA, golden ale and seasonal brews like weizen or porter at Nelson’s The Free House pub.

Founders Brewery

Once a small, award-winning and independent craft brewery – Founders Brewery in Nelson is now a craft beer behemoth with the backing of Boundary Road Brewery and its parent company Independent Liquor Group (owned by Japanese beer giant Asahi).

As a result of the 2012 sale, Founders craft beer (is it still considered craft beer?) is distributed throughout New Zealand – in bottle shops, supermarkets and in pubs.

Its beers are certified organic and it’s been brewing beer in Nelson since 1854, spanning more than six generations.

Golden Bear Brewery

One of the best things about craft beer is that pretty much anyone can do it. Provided you have the passion, skill and inclination.

When Jim and Ann Matranga travelled to New Zealand for the first time in the mid-90s they fell in love with the country but not its beer. Jim joked that he should learn to brew beer and ten years later they moved to Nelson to set up their own craft brewery. How’s that for an inspiring craft beer story?

Golden Bear Brewery is situated down at the historic Mapua Wharf, roughly 30 minutes from central Nelson.

The Hop Federation Brewery

In Riwaka you’ll find The Hop Federation Brewery – a small craft brewery that’s been operating in Nelson since 2013. They’re making up for lost time, though. Check out The Hop Federation’s golden Pilsner-style beer, its pale ale, red IPA and American brown ale.

Lighthouse Brewery

It seems that Nelson caters to all sizes of craft breweries – from very large ones with the backing of major corporations, like Founders (above), to very tiny ones like Lighthouse Brewery.

Lighthouse Brewery founder Dick Tout has been a beer enthusiast his whole life, starting out with home brewing before expanding his knowledge and expertise, and eventually opening his own brewery. He brews pilseners, classic stouts and dark beers, and even cider.

McCashin’s Brewery

One of the most well-known and best craft breweries in Nelson has got to be McCashin’s Brewery, the microbrewery responsible for Stoke beer.

Founded in 1981 by former All Black rugby player and farmer Terry McCashin, the McCashin’s Brewery is housed in the Rochdale Cider factory, where cider is still made alongside Mac’s beer. You can find Stoke beer pretty much anywhere you can buy beer in New Zealand.

The Mussel Inn Brewery

Located in Golden Bay, north-west Nelson, The Mussel Inn is the home of “the original Captain Cooker Manuka Beer” – a red-brown all-malt beer inspired by the first beer ever brewed in New Zealand by Captain James Cook in 1773.

Built in 1992, The Mussel Inn is a pub and live music venue that brews its own beers, ales, ciders and even soft (fizzy) drinks.

Sprig & Fern

The Sprig & Fern brews real craft beers and ciders at its brewery in Nelson with all-natural ingredients and no artificial additives, and its beers are unpasteurised to retain maximum craft beer flavour. Its beer is available at supermarkets now throughout the country (usually in large plastic bottles) or at Sprig and Fern taverns throughout Nelson and Wellington.

The Sprig & Fern is proof that brewing beer is not just for men. Tracy Banner is the company’s head brewer, having leaned and developed her brewmaster abilities working for major breweries in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Totara Brewing Co.

Finally, the Totara Brewing Company, located 20 minutes south of Nelson, is the only hop-farm brewery in New Zealand. So you know that the hops it uses in its craft beer have got to be fresh. It uses only natural ingredients in its beer.

Check out Totara Brewing’s Drovers Draught draught-style beer, Totara Gold lager and limited edition Ninkasi Green amber ale.

Craft Beer New Zealand /

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