Back when I was 18 and fresh onto the drinking scene, beer always felt simple and straightforward. The standard brands were always on offer and I had zero interest in the backstory behind the brews, I mainly wanted whatever was cheap and paid little attention to what specific types of beer I actually enjoyed.
Fast forward 12 years later (yuck, time flies) and craft beer and small breweries have exploded into the mainstream even more than avocado toast and rainbow bagels. I now know more about the history of the beer in my hand than I do about some of my good friends! Aside from the hipsters that live, breathe and preach 247 about brewery life – I’m all for the craft beer trend. Smaller businesses are profiting, people have more options to choose from and I finally know what beers I will enjoy based on the brew styles.
Wellington has an AMAZING craft beer scene. There’s a ton of breweries dotted all over the city and homegrown drinks are in almost every bar, restaurant and club available. They have a bunch of curated paid tours and trips dedicated to the craft beer trails, but if you’re happy to wander about alone with just the bartenders as your guides then you can easily do it for free yourself.
Being that we were unfortunately only in Wellington for a long weekend – we decided to go solo and hit up a few of the spots on the ‘Craft Beer Capital’ trail. The trail is an amazing collection of venues dedicated to craft beer bars and cellar doors. You then either visit the venues formally by getting a stamp on your map in each location after purchasing, or like us, just use it as an excellent guide of where to go in the capital city. You can (and definitely should!) check out the map and grab more info from their website: www.craftbeercapital.com
We visited a bunch of different spots on the trail trying different styles of beer in each one – remind me never to even consider dark stout beers ever again! Everyone’s taste buds are different and the drink selections in each venue are endless so we’ve whittled it down to our top 5 spots that are must-visits if ever you’re in Wellington; based on vibe and atmosphere alone.
1) Golding’s Free Dive
We LOVED Golding’s Free Dive! This was definitely worth the number one spot on our list. The atmosphere – even on a Sunday, was absolutely buzzing. The décor was awesome – lots of bright colours, quirky props and a balcony area perfect for some summer sunshine. The venue was well modelled on the lil American style dive bars dotted all over USA, just done with a lot more flair and style. We spent $19 on two beers from Garage Project – an excellent Wellington brewery (that also has an awesome cellar door location if you’re ever in Auckland). Our beers of choice were ‘Orange Sunshine’ (4.6% citrus wheat) and ‘Bliss’ (4.5% lager) that we enjoyed underneath the glowing lights of the huge beer sign on the wall. If we weren’t trying to hit as many locations as possible we would have easily and happily stayed in here all night!
2) Rogue & Vagabond
Another spot that can’t be missed is the amazing Rogue & Vagabond. It specialises in being a fantastic craft beer bar, while also being a music venue for various local acts. The interior was great – intricate designs painted above and around the bar, as well as an abundance of tables & stools for maximum chill. There’s also a small deck and a mini grassy bank suitable for picnic blankets, summer chill sessions and dogs that are also fans of a brew or two! The bar was super packed when we visited so rather than curating our beer choices we just picked the two most Insta-worthy cans in the fridge! This left us with Juice Heads ‘Mind Funk’ (6% tropical sour) and another one from Garage Project – ‘Pernicious Weed’ (8% double IPA) for $24. Although we loved the vibe, we hated the double IPA – way too bitter for us! So next time we visit Rogue & Vagabond we’ll make sure we order for our tastebuds rather than our social media feeds!
3) Little Beer Quarter
This hidden gem tucked away in Wellington’s CBD was actually the first spot we visited as part of our craft beer crawl and we loved it! The bartenders were super friendly and really knew their stuff, talking us through what flavours and styles we’re keen on in order to correctly recommend the perfect brew for each of us. We experimented with a couple of odd sounding flavour combinations – one was a mango lassi style beer called ‘Duncans Whippy’ (6.3% IPA), and the other was an earl grey with citrus blend from the Yeastie Boys ‘Gunnamatta’ (6.5% IPA) – both were absolutely delicious and kicked off our craft crawl perfectly. We loved the relaxed vibe inside, with comfy sofas, chilled music and an intriguing selection of beer coasters decorating the walls.
4) Fork & Brewer
As soon as you start walking up the stairs to Fork & Brewer you spot a bunch of kegs, beer tanks and barrels setting the mood for a true brew experience! The bar is pretty big with a wide selection of drinks – we took a seat on the balcony, basking in the sunshine and making the most of one of the rare non-windy Wellington evenings! Our two drinks of choice were ‘Exit Strategy’ (5.3% APA) and passion fruit and juniper flavoured ‘Tainted Love (6.5% Sour Ale) for $24. The packaging was probably one of the least eye-popping of all the drinks we’d purchased, but what they lacked for in pizazz they made up for in taste! Also, Fork & Brewer is the owner of the coolest bar bathrooms in New Zealand – when you wash your hands in a sink made out of a beer barrel you know you’re in the lair of a professional crew.
5) Fortune Favours
Fortune Favours was one of the last spots we visited on our mini craft beer crawl, we wound up there pretty late and they were about to close, so we ended up picking up a couple of their brews from the super handy take out fridge instead of drinking inside. We grabbed ‘The Wellingtonian’ (6.0% IPA) and ‘The Adventurer’ (5.0% pilsner) which both went down a treat! These takeout cans were super cheap at only $4 each which is practically unheard of down in New Zealand! It was such a shame we didn’t have more time to chill inside at Fortune Favours, but would definitely be a spot to hit up if we ever ended up back there.
You could spend weeks trekking around Wellington sampling all of the different craft beers at each brewery (or hours if you were keen on liver failure). Also because they’re constantly adding new beers and trialing new flavours you’ll never get bored of what’s on offer so it’s definitely worth throwing it on to your Wellington activity list – when the craft beer is calling, you better start crawling!