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The craft brewery scene in Wellington is made up of creative thinkers and entrepreneurs. They're part of a movement that has seen craft beer sales grow at an enormous rate, along with the range of flavours on offer and bars catering to the ever growing appetite for creative brews.
First and foremost, they're people who love their beer, and the process of making it. It's that passion, personal connection and creative experimentation that has seen so many Wellingtonians fall in love with the scene. Nowdays, thanks to these guys, the question you most often hear when you come back to the table with your pint is:"So, what are you drinking?"
Officially a heavyweight on the scene now, with millions of litres going out the doors every year, Tuatara began with one man: Carl Vasta. Carl, described as "an engineer with the tastebuds of a wine critic", started brewing in the hills above Waikanae.
Using converted dairy tanks he began supplying friends, family and good mate Sean Murrie, who ran beer specialty bar The Malthouse and was on the hunt for good local product. The two decided to go into business together and the rest, as they say, is history. These days, with a big local investor behind them, a big new plant in Paraparaumu, and plans to quadruple their output volume over the next few years, Tuatara is at the top of their game.
Tuatara's approach to brewing is simple: they brew true-to-style with authentic, quality ingredients. In other words, if they make a Bohemian Pilsener (which they do), they'll use yeast from Bohemia. Their palette is simple and old-school (16th century-school): yeast, malt, hops and water. Aside from that Pilsener, they make a London Porter, Ardennes strong golden ale, a Munich Helles lager, the Aotearoa Pale Ale and many more. You'll find their beer on sale at bars, restaurants, bottleshops and supermarkets throughout the region, and for the best introduction, pick up a 'Pick 6' six-pack, with one of each of their flagship brews.
Anything is possible in Wellington, just ask the 'three Matts' from ParrotDog Brewery. What began as a student home-brew passion for Matt Warner and Matt Kristofski, (under the watchful eye of Schmee, the Indian Ring-neck parrot), has grown into an award-winning craft beer enterprise, with the addition of 'numbers guy' Matt Warner to the team.
ParrotDog exploded onto the scene with their first commercial brew, BitterBitch. This aggressively hopped IPA won People's Choice at New Zealand's premier craft beer celebration, Wellington's own Beervana. It then went on to feauture at #1 on prominent beer writer Neil Miller's Top Ten for that year, before taking out Best in Class at the Brewer's Guild Awards 2012. It's fair to say people got the message: there's a new crew in town.
In June 2012 ParrotDog took the plunge and opened their own brewery and shop in the heart of Wellington. There you can pick up a flagon of that award-winning signature beer, or one of their newer creations. These include; FlaxenFeather, a zesty, golden Blonde Ale; Sleuthhound, a full-bodied Scotch Ale with a hint of smoke; and PitBull, a strong (7%) American IPA that, like its namesake, has a bite but will treat you well if approached with respect.
Garage Project has been described in the media as the 'darling of the craft beer scene' and by punters as 'rock stars'. Hitting the scene in 2011 they got people's attention quickly by brewing and releasing 24 different beers in 24 weeks - a spectacular display of creativity, technique and fearlessness. The charm of Garage Project is their bravery in and love for the alchemical process of beermaking.
They're not afraid to experiment with unorthodox flavour ingredients, like chili & mango, golden syrup and kumara. Yet the heart of their beermaking is solid, with head brewer Pete Gillespie experienced real ale and craft brewing in Australia and the United Kingdom. It's this combination of inventiveness, combined with a traditional core, that is winning fans and award for Garage Project. In 2013 they opened their Cellar Door at their Aro Valley premises.
This established Garage Project as 'your local neighbourhood brewery', where customers stroll in and are immediately offered a taste of whatever brew has just come on sale. Flagons are filled, and people have even begun bringing in their vintage glass half-gallon bottles in the wooden case. Their brews change regularly, and the distinctive names and label artwork always makes them stand out. Favourites include Aro Noir - an inky black stout named for the 'dark side' of Aro Valley; Pils 'n' Thrills - an American-hopped Pilsener inspired by the local roller derby team, and Smoke & Mirrors - a lightly smoked Bock style beer that goes great with barbecue or burgers.