Golden Bay, the home of hops, is bursting with full-flavoured craft beers, for happiness and hoppiness in holidayland (so is Nelson, but this tour is of small-town breweries).
First up we will roam the lovely Golden Bay to Motueka and Māpua, bypassing the wineries for a day, to pick up supplies for a stroll on the epic Abel Tasman Coast track.
And then it’s off to Kaikōura, the land of seafood, an earthquake now and then, followed by an amble down SH1 to North Canterbury.
Māpua (population 1254)
Who: Golden Bear
What: On the wharf at sunny Māpua, near Nelson, Golden Bear is a roomy hangout with outdoor space serving house-brewed beers, burgers and Los Angeles-style Mexican eats.
Los Angeles style? Golden Bear was founded by Jim and Anne Matranga, and Jim was born in LA, where he was a cabinetmaker. A visit in the 1990s to New Zealand left an impression of a beautiful country with drab beer. A dream was born.
The upshot, more than a decade later, was Golden Bear opening on Labour Weekend in 2008. Since then a revamp has extended the bar, kitchen, restaurant and outside patio.
Flagship beer: Not one, but the favourites have been the California-style Pales and IPAs – Fat Toad (a pale ale) and Seismic IPA (a hoppy IPA). Stormy, a hazy New England-style IPA has just joined the fray. Very tasty.
Open: Live music on Friday evenings from 6-9pm and Sunday afternoons from 3-6pm. Closed on December 31 and January 1. Otherwise open from 12pm daily. A summer music festival – 12 days to January 9, with live music from 4-7pm.
Golden Bear will update its website regularly, to change the business hours as necessary.
Motueka (population 8280)
Who: Townshend Brewery
What: Founded by Martin and Keri Townshend in 2005, the brewery has a reputation for producing some of our best beers.
General manager Antony Burke pinpoints some reasons; for a start, Townshend is in the leafy green heart of a hop-growing region, just over 40km northwest of Nelson.
“Get the best ingredients, treat them with respect, and you’ll produce a great product,” he says.
As well as the best hops, the water is drawn up from the ancient Motueka aquifer combined with malted barley, yeast and a large dose of passion.
And then there’s the art of brewer Martin Townshend.
“We brew the way people have done for centuries, and our brews have the depth of flavour that comes from small batch fermentation,” Townshend says.
Worried about sustainability? Don’t. It is an important in all aspects of the business. The brewery is solar-powered, it uses recycled glass bottles and boxes.
Townshend was NZ Brewery and manufacturer of the year in 2014.
Flagship beer: Sutton Hoo, Amber Ale.
Food: Try the breakfast burger at Toad Hall, which operates the retail on and off licence sales. Toad Hall is right in front of the brewery, connected to it even.
Open: Toad Hall Cafe & Taproom opening hours (summer), 8am – 6pm Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; 8am-11pm Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
Stoke (population 19,760)
Who: Eddyline Brewery
What: There’s a familiar theme developing here – owners Michiel Heynekamp and wife Molley started Eddyline Brewery in Colorado, in the US. They opened “multiple breweries” over New Mexico and Colorado before selling up and moving to New Zealand, after visiting and falling in love with Godzone.
Eddyline is a 100 per cent independent family-owned brewery based in Stoke, close to the hop fields and with mountains and other outdoor attractions that appealed to them and their young family of three kids.
Eddyline comes from the line separating the fast flowing current in a river from the eddy where the water slows allowing kayakers to stop, rest, catch up, and celebrate their victories.
Between university and school, two of their kids work within the business, with Mic and Molley full time. After two Covid-affected years, 2022 sees new plans around beers, festivals and a taproom.
Flagship beer: CrankYanker West Coast IPA is a recipe first envisaged in 1996 by Mic and Molley when they would invite friends around weekly to try the beer and tell them what they thought. Tweaks were made and CrankYanker was born. It’s the brewery’s top seller. And don’t forget American As, Pumpkin Pie Spiced, for a taste of Old Glory.
Food: There is a pizzeria (in Richmond) featuring wood-fired pizzas and a selection of Eddyline beers on tap AND artichoke dip with handmade flatbread, which they call “renowned”. In March, they intend to open a taproom and taco restaurant at the brewery.
Open: The restaurant is open Monday to Thursday 12pm-9pm; Friday to Saturday 12pm-10pm; Sunday 11am-9pm.
Kaikōura (population 2420)
What: Tucked between Marlborough and Canterbury in Kaikōura, Emporium Brewing is more than just a brewery. Its kid-distracting elements are superb, should you want an undisturbed ale.
Send them off to the 18 hole-mini golf course, lock them in one of the two escape rooms, or let Poppy the brewery cat entertain them.
Hidden behind the Caltex garage on SH1, its drive runs between the veterinarian and Dusky Lodge.
Emporium is a small brewery, just husband and wife team Paul and Laura Finney (and their two-year-old Hazel).
Solitary staff member Kayla Williams serves beer, operates escape rooms, and maintains the golf course, with Poppy the cat in an unpaid supervisory role.
“I always joke it is a hobby that spiralled out of control,” Paul Finney says.
Laura and Paul moved to Kaikōura in August 2016, from Christchurch.
Their timing “wasn’t exactly perfect” with the doors opening just five weeks after an earthquake cut transport routes to Kaikōura off.
Flagship beer: Paul has a reputation for “classic styles”, based on what he likes. Only two of Emporium’s 25 beers are hazy ales. Apfelstrudel has a cult following, with house stout Obsidian as the base, the likes of spice and rum are added to create a beer that smells, and tastes, like apple strudel.
Food: There’s a food truck with a range of burgers, cakes and so on.
Open: Emporium’s new bar will officially open on December 27, pouring 11 beers on tap and a cider from Peckhams. 10am-6pm in summer.
Amberley (population 1800)
Who: Brew Moon Brewing Company.
What: Set up in 2002 by Kieran McCauley and Belinda Gould, Brew Moon is a family-owned brewery and taproom, touting itself as “North Canterbury’s original craft brewery”.
Amberley is 50km north of Christchurch, on State Highway 1, poised for a wee travel break.
There’s plenty of thirst-quenching options, with a range of popular styles alongside a selection of more exotic seasonal brews.
And it’s not just beer, there is a small selection of local wines.
Brew Moon has a sense of humour too, as exemplified in its biggest seller, Waipara Hazy IPA.
“Waipara translates to muddy water, which seemed an apt and amusing name for a hazy beer,” says Oscar McCauley.
“A few weeks ago our Waipara picked up a silver medal at the NZ Beer Awards, so we think it’s heading in the right direction.”
Flagship beer: It has long been the “beloved” Amberley Pale Ale.
Food: Almost entirely based around pizza, and anything that’s not pizza is still cooked in a wood-fired pizza oven (think nachos and baked camembert). Pizza dough is made on site.
Open: Wednesday-Friday 3pm-late, and Saturday and Sunday midday-late. Closed Monday and Tuesday.