MARLBOROUGH, NEW ZEALAND - It’s hard to decide which is better — New Zealand’s wine or the breathtakingly beautiful scenery in the regions where the grapes are grown.
A sampling of both can be an intoxicating experience, but as shocking as this must sound, some people don’t like wine! But being an “all-inclusive” type of country, New Zealand has a solution for them: It also has a thriving boutique brewery culture, an innovative spirits industry and some surprisingly good coffee.
Beer in New Zealand can be traced back to Captain Cook who, when he arrived here in 1773, brewed up the country’s first craft beer to help his crew overcome scurvy. At least, that was their excuse.
Tiny New Zealand actually produces more than 250 beers, giving neighbouring Australia competition for the title of “biggest beer drinkers in the world.”
Left: New Zealanders cycle through a vineyard. Right: Wineries still offer best views of New Zealand.
Many regions boast excellent craft breweries. In Marlborough, the birthplace of New Zealand’s excellent sauvignon blanc wine, beer aficionados can enjoy the excellent beer made at the Renaissance Brewing Company. With these tasting notes for one of their ales: “layers of biscuit, maple syrup, and hints of black current and toast” — you know you just have to try it!
One of New Zealand’s most popular and oldest brands is Speight’s. At its brewery in Dunedin, they offer a fun and interactive tour where visitors can see, touch and smell the ingredients that go into the award-winning and popular brew — and, of course, taste the end product.
For travellers not sure where to start, all you have to do is ask a local which beer to try. You’re bound to end up in a lively conversation.
And beer isn’t the only non-wine beverage that New Zealanders are good at making. New Zealand vodka is also incredibly popular. Some of the top brands, like Broken Shed (made from New Zealand whey) and 42 Below, have gained cult followings. 42 Below, which is available in Canada, infuses vodka with passion fruit, honey and feijoa (a small, zesty native fruit).
Above: Like wine, New Zealand beer comes in many varieties.
New Zealand bartenders (called mixologists by the younger, hipper crowd) are creating some incredible taste sensations with New Zealand vodka. Some of the best local specialty cocktails are served at Bellini in Auckland (offering a stunning view of the Auckland Harbour), No.5 Church Lane in Queenstown (inside the posh, yet very comfortable, Spire Hotel), and King of Snake (the hip place to see and be seen) in Christchurch.
While world-class coffee might not normally be associated with New Zealand, fact is they make a mean espresso here, although the names of the drinks might be a bit confusing — short black (single shot of espresso), long black (espresso with hot water) and a flat white (espresso with a soft layer of steamed milk).
While almost every little coffee shop throughout New Zealand makes great coffee, Wellington is home to several of the country’s most popular coffee roasters, including Havana, where they take as much care with their coffee beans as New Zealand’s vintners do with their grapes.