Bottoms up for beer lovers visiting the Waikato

Craft beer enthusiasts are increasingly spoilt for choice in the Waikato region, with established brewers and new specialist beer bars offering a range of local brews to rival any in the country.

At Hamilton’s Good George Brewing, the growing popularity of craft beer is paying off. In three years, the business has gone from producing 80,000 litres to 800,000 litres of beer a year, and supplies more than 400 commercial customers around New Zealand, says managing director Darrel Hadley.

“Three years ago, we saw an opportunity. At the time, the New Zealand craft beer scene was mainly centred around Wellington and Nelson and there was a gap to be filled.”

Good George started out as a single brewery and dining hall, and has since added two more Hamilton bars and eateries, Good Neighbour and Little George. The brewery is constantly growing to accommodate increasing demand, Mr Hadley says.

Good George also supplies the exclusive brews served at The Green Dragon Inn to visitors of Hobbiton Movie Set.

Brewing businesses often begin with a personal passion. That is certainly the case for Greig McGill, who started out as an enthusiastic home brewer before setting up Brewaucracy with Phil Murray in 2011. His motivation was to make craft beers modelled on some he’d tasted in Europe.

“We’ve taken a leaf out of our European book,” he says. Brewaucracy’s flagship beers include a vanilla-flavoured English porter and a smoked lager.

The Local Taphouse SKYCITY Hamilton

The Local Taphouse, SKYCITY Hamilton

Brewaucracy’s beers are brewed out of Shunters Yard Brewery, which is owned by another pair of beer enthusiasts, Peter McKenzie and Dave Smith. They brew no less than 17 different beers including those under their own label as well those under contract for other local brewers including Three Fat Pigs. The brewery is located in a converted shed behind the Woodside Cafe in Matangi on the outskirts of Hamilton, and is open for viewing by appointment.

The region’s rural towns are also benefiting from the brewing bonanza. That includes Te Kowhai, where Pilot Brewery opened in 2013. The brewery produces 50,000 litres of beer a year for cafes, restaurants and liquor stores in Hamilton, Tauranga, Whitianga and Nelson.

Another brewer who has set up shop in a small town is Waitomo Holiday Park owner Bruce Tobeck, who is one of the driving forces behind King Country Brewing. The venture was born out of a desire to produce a locally brewed range of beers that would appeal to both local farmers and tourists visiting the Waitomo Caves. Their beers can be found at select venues such as Waitomo’s Curly Bar and HuHu Café, Otorohanga’s Thirsty Weta Bar & Eatery, and Lake House Taupo.

Craft beer lovers can also sample the region’s brews at places like Craft Bar, Dough Bros or the Local Taphouse in Hamilton, which opened in October 2015. The bar is owned by SkyCity Hamilton and partners with Good George, which fuels 10 of the bar’s 30 taps with its range of beers and ciders. The Local Taphouse also serves Brewaucracy and tries to keep their beers as local as possible says manager Ash Green.