All your beers are belong to us
It used to be that if you wanted a good selection of independent and craft beers, your options were limited: Malthouse, perhaps Bar Bodega back in the day, or a bus out to Newtown for Bar Edward. But since the arrival of Hashigo Zake, it seems that boutique beer is in, and there’s a sudden rash of bars that care about good beer … or at least look like they do.
The latest is Little Beer Quarter, or LBQ for short, taking over from the much-lamented Watusi. It’s much more spacious and pub-like than its leopard-printed forerunner, but retains a reasonably cosy atmosphere with some cute touches (upside-down pot plants and beer bottle chandeliers). The beer range is impressive, and everything on tap (currently a nice mix of Tuatara, Emerson’s, 8 Wired, Three Boys and other local favourites) is also available in jugs or flagons. There was a nice moment the other night when an intimidated out-of-towner was going to default to Corona, but his companions and the staff helped nudge him towards Tuatara Helles. Baby steps, sure, but friends don’t let friends drink bad beer.
I haven’t tried much of the food yet, but I can attest that the spicy sausage pizza does exactly what one would hope of a pub pizza … which is more than I can say for the offering at Tap Haus across the road, where a friend’s pizza order was burnt beyond edibility. Despite what looks like a comprehensive beer selection, it seems to suffer from some of the problems that plague its cousin Brühaus: a hasty conversion, lack of a heimlich atmosphere, a tendency to treat food as an afterthought at best, and service that, even without obvious signs of incompetence, doesn’t give the impression of a passionate dedication to good beer. It’s not just the incongruous leftovers of the creaky old Curry Club decor (though thankfully now wood-panelled and gold-painted rather than pastel): it’s the combination of high ceiling, bright lights and uncertain clientele that leaves me cold.
That’s not a problem at The Hop Garden, which relishes its quasi-outdoor setting and cherishes its growing status as a Mt Vic local. The selection is extensive and perhaps a little more idiosyncratic than at die Häuser, and the place already seems as much a favourite among the brewerati as Malthouse and Hashigo Zake. But it’s the food that sets it apart, with brunches to die for … or perhaps from, if you have too much of their black pudding, pork belly and streaky bacon hash combo. Or you could combine that with a pint of Renaissance Chocolate Oatmeal Stout for the perfect breakfast.
And there’s more to come. The Malthouse directors are currently converting the former Loaded Hog (remember when that counted as a “specialist beer pub”? Shudder!), Syn and Ruby Lounge premises into a microbrewery and craft beer bar. Its rumoured name is “Fork and Brewer”, and it will feature a large
carcinogenic hellhole roof garden as well as 40 beers on tap. It will go under the motto “Non timebo cervisa”—“I will fear no beer”, though as fellow Wellingtonista and beer geek Alan said, “some beer should be strongly respected” (never turn your back on a Rex Attitude).
Even if not all of the new craft beer bars deliver on all the dimensions that might be expected of a quality establishment these days, the fact that more places are offering impressive ranges of independent beers instead of the usual branded swill can only be good for Wellington. If not for our livers.