All your beers are belong to us

by Tom on August 8, 2011

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.

caycos August 8, 2011 at 10:20 pm

There’s something going in where the Black Harp was too – rumour has it another craft somethingorother..

Tom August 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I’ve heard that it’ll be a tapas bar, though that needn’t rule out a beer orientation.

Robyn August 8, 2011 at 10:37 pm

All this brewhaus beer love will surely result in a shithouse beer backlash, akin to the so-called hipster preference for Pabst Blue Ribbon. I’d like to see a return to Waikato Bitter. Mate.

Joanna August 8, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Rhieneck!

Tom August 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Castlepoint Lager is the nearest example to that that I’ve seen.

I general, while there’s some overlap between hipsters and beer geeks, in general the people obsessing over IBUs and types of hops aren’t the sort looking for something cheap & easy to chug at a SFBH gig or a DIY gallery opening. I get the feeling that Wellington’s hipsters aren’t as stereotypically defined by trust-fund scenesters, so they’ll happily drink anything they like & can afford, rather than turning a trad working-class beer into a “cooler-than-thou” signifier.

Michael Hudson-Doyle August 10, 2011 at 8:40 am

Hey, if I can be part of a craft beer loving mainstream, I will be *so* happy I might burst.

Pete August 9, 2011 at 8:00 am

Do not utter such demon words lest they appear!

Justine August 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm

+ Bond Street Brewery, coming soon. Taking over the old Syn. Hurrah, balcony!

mike August 9, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Oh Justine, did you read the article?

Justine August 9, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Sorry, I should have been more ebullient with my recognition of the paragraph indicating the fact. Need to polish up my interwebs-speak, seemingly.

John H August 9, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Nice beer in these places – but the prices some of these bars are charging is off the planet. If I can buy a proper imperial pint of Best Bitter in London for about £3, it would be nice to think I could buy the local equivilent in Wellies for a tenner max.

stephen clover August 9, 2011 at 8:39 pm

+1 to that. Farrrkken gouge, ow.

Jono August 9, 2011 at 8:59 pm

The problem is the cost of making good beer. They don’t make as much beer as big breweries AND use more – and probably better quality – ingredients. Therefore, the brewery charges more to make sure they can make money, which means retailers (including bars) have to charge more.

Saying that, a Heineken costs $8 for a 330mL at Malthouse. I would much rather pay $9 for an Epic Pale Ale on tap or $12 for a 500mL Three Boys Pils. It’s like fish and chips – your meal from Welcome Takeaways on Vivian St is always going to cost less than an awesome piece of fish and great chips from Fish Fins in Newtown.

flubber August 13, 2011 at 2:58 pm

2L of bookbinder = ~$13 at regionals … just saying.

Jimbob August 18, 2011 at 9:31 am

A simple answer is people drink more craft, more made, economies of scale kick in we are all winners

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