Tales from my first craft beer convention: Beervana

Some of you readers who have been following me for awhile probably already know how much I love craft beer, especially due to the fact that every bar I’ve worked in since moving abroad has specialized in the craft beer of that country.

The Bruhaus. Wellington, New Zealand.
The Bruhaus in Wellington, New Zealand.

I even go to craft beer courses in my free time, and still get excited when a new brewer pops up whom I’ve never heard of, or a wacky new beer is put on tap at work that I’ve never tasted. My joy of craft beer comes from my fondness of flavors and different ways to use my tastebuds, it’s why I love trying new food so much too.

Craft Beer College at Hashigo Zake, in Wellington, New Zealand
Craft Beer College at Hashigo Zake, in Wellington, New Zealand

I have a multitude of friends in New Zealand and back home in California who home brew themselves. One of the interesting aspects I’ve found about craft beer in New Zealand is that it’s all over the place, and not necessarily in a bad way.

Experimentation within a beer style is so common over here that it’s expected. There can be two beers from the same style, say an amber ale, and those two beers will taste completely different from one another. Of course, that’s not always the case, but compared to how much more we stick to certain beer style guidelines in the States, it comes off as apples and oranges to me.

My Kiwi friend commented on the fact that it’s most likely because of how small scale the brewing culture is over here. Some of the big name brewers in New Zealand still very much carry the home brew attitude of experimentation to batches, and much more than you could normally get away with if you worked at a huge brewing company in the States.

Stone Brewery in San Diego, California
Stone Brewery in San Diego, California

All of this experimentation and partiality to not always sticking to the rules makes for some very interesting beers. As I write this, there is a salty seaweed gose ale on tap at work from a local brewery in Wellington, and it is delicious.

So, when Beervana came into town a couple months ago, I was keen to go but weary of the price tag. Admission price alone was $45 for a 5 hour session, and once inside you still had to buy all of your own food and drink.

75 ml tasters, depending on alcohol content, could be anywhere from $2.50 to $6, and 250ml glasses could be anywhere from $6 to $8. With that said, you were also able to meet the brewers, and be some of the first people to taste brand new beers and collaborations.

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There were beer seminars as well, if you were willing to pay a little extra, that taught you anything from home brewing and making barrel aged beers, to why the right glassware matters for different styles of beer, and even beer and cheese pairing for the classier folk. Truly, a place for beer geeks around the world to rejoice!

Even with all of the craft beer goodness involved, I still wasn’t convinced to attend because I was wanting to save money. Instead, I worked an early shift at the bar, to serve breakfast and some cheeky craft beers to those heading out to Beervana.

After my shift, when my coworker said he was looking for someone to go with, I was half ready to jump on board. When he told me he would pay for all of my alcohol once inside the venue, if I paid for my $45 entry ticket, I was sold.

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Commence an epic day of drinking really good beer from New Zealand, Australia, and the States.

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At first we wandered around aimlessly, taking in all the breweries and seeing what they had to offer, and even chatting with some local brewers.

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One of the brewers from Fiasco

We were having a good time of it, but eventually realized our beer time would be better spent if we glanced through all the breweries in the event guide, and marked off which beers we wanted to try.

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Garage Project Brewery

The event guide had an easy to read map, and a section for each brewery that listed which beers they were serving and tasting notes to go along with them. Most of the breweries I had heard of before and therefore had already tried a lot of beers that were on tap, but there were still a good amount of beers I had never tried, and so focused on those specifically.

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My favorite booths of the day had to be Liberty Brewing (already one of my all-time favorite breweries in New Zealand), which had a fantastic oatmeal stout called Darkest Days on tap, and surprisingly enough, the Portland Bar.

The Portland Bar consisted of a collaboration of breweries from all around Portland, Oregon in the States. My favorite beer of the day came from there, The Flemish Kiss (pale ale with Brettanomyces – basically a sour pale ale) from Commons Brewery.

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The Flemish Kiss

Later in the day we actually ran across the Commons and the Widmer Brothers brewers, both from Portland, and they were the nicest fellows. When they saw my friend buying some of their beers for takeaways at the Merchant Tent, the brewer from the Widmer Brothers bought him one of their expensive bottles, and gave him a free t-shirt as well. Score.

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Meeting up with the brewers from Portland and trying their beers, made me even more keen to live there for a bit when I get back to the States. Seriously, the craft beer culture in Portland is phenomenal (although San Diego’s not half bad either).

There was live music and food stands sprinkled throughout the convention as well, and volunteers walking around with water jugs on their backs and signs for free water on the front. It was loud, festive, and tasty as.

Water Ladies
Water Ladies

I had an excellent and unexpected day at Beervana, and would very much recommend it to anyone who happens to be in Wellington at the right time. Craft beer is so much a part of the Wellingtonian culture that it’s just another way to experience Kiwi life, and the good beer that flows from it.

Funk Estate Brewery Tattoos
Funk Estate Brewery Tattoos

Here’s a list of the beers I tasted (and the tasting notes provided by Beervana) to give you an idea of the variety present, and maybe some ideas for your next round when you come to Wellington.

  • Fiasco Fiesty Wheat – American wheat style. 5.0%
  • Mountain Goat Fancy Pants Amber Ale (AUS) – fruity hops, caramel and toffee malts. 5.2%
  • Pink Boots Unite Pale – brewed with all New Zealand hops. 4.0%
  • Commons Flemish Kiss (USA) – Pale ale with Brettanomyces. 6.5%
  • Yeastie Boys Stairdancer – Chuck Norris meets Van Gogh for beers. 6.8%
  • Deep Creek Dominatrix Double IPA – hints of grapefruit, orange, pine and caramel. 7.3%
  • Three Boys Mt Hutt Gingernut – Biscuity, floral tea flavor, dry finish, peppery gingerness. 6.0%
  • Liberty Darkest Days Oatmeal Stout – Bitter cacao, burnt sugar, fruity chocolate, piney hops, dry finish. 6.0%
  • Renaissance Great Punkin Ale – A red/orange medium bodied ale with pumpkin pie notes. 7.2%
  • Cassels & Sons Alchemist Pale Ale – Citrus as the main component, a pleasant lightly hopped red ale. 4.6%
  • 8 Wired Wild Feijoa – Barrel aged pale sour beer with feijoa. 9.5%
  • Garage Project Wasabi Sour – Yuzu honeydew imperial sour ale. 7.8%

Have you ever been to a beer convention? Did you know how awesome the craft beer is in New Zealand (and Portland)?

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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