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Here at CK Travels, we always try to be ‘hoppy’ travellers and visit the ‘homes’ of some of our favourite New Zealand beers. On our latest south island road trip, we rocked up to several New Zealand breweries to sample the beer at source (always the best way) and learn about their various brewing methods. The beer here holds a special place in our hearts as it is where we first discovered good dark beer, so this adventure became a bit of a beer pilgrimage, to see up-close how our favourites are brewed on a New Zealand brewery tour:
New Zealand Brewery tours:
McCashins Brewery / Stoke Brewery, Nelson
In an unassuming factory on the side of a busy main road heading into Nelson lies, McCashin’s Brewery, home to possibly our favourite dark New Zealand beer, Stoke Dark. McCashins runs brewery tours Monday to Friday at 11am (additional 2pm tours Wednesday and Friday), at $25pp.
McCashin’s began as the Rochdale Cider factory in the late 1930s and was bought in the early 1980s by former All Black, Terry McCashin. They expanded the range and began brewing craft beer, with this latest plant opened in 2009, and Stoke Beer launched in 2010.
What is terrific about this brewery tour is that we actually got to see the whole brewing and bottling process from start to finish, as all factory lines were open when we visited (we didn’t see this in any other of our brewery tours). We were also fortunate that on the Friday afternoon we visited, no-one else booked onto the tour, so we ended up on our very own ‘private tour’ with our guide Malcolm, a lovely gentleman who knew all things beer and moved over to New Zealand from Yorkshire many years ago.
This means we were able to ask heaps of questions, before heading into the accompanying bar to taste five of McCashins range (the IPA were great, although the jury is still out on Wakachangi Lager, or ‘lady lager’ as we heard it referred to).
As were driving, we opted to buy some Stoke Dark to take away and enjoy in Nelson later, but as the brewery bar is so warm and welcoming here, we’d recommend getting a taxi here and staying a bit longer after the tour to try more of their beers (it is also rather neat that you can see the bottling process at work whilst you drink, through a large glass window in the tap room). Overall, we were totally ‘Stoked’ by our visit.
Tours operate Monday to Friday at 11am, and Wednesday and Friday only at 2pm. $25 per head including a tasting at the end.
Monteith’s Brewery, Greymouth
After a previous ‘pilgrimage’ to Monteith’s former brewery tour site around a decade ago where I had been surprised to find I was the only person booked on the tour (and they still took me around – kudos for that), we returned this year (2019) and discovered things have changed greatly. Monteith’s Brewery is now based on a newer site with new facilities including a bar/restaurant. We were now part of a much busier tour, with beer fans from around the world including Kiwis, Aussies, Israel and fellow Brits.
Our guide for the one hour brewery tour was Brodie, who had bags of enthusiasm, with a fine line in beer-related banter and a quip for every nationality. We did the tour on a Monday night so nobody was actually working in the brewery, meaning we got to explore the whole place by ourselves.
The group learned all about the brewing process from start to finish, as well as an overview of Monteith’s history. Apparently the decision to stop brewing on this site a few years ago was swiftly reversed after a national outpouring of rage!
At the end of the brewery tour you get to test your own bar-skills and pour your own beer whilst the rest of the tour group looks on – no pressure then! It wasn’t as easy as Brodie made it look but we think we did OK. Beer definitely seems to taste much better when you have poured it yourself and thats a fact!
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Once the tour has ended, you make your way back to the brewery bar. We used our free three (try saying that after a few drinks) beer vouchers, which are included as part of the tour admission fee ($25). Our personal recommendations would be any of their hoppy AF IPA or APAs, plus their legendary Monteith’s Black (one of our favourite beers of all time).
To learn more about the Monteith’s Brewery Tour (and their restaurant), read our full blog article >
Emerson’s Brewery, Dunedin
A fairly new kid on the block compared to the other breweries in this list. Emerson’s was launched in 1992 by Richard Emerson, after yearning to produce the types of beer he had tried on his adventures in Europe which were then unavailable in New Zealand.
Unlike some other brewery tours (Speight’s included – see below), tour sizes here are generally kept to no more than 10 people. The tours are about an hour long, and you get to walk around a working factory floor, hence the need for high-vis jackets and safety goggles. You get the chance to see all the beer making equipment such as the large brewing vats, plus various brewers at work.
At the end of the brewery tour a beer paddle for each of us had magically appeared in the room where we first started, and we were then invited to take them into the main bar (with some tasting notes) to try for ourselves.
Speight’s Brewery, Dunedin
As Speight’s proudly boasts, this tour allows you to see over 140 years of brewing history (and it is the oldest brewery in the world still on it’s original brewing site). The tour begins in the well stocked gift-shop, where you are welcomed by the guide – an experienced gentleman with a fine Scottish brogue, and plenty of well rehearsed beer-related banter.
The tour takes you through several areas of the brewery, from the modern day brewing area (smell the hops!) to the older rooms that are no longer used, but have been recreated in loving detail for the tour.
At the end of the brewery tour, you get to relax in a small tap room to hear a little more about the Speight’s range (including their cider), and try a couple of the recommended beers. You can also make a couple of free selections from the bar and pour them yourself (my favourite was the Imperial IPA, which I hadn’t seen anywhere else before). They also do a nice line in Speight’s Dark beer.
Fancy visiting some of the best breweries in New Zealand’s south island? Think this is a ‘beer-illiant’ blog or about as flat as a three day old ale? Let us know your thoughts and any New Zealand breweries or New Zealand beers for our next trip…
Watch our New Zealand South Island video
More New Zealand blog posts
- Top things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand
- Things to do in Dunedin, New Zealand
- A day trip to Milford Sound with Awesome NZ, New Zealand
- A wine cave tour and tasting at Gibbston Valley, Queenstown
- Visiting the Moeraki Boulders, South Island
- Steampunk HQ Gallery visit in Oamaru
Disclosure: We were invited by McCashins, Monteith’s, Speight’s and Emerson’s onto their brewery tours to sample their New Zealand beer, but as always, opinions are all our own.