CK Travels

Hoppy Days! Emerson’s and Speight’s brewery tours in Dunedin

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As backers of all things beer related, we’ve done many brewery tours before all around the world but we have never completed back-to-back breweries before, literally one after the other. Dunedin seemed to be a good place to attempt this feat, as it has a fantastic beer and bar scene, given its status as one of New Zealand’s fasting growing and leading student cities. 

Emerson’s Brewery Tour

We started our hoppy adventure at the Emerson’s Brewery, situated on their latest site having already outgrown their first three breweries due to their phenomenal success. The brewery was launched by Richard Emerson in 1992, after yearning to produce the types of beer he had tried on his European adventures which were then unavailable in New Zealand.

On the day we visited Emerson’s, it coincided with a rugby game (Hurricanes vs. Crusaders) so even eight hours before the start of the match, the brewery bar was already buzzing with local fans (we were told that Richard Emerson himself also usually pops in for a pint when the rugby is on). 

Emerson’s & Speight’s brewery tours in Dunedin, New Zealand blog post
Emerson’s & Speight’s brewery tours in Dunedin, New Zealand blog post

Before the brewery tour commenced, we dined in their onsite restaurant, accompanying our dishes with a taster of some of Emerson’s beers (their 6.3%  ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ is one of the best beers I’ve tried in NZ). We purposely skipped breakfast that day, and had been up since the crack of dawn, driving from the Moeraki Boulders out to the tip of the Otago Peninsula, before making our way back to the city. And boy, were we hungry!  

For starters, we shared some pork baos (purely because we had been craving them since our visit to Vietnam) served with charcoal black buns (amazingly authentic and delicious), and a plate of chilli salt squid served with aioli (choice!). The portion sizes are generous and as you’d expect from a brewery restaurant, all the food feels very ‘hearty’.

Emerson’s & Speight’s brewery tours in Dunedin, New Zealand blog post

I then opted for the Kiwi classic of fish and chips for mains, whilst Caroline devoured a jerk chicken slaw (not so Kiwi, but still nom). The food here is really good and it would be very easy to spend several hours eating and drinking here, slouching back into their comfy booth chairs.

Emerson’s & Speight’s brewery tours in Dunedin, New Zealand blog post

Alas, we had ‘work’ to do – well, when I say work, I mean go on a visit of the Emerson’s Brewery.

Unlike some other brewery tours (Speight’s included – see below), tour sizes here are generally kept to no more than 8 or 10 people. The tours are generally 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.

Emerson’s & Speight’s brewery tours in Dunedin, New Zealand blog post

Our tour guide was Pedro, a very enthused and passionate individual who learned his tour skills previously at the now sadly defunct Cadbury Factory. After an initial briefing and quick intro, we learned more about Richard Emerson’s original motivations plus his vision for the brewery (the current and likely last site, built in collaboration with Lion / Kirin, after being bought out in 2012). 

Emerson’s & Speight’s brewery tours in Dunedin, New Zealand blog post
Emerson’s & Speight’s brewery tours in Dunedin, New Zealand blog post

At the end of the Emerson’s tour, we were allowed to taste the combination of water, hops, yeast and barley we’d all been hearing about. Magically, a beer paddle for each of us had 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.

Emerson’s & Speight’s brewery tours in Dunedin, New Zealand blog post
Emerson’s & Speight’s brewery tours in Dunedin, New Zealand blog post

By this point, we were really getting into our Emerson’s beers and would have normally gone back to the bar (or bottle shop) to ‘trial’ some more beers. But, ever the professionals (ahem), we had our next brewery tour lined up and so bid our farewells to the rest of the tour and made our way to Speight’s Brewery.

Girl on right: Was that 2 beers?!! 😀

Speight’s Brewery Tour, 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, which you can peruse pre or post tour (the chiller / eski bags are rather ‘cool’, as you’d expect).

Tour sizes vary but as mentioned, Dunedin was quite busy the day we visited with visitors in town for the Hurricanes and Crusaders game, so our group size was approx 25 people, several dressed in their team’s attire (Hurricanes were winning the war in here). Our tour guide was an experienced gentleman with a fine Scottish brogue, and plenty of well rehearsed beer-related banter.

The tour takes in several areas of the brewery, from the modern day brewing area (smell the hops!) through to the older rooms that are no longer used, but have been recreated in loving detail for the tour. 

Recent history is also brought to life, as we learn the impact that the devastating Christchurch earthquake had on production and how the building has now been (hopefully) earthquake proofed . One random thing that stood out is just how much finesse some of the floor and wall tiling has – you can really get a sense of what it used to be like as an active brewery.

One of my favourite stories was about the legendary well outside the factory and how good the quality of water is here. The well outside is still available for members of the public to get water from but one day, a local newspaper announced that Speight’s had decided to switch the pipes and pump out free beer. Inevitably, a mad rush ensued as people ran down to the factory to get their free supply. The day this was announced? April 1st…

At the end of the tour, the group is ushered into a small tap room for us to hear a little more about the Speight’s range, including their cider, which has become an unexpected success and star product. You get to try a couple of recommended beers, then make a couple of free selections from the bar (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.   

Like the Monteith’s Brewery experience, you also get the opportunity to attempt pouring your own beer (not as easy as it might appear). This is a fun and social way to end the tour (and there was some light-hearted fun banter between the Hurricane and Crusader fans).

By speaking to other tour goers, we also found people had come from all over the world including Germany, the UK, Canada, the States (and also Wellington!). We have it on good authority that this used to be a free pour session when you could try and pour as much beer as you liked for half an hour but now it is much more civilised affair.

Our Speight’s Brewery tour was enjoyable but very different from the Emerson’s tour – like Speight’s beer itself, their tour very much caters to the masses and has something to please everyone whilst Emerson’s takes a much more personalised and concentrated approach, similar to their craft beer.

Both breweries are ‘Dunner stunners’ and well worth a visit although as much fun as it sounds, we would recommend you do both but over different days, so you can get to appreciate the various beer tastes and styles more.  Now, if only Speight’s and Emerson’s could open up a supply chain in the UK…

Book an Emerson’s brewery tour here and book a Speight’s brewery tour here

FURTHER READINGThings to do in Dunedin, New Zealand – travel guide

More New Zealand blog posts

Words by Neil Hassall. Photography by Neil Hassall and Caroline Keyzor.

Disclosure: We were invited by Speight’s and Emerson’s onto their brewery tours, but as always, opinions are all our own.

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Dunedin accommodation

Backpacker: On Top Backpackers / Central Backpackers  / Manor House Backpackers

Flashpacker: The Victoria Hotel / Chapel Apartments / Hotel St Clair

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