In “Our Favourite Places” feature, the Jesuit acts as editor for a series of short reviews of bars, breweries and beer drinking venues from across the archipelago and abroad. In this posting, Malice reports on an excursion to Waiheke Island Brewery that was not a Thirstyboys event but worth noting for the record.
Waiheke Island Brewery
Waiheke Island, Auckland
text by malice
Location: Waiheke Island. It’s in the Hauraki Gulf near Auckland, New Zealand and on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, next stop Tonga. I’d never been to Waiheke before, but in late 2011 some of the in-laws and I converged there from Australia, Fiji and Wellington for 10 days. We explored the beaches, visited a couple of wineries, a brewery, a couple of patios and the supermarket. This hilly, sun- and windswept location was an amazing place to visit. A beer tasting and luncheon at Waiheke Island Brewery was a highlight.
Ambience: The brewery is located at Wild on Waiheke, a venue that includes a range of leisure activities; a café, vineyard, and brewery. You come in the driveway to a setting that is country clubbish with an indoor/outdoor “House & Garden” vibe, without being pretentious. There are rows of grapevines alongside tidy, well-trimmed lawns with a small play area for children. Large tables and umbrellas are inviting and offer space for a large group or couples. There is an outdoorsy English/Italian atmosphere.
Beer: We ordered tasting trays of beers served in 7oz glasses, supplied with tasting notes and food match ups. It was a nice little package that intrigued and informed our group (who in the Star Wars universe ranged from beer jawas to beer padawans). The beer range was no big surprise, and probably what visitors would want and expect but I suspect doesn’t fully represent what the brewer would pour into his craft in the late hours of the evening. That’s not to say the beer was not well crafted. We enjoyed what was on offer; in fact, the listing is well-curated – and the beers appropriately named with local landmark references. Actually, word was passed to us that Alan Knight (the master brewer) has a stash of brews that would be something that a true beer nerd could enquire about or hunt down if so parched. I should mention that we were offered a tasting in the cellar – but the composition of our group meant it would have to be “a save for next time” activity.
Of course, a commercial venture such as this in a most touristy locale needs to cater for a certain audience or public and strike a balance between the familiar and the new or experimental. Perhaps there’s room for a brewer’s choice or an experimental beer of the month on the calendar. The filled tasting glasses were presented on a tray with a double-sided card of tasting notes, consisting of 8-10 lines of key facts and ingredients.
Here is a quick pen sketch of what we had, and noted…there is no point plagiarising an excellent website (see link below):
The Baroona Original: this brew was 4.7% and a very drinkable Kolsch beer; pale, crispy and hoppy in character. Our untrained senses picked up a definite grapefruit aftertaste that was a bit overbearing for one Australian palate. But it suited the season for sure…
As Nana said “it is summery…not summary!”
Wharf Road Wheat Beer: the Thirstyboys know that despite attempts at training me I am not a big fan of the wheat beers, especially the Belgian kind… so we were relieved to be offered this Bavarian style wheat beer 4.5%. I can enjoy the southern German version of this style—I really can—but I have little record of this particular experience. My notes say it was served with lemon. That it was “flat tasting” was another comment, but we must have been too busy enjoying it to write more.
Onetangi Dark Ale: this brew is a Porter coming in at 4.3%. Named after one of the beautiful beaches on Waiheke, this was the beer of the day for some of us and the suggested food match up was oysters, though I don’t believe we had any on hand. Nevertheless, it was a good brew: you can’t go wrong with a porter.
“I’m not sure I have the vocabulary to describe it…” the Australian
“Sinfully delicious!” manoj
Matiatia Malt Beer: this was my favourite on the list coming at 7.2%. This was a solid malt beer and a treat to finish on and savour. It had great colour and body and looked as special as it tasted. It was grunty and well crafted yet also hard to define or pin down. The Australian noted the range of tastes it offered… “A rainbow of flavours in the mouth!” he said. Something for everyone.
Food: The menu offered a “delightful” range for all tastes, very accessible and cleanly presented, no fish and chips. For some that may be a bad thing, but there were other locations to chase this local seafood fare. The menu was framed nicely around the beers on offer and included healthy looking juicy burgers and “fabulously tangy” ribs. The six-foot sixer and big teenager in our group waddled their way to the car park afterward. The food was great and just what we needed after a few days of penny saving supermarket food. In the gift shop there are chutneys, jams, chocolate dips and a special rum to take away.
Staff: The staff were friendly, efficient and cheerful. Our Canadian waitress (on a working holiday) welcomed us warmly and kept an eye on our progress through the beers and the meals. She had knowledge and an enthusiasm you’d expect, about the beer listing, but conceded that we should really be talking to brewer Alan Knight.
Clientele: Appeared to be mainly visitors to the island, young professionals and a couple of family groups.
Webtastic?: The website for Waiheke Island Brewery is very user friendly with a clean design and layout. The commitment to this crisp and attractive branding is evident and consistent on the bottle labelling, the presentation in the café/gift shop and even on the beer mats and merchandising. The web content is accessible in style and informative, and probably has a bit more info than you would see on most New Zealand brewery websites. I particularly enjoyed the extended commentary on the beers and appreciated the suggested food match ups with accompanying images. There is plenty here to assess if you plan on making Waiheke Island Brewery part of your beer nerd itinerary.
Summary: The Waiheke Island Brewery is part of Wild On Waiheke- a venue you can visit for the better half of a day. You can go skeet-shooting, have a go at archery or play petanque. You can try some great beers and get a decent meal, and keep the wee ones amused at the play area. As part of our tourist experience it was a great way to end a week exploring the island and relaxing. It was just what we needed. This type of packaged experience may not appeal to all beer nerds, but it is more enjoyable and leisurely than rushing through a list at a beer convention…although everything has a time and place.
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