Dunedin in a day
I am off to Dunedin, I am searching for something, in fact what I am searching for made Dunedin the first and largest city in New Zealand in the 1860’s. I am searching for Gold, but not the dig in the dirt or pan in a stream type; I’m after liquid gold - Beer.
There is a long history of beer in Dunedin going way back to 1876 when James Speight founded the iconic brewery and started brewing here, all the way through to the 90’s where we saw the birth of New Zealand craft beer with the industry’s ‘Grandfather’ Richard Emerson brewing at multiple sites around the city since launching the Emerson’s brand in 1993.
I start on a beautiful summer’s day (local joke) and I venture from my hotel up to Speight’s Brewery for my 10am tour. A few old classics caught my eye, whilst being ushered through the merchandise shop – one can never have too many bottle openers or beer mats. We start our tour with a chat from our guide who informs us that it was common practice in the early days of the brewery for the workers to be given a barrel of beer to get them through the day! Immediately I wish I were a worker but then my liver reminds me of its silent job. As we head through the brewery I am impressed by the size and scale of the operation and the amount of equipment still in use today. We finish the tour and are shown into a bar where we serve ourselves beer from the taps and are played flashbacks of all those classic Speight’s ads with Frank Whitten mounted on his trusty steed.
I keep the brewery visits going and head past the historic Dunedin railway station and into the industrial wharf region to find the Dunedin’s not-so-hidden-anymore brewing gem, Emerson's. I am warmly greeted by the distinct smell of hops and follow my nose to a door. I peek behind to see a brew set up that is so contrasting to the Speight's old brass and wood that I have to check myself and think “Shouldn't the craft brewery be all dingy and falling down?”, I am glad that it isn't because the stainless steel tanks and clean cut concrete floor are a great reflective connection to this city's great trade after the gold rush, engineering. With this clean, sterile and controlled environment Emerson's has been able to take craft brewing to the masses and we are sure glad they did. I happily taste all that is offered to me and after 20 minutes, 6 tastes and some great stories I head out the door with a rigger of Brewers Reserve and two branded pint glasses, because again I really needed more glassware.
I head in to the deep dark labyrinth of studentville that is the North End. Built around the University of Otago campus this area is littered with flats, dairies, cafés and the occasional student walking to class or home from the pub, it is hard to tell which sometimes. Stuck right in the middle is McDuffs Brewery, a mainstay for many Otago students over the years. It is situated right on the main road flanked by McDonalds, KFC and Domino's Pizza - a perfect place to sell cold beer in whatever vessel you are willing. The students and locals flock here for good beer at good prices, I taste a few and leave feeling young, wild and with a suspicious phone number handed with a wink.
Staying in the north end I head down to Albany St, which is University central to find Eureka bar and restaurant. This is one of the only bars in town to offer a hand pump which is changed regularly to show off local brewers experiments, so it was one stop I had to make. Now offering the range of Moa beers and more, the range that you can sample here is so vast that I think I will have to stop for lunch. This turns out to be an excellent decision as the restaurant offers great pub food at reasonable prices to chase the beers down. After being tempted by the promise of Dunedin’s best brownie by a friend, I was not disappointed I rolled out the front doors and back onto my beer adventure.
Still in the north end I am told there is a bar where I can enjoy great local beers whilst playing a game of Scrabble or reading one of their many, many books – this is an offer I am quick not to refuse. Inch Bar is visited by the local beer drinking community like moths to a flame. I have a distinct feeling as I enter that this bar has been witness to some great nights – the barstools made from kegs and the rustic interior are tell-tale signs of a session bar and the tight corner with coal fire hints that a midwinter stout or porter would be irresistibly inviting. This bar is a great relaxed way to enjoy a pint and while away the hours.
After a quick Emerson's Bookbinder I turn to keeping up my tight touring schedule. I head back into town to see what the central city has to offer. Just a short walk from the Octagon down Princess St and I am rewarded with a great 'hole in the wall' bar called Tonic. A hot spot for the local lawyers, accountants, council members and many professionals from the nearby exchange business district you could be forgiven for thinking this might be one of 'those places' where my back pack might not be welcome. You couldn't be more wrong, instead of these professionals being drawn here for the name or exposure they are drawn to the beer. Offering the best of the local brews and selected regional brews on their ever changing taps this bar is a great spot to come and try something you may have never seen from your own backyard, or from backyards yonder.
Continuing my walking tour I am pleased that my next stop is just a couple of streets away as I stroll through the streets of the exchange I really get a feel for the age and the history of this city. The buildings in this district are some of the oldest in the country and with more and more of them being restored every year this is creating a homage to the great men and women who after a couple of pints came up with the ideas to build this fair nation.
This brings me to a bar that has been lovingly and carefully integrated into an historic building which is fitting for its style of English Beers - The Duke of Wellington. As you open the great wooden doors your attention is split and your eyes drawn in two ways at once. One eye is looking at the beautiful interior designed and presented in a style fitting to any grand English Hotel. The other eye is being drawn to one of the best array of beer taps you will ever see. Your taste buds, feet and hands don't care much for the architecture and you soon find yourself sitting on a bar stool salivating.
After attempting to make my way through the British Isles of beer I check the time and quickly head off to my next and last stop for the evening. A short walk in the cool breeze is in order and I make my way down Vogel St just around the corner from the Duke of Wellington. After checking my map,sure enough I am still on the right path and after finding the stairs and crossing the bridge I come down an oversized spiral staircase to find myself near the door of the “Seafarers Hostel”, sure enough this is it. Plato Café is a nationally renowned restaurant which has featured regularly as a finalist in the Cuisine awards and now it has incorporated a brewery! Hoptimus Prime is Dunedin’s newest craft brewery and is currently operating out of the restaurant. You can buy their beers on tap in the restaurant sold under the Plato name. The food was outstanding, service impeccable and the beer distinct and impressive. I couldn't have picked a better way to end my beer tour of Dunedin.
In short the South has always given us quality beers, hospitality and atmosphere in spades. A visit to Dunedin can take on many formulas but make no mistake – there is a rich and rewarding experience to be had by exploring the long brewing history of the city and discovering the history of Craft Brewing here which by some accounts has only just started.
AND The team here at Beervana have added in a couple more places that we thought were noteworthy.
Green Man Brewery
If you like Beer and the occasional tequila then Green Man is the place to visit and tempt your taste buds with the tequila beer that is in their range. They also offer a brewery tour, sell their beer online and have a beer drinkers club.
Meenan Wines & Spirits
Now this is a real Dunedin local with a history that goes back much before you or I were around. Meenan's offers a range of craft beers, including their own. If you are in that area pop in for a perusal of their shelves.
Another addition here as a contribution from Kieran Haslett-Moore- Thanks Kieran!
Located on Lower Stuart St in a former Butchers Shop Albar is the perfect ‘cosy local’ to escape a bracing Dunedin day. Albar specialises in handpump beer and single malts alongside homemade bar snacks. The old butchers building has provided the pub with a cellar, a rare thing in New Zealand. Albar also often offers special limited brews from Richard Emerson’s pilot brewery. Also check out Albar’s sister pub Portsider in Port Charmers .
Castle Macadam / Taste Merchants
Located further down Lower Stuart St Castle Macadam is a small specialist liquor retailer specialising in fine wines and craft beers. Castle Madam offer both local and imported beers on a small Fill Your Own system as well as an eclectic and diverse range of bottled beers. They also operate a tasting room called Taste Merchants next door where they run meet the brewer events, beer and cheese tastings, and vintage beer evenings.