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April 26, 2010 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Nelson: The new beer capital?

It’s odd how Wellington is widely considered to be the capital of beer in New Zealand when we no longer have any local breweries. Perhaps Nelson would be more deserving of the beer capital title—it is home to ten breweries, and is where most New Zealand hops are grown. Recently, I made a trip to Nelson with a group from SOBA (Society Of Beer Advocates) to attend a festival celebrating the harvest of these hops—Marchfest.

Marchfest is held each year at Founders Park, where thousands of local beer lovers descend to enjoy the ten one-off brews from Nelson and Blenheim breweries. These ranged from porter and pilsner to rye beer.

A surprise standout for me was Totara Brewing’s Ninkasi Green. Totara Brewing Co. is a brand-new brewery based in the sleepy village of Wakefield, about thirty minutes’ drive out of Nelson. Apparently the owner grows his own hops, and these were used ‘wet’ in the Ninkasi Green. ‘Wet’ hopping is using hops directly from the vine which are yet to be dried. This means more flavoursome oils remain, and a bigger hop flavour shows in the beer. Totara Ninkasi Green (5%) had a unique spicy hop aroma from these wet hops, which showed prominently in the flavour as well.

Another ‘wet hopped’ beer at the festival was Sprig and Fern De-Vine Inspiration Pilsner (5%). This offering from the local pub chain and brewery was one of the best New Zealand Pilsners I’ve tasted. The liberal use of wet hops give this beer a big passionfruit aroma and intense tropical fruit flavour. It is now available at the various Sprig and Fern pubs around the Nelson Region. So if you’re heading down soon pay a visit, or you can order online.

It’s a bit of tease telling you about all these amazing beers which won’t make their way to Wellington, but Renaissance has released their festival beer further afield. Renaissance went a bit crazy with their Funkelryesen Spiced Ale (5%). They made a rye beer which is odd as it is (barley is usually used), but to give it extra funk, star anise, caraway seed and cinnamon were also added. The result is a crisp golden ale with a prominent licorice flavour with herbaceous undertones. This unique beer has already made it to Wellington shores, and if your timing is right you might catch it at the beer havens of Hashigo Zake and Malthouse.

It’s great to see an explosion of craft beer culture in my hometown of Nelson, and events like Marchfest are only going to make this culture grow.

If you have any questions about this week’s beers or any comments, please contact me at


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  1. Sam Whitney says:

    Nelson Smells Son

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