Wellington’s Big Beer Quarter

Wellington has a new craft beer precinct. Three new craft beer bars, with more than 100 taps between them, opened recently, all centred around Manners Street and all within a three-minute walk.

The Taphaus is on the corner of Victoria and Dixon Streets. The site was a curry joint for years and the decor still shows the Indian origins. Two large brass elephants overlook the bar. Rumour says they are too heavy to move, and they may soon be painted pink.

The Taphaus has 52 beer taps, including five hand pumps. The range covers New Zealand craft beers, several UK imports (with Brewdog on the way) and a handful of international lagers. The food is typical pub food with lunches from $10 and dinners for $12-$17.

There’s an awkward relationship between the bar area and an area of tables that looks like it’s still part of the curry restaurant. But the Taphaus has great natural light and a broader beer range than several cities. The bar is long and it’s easy to see what’s available.

The Fork & Brewer opened a week ago upstairs in Bond Street. This site has some craft beer history – the Loaded Hog operated here about 20 years ago and was one of the first Wellington bars to avoid the Big Beer Duopoly. Since then the site has hosted the Ruby Lounge, Syn and Hell Pizza.

It’s a big space and is refit has obviously been expensive. The bar area is large and shaped like a barrel. Forty three beers and ciders were on tap yesterday, with no hand pumps. The range is very strongly centred on New Zealand craft brewers, with a couple of crafty Australians available, and no mainstream lagers on tap.

Food is an important part of the Fork & Brewer offering and dinners range from $24-$32. Punters can sit at the bar, on a long leaner, in booths, or at tables overlooking Victoria Street. There is also a large balcony that gets great sun on summer evenings.

The F&B is still brand new – you can smell the varnish when you walk in. A microbrewery is on its way and will be installed right at the top of the stairs. The F&B needs better information about the beer range, because the curved bar means you can’t see what’s on tap without going for a short jaunt around the bar. Tasting notes are available but they don’t include the full range or mention prices, and I overheard two guests questioning the lack of prices yesterday. A big blackboard would help punters see what’s available.

F&B is run by the same team that gave us the Malthouse, and it has a distinctly different, more formal image. Staff are well-presented and attentive, and keen to learn about the full beer range. As for the name – it’s a Fork & Cringe!

The Little Beer Quarter is the third beer bar on the precinct. It’s tucked away on Edward Street, across Victoria Street from the Taphaus. Little Beer Quarter is intimate, funky and attracts a younger crowd than its bigger neighbours.

Little Beer Quarter has 12 beer taps, no hand pumps. The range is all New Zealand and Australian craft beers, and it’s easy to see the options because there’s a great big blackboard beside the bar. LBQ also sets the standards for tasting notes – the information is good, the layout is clear and it gives the prices.

Beer is available to takeaway, with a 2.5 litre flagon available for about $45. Food is typical pub grub and ranges from $15-$21 for lunches and $21-$27 for dinners. A discount is given on beer for SOBA members.

LBQ is a funky little joint that feels lived-in. It has a younger, more feminine feel than many craft beer pubs, and that will attract the younger women who are becoming a significant part of the craft beer market. The interior design is op-shop chic, and it is the only bar of the three with a fireplace. I’ve found it a welcome refuge on cold spring nights, and my only concern is the blindingly bright florescent strip sitting inside the bar fridge that is at odds with the bars snug ambiance.

LBQ is a bit harder to find than the Taphaus or Fork & Brewer, but it’s worth the effort.

This part of town had no craft beer bars a few weeks ago, and now it has three bars with 107 taps. It will be interesting to see how they change the craft beer scene here. Wellington has just declared itself the Craft Beer Capital, but this is a major increase in supply and it will need strong demand to keep all three bars open.

The bars will also need good turnover right across the ranges – there’s no point in stocking 40+ beers if eight of them are responsible for 80 percent of your sales and the rest are sitting there going stale. Good, clear information is critical, as well as staff who know their beer and encourage customers to try something new.

Meanwhile, it’s a great time to be a beer fan in Wellington.

©Martin Craig, September 2011. Reproduction with permission.

8 Responses to “Wellington’s Big Beer Quarter”

  1. We tried out Taphaus for the first time on Saturday. We enjoyed the great range, BUT:

    – all but one of the handpumps were off
    – the staff didn’t know anything about the beers (although they were happy to offer tastings)
    – a round of three beers and a soft drink cost $46.50.

    Yes, $46.50. I don’t mind paying the right price for a good beer but these were $13.50 each, with no pricing information on the taps or the tasting notes.

    I’ll be off back to the ‘venerable’ HZ.


  2. Being literally a few steps from our office, LBQ has become our default local. We’ve already held a few meetings there and it is quickly acquiring a reputation as the new geek pub.

    They do a great pizza, by the way. Although they are a wee bit on the expensive side compared to the other “good” pizzas around town.


  3. “no mainstream lagers on tap” Really? On opening night they seemed to have most of the Macs range and most of the Montieth’s range… Aren’t most (all?) of them lagers? They’re certainly mainstream.

    I was a bit disappointed by the Fork and Brewer range. On the same night that FAB opened LBQ had just as much interesting craft beer on their 12 taps as FAB had on 40.

    That said, they’ll obviously develop and improve over time and I’m really looking forward to the brewery going in.


  4. This “no prices” thing at F&B and the Taphaus seems to be a bit of a trend! Clearly there’s no good reason for it – let the fightback begin here! If we ask the prices of every single beer of a bar that has over 40 taps I’m pretty sure staff will request that prices are made more easily accessible. If not I might just take a pen to their beer menu and write them in myself, quite possibly getting them wrong of course.
    Totally agree about F&B needing better signage, possibly a beer screen like Hashigos have would be the way forward… Also when I was last there the staff knew nothing about the beer! They hadn’t even heard of the Black Dog Liquorice Stout – possibly because it’s on the very end tap so quite a hike to get to. They also had no resource to find out anything about it either which seemed odd. I’d recomend a short tasting note, food match, and brewery information for each beer to be kept behind the bar for them myself. But then, it is very new so I’m optimistic of better things when it’s more established. The space is good – giving a variety of bar microvironments from outside to booths, lean-to bars and more restauranty seats. Thus increasing the chances I can get my non-beer friends to join me there. Aside from the beer knowledge the service was very good too. All very much unlike my experience at the Taphaus where I felt I’d left my soul at the door. LBQ is of course amazing, like a second home that I wish was actually my first home.


  5. I understand that the missing prices at the Fork were an oversight due to last minute rushing to get open for RWC. Prices will be on the next menu that coming soon.


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