Auckland’s 10 Best Craft Bars

Glasses of BeerAfter reading the blog post Auckland’s 6 Best Craft Bars from the new blog “HOPCORN” it got me thinking about the short comings of ranking based on a single personal experience as well as trying to compare many bars which all have a point of difference. I found this list of the 6 Best Craft Bars to be some what not that useful, as it didn’t address/highlight the unique things for each bars offer, that will attract different people.

Everyone is different, every craft bar offers something different, and every time you go back to the same place you are likely to have a slightly different experience, especially with so many taps with changing beers. (judging a craft bar with multiple changing taps on a single visit and they don’t have your favourite beer on tap is a bit weak).

So I thought I would not rank each craft bar in Auckland, but list what is best about each one. So maybe the title should be something like “The Best Of 10 Auckland Craft Bars“?

Listed by reverse alpha-numeric just to be different, like each of these bars are.

Vultures Lane – the slow transition from a tied Irish bar to one of the great craft bars in Auckland was frustrating initially (for me), but it has paid off in the end. An ever changing choice of beers, many evenings you can get multiple new beers going on tap. The food menu has changed several times, but currently offers some pretty amazing value for the food you get. On any typical day of the week you are likely to see a local Auckland brewer.

Sky Sports Grill – 60 taps, 40 different beers, 30+ are craft. It is like the forgotten craft bar in Auckland, as most people think of it as a sports bar, as it has so many TV screens, and every possible channel of sport playing. If you just look at it for craft beer on tap, it potentially has the best selection of craft beer on tap on any particular day in Auckland. Plus crazy pricing for happy hour on craft beer.

Lumsden Freehouse – it has possibly the best outdoor area in Auckland for a craft beer bar. This was previously a tied bar, but it made the jump overnight, huge commitment, which has paid off big. Biggest selection of Bourbons, possibly in New Zealand. Free popcorn. Great Nachos, Ribs, actually all the food I’ve ever tried has been great. It also has a secret build your own salad menu. Oh yeah and a pretty great selection of beers, that are always changing.

Hallertau Brew Bar – if this was closer to the city they would be overwhelmed by people, then again they already are and they are based in Riverhead. You basically sit in the brewery when you are at the bar. All beer brewed on site (wrong, there is a guest tap or two there). Super fresh beer. Cool food, the platters are awesome for sharing. Bit of a drive from the city but well worth the effort.

Galbraith’s Alehouse – this brewpub was so far ahead of its time, that the current generation of craft beer drinkers will have no idea of how tough it once was in this city. Brewpub. Real ale from a cask. Guest taps of some of the best breweries from around NZ. Maybe the best food at any craft bar in NZ (possibly even better than Pomeroy’s), on par with some of the best craft food I’ve eaten in the world.

Brothers Beer – this place exploded on the Auckland craft scene, with just about weekly tap takeovers. It now has its own brewery on site, own beers on tap, as well as a changing selection of craft brewers from around the country. Huge selection of bottled beers.

Brew on Quay – since becoming a free house in 2014 this bar has become what it should have been on day one. A solid selection of beers, some permanent and some rotating taps. 102+ beers in the fridge, always the best of what they can get their hands on. The chef here is amazing at what he can produce for a beer and food matched dinner. Wish I could hold and attend more of these just to taste his dishes.

blanc – this is an oasis in the dry west side of the city. huge craft bottled beer fridge, always something amazing on the FYO taps. and if you haven’t been to one of their Brew Fest’s then you should. They are currently the best mini beer fests in Auckland. Casual and you can chat with your favourite brewers for as long as you like.

Andrew Andrew – a cool name, for an interesting bar. doesn’t open till 4pm, but by that time of the day the sun is streaming into the semi-outdoor area. (it is kind of outside so smokers can kind of smoke). Craft beers on tap are all locally Auckland brewed. It’s always interesting looking at their Facebook page with photos of their customers, and to try to find one with a glass of craft beer. Any way they seem to have it right as they sell plenty of craft beer.

16 Tun – these are the new guys on the block. They have started solid with several taps dedicated to some of the best breweries, so you always knew you would have a goto beer if the rotating taps didn’t work out for you. Parking was cheap and easy to get (unlike many other inner city craft bars). Recently things have been kicked up a notch with the doubling of the number of taps. Food is pretty impressive. Chicken wings are SPICY good. Excited to see how this place goes.

Other Mentions:

There are other bars and restaurants around the city slowly adding craft beer on tap, and many more adding bottles to their fridges and menus. These other mentions are for bars that have only a handful of bars, but worth a visit to support their passion and commitment to craft beer.

Corner Bar – tiny bar with four craft beers on tap. The taps change very infrequently but it keeps the locals happy that stop in for a drink after work. Seems to be most busy after work.

My Bar – another tiny bar, four craft beers on tap and a good selection of bottles, and one of the better selections of spirits of a craft bar.

The Garden Shed – Mt Eden, next to the Belgian Beer Cafe. Only been once, beer selection great, and food was very good too.

I know there are several others, but need to finish this post up. I’ll get to you soon. No. 1 Queen, Conch, The Block, Malt, Golden Dawn, The Thirsty Dog, Grand Central….

Fallen behind the times mention:

Shakespeare Tavern – unfortunately this place has fallen from grace since the death of brewer Barry Newman, and the sale by Ron Urlich. Even though these two had a love/hate relationship, the range of 12 different beers made on site made it a must visit craft bar by tourists, craft beer drinkers and NZ Herald staff. If you visit and things have changed for the better please let me know.

(This post still needs some work done on it.)

Rate My Craft Beer Bar

After some reflection of last weeks heavy hitting articles, I have done some thinking and come up with a new idea.  Firstly you should read the following articles to get the background on why and how things have changed.

Wasted by Andy Crouch

How the craft-beer movement abandoned Jim Koch (and his beloved Sam Adams).

“Staring at the beer menu, Koch began to criticize the selection. More than half of it, he said, wasn’t worthy of being served—inadvertently insulting the establishment’s owner, who unbeknownst to Koch was sitting next to him. Then Koch interrogated the beer manager about the offerings. Unsatisfied with the answers, Koch complained about the beers so intensely that an employee at the bar teared up. Koch rose from his seat and walked into the keg room, where he started checking freshness dates on his competitors’ kegs.”

Sam Adams and Why We Need To Stop Listening to Hipsters

“Stop giving power to these trolls. They know nothing, they do nothing, and pretty soon they won’t be able to buy your shit anymore when the trust fund runs out. The best part of Jamie’s quote from above is “Right now, it’s about what is shiny and new.” Right now. That’s the key insight here: all of this is temporary. That doesn’t make it any less annoying or infuriating when I’m stuck sitting next to five dude-bros at a bar who ordered a flight and can’t figure out which is the IPA and which is the stout but are still totally beer geeks, bro. It doesn’t make it any less annoying to see an eyeroll when I send a beer back for having an off-flavor that fuck you, yes I can detect, because I’m not so fuckhead 21-year-old from Emerson having his first brown ale.”

What’s the difference between craft beer snobs and Kopparberg drinkers?

“Craft beer, whatever you want to call it, has gone mainstream. Now, it’s growing up and maturing, and it already has several generations of brewers. Without the pioneers, the rest wouldn’t be here today. And while today’s newbies push the envelope ever further – which is what they should be doing – the bigger, older breweries are getting better at what they do, building bigger names, and providing a bridge between the mainstream and the cutting edge. If you simply reject their achievements and their vital contemporary role in favour of what’s new this week, whatever that is, you’re not interested in authenticity and story at all. You’re just following the latest fad among your peer group. And that makes you no more discerning, no cooler, no edgier, than the guy pouring his strawberry and lime flavoured ‘cider’ over ice.

Pete Brown and Luke Nicholas
Pete Brown & Luke Nicholas, drinking a UK brewed Epic Pale Ale on tap at JD Wetherspoons in 2009

There are many interesting points in the above articles, as well as their comments (worth reading the comments). The Jim Koch piece could come across as a little “boohoo, poor me no one wants to stocks my beer, yet I’m a billionaire”. Then again there is a good point about the quality of beer on tap. Sometimes quality comes behind, what’s new these days.

What’s great this week, is going to be old next week, and no one wants to drink it. It has become a treadmill of endless new beers. This is a fractal  as we travel down the long tail. As the market becomes more and more segmented. As more and more new brands enter the market they will get a smaller and smaller percentage of market share. Occasionally the odd new beer will raise above the rest, but mostly the new beers will not get more market share than the beers before them.

Sorry that is a bit deep, but it is just what I am thinking right now.

Maybe there is a way to put this new beer craze into perspective. How about a rating on craft beer bars, based on the beers they have on tap. (This is a work in progress and there needs to be given some thought for anomalies that may come up such as brand new beers with no ratings to work with).

If there is a score for each craft beer bar in a city, and people make their decision on which bar to go to based on their score, then does this force bars into stocking more of the better beers rather than the whats new beers?

Here are some examples from Auckland. The list of beers on tap were taken from TapHunter on the afternoon of Tuesday 13th January.

My Bar – SCORE = 3.53

Garage Project Orange Sunshine – 3.47
Mikes Organic Taranaki -3.86
Tuatara Helles – 3.34
Zeffer Cider – 3.45
14.12/4

The Lumsden FreehouseSCORE = 3.59

Untapped
BrewDog Dead Pony Club3.625
Epic – Imp3.945
Golden Eagle Citradel3.525
Good George Doris Plum3.686
Guinness Draught3.825
Hawkes Bay Ginger Fusion3.848
Hawkes Bay Pilsner3.071
Kereru Karengose3.392
Lakeman Lahar3.603
Liberty Citra Junior3.875
Mikes Organic Thc3.455
Moa Checkpoint Charlie3.382
Newmarket Nude 0
North End Fieldway APA3.47
Sawmill 12 Gauge3.587
50.289
143.59

Vultures LaneSCORE = 3.72

8 Wired C4 Double Coffee Brown Ale3.873
Behemoth Hop & Hay3.548
Funk Estate Sophisticuffs3.657
Golden Eagle Coalface Stout3.816
Good George Any Time Pale Ale3.93
Good George Kiwi Sour3.825
Good George Nitro Stout3.752
Guinness Draught Nitro3.825
Hop Federation Brown Ale3.554
Lakeman Hairy Hop3.474
Lakeman Taupo Pale Ale3.857
Liberty Citra Junior3.875
North End Amber3.551
Ranga Alcoholic Ginger Beer0
Sawmill Sticky Bandits3.938
Townshend Old House ESB3.758
Yeastie Boys Man At The Back3.361
59.594
163.72

So the above has potential as an idea for a phone app. If the taps were kept up to date using a service like Taphunter, and then information was pulled in from one or all the beer rating sites (Untappd, RateBeer, BeerAdvocate), and an algorithm applied then you could get a live list of the best beer bar in the city based on the beers they have on tap.

This potentially changes the way that bars stock beers. It moves things from whats new to what is the best range of beers on a particular day.

Food for thought.

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