The beer festival was the first thing we knew about when we arrived in Christchurch. We knew the date, we knew how much tickets were, and we slowly did our research by tasting all the craft beers we could before the big day. We knew that before we ever made our first trip to the grocery store. Or what the Kiwi equivalent of 9-1-1 is (it’s 1-1-1).
The day we arrived in Christchurch our housesitting hosts, who would soon leave us for a trip to Europe, told us that they would sadly be missing one of the biggest events of the year, the Great Kiwi Beer Festival, which would be happening in just a week or two right in Christchurch. Without making them feel too bad, Ryan and I secretly fist bumped and started to look forward to it immediately.
Housesitting in Christchurch was an amazing month—made doubly special because of our temporarily adopted pooch, Lucy. What made it more amazing, however, was discovering the beer culture that was so prevalent throughout New Zealand. To my surprise, it was even stronger than wine culture. I had heard of New Zealand wines before (looking at you Sauvignon Blanc) but had never really heard of any Kiwi brews before.
Thankfully, things change.
It was one of those out-of-the-blue sunny days surrounded by rainy ones that told us what we were about to do would be wholeheartedly and entirely memorable. So we walked.
We soaked in the sun and walked over an hour to the gates in Christchurch’s massive Hagley Park. Barcode scanned, plastic souvenir beer cup in hand—we were ready to taste some beers.
We did our best that day to try as much as we could. We wandered from stall to stall—I was in search of saisons, tripels and whitbiers while Ryan only had eyes for hopped up IPAs. We did work, folks. We made it to about ten different brewer’s tents, getting ourselves two ounce pours—just enough to taste and compare. We stopped at The Pierogi Joint for some hot Polish goodies and then grabbed a couple sausages. And kept the beer flowing. At $2 a pour, it wasn’t too difficult. With over 400 beers on tap at the festival, we could hardly make it to all, but there were a few standout brewers:
Epic (two words: Hop Zombie)
Mike’s Organic Brewery
Sprig and Fern*
*Sprig and Fern was my absolute favorite. Their Lemongrass Wheat kept me coming back a few times. Made with the naturally citrusy Nelson Sauvin hop, I simply couldn’t resist it.
**More to come on Hop Federation later. This was Ryan’s favorite, which meant in a few weeks we would find our way to the tiny brewery, which was a short drive from Abel Tasman National Park—a scheduled stop on our South Island tour.
Back to the Great Kiwi Beer Festival: At $2 per taste, it was pretty easy to allow ourselves multiple tiny pours. And those small pours kept us in OK shape for the rest of the day while we sat (lay) on our picnic blanket and soaked up those dangerous New Zealand UV rays.
And then the weirdest thing happened. An old-school band that had become famous for covering “Funkytown” by LIPPS INC came on stage and played “Funkytown.” This version by Australian band Pseudo Echo was the most popular cover of this epic tune, and the band was huge in Australia and New Zealand during the early ‘80s. As outsiders, Ryan and I had little appreciation of the greatness we were watching, but everyone else in the crowd seemed to be completely overtaken with joy. I love cultural immersion.
That’s just the thing, though, isn’t it? A place like New Zealand isn’t all that different from the U.S. when you just scratch the surface. Culture shock was not too profound for us. And, as we sat on the lawn enjoying the sun among groups of beer-loving hipsters, and even conversed with a few friendly pourers, the two of us felt as if we’d been transported back to San Francisco for the day. And then came Pseudo Echo, and we were back in a strange land, far from home.
It was an amazing, beery day, and before it got too late, we rushed home to be with the pup. Beer festivals never (ever) disappoint. Thanks Christchurch!