It’s a different gold rush in the south these days, as Queenstown and Wanaka together boast more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the country.

During the gold rush era, the Central Otago region boasted the highest number of breweries in the country. Beer was a natural companion to slogging it out under the baking sun, or in the freezing cold, as you tried to make your fortune.

But it’s a different gold rush in the south these days, as Queenstown and Wanaka together boast more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the country. Plus, there are plenty of great pubs to boot.

Alexandra itself is home to Ferris Road Brewery, located not on Ferris Road, but Ngapapa Street. Owner-brewer Sam Forsyth always has an array of guest taps, as well as his own beer, and the place is well regarded for its wood-fired pizza.

Ferris Road has the claim of being the first brewery in Alexandra since Theyers & Beck’s closed in 1880. It’s a block away from the Otago Rail Trail at one end, and the Matangi Station mountain bike track is at the end of the road, so it’s an ideal spot for cyclists to stop in. There are 14 taps, and Sam says his best-seller is his Trail Ale APA.

Up the road in Clyde, the famous Oliver’s restaurant has its own in-house brewery, the Victoria Store Brewery, and the beer of choice is the Black Smith Porter, which is smoothly chocolate but with a hint of smoked malt.

The brew scene in Queenstown is led by Altitude Brewing, located on the water at Frankton, not far from the airport.

It’s a gorgeous spot at any time of the year, and new outdoor heating makes the friendly taproom the perfect place to spend wintry nights. Altitude won the champion small brewery title at the 2021 Brewers Guild of New Zealand Awards, and they’ve got great local connections with the local ski fields.

They’ve also just done a collaboration with Royalburn Station owners, Nadia Lim and her husband Carlos Bagrie, to make a beer using barley grown on Lim and Bagrie’s Arrowtown station. With the addition of locally sourced hops and water it’s a totally Queenstown-brewed Italian pilsner.

Altitude’s flagship is the Mischievous Kea IPA, a malty, English style IPA that’s perfect for the cooler weather. But check out their Sled Dog hazy and whatever fruited sour is currently pouring in their Jam Sessions series.

At the time of writing, Searchlight brewery in Queenstown was in the process of getting new owners — it is being taken over the by the team that run The Beech Tree bar and restaurant in town. Searchlight are best known for their Ladies of Dogtown Hazy Pale Ale that won them an award for the label design in 2021. The label features local Queenstown female skaters and the beer has an attitude to match, with lots of sweet lime and grapefruit.

Perched above the Shotover River and right next to the famous Shotover Jet tourist attraction, the aptly named Canyon Brewing produce a great range of tasty beers, and there’s an excellent restaurant to boot. Their most interesting beer is the Zenkuro Dry Japanese-style lager that’s made with kasu (which is a byproduct of making sake), yuzu and the Sorachi Ace hop, which brings a dill-fennel flavour that helps create a lemon-savoury style beer that tastes amazing after a hard ride.

Cargo Brewing is located in Gibbston Valley wine country, with the brewery inside a vineyard. And they’ve recently opened a taproom at Arthurs Point, called Cargo at Gantley’s — Gantley’s being Queenstown’s oldest pub. For a perfect winter drop try the choco-coffee porter.

In Queenstown itself, the place to go for the best range of beer is Smith’s Craft Beer House. It’s a fantastic spot, with great food and from late June will have a line-up of the best New Zealandhopped beers as part of their annual NZ IPA Challenge.

Across the Crown Range, Wanaka is bustling with good beer from B Effect, Rhyme X Reason, Ground Up and Wanaka Beerworks.

Rhyme X Reason and Ground Up are both located on Gordon Rd.

Rhyme X Reason’s rustic taproom ticks all the boxes. Shared wooden tables are especially popular with locals after work and on weekends. There’s an impressive range of cool merchandise, and an ongoing schedule of food trucks partners the brewery’s core range and regular seasonals. There’s an array of interesting beer but the current cult favourite is Calm Down Karen, a hoppy IPA that delivers heaps of flavour with its political commentary.

Ground Up
are a real mountain culture brewery and make some of the most underrated beers in the country. ‘Punks in the Gym’ might create images of gym-rats lifting dumbbells but this IPA is named for a famously challenging sport climbing route in Australia. Famously, New Zealander Mayan Smith-Gobat was the first woman to conquer the grade 32 Punks In The Gym climb at Mt Arapiles in 2012. Crux Pilsner is named after one of the hardest climbing manoeuvres, and it’s a great beer to boot. The food comes courtesy of Wanaka ‘Wich Project, who serve up a menu of American sandwiches, bar snacks and desserts.

B Effect are deeply connected to the mountain biking scene in the area, through their relationship with Bike Glendhu. The beer of choice post ride is Hero Dirt APA and while Wanaka Beerworks might be one of the oldest craft breweries in the country, established in 1998, the foundation Brewski Bohemian Pilsner is tasting as good as ever — and for the health conscious, it’s also officially now a low carb beer.

There are other great beer pockets in the area including the Dark Horse Brew Werkz brewery located at Omakau’s Commercial Hotel, which dates back to the 1880s and is full of historic charm.

And Arrowtown Brewing, while they don’t have a taproom, is worth checking out as it’s a business started by an assortment of friends that include The Exponents bass player Dave Gent and Navman founder Sir Peter Maire. Their beer can be found at Arrowtown’s Fork & Tap and other establishments in the town. •


Words: Michael Donaldson
Photography: Henry Jaine,
Cameron Mackenzie and Callum Wood