© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Touring the West Coast’s Best Brewery

© NZPocketGuide.com

111 Days on the Road

Noah’s Ark in Greymouth is currently holding an unusual species of backpacker, the Laura and the Robin. The two specimens can be found in the dining area well before anyone else wakes up, working away on their computers. This morning, the are trying to get all their travel writing and organising out of the way before they embark on a not-so-unusual backpacker activity: drinking.

Greymouth just happens to be the base of the world-famous (in New Zealand) Monteith’s Brewery! Robin has been drinking their beers and ciders for five years now, while the Monteith’s apple cider was literally the first alcoholic beverage Laura ever tried in New Zealand! (And she remembers thinking how much more refreshing the colourless cider was here in New Zealand compared to the dirty brown cider she was used to in the UK).

The Monteith’s Brewery Tour & Tasting

With more than 160 breweries and microbreweries in the country, beer making is a huge part of the Kiwi culture and drinking it more so. To be able to have a quick look at how beer is made, along with three tastings and an extra beer to pour yourself (all for around NZ$25), it seems like cool and unique way to start any drinking session!

The perfect rainy day activity in Greymouth

So we make our merry way walking the streets of Greymouth to Monteith’s Brewery. It’s only 10 minutes away from Noah’s Ark, so we spot the large black building decorated with coal mining relics in no time. (And just in time, as it looks like it is about to start raining).

A neon sign welcomes us on the way into the brewery, as well as our tour guide today, who hands over a high-vis jacket to join the rest of our tour-goers.

Monteith’s: A History

Our tour guide takes us over to a bar and presentation area at the back of the open restaurant and bar room. Like all good stories, she starts with a bit of context, what is Monteith’s and how did it become so popular. She goes through the history of the humble beginnings of the Monteith’s family starting their Phoenix Brewery in 1868 (in Reefton, nonetheless! God, we learn more about that town and its amazing history every day)! The Phoenix Brewery then merged with some other small breweries to form the Westland Brewery Company then eventually becoming Monteith’s Brewing Company.

Mini museum and jars of beery goodness

In a room to the side of us, old dusty bottles labelled from these good ol’ days are lined up in a mini museum, along with old brewing tools and shareholder books.

Jars of different hops and malt sit along the bar, where our tour guide explains how these are the base of their beers’ flavour, giving us a chance to smell and even taste the dry malt.

The fermentation tanks

Now that we’ve got a basic understanding, she takes us into the brewery itself. Big fermentation tanks line the walls of the relatively small brewery. Brewers are actually at work at the top of the tanks, opening the lids, letting the steam out, probably adding a secret ingredient, then closing the lid again.

Behind the scenes at the Monteith’s Brewery

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A flowchart to good beer

The tour moves to a large wall-covering flowchart to explain the brewing process at Monteith’s. On the opposite wall is a short video running and rerunning to show some of the machines in action. It also demonstrates some of the machines that aren’t necessarily being used today, like the bottle-filling-and-labelling machine. (Maybe that’s not the technical term, but we don’t want to completely spoil the tour for you… Or maybe we just forgot the name).

How Monteith’s beer kegs are filled

Next, we move onto how Monteith’s fills its kegs for bars, whether it’s for themselves or for any of the bars and pubs in New Zealand selling their beer on tap (which is quite a lot, especially in the South Island. Then again it was the first alcohol Laura had tasted in a bar in Auckland, so it’s everywhere, basically!)

Pouring our own beer

Finally, the tour ends back at that bar at the back of the restaurant where we get to pour our beer. Laura can see that Robin is too busy taking photos and filming (doing his job, ya know) to pay attention to how to not to pour a beer. This is the perfect opportunity for Laura to volunteer Robin as the first one to pour the beer. As expected, foam flows over the glass and creates a trail across the bar to where Robin places it on the beer mat. Nice one, Robin, nice one.

Now Robin gets to drink his frothy ale, while the rest of us pour marginally better ones…

Mingling with the master brewer

That’s the end of the tour, but perhaps not to us. We get talking to the master brewer at Monteith’s, Tony. Like any “master brewer” he is very social, and takes us upstairs in the brewery to look into the tanks. Each tank has its own job – fermenting, swirling stuff, fermenting some more. But, man, nothing matches the smell of the beer wafting out of the tanks when he opens the lid.

Tony also gives us a closer look at the bottle-filler-and-labeller machine (still didn’t catch its proper name). All the bottles are lined up ready to be steamed, sterilised, filled, capped, labelled and boxed. It’s such a complex-looking machine and fascinating to look into.

A tremendous tasting

Now that we’ve had our brewery tour then another brewery tour, it’s time to choose three beers to taste! We both pick Monteith’s Original, because, ya know, it’s original. Then we pick Monteith’s Cider for old time’s sake. Finally, Robin choose a golden ale, while Laura picks a pilsner. (As you can see, we are pretty safe beer drinkers).

Land, sea and garden

To go with our drinks there is a menu of food from the Land, Sea and Garden. Although the food is pretty reasonably-priced, it’s those fancy portions that act as a substantial taster rather than a full-on pub meal. (Ok, so Laura from the dirty UK famous for it’s bad food had all these expectations. Sue her!) Meanwhile, this is a full-on meal for Robin whose home culture is eating one ingredient per meal.

All in all, Robin enjoys some classic New Zealand beef with kumara chips on a blue cheese mash potato topped with caramelised onions. (We don’t even need to say anymore. That just sounds delicious in itself). Laura opts for Coast Fried Chicken (CFC) mainly because the name cracked her up. But honestly, CFC outdoes KFC any day. Have you ever had fried chicken that wasn’t dripping in grease? Yum!

Kicking back (before doing chores)

For the rest of the afternoon, we drink and eat merrily. It’s nice to kick back and do an activity like this once in a while, especially when living a full-on travelling lifestyle.

From there, Laura returns back to Noahs Ark to do whatever work she can do in her tipsy state, while Robin is going to hospital to get medication for another sandfly bite on another finger that has swollen to disgusting proportions.

Tomorrow, we are getting on yer bike with On Yer Bike to do a 4×4/quad bike trip into the muddy wilderness. Join us then!

It looks like we are sorted for the rest of the afternoon!

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