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Aro Valley: The home of Wellington's craft-beer success story

A disused petrol station proved the perfect base for Garage Project founders Ian and Pete Gillespie.

Aro Valley is a suitably grungy fit for Garage Project, the darling of Wellington's craft beer scene.

When public servant Andrew Hampton was appointed GCSB director in 2016, it was quietly, and approvingly, noted around town that he was a craft-beer drinker. He’d been surveilled in a loud shirt at the capital’s annual Beervana festival, which he still attends.

In the country’s craft-beer capital, it made the nation’s incoming spy boss in his mirror-glassed Thorndon Lubyanka seem more human, even a bit hipster. It also signposted how much the young folk brewing crazy froth in the capital’s back streets have carved their mark on the city – and beyond. The latest figures show that half a million Kiwis, mainly younger males, have made craft beer their tipple of choice, up nearly a fifth in a year. That represents a decent slurp of the $1.5 billion or so New Zealanders spend on alcohol each year – more than half of it beer.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

Let’s start our craft-beer tour. Download the “pilgrimage” map showing the capital’s top locations. Wander from HUSK to Fortune Favours to Third Eye. Or just take the CBC classic, an hour-long trail of 10 hot inner-city bars. Visit eight and win a Craft Beer Capital T-Shirt. Student pub crawls were never like this.

All roads lead to Aro Valley, home to Garage Project, the darling of the local scene. Co-founders Jos Ruffell and Pete and Ian Gillespie set up shop in 2011 on the site of a disused BP service station, immediately showing verve and energy by releasing 24 separate beers in 24 weeks. Locals sat up.

Aro Valley is a chilly enclave, often called the “people’s republic”. It’s a reference to the night in 1971 when locals tore into city bosses planning to “renew” the valley with concrete tower blocks. The town-hall bureaucrats slunk away.

Jos Ruffell.

Despite long, sunless winters, Ruffell and the Gillespies took to the little inner-city bohemia with its damp, crumbling wooden cottages, beacon stores like Aro Video, Arobake and the tasty Aro Cafe, coffee roasters, jewellers and carpenters.

The brewers even paid a tribute to the new setting, launching Aro Noir, with the tagline “dark side of the street”. They’ve gone on to experiment with chilli, lemongrass ants, seaweed and Guinness-like chocolate.

Today, GP’s beautifully appointed taproom at 91 Aro St is a magnet for beer lovers, with 18 brews available, including Dirty Boots, Hellbender and Cereal Milk Stout, made with cornflakes and oats. It’s definitely worth a visit, as is its next-door neighbour, fast-rising restaurant Rita, nestled inside a 100-year-old worker’s cottage.

Aro Valley, Ian Gillespie says, is “a comfortable fit for us, like your favourite jumper. It has helped shape the brewery, as well. It’s a bit left of centre, a bit rough around the edges, but always quirky, creative and fun.”

This article is sponsored by Wellington Tourism.