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