We had totally underestimated the distance of the walk back from Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium to the centre of town. Auckland's distinctive skyline looks beautiful from a distance and we had plenty of time to appreciate it as we made our way back from the famous attraction to Queens Street.
I enjoyed Kelly Tarlton's, the highlight being when a huge Stingray stuck an almighty fin out of an open topped tank and gave us all a good soaking as it slapped the surface of the water. For Dianne though, it had lost the magic that captivated her when she was young (despite enjoying the bit with the penguins) so hopefully lunch at her favourite restaurant Rakino's would brighten her mood a little. We would have no such luck. When we arrived at the restaurant entrance it was padlocked shut with a notice of eviction stuck to the door. We wandered onwards, worn out and hungry for what seemed like minutes before we stumbled upon the aptly named Vultures Lane pub on nearby Vulcan Lane.
Dianne sat outside and I strolled in, I then strolled out with a huge smile on my face and a pint of 8 Wired Saison Sauvin clutched in my clammy little hands. Fate, it seemed, had steered us in the direction of a neat new bar that had a superb range of beer on tap and in bottle with a great menu to boot. We sat there and I supped my beer as I devoured some spicy shrimp tacos. This was one of those eureka moments you've read about, the prickly, grassy, gooseberry character of the Nelson Sauvin hops intermingled with the hay bale, ester rich melange created by the saison yeast together producing something quite magnificent. This is a hop that's MADE for saison, even if this is not your favourite style of beer I still urge to to try this one from 8 Wired. Tart, dry and deliciously drinkable, this may have been the best use of this particular Kiwi hop I have ever experienced, the exception perhaps being the excellent Mikkeller Nelson Sauvignon.
We wiled away an hour or so at this great bar, I had another 8 Wired beer, a red IPA called Tall Poppy which was another delight full of grassy, citrus rich hops and chewy caramel malts. I inquired at the bar where was the best place to find a good selection of bottles to take home with me and they simply pointed to their fridges, I left Vultures Lane with a lighter wallet, a much heavier rucksack and a big smile on my face.
We then headed to the nearby Brothers Beer Tap Room to meet Dianne's old friends Bernie and Brad. They'd picked this venue with me in mind and they had done very well indeed. One wall was lined with fermentation vessels, another with a fridge full of bottles I peered at excitedly and another with around twenty different taps serving their own beer and plenty of guests. This was the first of a number of new businesses that had moved into this re-purposed industrial estate which was now overflowing with street food vans, quirky restaurants and this great little tap room which had people spilling out into the street as they arrived for a post work pint.
I got into a couple of Brothers Beers right away, a fruity Kolsch which was packed with zesty lemon and tart red berry flavours and yet another decent NZ pale ale loaded with flavours of tropical fruit. Then I had a couple of back-to-back belters, Mini Matta from Yeastie Boys was a lower ABV version of their Gunnamatta Tea Leaf IPA (a cask version of this, brewed by Yeastie Boys at Adnams is currently being served at the Wetherspoon International Beer Festival) and it was a beer I could have drank all day long, the bitter citrus being washed away by the drying effect of the tea which made it almost impossible to put down. BitterBitch from Parrot Dog was another blinder, I know this because I said so on my Untappd check in, without which I wouldn't have really remembered what anything tasted like at this point. Another total fact about Parrot Dog is that the three owners are all called Matt which earns them bonus points from me.
I left Brothers tap room with an even bigger smile on my face, further burdened by the weight of some more exciting looking bottles and we made our way to the bus stop sound tracked by a gentle clinking. I first visited Auckland three years ago and in that short time it has evolved quickly to meet the needs of the people seeking better, more exciting food and drink. The vibe and atmosphere of the city reminds me strongly of Portland, Oregon which is no bad thing as that's one of my favourite cities in the world. Auckland is a simply a must visit destination for a beer geek, if only it wasn't so bloody far away.