Crafters & Co is a recently opened little place just on the south-west side of Wellington’s CBD. Situated on Victoria Street, just to the south of the intersection of Vivian Street, it’s a little bit further afield than the other craft beer bars of the capital, but it’s well worth the couple of minutes walk it’ll take to get you up there.
It’s a unique (for Wellington) combination of a cafe, craft beer bar and bottle store, offering good cafe-style food and ten craft beers on tap, which can also be used to fill flagons or you can buy a bottle of good beer to take home from their well-stocked walk-in fridge. In the bar they offer beer from the taps in a range of different glass sizes, and all beers are priced by the size of the glass, not by the strength, or reputation, or price-point of the beer itself; thia makes Crafters & Co one of the cheaper craft beer places in town.
Alongside the bar is another Wellington first, a small brewery where you can, for a reasonable fee, buy the ingredients and assistance for you and a few friends to brew your own beer in a well maintained, well-cleaned kit. They’ll then store it while it matures, before you bottle it and take it home.
The decor is quirky and comforting, suiting Crafters & Co’s location in the more bohemian Cuba Street – Aro Valley end of the city. Rustic wooden benches fill the front part of the small bar, offering a view out onto busy Victoria Street, while around a corner are a handful of low tables in a dimly lit, relaxed environment, under a ceiling covered with a wooden lattice that adds visual interest as well as useful sound dampening. Knick knacks and funky objects de art abound, and if you felt the need you could also pick up some locally made craft chocolate or beard oil take also take home.
Crafter’s & Co has a few faults, though. It’s a bit of a cave when you’re out of sight of the big open doors, and I like drinking in the open air while the sun is shining. The food is great but the service is slow, and the only bottles they sell for the FYO are those bulky expensive glass ones. I have a deep affection for those reusable bottles, I do, but I’d like them to be sold alongside cheaper, lighter, plastic flagons. But it’s early days, and what I’ve seen on the bar on my handful of visits so far has me hoping it’ll just continue to improve.
On my first visit I checked out a couple of beers for the first time as well, including the ‘Rakau IPA’ by Hop Federation. Hop Federation beers hail from Riwaka, the heart of New Zealand’s hop country at the top of the South Island, and are brewed by Simon Nicholas, who opened his own brewery after some time as Hallertau’s head brewer. Hop Federation beers, with their distinctive simple, colourful, stylised hop-on-white background labels and tap badges have become more and more frequent around Wellington, but they haven’t always leapt out at me when I’ve given them a try.
The Rakau IPA, however, was quite attention grabbing. Brewed for the 2014 Marchfest in Nelson, this beer featured a huge flavouring of Rakau hops, a new variety getting the attention of some more adventurous brewers. The beer gave off a distinctive aroma of sweetness, of toffee and a effervescent lemonade, but once in the mouth an initial sweetness was soon washed away by a massive wave of intense hop flavours.
Maybe it was Crafters & Co’s studenty-vibe and location close to the hippies of Aro Valley, but when describing the flavours and aftertaste that the Rakau IPA presented to me I kept going towards words like “sticky”, “herbal,” and “skunky”. There was also a fresh, crisp flavouring of pine needles, a naturally “green” flavouring that spoke to me of the freshness of the hops that had gone into the beer.
Ultimately, the beer reminded me that hops aren’t too distantly related from another green, strongly-flavoured herb, with more noted relaxing qualities!
This IPA was well balanced with a sweetness and fullness that helped to rein these very strong hop flavours in, tipping the beer more towards the fruity and floral than the astringent and cloying – though the full sweetness of the beer’s body did give it a bit of a sticky sensation, leaving the hops clinging to the taste buds for perhaps a moment too long.
Hop heads would love that, though, the slow burn and rasping aftertaste of a strongly hopped beers, so while it may not be to my taste, I wouldn’t call this characteristic a fault.
The Rakau IPA, drunken in a new relaxed environment, was a pleasure. And it’s made me reconsider my experiences so far with Hop Federation; I’ll be keeping an eye out to try more and more of their beers as they cross my path.