Your guide to events in Nelson, New Zealand
The Free House, launched in 2009 in a small converted wooden church in Nelson, was one of the first pubs in New Zealand to be created from the philosophical standpoint of increasing, rather than restricting, the choices available to beer drinkers.
A free house is a pub untied to a single brewery. Most pubs today are still “tied houses” where brews from one brewery or brewing company are the only drinks available to customers.
Nelson’s Free House grew out of the activities of two Nelson-based beer drinkers, Mic Dover and Eelco Boswijk. In the early 2000s, Mic and Eelco became increasingly frustrated at living in the heart of New Zealand’s craft brewing region, yet finding themselves living in a city with virtually none of these tasty beers on tap on local outlets.
The immediate solution to this dilemma was the creation of Mic and Eelco’s company Dead Good Beer Events in order to host regular beertasting events at Nelson’s Founders Park. These quarterly “Beer Fetes”, featuring local and national craft beers, were extremely successful and led quickly to the idea of MarchFest – an annual craft beer and music festival which asks local craft brewers to create a brand new beer each year, especially for the event.
In 2009, a tiny wooden church came on to the property market in Collingwood St, Nelson. Mic and Eelco glanced at it, both having the same thought – “what a great building for a pub.” The thought would not go away, and having had no desire whatsoever in their lives to own or run a pub, Mic and Eelco felt the call of the universe to “set the beers free” and give Nelson beer drinkers their first true free house.
Apart from choice, another key characteristic of the beer events has been the importance of ambience and a civilised environment where convivial conversation in a safe and secure environment takes precedence. The Free House has built on those core beliefs - throwing TV screens, pokie machines and mediocre food offerings of the traditional Kiwi pub into the wheelie bin of history.
However, The Free House has a kitchen the size of a table – what to do? The solution was suggested by the proximity of an Indian restaurant opposite the pub – why not have guest food as well as guest beers? So BYO food in the pub was born – takeaways from local outlets (not fast food) – augmented by delicious snacks from the pub’s kitchen, including Ploughman’s Lunches, Dolmades & Olives, Portuguese Chorizo, Ka Pies, Stefano’s Pizzas and of course, not forgetting the big jar of Golden Bay pickled eggs!
Key Free House facts:
Nelson's Best Pub - Lonely Planet 2011 ~ Best Bar, Nelson and Overall Supreme Winner in the Wild Tomato Dine Out Awards 2011
In 2010, The Free House expanded into a neighbouring property and transformed it into a beer garden with lush lawns and edible plantings.
In 2011, the Mongolian Ger (yurt) arrived, allowing all kinds of events to be held at the pub without disturbing the drinking peace and pleasure of regular pub goers.
Different NZ breweries featured since April 2009: 55
Different craft beers served since April 2009: 310
Three real ale hand pumps serving Nelson’s only true “real” (cask conditioned) ales.
Nelson & suburbs
03 548 9391
95 Collingwood St, Nelson