Contracting an Illness

Published two weeks ago on Stuff was possibly one of the most interesting and important articles written about beer in New Zealand. This one by Michael Donaldson, talking about Tuatara brewing Townshend Brewery beers under contract. In the process, the Townshend beers became infected with a wild yeast or bacteria, causing the bottles to fountain when opened, and the beer itself to taste bad. Take a moment and give it a read.

I want to talk about it because it touches on a couple of interesting points about the brewing industry.

Two things that need to be said: First, my deepest sympathies for Martin. He’s been working so damn hard for eleven years now, and to have a set back like this is devastating. Not only from a personal point of view – disappointing customers – but from a financial point of view. Losing large quantities of stock, not to mention a distribution deal of this scale must be potentially ruinous for a business as small as Townshend.

Martin Townshend. Credit: Jed Soane/The Beer Project.

Martin Townshend.                                                                          Credit: Jed Soane/The Beer Project.

I’d also like to say I’m disappointed in Tuatara’s (now ex-) CEO’s reaction:

“[Shirtcliffe] believes the problem was caused by an over-estimation of demand for Townshend’s beer in six packs and as a result the beer spent a long time in unchilled storage and, because some of stock was unpasteurised, refermented in the bottle.”

In saying this, they’ve essentially denied any responsibility for producing faulty beer. But the assertion that gushing bottles was a result of ambient storage I find dubious.

Not mentioned in this article is the fact that it wasn’t only bottles that were infected, but also keg stock. I know this because I regularly ordered Townshend kegs from Tuatara for Golding’s. In October 2015 I contacted Tuatara about infected Pilsner kegs, and in January 2016 I contacted Martin directly about infected APA kegs (both of these beers were exhibiting what I’d call a ‘farmhouse character’ typical of wild yeast, and high levels of carbonation). At this point I stopped ordering Townshend beers unless I knew they’d been brewed by Martin in Moutere (none of which have ever shown signs of infection).

Add to this, the fact that I have literally never heard of commercially produced beer accidentally re-fermenting in bottles without an infection. Many, if not most ‘craft’ brewers in New Zealand do not pasteurise their bottles. These then go on to sit ambient in supermarket storerooms and off-licence shelves for up to months at a time, and yet gushing bottles are a very rare occurrence.

What all this suggests is that the root cause of the issue was probably an infection, and it was most likely occurring somewhere up-stream from the bottling line. But let’s not get too bogged down in brewing minutia.

As I see it, there are two wider issues at play here. As pointed out by Martin, we need better guidelines for contract brewing. Whilst I’m not hugely enamoured with the idea of extra legislation in this matter, minimum standards for labels would probably help in this regard. Forcing contractors to state where each beer was brewed would put some of the responsibility back on the brewery that made it. After all, no one wants their name attached to a faulty product.

However, I’m not convinced that labelling standards would address what is the core of the problem, which is accountability in the contract brewing process. If something goes wrong, we need clearly defined guidelines as to who is responsible at each stage in the brewing process. This isn’t just to protect contractors, but also to protect the breweries that make the beer on the contractor’s behalf as well.

Whilst things like infections and fermentation issues are the responsibility of the actual brewery that’s been contracted, other factors are the responsibility of the contractor. Things like recipe flaws, such as an inexperienced contractor supplying a recipe that will not actually work, or making decisions/specifications that negatively impact the finished product (I’ve heard of both of those happening). Protection for both parties in this situation is necessary.

Again, legislation might help, but what I might suggest is establishing a comprehensive legal framework that can be employed by any brewery, demarcating responsibilities for contract brewing. The Brewers Guild of New Zealand might be instrumental in establishing these; as well as a potential arbiter in the event of a dispute.

Now there probably was some sort of agreement, legally binding or not, in the Townshend/Tuatara deal, we don’t know for sure. But what we can say is that if there was, it was definitely not comprehensive enough. Just look at this line: “For his part Townshend didn’t realise the beer would be stored unchilled.” Storage of finished product is exactly the sort of thing that needs to be agreed upon beforehand. Beer has a limited shelf-life and I’m willing to bet few breweries would agree to a distribution deal if they knew their product was going to sit ambient.

I think the larger issue here is a lack of professionalism in the ‘craft’ brewing industry as a whole. We are transitioning from a cottage industry, to a large-scale, commercial one. That transition is not always going to be smooth. The simple fact of the matter is that many brewers, even surprisingly large ones, seem to behave as if they’re still making beer in their garage for their mates. It’s no way to build a mature, sustainable industry.

On the one hand, it’s easy to forgive a small, one or two person operation like Townshend for this sort of thing. When you have to do everything yourself, it’s easy to make mistakes. On the other hand, whether you’re making 50 litres, or 50 hectolitres, good business practices are essential.

Legal protection, accounting, cashflow, human resources, customer relations, brand management, logistics, health and safety, company culture: these are the boring, unsexy, business-wank-type-buzzwords words that no one wants to deal with. But  these are what breweries need to come to terms with with if they’re going to grow and prosper in the years to come. Because you can make the best beer in the world, but if you can’t run a business, you’ll have a hard time staying afloat to sell much of it.

To end on a positive note, Townshend beers are back being produced in Moutere and tasting great. You should pick one up next time you see them on tap or in stores. And give him a hug/high five next time you see him. He really has earned it.



How to Name a Beer

It was almost a year ago that I published a post laying out the difficulties of naming a brewery. Eleven months later, and with a bunch of new breweries popping up in New Zealand, none of which have ‘dog’ in the name, it’s high time we discussed the other side of the coin.

Beer names are an integral part of a brewery’s brand and identity. Just like a good brewery name, a good beer name attracts customers and ultimately, can sell more beer. And just like naming a brewery, there are certain pitfalls that brewers both young and old can fall into.

The advice I’m going to share with you is not meant as the be-all-and end-all, only a guideline. They’re my opinion only, and your gas mileage may vary. I have, however, built these guidelines over years of interacting with customers, and seeing what does and doesn’t seem to work. Of course, no offence to any brewers I use as examples. It doesn’t reflect on the quality of your beer, and if you’ve been calling your beer by a certain name for years, I am by no means suggesting you change it.

1. Make it Catchy

I realise I’m starting with a rule that’s incredibly difficult to define. What makes something catchy? Seems like almost a “I know it when I see it it” situation. But let’s take a stab at defining it anyway.

A good place to start is keeping it short and simple. Beer names can be longer than brewery names, sometimes substantially longer. Choice Bro’s I’m Afraid of Americans would be a good example of a long name that I think works (we’ll get to why names work soon).


the art works nicely too.

But there is always a limit, and in my experience, if a customer can’t pronounce and/or remember the whole name of a beer from the time they’ve read the menu to when they make it to the bar, they’re less likely to order it or recommend it to a friend. The Moon Dog/Yeastie Boys collaborative beer Peter Piper’s Pickled Pepper Purple Peated Pale Ale (AKA The 7 ‘P’s) suffered from this.

Beyond keeping it short, what else can make it ‘catchy’? Hard to say. Poetic devices tend to help. Things like rhymingassonancealliteration and consonance can help. Names like Pils ‘n’ Thrills, Double Trouble, Red Rocks Reserve, Sauvignon Bomb employ these devices.

Likewise, humour can be a great tool for naming beers. In my experience, people can remember jokes easier than names. Puns and in particular beer-related ones, are often popular – like Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse. But humour can be a double edged sword. Which brings me to…

2. Keep it Classy

Beers do need to be named in a manner that make them sound appetising. You might think it’s really funny to name your Porter with cacao nibs ‘Chocolate Starfish‘ (and so might your close friends), but be warned, a lot of people will be put off by the name and/or assume your beer literally tastes like arse. Also, I’m going to assume the people making/naming the beer are exactly the kind of horrific Dudebros we’ve all spent so long trying to exorcise from our industry and community.

Simple crassness aside, keeping it classy is a good principle to guide not only naming, but all sorts of branding and marketing decisions. I’m talking about controversy here. Stirring up controversy with a name that could be (or just is) sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. may be a cheap way to get media attention short term, but is a bad foundation for building a long-term customer base.

I won’t go into detail but I think we all know of breweries that have adopted this technique in the past. Ask them how it’s gone. Or I suggest reading Jim Vorel’s really excellent piece on the subject.

3. Themes are Good. sometimes.

Many breweries have themes to name their beers. For example Choice Bros. Uses Bowie lyricsPanhead has a hotrod motif (Super Charger, Blacktop, Boss Hog and so on), whereas Bach Brewing uses a beach theme in their beer names (Crayporter, Kingtide, Driftwood). Themes can be a great way to get build a consistent brand across a range of beers and in your customers consciousness. But they can get you into trouble in two different ways.

ParrotDog beer nice.

ParrotDog beer nice.

The first is slavish adherence. Breweries who stick too closely to a naming theme can end up painting themselves into a corner. ParrotDog for example, used almost exclusively dog or bird themed double-worded names for their beers (BloodHound, DeadCanary, BitterBitch). But coming up with names that fit that scheme is difficult, and we gradually saw them shift away from it with names such as RiwakaSecret, Pandemonium, and the RareBird series. Coming up with new beer names is hard enough, and imposing arbitrary restrictions on yourself only makes it harder.

The second way naming themes can get a brewery into trouble is when they make each of your beers essentially indistinguishable. For a really great illustration of this, we need to look overseas. Russian River, from Santa Rosa California. Their Barrel Aged/Belgian inspired range all have names that end in ~tion. As in: Redemption, Consecration, Damnation, Sanctification and so on. Now I’ve had a decent number of these beers, but I couldn’t tell you which ones. They’re all really excellent beers, but they’ve all sort of blended into one in my memory.

Likewise when naming beers, numbers are not your friend. Founders for example, uses years to name their beers – 1946, 2009, 1854, and so on. Again, I’ve had all of them, but could I tell you which one’s which? Nope.

4. Does it Do What it Says on the Tin?

In point five of How to Name a Brewery, I elaborated on the need to choose adjectives carefully – if you use an adjective in your brewery name that could theoretically apply to beer – a flavour, colour or aroma, customers will assume that it applies to your beer.

Now forgive me if it seems like I’m stating the obvious, but this principle applies doubly to beer names. The reason I am stating the obvious is that breweries still do it with surprising regularity. Infringements on this principle can be relatively minor – for example Townshend Black Arrow Pilsner which customers occasionally mistake for a dark beer, but because of the word ‘Pilsner’ mostly gets away with it. But sometimes a misplaced descriptor can cause real havoc with customers.

Pictured - one of my favourite Pilsners in New Zealand.

Pictured – one of my favourite Pilsners in New Zealand.

I still have vivid memories of pouring a beer at Hashigo (quite a few years ago) that committed this sin – Liberty Brewing Sexual Chocolate1. Sexual Chocolate was a beer that, although somewhat sexy, was not very chocolatey at all (it was a hoppy Brown Ale). Customers would order a Sexual Chocolate, and then almost immediately return it, claiming I’d poured the wrong beer: they were expecting a chocolate porter.

Eventually I started warning customers: “this beer is not very chocolatey, do you want to try it before you order?” If your beer needs to come with a disclaimer, then you should probably reconsider the name. I like to call this the ‘Does it do What it Says on the Tin?’ test.2

So let’s review. You’ve brewed a beer, picked out a name that’s short, punchy, uncontroversial, and accurately sells the beer’s attributes. But you’re not there yet, you have to do one more thing.

5. Google It

Maybe I should really say Untappd it, but either way, check to see if any other brewery is using the same name. On this one I’m talking from experience. Many years ago, I made a video of a collaboration brew between Garage Project and Nøgne Ø Brewery. The beer needed a name and I suggested Good as Gøld, without checking it on Untappd or RateBeer. Silly me, because it already existed. I really should have checked.

Eventually, the beer would be called 'Summer Sommer'.

Eventually, the beer would be called Summer Sommer.

Stouches over names are fairly infrequent, but double-ups can happen quite often. If a name seems absolutely perfect, there’s a good chance that someone else has got to it before you. Which isn’t to say that double-ups are necessarily a disaster. If a little brewery in another country that will never ever be seen in New Zealand is already using a name, then go right ahead anyway. But if it’s another NZ brewery using it, you need to start again, out of courtesy if nothing else.

It is, however, a different matter if it’s a really famous or iconic beer from another country. If an NZ brewery ever dared to name a beer, ‘Pliny the Elder’, ‘Heady Topper’, or ‘Sculpin’, then they fully deserve to be dragged over a bed of hot coals.

Coming up with names for anything is hard – just ask any parent. Some breweries have a knack for it, while others seem to struggle more. These guidelines are a good place to start, but they’re also not bullet proof. I can think of some absolutely terribly named beers out there that don’t technically break these rules, but are still somehow clunky, unappealing, or just sound wrong.

If a brewer ever wants to run a name past me, feel free. You can reach me on twitter any time.


1. There seems to be no record of this beer online except in DEEP in Hashigo’s newsletter archives

2. Strangely enough, Yeastie Boys did the exact same thing with their beer Kid Chocolate, which had almost nothing chocolatey about it at all. Yes, that was released seven years ago. I have a long memory and I’ve been doing this for a long time. 

What Your Beer Choice Says About You

Today the world of beer has become fragmented. Where once in New Zealand it was ‘lager’, ‘draught’ or if you were very lucky, ‘dark’. But now we have any sort of beer you can imagine (and several you can’t). But how does your beer choice reflect on you?

The internet is full of silly great advice for American beer drinkers, but what about the humble Kiwi? What do our beer choices say about us? Well, fret no more. Here’s the definitive list:


You are most likely right-handed. Also you like lager.


Fig. 1: A Lager                                                    Source.

Pale Ale

Your height is probably between 132-192 centimetres tall. You like hoppy, pale beers.

Fig. 2: A Pale Ale Source.

Fig. 2: A Pale Ale                                                  Source.

Wheat Beer

Bad news: you probably have herpes, most likely without knowing it. And you like wheat beers.


Good news: you are probably immune to leprosy. You’re also a fan of traditional English ales.

Fig. 3: An ESB Source.

Fig. 3: An ESB                                                                                             Source.


If you’re European, there’s a statistical certainty you’re a descendant of Charlemagne. And you like dark beer.


If you’re male, there is a ~1/200 chance you’re a direct descendant from Genghis Khan. If you’re a Chinese male, that figure goes up to ~1/12. You’re also an IPA enthusiast.

Fig. 4: An IPA Source.

Fig. 4: An IPA                                                                                    Source.

Black IPA

You’re a weirdo.

Sour/Wild Beer

Your liver is worth ~$157,000 (US) on the black market. Of course, drinking too much of that sour beer you love may decrease that value. The good news is, it should increase its value as foie gras.

Fig. 5: A sour Beer    Source.

Fig. 5: A Sour Beer                                              Source.


You’re hopefully too smart to fall into lazy stereotyping of beer drinkers according to style, glass preference, gender, class, race, ethnicity or any other silly, arbitrary, irrelevant factor.

And you like Barleywine.

Fig. 6: Several Barleywines     Source.

Fig. 6: Several Barleywines                                                     Source.






Cat Beer.gif

Scott was right – it’s just not clickbait without a cat gif.

Podcast: Will it Shandy?

There’s something not many people know about me. I love shandies and radlers – the humble blend of beer and lemonade. Phil Cook, my friend and colleague also shares this passion.

We got together one warm summer’s evening with a selection of beers that might be considered ‘unconventional’ blending material, in a quest to answer that age old question that has plagued humanity: “Will it Shandy?”


Will it Shandy can be streamed here, or over on The Beer Diary. To download, click the icon in the top right corner, under the Soundcloud logo or go here.

Our title track is Square Beer by The Coconut Monkeyrocket.

Let’s Talk Rationally About: Beer Social Media

I’ve noticed a lot of articles going past my feed lately, focusing on negative issues and trends of the ‘craft’ beer industry. Now normally I’d be all over this sort of thing – I consider myself very much the social commentator and I have a reputation for having the least rose-tinted glasses of anyone in the industry.

The trouble is that frequently the articles are sweeping generalisations about the industry that I think just don’t stack up. Chief among offenders is that glossy heap of clickbait dross the Thrillist, but also a number of personal blogs voicing similar opinions, which I would like to provide a counterpoint to.

So today I want to rationally discuss an assertion I’ve seen several times:

Untappd is damaging ‘craft’ beer.

Originally I was going to say ‘beer social media’ is damaging ‘craft’ beer. I’m going to be discussing this in the New Zealand context (although I suspect what I’m going to say will hold true in many other countries). BeerAdvocate never really caught on down here, and RateBeer is virtual ghost town these days, so Untappd is pretty much it.

For those not in the know: Untappd is a website and app where users can ‘check-in’ beers at different locations, win badges for drinking different beers, rate beers, and share all this info with their friends.

The general crux of assertions I want to talk about is that Untappd is ruining beer culture by creating a customer base more obsessed with clocking up unique check-ins and winning badges than actually enjoying beer (I like to call these people ‘badgers’). Brewers in turn, will sacrifice quality by pandering to the badgers by making endless new and novel beers in pursuit of check-ins, instead of focusing on the quality of their brews.

So a question we need to ask is: are Untappd users just after the kudos and badges, or are there other, less ‘pathological’ uses for the app, and do said users constitute a serious threat to the ‘craft’ beer industry?

Well, I can only talk from my own experience on this one. I use Untappd myself, and I keep my eye on check-ins at Golding’s. Now I do agree that ‘badgers’ definitely do exist. People even go so far as to check-in beers they’ve never had (ask Garage Project about it), presumably to look cool.

The pertinent question here is do badgers constitute the majority (or even a significant proportion) of Untappd users? Whilst I can’t say definitively one way or another, I suspect not. At least certainly not in my experience.

There are many legitimate uses for Untappd. My personal reasons are multiple:

  • It’s a handy memory aid. “I think I’ve had that beer?” *checks Untappd* “Oh yeah, I tried it April last year”.
  • It’s great for socialising. I feel like popping out for a beer – “Hey Dave’s just checked in at Malthouse”.
  • It’s a useful research tool. Who makes a beer, how strong is it, what style is it and where can I find it?
I may occasionally also use Untappd for bragging purposes.

I may occasionally also use Untappd for bragging purposes.

Most of the activity I see on Untappd seems to broadly fit into the categories above, which are as good a reason as any to use the app. Even if that’s not the case, and a majority of users are just badgers, is that something we really need to worry about? I mean, how many people are actually using Untappd total in New Zealand?

I couldn’t find any accurate user data on this question. Whilst Untappd has over 1 million downloads, user data is, very sensibly, confidential. So I took a different approach. I went onto Untapped, and had a look at check-ins of certain beers. Then I cross-referenced them against a section of locations, both nerdy (Hashigo, Golding’s, Vultures’ Lane , 16 Tun) and non-nerdy (The Kelburn Village Pub, Southern Cross, Wellington Airport Mojo). My goal was to see how many check-ins a single keg might generate.

The most check-ins I found was ~20, from a keg of very nerdy beer that was on tap at Hashigo. The fewest I found was none – for a keg of beer that I knew happened to be on at the Golding’s on a certain date. The average though, was about five check-ins.

So out of the ~120 serves of beer in a 50 litre keg, ~4% of them generate Untappd check-ins. That’s nothing; and frankly, I think that’s a gross overestimate. Most of my data was scooped from places that would have the highest number of Untappd users in their customer base. Think about the many thousands of litres of Tuatara Pilsner, Panhead Supercharger, and Emerson’s Bookbinder that are sold through supermarkets and happily drunk without generating a single check-in.

I would be willing to bet that less than 3% of ‘craft’ beer drinkers regularly use Untappd. I would stake that the percentage of drinkers who are ‘badgers’ would be less than 1%. How can such a tiny group of people possibly constitute a threat to either beer industry a whole? It’s irrational.

Furthermore, I think that the whole argument presents incredibly patronising (if not downright insulting) view of brewers. Whilst I know a few brewers who sometimes take their Untappd check-ins a little too personally, none of them would ever compromise on the beers they make in order to satisfy the whims of a minority anonymous of app users.

You know what I think this all boils down to? Technophobia. It’s the same illogical fear that said Facebook was going to ruin our ability to socialise. That texting would kill the English language. That video games would turn us into psychopaths. It’s boring, it’s old, it’s run of the mill.

In the end, we should all recognise Untappd for what it is: a useful tool for professionals, a fun diversion for drinkers, but ultimately and particularly for brewers, so much pointless white noise.

The Alpacalypse is Nigh

I never thought I might find a sideline as a T-shirt designer. Well, a few months back, I launched the Craft Queer Project, which was a roaring success, I’m happy to say.

Not long after that, a friend of mine was telling me about an awesome T-shirt she’d seen a guy wearing. She’d tried to order one for herself online, but the shop was sold out. This was the brilliant Alpacalypse T-shirt from Threadless (which is in stock again, by the way).

Now this was at Marchfest, and I’d had a few beers. So maybe I wasn’t thinking straight. Anyway, at the time, I loftily promised to design her very own, custom Alpacalypse T-shirt.

Well, it’s taken a few months (because I basically forgot about the project), but…

The woolly beasts of burden have had enough! They’re out for blood and they’re on the rampage… THROUGH WELLINGTON!

Alpacalypse Poster Small

Shirt Model 2.jpg


The inspiration for this shirt was classic Hollywood monster movies, such as King Kong, The BlobCreature From The Black Lagoon and also Japanese Kaiju films.

Now, if Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that a good film needs a sequel. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the horror, the suspense, the spectacle of…


Llamageddon Poster Small


Shirt Model.jpg

This shirt is inspired by classic Sci-Fi, ranging from Star Wars and Forbidden Planet through to Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Due to popular demand, Alpacalypse and Llamageddon T-shirts are available from my Print Mighty store. You’ll notice they’re slightly cheaper than the other shirts. I’ve opted to print them on the lower quality cotton to achieve a faster-wearing ‘vintage’ effect.

As always, custom pieces are available on request.

No further sequels are in production at the moment. Although there are more members of the Camelid family yet to be exploited…

Bactrian to the Future, anyone?