Part 3: Debauchery at the Awards Dinner
Thursday was in my mind, to be the peak of my Beervana Week. I awoke at 6am and smashed my way through a busy but manageable day shift, and then donned a jacket and tie for the annual Brewer’s Guild Awards Dinner.
The Awards Dinner is meant to be a dignified, formal occasion; the only black-tie event many beer-people will ever attend. However, getting Brewers and Beer Geeks to play dress-up is no mean feat. Rumours that a dress code would be rigorously enforced were laughed out the door immediately. My close friend, Bardecki, turned up in lederhosen and an oriental smoking jacket, with sandals and painted toenails. I myself tried to toe the line and dress nicely, but I could see the pointlessness of it all.
Why feign dignity, when there’s an open bar?
The Awards Dinner is like a giant birthday party for brewers, where everybody gets a goody-bag of candy to take home. Except in this case, the bag is full of gold, silver and bronze medals (and if you’re very lucky, a trophy or two. This year, I was pretty happy with the results. Beer awards can be a mixed bag, and like all kinds of industry accolades, need to be taken with a grain or two of salt. Having said that, when a friend, colleague or loved one has their brewery’s name displayed on screen, or better yet goes up for a trophy, it’s an incredible high.
To go through the whole ceremony would be pointless. The results can be found here. Breweries you’d expect to do well did exactly that: Emersons, ParrotDog, and even Garage Project (who deviate from style guidelines so frequently, they’re often penalised in competitions). Unexpectedly, Aotearoa Breweries AKA Mata, a brewery close to my heart for a number of reasons, took nine medals and were grievously robbed of at least one trophy in my books.
Other highlights included Te Radar as host. He’s not only a good beer enthusiast, but he also knows how to tease without mocking. I also greatly enjoyed John Holl’s presentation about engaging with your customers through brand and technology. He spoke a lot of home truths that night and I sincerely hope New Zealand’s brewers were taking notes.
Once all this was done and dusted, all eyes and ears were keenly waiting to find out who would win the genuinely almost prestigious award for champion brewer.
We had sat through two hours of medals and trophies before we got to Champion Brewer. Most of us were all too drunk to have been keeping scores at that point, so from our point of view, the winner was wide open.
We all hoped a shit brewery hadn’t won.
You see, this is the thing with beer awards: beers are judged according to rigorous, even restrictive style guidelines. As such, completely inane beers from mega-brewers can take out dozens of medals and trophies in categories like ‘Other European Lager’ and waltz off with Champion Brewer. I remember four years ago, when DB won, there was more than a few people booing over the polite applause. A year later when 8 Wired won, there was a standing ovation.
There was a rising paranoia that DB (or Lion) would take out the prize again, but personally I was just as concerned that some little shit-house brewery that I have no regard for would win. You see the grim meathook reality is that there is a big difference between making the kind beer that’s faultless and fits style criteria; and making beer that people will beat each other with sticks or crawl over broken glass to get their hands on. And there are plenty of small breweries that make the former, not the later.
What really galled me though, is the knowledge that many of these half-arsed brewers would be beating a path to my door within the next few weeks, flashing medals about the place and trying to sell me beer that neither I nor my customers want. The worst case of this happened a few years ago, when as a humble bartender at Hashigo, a drunken brewer I had never met before accosted me after the awards dinner.
‘Why don’t you bastards buy our beer? Look at all these medals we’ve won,’ he slurred, waving a fistfull of medals in my face. How the drunk fucker had gotten past security, I don’t know.
‘You’ll have to take that up with Dave our Manager,’ I deflected.
‘Bastards’ he said. ‘Bastards,’ before he staggered away.
Later, after I had security escort him out, I learned which brewery he represented. The most of the medals he’d brandished were for cider.
We waited with bated breath for the winner to be read out. The new award for ‘Best Production Brewery’ had just been announced. This was for the best brewery that produces other people’s beer under contract. It had been won by Townshend, by all means a dark horse in that particular race. We were all very happy with that result. Martin Townshend is a good human by all accounts, and great brewer, much deserving of recognition.
‘And, Champion Brewer for 2014 is… Townshend Brewery’.
We lost our shit. Standing ovation, cheering, shouting, glasses banged on tables. All the noise that one hundred frenzied Beer Geeks and Brewers could make. Martin is a friend to all of us and we were all ecstatic that he’d won. The self-effacing bastard wasn’t even there to collect the award, having convinced himself he wouldn’t win a god-damn thing. It didn’t matter. We could mark this down as another year when the small guy, the craftsman, the barely recognised and grossly undercapitalised guy from nowhere had proved themselves better than the soulless, accountant-run-sausage-factory-mega-brewers.
The ceremony was neatly wrapped up soon after but knots of revellers hung out, trying to ride the free beer and afterglow. Eventually we were asked to leave by event staff before they set the dogs on us, but not before Steve loaded his pockets with as many bottles as he could for the short walk back to town.
We would be carrying this party long into the night.