Beervana is Decadent and Depraved Part #3

[Go to Part #2]

Part 3: Debauchery at the Awards Dinner

THURSDAY

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. 

‘Bastards.’ 

Angry BrewerWe 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.

 ***

Stu and Jula

[Go To Part #4]

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6 thoughts on “Beervana is Decadent and Depraved Part #3

  1. Pingback: Beervana is Decadent and Depraved Part #2 | The Bottleneck

  2. I reckon your drunken brewer “mate” has at least the beginnings of a point, even if not a smidgeon of politeness or decorum. I’ve ranted in the past, and at great length, about brewers stuffing whole turkeys, rare art, or the foreskins of their ancestors into their beers and people climbing over each other to drink those beers. The beers are often fucking AWFUL, but the emperor’s new clothes effect takes over, and because it’s a small brewery, run by people known to the drinker (or at least merely one degree of separation away), you hear nothing but loud praise for their “creativity”.

    Meanwhile, there are some stunningly tasty beers being made which are simple, delicious, and even “to style” (whatever that means outside of a judging context – I don’t really care). These brewers are often called boring, and the best you hear about their beers is “well, it was OK, but did you try that Belgo-Italian quadrupel, fermented solely with E.coli and aged in the brewer’s uncle’s underwear for 11 years? A-MA-ZING!”

    Now, I’m not ragging on crazy here. I love me some crazy. But it needs to be WELL EXECUTED crazy, and it bugs me that the average consumer doesn’t seem to care, and thus encourages poor beer because it’s creative over well made beer which might not be so exciting. Creativity is one part in the equation. Skill and execution are the other, more important parts.

    I’m stoked for Martin Townshend. He seldom does crazy, often does well executed and skillful, and has finally been recognised for it! If judging to anything other than style was possible (maybe it is… I just can’t think how) my money is on Garage Project next year. They really know how to do crazy – nutso concepts, flawlessly executed, and generally great examples of how to fly your freak flag while still making stunningly good beer. They even do “boring” better than most, with “Beer” being one of my faves at the moment.

    • Hi Greig

      Yes, I’ve read your piece, and the points raised afterwards. I understand where you’re coming from, but have altogether less sympathy for the brewers in question.

      It’s going to be tricky not to name names here, although two of my colleagues who were subjected to a similar rant from the same brewer on a separate occasion recognised him almost instantly from the drawing… But I digress.
      Basically what I’m objecting to in the piece is brewer(s) that make average-to-bad beer that can still win awards in categories like ‘NZ Draught’ and ‘European Lager’ with beers that amount to small-scale brewed Tui and Export Gold (faultless, but indistinguishable from their macro-counterparts, and a lot more expensive), and then blame the rise of IPA for their lack of success.
      I want to grab them, shake them and shout “No, it’s not that everyone doesn’t like light lagers and mild English ales, it’s that you’re beers are not in line with modern tastes.”

      These guys are frequently under the impression that the beer bars of Wellington pour nothing but IIPA all day every day, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.
      You used the example of Garage Project Beer. We sell a lot of that in cans and when we put it on tap, it goes gangbusters for us. Likewise, so does Cathcarts from Townshend and Bookie and Pilsner from Emerson’s. We love these beers and we pour them constantly, so why don’t we buy from this other brewer?

      The difference? Broadly (and also bluntly) speaking, it’s quality. The beers of the brewer(s) in question weren’t as good. It’s a simple as that. Yeah, they’re not faulty, and yeah they fit some arbitrary criteria that qualifies it for an award, but they lack in depth and complexity and thus are it’s not what people want to drink.

      Now I am going to name names here. There’s a brewery that’s done the exact opposite: Mata. Mata made very well executed, very boring beer: A Golden Ale, a Kolsch, and that weird feijoa thing. They still make the Golden Ale and the Kolsch, which are fine, but don’t sell very well in Wellington. But now they also make a really, really excellent Pilsner that flies out the door every time we get it in, and a whole bunch of other great modern style beers.

      They didn’t say “Urgh, no one appreciates us;” they listened to the market, engaged with consumers and make beer that’s both popular with the modern punters true to their own identity. Instead of whinging and wallowing, they upped their game and it’s working out well for them.

      Perhaps a few other breweries could learn from that example.

      • Yes, recognition was fairly easy from the pic. 😉 Yeah, I think we’re pretty much on the same page. I agree with everything you’ve said, though I do still see a “hype bubble” skewing what people think is good. In case I was unclear, I’m not at all supporting people “whinging and wallowing”. If people don’t like your beer, shrug, take it on the chin, and try something else. Pointing to a medal and saying “but it’s GOOD” doesn’t change anything.

        Agree 100% on Mata too. Nice call.

      • Thanks Greig. Having sat in the middle of the hype maelstroms of GP 24/24 and others, I agree that hype is annoying.
        LYLT!

  3. Pingback: Beervana is Decadent and Depraved Part #4 | The Bottleneck

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