Part 4: Beer Geek Kingdom
I awoke at 10 am. My plan for the day was to attend the morning session of Beervana, enjoy in moderation, and then work the evening shift at the bar. This plan however, went straight out of the window when I tried to get out of bed. My body protested in the same way a gearbox protests when you try to change down from 5th into 3rd at 100 kilometres an hour. God dammit body! You carried me into this thing, you have to see me through!
Eventually I levered myself out of the sheets. Looking at myself in the mirror, my face showed signs of furious dissipation that I recognised instantly: That grey countenance that speaks of too much booze and nowhere near enough sleep. I’d seen it before on other people and despised it. And now I saw it again and on my own face, I despised it more. One thing was certain: there would be no Beervana today.
Instead I formed a new plan: I would go to Garage Project for brunch, and then head to work. I got dressed and hit the streets to Aro Valley. Rockwell And Sons, some amazingly popular restaurant from Melbourne was doing a pop up menu at the Garage. It sounded like a hot ticket.
Unfortunately, due to poor communication I turned up several hours before food was being served. Instead, I made do with an ice cream sandwich, and a can of Garagista IPA. Breakfast of champions. Leaning back in a dusty corner of the cold garage, I took stock of my rotten position.
At this rate and by my reckoning, total mental and physical collapse was due sometime in the next forty eight hours. This was in theory, enough time to make it through Saturday, after which I was clear to fall apart at my leisure, but making it that far was by no means guaranteed. As I saw it, I had two options.
Either I could stop right now, go back to bed for a little extra sleep, go on a vegan juice-detox diet, and give up all alcohol for the foreseeable future. Or, option number two was to ride this god damn debauched beer train all the way clear to Sunday. I gave option one serious consideration, before dismissing it utterly. I was much too far into this thing to back out now.
Anyway, as the good doctor said: buy the ticket, take the ride.
I walked into Golding’s two hours early. I had no reason to, I hadn’t been called in or anything, but I had a suspicion I’d be needed. Friday afternoon is always the tamest session of Beervana, and the after-session rush on the beer bars in town is usually fairly manageable. It’s a different matter for the rush after the evening session, but we would be closing by that time.
Inside Golding’s was chaos.
Not the chaos of a hundred drunks throwing beer around and shouting. Rather it was the chaos of a hundred people all trying to order beer and pizza at once, with only one bartender. It seemed the people leaving the morning session early were overlapping with the people warming for the evening session. I started at 3pm, and didn’t stop for the next ten hours.
Get to Beervana, you half-baked internet hack. - The Voice on the Phone
I plodded the barren concourse to the Westpac Stadium, diligently trying to pretend the vicious southerly that was flogging Wellington didn’t exist. Every god-damn year at Beervana, a southerly blows up, turning the Cake-Tin into a refrigerator.
I was not the only one being whipped along the concourse, even though I was an hour late. Other groups and singles crawled their way towards the distant entrance. On other occasions the concourse would’ve been crammed with sports fans, dressed in black, or yellow or white. But not these folk. No sir, not today. I and the rest of these miserable, huddled clumps all had but one thing on on our minds: beer. And we were prepared to go to extreme lengths to get it. Even braving this god-damn wind.
I got off to a bad start, when I went to collect my press credentials and found that I had none under my name.
‘What Media Outlet are you with?’ I was asked.
Shit. That question. I had been asked that a few times this week, and had been getting by calling myself a ‘freelancer, specialising in online material’. It sounds better than owning up to being a ‘Beer Blogger’ a breed dubiously regarded at the best of times. Still, there were few options now.
‘I’m the Official Beervana Blogger,’ I said. That was what my place-setting had said at the Longest Lunch, and was in some, vague, technical sense at least partly true. Mentally I prepared a list of names to drop, and if that didn’t work, make a dash past security and hope they couldn’t find me in the crowded tunnel.
‘Oh, Ok. Go on in then.’
Hmm. Alright, I’ll remember that one. I went in.
Beervana 2014. What can I say? Lets start with what was new this year:
There was a new payment method. These were electronic wrist tags which you pre-loaded money onto and then scanned every time you bought a beer. Apparently these caused mass-chaos at the start of the first session. That’s partly why I turned up late, as I was told horror stories of people waiting an hour before they could buy a beer. This seemed to have been sorted by Saturday. Instinctively I didn’t like them, but I have no good reason for saying this and they seemed to be fairly functional on the day. So lets move on.
There were more single-brewery-operated stands than in previous years. This I think was a very, very good thing. I’ll elaborate further on this soon, but I will say the variety and ingenuity that people put into their stands was very refreshing.
The Festive Brew Stand sucked and the Australian Stand was altogether missing. Both of these are usually my most frequented stands in previous years. This year the Aussie stand was hamstrung by the shipment of beer not leaving port in time for the festival. Que sera. The festive brews on the other hand, were stymied by a theme so uninspiring that most breweries didn’t bother to enter. It was ANZAC biscuits – an idea that several brewers had already tried and at least one (Garage Project) already had in their seasonal range.
The Portland stand almost made up for this. The posse of Portland Brewers all had their beers on a dedicated stand, and this was where some of the most interesting beers were to be found. Behind this they hosted the ‘Taste of Portland’ seminar, which was a guided beer and food matching session. Like the Longest Lunch, the food was exquisite and the matches excellent. On the downside, this took a full hour out of my drinking time, but I didn’t need to queue or pay for beer and food (it was ticketed, but my non-existent media pass got me in) and I needed to stay sober anyway.
OK, lets take an intermission.
I was standing by one of the big heaters trying desperately to restart my circulation when I heard the words that set any god-fearing liberal on edge:
‘The Conservatives are polling almost 6%. Looks like they’re getting a seat this time,’ a woman with a purple silk bag said.
‘I don’t believe it, surely New Zealand won’t elect that dingbat into parliament?’ said her friend. He was a tall geek, with a waxed moustache. ‘It can’t last. I’m waiting for the scandal that will sink the Conservative Party. Those sorts are always up to something underhanded. That’s how they got to be rich crazies in the first place.’ I couldn’t resist. I piped up from the other side of the heater.
‘I know what it is,’ I said. ‘I pour beer for all sorts of government types. You wouldn’t believe the stuff you hear across the bar when no one thinks you’re listening.’
‘Oh yeah? What is it?’ he asked sceptically. ‘Backhanders?’
‘As if. No one’s stupid enough to get caught doing that in New Zealand,’ I said.
‘Closet Queer?’ asked the woman.
I laughed. ‘Craig’s no Ted Haggard. No.’ I looked conspiratorial, whilst I invented quickly. ‘It’s drugs. Opium.’
‘What?’ they asked, disbelievingly.
‘Oh yeah. He flies it in three times a year on his private plane. All those ‘Business Trips’ to South-East Asia? Bringing back kilos of the raw stuff.’
‘Bullshit!’ said the man. I could tell he wanted to believe it very badly.
‘Oh yeah, it’s true.’ I said. ‘One of our regulars is a Staffer for Bill English.’ Once I was started, the bullshit flowed freely. ‘She accompanied the Minister to Craig’s Mansion in Epsom. They were there to discuss a theoretical coalition deal. She said they found him shirtless in his office. He was in front of a shrine to Pat Robertson, chanting ‘In Referendums confidimus’ and taking great big hits from a pipe of the stuff. Apparently he sort of came out of it after they threw some water on him, and carried on with the meeting, but she was pretty shaken by the whole thing.
‘Christ, that’s insane!’ said purple silk; ‘I know he’s a nutjob, but he’s not that crazy, surely?’
‘That’s what opium does to you. Coleridge used it to write Kubla Khan. Craig smokes it and comes up with his bat-shit policies. You can see it in his face. I mean look at his publicity shots. Him leering in front of a thunderstorm with that million-mile, dead-eyed stare? You’d have to be high as a kite to think those were a good idea.’
The man gave an ironic bark of a laugh. ‘True that.’
‘Spare us all if he gets into power,’ I said. ‘Thank god for decent people like us,’ and with that I walked away.
Jesus Christ. Vicious lies, all of it. But at the time it felt good. From our liberal bubble in Wellington, the election looked like a much closer race than it turned out to be. With the Conservatives polling over 5%, the prospect of that degenerate swine playing king-maker made me physically sick. I knew I couldn’t really stop the Conservative party, but anything I could do, however small, to chip away at their power-base felt cathartic.
As it all turned out, the Conservatives got less than 4%, but the left such as it is, received a vicious pounding. We really should have seen it coming.
OK, time for some break-down.
I liked Beervana a lot this year. Maybe not quite as much as I liked it in the Town hall days, but that was so long ago I’m not sure I can separate fact from nostalgia anymore. The simple fact of the matter is that this Beervana felt like it had regained a lot of its soul. That sounds pretty airy-fairy, which is something I want to avoid, so lets ask the question: why did I like it more?
Well, it felt more in touch with the beer. Damn it, that’s airy-fairy. What I’m trying to say is, that it felt more like a celebration of good beer and less of the industrial booze-up of previous years. And I think there are many reasons for this, but there are two I’d like to focus on: exclusive beers and brewery stands.
Exclusive beers is the mechanism that drives the Great Australasian Beer Spectapular. Every brewery exhibiting must contribute a never-before-seen beer which are all poured on large, central stands not controlled by the breweries. This makes it a really fun and interesting festival for those au-fait with ‘Craft’ beer and those who are not Beer Geeks will enjoy it (or not) just the same. Whilst there were issues with exclusives this year, owing to a weak festive-brew and Australian stands, as I’ve said, the Portland and Individual Brewery stands made up for this.
This brings me to my second point: Brewery stands. I think individual brewery stands are the heart and soul of big beer festivals. This year in particular, the quality was outstanding. Last year Garage Project turned things up to 11 with their crazy stand. This year it seemed more like a 10, which honestly is still pretty outrageous, but also Panhead and Yeastie Boys (and others) came to the party with awesome stands and great new beers.
I’m a big fan of individual stands because they give the option of a) showcasing a brewery’s portfolio to new drinkers, b) exhibiting new and exciting beers for the Geeks, and c) it lets the drinking public feel in touch with the brewery team. And I think that is a really important aspect of beer festivals.
To sum up: I liked Beervana more this year because it felt like there was more engagement between beer, drinker and brewer. And that is where the future of the festival lies, if I may air-and-fair again. Put simply: Beervana seems to be growing in directions I like, and I’m looking forward to next year.
Ok, let’s wrap this beast up and send it home.
I’d had a great festival, but I hadn’t seen nearly as much of Beervana as I’d planned to. I seem to have gotten stuck at Garage Project’s stand. The problem was that every time I tried to leave, I’d be collared by a friend or associate and get stuck in conversation. On the plus side though, most of my beers were being bought for me.
Suddenly I heard the last drinks call go out across the PA. Shit.
I ran over to the Garage stand, elbowing several punters keen on getting there before the cut-off. Ian, the lanky yet handsome Brewery Manager saw me coming.
‘Hey Dylan, you need a beer?’
‘Ian! Ian, give me a blade!’ I shouted.
‘What?’ he asked.
‘A knife! Scissors! Anything sharp. Now, goddammit!’
Ian shuffled about for about for a moment, then produced a Stanley knife from under the counter, looking confused. His confusion turned to shock when I snatched it off him and started desperately sawing at my wrist. I was trying to remove my wrist tag. When I had got it off, I threw it at him.
‘Take this. There’s ten bucks or so on there. Have a beer on me. Or some dumplings. Whatever.’
‘Hey thanks, man,’ he said. ‘You sure you don’t want another…’
‘THERE’S NO TIME DAMN IT!’ I shouted. ‘I’ve got to get to Golding’s.’ With that I charged into the crowd.
The bar was already packed when I got there. Tom and Steve were on top of things, but I knew that a thousands tipsy beer fiends were only minutes behind me; and the dirty glass was already piling up. And so began the rhythm that would fill the next eight hours: Pour beer. Order pizza. Collect glass. Wash glass. Collect pizza. Repeat.
They came in waves. Again and again, the waves of people washed over us. The passing of time was marked only by the incessant changing of kegs. My world shrunk to four walls, seven taps, a mountain of glassware and an ever-growing pile of empty kegs.
And then suddenly, it was over. It was 11:30pm, and we called last drinks. We pushed the people out, we wiped, mopped and we settled the tills. And before I knew it, we were sitting in an empty bar: Owen, Gen, Tom and myself; wallowing in exhaustion and bucket-sized staffies. An idea had occurred to me, in the maelstrom of the shift, which I hadn’t had time to really think about but I teased out a little more now.
We’d been busier than Satan on a Sunday, but somehow the shift had been… easy. Sure we’d moved two weeks worth of beer in four days, but there had been none of the usual bullshit of a super busy bar: no arguments, no abusive customers, no vomit. And yeah, we’d refused service to a lot of drunk people, but none of them had cut up rough or even sworn at us. For an event which ostensibly involves drinking for hours (or in my case days) at a time, everyone had been remarkably well behaved. What a testament to the culture of ‘Craft Beer’ in this country.
I guess it’s true what Dr. Thompson says: Good people drink good beer.
I was standing outside the bar, having just locked up. I felt my phone vibrate.
We're at Malty. Coming? -Steph
My friends, still riding the train to the bitter end. Am I coming? Not today. I desperately needed rest, sanctuary. I had to be back at the bar in ten hours, but that was long enough to recover. Breathing in the cold Wellington air, I turned my back on the bar, my friends, the whole damn-rotten affair. Anonymous darkness settling on my shoulders, I strode off into the Wellington night. For the first time in days, I felt at peace. This is my city. Here I am at home, safe.
Another Beer Geek, in the Beer Geek Kingdom.
A big thank you to my Editor, Hannah. And all those who encouraged me to keep writing when I was thoroughly sick of this project.
This post is fiction and intended for parody and satire purposes only. Some of the things mentioned above happened, some of them did not. Others did happen but happened slightly differently that depicted here. Don’t take it too seriously.