Absolutely, Positively, a Dick Move

Who went to Beervana this year? Did you all have as excellent a time as I did? Were all the the beers you tried absolute blinders? Did you feel that the vibe was on point and the effort from the vendors top notch? Were you stoked that the southerly wasn’t blowing, so the stadium was actually at a temperature humans could inhabit? Good on the organisers for sorting that one out.

In all seriousness, I was very impressed with Beervana this year and I’m stoked to see what next year will bring. Well done to Sarah Miekle, The Wellington Culinary Events Trust, Beth Brash, the breweries, restaurants, and of course everyone else who contributed in in any way, shape or form.

I had a great time, and so to did a lot of visitors to this city – Wellington was chock full of Aussies, Brits, Americans and of course, New Zealanders from every corner of the country. And here lies the only tiny little blotch on the whole event. A small group of people; I don’t know who or from where (and I really don’t care) came into town, visited various bars and left behind these little cards:

CardAs you can see, the accusation here is that the bars, which offer a serving of beer smaller than 562 ml are ripping off customers.

11056544_10153505379790586_186756547978479258_nThese are pretty serious claims, which I like to repudiate. Before I begin, I must point out, none of these cards were left at Golding’s. They were however, left at Hashigo Zake, Malthouse, Bethel Woods and Little Beer Quarter. As such, the views I’m going to put out in this post are entirely my own and do not represent those of my employer.

At the same time, I feel it is appropriate for me to comment because Golding’s uses the same pricing formula (give or take) as all these other bars. I am the person who sets the prices of different products at the bar. By extension then, these people are accusing me, personally, of ripping off our punters. I take exception to that.

What You Got Right:

Yes, you are correct. 425 ml does not fit any official definition of a ‘pint’. There are several different definitions of a ‘pint’, which vary depending on where you are in the world and what you’re measuring. When it comes to beer, a ‘pint’ is technically either 568 ml (strangely, not the 562 ml mentioned on the card) or 473 ml (which, for the record is what Hashigo uses).

So technically, you are correct. Bully for you. But you’re also wrong: since we adopted the metric system in 1976, the definition of a ‘pint’ ceased to have any legal relevance. In the same way that I can’t sell you a ‘pound’ of butter or a ‘gallon’ of petrol, without telling you the relevant mass in grams or volume in litres, technically I can no longer sell you one ‘pint’. I have to sell you X number of millilitres.

But that’s not quite how modern language works and people still order ‘pints’ in bars. The difference is that now the common usage in New Zealand is that ‘pint’ means “the largest single-serving of beer you offer”. You may not like this usage. You can protest it until you’re blue in the face. But you won’t be able to change the way people use the term.

So congratulations, this make you the beer equivalent of King Canute, telling the tide to turn back. It ain’t gonna happen.

What You Got Wrong

Everything else. But let’s start with the assertion that you have been served “34% less beer for the same $”. This is utterly false.

Let’s have a quick talk about the price of beer. Basically, I’m going to give you two links: Stu’s breakdown of the cost of a Yeastie Boys Beer. Also useful is Dom Kelly’s breakdown of the pricing of different beers from Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Basically, beers are priced according to margin. Breweries set the price of the keg, then we put on a retailer margin (~22%), and then GST on top of that. Now of that margin, it breaks down in various ways. The biggest cost that needs to cover is price of the beer. After that come staff wages, and following that, various other expenses, ranging from rent, to electricity, to freight on empty kegs, to sanitising solution for our dishwasher, to cloths for drying glasses, to food grade carbon dioxide bottles to push the beer through our taps and a million other things.

After all of these is profit. Now we are profitable. We need to be. We’re a business, and this is capitalism. You’ll have to take my word for it, but let me assure you, neither Golding’s, nor any other beer bar in Wellington will ever make its owners fabulously wealthy. I will never be a millionaire from working my job. Hell, I’ll probably never be able to own a house.

What I’m really getting at here though, is that beer prices work on a set margin, and this is calculated by the millilitre. So your assertion that you should get more beer for the same price is ludicrous. Working off a margin, if you wanted 568 ml of a beer that costs $10 for 425 ml, you would need to pay $13. If it was a more expensive beer, say a big Imported IPA that cost $12.5 a 425 ml, you’d be paying around $17 an imperial ‘pint’.

Now I’m perfectly willing to do that for you. Come in, tell me who you are, tell me you want an imperial ‘pint’, and I will make a product item in our till system just for you. But you better be willing to pay, because if you think you should be getting a 568 ml serving for the same price as 425 ml, then you are delusional. That’s not how mathematics work.

“But Dylan,” I hear you say, “In XYZ town/city, I can get an imperial ‘pint’ of the same beer for less than $13”. Yes, this is true; I quite enjoy going to Nelson or Christchurch and paying slightly less for beer. The reason for this is because of variation in local economies. Just like the cost of rent changes from city to city – renting a two bedroom house in central Wellington or Auckland will cost you much more than a similar house in Hamilton – the cost of beer will vary from place to place (in fact rent is one of the big factors).

If you’d like a more dramatic illustration of this, then all you need to do is step over the Tasman. I’ve met Australians who have been astounded that they can get a Coopers for the same price (or even cheaper) in New Zealand than they can at home. On the other hand, in parts of America you can pick up a ‘pint’ (of the 473 ml type) for the equivalent of $4-6, plus tax and tip.

But the most extreme example I’ve personally come across is Norway. In Oslo I paid the equivalent of $18 for what amounted to 300 ml of 7% beer (I was almost never served a ‘pint’ in Scandinavia). And you know what? I didn’t feel the need to complain. Because that’s how the world works. If I can’t deal with that fact, that’s my problem, not the operators of the Norwegian bars and restaurants I visited.

If you really can’t enjoy a beer because because it came in the wrong glass size, for slightly more than you might pay elsewhere, then I don’t think you’re a good Beer Geek. In my books you’re a pain in the arse with entitlement issues. But enough of this. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

Why I’m So Angry

This really boils down to two things. First of all, the way the message was delivered. Note cards? Dropped on the table as you scarpered? What are you? An emo 16 year old? A passive aggressive flatmate, leaving notes for everyone around the house before locking themselves in their room?

That’s not how adults should behave. If you have criticism for someone, you discuss it privately, in person or via message. Or, you could face up to your peers and state it in a public forum. God knows I spend a decent part of this blog criticising people in the beer industry, but I sign my name to it. On the left hand side of this page is a link to my Twitter, where anyone can contact me.

Dropping an anonymous note is cowardly. But even this isn’t what annoys me the most. What really gets me going is the accusation that I, or any of my fellow Bartenders/Owners/Managers are deliberately, maliciously, ripping people off.

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I am an honest human being. If nothing else, let that be the last thing they say about me. When I’m gone, put that on my gravestone. You’re accusing us of setting out to swindle. I wouldn’t do that to a stranger, and our customers aren’t strangers to us. They’re our friends. You think we’re being greedy when we set our prices? I assure you we’re not. I spend a big chunk of my week buried in the company accounts. I know the numbers inside-out.

Yes, we make money. We’re businesses, not charities. We need to make money if we’re to survive. Because this is our livelihood. Each bar has at least half-to-a-dozen employees who also rely on their jobs to live. And it’s not just us. It’s the whole damn industry – the distributors, the logistics companies, the brewers, the hop and malt growers, the brewery equipment manufacturers and thousands of other invisible people cash their paychecks when you buy a beer. To be sustainable everyone down the line needs to make money, or the whole thing doesn’t work.

But if you honestly think that the markup is too much, feel free to open your own bar in Wellington. Charge what you think it should cost. Put us all out of business even. Be our guest.

Мы вас похороним.

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Beervana Media Brew: Flag Burning and Other Anarchy

Hallelujah, I’ve hit the big time! Yes, at last I’ve been recognised as a legit-grownup-journalist. No, I’m not finally getting paid to write this. Official recognition has come in another form: a Beervana Media Brew.

This is an annual competition in which journalists and breweries collaborate on a beers, which are then served at Wellington’s biggest beer festival, Beervana (which I’ve written at length about here, here, here, here, and here). The journos then drum up publicity by talking about the beers on their respective platforms. This year I am to join the illustrious company of journos from Stuff, Dish, the Manawatu Standard, and Fishhead Magazine to create a unique beer you can try at this year’s Beervana.

Alright, I’ll be fair. I’m also going head to head with Ben Irwin and Patrick Gower; which is a sentence I never thought I’d find myself writing on this blog…

“I’ve got an idea… It’s a bit weird though.”

Which brewery was I to be collaborating with? Turns out, I’d been paired with Wild & Woolly. Wild & Woolly is a new player in the brewery scene and run by Llew Bardecki, one of the most talented off-the-wall brewers in the country. He also happens to be one of my closest friends in the beer scene. Perfect.

In fact we’d already (sort of) collaborated together once before, when a satirical post of mine inspired him to make one of the rarest and highest-rated beers in New Zealand.

The collaboration process for us was a lot of fun and mainly involved me wandering into the brewery where Llew was working, and the both of us throwing ideas at the wall to see what would stick. And we had a lot of very strange ideas. The theme this year is “Can the Flag Debate”, which isn’t bad as themes go, because it’s broad enough that you can basically do anything you feel like and then retcon a justification for it.

So here’s our pitch:

Changing the flag? Barely seems worth it. But since we seem to be committed, I guess we may as well make a go of it. I actually wouldn’t mind changing to something a little more culturally relevant. I mean the current one is a bit of an old colonial rag, isn’t it? I would quite happily leave behind the trappings of Britishness and start again with something that reflects the multiculturalism of New Zealand.

And let’s finally admit that our ancestors nicked this country off some people that had one hell of a better claim to it. Then perhaps we can do a proper job of making amends for that fact. And let’s change the name from ‘New Zealand’ to ‘Aotearoa’…

Oh, sorry, getting off topic.

Our beer starts as a strong Scotch Ale. Then, as a symbol of protest and rejection of colonialism, we took Britain’s favourite beverage, tea, and set fire to it.

A portion of the beer’s malt bill was hot-smoked using Dilmah’s finest Ceylon.

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Do try it.

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On this day, I felt more Yeastie Boys than Yeastie Boys.

The normal process for smoking malt is to cold-smoke it, but time and equipment were limited in this instance.

I’ve done a fair amount of hot-smoking, usually with meat and wood smoke. Smoking with tea is a whole new experience for me. The aroma coming out of the smoker when I turned the burner on was amazing. At first it smelt like someone brewing a cuppa, then, as the moist tea began to smoke, it smelt like I was sitting by a campfire, brewing a pot of tea after a long tramping expedition. Delicious.

The tea-smoked malt was mashed into the beer with the rest of the grain and everything continued as usual. That is until we reach the boil. Instead of hops (another import from the UK, we wanted to use a New Zealand native equivalent. Specifically a New Zealand equivalent to the tea that we had just burnt – Tea Tree, better know to us as Manuka.

We threw 300 grams of fresh Manuka tips into the boil, at about the time hops would normally be added to the beer (and in direct violation of Patent no. 519778).

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Again, the aromas that come out of the kettle at this stage were fabulous. I remember saying to Llew that if we capture half that aroma and flavour in the finished beer, it’ll be fantastic.

After chilling, we tried a little of the wort (unfermented beer) while running it into the fermenter. Whilst I don’t want to blow too hard on our own trumpet, but that wort was the most delicious I’ve ever made, possibly the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. Sweet, herbal, medicinal, with just a hint of smoke.

At time of writing, the beer is finished fermenting and is just about to go into the keg. It tastes excellent. I am really, really proud of this beer. The smoke has come forward a fair bit, and is completely unlike any other smoke character I’ve tasted in a beer. The beer is a little sweet, with a wonderful manuka flavour following (somewhere between banana and rose, with just a hint of menthol).

We’re calling the beer ‘Flag Burner’. It will be available at Beervana at the Media Brew Stand. There’s only 50 lites and no guarantee you’ll ever see this beer again, so if you’re going, seek it out.Flag Burner PosterFun fact: this taste of New Zealand was brought to you by a 1st gen Canadian and 2nd gen Swiss immigrant.