The Worst Decision I Ever Made

"Investors seem willing to pay above market rates to buy into the
story of New Zealand craft beer." 
-Rob Simic, ANZ Commercial and Agricultural Regional Manager, 
Beervana Media Briefing Session, 2014.
"No-one will ever get a dollar back, so i [sic] really hope we 
don't hear them moaning about it down the track. It's a worse 
investment than a finance company debenture!" 
- C N, Comment on an NBR Article

Investing in Yeastie Boys is without a doubt one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made.

OK now to qualify that statement. No doubt if you’re even remotely connected to the New Zealand beer scene you’ve heard the news: Yeastie Boys raised half a million dollars in 26 minutes via crowd funding. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate that feat.

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Done? Right, now lets talk about how disastrously, ruinously mad it is.

The occasion has special significance for me for two reasons: first of all, the launch party was held at Golding’s, and I was working it. I’ve bartended many monumental occasions, including the launch of ParrotDog and Garage Project, but this one may just take the cake.

The other reason it’s significant to me is that I’m one of the the 219 people that chipped in money. Yes, I foolishly ponied up my hard earned cash for a tiny slice of the Yeastie Boys pie.

It was not my intention after reading the share proposal, to invest in the company. Because lets face it, the below the line nay-sayers commenters on the National Business Review articles are correct. Economically, Yeastie Boys is a terrible investment. It’s not that the company is going to go down in flames. To the contrary I have very good reason to believe that it will soar, if not like an eagle, then at least like a fairly ambitious pigeon. No.

But the cold hard facts remain: Half a million only buys 12.5% of the company, which places a value on Yeastie Boys at ~4M, or in other words, somewhere between high and ludicrous. Considering this, and the relatively low-profit nature of brewing at any scale, no one will ever see a good (if any) return on their investment. It’s truly a terrible decision to invest in the Yeastie dream.

"How dumb are some New Zealanders?" 
- Reece of the Duchy, Comment on the same NBR Article

But here’s the thing – we, as in everyone who invested in Yeastie Boys, already knew that. So why the hell did I willingly, gleefully even, chuck my cash into a flaming black hole? Well, first of all, because I could.

I invested a cheeky $500. I could frankly take that much cash out to the BBQ right now and set it on fire (or burn it in one hundred other more creative and figurative ways). Whilst this would be a very foolish decision, at the end of the day, I could do it and still make rent.

And I suspect this goes for everyone else who also threw money in. The average investment was ~$2500. There will be many low level investors like myself, but also a few that invested much, much more money than that. But I also know for a fact that no one invested at a level which means they’ll have to foreclose on the family home if Yeastie Boys doesn’t immediately (or ever) start paying out big dividends.

Frankly, the only one who’s going to get seriously burned if this whole thing doesn’t work is Stu. And he knows that.

The other reason I invested in this thing comes back to something I wrote a few months back:

"I’d invest in a brewery because I believe in drinking good beer, 
and I want to ensure I can get a good pint for years to come. 
Expecting a return on buying into a ‘Craft’ brewery is to me like 
expecting a return on buying a pint at the pub. Passion and 
enjoyment are why we get into this industry, not striking it rich."
- Dylan Jauslin, Beervana is Decadent and Depraved Part #2

So here was the chance. Money where mouth is. And it’s been two weeks since then and in the cold light of day, I stand by that sentiment. I want more Gunnamatta. I want more Pot Kettle Black, and yes, I even want more Rex Attitude. I do not for a moment regret making the worst financial decision of my life. In fact I’d do it again, in an instant.

Fuck'n. Classy. Bastards. Credit: The Brewers Guild of New Zealand.

Stu and I at the BrewNZ Awards, 2013.
Credit: The Brewers Guild of New Zealand

***

Having said that, there is one thing I’m nervous of: other breweries.

I can feel them, right now, waiting in the wings. Those who have seen what Stu and Sam have done and are thinking of going and getting their own share of that sweet, sweet crowd-sourced money.

I know that people are thinking about it and I can tell them now – it won’t work out the same. It might seem like Yeastie Boys pulled this off in 30 minutes, but they have been building up to this for 6 years, and Stu has personally been working towards it in one sense or another for more like 10 years (ask him one day about the history of Liberty Brewing).

So think long and hard before you go out there and try to recreate what Yeastie Boys (or even Renaissance) have done. There’s no guarantee it’ll turn out how you want it to.

OK, lets end this on a positive note.

I have officially sliced myself a “piece of the Yeastie Boys pie,” as Anna Guenther of PledgeMe puts it. But frankly, I don’t feel like I have. I feel more like I’ve contributed a little dough (pun intended) to the amorphous mass, which will eventually be rolled out to make the crust of a really special pie.

And in this regard, I feel like I’ve been supporting Yeastie Boys from day 366. For that was the second ever launch of Pot Kettle Black, and the first time I ever had one of their beers. In a very simple way I feel like I’ve been supporting Yeastie Boys for many years the same way those who didn’t invest (or just weren’t quick enough) can support them. By going out and enjoying a Yeastie Boys beer!

Cheers, or as Stu says:
Sláinte Mhaith!

Credit: The Brewers Guild of New Zealand

Credit: The Brewers Guild of New Zealand

The Craft Queer Project

This all came about because of a can of Garage Project ‘Beer’ and a permanent marker. But lets start at the beginning.

2014 saw some really great discussions start up about minorities and representation in the New Zealand beer scene. Most notably the Craft Beer Calandar, and a bit more talk about women in the beer scene, both as consumers and professionals. ‘Craft’ beer has been pretty much the exclusive property of middle class white men for a long time, but I hope we’re seeing the first signs of change (types the middle class white male). But it is wonderful to see some conversations and change happening, so lets keep it going.

Today I want to talk about queers in the beer scene. And you know what? I’m going to start by being fairly positive. Because right now, our particular little pool (that is the breweries, beer bars and beer events of Wellington) is a fairly open, welcoming and overall liberal place to be.

How do I know this? Well, because there are queer people representing every letter of the LGBT at every level of the industry. Queers make beer, distribute it, sell it, and of course, drink it. And it is as customers that queers are highly represented. I think it’s a credit to the industry that this is the case. However things are definitely not all rosy.

There’s still plenty of queerphobia, both in the beer scene and and New Zealand society in general. I’ve heard far too much of it over the bar in my time. We stamp on it at Golding’s and Hashigo when we hear it. But we know it’s out there and that means there’s room for improvement in our industry.

Which brings me to the can of ‘Beer’ and the permanent marker. You see I had to procure a Secret Santa gift for my co-worker Gen.

We had a limit of $10, so I thought crafting something might be the way to go. I’m fairly handy with a stencil and needle and thread, so I thought I’d make her an awesome patch or shirt or something. I had all the fabric paints, label paper and even an old black shirt to print it on. The only difficult thing was coming up with an idea for what to paint.

Gen’s a fairly Tough Bitch, so something about fucking up the patriarchy would be apt. Then I remembered this photo:

Tough. Biatch.

Tough. Bitch.

Combine it with the famous GFD ‘Beer is Love’ mural:

Draw.

Draw.

Cut.

Cut.

Paint.

Paint.

And, result:

One very stylish Tough Bitch.

One very stylish, Tough Bitch.

Gen was pretty thrilled, but it didn’t stop there. I’ve had dozens of requests for custom shirts from those who want to destroy the patriarchy whilst enjoying a good beer. The simple fact of the matter was it was too many for me to ever hope to make them all by hand. And that’s when inspiration struck: why not print them digitally?

So I drew:

B7bnCMvCAAEnVtj

But this time I didn’t cut; I scanned and Photoshopped:

B8QXPWtCcAAU20b

And result:

Why yes, I cam using the 'Handsome Man Hefting  Keg' shot.

Why yes, I am using the ‘Handsome Man Hefting Keg‘ shot…

So I designed a shirt to be made available online for all my friends. Now I had the option to profit greatly from this enterprise, but it didn’t feel right. Besides, I’ve been really inspired by the good work done by the New Zealand Beer Calendar. So proceeds from shirt sales will be going to Rainbow Youth.

Rainbow Youth is an organisation that offers support, information and advocacy for LGBT youth in New Zealand. Because we all know that being young is difficult, and being queer and young is extra tough. We’ve all heard the statistics: higher suicide rates and drug and alcohol use amongst queer youth in New Zealand. And it’s organisations like Rainbow Youth that can help change that.

It’s time to get our Queer-Beer-Pride on and stick it to queerphobia in style. Not queer, but want to destroy the patriarchy in style anyway? Not a problem. I designed a special ‘Beer’ version, so you can rock it no matter how you identify. The Craft ‘Queer’ Project shirts are available in both Men’s and Women’s cuts (and in a rainbow of colours) from this link on Print Mighty:

thebottleneck.printmighty.co.nz

If there is a product offered on Print Mighty that you would like with the Craft Queer Project design on it (a hoodie, tote bag, etc.), feel free to tweet requests to me.

So let’s crack a good beer and toast to the end of misogyny and queerphobia!

Beer Review: Epic Lupulingus

I think it can confidently be stated that this beer is like a cock, and I will elaborate: epic-bottle_lupulingus-011As well as serving an official function, it also gives pleasure from its appearance. It is something I want near my mouth. It is fulsome, enticing, warming and compelling. You see it and you just want more. Have I overstretched the analogy? It looks almost coppery amber in colour with a bright white head and had excellent clarity and carbonation. It smells heavenly: pink grapefruit, lemon zest, pine, of green grassy herbs and redwood bark. The flavours are similar in the context of a silky, almost oily body that carried a blast of bitterness. It also has lush ripe stonefruit flavours of peaches and stewed apricots. It is sumptuous and carries a lengthy finish. In the same sitting I tried the winner of the West Coast IPA challenge and while it had its merits, it wasn’t nearly as remarkable as this beer. I want more. I will have more, but like cock, too much is never enough.


Those who are greatly confused at this point, might like to try reading this beer review and play spot the difference.

Sexism is something that really gets on my tits (my own tits, no one else’s). Everywhere in life, but particularly in the beer scene. I myself (and others even more so) have watched the New Zealand beer scene grow from next to nothing to a world-acclaimed industry. And I’ve played a very, very small part in helping it grow. So it makes me grumpy when I see people being excluded or demeaned. That’s not our schtick. That’s the big marketing people’s schtick. That’s Tui’s shtick. I’ve flagged other instances of sexism for various reasons. This one I’ve flagged because we can learn a very simple, concrete lesson from it:

If you’re not comfortable saying it about a man’s body, don’t say it about a woman’s, because it’s probably demeaning. 

The Bottleneck Awards 2014

Is it really 2015? It seems like only yesterday I was writing these awards for 2013. Feels like all I did in between was get drunk, go to Iceland, draw some weird pictures and have all of Wellington tweet their recycling bins at me. Oh well, guess it’s lime to look back on our last trip around the Sun and arbitrarily hand out trophies.

This year I’ve brought back many of the awards of last year, and created some new ones as the vagarities of the strange beast that was 2014 demanded. As always, Caveat Lector: My opinions are my own and are meant for novelty purposes only. Alright, lets do this thing.

The Green Bottle Piss Award for Best Lager

This year has seen me step away from Pilsners that have been hopped like IPAs in search of something hop-forward, but a little different. The winner is Townshend Black Arrow. In a scene where everyone’s tried everything, I don’t know anyone else who hops their Pilsner with UK Target hops (I’m sure there are others, but what evs).

Townshend-BlackArrow_1024x1024

Feel Good Hit of the Summer Award for Best Light, Wheat or ‘Sessionable’ Thing

The summer of 2015 is, I’ve decided, The Summer of IPA. The reason being that at Golding’s, Hoppy Pale Ales including +7% hop bombs like Sculpin, have been pouring two-to-one with almost any lager we put on tap. Clearly, the people want more hops.

With this in mind, it would make sense for this award to go to a Session IPA, the style that became vogue in 2014.

But it isn’t, because I hate Session IPAs. Seriously, it’s an incredibly hard style to get right and many taste like bitter-hop-water. Even the good examples on the other hand, taste like ordinary Pale Ales and given that the ABVs of these so-called ‘session’ beers seem to frequently creep above 4.5%, we may as well just give up and call them what they are: over hopped slightly lower ABV Pale Ales.

Ok, rant over. This years Feel Good Hit of the Summer is 8 Wired Wireless Farmhouse. It walks a fine line between funky as hell, yet very drinkable. Good stuff.

The Irish Suntan Award for Paleness

Last year I gave this award to the whole Pale Ale category, because making a good beer that’s ~5%, hop driven with a decent malt backbone is the fastest way to win at beer. This year on the other hand, I’m going to almost arbitrarily give the award to Liberty Brewing Oh Brother, a Pale Ale I had the other day (for the millionth time), and massively enjoyed (for the millionth time). Keep up the good work Jo.

Jo Wood.

Jo Wood.

The Special Award for Services to My Alcoholism (A.K.A. Best Beer Bar Award)

Valhalla. Seriously.

Valhalla, is a Viking themed Punk/Metal venue in Wellington and the future of ‘craft’ beer. You see, the people behind Valhalla understand something that all the Residents, Curry Clubs and Brew on Cubas do not: don’t try and open a good beer bar. You will never compete with the likes of Hashigo and Malthouse. Instead, focus on opening a great bar with good beer.

Is Valhalla a great Viking Metal Bar? I’m not sure. Not really my area of expertise (although I do have a punk-streak). What I do know is that their beer list is legit. Not Hashigo/LBQ/Golding’s legit, but here’s what I was drinking at 1am one Sunday morning after work:

That's right, Day of the Fucking Dead, at a metal gig.

That’s right, Day of the F***ing Dead, at a metal gig.

One final word on Valhalla: only go there if drinking beer in rungus company while listening to dubious music is your idea of a good time. If it’s not, and I know it isn’t for a large swathe of my readership, then stay well away.

The Stout, Porter or Other Dark Award for Beers The Same Colour As My Soul

I’m continuing trend of giving this award to flavoured dark beers. Last year it was Kereru For Great Justice Coconut Porter. This year it’s Aotearoa Breweries Mataccino. Mata is a brewery with a strange history, but one close to my heart. I’d also rate it as an emerging dark horse in the New Zealand brew scene. Mataccino is completely unlike anything they’ve done before. It’s sexy-smooth-coffee-chocolate-funtimes.

I firmly believe this beer should have won the 'Flavoured Styles' trophy in the BrewNZ Awards this year.

I firmly believe this beer should have won the ‘Flavoured Styles’ trophy in the BrewNZ Awards this year.

Best Beer Festival Award (Of the Festivals I Personally Attended)

This would have been the ‘The Lederhosen Free Zone Award,’ but my friend Bardecki of Wild and Woolly has ruined this for me.

Never mind. So who wins? Well I’d love to give it to The Pacific Beer Expo, which along with the Release the Kraken Wrap Party, were about as mint as beer fests get. But I have a mania for not doing the same thing two years in a row.

With that in mind, there are two other totally mint candidates: The SOBA Matariki Winter Ale Festival and Christchurch’s Great Kiwi Beer Festival. Both are incredibly deserving, but I’m going to give the award this year to Great Kiwi, mostly because it formed part of a really outrageous bender I had in Christchurch that weekend.

The Green Bean Saison Award for Fruit/Spiced/Flavoured/Otherwise Meddled With Beer

Adding pretty much the entire contents of your spice rack to beer is now firmly a ‘thing’, much to the consternation of many traditionalists. Seems like every brewer and their dog are cramming weird things into beer. Personally, I absolutely love it.

Amongst all the crazy meddled with beers, my favourite is the rather tame Garage Project Sauvin Nouveau. It’s strong as hell, but ever so lovely.

Sauvin_Webstore_Poster_1024x1024

The ‘Bad Cornish Accent’ Award for Best Cider

You know how I just said I didn’t want to give awards to the same people as last year. Well bugger that noise, cos I’m giving it to Peckham’s again.

The cider industry has shown good signs of movement in 2014. Rogues and Scoundrels put out a good contract cider (even if they completely over cooked their bottle blurb), and the highly promising Paynter’s Cider was discretely launched.

Yet still in my mind, Peckham’s still reigns supreme. My particular favourite this year is the Homeblock Blend #2 (2013), but 2014 also saw Peckham’s push the boat out (a little) with Cardamom Cider, Mulled Cider, and released late in December, Pommeau. Is it good? I have no idea. I like it, but I have no Pommeau experience whatsoever. But no one else in this country is pushing boundaries in the cider world like Peckham’s is.

What is this stuff? I don't even know.

What is this stuff? I don’t even know.

The Tey-Tappers Special Award for Best Beer Writer

Hmm. Tough decision. I could quite happily give it to Jono, who was pipped at the post by the comedy option last year, but I think I have to give it to Jason Gurney of Brew Hui. And I have a suspicion that the reason Brew Hui gets it over Drinker to Brewer is that Gurney has pulled at Heath Ledger (formally known as James Dean) and bowed out before his time.

Having said that, Jason does write with passion and humor. And although his posts do frequently need a blue pencil, he gets a lot of points for taking criticism better than most professional brewers do.

The ‘Invading Russia in Winter Award’ For Best Tactical Retreat

Readers may remember I chastised Tuatara for being a dick and trying to steal Rogue’s New Zealand distribution. This year, I’m happy to award them this prize for completely changing tack. Not long long after I published, that piece, Tuatara announced they would no longer be distributing Rogue; a decision which I’m sure can from realising they were being dicks, and had absolutely nothing to do with large quantities of very cheap, out of date Rogue beer that is still appearing in supermarkets to this day…

Yes, I can be bitchy when I want to.

Yes, I can be bitchy when I want to.

Anywho, the real reason Tuatara gets this award is that this year they announced they would be picking up distribution for local cider maker Zeffer.

Yes. This. This is how you do business: collaborate with other companies for mutual gain. This is what we should be doing more of in this country.

The IPA Award for Services to the Hop Shortage

Always a tough one to give out. So many good options: Golden Eagle Solo Lupulus Metamorphic, Baylands Rock Solid IPA, Garage Project Angry Peaches to name just a few. But which to choose?

I can’t decide if I want to give it to Panhead The Vandal or 8 Wired Fresh Hopwired. If I give it to Vandal, I’d seem like another raving fanboy, if I choose Fresh Hopwired, I’d be guilty of the same sort of wankery I rebelled against in my Beers You Must Try column (single batch, limited release).

Bugger it, it goes to Fresh Hopwired. I’ll just have to live with myself.

The Pucker-Up Award for Best Sour Beer

I’m going with Hallertau NZ Wild Ale. Because it was lovely. And yes, I do seem to keep choosing one-off brews as my winners. Deal with it.

The Poorly Organised Orgy Award for Best Beer-Related Clusterfuck

The internet is a wonderful thing for many reasons, and a terrible thing for just as many. And one of the worst things the internet has brought to our lives is the ability to pointlessly argue with complete strangers. Then again, watching these arguments from the sidelines (or occasionally dipping in for the sake of shit-stirring) can be one of the most enjoyable pastimes afforded to us. One such incident happened this year, which I still look back on with bewildered amusement.

I am of course referring to the Dominic Kelly vs. Giovanni Tiso debacle. In brief: a local commentator made disparaging comments about Hashigo Zake, and Dom, in his classic style, took a sledgehammer issue and the whole thing blew up in grand style. It should have been a discussion on the right to criticise publicly vs. and the right to respond. Lets face it though, this was an internet debate, that was never going to happen.

For the most part, the debate was on Twitter, and not very entertaining, but the comment feed on the original blog-post of Dom’s is where the good action is at. It rolls along fairly dully with basically everyone get accused of being hipsters, until a character called Skyler, in one of the most bizarre reduction-to-Godwin’s I’ve ever seen, accuses Hashigo Zake (and presumably everyone who’s ever been there) of endorsing the Rape of Nanking. No, I’m not even remotely exaggerating. Have a read for yourself. 

When the dust had settled on the bizarre affair, I was left pondering two things

1. Is there any force more annoying than white people being offended on behalf of others (to my knowledge there has only even been one comment on the matter, whereas hundreds of East and Southeast Asians have patronised the bar over the years) and,
2. Does Edmond’s get these types of complaints as well?

Your bread isn't the only thing on the rise...

Two things are sure to rise: Your bread, and the Japanese war machine.

As a final note: look but don’t touch. If anyone even dares, just for a moment, to even think about commenting on that blog post; I will come around to your house, and beat you to death with a bottle of Baird Pale Ale.

The Bastard Upstart Award for Best New Brewery.

Again, a tough award to choose. There weren’t many great candidates this year, considering that Wild and Woolly and Tiamana haven’t officially launched, and I refuse on principle to give it to a contractor (of which Choice Bros stands out).

On reflection, I actually surprised myself by giving this award to Craftwork Brewery. I’ve kind of gone off Belgian styles in recent months, so I’m not a huge fan of their beers. But what I do love is that Craftwork know what they want to do, and do it exceedingly well. They’re modest but proud, traditional but experimental, serious but fun. They make great beer, and they’re good people. Excellent, well done.

The “Am I Drunk Yet?” Award for Best Strong/Imperial/Strong Belgian/Whatever Beer

I’ve heard it said many time that making a good strong/imperial beer is easy. ‘You just add more hops/malt/whatever’. This statement is usually espoused by a brewer who doesn’t have anything over 6% in their portfolio followed by some sort of statement to the effect that making whatever sort of beer *they* takes a lot more skill. Their lager/bitter/whatever is the beer equivalent of Paul McCartney to the IIPA’s Kanye West.

This of course is complete bullshit, as witnessed by the winner of this award: Panhead Black Sabbath. 

panheadblacksabbeth

This beer is a god-damn symphony of flavours: rich black-malts, bitter hops, chewy-funky rye, smooth oak, and over all of this, punchy alcohol. Sure, it was 11% but as Tchaikovsky new, sometimes ordinary drums won’t do. Sometimes you need a cannon to blow them away.

The ‘Equity for Skunks’ Award for Crowd-Sourcing

2014 produced a sensation late in the year, with Yeastie Boys announcing that they would seek funding through crowd-sourcing. This came on the tail of Renaissance’s immensely successful bid for peoples cash. With the public offering only days away, all indications are that Yeastie Boys will meet their target in a matter of hours. In light of this, I’ve decided to create this special award for best crowd-funder.

You may be surprised to hear that this award doesn’t go to either Renaissance or Yeastie Boys. Instead it goes to Naturale. Never heard of them? Not surprising. They went out of business in 2011. Although some of you may have heard of Tony Dapson as the guy who holds the patent No. 519778 (search here) – for adding Manuka to beer. A patent, that if ever enforced against Mussel Inn’s Captain Cooker, would result in Napier being burnt to the ground by a legion of Golden Bay residents (supported by detachments from Beer-Geek Regiments nation-wide).

Dapson also surfaced in 2013, trying to get his beer made under licence in Australia. To my knowledge, no Aussie breweries were obliging.

But lets get on track here. Naturale wins this award simply for their sheer number of crowd-funding campaigns. Kicking of with a failed Kickstarter in 2013, Naturale has run not one, but two Indiegogos that didn’t go anywhere, a failed Pledge Me, and finally a RocketHub campaign that didn’t take off.

Now you may say I’m being cruel, mocking this chap’s dreams. I disagree: I honestly do admire his tenacity. There are even signs that he might launch another campaign in February of this year. The thing is, collectively these campaigns have raised $780.36 (adjusting for exchange rates). At some point a rational voice kinda needs to say “Maybe this isn’t a goer? Time for a different approach?”

The Old-Hand Award for Best Established Brewery

I feel like this brewery came of age in 2014. They’re incredibly experimental, pushing boundaries wherever they can, but at the same time, they’re developed a rotating core range of consistently really great beers. Top it of with great branding and engagement with customers (both drinkers and bars) and you have a licence to win my heart.

I am of course, talking about Garage Project, who have been going from strength to strength this year. Please don’t ever stop.

I love this picture.    Source.

I love this picture.                                                                                                 Source.

The “Jesus-Rollerblading-Christ!” Award for Single Pint of Beer I Enjoyed The Most

*AND*

The Bottleneck’s Beer of the Year 2014

Sadly, last year’s favourite, 8 Wired Rewired has gone out of permanent production. The Brown Ale seems to be an endangered species these days. Such is life.

This year the single pint of beer that I enjoyed them most also happens to be the beer I enjoyed the most consistently. And that beer is… Drumroll…

Brew Moon Hophead IPA

This is without a doubt one of the best, yet possibly one of the least celebrated beers of New Zealand. The name is somewhat of a hangover from when ‘IPA’ meant anything that was vaguely hoppy. Sure, this is just a 5% Pale Ale, but what a Pale Ale!

I remember the pint that clinched this award: it was late summer: we’d just closed the bar on a Friday night. I sat down with a Brew Moon Hophead. It was so good it made me want to cry. My prevailing memory was that it tasted like a miniature Sculpin IPA: full, peachy, sweet and bitter at the same time. What a beer.

Belinda Gould, Brewer and Head of Awesome at Brew Moon.

Belinda Gould, Brewer and Head of Awesome at Brew Moon.

Ok. Time to sign off on 2014. Happy new year, and here’s to a great 2015.

The Bottleneck’s Top 20 Beers You Must Try to Put on Your Bucket List Before You Die

Are you vaguely interested in beer, but not really an independent thinker? Do you need the approval of an expert or authority figure to tell you what to drink? Or perhaps you just need to quickly brush up on ‘craft’ beers, so you can sound knowledgeable down at the pub and make other people think you’re an expert in a field you only just heard of last week?

Well, your luck is in, because here is:

The Bottleneck’s Top 20 Beers You Must Try to Put on Your Bucket List Before You Die

Yes, next time you’re at a beer bar, don’t listen to staff, just rattle off this list and if they don’t have any of the beers on it, leave. Beacause if it’s not on the list, it’s not worth your time.

1. Emerson’s Pilsner

Yes, I’m starting uncontroversial here: this crisp Pilsner is a New Zealand classic. In fact it’s so classic, I’m including it here over a bunch of other Pilsners I like more because Emerson’s has more pedigree and if I didn’t include it here, I’d lose credibility.

2. Panhead Supercharger APA

Up until last year this would have said Tuatara APA, but since Supercharger came along, that’s all changed. Now if I recommended Tuatara over Supercharger, I’d look old fashioned. Wellingtonians now cry if they go into a bar and  this crisp, hoppy Pale Ale isn’t on tap.

3. 8 Wired Hopwired

I’m sure you saw this one coming too. This crisp India Pale Ale is another New Zealand classic. No one’s going to argue about this being on the list.

4. Mussel Inn Captain Cooker

Now we’re getting a little more unusual, but still playing it safe. Everyone likes Mussel Inn’s crisp manuka beer, and you can’t deny it’s distinctly New Zealand.

5. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

Ha! I lulled you into a false sense of security! You thought this was going to be an entirely New Zealand beer list. Well, it’s not. This crisp American IPA is a must try for any wannabe Beer Geek.

6. Garage Project Day of the Dead

Finally, we’re getting into the more exciting stuff. This crisp dark lager is infused with chillies and chocolate to make it smooth and spicy. It’s only available in November, so you’ll have to search hard to find it, but what fun are these things without a bit of a challenge thrown in?

7. Every Single Trappist Beer

I could list them all individually, but what’s the point? You’ll never be able to remember the difference between Chimay Red as opposed to Blue, and the numbering system other Trappists use is barely more helpful. But you can’t be a Beer Geek without trying at least one beer from each brewery, and when you’ve achieved this you will be presented with a special card that certifies your geek status. You will have to pass a test where you name all the breweries, otherwise your card gets revoked.

8. Westvleteren 12

Yeah I know I this beer is already listed in number 7, but it deserves to be mentioned twice. Telling someone else that you’ve tried this crisp Quadrupel is the beer equivalent of sex on a cloud, an experience totally justifies the $60+ price of a bottle in New Zealand. Because it’s not like other breweries in the world have succeeded in making beers equally as good. Just remember to really rub it in other people’s faces that you’ve had it and they haven’t.

10. Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude

This crisp Smoked Golden Ale is incredibly divisive. So divisive that a lot of people openly say it’s the worst beer they’ve ever tried. Secretly, I don’t actually like it: it tastes like you threw bandaids on a tire-fire. But you’re not allowed to be a Beer Geek without claiming to like Rex, so on it goes.

11. Heineken

I swear I wasn’t paid to put this beer on the list… Honestly. This crisp lager is not very exciting, but it belongs here because it will a) guarantee that even the most uninitiated reader can feel good they’ve tried at least one beer I name; and b) it acts a snob-insurance. When people in the comments section start calling me a total beer-wanker, I’ll be able to point to this and say “No, see: I like normal beers too!”

12. Schneider Aventinus

This crisp Weizenbock is included so any Germans reading this don’t get offended. Essentially the token black guy of beers.

13. The Alchemist Heady Topper

A while back this would have been Russian Pliny the Elder, but that’s sooo 2012. This crisp IPA is incredibly hard to come by, but I’ve had it so why haven’t you?

14. Croucher Pale Ale

Ah! What breath of crisp, fresh air! A crisp beer you’ve (probably) tried or at least can get your hands on fairly easily. Basically I’m throwing the less dedicated readers a bone here so they don’t stop reading before the end.

15. Russian River Pliny the Younger

This is the even hoppier version of the aforementioned crisp IPA from Russian River. They only release it at the brewpub for two weeks of the year, so it’s incredibly hard, but not impossible to get hold of some. I haven’t actually had any, but no ‘Beers You Must Try’ list would be complete without it, so on it goes.

16. 3 Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout

Another incredibly hard to get hold of beer (you pretty much have to enter a lottery to buy some). But it’s theoretically possible you might get your hands on it. Again, I haven’t actually had any, so I’m just going to copy-paste the description from the website. After all, that’s what most of these ‘Must Try’ lists do anyway:

A demonic Russian-Style Imperial Stout brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla, and Indian sugar, this CRISP beer defies description. Available one day a year, in April at the brewery: Dark Lord Day.

17. Three Boys Golden Ale

Another easy, crisp beer, just to lull you into a false sense of security before the big finish.

18. Emerson’s Old 95

This crisp Old Ale went out of production years ago. However, there might be the slightest chance you find a forgotten bottle in a friend’s beer cellar. Steal it and drink it yourself. It’s worth it, and the guilt will eventually fade.

19. Garage Project Hazel Maple Mild

Oh you’re a Garage Project fanboy? Well have you tried this beer? I doubt it. This crisp Mild Ale (infused with hazelnuts and maple syrup) was released in 2011 during the 24/24. They only made 40L and the garage boys have never hinted at a re-brew. You will never drink it. I have though.

20. Silver Cat Angry Gummy Bear White Stout

Both this crisp beer and brewery have never existed and never will. I made it up so that you can never complete this list. You will spend your whole life with a tiny worm of niggling dissatisfaction that you never truly achieved full Beer Geek status. Remember me on your deathbed and know that I am laughing at you.

Because fuck you.


So now you have all the tools you need to become a fully-fledged Beer Geek. Take this list wherever you go. And remember, don’t listen to Beertenders (they’re petty, vicious, snobby liars), don’t explore the beer world in all it’s variety, don’t drink local, don’t take the time to form your own opinions on what you like/dislike (your feeble brain will lie to you) and don’t ever, ever, think for yourself. I’m better at thinking than you are.
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This is a satirical post. Whilst 99.9% of you will have figure that out, Poe’s Law dictates that at least one person hasn’t.
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Crisp.
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The Problem With Beer Photography

Not very long ago, a couple of my friends pitched an idea to me: an NZ-Beer-themed charity calendar. At the time I said it was a great idea. I even said I’d be in it. At the back of my head though, that mean little voice, that little worm of doubtful realism was wriggling around. And with good reason: Beer photography is a pretty dire field really.

When I say this, I’m not talking about the works of skilled photography enthusiasts like Jed Soane. No, I’m talking about  general everyday beer photos (particularly with people involved) found all over sites like Stuff.

You see there really isn’t you can do with beer as a photographic theme. It kind of always boils down to a few repeated poses, such as:

Pour me a beer.

Maybe it’s on tap.

Pour 1

Maybe it’s from a bottle.

Pour 2

Maybe it’s at the brewery.

Pour 3

The wonderful Misty from Three Boys.

The awesome Pete from Garage Project.

The awesome Pete from Garage Project.

The trouble with this shot is that after you’ve poured six pints, you’re getting fairly annoyed with the photographer and wasting a fair amount of beer. That’s when you move on to…

Hold a Beer Up to the Camera. 

It’ll seem like you’re cheersing the viewer. Sort of.

Hold 2

Erm...

Erm…

Ok, try and look less annoyed at the photographer.

Ok, try and look less stiff, if you can.

Or, try both, like this double header!

Ah, Sam, do you remember the acting advice Downey Jr. gave Stiller in Tropic Thunder? Yeah, that.

Ah, Sam, do you remember the acting advice Downey Jr. gave Stiller in Tropic Thunder? Yeah, that.

Alright, this isn’t working. Um, lets try…

Holding a beer up to the light.

Like you’re checking the clarity!

On point again there, Mike. Looking good.

On point there, Mike. Looking good.

Ok, not sure why you're in a shipping container, but that's great, Josh.

Ok, not sure why you’re in a shipping container, but that’s good, Josh.

Ok, great, we've got the shot. You can holding things up now Josh.

Ok great, we’ve got the shot. You can holding things up now.

Ok Stu, I like what you're doing, but can you maybe dial it down a smidge?

Ok Stu, I like what you’re doing, but can you maybe dial it down a smidge? You’re scaring me a bit.

Ok, this just isn’t working. Can you just…

Hold the packaging and try and look vaguely sensible?

Good work there, John.

Good work there, John. You got the beer and the bottle in shot. Double points.

Kelly nails it.

Kelly nails it.

I swear this is the last photo I'll take. Please don't kill me.

I swear this is the last photo I’ll take. Please don’t kill me.

Oh, you again, Josh.

Oh, you again, Josh.

Yeah, that's lovely, thanks...

Yeah, that’s lovely, thanks…

Really Josh, that's enough.

Ok Josh, that’s enough now.

Damnit Gareth, don't Encourage him!

Damnit Gareth, don’t Encourage him!

Just stop already!

Just stop already!

Of course sometimes, a  photographer aims a little higher. That’s when you get things like…

People sitting on brewery equipment. 

Martin Getting comfy on some grain.

Martin Getting comfy on some grain.

Trifecta from the Garage boys: A Package, a cheers and some barrells.

Trifecta from the Garage boys: A Package, a cheers and some barrels.

If you’re very lucky, you might get a.

Handsome brewery worker, hefting an (empty) keg.

Soren, showing us how it's done.

Soren, showing us how it’s done.

Work it Matts! Oh, and some Brewery Equipment! Bonus!

Work it Matts! Oh, and some Brewery Equipment! Bonus!

Finally, the most creative sub-genre: shots of…

People fingering the ingredients of beer. 

Yum-yum Crystal Malt.

Yum-yum Crystal Malt.

Cryer, not bothered.

Cryer, not bothered.

"Ah, guys, I've lost my watch in here. Can you help me find it?"

“Ah, guys, I’ve lost my watch in here. Can you help me find it?”

I'm just going to leave this here...

I’m just going to leave this here…

So to go back to where I started; when I heard that someone was going to do a calendar of beer people, what flashed through my brain was an endless procession of gormless derps my colleagues and contemporaries gathered around their bars and breweries awkwardly holding pint glasses and not quite knowing in which direction to look.

I’ve never been happier to be proved so wrong in my life.

From the photos that have been leaked from the calendar, it seems as if more creativity, enginuity and passion has been injected into this project than I’d ever thought possible. It seems that each contributor has picked up the spirit of the calendar is making it into their own. Here’s a selection of leaked photographs.

Malthouse

Oh yes.

The Lumbersexuals. Oh yes.

Yeastie Boys

Not sure what to call this one, but I like it.

Not sure what to call this one, but I like it.

Viva la Revolucion!

Viva la Revolucion!

Panhead

Makes sense.

Makes sense.

Beer Media

Note The Bottleneck in the robe...

Note The Bottleneck in the robe…

And of course…

Golding’s Free Dive

GFD Canteena

Yes, there does exist a photo of Han and Young Obi Wan making out. No, you can’t see it.

Wonderful stuff. I can honestly say, I’m massively looking forward to the calendar’s imminent release.

The Craft Beer Calendar is the project of Jess Ducey and Megan Whelan. Proceeds go to the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network. It’s a very good cause, and I encourage you to get onboard. Pledges can be made here.


 N.B. – All images used here are publicly available, through Google, Stuff, Facebook and Twitter. This post is not intended to be a dig at Moa or Josh Scott. Numerous Moa publicity shots (along with samples of their sexist, racist and homophobic marketing material) featured in almost every Google search I made. Hi Josh.

Beervana is Decadent and Depraved Part #4

[Go to Part #3]

Part 4: Beer Geek Kingdom

Friday

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. 

Dissipation

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.

***

Saturday

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. 

Concourse

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. 

Colin Craig 2

***

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. 

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.

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Hi Colin.

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]

Beervana is Decadent and Depraved Part #2

[Go to Part #1]

Part 2: Angst and Anxiety in Thorndon

Wednesday

Wednesday was to start with the Media Briefing session. I didn’t know what to expect from this. It started early: 11:30am (that’s early for bartenders). Fortunately I awoke at 6am, and had plenty of time to get to the Rydges Hotel in Thorndon.

I walked into reception and took off my expensive named-brand raincoat. With a background in the film industry, I appreciate the value of good rain gear. Underneath my raincoat, I was wearing a hoodie from a bar I got drunk in in San Francisco, a denim jacket with the sleeves torn off, and my trademark red doc martens with yellow laces. In short, I was in a respectable establishment, in not at all respectable attire. You wouldn’t think this thing matters anymore, but it does. I immediately garnered bad glances from the people in the vicinity, and a staff member came out from behind the desk and approached me. 

‘Can I help you… Sir? He asked, glancing up and down. The pause was too long to be polite, but not long enough to be insulting.
‘I’m looking for the Beervana Media Briefing,’ I said. As an experienced bartender, you learn not to take guff from swines in suits as a matter of principle.
‘Upstairs, Room 3 on the left.’
‘Thanks.’ He was after all, just doing his job.

When I got to Room 3 it was worse than I had imagined: about ten people in smart casual clothing, scattered around a large conference table. They held notebooks and nice pens. The one sitting nearest me had his notebook open already. The indecipherable squiggles of journalistic shorthand crawled all over the page. I felt like fraud: a scribbler from the internet who had wandered out of his cave to where grownup journalists roam. 

I wanted to run. Get out now, before they turn on you! They’ll jump you any second now and stomp you for impertinence! Get away son, get away.

***

The Media Briefing featured presentations from Cryer about Beervana, Rob Simic (an expert from ANZ) about the finances of the ‘Craft’ beer industry and Jon Holl from All About Beer, regarding the state of the American beer scene. Very little was added to my sum knowledge by these talks, as they were more designed for journalists with deadlines than an industry insider like myself. Although the report put together by ANZ will be a useful document for anyone who wants to cite some concrete figures on growth rates and market share of ‘Craft’ Beer.

One quote that did stick in my head though was that “Investors seem willing to pay above market rates to buy into the story of New Zealand craft beer.” There seemed to be a tone of confusion about this statement, as if bankers couldn’t understand why someone would sink a lot of money into an industry that promises next to no return.

From where I sit, it makes perfect sense: I’d invest in a brewery because I believe in drinking good beer, and I want to ensure I can get a good pint for years to come. Expecting a return on buying into a ‘Craft’ brewery is to me like expecting a return on buying a pint at the pub. Passion and enjoyment are why we get into this industry, not striking it rich.

Mind you, another reason people might pay ‘above market rates’ for shares in a brewery is because of IPO’s that promise investors they’ll be drinking with Odin in the Halls of Valhalla, but somehow fall short of that, but I digress.

The other good occurrence was that I became better acquainted with the Portland contingent. The tall, attractive, bearded man who sat next to me turned out to be Ben Love from Gigantic Brewing, a thoroughly nice guy. Chatting with him, I discovered that besides being the first bartender to pour his beer in New Zealand, I’d already had some of his IPA at Mikkeller Bar in Copenhagen a few weeks earlier and listened to his business partner on a podcast series I follow. Sometimes the beer world is a really small place.

At this stage I also met Sean Burke from Commons Brewery, and Denise Ratfield of the Pink Boots Society, the first person ever to address me by my Twitter handle before we’d even been introduced. I found conversations with Denise to be a little difficult at first, owing to the fact there was a smartphone almost permanently in her hand.

***

I sat amongst the respectable journalists listening to the speakers and pretending to take notes. I felt as a little more relaxed. I had established that enough people in the room knew me to justify my presence there. For the most part I listened with little interest.

I was however, very taken by the trousers of the geek from ANZ. They were plain, slightly textured black business trousers, discretely emblazoned with the bank’s logo on the corner of the pocket. 

It was strange. Was this? A uniform? Is this how they dressed their bankers up to do battle? I suddenly envisioned battalions of people in company ties and tastefully-discrete pinstripe, waging brutal warfare, rank-and-file marching down conquered streets. When the our financial system finally collapses, and we’re all so poor and crippled with debt that our society turns on itself; it will be people in trousers like these that lead the execution squads. 

Jesus, did I just think that? Was my brain already breaking down to some atavistic level? 

ANZ Geek

***

The briefing session was followed The Portlander’s Longest Lunch. This was a truly decadent experience: four courses, consisting of two dishes and a beer to match each dish. The thing was, each dish could well have constituted an entire course in their own right. The experience amounted to smashing your way through eight courses with matched half pints over about four hours.

I won’t bore you with descriptions of food you’ll never eat. Suffice to say I highly recommend the Longest Lunch as an event. The food was exquisite, the beers top-notch, and the matches sublime. I particularly fell in love with Gigantic’s Pipewrench IPA, which was a new experience for me: a gin-barrel-aged IPA. Strong, subtle and interesting.

I was sharing the table with Denise, whom I got know quite a bit more (in between bouts of tweeting) and found good company. My other luncheon companions consisted of two big chaps from the company that provided AV support to Beervana. They were remarkably entertaining, even though one of them didn’t like beer (so I stole his Pipewrench) and the other only liked the pale lager, but was really thrilled to be here trying all these new brews he’d never heard of.

***

AV Guy: You wouldn’t believe how much it’s changed. Back before all this new brewing business.
Dylan P. Jauslin: What do you mean?
AVG: We didn’t go out. We didn’t have restaurants and bars and whatnot. That’s all happened in the last 20, maybe 30 years. Town was dead back then. You didn’t just go out for a meal. There were no restaurants in Wellington. Not like there is today.
DPJ: So what did you do? on a Saturday or whatever?
AVG: Well, we’d go around to somewhere. Maybe someone’s house. Then you’d get pissed. You’d drink a shit-ton of piss. And it didn’t taste good. Not like these fancy brews. [Long pause]… Then we’d, dunno, drive home completely munted. Crash the car on the way. Maybe kill someone. You young fullas really have no idea.  

***

To cut a long lunch short, four hours, three kgs and two litres of beer later, I waddled back to Golding’s to smash out a few dozen emails and catch up on a little of paperwork before the second event of the day began: The Brewer’s Guild Mashing In.

This is the after-function for the Brewer’s Guild AGM. It’s an industry event, meant for insiders only. An occasion to socialise and and network away from fanboys and drunks. It was held upstairs at San Fran and not open to the public (and neither should it be). It’s supposed to be a dignified and professional occasion, but when you put a hundred people in a room and give them a free bar, a debauched piss-up is a very real risk.

***

My first challenge at The Mashing In was to get inside. It was a ticketed event for Brewer’s Guild members only. Both my employer and my partner are Guild Members, so my name should have been on the list, but it rarely works out like that. As I approached the door, I mentally prepared to make enough bad noises until I got in. However one glance at my Hashigo Zake cap, and they let me in without question. 

I spent a lovely few hours catching up with all manner of brewers, brewery staff, bar owners, distributors and other associated industry folk. We had come here to network, and for the most part, it was a wildly successful evening all around. Even so, pockets of drunkenness kept breaking out. Our particular group was continually harassed by a man who worked for a filter company who was quite drunk and on some sort quest to prove how much he loved the Wellington beer scene; a task he set about with almost preternatural energy. 

Filter Guy

I’m not sure who it was that brought up the fact that over half the brewing talent of the country was currently in the room. What would happen if there was a fire in this god-forsaken box at the top of a narrow flight of stairs? How long before one of these drunken smokers sets fire to his own beard? If this particular roomful of people were to all die in a horrific blaze, how many years hard work in the ‘Craft’ beer industry would be undone in on hideous moment? Five years? Ten? 

It doesn’t bear thinking about…

***

[Go To Part #3]

My Secret Alter-Ego

Eagle eyed readers may have noticed a slight change in the blolg’s appearance a while back. Instead of luscious, yet slightly generic shots of beer bottles and taps, my site now has a quicky graphic of a megaphone, constructed from the silhouette of a bottleneck. It’s been christened ‘The Megafoam’ (by Phil) and damn, now I wish I’d thought of that for the blog’s name…

Anywho, I’m sure you’re all wondering how I could afford to hire a professional designer for what is essentially a hobby-blog. The answer is: I didn’t; I designed it myself. Ok, so it doesn’t look that professional. Humour me. I got bored whilst having a staffie, and started playing with some graphic design software on my work laptop. It came out ok, but I have plans to tinker with it in the future.

But to get back on topic, I do have a second secret career that few know about: graphic designing tap badges for the beers on tap at Golding’s.

Alright I’m being slightly obtuse here. What I mean is, I print out all the tap badges that go in the light boxes in Golding’s tap-banks. I could legitimately call this a second career though, because I probably do more actual design work that is actually used and seen by customers than most graphic design Interns in major companies could ever dream of.

You see we have rectangular tap badges at Golding’s and frequently small New Zealand breweries don’t have artwork that fits these. Garage Project are the notable exception to this. Which is why their tap badges frequently look rather sexy:

Noice.

Click to enlarge.

In other cases, some they have circular tap badges which look a little small and silly in the light box. High res versions of these can be scaled up sometimes to a good result. Frequently you can also get away with using a digitised bottle label. Sometime the brewery has no artwork In rare cases, the brewery’s branding is so hideous that Sean won’t allow it in the bar.

Whatever the reason, I frequently have to knock up tap badges for a range of beers and breweries. So I thought I’d share a few of my favourites.

The ParrotDog Pixel Series

This badge series began with searching ‘Dead Canary’ and amongst the more morbid images was a pixel-art canary, which I fell in love with. And boom, a series was born!

PDog Taps

Since I started these, ParrotDog has begun creating more poster art for their beers, which is great. It means I will probably phase this series out eventually. They remain however, some of my favourites, because these particular badges take a basic idea and adapt it to suit the beers across the entire brewery. Sometimes though, you have a concept that suits a specific beer, which leads to great one-off badges. It just so happens that two of my favourite creations are from the same brewery…

Funk Estate Oh Kamiyo & So’Fisticuffs

Funk Badges

Click make big.

The concept behind the Oh Kamiyo badge was to capture the feel of a bootlegged VHS box, complete with mistranslation in the Japanese characters (that was *totally* intentional…). Going to say I nailed that one. The So’Fisticuffs on the other hand, I was aiming for a vintage boxing poster. Whilst I captured the feel adequately, I would have liked to included more bombastic flavour text, but the limit of the medium frequently means simpler is better.

None of these though are my favourite tap badge I’ve ever created. Oh no. That honour goes to this little fellow. My masterpiece…

Yeastie Boys/Panhead/Firestone Walker Engelbert Pumpernickel

IMG_20140714_180828

Click size huge.

Here we see (the wrong) Engelbert Humperdinck with a loaf of pumpernickel for a head. I love this tap badge. From a design point of view, it’s not perfect by any means, but god-damn, it captures something about the beer and the people who made it. It was also immensely fun to Shop bread over the face of a historical figure…

I all seriousness, making tap badges is one of my favourite aspects of my job, but it really shouldn’t be. New Zealand’s Small breweries really need to brush up on brand promotion customer service (because that’s what this falls under ultimately) from a brand point of view.

It so happens, that I have the skills and technology to play with basic graphic design, but a lot of other bar managers don’t. As a result you frequently see poorly made, often handwritten (and sometimes barely legible) tap badges. This really doesn’t do anyone any favours; bars, breweries and certainly not customers.

This topic deserves a more focused and detailed post, which hopefully I will get around to (one day…). Suffice to say that two of my friends who are starting breweries in the next few months have consulted with me on the topic and I’ve told them the following:

  • Premade tap badges are best.
  • Three versions is ideal: circular, rectangular and square (in that order).
  • Printable A4 .pdf files (that don’t require scaling) are great for the average customer that doesn’t have access to design software.
  • Downloadable brewery logo files are my favorite (particularly .png files with transparent backgrounds).

Until everyone gets this right though, at least I get to play with Photoshop and CorelDraw and get paid for it.