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.

11056544_10153505379790586_186756547978479258_n

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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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. 

I’m Not Racist, But…

I’ve got an unpopular opinion that I’m a little loath to share, for fearing of offending the P.C. Police. But I feel the need to speak out because there are many like-minded people out there, who feel the same but are afraid to stand up and be heard.

Now I’m not racist but, I just don’t like those dirty Black… IPAs.
Coming over here, seducing our jobs and taking our womenfolk!

Alright, that’s enough click-baiting for one day. In all seriousness, I love beer. I love it more than most people. I love it enough to make it my career. Hell, I love it enough to devote an entire website that could otherwise be filled with cat gifs to it.

Like this one... BOOP! *scamper*

Like this one… BOOP! *scamper*

Anyway, my point is, you’d struggle to find someone who likes beer more than I do, but I don’t like all beer. There are some styles that just don’t do it for me and Black IPA has to be just about top of the list.

It sounds good on paper: a black hoppy pale ale. Actually, outside beer-geekdom that sounds ridiculous (how can something be black and pale at the same time?), but to a Beer Geek, it not only makes sense but actually sounds great. A beer with the sexy-dark body of a Stout, but also the fresh and zesty hop flavour and bitterness of an IPA. Oh hell-yeah! I’m all over that!

But the reality? That’s not how it works out. I find that most BIPAs, instead of being ‘the best of both worlds’ are more often ‘less than the sum of their parts’. It comes down to integration: In my opinion, delicate hop characters don’t interact well with strong roasty malt characters. The flavours get muddied and the finished beer is neither deliciously hoppy, or lovely and dark. It’s an unsatisfying compromise all round.

And there’s a good reason for this, which a prominent brewer (who makes an excellent BIPA, which I don’t like) once explained to me: Dark roasted malts tend kill hop character. Frequently, the moment you add black malts to an IPA it overrides the hop flavour. Likewise if you try to add hops to a Stout or Porter, it’s very difficult to get a hop-forward beer.

The trick then is to darken up a light-bodied beer so that can let the hops come forward, or strip out the malt body and flavour of a dark beer and add a lot more hops. Apparently a favourite brewing trick to do this is to mash in what would essentially be a pale beer, and then mill dark malts on top of the grain bed before lautering. This way you rinse all the colour out of the malt, without gaining too much body or roastyness. And thus you have created a classic Black IPA: a beer that looks dark, but has the body and flavour of an IPA.

Now it seems to me that someone who wants to make or drink a beer like that is having a hard time separating baby from bathwater. Subjectively (and this is entirely subjective) I find the moment we make our IPAs dark or strip out the stoutness from our Stouts, the beer enters a grey zone. It’s neither wonderfully hoppy, nor lovely and malty.

An illustration of this grey zone might look a little like this.*

Continuum

*N.B. Not to scale. Beer and style placements are suggestive only. Click to enlarge.

Alternatively, a graphical depiction would look a little like this:

Also not to scale. Also click to enlarge.

Also not to scale. Also click to enlarge.

To summarise with a little less graphical levity: I just don’t like BIPAs. And that’s fine, that’s my subjective opinion. You don’t have to regard it.

“Are you telling me I should stop making my Black IPA!?” exclaims a passing brewer, outraged.

No, I’m not saying that at all. A brewer should remain true to themselves, and if they want to make a BIPA they totally should. If they’re relying on me to tell them what to make, they’re in trouble. But conversely, I know I’m not alone in disliking BIPAs.

When we put them on tap at Golding’s, they move slower than regular dark beers, and a lot slower than IPAs. Classic dark beer drinkers are put off them because they’re too hoppy and not malty enough, and classic IPA drinkers are put off them because they’re too dark and malty. It’s a loss-loss situation for both kinds of drinkers.

“Are you telling me I shouldn’t drink Black IPAs?!” exclaims a lurking Beer Geek, offended.

Again, no. You should drink what you like, that’s the point of the whole ‘craft’ beer movement. BIPAs certainly do have a niche market amongst other beer styles. And if drinking a weird, not-quite-hoppy-not-quite-black-beer is your idea of a perfect pint, then Godspeed (you mad bastard). Certainly I’ve enjoyed the occasional BIPA. Once. A long time ago (actually, it was Speakeasy Butchertown a couple of months ago).

My point is, we’re all entitled to like or dislike whatever beers or beer styles we want. And I just don’t like those damn, shiftless, lazy, good-for-nothing Black IPAs.

* * *

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A Beer Review, With Added Rant

I stopped reviewing beers on this bLOLg a long time ago. The main reason was I was boring myself and if I’m bored it must be ten times as worse for my readers. I am however, returning to the old school beer review for a moment, and for a good reason: statistics.

You see WordPress provides you with some interesting statistical data on your site traffic: what pages have been visited, where viewers have been linked from, what countries the IP address comes from and interestingly, what search engine terms are used to find your site.

It’s fascinating to see how people stumble across a blog. Mostly it’s people actually trying to find my site, searching ‘the bottleneck blog’ or similar. But sometimes it can be a bit more unusual. Case in point, this gem popped up after my discussion of the San Francisco beer scene:

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Click to enlarge.

Strangely though, the most common search term, accounting almost a quarter of all known searches, is a variation on one word: Hophugger. 

Now I’m not sure if this is searches from consumers, wanting to know more about the beer or from the producers, Treehugger Organics (don’t bother clicking on that link, the site is still under construction, a year after I first visited it) wanting to know how their beer has been received. What I do know is that this has made my review of Hophugger Pilsner my most searched for post since I started writing. So if only for the sake of site traffic, I thought I might as well review the new Hophugger beer, Coasters Pale Ale, almost exactly a year after I gave the Pilsner a good dressing down.

Warning:
If you just came here to get my opinion on the actual beer, skip to the last paragraph, because I’m about to go wildly off topic. Likewise, if you’re one of those people who can’t stand to hear criticisms of anything small breweries do (I call these guys the Anti-Beer-Snob Mafia), you should probably do the same. And as always, caveat lector.

Now last time, I gave Hophugger Pilsner a lot of stick for having a terrible name, an ugly label and being way off style (although I did also say the beer was quite nice). Two out of three of those things subsequently changed. The beer became a lot lighter and more Pilsnery, which I liked, and the label got an update. The name however did not change.

Yeah, I know they’re stuck with Hophugger, unless they do a complete brand overhaul. So there is no point it banging on about it, but just try something for me. Say “Hophugger” repeatedly, really fast , and at the same time, try not to think about how much it sounds like “Oh Bugger!” See what I mean? Still I guess they’re stuck with it, so lets not flog the dead horse any longer.

What I really took exception to though, was the label. And I was rather pleased to see that subsequent batches went from having the hideous green-on-green-on-more-green label to this much less hideous black affair:

It's not dynamic, but it's least legible.

It’s not dynamic, but it’s least legible. Source

It’s not brilliant, but it gets the job done. So lets see the new Pale Ale bottle then:

IMG_20140212_151025

Yeah, nah. Not loving it. The green on black at least popped a little and showed off the hop textures on the label. The white label looks completely flat and uninteresting. This beer looks as exciting as a can of Budget Brand Chopped Tomatoes. Yeah, I know it feels like I’m being unkind, but I gave Gisborne Gold a public flogging for less. Oh Gizzy, all is forgiven. You may look like you just attended a font-festival, but at least you look enticing on the shelf.

And that’s what this is all about: enticing people to drink your beer. The average punter (whose job doesn’t involve keeping up to date with every little thing that goes on the the New Zealand beer scene), will probably never have heard of Hophugger and will have nothing but the labels to go on. If the label doesn’t say “pick me, I look delicious!” then they’re most likely going to spend their money on something else. I’d love it if this wasn’t the case, but that’s not the way humans work.

Certainly I can say from anecdotal experience, this is true. When confronted with the labyrinthine fridges at Hashigo Zake, frequently the overwhelmed customer will jump on the nearest label that catches their eye. Now imagine you’re at Thorndon New World with 300+ lines of beer and no bartender to say “this one’s nice; label’s not much but the beer is really good.” See where I’m coming from?

Ok, sorry Hophugger. I’ll be honest: I’m using you to take a shot at the wider industry. I do feel bad that I’m railing against somebody’s labour of love here. But there is a serious point to make here and I’m going to use Hophugger to make it. A while back I took a subtle dig at the craft brewing sector for having terrible distribution, to the point of being unprofessional, and I suspect you could categorise this rant as a much similar bugbear.

Small breweries are competing for shelf space and customer attention against the likes of Crafty Beggars and Foundry Road, both of whom have dedicated brand managers. If small breweries are to flourish, they need to be able to compete with the big players, at least partly on their terms in the field of marketing and (I shudder to use this term) brand image, because that’s the first hurdle to reaching the customer. And once they’re past that first hurdle, they’re away laughing, because the quality of the product from small breweries is (99% of the time) far superior.

Whilst I’d like to believe that a superior product alone will speak for itself, that’s only true if it manages to get to the podium at all. Working ostensibly in retail, I can definitely vouch for the fact that appealing and dynamic brand image and product packaging (oh god! More marketing-speak!) is much more important that anyone in the industry is perhaps comfortable admitting.

In the craft/micro/whatever brewing industry, there are breweries that have an understanding of brand image and marketing: Garage Project, Yeastie Boys, Panhead, Epic, ParrotDog, Hallertau, Liberty and urg, Moa (although don’t follow their example) and those that miss the point entirely (I won’t name-names). And yes, it is frequently the smaller breweries and contractors that don’t want to pay a big, flash design company that struggle with this the most. But it’s not surprising that the breweries I listed above are what you might call the more (broadly speaking) ‘successful’ breweries.

And you know what, to your credit Hophugger, there are breweries that miss the mark by a much wider margin than you do.

Anywho, like a steampunk-paperweight, all I’m doing right now is making so much pointless hot air. A beer should stand or fall by what’s in the glass. So how does Hophugger Coasters Pale Ale taste?

Good. Really good in fact. Possibly great.

I said in my end of year roundup that breweries who make a ~5% pale hoppy thing with a solid malt body win at beer, and gave a list of examples I liked. Congratulations, add yourself to that list, because I really like this Pale Ale.

The malt character is caramelly, with a touch of biscuit. The hops are classic New Zealand hop green-fruit-salad, with just a hint of that aviation fuel burn that I like in small quantities. It’s a really, really good pale ale and I encourage anyone out there who sees it to give it a go.

So to finish, let me quickly summarise this post:

Blah, blah, terrible branding. Blah, blah, good beer.

If you take anything away from this review, let it be that.

The Bottleneck Awards 2013

So a new year is here, and a different anniversary is rapidly approaching: one year of this blog!

*Fweeeep!* (that’s the sound of those cheap party hooters they used to give us in the goodie bags at birthday parties when we were kids).

To mark whichever of those two occasions is more significant, I thought I’d look back on the last 365 attempted hangovers and see which ones I liked best. Now two warnings.

First of all, caveat lector: these are my opinions, and are meant for recreational use only. Don’t take them seriously. The second warning is this: I haven’t actually made any trophies for the recipients of these awards. If anyone feels strongly about this, they can feel free to craft their own ones. I suggest a tiny statuette of me, holding a pint. Or maybe I’ll just spray paint bottles gold and send them to the winners. If they ask really nicely.

Anywho, let’s get started.

The Green Bottle Piss Award for Best Lager

If I were ever to open a brewery, I’d make the most awesome Pilsner possible, then call it “Green Bottle Pils”, using a font where the L’s and S’s looked remarkably similar. I’d then probably serve it on tap exclusively, or in brown bottles just to be obtuse. But anyway, if I did make a Pilsner, it would probably be as close to the winner of this award as possible; and that is Panhead Port Road Pilsner (5.2%).

I’m not really much of a Pilsner drinker, but if I find myself making exceptions, it’s usually for this beer.

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

Eagle eyed readers will note that I already gave this award out months ago. That was back when I thought I’d give seasonal awards progressively over the year, rather than in one big orgy at the end. So once again, the winner is 8 Wired Haywired (4.6%)

Haywired

Now, not all of my awards are going to beers. I think it’s also important to give awards to the people and places and things that make the beer community special. So in that regard:

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

Now this is tricky. I’ve stated before that Hashigo Zake is in my opinion, the best beer bar in New Zealand. But something about my personality won’t allow me to give this award to a bar I’ve worked at. So that means Hashigo is out, and Golding’s is too. Seeing as I didn’t travel much in New Zealand this year, that leaves…

The Rogue and Vagabond

I sense this is a controversial choice, but one I’m sticking to. I’ve heard a lot of criticism towards the Rogue, and I think a lot of it is valid *cough* bathrooms *cough*. But still I spend a hell of a lot more time there than I do at pretty much any other bar. The reasons are multiple: first of all, the staff are always trying to get me drunk. But I also get a sense of Gemütlichkeit whenever I go there. It’s got more character in each of its slightly uncomfortable barstools than all the Residences, Brus on Cuba, The Georges, or Curry Clubs of Wellington put together.

The ‘Doing Bad Cornish Accent Whilst Drunk’ Award for Best Cider

The world of New Zealand cider is a dark and scary place, populated by people with unconvincing Swedish accents and a race of weird anthropomorphic animals, who appear cute, but I’m pretty sure if we turned our backs on them for even a moment, they’d pull off their faces to reveal a race of alien space-lizards that will devour us whole.

It’s with this in mind, that I thank all known deities for Peckham’s. They’re lovely people, who make lovely cider. My particular cider of the year is the Wild Fermented Kingston Black (5.8%). Thank you Peckham’s. If I ever develop Celiacs I’m going to move in next door to you.

The Emerson’s Special Award for Selling Out

Oh don’t look at me like that. That’s exactly what Emerson’s did: they SOLD THEIR OWNERSHIP to Lion. That is the literal definition of selling out. Anyway, I bring up the Lion connection because it’s pertinent. But I’m going to get to that in a moment, because I’m going to start with the runner up:

BrewDog

Yes, when I heard they had NZ distribution I went “Aww YES!” Then when I heard it was with Independent Liquor (Asahi’s bastard child), and saw BrewDog plastered all over some of the worst bars of Wellington, I said “Aww NO!” I would have been willing to forgive them for the sake of the beer, but it’s not even traveled well. The only ones that still taste good are Hardcore and Dogma, but even then it’s not worth it for how much you have to pay and how unsatisfying the whole experience is. Every time I walk past The Residence or Bru on Cuba, with their BrewDog logos plastered everywhere, I just can’t help thinking about John Lydon shilling butter.

Back to Emerson’s now. You might think I get angry when the big boys try and play in the craft sector, but I don’t. For the most part it just makes me laugh; watching Monteith’s pretend they’ve invented dry-hopping, or Pinot-aging beer or whatever.

And you know who else is laughing? Lion. Because they’ve shown us exactly how a corporate brewer should get involved in the craft sector: Purchase a beloved brewing company, and then busily set about doing pretty much nothing to it. What you shouldn’t do is buy up a brewery, replace all the beers with pretty much your own product and put them in bottles that are pretty much identical to your existing range.

That’s right, this award goes to Founders. Yet another thing Independent Liquor/Boundary Road/Asahi has buggered up this year. Taking out first AND second place. Well done you, Foundry Road.

I get the feeling that narrow, sans serif fonts are all this Boundary Road's Designer knows how to use.

I get the feeling that narrow, sans serif fonts are all Boundary Road’s Designer knows how to use.

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

I agonized a little over this one. It’s possibly a case of too many great contenders. I wanted to give it to a few of my old favourites: Renaissance Elemental, Cassel’s Milk Stout, or Three Boys Oyster Stout, Invercargill Pitch Black. But that felt like choosing which of my beloved children was my favourite. In the end I felt like I should give this award to a newcomer, and I chose Kereru For Great Justice Coconut Porter (4.5%). I think if there is one thing Kereru has nailed it’s the <5% dark beer. Both FGJ and it’s unflavoured brother, Moonless Stout, are pretty much as perfect as any dark beer can be.

I find this equal parts cute and perplexing.

I find this equal parts cute and perplexing.

Die Lederhosen-Freizone Preis für den besten Bierfest

The award for best beer festival I attended in 2013 pretty much has to go to Hashigo Zake’s Pacific Beer Expo, after the rave review I posted recently. And so it does. Well done PBE!

The Irish Suntan Award for Paleness

I agonised pretty hard over exactly which Pale Ale to give this coveted award to. So in the end I said ‘fuck it: I’m giving it to the entire style category.’ That’s right, if you’re a brewer who’s made a good beer that’s ~5%, hop driven, with a decent malt backbone, you win. Not just this award either, but at beer in general.

Seriously, Pale Ales are the in-thing, and not just right now, but (if America is anything to go by) for the foreseeable future. At Golding’s and Hashigo, they’re the only thing that consistently sells faster than Pilsner. They’re pretty much a licence to print money.

Recipients of this award include, but are not limited to:

– Tuarara APA (both versions)
– Panhead Supercharger
– ParrotDog DeadCanary
– Townshend APA
– Croucher Pale Ale
– Epic Pale Ale
– Funk Estate Oh Lordy!
– Liberty Oh Brother
– Behemoth Chur!
– Garage Project Trip Hop
– Brew Moon IPA
– Hallertau Statesman

Feel free to mentally add beer I’ve missed here.

The Tey-Tappers Special Award for Best Beer Writer

I don’t often read a lot of New Zealand beer writing. This is mostly because, working in the industry, I’ve already heard most of it before the print deadline hits. There are however, a couple of exceptions.

Runner up for this award goes to Jono Galuszka, for his rather pleasant From Drinker to Brewer series and for bringing a little beer enlightenment to the murkier sections of the North Island. Jono hits the right tone between geeky and accessible. Well done Jono.

Jono

Possibly most handsome Beer Writer award too. You decide…
Source.

And the winner is: Matt Rilkoff.

Yup, that right. The man who describes craft beer as ‘petulant’, ‘complex and haughty’ and ‘prohibitively expensive’. The guy who thinks Tiger is the be all and end all of beer. The one who fellates any company that sends him free beer. The chap who barely seem to like any kind of beer that’s not limp, boring lager. The fellow who doesn’t even seem to like drinking beer and writing about it. Yup. That’s my beer writer of the year.

Here’s my favourite Rilkoff quote:

“Professional beer tasting is often a lonely job. Far from having People flock to you for beer tips, they resent you for the beer you get to drink and castigate you if you show anything but absolute reverence for craft beer. It’s tough.”

Um… No mate, it’s not. You’re getting paid to drink beer and writing about it. If you’re not enjoying that, then as the actress said to the Bishop: You’re doing it wrong. You’re missing the point so hard, it’s surprising the Americans haven’t offered you a job as their Bomber Command.

Now having said that, Rilkoff is genuinely my beer writer of the year, because I seriously enjoy his writing. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, because I suspect it’s a mild form of Schadenfreude that I’m experiencing. But since he’s not actually suffering misfortunes here (in fact he’s being paid to write about beer… seriously mate, if you don’t like doing it, I’ll do it for you), then I feel I can laugh at his columns without being an asshole.

(Un)Fortunately, it seems that most of the Taranaki Daily News’ beer writing is now done by Warwick Foy; who is much more qualified (in that he enjoys, well, flavours). But don’t ever want Rilkoff to stop writing about beer. He’s just too enjoyable to read.

The IPA Award for Services to the Hop Shortage

This again, was a very tough award to give. The reason is just too many worthy candidates. After a little soul searching though, I came up with an answer. The award goes to not one beer, but a series of them: Twisted Hop Hopback Series (5.8%).

This is an NZ Cascade-based beer, that uses different American hops in the different editions. The base beer is lovely, but the Citra, Simcoe, Centennial and Chinook editions each have their own unique charms. Then there’s the Double Hopback (8%) an imperialised version which reminds me of a super-juicy American Barleywine.

I will say that I would like to see some slightly dirtier, more bitter and angry, non-c-type hop versions of this beer (eg Sauvin). But over all, I award the Hopback series for it’s balance between being geeky as hell, yet still all excellent IPAs.

The Moa Special Award for Biggest Dick Move of 2013

In such a small industry, it would be nice if we could all be friends, but the reality is, that’s not always going to be the case. I’ve seen a fair amount of dickish behavior from industry people. Moa should probably be awarded this trophy indefinitely, having a virtual monopoly on being a dick in the craft beer industry. But that would also be like shooting fish in a barrel and as global fish populations are under threat right now, I’m not going to do that.

Anyway, I think the biggest dick moves are ones that undermine the ethos and integrity of the craft industry as whole. We are small companies fighting for market share against big corporations. We are supposed to help each other out, not dick each other over. As Soren Eriksen once explained it to me (in his sexy Danish accent):

“In the craft beer industry, it’s not about getting a bigger piece of the pie; it’s about growing the pie. As the pie gets bigger, each of our pieces gets bigger.

This is the ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ attitude. In this regard, when a craft-beer company wants to expand, they should look for unexploited niches and opportunities, they should collaborate with others around them, or they should build upon and expand their current operations. What they shouldn’t do is look at someone else’s piece of the pie and say “I’ll have that!” and try to hack off a chunk before anyone notices.

Yeah I’m looking at you, Tuatara. Trying to steal Rogue distribution off of Beer Without Borders/Hashigo Zake. A local brewery trying to increase business by importing and distributing beer from overseas? That’s cool. Importing and distributing a brewery that’s already legitimately being brought into the country by another dedicated craft beer distributor? That’s not cool. That’s a dick move.

The Pucker-Up Award for Best Sour Beer

I’m going to start with the runner up here: Mussel Inn Lean Lamb (4%). It’s weird, dirty, bacterial, borderline disgusting and fucking sour. Love it.

The Winner: Liberty/Zeffer How do You Like Dem Apples (10%). I like tart cider, I like sour beer. Dem Apples is pretty much the best of both worlds. 

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

This one goes to 8 Wired Grand Cru (10%). There’s nothing I can say about it that I haven’t already said here.

DSC_0686

It’s laughing at me. I want to brush my teeth with it.

The Bastard Upstart Award for Best New Brewery.

To the uninitiated, it probably would seem like the winner of this award has appeared out of nowhere, making a varied range of excellent beers that can be found all over Wellington. Industry insiders on the other hand, have known the brewer for quite a few years.

Still it amazes me sometimes that six months ago I ever managed to fill a balanced tap lineup without Panhead Brewery. When they opened, I had suddenly at my disposal, a brewery with a slick image and branding, reliable delivery, instant popularity, and most importantly, great beer. If I was religious I’d forgive myself for thinking they’re the second coming of Christ.

Mike from Panhead is not Jesus, but he does have a nice beard.

Mike from Panhead is not Jesus, but he does have a nice beard.

Speaking of which:

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

So named after the exclamation I made whilst drinking it. I wanted to give this award to the bottle of Lagunitas IPA I drank whilst sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge.

P1020780

This was pretty fuckin’ sweet.

But there was one other beer I enjoyed more; that made me shout “Jesus-Rollerblading-Christ, that’s fucking good!”

It was a pint of Townshend Black Arrow Pilsner (5%). It was at Hashigo in the middle of Summer, I’d just come from an hours worth of strenuous Charlestoning, I was exhausted and sweaty and I think the whole pint only lasted thirty seconds.

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

Choosing a winner for this award was tricky, as we had two gangs breweries each with a gaggle of experimentally flavoured beers. On one side, there’s Yeastie Boys, with it’s posse of serious-faced tea-beers, led by the charismatic Gunnamatta (6.5%). Opposing them was Garage Project with their ethnic mob of chilli beers, fronted by their spicy leader, Day of the Dead (6%). And choosing a winner from this lot is like watching a gang knife-fight, in that no one’s the winner, or in our case, everyone’s the winner in the end.

Short of an actual knife-fight between brewers, which I’m sure we don’t want, I’m going to settle the matter by awarding thus:

Runner Up to Yeastie Boys Wendy (6.5%), the Belgian tea stout. The winner goes to Garage Project Venusian Pale Ale (7.5%). Those being the two beers from the lot I actually want to drink the most of.

Awesome poster, too.

Awesome poster, too.

The Old-Hand Award for Best Established Brewery

I like to think of the winner of this award as the (slightly) older chap in the corner, who very quietly does what he does and does it very well, whilst the young guns (usually contractors) are standing around making a hullabaloo about their big, outrageous beers. Then once in a while, when he feels like it, he gets up, takes them all outside and shows them all how it’s done.

I’m talking about Renaissance Brewing, that reliable (relatively) old workhorse who we don’t always pay enough attention to. They make a range of really great beers that we don’t see on tap as often as we should. then every now and again, they whip out something truly amazing, like their annual Tribute Barleywine (10%), their Age of Raisin (6.5%), or their Scotch on Rye (4.5%).

Renaissance won Champion Brewer at last years BrewNZ awards (which I totally called). And I honestly think they deserve it. I love those guys so much.

The Renaissance crew at the BrewNZ Awards. Yes, their Brewer Andy wears a kilt.

The Renaissance crew at the BrewNZ Awards. Yes, their Brewer Andy wears a kilt.

The Bottleneck’s Beer of the Year

The beer I enjoyed the most this year, is probably the same beer I enjoy the most every year. If I had a beer-soulmate, it would probably be this beer. It’s the only beer I drank three pints of in a row, something I never do when I had the option of drinking something else.

It’s 8 Wired ReWired Brown Ale (5.7%).

Not an exciting, obvious or even perhaps deserving choice. It’s just a beer I really, really like. Yeah I know that’s terrible consumer advice. Kind of illustrates the pointlessness of personal blog awards, really…

Oh well, too late. You’ve read it now.

The Tauranga Beer Scene

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “This’ll be a short post”. But stick around, because you may, against your better judgement, find yourself in Tauranga and knowing where the beer is at can often turn a bad visit to a city into a good one.

Certainly I had low expectations when I went for my annual pilgrimage to my ancestral homelands (that is to say, my folk’s house) for Christmas. Tauranga has always had the meanest skerrick of a beer scene, in the form of one brewpub, Brewers Bar in Mount Maunganui, and one of those ubiquitous Belgian Cafés that charge you $14 for a Leffe Blonde. But this year, I had something new to look forward to: Croucher has recently opened a its second brewbar on The Strand, the ‘heart’ of Tauranga’s ‘nightlife’.

Brew Exterior

c/o Brew’s FB page.

So it was that on Christmas Eve-Eve, I rocked up to Brew Tauranga, and was immediately and immensely pleased to discover they had taken over the old Coyote bar. IMG_20131224_153315There used to be several Coyote bars around New Zealand, all of which (I’m reliably informed) were amongst the worst, most feral nightclubs in the country. I’ve only been ‘out on the town’ once in Tauranga, and did indeed visit Coyote’s and found it utterly awful. So with an enormous degree of satisfaction, I approached the bar, where I had previously drunk Jägerbombs and ordered a craft beer.

IMG_20131224_153408Now I have a reservation about brewpubs: for the most part, you can pretty much only drink the beers of one brewery, and if that brewery doesn’t make a balanced range of beers, then barring guest taps, you’re a little screwed for tap selection. At Brew however this was not a problem. First of all, Croucher makes a pretty excellent and balanced range of interesting beers. Secondly, of the twelve taps they had, six were Croucher, six were guest. Doing it right. I also took a peak in the fridge and saw a good selection of local and international bottles. I even heard a rumour they’re getting an off licence.

IMG_20131224_153346Mechanically, Brew does very well: They have a nice beer menu, which was concise and easy to read. I put a few questions to the staff and their beer knowledge was sufficiently sound. So in terms of the art of being a beer-bar, Brew does very well.

I am plagued however, with a need to criticise and in this regard, I do have to say that Brew’s environment is rather, shall we say, uninspiring. Not awfully much has been done to the interior, besides a new coat of paint and new partitions. The bones of Coyote show through rather starkly in places.

Some things, have in fact not changed at all...  This is the old Coyote logo stamped on all the chairs. I actually founf this kind of cute.

Some things, have in fact not changed at all…
This is the old Coyote logo stamped on the chairs. I actually found this kind of cute.

They’ve also done the standard Mac’s bar thing of having a brewery mural on the wall, but it’s a bit sort of, well, grey and depressing really.

I find this less 'Funky Fubist Brewery' and more 'Eastern-Bloc Soviet Factory'. How many Ukrainian peasants died for my beer?

I find this less ‘Funky Cubist Brewery’ and more ‘Eastern-Bloc Soviet Factory’. Makes me wonder how many Ukrainian peasants died for my beer?

A few beery themed pictures and some hop-vines provide a respectable beer bar veneer that doesn’t entirely cover it’s club heritage (speaking of which, I wouldn’t like to be there late of a Saturday night. Or anywhere on the Strand for that matter).

But having said that, I can wholeheartedly recommend Brew. It’s a matter of context: Sitting in what used to be one of the worst clubs I’ve ever been to, the smell of Tauranaga harbour (a mixture of salt and rotting sea cabbage) drifting past; good company in the form of an old school friend and most importantly a good beer in hand, I can’t help but feel sanguine. I’ll take it as a sign of the times, and of the future too. Good beer is heading for the mainstream. It’s not there yet, but Brew is as important to the progress of in industry as any of the beer bars of Wellington. And in that regard, I love it.

And that was I thought, the only beer spot worth visiting in Tauranga. That was until we went for our obligatory Boxing Day walk around The Mount, to make us feel less like fat sacks of crap for eating a kg of ham the day before. Cruising down Maunganui Road, we passed a place called Mount Brewing Company. I had to stop and go in. It was compulsory.IMG_20131226_132305

You’ll remember at the start of this screed, I mentioned The Mount had an obscure brew pub. It’s never really been on my radar though, for two reasons. First of all, it’s in a semi-industrial area inconveniently far away from anything of interest. Second of all, I went there once, about four years ago and it was, well, a bit shit. Half the beers weren’t pouring and the Pislner I had tasted mysteriously of cornchips.1

My suspicion was that Brewers Bar had shifted, had a facelift or opened a second venue. This was confirmed almost immediately, when I recognised a number of beers on tap. That could have been grounds for buggering off right then and there, but my sixth sense (AKA my good bar-sense) was tingling, so I decided to give it a go and had a beer.

I ordered an APA. It was pale orange, super peachy (vaguely reminiscent of Sculpin IPA) and came in a mason jar with a handle. Win.IMG_20131226_125341

It was also had a slight touch of creaminess to it, which could have been diacetyl, or could have come from crystal/caramel malts. But that was by no means a deal breaker. It was a lovely beer. I also tried a little of the ‘Certified Shaggy’ Ale, which I took to be some sort of ESB-ish thing, but later turned out to be a Dunkle. Wait, wouldn’t that make it a lager? Who’s counting anyway?2

So the beer was good. The ambience was nice too. Like Brew it felt like it was taking cues from Mac’s bars, this time erring towards the more colourful and with a beachy-twist. The tap lineup was fairly mainstream but pleasantly varied and Good George even made an unexpected appearance on the guest taps.

I had a brief chat to the staff. They were friendly, and confirmed that the place is pretty new, and tied to the older Brewers Bar that I had been to previously. I also quizzed them a little on the beers and they seemed to know what they were talking about. In fact, the only thing they couldn’t tell me was why some of the bar’s logos said “Since 2006”, whilst others said “Since 1996”.

THIS IS NOT ADEQUATELY EXPLAINED!

THIS IS NOT ADEQUATELY EXPLAINED!

Decade-long discrepancies in their history aside, I like Mount Brewing Co. a lot. Unfortunately I only had time that day for one beer, but I would very much like to go back. That was in fact the last of the beery adventures I had in Tauranga. I would have liked to have dropped in on Fitzpatrick’s Brewing, but time, effort, and a cold curtailed any further exploration. If I could summaries the Tauranga beer, I’d say it falls somewhere between ‘undiscovered gem’ and ‘diamond in the rough’ (undiscovered gem in the rough?). 

Either way, it’s hugely promising for the future of the New Zealand beer scene outside of the established beer-centres.


1. Interestingly, no brewer has ever been able to explain what causes this. Is it a malt thing? An infection? A yeast byproduct? Dirty lines? I’d love to know. 

2. Actually, I am! 

A Song and Dance About it.

Two weeks ago marked the 5th birthday of New Zealand’s most esteemed contract brewing company Yeastie Boys. They marked the event in their typically atypical style by publishing a fantastic little zine. Now I’d link you to said zine, but in the wonderfully neo-retro style we’ve come to expect from Yeastie Boys, it seems to be a print only affaire (with the exception of Jed Soane’s contribution, which can be found here).

I’m was feeling pretty inspired by both the zine and by Yeastie Boys beer in general so I was going to write my own tribute to the Yeastie Boys Stu and Sam. Unfortunately I realised halfway through that I was being so boring my normal-coloured pants were on the other side of the room. That’s right, I literally bored my own trousers off.

So instead I thought I’d sum up my relationship with Yeastie Boys with a couple of photos. here’s the first one:

Credit: Denise Garland
Credit: Denise Garland

This was taken in 2009 at at the second annual release of Pot kettle Black. We called it a Black IPA back then. No one does that anymore. That was the same night Steve Baker’s NHC winning beer was launched at Malthouse. It was called Bring Your Daughter to the Porter.

I was a student and I only had enough money for one beer and I decided to have a BYDTTP. I drank it and it was gone and I was beerless. Then suddenly a figure in green pants appeared. This is Stu, they said; he brewed PKB. He asked me if I’d tried it. I said no, so he got me one. Later that night Denise took this photo of Steve and Stu in the Men’s bathroom at Malthouse. That was back when they had the Rolling Stones urinals. Why’d they get rid of those?

I woke up the next day with an FB friend request from Stu. That was the first night I had beers with him.

The second photo comes from the most recent time I had beers with Stu: the Brewers Guild Awards Dinner. The bathroom was right next to the photo booth, and on one of my many trips to it (the bathroom that is) I saw Stu getting his photo taken with this haul of Medals.

“Dylan, come here. Bite this.”

Credit: The Brewers Guild of New Zealand

Credit: The Brewers Guild of New Zealand

‘This’ was the Gold Medal Yeastie Boys won for Gunnamatta and contrary to popular opinion, not a pickle.

There’s a shared quality in these photos that for me, sums up why I love Yeastie Boys: because they’re odd and unusual, irreverent, even perhaps a little facetious. But always, always, well executed.

There was four years between these photos. It’s nice to see that some things change, but some things stay the same. Here’s to five years of Yeastie beers.

Zum Wohl!

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Ok, one more photo:

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

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