A Different Kind of IP Issue

I heard something interesting over the bar a while back. That’s a great start to a bloooog post isn’t it? So it wasn’t anything bad, just something interesting. And it went a bit like this:

“Have you heard about this West Coast brewing competition they just had at Malthouse?”
“Nah, what’s that all about?”
“You brew an IPA and the guy who won, he gets made for him by some brewery up in Newlands.”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah, but here’s the thing: you don’t get a share of the profit. So some other bastard gets rich off your beer.”

Now, that is something interesting. “Some other bastard gets rich off your beer.” In this case, the brewery is the newly opened Baylands Brewery and the bastard is the rather pleasant Mr. Aidan Styles. Now anyone who’s spent any real time in a small scale commercial brewery knows that no brewer in this country is getting rich in a hurry. Indeed, it takes roughly 20 years before you can expect a good solid return on your work.1

So to me this idea that someone should receive the profit made from a batch of beer where they provided the recipe is a bit naive. Certainly if they bought the ingredients, rented the tank space, actually brewed the beer (or paid the labour), paid the excise and then distributed it, that would make sense. But then there’s a name for that: contract brewing.

But then I got thinking. You know what? Maybe there is something to this. Recipes are a form in intellectual property, right? Use of someone else’s IP in other fields usually requires payment. That’s why we have copyrights, licensing and all that business. After all the author of a book receives a percentage share. Why not the author of a beer?

This got me thinking even more: How much? How much would recipe royalties for the batch of beer from the Amateur West Coast IPA Challenge amount to? Lets find out. The book analogy seems apt. lets go with that.

I got in touch with a friend of mine in the publishing industry. In New Zealand, an author can expect to take about 12.5% of the retail price of the book (although it can be as high as 25%).

Ok, so that’s not going to work.

Dominic from Hashigo did a pretty neat breakdown of how much beer costs and why here (Table 3. in particular). Doing some hasty back-of-the-envelope arithmetic, giving a recipe maker 12.5% would increase the cost of beer by at least $2 per pint. I don’t think the brewer, the consumer or anyone in between would swallow that one. So lets find another model.

What about films then? That’s my area of expertise after all. If we consider beers like films, what then? Producers, directors, screenwriters and so forth can work for a flat fee, but they can work for a percentage of the film’s profits, banking on it being a hit. Using this model, a recipe maker would be roughly analogous to a screenwriter (if the brewer is the director, etc.). And what sort of percentage do screenwriters take? Well, that varies greatly, but using a lot of back-of-the-envelope work, from each movie ticket sold, probably less than a cent will go to the screenwriter.

Hmm. This doesn’t look promising, but lets stick with it. Now films can be watched again and again, but beer is finite. You make so much, it’s drunk, then it’s gone. So it makes sense in this regard, for a flat fee per batch, on a per volume basis. The total of this fee would therefore increase if the batch was scaled up (although the actual per volume rate would stay the same or eventually decrease from a certain batch size, due to economies of scale). You with me? Cool.

So what’s an appropriate per-volume fee for a recipe maker? All things considered, it’s going to be fairly low. It should probably be applied on a per-litre basis, but lets be generous. Beer is sold in ‘pints’, so let’s apply it on a per-pint basis.

Now Baylands has a brew length of 300 litres. We’re going to assume Aidan gets exactly that from his brewery, which means he gets six 50 litre kegs from a single batch. Now a ‘pint’ has different meanings to different people, but most ‘pints’ served in New Zealand are 425ml and for the sake of ‘best case scenario,’ we’ll go with that.

Now what’s a fair per-pint fee to the recipe maker? I reckon that’s about 1 cent per pint. Seems low I know, but the profit margins in beer really are narrow, and the amount per-pint that actually makes it back to the person who actually had to lift sacks of grain isn’t much more (and since breweries would pay the fee, it’s their profits we’re eating into). You still with me?

Now there’s 705.88 ‘pints’ to 300 litres, so that would mean that Aidan Styles owes to the winner of the Amatuer West Cast IPA challenge (who happens to be Ryan Crawford):

$7.06 (I rounded up).

That’s a cent for every pint you can theoretically squeeze out of Aidan’s brewery. That’s not enough for Ryan to buy back a pint of his own beer; particularly after tax.

So much for some bastard getting rich off someone else’s beer. Personally, if I was in Ryan’s situation, I be happy if someone just shouted me one.

1. Although no one told Geoff Ross that.

San Francisco – A Post-Mortem

So I’ve been in the States or more accurately California (or San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Petaluma to be exact) for a while, but now I’m back and at the keyboard. I’m not sure how best to write about my experiences, so I’m just going to ramble for a bit.

Flying economy from New Zealand to Cali sucks. I mean it really sucks. I’m pretty sure Dante describes circles of hell that are more pleasant than a transpacific flight. Anyway, after a shuttle ride, three flights, an air-train and a trip on the BART (underground rail), and a fair bit of legging it, we (I was travelling with my friend Hannah) emerged into Mission Dolores, San Francisco.

I have never felt a more profound sense of culture-shock in my life. I’ve been around the world. I’ve been to Australia. I’ve been to Western Europe. I’ve been to England, Hong Kong and Brunei Darussalam. I’ve even been to the States before (or at least Hudson, Wisconsin). But I have never been as shocked by a place as I was walking out onto Mission Street.

It wasn’t so much the foreignness of Mission, as how much it differed from my expectations. Frankly I thought I must have fallen asleep on the underground and woken up in Mexico. English was the lingua franca but Spanish was the language most spoken and used on billboards and signs. Then there was the smell of the place. That weird city-smell: a mixture of frying foods, rotting vegetation and something sweet and vaguely animal. You don’t get it in New Zealand (except maybe in a couple of places in Auckland), but I’ve smelt it before, in Europe and especially Hong Kong.1

On reflection though, the smell may have been coming from the wall of homeless people that greeted me. I’m pretty sure that if you rounded up all of the homeless in Wellington, there would be fewer than are camped out on Mission Street. At a rough calculation, it seems that there is an average of 1.5 homeless per 100 meters in SF.2 It also seems you can’t just be homeless in the States; you also have to be gibbering insane as well.

Anyway, after a shower, a burrito and a lot sleep, things started to look up. I’m not going to do a blow-by blow of the whole affair. That would take too long. Instead I’m just going to give my general impressions, starting with the plumbing.

I have never seen such a bewildering array of tap mechanisms. The shower tap in the place we were staying seemed to work using a joystick principle, whilst the kitchen seemed to be more of a seesaw affair. The best one though, was a model I’d met previously in America: a knob that you rotated for temperature and pulled in and out for pressure-control.

Toilets were another matter. They seemed to work off a similar vacuum principle as those hateful aeroplane toilets, which was a lot less effective at cleaning off skid-marks than the cascading flush system.

Hannah, my travel budy with a pint.

Hannah, my travel buddy with a pint.

Bathroom fixtures aside, I spent most of my time walking a lot, eating a lot, drinking a lot and looking at very big things. And let’s face it; it’s the drinking that most of my readers are interested in. The bar-scene in San Fran is insane. I reckon I have a sixth sense3 when it comes to finding good places to eat and drink. It makes me able to find good bars and restaurants anywhere in the world. In SF, this sense was buzzing constantly.

Bar Highlights:

Toronado (Haight Street) – Obviously. People had been talking this historic and grungy dive for years. The surfaces were filthy, but the atmosphere was awesome. The bathrooms were horrific, but the beer was fantastic. Paul, my local contact made sure we were really taken care of there.

Paul at Toronado, in a tyupical pose.

Paul at Toronado, in a typical pose.

Zeitgeist (Valencia) – Again, very dive-y and quite historic. Sitting in a rather spartan “beergarden” (read: vacant lot with tables) listening to punk and metal on a Sunday afternoon was one of my beer highlights. Probably Zeitgeist and Toronado sum up the crappy-awesomeness of the American beer-dive.

On the wall at Zeitgeist

On the wall at Zeitgeist. Photo: HK.

Monk’s Kettle (16th Street) – Relatively costly, but very well executed Belgian-esque bar and restaurant.

Benders (Mission Street) – Genuinely a dive bar. We went there late on a rather sedate pubcrawl. My memories get hazy after the first pint of Pliny, but I do remember a woman telling us about her dog’s penis and being invited back to someone’s house for marijuana lifesavers (which we declined).

At Benders. Now that's Divey!

At Benders. Now that’s Divey! Photo: HK.

I may have been a little drunk.

I may have been a little drunk.

Public House (At&T Stadium) – When Paul said we should go to the stadium bar I was surprised, but the place was really good. A little bit corporate in feel, but they had 24 taps and very few slouchers on any of them. They even had some 8 Wired bottles.

And if I could sum up one of the best things about the bar scene in SF, it would be exactly that: very few slouchers. Even bars that have no pretension to being ‘craft’ or even beer-focused sever at least one or two good beers from regional breweries. Speaking of which…

Brewery Highlights:

Russian River (Santa Rosa) – Obviously. I made the pilgrimage to Russian River for my birthday. It was a little too busy to enjoy properly, the bar was a packed tight and it was a struggle to get served, but the beer was excellent.4

So was the Pizza.

So was the Pizza. Photo: HK

3rd Street Aleworks (Santa Rosa) – I found 3rd Street on the way to Russian River and stopped in for a beer or two. It was a pleasant little brew-bar, and because it was my birthday, they shouted me a round (so pretty much have to say nice things about them).

The brewhouse at Lagunitas.

The brewhouse at Lagunitas.

Lagunitas (Petaluma) – Obviously. I’ve had a few Lagunitas beers in New Zealand, and I can say that I didn’t have awfully much regard for them. But decided to check it out anyway. I’m very glad I did. Fresh Lagunitas beers are amazing. Completely different (and by that I mean better) from the stuff you get here. But what really struck me was the size of the place. Without a doubt it’s the biggest brewery I’ve ever been to. As you approach, there are two big tanks by the entry to the brewery. It though they were fermenters. Nope: grain silos. For each days basemalt. Just one days worth.

Those aren't ferments.

Those aren’t ferments.

THOSE are the fermentsers!

THOSE are the fermenters!

It’s brewing on a scale you don’t see in New Zealand outside the multi-national companies. But the beer is still amazing. That you can brew in such quantities but still make great beer is encouraging and I think, or at least hope, that I’m looking into the future of beer in New Zealand. One day we’ll be making beer on that scale, whilst still maintaining quality standards.

Magnolia (Haight Street) – let it never be said Americans only make high gravity hop bombs. It seems May is ‘session beer month’ at Magnolia. Of a flight of five beers and one cider, only two were above 5% ABV. I had an English Brown, Bitter and Mild Ale; all of which were stylistically accurate (euphemism). I also had a Porter, IPA and Pomegranate Cider (a guest tap) which were excellent.

21st Amendment (2nd Street) – This is one that was talked up to me for years and didn’t disappoint. The beer was good, the food was good and the place was good. All around it was good.  Good good good.

Double Plus Good!

Double Plus Good!

Triple Rock Brewing (Berkeley) – I went on a trip to Oakland, but somehow ended up in Berkeley. A quick scan of the internet told me to go to this brewpub on Shattuck Ave. And it was nice. Nothing pretentious, and if the beers didn’t blow my mind, then they were still all really good.

Best experience in the States (beer or otherwise):

That would have to go my sunset sailing trip under the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather was lovely, the seas calm and the crew member an ex-pat Kiwi who chatted to me about sailing and the Oakland music scene.

Oh say can you see?

Oh say can you see? Photo HK.

Best of all though, the boat was stocked with Lagunitas IPA. I drank it from the bottle whilst the bridge soared overhead and the Sun sank into the Pacific. Magical.

Imagine this view, but with  awesome IPA in hand...

Imagine this view, but with awesome IPA in hand.

A Post-Mortem:

So what did it all mean, in the end? Sitting back in Wellington freezing my anatomy off it’s easy to look back on San Fran with a deep rose-tint to my specs. But reading over my notes there are a few things that occurred to me at the time which I think I should articulate.

First of all California is awesome, but I could never live there. Americans are wonderful people (as are all nationalities I’ve ever met), but there is a deep streak of something well fuckedup about American society. This is a beer blog, so I’m not going to get into heavy handed socio-political discussion. But I did notice it in small ways and it unnerved me.

Secondly, the beer itself actually disappointed me a first. You see I came of (drinking) age right in the renaissance of New Zealand beer, but I also grew-up on the legend of American microbreweries.  And I think the fault is mine: I was disappointed by American beer because I expected it to be earth-shatteringly,spectacularly, well… better. I wanted it to blow my mind and it didn’t.5 Certainly, specific beers (such a Torpedo) were much better than when I tried it in NZ. On the whole though, American microbrews were not generally any better than the product of New Zealand.

Yes, you heard me right: The best beers of New Zealand are easily the match of the best beers of America, or in fact, the world.  Now in saying this, I acknowledge that this wouldn’t have been true four, three, even two years ago.  New Zealand has come a very long way in a very short time. I would credit this to the rise of smaller, more adventurous brewers, be they contractors like Yeastie Boys or set in steel breweries like Garage Project. I would more importantly however, credit this to an upping-of-their-game by New Zealand brewers across the board in the last few years.

So I was a little disappointed that the beer didn’t shatter my world (I actually got over thus fairly quickly). But, and this is a big ‘but’, I still have to say in beer terms, America is at least a decade ahead of New Zealand. And I’ll tell you why: it’s not the beer, so much as the culture around it.

In New Zealand, I tell people I’m a beer enthusiast and they’re confused: Is that a thing? What, like Mac’s and Monteith’s? You work at a beer bar? How can you have a bar with just beer? Even in Wellington, I meet people who have never heard of Garage Project and only vaguely know of the likes of Tuatara or Emerson’s.

In California however, it’s the complete opposite: everyone knows about beer. I only had to say “I like beer” and people were tripping over themselves to give me advice. Oh you like beer? Have you been to Toronado yet? Let me tell you my favourite bar. Have you tried Pliny? There’s a place around the corner you should check out!

This was literally everyone I talked to. It’s not that America is a nation of Beer Geeks, it’s just that everyone knows about and appreciates good beer. Even those who don’t would say things like “Oh I don’t drink beer, but there’s a place on Such-and-Such Street. I go there for the wings, but they’ve a great tap selection.” And that’s really the thing. It’s mainstream in California. Like I said about bars: there’s no slouching. Every good bar serves decent beer and every decent drinker appreciates it.

And like I said about Lagunitas, I can’t help but think that I’m looking into New Zealand’s future here. There will come a day, maybe less than ten years away, where every decent bar in New Zealand serves good beer. Where you can ask anyone on the street “where do I get a good beer” and they won’t be confused, but keenly point you to the pub.

One day.

I close now knowing that my time in San Francisco is over, but my business there is unfinished. There were bars and breweries that went unvisited, beers that were left un-drank and good times that went un-had. So what I’m saying is, stay sexy San Fran, cos I’ll be back.  

One last bridge shot.

One last bridge shot.

1. I’m told that since China took-over, Hong Kong has lost its whiff. I must get back there and find out.

2. Distribution is uneven though. Posh quarters like Richmond have practically none, whereas places like the Tenderloin and Mission Street have one every 20 meters or so. I noticed rich places like Union Street have no benches or convenient places to sit. I think they’re afraid that if anyone sits down for too long, they’ll sprout a shopping trolley full of booze bottles and start asking people for change.

3. Or eleventh sense, depending on your reckoning.

4. Speaking of which, yes I had brewery-fresh Pilny the Elder and yes, it was good. You know what though? I liked Blind Pig better. Pliny has a massive cult following, but Pig is I think, pretty underrated compared to it’s bigger brother. Just say’in.

5. This might be why I was underwhelmed by Pliny. Certain beer writers have been talking it up for years, building a myth that doesn’t quite tally with reality.

Um, what the fuck is this? At the Rogue Public Ale House.

Um, what is this? At the Rogue Public Ale House.

Attack of the Lager Lout

So regular readers (if I have such a thing) may have noticed a decrease in my posting frequency.  With the opening of Golding’s I’ve had a noted lack of time and will-power to write anything.  Speaking of which Garage Project Major Goldings was a smash hit with the 30 litres lasting about an hour.  The beer turned out kind of like a hoppy-wheat-ESB; quite drinkable and a little odd.

Anywho, posts are about to get even less frequent, as I’m off on an short beer-research trip to San Fran, taking in GABS on the way back.  This’ll probably be my last post for a few weeks, so I thought I’d better make it a good’um.

Those active on the more beer-y section of the Twittersphere may have noticed this conversation going down (click for a larger version):

Click for a full sized version.

Take a moment to read that, it’s quite the rant.  It’s something I’ve encountered before too.  Every now and again you meet a customer that insists that:

A) Pilsners are not lagers (they are), and
B) Beer Geeks are a some sort of breed of lager-hating fascist-nazis.

I experienced this several times at Hashigo, records of which exist here, here and here.  The usual complaint was that either the staff at Hashigo wouldn’t serve lagers, which was odd, because there’s always one on tap and several in bottles, or that we would mock anyone who dared order one.  Again this is odd because why would we serve something if we didn’t want people to order it?  Indeed the idea we would mock every person that ordered a lager is pretty ludicrous, because tap pils was our biggest seller. More to the point if I’d taken the time to mock every lager drinker, I’d never have had the time to get anything done in the day.

Anyway, back to the issue at hand.  My personal experience of this was much similar: a chap came up to the bar one busy weekend at Hashigo and ordered a lager.  We had some sort of pils on tap, and I recommended it to him.  “I don’t want a pilsner, I want a lager,” he said.
“Pilsners are lagers,” I said.
“No they’re not,” said he.
“Actually they are, you see it’s a matter of yeast…” and I launched into an explanation of yeast varieties and the taxonomy of lagers.  Hell, I’d have pulled out map and shown him Pilsen if he wanted to see it.

However, it wasn’t to be.  I noticed very quickly not only his attention but also the will to live sliding off his face.  Sometimes when you need to temper your enthusiasm when talking to non-Beer Geeks.  So I gave him the short version: “Take it from me mate, pilsners are a type of pale-lager that originated from Czech town of Pilsen.”
“Alright, I’ll take one of those then.”  And all was good again.

Or so I thought, until I went to go clear some glasses and walked past his group.  I watched him take a swig off his beer and grimace.  “Fucking bartender.  He tried to tell me pilsners are lagers.  They’re so full of shit here.”

Listen buddy, my anatomy is not equipped with middle-fingers big enough for the likes of you.  I was seriously pissed of at that guy, but I didn’t tell him that.  In fact I let it all slide.  Looking back on it, it wasn’t that he didn’t know about beer styles or didn’t share my passion and geekery.  In the end, I resented him because he insulted my professionalism as a beertender.  Beer is my passion, and I bartend to share that passion with other people.  I’m good at bartending, and if each day I can help a customer derive the same pleasure from beer as I do, then I consider that a good day.

Back on track now and to my original point: pilsners are lagers and anyone who tries to say otherwise is speaking out the wrong orifice.  But what about Beer-Geeks hating lagers?  Well, for starters  it’s not true; I’ve spent the last three years serving lagers to the beer community of Wellington.  Secondly, most craft breweries make a lager and frequently it’s their biggest seller.  So this assertion that geeks just don’t like lager is utterly false.

That said, there is another issue lurking in the background like a bad smell: accusations of snobbery.  Certainly I’m no stranger to being called a snob.  I’ve even occasionally worn the badge proudly.  But it’s never a nice thing to be called and I also think it’s quite unfounded in most cases and especially with Roland and Brother’s Beer.

You see I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon in over the years working in a beer bar: if someone comes into a bar and asks for something you don’t have, they frequently can take it as a personal insult.  This happens most often with the big branded green-bottle lager drinkers and can be quite vehement at times.1  On more than one occasion I’ve had said to a customer “Sorry we don’t have [Heineken/Stella/Steinlager/whatever]” and had people react as if I’ve told them to go fornicate with their own mother.  In most cases I try to recommend a nice alternative, but frequently the battle is lost.  They either splutter “what’d ya mean you don’t have [beer XYZ], you’re a beer bar, what kind of beer bar doesn’t have [beer XYZ]?” or occasionally, they just walk out.

And then they send angry tweets.  Or post bad reviews online, calling you and your establishment snobs and wankers.  And what are you supposed to do in that situation?  You really can’t win.  What you should try to do is be polite and find them a beer they’ll enjoy.  Educate, don’t exclude.  And I think Brother’s made a fairly good effort to do just that (at least until the end, but hey, they’re only human) and I hope I do in that situation too.  But if they’ve already walked out, or like Monsieur Roland, won’t engage with the bar-staff, there’s nothing you can do.  They’ve excluded themselves.2

Now I’ve been thinking about this, specifically why this happens.  Why is it that some people take a bar not stocking a particular beer as badly as they’d take take an insult to their own mother?  I think the answer is a lack of understanding.  You see they just don’t understand a Beer Geek’s passion for flavourful, independant beers, and why they rail against bland corporate beer.  Not serving Heineken is to us a logical expression of our passion.  But to Roland’s ilk, it makes us mad, pretentious, snobs.  He just doesn’t get it and probably never will.

And you know what?  We’re all guilty of this on some level.  For example, take the British Cornish Pasty Association.  They’re passionate about pasties.  Ok, I can understand that.  But why do they declare carrots to be sacrilege in their official recipe?  That I don’t get.  To me that makes them mad, pretentious, carrot-hating pasty-snobs.  I just don’t get it and probably never will.

How about an example closer to home?  How about CAMRA then?  I will never understand what those guys have against carbon dioxide.  C’mon guys, some beers are better fizzy and cold.  Deal with it.  Frankly I think CAMRA (or at least elements of it) are a bunch of gas-and-lager-hating, elitist snobs.3  Is this starting to sound familiar?  I like real-ale as much as the next Beer Geek, but a slavish devotion to only cask-conditioned ales is to me frankly ludicrous.  I just don’t get it and probably never will.

So perhaps we’re all as guilty as Roland of not understanding each other’s passions.  Ok I take that back, we’re not because we don’t go making dicks of ourselves on Twitter.  And that I think, brings me sideways to the point I’m trying to make.  People have some odd passions and we all need a little patience and understanding with them.  Whether we be the expert Beer-Geek trying to explain why we don’t sell Heinie or the bewildered everyman who’s just trying to get a beer with a label he recognises.

Alright I gotta stop here, before I go full-hippie.  Peace and Love, ya’ll.

Also, pilsners ARE lagers, FFS!

  1. Although it can also happen with craft drinkers.  Not dyed-in-the-wool Beer Geeks obviously, but if I had a dollar for everytime I’ve heard an outraged “What’d ya mean you don’t have [Epic/Moa/Emerson’s/Renaissance/Green Man Tequila Beer]?”  Usually because it’s the only craft label they know and are comfortable with.  And no, I’m not joking when I say Tequila Beer.
  2. Although I did hear a rumour that this mysterious Roland allegedly works for a major liquor brand, which would put an entirely different spin on the whole thing.  I’m in no position to confirm or deny that though.
  3. Admittedly, my impression of CAMRA is probably poorly coloured by reading the comments sections on the Zythophile Blog and by small handful of members that have come into Hashigo and been utterly fucking rude, insulting, sanctimonious, knob-heads.  A large section of SOBA members are CAMRA members and good people.

Green on Grey

Last Monday I had to be somewhere super early.  When I say super early, I mean 8:30 am.  Now I know a lot of you will be snorting into your pints “that’s not early.”  Well bear in mind that when your normal bedtime is 3 am, you have to sleep until 11 just to get your solid 8 hours.

There’s a reason we call you guys Day-Walkers.

Here’s a poem I composed on the bus, sometime around 8:15 am.

Sitting on the bus.
It’s too early for me.
I feel like shit.
It’s too early for everyone.  

The weather is grey.
The people are grey too.
Everyone’s grumpy.
No one smiles.  

Except for one:
A girl with green hair.
Sitting three seats back.
Rocking out with headphones.

She made me smile too.

I know this isn’t isn’t a beer-related post, but what’s the point of having your own piece of internet if you can’t do what you like with it.  Anyway, I’m cooking up an alcoholic post as I speak so look out for that soon.

Coming out of the Wardrobe

I have an announcement to make that may shock and astound you: I’m leaving Hashigo Zake.  Actually this might not come as a surprise to many of you. Despite my trying to keep a lid on the news, it seems that half of Wellington already knows, and lately I’ve been in the surreal situation of having people I barely know coming up to the bar and congratulating me about my new job.  Anywho, the fact of the matter is that I’ve been offered the Manager’s position at a new bar, Golding’s Free Dive, which will be opening next month.

Now I will unashamedly say that to my mind, Hashigo is by far and away the best beer bar in New Zealand, if not Australasia and/or the Southern Hemisphere.1  Certainly it’s the geekiest and probably the bar that’s done the most to further the cause of good beer in New Zealand.  To a lot of Beer Geeks then, leaving Hashigo could seem a bit like leaving Narnia.  But as Milton’s Satan once said: “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven,” and it seems about my time to step out of the closet wardrobe and seek my fortune in the real world.2    

Of course I’m not suggesting that working at Golding’s is going to be a bad day in Tartarus, far from it.  On the contrary, I’m rather excited about the whole prospect.  You see, the core Hashigo team has been together now for three years, give or take and while they’re fantastic to work with, there’s also a great many chefs in that kitchen.  In this regard, Golding’s offers me the opportunity and challenge to help build a bar from the ground up: to help make it into a awesome little bar.

And Golding’s Free Dive is going to be an awesome bar: at once a free-house, serving good beer with no pesky ties to any brewery, big or small.  It’s also intended to be a dive bar (hence the name): a comfortable little out of the way spot where you can while away the hours, unmolested by the rowdy mobs it town.  There will be more details to come.

Now I’m heading into uncharted waters here:  I’ll be the longest running staff member ever to leave Hashigo.  I’ll also be the first staff member to transfer over to another Wellington bar and the first staff alumni to stay in Wellington (most in fact, leave New Zealand).  In this regard, the record is not great.  Two other staff have gone on to work at different bars, but neither of them lasted very long there.  And the reason is simple: Hashigo ruins people.  I’ve joked before that it’s somewhat of an ivory tower: working there is so good, you sometimes forget what working in the real world is like.  But as I said, the prospect of a new challenge is immensely exciting.  

Of course, my decision to leave Hashigo wasn’t easy.  I’ve been there for over three years, more or less since the beginning, and it’s been a fairly major part of my life over that time.  I’ll miss it dearly, so to ease my transition and cheer myself up, I thought I’d reflect on a few of the things I’m not going to miss about Hashigo:

  • My workmates.  They’re bastards to a man.
  • The regulars.  Wellington’s description was accurate: they’re “scum of the earth.”
  • Explaining what ‘Hashigo Zake’ means. That got old fast.  
  • Sake.  New Zealanders are cretins when it comes to this subtle and noble drink.3  
  • The historic plumbing.  It’s shit with shit.

Right, well that’s cheered me up.  Now I guess I should go on to talk about what I will actually miss about Hashigo:

  • My workmates.  Bastards to a man and like family to me.  
  • The regulars.  Wellington’s description was accurate: “scum of the earth… what fine fellows they are.”
  • The staff discount.
  • The pies.  Hashigo’s pies are a thing of beauty.
  • The credibility.  I don’t wish to sound arrogant, but Hashigo has a good name in both local and international beer circles, and occasionally it’s worked as a handy introduction at breweries and other bars.  I’ve always been proud to say “I work at Hashigo Zake.”

One of the things I’m probably going to miss the most though, is the feeling of being on the cutting edge of beer in New Zealand.  As I said before, Dominic and the Hashigo Crew have done so much to further New Zealand ‘craft’ beer in the last three and a half years.  Whether it be campaigning in the Radler case (or a myriad of other IP abuses), arranging international collaborations, donating obscenely generous amounts of labour to beer festivals, setting up local beer festivals, broadening local tastes by exposing New Zealanders to the international beer scene, supporting (frequently unknown) up-and-comers like Garage Project, ParrotDog and Funk Estate, or arranging distribution for local breweries.  Hashigo was a game-changing in the New Zealand beer scene and they continue to push the boundaries wherever they can.  I’m proud to have been a part of it.

But I am also stepping back from all that.  Golding’s will be serving good beer, but it wont have the same geeky edge.  We’ll always be a few steps behind.4    That’s fine though.  In fact that’s as should be.  Golding’s will be less about geeking-out and more about chilling-out, in a cool place, with good people and good beer, which is something we all need from time to time.

I’ll close now by saying that I hope that all those out there who I’ve served enjoyed having me as their bartender as much as I enjoyed serving them. And I know that I leave a lasting legacy at Hashigo; something that has made Hashigo a better place: The Boston Pork Pie.

[Image Pending]

Think of me next time you eat one.

Zum Wohl!

  1. You don’t have to agree with me on that, but I’m not the only one that thinks this.  And before you ask, no I haven’t sampled them all.  Neither have you, so shut up.
  2. I’m quite proud of that literary juxtaposition.  Just saying.
  3. At best they ask for good sake (pronounced sar-key for some reason) hot when it should be chilled or at room temperature.  This is like asking for your pinot gris to be warmed up.  At worst they shoot it and then rowdily proclaim “Phwar!  That’s rough!”  Well, maybe if you didn’t shoot hot alcohol, it wouldn’t burn so much.  No, actually at worst they ask for sake bombs, which is an insult to both our beer and sake.
  4. But on the other hand, there is also a another benefit to leaving Hashigo: I can now go there and enjoy it as a customer.  Fuck yeah!
  5. I’m well aware, there will be a lot of variance on that one…

8 Wired Grand Cru

DSC_0686Beer: 8 Wired Grand Cru
 Quadruple/Blended Sour
ABV: 10%
From: Hashigo Zake
Date: 26/02/2013

Yes.  Oh mother-loving yes.  I want this beer in my mouth.  All the time.  It’s so utterly excellent.  I want to carry around a CamelBak full of this beer.  I want an IV drip bag constantly hooked up to my veins.  Full of this beer.  

I wish clouds were made of this beer.  So that when it rained, it rained this beer.

Ok, ok.  I’ll review it properly now.

So as you night have guessed, I really like this 8 Wired Grand Cru. Which is why I’m doing my best impression of the only scene worth watching in Beerfest.1   

My beer is slightly crooked.

My beer is slightly crooked.

Grand Cru is red-brown, with low carbonation and no head.  It smells kind of like port and plums, with a hint of something cheesy.  Flavour is sweetish, but not overly so, with strong raisin and plum character, a hint of chocolate, and a sour note that cuts through the cloying Belgian yeast character.  In short, it’s massive, it’s complex, it’s balanced, it’s beautiful.  

Grand Cru started life as The Sultan, 8 Wired’s Quad, aged in pinot barrels and blended with a Flanders Red.  By coincidence, I happened to taste each of the constituent beers, when I snuck into Søren’s cool-store two years ago.2  I have firm memories of the Red, which was super cheesy and sour.  Hints of this beer come through very clearly in the Grand Cru, cutting through the big, sticky, cloying character of The Sultan.  

I risk being a bit of a tease with this review, as I had Grand Gru on tap.  Readers will probably never see it on tap anywhere, but don’t despair; bottles should be available somewhere, at some point.  I don’t know where, but if you do, grab one.  Taste the clouds…

In other news:

People active in the beer-social media, may have noticed this video from Hancock & Co./Glengarry.  I was going to sling poo at Hancock’s, but it’s clear from that clip, that they are perfectly capable of crapping in their own nest without my help.

Others have promised to write about the dis-ingenuousness of the brand (founded last year in 1859).  And the quality of their beer (I’m not touching that topic).  Maybe I’ll write about that soon.

I would like to dryly observe however, their use of the term ‘entry level’ beer, and how they equate it with ‘small’ flavours (read bland).  I think this topic deserves a longer post, but I would like to point out that ‘entry level’ often seems to be used by breweries (read marketing/brand managers, and I’m not just looking at Hancock’s here) to deflect criticism from the beer community.  Usually this is done using the argument “you’re a ‘beer-geek,’ you don’t like it cos it’s not hoppy/17% ABV/obscure/whatever.”

To that argument I have one thing to say: Bookbinder.  Actually I have many things to say (Three Boys Golden, Townshend Bandsman, Mussel Inn Golden Goose, pretty much every Pilsner brewed in this country…), but Bookie will do.  Bookie is seriously ‘entry level’: simple, uncomplicated, unchallenging, beautiful.  What it’s not is small.  Ok, it is 3.7% which is small, but it’s also characterful.  And it’s loved universally by the uninitiated drinker and the experienced ‘beer-geek’ alike.  

Bookie proves that just because you’re beer is ‘entry level’ status, doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed by all.  Nor does it mean a company can get away with bland or faulty beer and call it ‘craft’.     

  1. That movie seriously sucked, but the scene where they describe the best beer in the world is utterly hilarious and (almost) makes watching the film worthwhile.  If you don’t mind watching it in an eye-rapingly awful aspect ratio, then it can be found here.
  2. One of the most surreal and geeky moments of my beer career.  Standing in a cool-store tasting beer ageing in different barrels, with two heavy-weights of the craftbeer world: Søren Ericsson of 8 Wired and Kjetil Jikiun of Nøgne Ø (apologies for name dropping).

Book Review: Beer Nation, The Art & Heart of Kiwi Beer

THE THIRSTYBOYS are a mob of Wellington beer enthusiasts often seen at local beer events, usually tucked away in a corner composing Haikus. This is the post I wrote for them as a guest blogger.


Reviewed by guest blogger: Dylan Jauslin

Beer Nation: The Art and Heart of Kiwi Beer
Published by Penguin Books (NZ) 25/07/2012
Format:Misc., 240 pages

I was quite surprised when Malice from the Thirsty Boys asked me to review this book for their blog.  On reflection though, it made sense: none of them had read it or owned a copy.  Talking to a few more people in the beer community, something became very clear: damn near nobody has read it.

This really is a shame because both as an introduction to and a history of New Zealand beer, I can’t recommend it enough.  Surprisingly little has been written about the New Zealand Beer industry, particularly in recent years and the beer community has been in need of a book like this.

Donaldson takes the reader through the history of beer in this country, starting in the nineteenth century and tracing…

View original post 471 more words

Three Men Walk into a Bar

As a barman, I meet all sorts.  Customers are strange creatures, and recently I met a trio that inspired a fair deal of ambivalence in me.  I’m not sure how best to explain the encounter, so I’m just going to take you thorough it as it happened.

So three men walk into a bar: an Englishman, an Englishman and an Englishman (sorry).  They walk up to the bartender (me) and pull out a piece of paper.

“Hi there, we’re looking for some hard to find beers; thought this might be the place to find them,” said their spokesman.  Certainly, said I.  What are you after?

He consulted his list.  “12 Gauge” (a strong lager from Leigh Sawmill Brewery).  No, we don’t have it.  Meow Cafe might have bottles of it.  My mind races for an alternative New Zealand beer: tap pilsner?  Liberty Alpha Dog?

He consults the list again.  “Mammoth?”  (Pink Elephant’s strong ale).  Sorry, we don’t have that either.  Hmm, Liberty High-Carb?  I mentally store that recommendation away for the moment.

“Got any Engima?”  Ah, Twisted Hop’s Barleywine!  It hasn’t been brewed since the earthquake.  We had a lot of the Red Zone version of it at one stage, but we sold out a while back.  That beer’s extinct in the wild as it were.  I know of a couple of bottles in captivity (private cellars), but none for sale.  I explain all of this whilst digging around in my brain for a recommendation. Renaissance Tribute Barleywine.  That’ll be perfect!

I’m about to recommend a Tribute, when he speaks again: “Emerson’s Old 95?”  Ha.  I should have seen that coming.  That’s another extinct beer.  Again, I know there are still bottles in captivity, but that hasn’t been brewed in almost two years.  As I explain this, a thought occurs to me.

Where did you get this list I asked?  It turns out he’d copied it out of the book 1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die.  Now things are starting to make sense.  That book was published in early 2010.  Most of the writing was probably done in 2009 and the research for it as early as 2007-2008.  Now that’s not long ago in the scheme of things, but with the radical growth of beer in New Zealand, five years ago was practically the Dark Ages.

Don’t believe me?  Winter 2008 was the year Yeastie Boys launched with a single batch of Pot Kettle Black.  They only did four releases in the year following, the second and third being Golden Boy and Kid Chocolate.  The fourth was the second vintage (that’s right, vintage, it started as an annual release) of PKB.

Need more perspective?  Late 2009  was the year 8 Wired launched, with a beer called “All of the Above.” Never heard of it?  It was later re-named ReWired.  I suspect the book would have been nearing completion at that stage, and no one who worked on it had ever heard of the virtuoso Dane, brewing in small-town New Zealand.

Anyway, so now I know what I’m dealing with.  What else is on the list?  Invercargill Smokin’ Bishop.  Well, that’s a winter release.  You’ll be lucky to find it this time of year.  We have no other New Zealand equivalent, but maybe a Rex Attitude?  Harrington’s Big John Special Reserve.  Ah!  If only we had some Double-Barrelled Cockswain’s on tap!  Never mind, an 8 Wired Batch 18 will blow their minds, I think.

Look mate, I say, that book’s pretty out of date.  Let me recommend some New Zealand beers I think should be in that book.   “No thanks,” he says.  “I’ll just have a look through your menu.”  The three of them bury their heads in the bottle-list.

Ok, that’s odd.  Well, clearly they’re experienced beer-hunters, so they know what they’re doing.  Since I wasn’t busy, I grabbed the bar computer and had a quick dig.  Hey mate, I said, it looks like Regional Wines and Spirits have bottles of Smokin’ Bish’ and Big John.  They’re an awesome bottle shop not far from here, I can give you directions if you like.

He looks up.  “No thanks.  The rule is we have to drink them in an on-licence.”  Um… What?  Now I know it’s fun to make make arbitrary rules for simple tasks to make them more challenging; like say only stepping on black tiles when walking across a chequer-board floor.  However to me, what he said was utterly-nutterly-butterly insane.  Isn’t the point of beer-hunting that you go you go out of your way to try beers no matter how you get your hands on them?  I have a friend who once on a trip to Germany, went out of her way to go to Bamberg, just because she liked Rauchbiers.  Personally, I’ll walk across broken glass if I want a beer bad enough.  It’s about the beer, not the method of acquisition: the why matters, not the how.

I was still digesting this revelation when he finally ordered beers: three Rising Sun Pale Ales.  Um, wait, what the fuck?  These guys have come all the way around the world hunting specific New Zealand beers, to probably the best beer-bar in the country.  When they can’t find them what do they do?  Drink imports.  From snatches of their conversation, I gathered at least one of them had already had Baird beer before, in Japan!  Hashigo is probably the only bar in the country that still has Batch 18, but you’re drinking imported beer you’ve had before?

Ok, chill out.  I begrudge no one their tasty beverage.  Clearly these guys know what they like and like good beer.  Except…

They came back the next day and drank Chimay and Rochefort.  What?  Really?  Two (admittedly beautiful) Trappist beers that can be found in almost any beer-bar world-wide?

Alright, fine.  So you know what you want (god-bless you for that).  But readers might see why I’m a little perplexed here.  The point of international beer-hunting is that you go to a place and seek-out the beers that come from there.  Heavens knows I flout the ‘drink local’ ethos almost daily, but if I’m travelling somewhere, I want to try the beers I can’t get anywhere else.

I can’t help feeling like these chaps have lost sight of the wood because of all the pesky trees that keep getting in the way.  They came all this way to not try local beers because they weren’t on an obsolete list?   I suspect a Pokemon1 mentality has take over here: the act of collecting, the ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’ has become more important than the actual thing you’re collecting.

I’m going to finish by saying two things:

First of all, I like your style.  The enthusiasm and dedication of going around the world trying beers everywhere is something I applaud.  But also keep in mind that beer is a fluid thing (literally and metaphorically): breweries fail and change hands, new beers are created and new breweries start-up.  Books don’t change though.  The 1001 is fixed in history, so you’re doomed to failure.  You will probably never taste Old 95.  With that in mind, don’t lose sight of what beer-hunting should be about: enjoying good beer, in good places, with good people.

So yeah, keep that in mind.  And god-speed, you mad bastards.

  1. For those mature readers unfamiliar with Pokemon, it was a cartoon/trading card/videogame series where people imprison animals in ludicrously small cages and then sic them on random strangers.  Imagine a blend of stamp-collecting and dog-fighting and you’re pretty much there.