The Bottleneck Awards 2014

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

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

The Green Bottle Piss Award for Best Lager

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

Townshend-BlackArrow_1024x1024

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

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

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

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

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

The Irish Suntan Award for Paleness

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

Jo Wood.

Jo Wood.

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

Valhalla. Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sauvin_Webstore_Poster_1024x1024

The ‘Bad Cornish Accent’ Award for Best Cider

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

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

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

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

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

The Tey-Tappers Special Award for Best Beer Writer

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

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

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

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

Yes, I can be bitchy when I want to.

Yes, I can be bitchy when I want to.

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

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

The IPA Award for Services to the Hop Shortage

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

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

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

The Pucker-Up Award for Best Sour Beer

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

The Poorly Organised Orgy Award for Best Beer-Related Clusterfuck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bastard Upstart Award for Best New Brewery.

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

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

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

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

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

panheadblacksabbeth

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

The ‘Equity for Skunks’ Award for Crowd-Sourcing

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

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

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

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

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

The Old-Hand Award for Best Established Brewery

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

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

I love this picture.    Source.

I love this picture.                                                                                                 Source.

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

*AND*

The Bottleneck’s Beer of the Year 2014

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

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

Brew Moon Hophead IPA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, your luck is in, because here is:

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

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

1. Emerson’s Pilsner

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

2. Panhead Supercharger APA

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

3. 8 Wired Hopwired

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

4. Mussel Inn Captain Cooker

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

5. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

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

6. Garage Project Day of the Dead

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

7. Every Single Trappist Beer

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

8. Westvleteren 12

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

10. Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude

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

11. Heineken

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

12. Schneider Aventinus

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

13. The Alchemist Heady Topper

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

14. Croucher Pale Ale

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

15. Russian River Pliny the Younger

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

16. 3 Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout

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

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

17. Three Boys Golden Ale

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

18. Emerson’s Old 95

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

19. Garage Project Hazel Maple Mild

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

20. Silver Cat Angry Gummy Bear White Stout

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

Because fuck you.


So now you have all the tools you need to become a fully-fledged Beer Geek. Take this list wherever you go. And remember, don’t listen to Beertenders (they’re petty, vicious, snobby liars), don’t explore the beer world in all it’s variety, don’t drink local, don’t take the time to form your own opinions on what you like/dislike (your feeble brain will lie to you) and don’t ever, ever, think for yourself. I’m better at thinking than you are.
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This is a satirical post. Whilst 99.9% of you will have figure that out, Poe’s Law dictates that at least one person hasn’t.
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Crisp.
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Beervana is Decadent and Depraved Part #3

[Go to Part #2]

Part 3: Debauchery at the Awards Dinner

THURSDAY

Thursday was in my mind, to be the peak of my Beervana Week. I awoke at 6am and smashed my way through a busy but manageable day shift, and then donned a jacket and tie for the annual Brewer’s Guild Awards Dinner. 

The Awards Dinner is meant to be a dignified, formal occasion; the only black-tie event many beer-people will ever attend. However, getting Brewers and Beer Geeks to play dress-up is no mean feat. Rumours that a dress code would be rigorously enforced were laughed out the door immediately. My close friend, Bardecki, turned up in lederhosen and an oriental smoking jacket, with sandals and painted toenails. I myself tried to toe the line and dress nicely, but I could see the pointlessness of it all. 

Why feign dignity, when there’s an open bar? 

The Awards Dinner is like a giant birthday party for brewers, where everybody gets a goody-bag of candy to take home. Except in this case, the bag is full of gold, silver and bronze medals (and if you’re very lucky, a trophy or two. This year, I was pretty happy with the results. Beer awards can be a mixed bag, and like all kinds of industry accolades, need to be taken with a grain or two of salt. Having said that, when a friend, colleague or loved one has their brewery’s name displayed on screen, or better yet goes up for a trophy, it’s an incredible high. 

***

To go through the whole ceremony would be pointless. The results can be found here. Breweries you’d expect to do well did exactly that: Emersons, ParrotDog, and even Garage Project (who deviate from style guidelines so frequently, they’re often penalised in competitions). Unexpectedly, Aotearoa Breweries AKA Mata, a brewery close to my heart for a number of reasons, took nine medals and were grievously robbed of at least one trophy in my books

Other highlights included Te Radar as host. He’s not only a good beer enthusiast, but he also knows how to tease without mocking. I also greatly enjoyed John Holl’s presentation about engaging with your customers through brand and technology. He spoke a lot of home truths that night and I sincerely hope New Zealand’s brewers were taking notes

Once all this was done and dusted, all eyes and ears were keenly waiting to find out who would win the genuinely almost prestigious award for champion brewer

***

We had sat through two hours of medals and trophies before we got to Champion Brewer. Most of us were all too drunk to have been keeping scores at that point, so from our point of view, the winner was wide open.

We all hoped a shit brewery hadn’t won. 

You see, this is the thing with beer awards: beers are judged according to rigorous, even restrictive style guidelines. As such, completely inane beers from mega-brewers can take out dozens of medals and trophies in categories like ‘Other European Lager’ and waltz off with Champion Brewer. I remember four years ago, when DB won, there was more than a few people booing over the polite applause. A year later when 8 Wired won, there was a standing ovation. 

There was a rising paranoia that DB (or Lion) would take out the prize again, but personally I was just as concerned that some little shit-house brewery that I have no regard for would win. You see the grim meathook reality is that there is a big difference between making the kind beer that’s faultless and fits style criteria; and making beer that people will beat each other with sticks or crawl over broken glass to get their hands on. And there are plenty of small breweries that make the former, not the later. 

What really galled me though, is the knowledge that many of these half-arsed brewers would be beating a path to my door within the next few weeks, flashing medals about the place and trying to sell me beer that neither I nor my customers want. The worst case of this happened a few years ago, when as a humble bartender at Hashigo, a drunken brewer I had never met before accosted me after the awards dinner.

‘Why don’t you bastards buy our beer? Look at all these medals we’ve won,’ he slurred, waving a fistfull of medals in my face. How the drunk fucker had gotten past security, I don’t know.
‘You’ll have to take that up with Dave our Manager,’ I deflected.
‘Bastards’ he said. ‘Bastards,’ before he staggered away.

Later, after I had security escort him out, I learned which brewery he represented. The most of the medals he’d brandished were for cider. 

‘Bastards.’ 

Angry BrewerWe waited with bated breath for the winner to be read out. The new award for ‘Best Production Brewery’ had just been announced. This was for the best brewery that produces other people’s beer under contract. It had been won by Townshend, by all means a dark horse in that particular race. We were all very happy with that result. Martin Townshend is a good human by all accounts, and great brewer, much deserving of recognition. 

‘And, Champion Brewer for 2014 is… Townshend Brewery’. 

We lost our shit. Standing ovation, cheering, shouting, glasses banged on tables. All the noise that one hundred frenzied Beer Geeks and Brewers could make. Martin is a friend to all of us and we were all ecstatic that he’d won. The self-effacing bastard wasn’t even there to collect the award, having convinced himself he wouldn’t win a god-damn thing. It didn’t matter. We could mark this down as another year when the small guy, the craftsman, the barely recognised and grossly undercapitalised guy from nowhere had proved themselves better than the soulless, accountant-run-sausage-factory-mega-brewers. 

The ceremony was neatly wrapped up soon after but knots of revellers hung out, trying to ride the free beer and afterglow. Eventually we were asked to leave by event staff before they set the dogs on us, but not before Steve loaded his pockets with as many bottles as he could for the short walk back to town. 

We would be carrying this party long into the night.

 ***

Stu and Jula

[Go To Part #4]

Beervana is Decadent and Depraved Part #2

[Go to Part #1]

Part 2: Angst and Anxiety in Thorndon

Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

ANZ Geek

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

Filter Guy

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

It doesn’t bear thinking about…

***

[Go To Part #3]

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.

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.

 

The Brothers Banks

The hangovers from Choice Beer Week should be well and truly forgotten by now and we can look back fondly on a week of excess and celebration. Myself, between avoiding Beervana like the plague (as either a worker or a punter) and closing Goldings at midnight I had one of the easiest Beervana weeks since I started working in the beer industry.1

Which isn’t to say I didn’t live it up and have a bloody good time. And my highlight of the week would have to be the Annual BrewNZ Awards dinner, where every yeah they dole-out trophies and medals to the brewing industry like candy at a kids birthday party.2 This year’s lolly-scramble was particularly gratifying, as I got to watch several friends and acquaintances receive awards, including our chums at Renaissance Brewing, who took out Champion Brewery (which I had actually predicted a few days earlier). Good stuff.

There was however, one rather odd moment in the evening, when they announced the winners of the Morton Coutts Award for Innovation. Now this is a hotly contested, but rather vaguely defined award. The previous winners are Stu McKinlay, for inventing a new, never-before style of smokey-death-beer and Jim Pollitt, for erm, well… I’m not actually sure. Near as I can tell, he actually spent most of his time undoing (de-innovating?) the damage done by Morton Coutts and his Continuous Fermentation.

So we were all on tenterhooks to hear who would take out this most prestigious award. And the winner is: Doug and Jim Banks. Um, who? Everyone looked around confused as as a pair of mature twin brothers got up from the DB Breweries table and wandered onstage looking for all the world like Tweedledee and Tweedledum in suits and ties. Ok, so who are these guys we asked? There was a brief thank you speech, which consisted of pretty much only the words “thank you,” and they left.3 No further explanation. We were just left to speculate.

So the evening continues and the ceremony takes a break. I slip out into the foyer to visit the bathrooms and who should be having their photo taken with their shiny new trophy? It’s Tweedledee and Tweedledum!

Doug Banks, Te Radar (MC) and Jim Banks.

Doug Banks, Te Radar (the award’s MC) and Jim Banks.

I spotted my chance and when the photos and interviews were over and they turned to go back into the hall, I slid between them and the doorway.

“Hi,” I said. “I just wanted to say congardulations on the award. I was wondering if you could tell me what you innovated?”

I got blank looks. And then they told me.

Now a warning: a lot of what they said was about brewing science. I’m neither a brewer nor a scientist, so I may get a few details wrong here. I tried doing a little research on the brothers and got in touch with the Brewers Guild if they could give me anymore details. They linked me to this article on the brothers, which gives the basic facts, but no extra details. I also got in touch with DB to see if they could give me more info. They linked me to the Brewers Guild. Thanks DB.

I’m not a journalist, and I didn’t take notes, so I’m working from memory here, and I should point out I was a little drunk at the time. So apologies for any factual errors I make. Here goes:

Mr Banks and Mr Banks have been working for DB for decades in technical and scientific capacities. They worked with Morton Coutts developing Continuous Fermentation. Coutts had invented this process, they said, and it fell them and their team to figure out how it worked and how it might be improved (there was more on this subject to come). Now I’ll be honest: I’m not keen on CF. I’ve never had a CF beer that I thought tasted any good. But hey, it’s pretty neat science, even if it makes bland beer.

So what else had they worked on? Micro filtration. Ah! Now we’re on firmer footing, beer wise. They apparently helped develop a process that made sterile micro-filtration possible, which is now used in breweries around the world. Now again I’m not a huge fan of filtering beer, but it can be a useful tool for brewers trying to clarify and increase the shelf life of their beer. Certainly it’s nowhere near as bad as pasteurizing it. Neato.

At this point the conversation was jumping all over the place: low alcohol beer. They helped develop a process that makes it easier to brew low alcohol beers. Again not particularly something I’m interested in, but the science as they explained it to me was pretty sweet. Something about a permeable membrane.

Then we got on to what seemed to be their favourite subject: yeast. It seems a lot of their work has been centered on isolating yeast strains in the CF system. As I understand it, because CF breweries don’t have the same turnover of yeast cultures and entire-system clean-outs that comes with batch brewing, if an undesirable yeast strain gets into a CF system, it can cause a lot of problems. Now isolating yeast strains is something I’m very interested in. Afterall, this is what gives us all the different strains of yeast you find in your local homebrew shop. And er, Beard Beer.

Something I found very refreshing out the brothers is they made no bones about the fact that they worked for a corporate giant, but they did hasten to point out that they weren’t just about the mega-beer. They also help out the little guys when they need scientific assistance. Apparently they helped sort out yeast issues at the Shakespeare, back in the day.

So I chatted about yeast-strains and brewing processes with the Banks brothers for a while. At this stage however, I REALLY needed to pee, so I made my excuses, congratulated them again and went about my business. And back at the tables I told everyone about the two nice gentlemen scientists I met, the ceremony resumed, and that was that. Or so I thought.

The ceremony wrapped up in due-course, and I was chatting to Dave the Beer Guy, when out of nowhere popped Mr. Banks (I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you which one). There was something else, he said, that he forgot to mention. And then he started talking about, and really couldn’t make this stuff up: bioluminescent rabbits. It was something to do with yeast isolation again: giving rabbits different samples and using luminescent indicator when certain strains were present. Assuming no rabbits were harmed in the process, that’s a pretty cool piece of science.

And so the conversation rambled on again. Mr. Banks told us about a design of theirs that’s used in one of the largest breweries in Europe and about a brewery he’d worked on in Africa that wastes very little water. We both agreed that that’s the way New Zealand breweries should be working towards, both for environmental and economic reasons.

In fact if there was a consistent theme to our discussions it would be making brewing more efficient. And I’ll be honest: the motivation for this is mostly financial. People like the Banks brothers work for DB because they save DB money. They mean DB can more efficiently churn out their bland, homogenous products. But I still salute Mr. Banks and Mr. Banks for their work because it has a roll-on benefit for all sectors of the industry. Efficiency (whilst maintaining quality) should be a goal of all breweries, no matter what scale.

Our pleasant chat with Mr. Banks finally ended when we were ambushed by the video camera and we had do our darndest to look sober for an interview. Still, I thank the Brother banks both for their work and for taking the time to explain it to me. I get the impression not many people ever ask them what they do or are very interested in the answer.

To Mr. Banks and Mr. Banks: Gentlemen Scientists of the Brewing Industry.


1. In fact I kind of feel like I got off too easy this year. Previous years I’ve been an absolute wreck after working too many 14+ hour days straight.
2. Although some years they’re stingier with medals thank others and the goody-bag you take home after the party is a bit light.
3. Thre were some other things said, but we couldn’t hear them because of the PA system, which was bloody awful.