What Your Beer Choice Says About You

Today the world of beer has become fragmented. Where once in New Zealand it was ‘lager’, ‘draught’ or if you were very lucky, ‘dark’. But now we have any sort of beer you can imagine (and several you can’t). But how does your beer choice reflect on you?

The internet is full of silly great advice for American beer drinkers, but what about the humble Kiwi? What do our beer choices say about us? Well, fret no more. Here’s the definitive list:

Lager/Pilsner

You are most likely right-handed. Also you like lager.

Source.

Fig. 1: A Lager                                                    Source.

Pale Ale

Your height is probably between 132-192 centimetres tall. You like hoppy, pale beers.

Fig. 2: A Pale Ale Source.

Fig. 2: A Pale Ale                                                  Source.

Wheat Beer

Bad news: you probably have herpes, most likely without knowing it. And you like wheat beers.

Mild/Bitter/ESB

Good news: you are probably immune to leprosy. You’re also a fan of traditional English ales.

Fig. 3: An ESB Source.

Fig. 3: An ESB                                                                                             Source.

Stout/Porter

If you’re European, there’s a statistical certainty you’re a descendant of Charlemagne. And you like dark beer.

IPA

If you’re male, there is a ~1/200 chance you’re a direct descendant from Genghis Khan. If you’re a Chinese male, that figure goes up to ~1/12. You’re also an IPA enthusiast.

Fig. 4: An IPA Source.

Fig. 4: An IPA                                                                                    Source.

Black IPA

You’re a weirdo.

Sour/Wild Beer

Your liver is worth ~$157,000 (US) on the black market. Of course, drinking too much of that sour beer you love may decrease that value. The good news is, it should increase its value as foie gras.

Fig. 5: A sour Beer    Source.

Fig. 5: A Sour Beer                                              Source.

Barleywine

You’re hopefully too smart to fall into lazy stereotyping of beer drinkers according to style, glass preference, gender, class, race, ethnicity or any other silly, arbitrary, irrelevant factor.

And you like Barleywine.

Fig. 6: Several Barleywines     Source.

Fig. 6: Several Barleywines                                                     Source.

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Cat Beer.gif

Scott was right – it’s just not clickbait without a cat gif.

Video Beer Review #1: Hot Water Brewing Kauri Falls Pale Ale

Let’s talk about beer reviews.

A friend and I have a running joke: if she was ever to start a beer blog, it would be called “This Beer is Nice”. Every single post would be the name of the beer with a single sentence: “This beer is nice”. Alternatively, if she didn’t like it, it would say “This beer is not nice”.

And when you get down to brass tacks, that’s kind of what all beer reviews do. Some do it with more words, some with fewer. Some with greater technical acumen, others with less. But in the end, it all comes down to a subjective opinion on whether someone likes a beer or not (“This beer is nice”).

And you know what? That’s fine. I don’t want to put anyone off contributing to the public discourse of beer in New Zealand. But beer reviews definitely need to be taken with a grain of salt, and a fairly large one at that.

Brewers reading beer reviews should consider the relative reliability of the source. A reviewer who has spent years in the industry, has brewing experience, or has beer judging experience/certified BJCP or Cicerone (I’m thinking of Phil Cook of The Beer Diary and Greig McGill from the short lived Awkward Beer Reviews), will probably give more accurate and constructive feedback than some schmo who’s decided to put their opinions on the internet.

Likewise, consumers need to be wary of taking any reviewer’s opinions as gospel. There are writers out there (like Greig and Phil) whose opinions I regard highly. At the same time, I know that my particular palate is quite different to both of theirs, so just because one of them likes a beer, I don’t automatically assume I will as well.

I recommend either finding a beer reviewer whose particular tastes overlap with your own. Or better yet, try everything and decide for yourself. Be your own beer reviewer. Start a blog even. I encourage everyone to take part in the conversation about beer in this country.

But you really do need to be wary of and acknowledge the limits of your own subjectivity (and I’m talking to the writers out there, both present and future). I’ve always struggled with writers who give reviews without qualifying them as opinion, particularly if they’re using a numerical/star rating.

If you want to assign beers a score according to your own system, that’s fine, but keep in mind one thing: In the end, someone writing “this beer scores 4.3 bottlecaps out of 5,” may sound intelligent, but it really isn’t any more valid than some loon, on his knees behind a table, burbling into a can of Kauri Falls.

Just for the record, I think Kauri Falls is pretty excellent. Ten ‘gurgles’ out of ‘hurgh’. But that’s just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

 

Absolutely, Positively, a Dick Move

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You Got Right:

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

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

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

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

What You Got Wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I’m So Angry

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

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

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

11056544_10153505379790586_186756547978479258_n

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

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

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

Мы вас похороним.

The First Rule of Hopstock

I’ve got to say it: there seems a weird sort of snobbery around the IPA.

There’s a whole faction of brewers and drinkers (this is definitely an issue that goes both ways) who seem weirdly proud of how the beers they brew/drink aren’t hop bombs, as if that somehow makes them a better, more distinguished class of brewer/drinker. Kind of like this guy:

This cartoon was inspired by an actual rant I was given by a New Zealand brewer.

This cartoon was inspired by an actual rant I once heard from a New Zealand brewer.

My theory is that this mindset comes from the misconception that throwing enough hops into any beer will cover any multitude of brewing sins. I can come up with many reasons and examples of why this isn’t true, but I digress (that’s for another post). I’m bringing this up because of Hopstock.

Hopstock, for those not in New Zealand/Wellington, is our annual wet-hop festival, where each of the beer bars gets to host a beer (or two) from a different local brewery. This year it was massive. I mean absolutely huge. Every bar was packing out, and a lot of beer was sold.

Hopstock2015LogoLarge

Now as I see it, Hopstock is a festival to celebrate the hop harvest, and as such, the first rule of Hopstock, and in fact possibly the only rule of Hopstock is:

Thou shalt make a hoppy beer. 

Like all of god’s commandments, this one often gets mis-interpreted. You see, what people (both drinkers and brewers) think this means is that every beer should be an IPA. Preferably a IIPA, perhaps even a IIIPA. This is not the case.

As I see it, there’s only one deadly sin at Hopstock, which is making a beer with absolutely no hop character. And I can name two beers that committed that very sin this year: Mike’s Hopstock and Two Smoking Barrels and Hallertau Bier das Schwarz Massive (BDSM for short… low-hanging fruit there Steve). Now the reason I can single out both those beers, is that although they broke the first rule of Hopstock they were both deliciously, fantastically awesome; so I guess they get a free-pass on that one.

N.B. there has been some debate about the hop character of BDSM. Some reckoned it was very hoppy; I found it comparatively not so. I must try it again with fresh eyes/taste buds. Anyway, let’s get back on track.

So if you don’t have to make an IPA, what sort of beer should you be making for Hopstock?

The simple answer is: anything.

You can make a Pale Ale. You can make a Golden Lager. You can make a Saison. You can make a Stout. You can make an Imperial Pilsner, an ESB, a Golden Ale, an India Pale Lager, Red Ale, a Hopfen-Weisse, even (if you’re bloody mad) a Black IPA. In short, you can brew anything as long as it has a perceptible hop character. Whether it be in-your-face-bitter-and-angry, or a soft, gentle floralness, cushioned by malt, then that justifies using fresh hops.

In fact, this year, Hopstock had some good diversity of styles. Besides the aforementioned Barrel Aged Sour and Imperial Schwarz, we also had a Berliner Weisse, a Märzen, an Imperial Red Lager, a Special Bitter, a Rye Black IPA, a good ol’ fashioned NZ Pilsner, and of course, more Pale Ales, IPA’s and IIPA’s than you could shake a mash paddle at. That’s pretty great diversity for a festival that people write off as just an IPA-fight.

This all links back to one of my larger bugbears, which is people complaining that every beer is too hoppy these days. Frankly, we have more diversity in beer styles available now than probably at any other point in New Zealand history. But whatever (again, that’s for another post). If you take away two things from this post, I’d like them to be:

1. It’s perfectly OK to not like massive hop monsters. No one should ever look down on you. You’re allowed to like what you like and not have to justify it to anyone else.

As long as….

2. You don’t look down on others for making or liking the big IPAs. There’s room for all tastes.

Being a good Beer Geek and citizen of the ‘craft’ beer community means making room for all types of drinker, whether they want a finely balanced ESB, the lightest Golden Lager, or the hoppiest, booziest, highest-IBU-perceptible-to-the-human-tongue IPA.