Absolutely, Positively, a Dick Move

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You Got Right:

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

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

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

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

What You Got Wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I’m So Angry

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

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

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

11056544_10153505379790586_186756547978479258_n

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

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

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

Мы вас похороним.

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Beervana is Decadent and Depraved Part #4

[Go to Part #3]

Part 4: Beer Geek Kingdom

Friday

I awoke at 10 am. My plan for the day was to attend the morning session of Beervana, enjoy in moderation, and then work the evening shift at the bar. This plan however, went straight out of the window when I tried to get out of bed. My body protested in the same way a gearbox protests when you try to change down from 5th into 3rd at 100 kilometres an hour. God dammit body! You carried me into this thing, you have to see me through! 

Eventually I levered myself out of the sheets. Looking at myself in the mirror, my face showed signs of furious dissipation that I recognised instantly: That grey countenance that speaks of too much booze and nowhere near enough sleep. I’d seen it before on other people and despised it. And now I saw it again and on my own face, I despised it more. One thing was certain: there would be no Beervana today. 

Dissipation

Instead I formed a new plan: I would go to Garage Project for brunch, and then head to work. I got dressed and hit the streets to Aro Valley. Rockwell And Sons, some amazingly popular restaurant from Melbourne was doing a pop up menu at the Garage. It sounded like a hot ticket. 

Unfortunately, due to poor communication I turned up several hours before food was being served. Instead, I made do with an ice cream sandwich, and a can of Garagista IPA. Breakfast of champions. Leaning back in a dusty corner of the cold garage, I took stock of my rotten position. 

At this rate and by my reckoning, total mental and physical collapse was due sometime in the next forty eight hours. This was in theory, enough time to make it through Saturday, after which I was clear to fall apart at my leisure, but making it that far was by no means guaranteed. As I saw it, I had two options.

Either I could stop right now, go back to bed for a little extra sleep, go on a vegan juice-detox diet, and give up all alcohol for the foreseeable future. Or, option number two was to ride this god damn debauched beer train all the way clear to Sunday. I gave option one serious consideration, before dismissing it utterly. I was much too far into this thing to back out now. 

Anyway, as the good doctor said: buy the ticket, take the ride. 

***

I walked into Golding’s two hours early. I had no reason to, I hadn’t been called in or anything, but I had a suspicion I’d be needed. Friday afternoon is always the tamest session of Beervana, and the after-session rush on the beer bars in town is usually fairly manageable. It’s a different matter for the rush after the evening session, but we would be closing by that time. 

Inside Golding’s was chaos.

Not the chaos of a hundred drunks throwing beer around and shouting. Rather it was the chaos of a hundred people all trying to order beer and pizza at once, with only one bartender. It seemed the people leaving the morning session early were overlapping with the people warming for the evening session. I started at 3pm, and didn’t stop for the next ten hours.

***

Saturday

Get to Beervana, you half-baked internet hack.
- The Voice on the Phone

I plodded the barren concourse to the Westpac Stadium, diligently trying to pretend the vicious southerly that was flogging Wellington didn’t exist. Every god-damn year at Beervana, a southerly blows up, turning the Cake-Tin into a refrigerator. 

I was not the only one being whipped along the concourse, even though I was an hour late. Other groups and singles crawled their way towards the distant entrance. On other occasions the concourse would’ve been crammed with sports fans, dressed in black, or yellow or white. But not these folk. No sir, not today. I and the rest of these miserable, huddled clumps all had but one thing on on our minds: beer. And we were prepared to go to extreme lengths to get it. Even braving this god-damn wind. 

Concourse

I got off to a bad start, when I went to collect my press credentials and found that I had none under my name. 
‘What Media Outlet are you with?’ I was asked.
Shit. That question. I had been asked that a few times this week, and had been getting by calling myself a ‘freelancer, specialising in online material’. It sounds better than owning up to being a ‘Beer Blogger’ a breed dubiously regarded at the best of times. Still, there were few options now.
‘I’m the Official Beervana Blogger,’ I said. That was what my place-setting had said at the Longest Lunch, and was in some, vague, technical sense at least partly true. Mentally I prepared a list of names to drop, and if that didn’t work, make a dash past security and hope they couldn’t find me in the crowded tunnel.
‘Oh, Ok. Go on in then.’
Hmm. Alright, I’ll remember that one. I went in. 

***

Beervana 2014. What can I say? Lets start with what was new this year:

There was a new payment method. These were electronic wrist tags which you pre-loaded money onto and then scanned every time you bought a beer. Apparently these caused mass-chaos at the start of the first session. That’s partly why I turned up late, as I was told horror stories of people waiting an hour before they could buy a beer. This seemed to have been sorted by Saturday. Instinctively I didn’t like them, but I have no good reason for saying this and they seemed to be fairly functional on the day. So lets move on.

There were more single-brewery-operated stands than in previous years. This I think was a very, very good thing. I’ll elaborate further on this soon, but I will say the variety and ingenuity that people put into their stands was very refreshing.

The Festive Brew Stand sucked and the Australian Stand was altogether missing. Both of these are usually my most frequented stands in previous years. This year the Aussie stand was hamstrung by the shipment of beer not leaving port in time for the festival. Que sera. The festive brews on the other hand, were stymied by a theme so uninspiring that most breweries didn’t bother to enter. It was ANZAC biscuits – an idea that several brewers had already tried and at least one (Garage Project) already had in their seasonal range.

The Portland stand almost made up for this. The posse of Portland Brewers all had their beers on a dedicated stand, and this was where some of the most interesting beers were to be found. Behind this they hosted the ‘Taste of Portland’ seminar, which was a guided beer and food matching session. Like the Longest Lunch, the food was exquisite and the matches excellent. On the downside, this took a full hour out of my drinking time, but I didn’t need to queue or pay for beer and food (it was ticketed, but my non-existent media pass got me in) and I needed to stay sober anyway.

OK, lets take an intermission.

***

I was standing by one of the big heaters trying desperately to restart my circulation when I heard the words that set any god-fearing liberal on edge:
‘The Conservatives are polling almost 6%. Looks like they’re getting a seat this time,’ a woman with a purple silk bag said.
‘I don’t believe it, surely New Zealand won’t elect that dingbat into parliament?’ said her friend. He was a tall geek, with a waxed moustache. ‘It can’t last. I’m waiting for the scandal that will sink the Conservative Party. Those sorts are always up to something underhanded. That’s how they got to be rich crazies in the first place.’ I couldn’t resist. I piped up from the other side of the heater.

‘I know what it is,’ I said. ‘I pour beer for all sorts of government types. You wouldn’t believe the stuff you hear across the bar when no one thinks you’re listening.’
‘Oh yeah? What is it?’ he asked sceptically. ‘Backhanders?’
‘As if. No one’s stupid enough to get caught doing that in New Zealand,’ I said.
‘Closet Queer?’ asked the woman.
I laughed. ‘Craig’s no Ted Haggard. No.’ I looked conspiratorial, whilst I invented quickly. ‘It’s drugs. Opium.’
‘What?’ they asked, disbelievingly.
‘Oh yeah. He flies it in three times a year on his private plane. All those ‘Business Trips’ to South-East Asia? Bringing back kilos of the raw stuff.’

‘Bullshit!’ said the man. I could tell he wanted to believe it very badly.
‘Oh yeah, it’s true.’ I said. ‘One of our regulars is a Staffer for Bill English.’ Once I was started, the bullshit flowed freely. ‘She accompanied the Minister to Craig’s Mansion in Epsom. They were there to discuss a theoretical coalition deal. She said they found him shirtless in his office. He was in front of a shrine to Pat Robertson, chanting ‘In Referendums confidimus’ and taking great big hits from a pipe of the stuff. Apparently he sort of came out of it after they threw some water on him, and carried on with the meeting, but she was pretty shaken by the whole thing. 

‘Christ, that’s insane!’ said purple silk; ‘I know he’s a nutjob, but he’s not that crazy, surely?’
‘That’s what opium does to you. Coleridge used it to write Kubla Khan. Craig smokes it and comes up with his bat-shit policies. You can see it in his face. I mean look at his publicity shots. Him leering in front of a thunderstorm with that million-mile, dead-eyed stare? You’d have to be high as a kite to think those were a good idea.’
The man gave an ironic bark of a laugh. ‘True that.’ 

‘Spare us all if he gets into power,’ I said. ‘Thank god for decent people like us,’ and with that I walked away. 

Jesus Christ. Vicious lies, all of it. But at the time it felt good. From our liberal bubble in Wellington, the election looked like a much closer race than it turned out to be. With the Conservatives polling over 5%, the prospect of that degenerate swine playing king-maker made me physically sick. I knew I couldn’t really stop the Conservative party, but anything I could do, however small, to chip away at their power-base felt cathartic.

As it all turned out, the Conservatives got less than 4%, but the left such as it is, received a vicious pounding. We really should have seen it coming. 

Colin Craig 2

***

OK, time for some break-down.

I liked Beervana a lot this year. Maybe not quite as much as I liked it in the Town hall days, but that was so long ago I’m not sure I can separate fact from nostalgia anymore. The simple fact of the matter is that this Beervana felt like it had regained a lot of its soul. That sounds pretty airy-fairy, which is something I want to avoid, so lets ask the question: why did I like it more?

Well, it felt more in touch with the beer. Damn it, that’s airy-fairy. What I’m trying to say is, that it felt more like a celebration of good beer and less of the industrial booze-up of previous years. And I think there are many reasons for this, but there are two I’d like to focus on: exclusive beers and brewery stands.

Exclusive beers is the mechanism that drives the Great Australasian Beer Spectapular. Every brewery exhibiting must contribute a never-before-seen beer which are all poured on large, central stands not controlled by the breweries. This makes it a really fun and interesting festival for those au-fait with ‘Craft’ beer and those who are not Beer Geeks will enjoy it (or not) just the same. Whilst there were issues with exclusives this year, owing to a weak festive-brew and Australian stands, as I’ve said, the Portland and Individual Brewery stands made up for this.

This brings me to my second point: Brewery stands. I think individual brewery stands are the heart and soul of big beer festivals. This year in particular, the quality was outstanding. Last year Garage Project turned things up to 11 with their crazy stand. This year it seemed more like a 10, which honestly is still pretty outrageous, but also Panhead and Yeastie Boys (and others) came to the party with awesome stands and great new beers.

I’m a big fan of individual stands because they give the option of a) showcasing a brewery’s portfolio to new drinkers, b) exhibiting new and exciting beers for the Geeks, and c) it lets the drinking public feel in touch with the brewery team. And I think that is a really important aspect of beer festivals.

To sum up: I liked Beervana more this year because it felt like there was more engagement between beer, drinker and brewer. And that is where the future of the festival lies, if I may air-and-fair again. Put simply: Beervana seems to be growing in directions I like, and I’m looking forward to next year.

Ok, let’s wrap this beast up and send it home.

***

I’d had a great festival, but I hadn’t seen nearly as much of Beervana as I’d planned to. I seem to have gotten stuck at Garage Project’s stand. The problem was that every time I tried to leave, I’d be collared by a friend or associate and get stuck in conversation. On the plus side though, most of my beers were being bought for me.

Suddenly I heard the last drinks call go out across the PA. Shit.

I ran over to the Garage stand, elbowing several punters keen on getting there before the cut-off. Ian, the lanky yet handsome Brewery Manager saw me coming.
‘Hey Dylan, you need a beer?’
‘Ian! Ian, give me a blade!’ I shouted.
‘What?’ he asked.
‘A knife! Scissors! Anything sharp. Now, goddammit!’ 

Ian shuffled about for about for a moment, then produced a Stanley knife from under the counter, looking confused. His confusion turned to shock when I snatched it off him and started desperately sawing at my wrist. I was trying to remove my wrist tag. When I had got it off, I threw it at him.
‘Take this. There’s ten bucks or so on there. Have a beer on me. Or some dumplings. Whatever.’
‘Hey thanks, man,’ he said. ‘You sure you don’t want another…’
‘THERE’S NO TIME DAMN IT!’ I shouted. ‘I’ve got to get to Golding’s.’ With that I charged into the crowd. 

The bar was already packed when I got there. Tom and Steve were on top of things, but I knew that a thousands tipsy beer fiends were only minutes behind me; and the dirty glass was already piling up. And so began the rhythm that would fill the next eight hours: Pour beer. Order pizza. Collect glass. Wash glass. Collect pizza. Repeat.

They came in waves. Again and again, the waves of people washed over us. The passing of time was marked only by the incessant changing of kegs. My world shrunk to four walls, seven taps, a mountain of glassware and an ever-growing pile of empty kegs. 

And then suddenly, it was over. It was 11:30pm, and we called last drinks. We pushed the people out, we wiped, mopped and we settled the tills. And before I knew it, we were sitting in an empty bar: Owen, Gen, Tom and myself; wallowing in exhaustion and bucket-sized staffies. An idea had occurred to me, in the maelstrom of the shift, which I hadn’t had time to really think about but I teased out a little more now.

We’d been busier than Satan on a Sunday, but somehow the shift had been… easy. Sure we’d moved two weeks worth of beer in four days, but there had been none of the usual bullshit of a super busy bar: no arguments, no abusive customers, no vomit. And yeah, we’d refused service to a lot of drunk people, but none of them had cut up rough or even sworn at us. For an event which ostensibly involves drinking for hours (or in my case days) at a time, everyone had been remarkably well behaved. What a testament to the culture of ‘Craft Beer’ in this country. 

I guess it’s true what Dr. Thompson says: Good people drink good beer. 

***

I was standing outside the bar, having just locked up.  I felt my phone vibrate. 

We're at Malty. Coming?
-Steph

My friends, still riding the train to the bitter end. Am I coming? Not today. I desperately needed rest, sanctuary. I had to be back at the bar in ten hours, but that was long enough to recover. Breathing in the cold Wellington air, I turned my back on the bar, my friends, the whole damn-rotten affair. Anonymous darkness settling on my shoulders, I strode off into the Wellington night.  For the first time in days, I felt at peace. This is my city. Here I am at home, safe.

Another Beer Geek, in the Beer Geek Kingdom. 

Kingdom

***

A big thank you to my Editor, Hannah. And all those who encouraged me to keep writing when I was thoroughly sick of this project.

This post is fiction and intended for parody and satire purposes only. Some of the things mentioned above happened, some of them did not. Others did happen but happened slightly differently that depicted here. Don’t take it too seriously.

*

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Hi Colin.

Beervana is Decadent and Depraved Part #3

[Go to Part #2]

Part 3: Debauchery at the Awards Dinner

THURSDAY

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

We all hoped a shit brewery hadn’t won. 

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

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

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

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

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

‘Bastards.’ 

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

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

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

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

We would be carrying this party long into the night.

 ***

Stu and Jula

[Go To Part #4]

Beervana is Decadent and Depraved Part #2

[Go to Part #1]

Part 2: Angst and Anxiety in Thorndon

Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

ANZ Geek

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

Filter Guy

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

It doesn’t bear thinking about…

***

[Go To Part #3]

Beervana is Decadent and Depraved Part #1

"Fiction is often the best fact."
William Faulkner

I awoke on Saturday morning with an almighty hangover. My head hurt terribly and my mouth felt like bats had been shitting in it. Sweet Jesus, what the hell had been drinking, I wondered? Then I remembered: nothing. Well, three beers, which is pretty much nothing in my job. No, I was in the depths of a work-hangover: faux-drunkenness compounded by exhaustion and dehydration. And it was only going to get worse. What more would this foul week throw at me?

My phone rang.

‘You weren’t at Beervana yesterday. I checked.’
‘No, I was exhausted and hungover.’
‘Well are you going today?’
‘No, I’m exhausted and hungover.’
‘Listen, you key-tapping swine!’ the voice exploded. ‘You’ve gotten a sweet ride on this assignment! Free lunch, final wisdom, the lot. But that means you’ve got to cover it. Completely. Get your ass to Beervana God damn it!’
‘Urh, yeah, sure,’ I said.
‘Anyway, what else would you be doing? Drinking whisky out of eggcups again?’
‘Hey, I don’t do that. I don’t own any eggcups. I eat my boiled eggs out of shot glasses. They work really well.’
‘Whatever. Get to Beervana, you half-baked internet hack,’ the voice added for good measure. 

***

Apologies to all those who are greatly confused. A while back in the lead up to Beervana, I wrote a fairly popular post in the style of Raymond Chandler (et al.). Afterwards I fielded a suggestion from a regular reader that I write my next Beervana post in the style of Gonzo. At first I was against it, because I have no pretension to being anywhere near as good a writer as the Hunter S. Thompson, and anyway it would probably ring pretty disingenuous to blindly copy his style.

But then I thought, what the fuck, why not? If there’s one thing I really don’t like, it’s blog posts along the lines of ‘I went here, I drank this, you should go where I go and drink what I drink.’ So anything that breaks that monotony has got to be good.

Now a disclaimer: Gonzo style requires a good dose of what we might call hyperbole. As such, just remember that this post is parody and intended for recreational and novelty use only. I’m also not going to write the whole piece in style either. That would again seem well, disingenuous. So here goes…

***

001 (3)

Beervana is Decadent and Depraved

Part 1: Uneasy Vibrations and Early DT’s

Monday

Beervana began for me on Monday afternoon in a blur of jetlag. I had just returned to New Zealand that weekend from a trip to Scandinavia. I was coming down slowly off what had essentially been an extended herring-binge, and adjusting to New Zealand’s timezone and cuisine was not happening smoothly. 

I had awoken at 6am had spent the day shift variously staring at my emails trying to make sense of plain English, and making sandwiches for the first few beer tourists who were already trickling into Wellington. Suddenly, in walked the avuncular David Cryer, hefting a 30L keg as if it was a feather. 

‘You’re having a beer launch here tonight. Don’t worry I cleared it with Golding.’
‘Ok… So what are we launching?’ I asked. 
‘A collaboration between 8 Wired and Gigantic Brewing from Portland.’ 
‘Great, what’s it called?’ 
‘I don’t know.’ 

The keg label left us none the wiser. All it had was the unenlightening gibberish: ‘PDXNZESB’ which I took for some sort of batch code. I later found out that this was in fact the name of the beer. At the time we settled on calling it ‘New Zealand ESB’.

‘One more thing,’ said Cryer ‘We need twenty litres run off into riggers for another event.’ 

Holy Jesus, this will be the shortest beer launch I’ve ever worked, I thought. What would happen when waves upon waves of punters turn up, demanding a beer that’s already run out? Suddenly I was having flashbacks to the Garage Project 24/24, when two hundred people would attempt to ram themselves into Hashigo at five every Tuesday; desperate for beers of which only 20-40 litres existed at a time. 

Cues ran out the door, people at the back deluding themselves that there would still be beer available when they reached the front. I remember the complaints, the bad noises, the gnashing of teeth, the almost tears when folks arrived twenty minutes after the beer hit taps, but five minutes too late to try any. 

Was I going to have to relive that?

***

It didn’t quite pan out like that. The event wasn’t well publicised, and only a few people missed out. The remaining ~10L was drunk in roughly as many minutes, mainly by a pack of Americans that came into the bar. I’d later learn that that this was a selection of Brewers and Beer People from Portland Oregon, flown over for the week.

At the time however, reality was feeling a little thin on the ground for me, so I shook a bunch of American hands, then got the hell out of Golding’s early and made for the sanctuary of bed.

Tuesday

Tuesday was to be my first proper night shift. Events for the Road to Beervana week were starting to happen all over Wellington and more and more people were rolling into town.

Golding’s was hosting Fritz and Maria of Liquid Alchemy, for a beer and spirits matching session, which I felt more than a little trepidation for. Matching booze with food is great because people don’t get too drunk. But matching booze with booze seems like bad recipe.

Liquid Alchemy were showcasing their Moonshine, which was pretty rough stuff, even for someone who drinks their eggcups neat. and when drowned with enough cinnamon syrup and apple juice (a cocktail known as an Apple Pie), it was really quite delicious. I didn’t expect much to happen in the first couple of days. I assumed most folks would be either arriving later or saving their pennies for the big events. I was wrong and we were slammed.

It seemed like every Beer Geek in the Southern Hemisphere was rolling into Wellington, and more than half of them were attempting to cram themselves into Golding’s. And with only two of us behind the bar…

***

Tuesday was the first day of proper Beervana craziness. Steve and I coped as best we could, handling as much trade as we might usually expect on a mild Saturday night. It wasn’t long before my old friend jetlag was rearing its hideous face again. I had woken at 6am. It was around 11:30pm when we finally pushed the last customers out the door, and I was out of my mind with exhaustion. My body was attempting to punish me for being in the wrong timezone. As I sat drinking my staffie, the fairy lights began to literally swim and swirl before my eyes and and the music began to fade in and out, as if someone was playing with the tuning knob on an FM radio. 

Hallucinating from exhaustion already? Fun times. 

Golding’s would be a strange place to try and take hard drugs. With such an abundance of stimuli, a head full of hallucinogens could easily turn nasty. I’ve only seen one guy come into the bar who was clearly on hard drugs. He walked in on a busy Wednesday night when we had no security on. He’d stood, wide-eyed in the middle of the bar, mouth agape, drinking the place in. He seemed to be enjoying himself,and when I cautiously approached him and asked if I could help, he’d smiled and looked straight through me with the million mile stare of someone travelling on a plane of existence well removed from my own.

He left without issue, but what if whatever junk that was in his head had shifted gears on him? Would he have melted into a pile of gibbering goo into one of our casino chairs? What would I have done then? Scooped him into a wheelbarrow and dumped him in the alleyway behind Hope Bros? Maybe I should’ve rolled him too… Stolen his wallet and given him a kicking? Nothing like a broken rib or two to teach him a lesson… Jesus, that’s a bad thought.

He could have cut up rough too though. If a trip turned bad in a bar like this, when the actual god-damn weasels we have scattered around the bar start closing in, and the Bartender starts morphing into a demonic stoat monster, there’s no telling how the depraved mind will react. 

005

[Go to Part #2]

Our Man In Wellington

I had a very interesting business meeting at Golding’s last week. Well actually, it wasn’t that interesting, so to liven it up a little, I’ve decided to recount it as if it was a cheesy 1950’s spy thriller…

***

The soft light of bucket lamps shining through drawn slats said someone had gotten to the bar before me. It was an uncommon interruption to a morning routine that varies little: I open Golding’s alone at 11am everyday until Mr.Golding arrives around midday. Perhaps he was early? I went in without suspicion.

Inside however, I was surprised to find middle-aged man in casual business attire relaxing at a table. He was tall and broad shouldered, darkish complexion, greying hair and a cheerful, slightly uncle-ish demeanour. I knew who he was: David Cryer, head of Cryermalt, the biggest player in New Zealand’s malt business. More commonly however, he’s known as the man behind Beervana, New Zealand’s largest beer festival. Not a man to be taken lightly in the beer world.

I’d met him before through Beervana, a festival I’d both worked and attended over the years. Indeed, I’d even shared a beer with him on several occasions. I did not however, expect to find him in unannounced in my bar.

‘Mr. Cryer, this is a pleasant surprise,’ I said, affecting nonchalance.
‘Indeed Jauslin, nice to see you too,’ he replied. ‘Mr. Golding let me in, but he was called away. I hope you don’t mind. I’ve been hoping to have a word with you.’
‘Certainly,’ I said, acting as if this was completely expected. ‘I’m all ears.’
‘As you know, Beervana is coming up in August. There’s a lot of action around town in the next few weeks. We need eyes and ears all over Wellington; men on the ground. Your name came up. We want you for the job.’
It smelt funny to me. ‘Don’t you already have your own machine for that?’ I asked.
Cryer shifted visibly. ‘Yes we do, and they’re doing a great job. But we need a man on the inside: a local. A freelancer, like yourself.’

The penny dropped in my brain so hard it must have made an audible thunk.
‘I hear you Mr. Cryer. Now let’s not split hairs: you want a spy,’ I said.
‘Now hold on Jauslin, that’s now what I said! You wouldn’t be spying, you be…’ he paused, looking for the right word. ‘Sharing useful information. We want you to be… Our man in Havana, so to speak.’
‘That’s an unfortunate literary reference. You want a mole, now call it what it is and be done.’ I countered.
‘We heard you were a man of understanding, but clearly I’ve come to the wrong door.’ Mr. Cryer got up to leave.
I laughed. ‘Oh no, you’ve got the right door, you just need to knock-knock on it the right way.’ I motioned for him to sit.

‘You want a spy in Wellington, you found one. But at a price, Mr. Cryer. Always at a price.’

Our Man in Wellington

***

Ok, I’ll be serious-faced now. The meeting didn’t really go like that (for a start there were other people in the room, and the lighting wasn’t nearly so moody). The simple fact of the matter is though that I’ve taken on a role as what you might call ‘Social Media Liaison’ for the run up to Beervana. Our goal is to capture those beautiful, exciting, and frequently crazy moments that happen when the beer community get together.

Now this is new territory for me. A lot of people spend their life on Twitter, but I’ve never been much of a user. I keen a vague track on what’s happening in the beer scene, but for the most part, I just wait until I see something interesting (or get tagged), swing in, deliver a few devastating thrusts, and swing out again like Beer-Geek Errol Flynn. But we’re going to make a real go of this, so here’s the plan:

  1. Follow me on Twitter. While you’re at it, follow Beervana if you haven’t already (you mad person).
  2. If you know of anything beer related going down in Wellington in the next few weeks, share it with us. Perhaps there’s a beer dinner, or maybe you’re a brewer coming to town. Or you could be a homebrewer, making a batch for the Beervana Home Brew Comp.  Maybe you’re just an out-of-towner who want’s to know where the good beer is at. Whatever the case, Tweet about it, share it on Facebook. Spread the word, let the people know.
  3. Tag us in (myself, Beervana, your friends, your Beer Geek Aunty), AND/OR use the hashtag #RoadToBeervana. I’ll be keeping tabs on this.
  4. Head to Beervana in August, and have a wonderful beery time.

Disclaimer:

For all my dramatic talk of ‘Always at a price,’ I’m not being employed by Beervana. I didn’t write this post for money, despite what The Joker says (well, maybe a Beervana ticket and a few other perks). I’m doing this for a few reasons. First of all, I don’t want to write on The Bottleneck for money. I want to keep it free from bias (or at least other people’s bias).

Secondly, I’m not here for all the leadup to Beervana. My own #RoadToBeervana goes via Scandiwegia for a little while (basically, there’s a chair at Mikkeller Bar I need to sit in). So I’m not here for a decent slice of it.

Finally, I actually really do believe in what we do around Wellington at this time of year. There’s so much good ‘craft’ beer stuff that happens in this town when the whole beer community gets together. So lets get on this. Let’s share it, enjoy it, and help this industry grow.

Pacific Beer Exposé

I said long ago, that one of the (relatively) few benefits of leaving Hashigo is that I get to experience it as a punter. Now this isn’t entirely true, as every time I got in there, it still somehow feels like a workplace more than a bar to me. It’s like taking the back off a clock and watching the cogs move. The more familiar you are with the machine, the less you see it as a functional device for keeping time, and the more you see the individual pieces working independently.

Anywho, to move on from this rather laboured analogy, since I now no longer work at HZ, I now get to go to their beer festivals. Which isn’t so say I couldn’t go before. Infact I could get in for free when I worked at Hashigo. But you can never really enjoy a beer festival when you know you have to work an 8 hour shift afterwards.

So all this has been a very long-winded way of saying that Labour Weekend, I rocked up with a great deal of excitement, to the first beer festival I’ve attended without volunteering at/working at/working after, since Beervana 2010. And honestly, if I could only attend one festival a year, it would probably be Hashigo Zake’s Pacific Beer Expo.

PBE2013

I used to joke that PBE was has HZ’s Greatest Hit’s album: a collection of the favourite beers from the last year or so that have been squirreled away to be leased in one beer-fueled orgy. And in previous years this has pretty much been the case. But this year the line-up was a little more diverse, with a lot of imports I’d never seen before. Even more exciting, quite a few New Zealand breweries showed up with one-offs, new or special releases.

Beer highlights included:

  • 8 Wired Wild Feijoa. It was light, funky, refreshing and 10%. I could drink a lot of it, very quickly and then be very drunk.
  • Funk Estate Pinky and the Grain 8.8%. A pink peppercorn Saison. It should not have worked, but totally did.
  • Garage Project Weasel Cah Phe Da. Oh, look at me, what a Garage Project fanboy. Yeah well, shut up. The beer was great. And yes, I know, Civet coffee is usually either dubiously authentic, and if it’s real, dubiously ethical. Garage acknowledged this in their poster for the beer, and said at the time that this was probably a one-time only deal.
Credit: Garage Project/Rachel Smythe

Credit: Garage Project/Rachel Smythe.

So what I’m trying to get at in a long-winded kind of way is that the beer selection at PBE is the absolute business. And for myself that’s really the main draw-card. But then I do proudly wear the badge of Beer-Geekdom. What other benefits are there for the more casual punter?

Well frankly, the atmosphere.

Unfortunately I didn't get any photos of the PBE atmosphere. In fact this is the only photo I took, on someone else's camera. I was too busy getting my festival on.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of the PBE atmosphere. In fact this is the only photo I took, on someone else’s camera. I was too busy getting my festival on. C/O Megan Whelan.

Beervana is noisy and cramped. Octoberfest is a piss-up. Marchfest is a pleasant afternoon in the park. In contrast PBE is so damn convivial. It feels like a festival: a day off with friends and beer. Now a lot of people complained about the lack of seating (I’ll get to complaining soon), but I think that kind helped with the atmosphere. Instead of being cramped around little tables, where some poor bastard is left standing, trying to not feel excluded; everyone could wander freely between standing groups, or join little circles of people sitting on the ground. I think this added a lot to the atmosphere.1

What else? The embossed Spiegelau glasses were a nice touch.

Possibly the most classy beer-fest glasses ever.  Credit: Phil Cook

Possibly the most classy beer-fest glasses ever.
Credit: Phil Cook

You know what the biggest benefit is, though? The cost. Yeah, tickets were kind of steep this year, and a few people complained. First of all, they contained an $8 Ticketek booking fee, which was a bit of a shitter. But frankly, I was there from start to finish of the festival, and it took me an hour to use up all my complimentary tokens. Then I think I only spent about another $20 on tokens all up. A taster was $2, a glass $4 (a flat rate for all beers). I remember my last trip to Beervana (to work). A taster was $4-$6, a glass was $6-$8 (ABV dependant) It cost me a hell of a lot more, and I wasn’t even drinking. PBE really is one of the best value festivals I’ve ever been to.

Alright, that’s enough positivity, time for some evenhanded criticism. There were some issues this year, and almost all of them can be linked to the venue. Ooh, surprise, surprise, a Wellington beer festival has venue issues. This is the perennial problem for festival organisers: each location has its positives, but also comes with frequently arbitrary limitations. In the case of the Town Hall, its a tied caterer. With the St James, its a tied ticketing agency driving up admissions costs and limitations on how much seating could be brought into the venue.  Also for some reason, they couldn’t turn on the air-vent’s which meant it got rather stuffy in the hall.

So even if the venue was a bit of a triple-shitter, there is a positive side: next years PBE will be back at the beloved Boatshed on the waterfront next year. Moving on.

Some of the beers advertised didn’t make it this year. That is a bit of a let down, but then I’m inclined to entirely forgive this on two grounds. First of all, the beer-list was still objectively outstanding. Secondly, ordering the beer for Golding’s, I have to deal with this sort of thing on a weekly basis. New Zealand freight companies (and let’s face it, breweries) are notoriously unreliable. Frankly some days I’m surprised anything ever turns up at all.2

I’m also assured that further steps will be taken to remedy this at the next festival.

Finally, my last gripe: the caterers rather seemed to phone it in this year. Yeah, the food was good, but last year it was amazing. And yeah, the selection was varied, but it seemed a little insubstantial. As I write this though, I’m wondering why I’m even complaining about this. What was on offer was good, what I ate I didn’t pay for, because food tokens were included in the ticket. What’s more, if I really wanted something else, I could have just popped out onto Courtney Place and picked it up. So I’m just going to stop talking about this now.

If you take anything away from this, it should be that PBE wasn’t perfect. But also, if any of the above is a deal-breaker, then I’m afraid you’re just being too damn picky. The Pacific Beer Expo is still the Wellington beer festival with:

  • The most exciting lineup.
  • The most convivial atmosphere (except possibly SOBA’s Winter Ale Festival).
  • The best value for money.

Frankly if you don’t make it there next year, you’re missing out. I’m already looking forward to next year.


1. But then, four years of hospo has meant that I can now spend 10 hours straight on my feet no problem. In fact, I can pretty much sleep on my feet if need be.

2. My favourite experience of this was ordering beer from a certain New Zealand Brewery: I was assured it would be delivered within one week. Ten days later, I call up them up to find out where it’d got to. It still hadn’t left the brewery.

*

*

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Actually, I lied. I took one other photo with someone else's camera... C/O Phil Cook

Actually, I lied. I took one other photo with someone else’s camera…
C/O Phil Cook