As is probably also true of many or indeed most other long-standing / high-level1 beer enthusiasts, I have unfeasibly-many branded t-shirts. But there always seems to be room for one more, and I’d been meaning for ages to get one from the Craft Queer Project. Born from a particularly-rad present my comrade2 Dylan made for a fellow bartender, it evolved into a generally-purchasable thing and a worthy little fundraiser to boot. I’ve also seen way too much of the homophobic nonsense that he mentions in his post; from trolls fouling up the online beer community to boorish lunkheads in bars acting like they’d tumbled in from a prior decade — and see Melissa Cole’s latest piece if you need and/or can stomach examples from the Antipodes. But still, I share his optimism that things are (as they say) getting better.
It was really heartening, two weekends ago, to spy a few of these t-shirts in the crowd at the Great Kiwi Beer Festival, worn on the persons of total strangers. That was enough to at last jolt me into ordering mine. But as a habitual Overthinker, who coincidentally exists very much to the left of the Kinsey Scale, I vacillated for a while between getting the original ‘QuB’ version and the slightly-bowdlerised, ahem, straight-Beer one. But an analogy to all that brewery merch in my drawers eventually occurred to me: I’ll happily wear, for instance, a ParrotDog t-shirt, a Stone & Wood hoodie, and a Dogfish Head hat — perhaps even all at once — despite working at precisely none of those companies.3 I may not be of them, but I like them, and I wish them well in their many endeavours, supporting their good works and deeds where I can. Likewise this, really.4 Simple.
1: I mean this in the Dungeons & Dragons sense — lots of experience and a few perks. ↑ 2: Disclaimers ahoy: then, in his day job, he was a customer of my day job (which, in turn, made the beer the artwork references); now, he’s officially my boss, since I’ve reshuffled my working life rather dramatically. ↑ 3: So far, at least. I’d let you know. ↑ 4: If I seem to be harping on these down-with-grossness and show-of-solidarity angles, I make no apology. I’ve seen two of my other beloved Domains Of Nerdness — namely videogames and speculative fiction — develop disgusting little cancers of reactionary bullshit and I’ll kick against that where I can. Calling out whatever nonsense comes within reach is the least any of us can do, and now we can do it while wearing a snazzy t-shirt. Win-win! ↑
This past weekend, the local — i.e., Wellington, but also New Zealand more generally — beer community exported one of its stalwarts, Stu McKinlay,1 best-known as a founder and large fraction of the Yeastie Boys. I first met him back in my Malthouse bartending days, at the debut of Pot Kettle Black, and it’s been excellent knowing him since. He was an early giver-of-encouraging-nudges to this very Beer Diary project, is officially a Friend Of The Show, and can frequently be found here disproving the old maxim of Don’t Read The Comments. I’m very much on board with his broader philosophies of beer; our disagreements are the quibbling-at-the-margins that happen among comrades. You never worry that he’s an opportunist, an interloping con-man, or anything other than a True Believer — he’s a proper mensch.
After this January’s massively-successful crowdfunding push (no need for a disclaimer, here; I’m not among their new investors), Stu’s off to arrange for the UK-based production and from-there distribution of their beers, starting with Gunnamatta and Pot Kettle Black. Contract brewers from day one — with no pretensions to have or intentions to build a “bricks and mortar” HQ — they’ve found themselves freer to sidestep some of the annoying and complicated business of exporting and simply produce beer closer to its intended market. I find this kind of ‘Distributed Republic’2 model really appealing, not least because it lessens the shipping-around of masses of water and packaging materials. And this is altogether a more-promising example of the phenomenon: morally better than Stone’s recent and rather-disingenuous ‘campaign’3 to build breweries on the far U.S. coast and in Europe, and more loud-and-proud than ParrotDog and Panhead’s current contracting of keg beer in Melbourne for Australian consumption.
So here’s to good people making good money from good beer. And to a homegrown business expanding out into the world in a new, interesting and authentic way — not by resorting to distasteful nonsense,4 nor by subsuming itself within an existing conglomerate.5 I hope locals will raise a glass of beer (or a cup of tea, or a dram of whisky, since they’d all be appropriate)6 to toast their progress and speed Stu on his way. Please do look after him for us, Englishpersons and Other Antipodeans. I’m sure you’ll enjoy his company — in both senses of the word.
1: That’s him in the red pants, above, despite the title of this post, which just occurred to me while I was doing the dishes and wouldn’t get out of my brain until I wrote it down. It seemed vaguely punny and fitting for a celebrated colour-blocker moving to the other side of the world. ↑ 2: To borrow a phrase / idea I’m most familiar with via Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Diamond Age — though I’m not madly keen on the association it has with libertarian techbros, to say the least.↑ 3: A story which went down mid-last-year, while I was on De Facto Hiatus and it was too much of a clusterfuck for me to manage to say anything much constructive. Glen Humphries’ trio of posts — the cash grab, the screw-up, and the cover-up — is excellent coverage from the time. ↑ 4: By now, surely, you know who I mean. ↑ 5: à la Emerson’s, of course, most recently and locally and notoriously. Not that that always goes badly, of course. In the next podcast episode — [SPOILER ALERT] — I have a few things to say about how well the past two years have turned out, for us and for them. ↑ 6: Or anything you like. Or not at all. He’s a big advocate of the blessed subjectivity, so I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. ↑
This weekend, I’m off down to Christchurch for the Great Kiwi Beer Festival; my third annual visit for what has proved to be a bloody marvellous day in the park with ten thousand of your closest strangers — with a distinct sideline of embarrassing Bogan Dadmusic. It’s probably too late, now, for me to advocate in favour of you changing your travel plans for it (if you’re not already booked in), but you should get to Christchurch for a visit soon, regardless. In addition to the very-many excellent Beer Things going on there, seeing the City recovering from the 2011 earthquake is, in turn, inspiring, fascinating — and instructively aggravating in its many bureaucratic clusterfucks.
I’ve also been invited to have a little ramble in the ‘Beer Academy’ seminar tent. I had masses of fun there, last year — doing a version of my ‘How To Buy A Beer‘ spiel — and this time around my mandate is to rhapsodise about “session beer”, for which I hardly needed my arm twisted. I have, after all, been harping on about them for yonks: there’s a tag for relevant Beer Diary entries on here, and we devoted an early podcast episode to them,1 after I’d shoehorned a ‘Midstrength News’ segment into the ones before it. It should be a good lark; there are a lot of excellent examples on the local market, and plenty of interesting stories to tell about the history, the chemistry, the legal context, and how they all come together in quaffable pints of only-gently-intoxicating deliciousness.
The Press, the local Christchurch paper, did a little preview of my seminar in the run-up to the festival, which appeared online today — click through2 to see my gormless grinning mug as I sat with a pint of Hallertau Minimus shortly before noon sometime last week. Always a strange experience, interacting with the Actual Media, and I inevitably had a few awkward quibbles while reading what eventuated from our chat: I flinched from “expert”, as an adjective, because I feel like there’s a whole bunch more than I don’t know than what I do;3 I wouldn’t want to litigate what was a ‘true’ beer lover, big believer in subjectivity that I am; and I hope I was more gender-neutral in my line about how midstrength brewing requires your A-game. Also, how strange is the newspaper affectation of referring to people, after a brief introduction, by their last name exclusively? So very Private School (he says, with a shudder). But these are the merest nit-picks of a natural-born pedant; it really was flattering to be asked at all, and — if last year was anything to go by — it’s that sort of coverage that helps drive a really healthy attendance into the seemingly-nerdy seminar tent at a large and wonderfully varied festival.
1: During which I substantially flubbed the history of ABV trends in the last few-hundred years of Anglophone brewing — but was rescued by Kieran “Beer Guru” Haslett-Moore in the comments. ↑ 2: I’m loath to re-post the photo because I’m a stickler for properly respecting usage rights and am superannoyed when people boost my own — to the extent that I’ve just sent them invoices, and, on one glorious occasion, collected. ↑ 3: Which is why people upset me, as a bartender, when they say things like “I don’t like beer” — how do they know? I’ve been at this for more than a decade, and I haven’t tried much of a fraction of what’s on offer. In my head, I have this as a beery version of the ‘First there is a mountain’ zen koan, but it turns out I’ve morphed that massively into my own thing; I should do a ‘Zen and the Art of Beer-Geekery’ some day and explain myself. Much closer, on reflection, is our friend Socrates’ “I know that I know nothing” — though, as an Ancient Greek, he’d likely have been no fan of beer, the “Barbarian’s Beverage” as a recent book of the same title puts it. ↑
There are few things more banal and trite, in this strange world of unpaid keyboard-rattling, than the ‘Apology For Not Posting More Often’ post. So let’s not have one of those. In any case, I’m not really sorry; the time off was more than called-for, in the circumstances, and oddly enjoyable, in its own way. Besides, I was hardly on another planet and out of the loop entirely; shorter-form stuff on Twitter and Facebook kept me entertained and let me vent when necessary. But the combination of the extended sabbatical and a recurring pattern of responses — that I both observed and (apparently) provoked — that left me wanting to plant a flag, of sorts, on my way back home; to point at something that’d been murmuring unpleasantly in the background a while and say down with this sort of thing. As I vented once, late last year, in lieu of a proper table-flip:
The idea that "beer people" shouldn't criticise other beer people or breweries and instead present a united front can fuck right off.
As a way to deflect negative attention, I’ve been seeing this (and its close relatives) quite a lot — i.e., way too much. To me personally, it happened most bewilderingly when I pointed out some pretty bloody basic grossness by the guys at WilliamsWarn; and a version of the same popped up, perhaps more inevitably, a few times when I’d given Moa a gentle prod for whatever was their nonsense de jour. Geoff Ross, their CEO, eventually retreated to some bizarre form of economic patriotism rather than listening to people who would perhaps quite like to buy his company’s beer but can no longer bring themselves to reward him with their money. The impulse to see criticism as an attack is apparently strong one in us humans,1 poor bewildered monkeys that we are.
Really, though, it’s your closest friends who’ll tell you when you have schmutz stuck in your teeth. Acquaintances and strangers probably couldn’t give enough of a fuck to bother, and usually can’t be relied upon to point out when you’re behaving like a bit of a dick. In a more-perfect world, your friends wouldn’t hesitate. In any particular domain, it is entirely possible — likely, even — that the infamously grumpy curmudgeon or recidivist ranty bastard is, at heart, a disappointed optimist, pissed off that some frustratingly tenacious crapness is marring something wonderful. The beer business / community / scene / whatever is an excellent place; there’s a reason I’m still here after a decade-and-change — I just can’t fathom why the fuck we’re still dragging along boring old sexism and other miscellaneous bullshit.
The world — the “beer world”, sure, but also, you know, the world-world — is a delightfully morally complex place. This bites in two interesting ways, for present purposes: 1) carping on about one action or aspect of a company while praising another is perfectly possible — I’ve raved about Yeastie Boys’ beers and business model for almost exactly as long as I’ve kept poking them in the ribs about better-labeling where everything comes from2 — and 2) you don’t have to back any particular dog in a fight to comment on the dust-up as it happens. Hell, you don’t even need to cheer for “your” dog, to the extent that you have one; in my time at Garage Project, I had my disagreements with decisions of theirs both minor and major and voiced them as best I could.3
More generally, there just isn’t always a side worth cheering for. To take two recent examples from — who else?4 — Moa, their clashes with Air New Zealand and Cloudy Bay are perfect illustrations. When Moa’s contract to supply the national carrier’s flights was terminated early, their detractors had predictable Schadenfreude and could be seen engaging in few celebrations, but the airline’s decision wouldn’t have had anything to do with rejecting Moa’s longrunning grossness and instead everything to do with a dumptruck full of money from Lion and a sadly backwards way of thinking about how to put together a beer list; nothing praiseworthy, there. Likewise, it was impossible to have any sympathy for Moa in their struggle to get resource consent for their brewery expansion; they wailed about how key its location was to their identity (while happily contract-brewing their flagship beers elsewhere), aggressively pissed-away the money from their IPO that was earmarked for the project, constantly fudged the truth about its scope and made obviously-bogus comparisons to the winery up the road. But Cloudy Bay / Veuve Cliquot, in turn, acted a bit the bully and were also bullshitting pretty hard themselves about their operation and its neighbourhood — they’re hardly a quaint little Château in an unspoilt valley: this was two large-scale corporate booze-producers trying hard to play the underdog. Why pick sides?
There’s plenty of room left for more criticism and more optimism. They make a great pair, and together can do some real good. This is, like I said, an excellent little corner of the world — in terms of geography and market share — but pretending it’s perfect, that every actor has the best of intentions, and that we’re “all in this together” to an extent that people feel obligated to speak only in niceties just won’t help anyone. If you see something5 — good or bad — say something.
1: Us New Zealanders in particular, perhaps. It’s certainly a trait you hear speculated-upon quite often, and the Eleanor Catton Fiasco earlier this year would probably count as evidence. But I’m honestly too much of a Mongrel Cosmopolitan to much notice or comment on border-by-border variations among us. ↑ 2: Serendipitously, I noticed yesterday that the new labels now wear their provenance proudly. I claim precisely zero credit for this. ↑ 3: Although not well enough, I think, on reflection. At least not well enough in public. The incredible awkwardness of saying things against the people who sign your paycheck (even in the wider context of obviously being a fan) is my only real excuse, here, and I guess my meta-point is that awkwardness shouldn’t exist. ↑ 4: Wait. Am I their nemesis, or are they mine? (Neither, of course, really; they’re just a seemingly never-ending source of Useful Lessons and Examples.) ↑ 5: A phrase with unfortunate ties to an MTA / Homeland Security campaign that sits way too close to useless scaremongering and which carries an utterly insane trademark symbol everywhere, but still; is catchy. ↑
So it’s that time of year again; the nominal end. I’m coming to you now — with some difficulty, since there’s an unresolved glitch in my blog software and the app-plus-tablet workaround is clunky enough to spawn whole new profanities1 — from an excruciatingly welcome holiday. 2014 turned out, shall we say, sub-optimal in a number of ways from trifling to towering. Grand plans were, as a result, sidelined momentarily or thwarted entirely and it proved tricky to find the brainspace and the peculiar timing required to get much done here.
But no matter, right? Because you’ve all been reading Dylan’s ‘The Bottleneck’, and Jase’s ‘Brew Hui’, and Jono’s articles, and Dominic’s rants, and — I could go on. Any number of things through the year reaffirmed the notion that (to invert Hunter’s Maxim) beer people are good people2 and kept me interested, enthused and passionate about this stuff as a topic, a subculture, a pass-time — and an enjoyably-elaborate way of lightening the wallet and filling the bladder — even as I’ve been bystander more often than partisan. I’m also stubborn enough, and sufficiently unfazed by deadlines, that I’m happy just transferring most of 2014’s To Do List over into next year, anyhow.
However you choose to mark the calendar-change this evening — if indeed at all — I hope you have excellent company, delicious solids and liquids to enjoy, and that your next twelve months are an improvement on the last, whatever kind of baseline they proved to be. And if you’re out and about, be extra nice to your bar staff; odds are they’re overdue a good break. Cheers!
1: Though it’s still awesomely futuristic, I have to admit even as I write-off proper linkages and footnote formatting as utterly beyond me. Sorry, style-guide pedants; I hope you still count me as one of you and it only took me 12 days — nary a blip, in geological time; let’s have some perspective, here — to find and (it seems!) fix the bug, and regain finer fiddly-bits control. ↑ 2: With special mention to Emma and George, who first transcend “beer people” and then also belong in the smaller-still “best people” category. ↑
Following straight on — after a quick re-play of the introduction, thanks to some clever editing by George — from last weekend’s episode, we’re delighted to present the second half of our Very Special podcast takeover on Women & Beer, by women, drinking beer. Megan, Beth, Hayley and Steph continue their conversation, covering topics as diverse as canned beer, food matching, ‘extreme’ beers, festivals, labeling and tastings — as well as discussing the potential need for (and nuances of) dedicated women’s groups in the community, the role of (and need for) overt feminism in the beer business.
Massive thanks to all four of our substitute hosts; I’ve really enjoyed listening to these episodes and hope you all have, as well. George and I will be back behind the microphone soon, and should also have something to share from our Beervana Sessions, shortly.
The show opens with the discussion of Beer Of The Week #2: Renaissance ‘Bloody R.I.P.A.’, which was opened at about 24.30 of part 1. Beer of the Week #3: Rodenbach, from a can, appears around 6.00 into this part. Beer of the Week #4: Almanac ‘Barrel Noir’ takes over at 29.00, and then — getting close to threatening our standing record of six, set with Stu McKinlay — Beer Of The Week #5 Mikkeller ‘Brunch Weasel’, finishes things off from about 52.00.
For a Very Special episode, George and I relinquish the microphone entirely to four of our friends. We’d wanted to dedicate an episode entirely to ‘Women & Beer’ for some time and eventually realised that we were sufficiently blessed for potential guests — and also sufficiently lacking in personal experience, for obvious reasons — that a takeover episode made all kinds of sense.
It feels strange to show-note an episode I didn’t make, so I’m going to leave this one mostly un-annotated, other than the following little details:
Comments are, as always, welcome here or on the Beer Diary’s Facebook page. In addition, all four substitute hosts are active on Twitter: Megan, Beth, Hayley & Steph. If a reference needs clarifying, a correction submitted, or any such thing, you are particularly spoilt for ways in which to have your say.
Beers Of The Week in this part are: #1 Panhead Vindicator (at around 1.30) and #2 Renaissance Bloody R.I.P.A. (from about 24.30).