2016: That was the year that was

'Overlooked Middle Child', from the Beer Diary Brewing Department, shortly before its abandonment. (Wellington, 8 January 2017)
How very metaphorical: a nice vantage point, a weird climate, and a neglected personal project

So, that was 2016. It was… interesting. As you perhaps noticed. Plenty happening in the beer business, but no shortage of distractions in the wider and weirder world. Despite working on various of beer’s front lines, I felt a little disconnected from it all last year. And so rather than trawling through my notes looking for particular favourites (such as I’d do when preparing for a Year In Review episode of the podcast) I took some time for a more-general contemplation of the year gone by, and its heroes and villains — or at least those who are not helping,1 and those who are. Here, I present three loud boos and three cheerful hurrahs.

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“Sour”

8 Wired 'Hippy Berliner', Garage Project 'White Mischief', and Mussel Inn 'Lean Lamb' — and Sour Squirms (Golding's Free Dive, 17 September 2016)
Well, these’ll never sell.

I’m a big fan of sour beers. I like what they do to my brain, in terms of their inherent deliciousness. But also — and I say this as a bartender, host-of-tastings, and general observer of the business — part of the fun is what they do to the brains of other people. Nothing more efficiently upends a newbie’s naïve understanding of “what beer is”,1 and nothing seems so capable of making professionals spout nonsense. After a few recent articles and tasting sessions,2 I just want to take a moment to defend sour as a character and as a category.

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Subcultural cringe

Wellington City Council 'Declare Your Love' ad (19 September 2016)
Photo by Todd Atticus. Original artwork by the Wellington City Council — and me.

So, that was me. I’m the wagin the old-timey parlance of the newspaper. There’s little point pretending otherwise, since the sign was twenty steps from the front door of the pub where I work — and a large part of my m.o. here involves uploading literally hundreds of handwriting samples you could compare against. I’m all for the normalising of beer into the wider popular culture, but this crap isn’t helping. And I say that as a bearded someone (admittedly, it’s neither “bushy” nor “bristly”) who works in the (for want of a better word) craft beer business.

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Niue — sixteen Steinlagers, a comparable number of dolphins, and a humpback whale

Steinlager Classic (Matapa Bar, 5 September 2016)
Steinlager #12 — celebrating a successful circumnavigation of the island

You know the usual Holiday Beer story — go to warm and/or sunny location; mooch around; enjoy the local pale lager; (re)discover the fun of blandness-as-a-virtue and enjoy a forceful reminder of the power of context1 — but mine’s a little different. After the frantic Festival Season subsided, Beer Diary HQ relocated for a week to Niue, which isn’t big enough to have its own brewery. So I drank Steinlager, instead.

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A festival for the rest of y’all

Light-up signage at Beervana 2016 (Wellington Stadium, 12 August 2016)
…and your lightbulbs, just to complete the metaphor

So that was the week that was. The week that was a while ago, now. How time flies when you’re quietly recuperating. Weirdly, given the work I gravitate towards, I’m a natural introvert and crowds of lovely beer nerds are still, you know, crowds. I think exhaustixhilirated just about covers it; sound prediction there, Phil From The Past. You get a strange view of things during festivals when you’re doing too much to do much, but from where I was standing, this is what Beervana — and its satellite events in The Road Thereto — looked like:

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Equal parts hope and dread

Mount Taranaki at Sunset, on the way home (7 August 2016)
Big Friendly Geology
The days are just packed.1 This is always a weird time of year to be a beer geek who works in the beer business; the combination of so much going on and so much to do warrants one of those legendary compound German words. I am exhaustixhilarated. This is terrificifying. So, naturally, Emma and I nicked off for a fifteen-hour one-day road-trip to see the final days of an exhibition and that freakin’ gorgeous mountain. There wasn’t even any beer involved. It was great. Bring on the week ahead, I say.

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Full disclosure: one free hat, etc.

My Dogfish Head hat, on Mount Tongariro (14 February 2016)
Well-travelled and well-faded
I’ve just got the one actual beer hat — which does stand in stark contrast to my predictably-overstuffed t-shirt drawer. My Dogfish Head cap is a beloved and battered souvenir of a ridiculously enjoyable afternoon spent bartending at Beervana 2010,1 relatively early in my full-time-beer-person career. As I was doing my taxes this week, generally feeling fortunate to’ve been able to patch together a modest living doing work I enjoy, I thought I should lay out my metaphorical hats — in the spirit of delight (my plan, such as it is, is vaguely working!) as much as disclosure,2 though I’m a big fan of both.

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Tastings and ramblings and whatnot