A session beer session, this Saturday

Session beer session planning
Session beer session planning underway in my (unimaginatively named) Big Notebook, with the (blue) Beer Diary (III) just visible in the background

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.

Semi-professional Beer Enthusiast (My house, 26 July 2014)
A (semi-)professional beer enthusiast, never an “expert”

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. 

A rededication; a short rant elaborated

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:

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

Moa Pale Ale, in its aluminum bottle
Moa Pale Ale, in its misbegotten aluminum bottle — rather neat, but made (at silly expense) for the airline market and now suprlus to requirements

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. 

Station Ident: Reboot

Even sillier fireworks (Wellington, 8 November 2014)
Pictured: fireworks commemorating something even more absurd than arbitrarily incrementing the calendar.

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. 

Beer Diary Podcast s04e04: Women & Beer — part 2

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.

As always, a direct download is available, there’s a podcast-specific RSS feed, and you should be able to get us on iTunes — and if that’s how you get your fix, a review and/or rating would be greatly appreciated.

— Not-quite show notes:

Beer Diary Podcast s04e03: Women & Beer — part 1

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.

Our replacements are, in order of introduction: Megan Whelan (journalist and producer for The Wireless), Beth Brash (blogger at Eat & Greet), Hayley Adams (bartender at Golding’s Free Dive and project coordinator for the Safer Bars Alliance) and Steph Coutts (SOBA stalwart and founder of Craft Beer College — and thereby occasionally my boss). They discuss their own beer epiphanies and preferences, run-ins with lamentable marketing and experiences as part of the beer community — good and bad, grating and brilliant. Here, with my traditional apologies for the delay in posting it, is part one; part two will follow shortly.

As always, a direct download is available, there’s a podcast-specific RSS feed, and you should be able to get us on iTunes — and if that’s how you get your fix, a review and/or rating would be greatly appreciated.

— Not-quite show notes:

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).
  • Since the traditional sign-off will have to wait until part 2, I’ll drop the relevant end credits here: our theme is ‘Shopping for Explosives’, by The Coconut Monkeyrocket. Audio editing is done (by George) in Audacity. Hayley also provided the obligatory photo of their Beers Of The Week. Habitual thanks to all concerned.

Station Ident: Anticipation

'I Want You Inside Me' (outside Trunk bar, Melbourne, 24 My 2014)
Neon sign outside Trunk bar, Melbourne. (And my Golding’s Free Dive Beer Goggles entry, incidentally.)

So,1 as may or may not already be obvious, Beervana is nearly upon us. As it does every year, now, it’s brought a swirl of beautiful madness with it — the City is brimming with beer geeks and the calendar is crammed with things for them to over-occupy their time. Working in the beer business, though, can complicate the enjoyment of this week a little precisely because there is such a glorious mountain of stuff going on. Spare an extra thought for your barpeople; they’re likely pulling long hours and achingly envious of your ability to flit from spot to spot.

There’s a lot going on in my little corner(s) of the industry, as well: flinging beer hither and yon — slowly driven bonkers by the cautious ordering of restaurants unaccustomed to the enthusiasm of the beer-drinking public this time of year, and so requiring re-up after re-up — and lending a minor hand in the pile of other projects entailed by a day job at a brewery that goes utterly batshit on the events and special releases fronts. So I’m mostly hanging out for the festival itself, since I’m missing out on most of its satellites.

And I am, admittedly, superkeen. I stand by my sympathy for people who’ll now skip Beervana — feeling it’s outgrown them or they’ve outgrown it — in this rich ecosystem of ours, but I always enjoy it as pilgrim, participant, hypercritical observer, and raving evangelist. And as performer again, this year, with the Beer Diary Podcast: Live! on each evening, which should be buckets of fun — and the audience is open to all comers.

This is the big week in beer, in New Zealand. It’s our Christmas. Imagine how run off your feet you’d be, if you were an elf, and bolt that to the giddy excitement you felt when you were a kid. It’s both at once, and it’s bloody marvellous. Bring it on.2

1: If this post’s title earworms you as quickly and strongly as it did me, I make no apologies. 
2: Meanwhile, I should reiterate that the placeholding ‘Station Ident’ idea is one shamelessly stolen from Honorary Friend Of The Show Warren Ellis. If you’re not reading his notes at morning.computer, you’re missing out on some of the best short-form stuff around. (And that really is a valid URL, now; the third age of the internet is really going to be strange.) 

Beer Diary Podcast s04e02: Dry July

An episode with no beer. Well, none were consumed — out of a vague nod to Dry July, but more a result of us both being in losing phases of the age-old battle of Monkey v Microbe. We ponder Dry July, as a charitable enterprise (we’re unconvinced) and (much better) a way for people to test and/or manage their relationship with one of humanity’s favourite drugs. Meanwhile, we drink some worthwhile non-beers,1 and I have a little ramble on the social history of tea and coffee and whatnot. And an episode this time of year wouldn’t be complete without a looking-forward toward the beer awards and Beervana.

Speaking of which — we’re going to be recording two episodes at Beervana itself, and you’re more than welcome to join the audience as we talk beer with some special visiting guests. Attendance is free and there’ll be Beers Of The Week for all. We’re on at 8pm on Friday, 7pm Saturday.

As always, a direct download is available, there’s a podcast-specific RSS feed, and you should be able to get us on iTunesGeorge and myself can also both be reached on the Twitterthing, or you can leave comments here or on the Bookface. Cheers!

— Show notes:

  • (0.10) You can hear the Lingering Winter Lurgy right away.
  • (1.20) A fortnight-and-a-bit delay isn’t that bad, in the grand scheme of things.
  • (3.20) Twitter’s trending algorithm is apparently really suggestible.
  • (4.00) Botswanan of the Week: Mma Rmotswe. The books are formulaic but enjoyable, and I thought the TV series was particularly well done. I’m sure I’m slightly biased because the author is also a big name in bioethics, but still.
  • (4.30) Beverage Of The Week #1: Gingerella. Tasty stuff indeed.
  • (5.50) Dry Julyits official organisation, and its general gist. Pete Brown’s musing on his personal annual abstention ritual was a big influence on me going from Bystander to Somewhat Militant Ally for such things.
  • (8.30) Bars really do need to sort out their non-boozy options.
  • (13.30) A.U.D.I.T. — the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, an online version of which can be found here (ironically festooned, for me, last I visited, in Beervana ads).
  • (16.50) CGP Grey is a pretty good evangelist for caffeine, another favourite drug. Philip J. Fry’s legendary experiment in overconsumption is also worth watching.
  • (17.50) Beverage Of The Week #2: T Leaf Tea Blue Flower Earl Grey.
  • (19.30) Recommended: A History Of The World In Six Glasses. Plus Quicksilver and its sequels, if you’re in need of a few thousand pages of fiction.
  • (21.00) There’s a lot of myth-making in regards water and the historical popularity of beer. In Industrial Revolution era cities, though, the problem was a real one.
  • (22.40) CrashCourse World History was great fun. And a second season just started.
  • (22.50) The Beer Diary Podcast: Live! Friday at Saturday evening, no cover charge, with guests and beers-of-the-week for all. Should be a lark. Come along, if you’re in town and attending Beervana — and tell your friends.
  • (23.40) Beervana exhibitors. Australians aplenty, plus lots of new faces. But absolutely no Boundary Road / Independent / Asahi, for an apparently-hilarious reason. And a reminder about Beer Festival Economics.
  • (28.40) RTDs, a sidebar. There’s your Problem Child, right there, if you want one. And don’t believe a damn thing you hear about the popularity of “cider” these days — it’s mostly just RTDs in drag.2
  • (32.00) The rich ecosystem of festivals. You do see a few people wondering if Beervana isn’t for them anymore. To which I say 1) it’s possible that your tastes have changed more than the festival has, and 2) that’s not really a problem; there’s still so much for you to go to and go bananas about.
  • (33.00) The new ‘beer manufacturer’ award — overdue, and missing the point.
  • (38.00) Bouquet & Brickbat / Tip o’ the Hat & Wag o’ the Finger: We really do need a name for this segment; suggestions welcome. I keep getting stuck on ‘Cheers & Jeers’, but there’s probably something better lurking somewhere in the æther. But anyway — Yay Tuatara, for doing Interesting Things. (The new CEO is Richard Shirtcliffe, but he’s formerly of Phil & Ted’s; same industry, broadly, better name.) They’re obviously looking to restore their ‘Wellington’ cred and their ‘cool’, but that’s not a bad goal. And — Boo Dominion Breweries / Heineken global for using the same (bad) joke on two different billboard campaigns, and for the world’s worst mixed pack.
  • (48.50) Recommendations: Tuatara ‘Black’ — I’ve still only had the ‘Toasted’ one, but hear good things about the coffee and chocolate incarnations. It is worth noting, though, that they haven’t “re-brewed” Delicious Neck, it turns out; they’ve re-blended it — whether for reasons of deadline and schedule or just lack of inspiration, I hear the What We Do In The Shadows tie-in wasn’t a custom brew, but a blend of existing stock. Tasty, all the same, but still. Also Big Awesome Trappist-y Things, and Hallertau Funkonnay. And: #freshisnotbest; build a cellar.
  • (52.00) Friend Of The Show: As noted in the last episode, it seems Wil Wheaton did get his beer from us, which is awesome. For this week: Warren Ellis — creator of a bajillion things, almost too numerous to list, that we’re mutually hugely fond of.
  • (56.10) Cue the music: ‘Shopping for Explosives’, by The Coconut Monkeyrocket. Audio editing done in Audacity. Habitual thanks to both.

1: It took me forever to find a non-beer photo in my collection. That coffee was me on my way to the Winter Ale Festival, last year, which I photographed on a ‘real’ (i.e., film) camera for the first time in years. Hence the terrible shot. Despite being an avid consumer of tea and coffee, I guess I don’t make an ‘occasion’ of it often enough. I should get out more — and take my camera with me. 
2: On a hunch, I did actually contact Roy Morgan Research concerning the above-linked paper wherein ciders allegedly ‘overtook’ RTDs in popularity / consumption. And yes, the data was purely unmoderated self-reported numbers from asking people “Have you bought a cider?” in the relevant time period. The real lesson — since Rekorderlig, Wild Side, etc., etc., are all thought of as ciders by most people when they’re anything but — is that the industrial manufacturers have been successful in their bid to ‘re-brand’ their RTDs. 

Tastings and ramblings and whatnot