One of the two real constants in my Philosophy Of Beer is that drinking is drug-taking.1 You can say this without being puerile or Prohibitionist; it is, after all, just the plain and literal truth. A lot of things are drug-taking ― from my morning coffee and daily antihistamines to things like morphine and amphetamines ― and there’s no point pretending otherwise or ignoring the wider context, variable as it is. The “drug” concept is (like everything) fuzzy at the margins, but I’m most interested in the ways it entails the need for some kind of moderation in your personal life (which I’ll return to later) and some kind of regulation in society.2 Needless to say, the details vary wildly with the character of the particular drug, and it’s entirely possible to strike the balances very badly indeed. For now, as a warmup to tackling trickier issues later, let’s address one specific rule ― age3 ― and how compliance with it is tested.
The Police regularly conduct “controlled purchase operations”, where an underage person is recruited to attempt to purchase alcohol from, say, a supermarket or a bar. That person can lie when asked their age, but they don’t carry fake ID. Recently, Dominic Kelly ― proprietor of beer bar Hashigo Zake and its importing arm Beer Without Borders ― criticised the practice, labelling it entrapment, and describing it as ‘seedy’, ‘inherently unfair’ and ‘appalling’. Now, I like Dominic. I count him a friend and consider him one of the country’s unsung beer writers; through his editorials in B.W.B.’s entertaining newsletters and his occasional blog, he’s a strong and valuable voice on its regulatory and business aspects. But here, he’s almost completely wrong.
As we mentioned in the last podcast, we’ve got a few Lost Episodes in our proverbial back pocket. They’ve become little exercises in time travel, but we didn’t want them to languish forever, so I’ll be uploading them over the next few weeks. This conversation was recorded on 17 September 2015.
We sat down for a few beers ‘on the record’ with our friends Dave Wood and Denise Garland. Dave is the general manager of Wellington beer bar Hashigo Zake as well as the current President of SOBA (the Society of Beer Advocates) and Denise is a journalist — and both have long been key members of the beer community. They talk about the rapid evolution of the local scene, their introductions to it and their ‘epiphany’ beers, the simple pleasures of everday beers in their right place, and the joys of making your own homebrew. We also discuss the bar business, SOBA festivals, women-in-beer groups like Beerded Ladies and Pink Boots, lament the general lack of brown ales and have a few dated-but-foreboding words to say about company takeovers — Dave idly ponders a Ballast Point buyout that was just a few weeks in the future.
Here’s my contribution to the teetering pile of Reinheitsgebot-related reckons that are surfacing around the thing’s putative 500th birthday ― which is being celebrated despite the old law no longer being in force, the new law not being so old (obviously) nor so simple, and the whole thing being colossally pointless in the first place. I wrote the below for the most-recent edition of SOBA’s Pursuit Of Hoppiness magazine but have added back in a few asides that had to be cut from the print version for space and/or tone. Think of this as the Extended Edition. If I had the coding skills to better-emulate the famous footnotes for David Foster Wallace’s The Host, I’d do that. This’ll have to suffice. If you need more Bonus Material, I’ve ranted down these lines before. For the record, the original text was written entirely under the influence of Kraftwerk and Reinheitsgebot-compliant beers. The latter was a complete coincidence, only realised in hindsight. To compensate, the annotation and uploading was undertaken while drinking beers that firmly had their thumb in the Purity Law’s eye.
This year marks the five-hundredth anniversary1 of a surprisingly-short text2 that came to be known as Reinheitsgebot, the (‘Bavarian’ or ‘German’) Purity Law. It mandated that “the only ingredients for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water”3 and its mythology has proven so strong that it’s still not uncommon4 to see breweries in New Zealand namedropping it in marketing material and referring to it as part of their mission or philosophy — half a world and half a millennium away.
I say “mythology” because the law is vastly overhyped, misunderstood and of basically no relevance to a properly broad view of beer. Almost all of the original 1516 decree concerns the price of the product,5 not its process, and its list of only three permissible ingredients renders brewing impossible since it predates the discovery of, and therefore omits, yeast. That may seem pedantic, but it’s a healthy reminder that old laws and not necessarily good laws. Few of us would be keen to visit a hospital that followed Sixteenth Century standards of hygiene.
A hopefully-exhaustive summary for the apparently-perplexed:
Q — When should I use gender tropes in pitching my product and in the targeting or tailoring of my marketing?
A — Never.1
1: That should do it for this topic. It isn’t complicated. We shouldn’t need to keep having this conversation. Seemingly inevitably, though, it came around again just recently and doubtless it will do so once more soon enough. I’ve been in the beer-selling business for a decade now and I’m still not sure things are improving. So fine. I’ll elaborate, if I must.
Last week, for example, New World (a local supermarket chain) started pushing Facebook ads introducing the winners of various categories in their recent beer and cider awards. One beer was pitched “for your mate”, another was “for your boss”, while the only cider featured was suggested as “for the missus” — falling into the boring old stereotype that cider is for women while beer is for men. To their credit, the PR team yanked the ad very quickly and sent the marketing people back to do it over — and they avoided resorting to the usual ‘nonpology’ formula of “sorry if you were offended”. But in a conversation with their representative they ran the line that there’s a long debate to be had on a role of gender in advertising, on which many points of view can be held — which is understandable and even predictable for a PR firm, but still a little depressing and worth addressing, because there really is nothing to this. Relegating my reasoning to a footnote is my little protest.
Damn these recurrent hiatuses. It happened again, as these things do. But we’re back this week — rather fittingly, after the long weekend — with a little look at crowdfunding in the beer business, some reminiscences over my marvellous trip to the Mussel Inn, and looking forward to the Great Kiwi Beer Festival this very weekend, at which I’ll be doing one of my little rambles. All that by way of bicycle bells and videogames, and accompanied by two rather strikingly different Beers Of The Week.
There are several sadly-long-neglected episodes in our proverbial back pocket, which I’ll upload over the coming weeks. You — our listeners and our excellent guests — have our apologies, and also our welcome back.
At Golding’s, where I work with1 Dylan of The Bottleneck blog, it’s not uncommon to see us indulging in a little game we call ‘Will It Shandy?’ when we’re trying out new arrivals to the taps. A shandy — that’s a beer mixed with lemonade, on the remote chance the word is unfamiliar to you — is a much-maligned thing, and this upsets us both greatly. They can be truly wonderful, in a few different ways and for a few different reasons. So, starting with the Platonic Ideal of the modern shandy — a simple pale lager and a mass-market lemonade — we sat down to try a few different types of beer and see what twists and nuances we could find; to investigate not just whether we thought something could shandy,2 but also to start to test the why. In the name of both Science and Silliness, we recorded our endeavours and you can listen to the result above — or indeed over at Dylan’s. Very many thanks to him for doing all the editing work, and to The Coconut Monkeyrocket for our theme music.3
It’s a lovely day for a beer festival. Admittedly, I say this without bothering to look at the forecast or indeed out the window. Today is the fourth running of Brewday, a festival of wider Wellington’s beer and beer-adjacent communities, held over the hill in Martinborough — a place long thought of as wine country (and quite rightly) but also just generally the City’s sunnier back yard.1 I attended the previous three, and had an excellent time at each — in three very different capacities — but am sitting out this one on account of a looming shift in the bar this evening.2 But I have my own theory of making the most of Missing Out, and so this year I am enjoying the festival nostalgically.