Sunday Reading

They treated the rest of that day as though it was a Sunday, that is to say what you should expect of a Sunday. You need time for big and complicated new concepts to shake themselves down in your brain slowly, without damaging what is already there.

— Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth

Pretty Things 'Jack d'Or' (My house, 15 December 2013)

Pretty Things ‘Jack d’Or’ — on a Sunday, just not this particular Sunday

I’ve got a few longer-form and more-detailed ponderings on the go at the moment — a catch-up on All Things Moa in the year-and-some since their infamous IPO, and an attempt to build a bulwark against some of the more-annoying and more-absurd bits of the recent Moral Panic around beer (too-often standing in for “booze in general”) and the reflex to restrict its availability. But it’s a Sunday, and they never feel like the occasion for such heavy-lifting — except perhaps in the garden — so I’ve instead happily been going through my pile of Interesting Miscellaneous Things To Read.

Back when I was a paperboy, we relished January as a month of lighter-than-usual deliveries thanks to the end of holiday advertising a the general Slow News Month. In the beer world, at least, it seems there’s no such effect:

Kerbal Space Program: A unfortuantely-doomed attempt at orbit

Kerbal Space Program: An unfortunately-doomed attempt at orbit

1: Speaking of which, as I mentioned the other day when writing up my own (at the time accidental) manifesto on the same, I also hugely recommend Matt Kirkegaard’s recent radio ramble on that point (while pimping a Brisbane beer festival). His recent ‘Tao Of Beer’ musing is also absolutely worth a look — and interestingly also clipped the same Hipsters Love Beer video that The Wireless illustrated my piece with; it seems that satire also struck a chord, or even a nerve (as it should). 
2: Something that my day job also just succumbed to
3: Which reminds me: welcome to the fold, Buzz and Hum — a very promising new blog on one man’s love of good beer and good music. Exactly what I was in the mood for after the Jono Galuszka podcast

Posted in Interesting finds | Tagged | 4 Comments

How to buy a beer

ParrotDog 'Otis' (Golding's Free Dive, 13 July 2013)

ParrotDog ‘Otis’ — or, in context, “George Clooney in an offbeat philosophical sci-fi mindfuck directed by Shane Black”1

A little while ago — you’ll notice a few references to more-wintery weather in the recording — I sat down with Megan Whelan of The Wireless for a little ramble about how to buy a beer. A seemingly-simple task, perhaps, but one that can be done all the better with a little preparation and practice. I offer a few suggestions for navigating this boom time of beer — and even though the audience here might consider they already have this stuff down, I offer it in the hopes you’ll take it on board, pass it around, and use it as a little internal check to make sure you’re treating the newbies nicely.

It’s been posted during The Wireless’ month of Excess, amid (excellent) articles on binge drinking and the traps of the wrong kinds and quantities of consumption, so it also takes on a small character of Manifesto For Better Drinking, broadly in line with what Matt Kirkegaard was saying the other day — Drink Less, Drink Better; Drink for Flavour, Not for Effect — what Stone & Wood pondered on their blog, and what SOBA were getting at with their superadorable poster campaign. I’ll write more fully on the Moral Panic we find ourselves mired in soon but — spoiler alert — this kind of cultural change is our only hope and too-often ignored or underestimated.

The full piece is streamable just below — or, of course, at the original site itself (which you should also check out) complete with a slightly mad-faced shot of yours truly caught mid-ramble — but as a preview, my Commandments are simply these:

  • Be open — break from choice-constraining factors like brand loyalty, peer pressure and habit; seek advice, and give it due (but not deferential) consideration
  • Be informed — about the basics of styles,2 about the lies you’ll be sold (if you’re not careful), about whatever factors you decide are worth caring about
  • Be assertive — treasure your considered and tested preferences; hold them proudly
  • And be nice — service workers are underpaid, under-appreciated and perhaps disproportionately-often Dealing With Stuff — but they might just make the perfect collaborator in finding a wonderful little sequence of delicious beers

1: Originally, I had Joss Whedon in this slot. Then I realised that it was analogy-breaking in that the Parrots, as much as I love their stuff, just haven’t been in production long enough to wear those metaphorical boots. So I’ll give them Shane Black’s; please understand that’s high praise, from me. 
2: Which I only manage in the very broadest strokes, off the top of my head and towards the end of the piece. I’d like to go back and rough out a better Consumer Guide to Basic Beer Styles, but that’s for another time. 
†: Technical difficulties. Please hold… 

Posted in Rambles and rants | Leave a comment

Beer Diary Podcast s03e07: Jono Galuszka

Just before the holidays — so apologies for the delay but, you know, holidays — George and I sat down for a ramble with Jono Galuszka, journalist, beer-and-music nerd, former bartender and barista, and occasional drummer. We discuss the many and varied joys of homebrewing, the at-last semi-reliable appearances of good beer in unexpected places, and (inevitably) a bunch of music. We had a venue change for this episode, so the background dog-shuffles have been replaced with regular overhead airplanes.

You may also note that B.O.T.W. #4 is a (non-boycott-breaking) Moa Sour Blanc. It prompted a predictable little side-ramble into their current situation. We’ve excised it from the main episode and present it below as a DVD Extra / after-credits scene. I allude a few times to a work-in-progress catch-up with post-IPO Moa, and I’ll try to get that done this week. (Meanwhile, I still really miss the Imperial Stout.)

As always, a direct download is available (plus one of the Bonus Bit), 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; feedback is absolutely always welcome — I’m also about to start working on providing a few more subscription and download options so any input on such mechanical details is extra-welcome. Cheers!

Yeastie Boys / Jono Galuszka 'Screwtop', with super-appropriate newspaper (Hashigo Zake, 28 August 2013)

Yeastie Boys / Jono Galuszka ‘Screwtop’

Wellington's closing time announcement (Cambridge Terrace, 18 December 2013)

Wellington’s new closing time announcement

Liberty's Bhuty Choc at SOBA's "¬Matariki" (Hunter Lounge, 20 July 2013)

Liberty’s Bhuty Choc at SOBA’s “¬Matariki”


— Show notes:

  • (0.50) I do say this every week, but still. Check out the Coconut Monkeyrocket.
  • (2.30) Beer of the Week #1: Jono’s own [un-named] Belgian golden ale. The other-yeast variant apparently turned out okay, too.
  • (12.30) Friends-of-the-show cross-referencing: Stu McKinlay and Jo Wood.
  • (15.00) Geoff Griggs’ regular Marlborough Express column. ‘Beer minimum of respect’ is the column that Jono and I had particularly in mind.
  • (17.00) Michael Forbes and Shane Cowlishaw’s Beerhive blog.1
  • (19.00) The gear’s all here, but I haven’t yet managed to fire it up. I’ve been gardening.
  • (19.30) Beer’s recent ‘normalising’ turn — session beers and four/six-packs. Also, the Hallertau-Liberty mini-conglom is officially The Beer Fountain.
  • (23.10) Beer of the Week #2: Stewart Brewing ‘Top Of The Hops’. Which was definitely tasty, but that extra (accidental?) point of booze counts against, in context.
  • (27.00) Good beer outside the main centres — and getting around big-brewery-lockdown contracts. And good beer in “non-beer” bars.
  • (29.30) Further friend-of-the-show cross-referencing: Hadyn Green.
  • (30.10) Neil Miller’s Beer & Brewer blog, which does indeed include the Backbencher and Thistle pieces Jono mentions.
  • (33.10) The Beer Diary Podcast basically started with Emerson’s Pilsner. It probably really is time to revisit it in detail. (He says, making a mental note. And a real note.)
  • (34.20) Beer of the Week #3: Jono’s own [un-named] Chili Pale Ale.
  • (45.40) Jono’s day jobhis blog (and its original incarnation, so you can trawl the back catalogue), and his Twitter account (to save you spelling it).
  • (47.00) The WilliamsWarn, the (super-slick) bread machine of homebrewing.
  • (51.40) Beer of the Week #4: Moa Sour Blanc.
  • (54.30) Spiegelau glass de-brief. And I’m having a PKB in the IPA one, now.
  • (1.00.30) Recommendations: Session IPAs (the aforementioned Semiconductor, XPA, etc.), good cider (not the RTDs in drag which are flooding the market). Rodenbach Grand Cru and/or Vintage. Drinking “out of season”. Summer Sommer — which has actually run out in the meantime, but will be back. And try Export Citrus.
  • (1.10.00) Also: play more games. Tabletop Day is coming up, again, too.
  • (1.11.20) Music: Arctic Monkeys’ ‘AM’, Richard Hawley, and BBC6. Plus Beastwars and the All Seeing Hand.
  • (1.19.00) Beer Thanksgiving: 1) Dave Wood (overlord of SOBA and Hashigo, and open-hearted beer geek), 2) Martin Craig (Pursuit of Hoppiness editor and former blogger), and 3) George Langlands himself, lovely chap that he is.
  • (1.22.30) Belatedly happy holidays! I still owe you all a fuzzy-microphone photo.
  • (1.22.50) Cue the music: ‘Shopping for Explosives’, by The Coconut Monkeyrocket. Audio editing done in Audacity. Habitual thanks to both.

1: Interesting that Fairfax / has so much good beer-related content online, and increasingly good stuff, yet is still an offender in the Use Beer To Illustrate Moral Panic cliché stakes. 

Posted in Podcast episodes | Leave a comment

Ich bin ein Radler

Waldhaus Radler, and my new bike (Oriental Parade, Wellington, 15 January 2014)

Waldhaus Radler, and my new bike, on Oriental Parade (i.e., nearly home)

My big present-to-self this year, after several years on a semi-dependable runabout that has massively improved my daily / weekly / seasonal routine, is a nice new bike. While I did make sure to wear my super-smug cyclist t-shirt when I picked it up, today,1
I’m no rabidly dogmatic anti-combustion-engine fanatic — but I really do suggest you strongly consider getting your own velocipede, if you don’t already have one: it’s a nice mix of relaxed and efficient transport, with little traffic, no parking meters, and genuinely-therapeutic windows into the Zen Of Cycling — wherein you may come to believe that there seldom are hill climbs or headwinds so punishing that they’re ultimately unworthy of the blistering downhills or superpowering tailwinds that eventually follow.2

And what better to celebrate with than a radler? An actual radler, mind. Not that wrongly-named and more-wrongly-trademarked carbonated dishwashing liquid that D.B. peddle, nor their new-and-differently-horrible “Export Citrus” — which weirdly might kinda count as more truly “radler-esque”, and which must have them laughing all the way to the bank given that they charge basically the same for something upon which they pay a fraction of the excise tax. No, this thing was actually pleasantly refreshing. I can imagine it’d go truly gangbusters on a hot day, especially after and/or during a good non-commuter ride. There’s naught wrong with a well-made shandy — but therein lies the thing, doesn’t it? Waldhaus’ version (not really surprisingly) manages it; being recognisably beery (albeit superfriendily and easily beery), with lemonade that avoids tasting fake, candy-ish, and contrived as it too-often does.

It’s an often-mentioned madness that I technically shouldn’t have been allowed to buy that beer, here, thanks to an incredibly stupid quirk and/or interpretation of the local law. There was recently a knock-back on just this style term in the Czech Republic for Heineken — which, at a high level of abstraction, is D.B. — that deserves to be celebrated, but unfortunately doesn’t signal any kind of good news, here, given the vast differences in jurisdiction. There was a distinct element of protest and provocation when Hashigo Zake imported this,3 almost daring D.B. to send them a lawyer’s letter which they’d no doubt just frame and hang on the wall. Nothing ever came of it, but given the long-running rule that you risk losing trademarks you don’t actively defend, that might’ve been bad tactics on their part — and, just maybe, a brilliantly patient long-lead play by Dominic. Radlergate gave context to the Porter Noir Saga which came and went relatively quickly, but maybe there’s life left in the former fiasco yet. Hopefully it’s sensibly solved by the time I’m shopping for my next new bike, at least.

1: Even though I want to quibble with it, myself; there’s a good deal of CO2 involved in making a bike and getting it to me. But still. “Vanishingly little CO2, in comparison” doesn’t really make a good slogan. 
2: Remember I say these things about hills and winds as a Wellingtonian. And while it’s maybe a trite example — but perhaps a decent-enough slogan (see above, n1) — it really might do your mental health a lot of good. It did mine. 
3: Their distribution arm has since spun off and transmogrified into Beers Without Borders

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Someday Reading

Mash Collective 'The Old Persuader' (Sydney, 26 December 2013)

Mash Collective ‘The Old Persuader

So. It’s not quite Sunday, and these posts don’t even remotely form any kind of pattern in time. Such is life, I suppose. Productivity goes all over the place when you get a) really busy, then b) a complete break from being busy at all. Drifting slowly closer to Normality once again — strictly in the timetable-statistics sense, mind you — I’m inclined to have another go at beneficial-habit-forming.1 And besides, just as your holidays are not everyone’s holidays,2 your Day Of Rest — and thereby your catch-up-on-reading-stuff time — isn’t necessarily a Sunday according to the calendar. (Apparently, University mostly taught me how to rationalise missed deadlines.)3

Anyway, I was privileged enough to have a decent-length summer holiday in which I caught up on a metric butt-tonne of (non-beer-related) reading. And so now, in the interests both of spreading the love and of assisting in everyone’s valuable procrastination, here follows an eclectic collection of (beer-related) Things To Read I’ve stumbled upon recently. Enjoy!

  • Beer money: Stu McKinlay — Yeastie Boy and friend of the show — recently wrote a wonderful piece for the local paper’s beer blog, breaking down the cost of his products. It’s a nice antidote to the all-too-frequent whinge about the price of a pint when beer is actually the most ludicrously value-for-money luxury consumption good I can think of. Stu and I agree completely about that,4 and his before-the-beer-goes-in breakdown of costs is a large part of his rejoinder to my complaints of origin-fudging in labelling.5 (He’s also bang on with his own recommended reading / inspiration at the end, there.)
  • BrewDog burglary: Despite the above-mentioned affordability of beer, it seems we’ve “matured” (which almost certainly isn’t the right word) where apparent thefts-to-order of particular bottles are now occurring. Naturally, I’m obligated to wonder if they perhaps orchestrated the heist themselves, just for the headlines. Given other antics, you couldn’t really put it past them, any more… The perils of stunt marketing, I suppose.
  • The Sub: The website for Heineken(etc.)’s in-fridge keg system, similar to Lion’s ‘Tap King’ which recently debuted in Australia. It’ll be interesting to see how these things pan out in the wild, but for now just look at the wank with which it’s presented. Yeesh. And for next, let’s wonder about whether some cleverness and some 3D-printed parts might make them universalisable for dispensing flagons of better beer… (Thanks, of a sort, to Luke — who has recently joined the Podcasters’ Guild — for the link.)
  • Proper history: Brewery History, the journal of the (UK) Brewery History Society, operates a neat model whereby the full text of issues becomes freely available once the content hits its second birthday. The most-recent to be so revealed is their special edition dedicated to the life and work of Michael Jackson (you know, the other one), and it looks like a cracker. I’m ordering a printed copy, after just scratching the surface of the text online. (Massive thanks to Kieran for the pointer.)
  • Probably somewhat revisionist history: The McCashin’s Story is out, and I’m yet to grab / find / borrow a copy for a proper read — but colour me skeptical. The surtitle is transparent nonsense, whatever your personal definition of “craft”, and the smell of myth-making is strong — compounded by the (very gentle) interview Terry McCashin had on Radio New Zealand. Theirs is only a “David & Goliath” story if David later entered into an, er, money-for-physical-company arrangement with the giant. So to speak. They talk up an “#8 wire mentality” after buying an existing brewery, they deride beers ‘notable only for what they lacked’ while peddling Reinheitsgebotty nonsense, and credit themselves with giving Lion its first “lager with legs” presumably never having stumbled upon Steinlager. (That said, I did enjoy two of their ‘Recognition Series’ beers while writing this up — and re-watching Harry Potter.)6
  • Local reportage: A perfectly nice write-up — of my de facto new ‘local’ and its environs — by profoundly hit-and-miss critic David Burton, which slips into oddness when it insists that the area has a nickname it’s never had.7 Best anyone can tell, it was suggested once, in sarcastic jest, on Twitter, and hasn’t ever been used earnestly. A timely reminder that you should always be wary, when reading reviews from abroad: too many writers just can’t help themselves from making up little details to make them seem down with the kids. There’s a need for a general raising of the collective eyebrow given the quality of some stuff out there, and I’ve been meaning to get into that for a while — he says, casting a sideways glance his copies of the industry rag DrinksBiz.
  • Dry January, defended: I couldn’t be more on Pete Brown’s side on this, even though I don’t share in his yearly ritual (or anything like it). I’ve struck my own balance with the chemical realities of beer and the many ways it’s involved in my life — and no longer working nights in a bar and becoming a daily commuter cyclist have definitely helped — and do think it’s important that everyone find their own way to do the same, and to keep checking in with themselves whether its working. Just don’t dismiss people who do things differently; they each might find different balances and particular patterns that work. In extremis, they might give it up entirely. And on that, read this incredibly brave piece by Jackson Wood and — as always — don’t be a dick.
  • And finally, an irrelevancy. Because you really should consider re-watching and/or re-reading Harry — not just because Neville Longbottom is super bad-ass.
Holiday reading (Sydney, 26 December 2013)

Holiday reading

Golding's disappoints (Golding's Free Dive, 6 January 2014)

Golding’s disappoints

Stoke 'Double Pale Ale' (My house, 8 January 2014)

Stoke ‘Double Pale Ale’

1: As much of our civilisation attempts to do, each January. I’m always torn between wanting to join in the hoots of derision for the cycles of failure that most New Year’s Resolutions orbit within, and having to admit that it is indeed an excellent time of year for clean-outs and rearrangements both external and internal. 
2: As a long-serving hospitality worker, I really hope everyone does remember to keep this in mind, each year. But you, dear readers, are Civilised Folk and treat service staff properly at all times, right? Excellent. 
3: Lines from the much-mourned Douglas keep coming to mind, lately: “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.” and “I love deadlines. I like the wooshing sound they make as they fly by.” 
4: And rambled about it together in a piece recorded recently for Radio New Zealand, which will hopefully find its way to air (and online) soon. 
5: Which we didn’t get to on the podcast, but will have to revisit properly one day. 
6: Your Mileage May Vary, as always, but particularly so here because a) I’m genetically near-immune to the diacetyl fault, and b) Em described the Double Pale Ale — which, as Fritz & Maria rightly point out in the above link, is entirely wrongly named — as “nicely buttery”. 
7: It also nicely proved the need for Stu’s Beer Money piece, when the first comment it attracted was a whinge about $10 beers. 

Posted in Interesting finds | Tagged | 2 Comments

Young Henrys

Young Henrys bar: Logo (Newtown, Sydney, 28 December 2013)

Logo artwork on the container-fridge in Young Henrys’ bar

There’s probably some neat-and-vaguely-plausible theory to be elaborated about the psychogeography of a suburb called “Newtown”. I can only speak from experience about the two closest ones — in Wellington and Sydney — but they’re similar-enough in sufficiently-numerous ways to make me wonder if their history as the first-established alternate center of a city is enough to stamp them forever as a wonderful home to the non-dominant demographic and/or freshly migrated and/or just somewhat odd.

Young Henrys 'Newtowner' (The Courthouse, 4 March 2013)

Young Henrys ‘Newtowner’, non-local at its local

Anyway, the New-South-Welsh one is lovely, and I’ve had several enjoyable days wandering through it. It’s also blessed with its own brewery — the unaccountably unapostrophe’d1 Young Henrys — beers from which I first sampled at The Courthouse, a charming back-street bar to which I’ll happily return, despite their minor sins of a) bringing out the dodgy polycarb non-glass-glassware on the weekends (as if we were all going to start a riot and start shanking each other) and b) using “local beer” as a euphemism for “mainstream crap” in their Happy Hour rules such that the Y.H. stuff (though still a bargain) wasn’t eligible despite being from within rock-throwing distance, while Carlton Draught counted even though it’s from a whole ’nother fucking state.2

Young Henrys bar: No dicks (Newtown, Sydney, 28 December 2013)

A universalizable rule for all bars worth visiting

There’s a little cellar-door-and-bar attached to the brewery, and I made damn sure to pay them a visit these holidays having missed them — and their rather-restrictive opening hours3 — on a previous stop. And I’m glad I did; it’s a gorgeous little spot, a damn-near-perfect little in-house bar. If only they could stay open a little later, especially in the summer. You’re basically right there in the brewery, with nothing to separate you from the reality of the place as somewhere were work is done and it brings a lovely laid-back sense of open welcome which the staff nicely continue with amiably professional service and plenty of help for anyone unfamiliar with their offerings. It’s got a charmingly odd style, with nice little quirky touches all over the place that never seem overwrought or fake; you get the impression it’s a genuine local for a good number of people and a space that reflects the personalities of those who spend their days there.

Young Henrys bar: Real Ale and Bill Murray (Newtown, Sydney, 28 December 2013)

Young Henrys ‘Real Ale’, and Bill Murray

The beers embody (intentionally or not) a nicely pub-first mentality; they skew hugely towards the sessionable and the simple-but-tasty, finding plenty of nuance and interest to be had within pretty damn friendly bounds. ‘Newtowner’ is an even-handed hoppy-and-golden thing, bordered nicely by their ‘Natural Lager’, being lighter and easier still, and the ‘Real Ale’, satisfyingly richer and apparently also gangbusters on handpump — an option I was talked-out-of on the day, given the weather. Instead, I ended my little visit two things I’d normally avoid: a cider, which was perfectly endearing and quaffable, and a much-boozier cherry saison, which did very well to throw nice doses of fruit flavour without coming across all candy-ish and phony as too-often happens.

They’ll quickly tell you of expansion plans, when you compliment them on their cute little setup,4 but hopefully they’re not self-conscious about for-now being a relatively-obscure suburban brewery. They do it very well indeed.

Young Henrys bar: Regulars' glasses (Newtown, Sydney, 28 December 2013)

Young Henrys bar: Regulars’ glasses

Young Henrys bar: Merch (Newtown, Sydney, 28 December 2013)

Young Henrys bar: Merch, and subtle satire

Young Henrys bar: More merch, and kegs (Newtown, Sydney, 28 December 2013)

Young Henrys bar: More merch, and keg-plumbing

Young Henrys bar: Beers, elaborated-upon (Newtown, Sydney, 28 December 2013)

Young Henrys bar: Beers, elaborated-upon

Young Henrys bar: In medias res (Newtown, Sydney, 28 December 2013)

Young Henrys bar: In medias res

Young Henrys bar: The End (Newtown, Sydney, 28 December 2013)

Young Henrys bar: The End (until next time)

1: Coopers always confused me, as Australia’s other famously non-possessively-styled brewery. But I suppose, by now at least, they’re so multi-generational that it’s just a proud plural. I’m still not sure about Y.H.’s reasons — weirdly, people tend not to address these questions on their websites — but managed to get a mangled version of Supergrass’ ‘Alright’ stuck in my head just thinking about it: “We are young / we are free / we don’t need / no ’postrophe”. And if that now suddenly transfers to your brain and earworms you, I sincerely apologise.   
2: In the interests of full disclosure and Good Mental Hygiene, it’s worth pointing out that these two observations draw from two separate visits, the latter from my holiday last Easter(ish) — the write-up of which has languished a little unloved in my Drafts folder as ‘A New South Wales Travelogue in ≈38.5 Beers’ — so it’s at least possible that they’ve traded the former sin for the latter. 
3: Which provides a nice balance to the regulator-praising in my most-recent post; all is not Utopian in Sydneytown, of course, and sensible small-bar special rules still exist alongside apparently-overly-restrictive ordinances for relatively-suburban operations like this.
4: So, it must be said, will seemingly everyone in these corners of the market — even those you know to’ve already expanded, relatively-recently. It’s a terrifyingly exciting time in the beer business, and it must be keeping the steelworkers busy.

Posted in Location reviews | 1 Comment

Small, but Perfectly Formed

Anchor 'Steam', as a Boilermaker

Anchor ‘Steam Beer’®™, as (most of) a pretty-bloody-marvellous Boilermaker at Stitch

Still enjoying my Sydney sabbatical — especially now the heat has eased somewhat — I’ve been reconfirmed in a small thought about small bars, of which this town has increasingly-many, thanks (apparently)1 to a relatively-recent law change. I had a bit of a ramble recently on the podcast about licensing laws and will need to return to the topic properly now that New Zealand’s “reforms” are in effect, but for present purposes my concern is that our current (and former) rules were applied almost entirely uniformly, whatever they are. There’s always a certain facile attraction in blanket legislation, but my recent wanderings have reinforced a simple point perhaps too-often overlooked: you are insane if you treat all licensed venues alike.

There is a lot wrong with the prevailing Antipodean drinking culture, and I’m not remotely suggesting that “small bars” are flawless2 or the complete answer to anything. But you have to applaud Sydney for its neat little ecosystem of different-sized places doing different-styled things, giving varied ideas and formats an airing and seeing what works. Treating every venue as if they were heaving, recklessly-discounting, neighbour-nuisancing boozers just because that seems an easier way to tackle genuinely-existing3 problems will wind up causing a tonne of needless collateral cultural damage. A lot of New Zealand’s new rules seem unfortunately destined to make life harder for exactly the kinds of operations that represent (on their good days) a more-enlightened approach to things-with-booze-in.4

From my bartender-training days, I remember “test-tube shots” being specifically called-out and demonised in the materials as if they were somehow inherently a sign of ill-advised drinking. But here one was at Stitch — a supercute basement bar in downtown Sydney, decked-out with a suprisingly-successful sewing machine aesthetic (including dozens of vintage Singer machines, and treadle-equipped tables to sit and drink at) — and it’s hard to imagine that an eighteen-dollar Boilermaker5 of a mini-Old-Fashioned and a dependable American import6 is ultimately implicated in many worrying and/or unhealthy nights out. Instead, it was a thoughtful and delicious little addition to their overall offering, perfectly capable of being Enjoyed Responsibly. If you can’t handle even the small amount of nuance needed to allow for just those kinds of possibilities,7 you need to get out of the policy-making business. All drinks are not created, or served, equally.

1: I’m a Foreigner; forgive me if I get the details and/or the history wrong. And by all means — and as always — corrections, clarifications and continuations are more than welcome. 
2: This post’s title, to head off any observant but poorly-read pedants, is an irresistible little English cliché (of weirdly-uncertain origin, apparently) more than anything else. 
3: Although almost-always overblown. We do love a good Moral Panic, as a species, it seems. But that’s another post for another time — and will require a lot more references (though Pete Brown does a damn-admirable job in pulling a bunch together for semi-regular and enjoyably-sharp rants thereon). Meanwhile, just have a look at the scaremongering quote from the Hotel Association rep. in the above-linked Time Out article. Battle lines in the policy debate aren’t as simple as regulators versus retailers; the huge operators will happily slag off the small to try and lobby against losing their advantages. 
4: Indeed, recalling the spectacular tin ear I complained about the other day in regard to Wellington’s advertising, our Council’s first draft of changes for the local area included the creation of a ghetto — styled as an “entertainment precinct” — which would’ve hugely favoured the City’s obviously-problematic operators and seriously hampered further evolution of the increasingly civilised fringe. I remember being outraged by the incredible wrong-headedness of the idea around podcast-recording time; fortunately, it was abandoned. 
5: See also Whisky + Alement, next time you’re in Melbourne, for a really excellent range of deftly-matched [Craft] Beer + Whisk[e]y combinations. 
6: Albeit one with a bit of an identity crisis, to be fair; the brewery bleats on nonsensically about how “traditional” and “small” it is while a) committing the classic Big Business sin of trademarking a style term and b) producing 20ML already and planning under c) it’s new mega-corporate owners to d) quadruple capacity. 
7: And then, once your imagination’s nice and warmed-up, to contemplate rules, conditions, and fees that differ appropriately in response to the character of the place in question… But again; details another time. 

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