Late last week, the story suddenly broke that Epic1 had gone into liquidation. As one of the best-known names of the early craft beer scene in New Zealand, and likely the “gateway beer” for a sizeable chunk of the subculture, the news was received with shock and sadness, labelled a tragedy, and many wondered what it foretold for the wider industry as they praised the legacy of founder Luke Nicholas. But a lot of the reaction has mistaken historical influence for current relevance or viability,2 and overlooked some real problems that should have been more obvious to all concerned.
Like a New Zealander excited when the country is mentioned out loud in overseas media or just actually included on a map, I’m always interested when beer pops up in unexpected places. Last Friday’s NYT crossword had ipa among its solutions, which itself isn’t uncommon — the crowded design of American crosswords mean they reuse some three-letter words a lot — but the clue specifically referencing hazy struck me, and I wondered if that was new, and what (if anything) it might mean.
Melbourne’s Own Consistently Excellent Beer, the billboard read, provided you walked back and forward a bit or at least leaned side to side, since it’d been stuck up on a surface that was too tightly curved. I’d seen variations on that poster campaign before, but now it made me mad; they’ve gone from the usual advertising puffery into raw uncut nonsense and lies. Fixation hasn’t been either for years.
CORRECTION — the original version of this post incorrectly said that ‘Chance, Luck & Magic’ was the overall Champion Beer for the second year running. It wasn’t; Burkes Brewing ‘Unforgiven’ Porter won in 2021. Thanks to Michael Donaldson for noticing and letting me know. The data here is unaffected, but some of my commentary was thereby off.
After this year’s Brewers’ Guild of New Zealand Awards — the BGONZAs, to their friends — the headline result was unusually clear: Garage Project1 just absolutely smashed it. Their ‘Chance, Luck & Magic’ took out the Best In Show award, prompting me to buy a $49 bottle of beer (which was suitably delicious, I should note), and they won the Champion Large Brewery title (for the second year running, no less) in spectacularly unambiguous fashion, since at least two other breweries would need to merge and pool their winnings to come close to G.P.’s medal haul.2 After that, it might seem superfluous to dig in the weeds of the data for other stories lurking in the details, but I have my traditions, and I am undeterred — and I think there’s still some things worthy of a little more attention.
It’s beer awards night back home in New Zealand. I’ll be tuning in as best I can from over here in Melbourne1 and doubtless obsessing over various weird little details and patterns once I’ve got the full results. As I’ve tried to make the case here before,2 I think there are a few interesting stories lurking underneath the headline results that get most of the attention on the night, and you can only really find them by crunching some numbers. So let’s quickly do that for the awards that have happened since I got distracted by a) moving and b) a pandemic, so we’re all caught up and ready for more — since, as of tomorrow, I’ll have five years worth of data to play with, which feels like it’ll be a good time to go looking for trendlines…3
It’s Indie Beer Day1 here in Australia, which seems like a weirdly appropriate time to reflect on why I can’t really bring myself to care about “independence” itself. Living in a country where that word is (now) the go-to organising principle for a lot of lobbying, events, and branding — certainly much more than it is back home in New Zealand — I’ve realised how it leaves me cold. Sure, “independence” loosely correlates with some things I do care about, but the link is so flimsy that it just doesn’t make for a good guide to follow or banner to wave. As it happens, most of my favourite beers are from independent breweries, and, all else being equal, I’ll probably pick one over a non-indie alternative — but all else is very rarely equal.
I want to know how many breweries there are in New Zealand. And I honestly think it’s strange that it’s a hard thing to find out. Even the smallest of them is visible from hundreds of metres away, and they are usually literally bolted to the ground. This shouldn’t be difficult; we’re counting Kererū the brewery, not Kererū the bird. And yet every total I’ve seen hit the news for years has seemed way off ― so I decided to do my own survey, and my best estimate is that there are currently
“Sponsored content” isn’t easy to do well — the ethical considerations are very tricky indeed, and it’s often just all too plain to readers that an ad is an ad — but this piece on The Spinoff recently is a particularly clear example of how to do it badly. Continue reading Sponsored nonsense — the Brewers Association’s clumsy stealth tactics
Last weekend gave us a fresh round of #BGONZAs — the Brewers’ Guild of New Zealand Awards.1 Continuing the new practice they started last year, the Guild has provided us not just with a list of who won what, but a full accounting of who tried to. So, like I did last time, I spent an oddly-enjoyable afternoon spreadsheeting and pivoting and entabulating the results and present them now for a little look behind the curtain at how the newly-expanded list of “Champions” are crowned, and to ponder the many different ways there are in which to succeed, and to fall short. There’s a lot going on — the awards, after all, cover most of the industry — but I think there’s a lot of interesting little details lurking.
For the holidays — the familiar public ones, but also the 14th anniversary of the first entry in my actual Beer Diary — George and I sat down to talk about what’s changed, and what hasn’t, in the time since we last did one of these. We cover a little of the long arc of news, entry into and exit from the subculture of beer (or indeed anything else), the ageing of beer and of ourselves, the surprisingly fraught nature of not drinking, and keeping things in balance in this peculiar world.