This is indeed a great town to live in — in general, and especially in the going out for a drink or a dinner or a mooch or a movie senses. But a few things about Positively Wellington’s recent ads begin to slip into the territory of the boorishly boastful or (worse) looking like they’re covering up for a needless underlying lack of confidence — when it’s taking out full-page ads in the Wellington paper, just who is Wellington marketing itself to?
Anyway, they strayed into beer territory this week, and attracted my attention with the claim that there are “10 craft breweries in Wellington” — a sentence for which you need to simultaneously hold aggravatingly loose defintions of “craft”, “brewery” and “Wellington” all at the same time for “10” and “in” to stand any chance at all of being considered true.
To count them off, in a rough geographical order, the City itself currently has 1) Garage Project,1 2) ParrotDog, 3) Fork & Brewer, and 4) Black Dog — the latter a test for your definition of “craft” since it’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of D.B., local representative of the Global Heineken Behemoth and proud member of the standing duopoly.2 Out a little in the still-definitely-Wellington suburbs, you’ve got tiny little 5) Baylands Brewery, and then in kinda-maybe-not-“Wellington”-anymore Upper Hutt, 6) Panhead and 7) Kererū have recently sprung up. Now, I consider myself a Wellingtonian and would introduce myself as such to foreigners but everyone3 knows I’m really not, because I’m from Lower Hutt, which is still a good deal closer than either of those two new breweries. But onwards anyway, generously, to 8) Tuatara; easily the #1 brewery in the region in terms of production volume and still-standing longevity, but who are really starting to get the definition of “Wellington” to breaking point, since you can’t even phone them for free from here and need to drive through a good deal of intervening farmland to visit them in person.
And that’s it, really. Eight, tops.4 Which is a really good number for a place of our size, especially with the appalling absence, just a few years ago (which somehow goes unmentioned and even un-hinted-toward, in the ad), of any breweries from the above list other than Tuatara. And while 8 out of 10 is nothing to be sneezed at, pretending 8 is 10 amounts to letting a four-foot-nine person claim they’re six feet tall. Which, in this Tolkein-derived-movie-obsessed town, will get you some seriously miss-cast extras. It is indeed boom time for beer-making in Wellington; we’re recovering spectacularly from an embarrassing low point and kicking serious arse, it’s fair to say. But I’ve never spoken to anyone in the business who has highly praised the local bureaucracy for any astonishing helpfulness. It’s a big red-tape tangle. These things always are. That’s a reality, not a gripe. I’m just not sure Wellington (as an ad-buying entity) has done enough to help this development to entitle them to boast of its success and bask in its halo.5
Given the Yeastie Boys logos in the ad, it seems they’re padding their numbers further by also throwing the usual meaning of “brewery” on the fire and extending it to “companies who produce beer under contract at various places around the country, but have at least one director who lives in Wellington”. But then you’ve probably got oodles other than them and Funk Estate. The second statistic under the image claims 10+ coffee roasteries, so why couldn’t it have been “5+” breweries? Easy, unassailable, and still praiseworthy. The reaching for a bigger boast just looks a little sad, and causes the corrosive effect where if one data point looks shady then the rest get a sideways glance, warranted or not — and that’s if you weren’t already wondering about contextless figures on two hundred thousand people eating snacks.6
To top it all off, have another look at those Yeastie Boys logos. You’d be forgiven for finding them unfamiliar, because it looks like they — and the others — have been composited on to packaging those breweries don’t use. “10 craft breweries” in Wellington, and yet the ad features the produce of precisely one. That’s fairly egregious poor form for a town of such diversity, and in which there exists a small wealth of excellent retailers — such as perhaps the one mentioned twice by name in the ad itself — from which further props could’ve easily been sourced.
It’s a great little town, it really is. If it’s “home” — temporarily or not — you should be prouder of it than you are, however proud you already are. And if you’re not semi-permanently one of us, you should visit more often, however often you already do. We are basically the perfect small town; let us not succumb to Small Town Insecurity. Counting tokens of a hard-to-define type7 will always lead to trouble, and you quickly look oddly sad for trying. So just don’t. The numbers do not constitute the scene, and the scene is doing damn well on its own. Boasting doesn’t count as helping.
1: Entirely coincidentally, for present purposes, my current main (but not only) employer. It’s probably always worth repeating that I’m not speaking on their behalf here — nor basically anywhere — and indeed, if anything, they’ll be somewhat miffed (but hopefully forgiving) at my nit-picking an ad which features them in such a positive light. ↑
2: Although possibly not for long, in both the sense that a)
I hear D.B. might be wussing out of their worthy experiment and shuttering Black Dog, which seems a shame [Updated: rumours unfounded, according to their Twitterthing. But that’ll be worth following-up / double-checking for Big Brewery Spin And Evasion soon…], and b) it might not be a “duopoly” much longer, given how well (in the pejorative sense) Boundary Road / “Independent” / Asahi have been doing, lately. ↑
3: Where “foreigner” equals, e.g., an Albanian, Australian, or Aucklander; anyone from outside the 04 area, basically — and “everyone” is those of us within it. ↑
4: For the sake of completeness, you could always argue that “the Wellington Region” also includes (at least) Regent 58 and Martinborough Brewery and so, ta da, 10. I think the ad’s pretty-obviously about Wellington-Wellington, though, not the “region”. From a perusal of their website, Positively Wellington focus on the City and its immediate environs, and while you can find them pimping wider-regional things like Toast Martinborough, you’d be just mad or speaking another language entirely if you said the latter event, for example, took place “in Wellington”. ↑
5: While happy to adopt the “Craft Beer Capital” moniker — and admittedly supporting the website and organisation of the same name — the local bureaucracy seems to miss plenty of chances to help out in tangible ways: my understanding is that Beervana gets little to no Council assistance,a with them proving unable even to alter catering arrangements at the Town Hall to enable non-horrible food to be served when the festival was held there, and throughout the recent revisions to our liquor laws I haven’t seen anything from the local Council which seeks to treat small, civilised bars any different from more-problematic booze barns, or local brewery cellar doors any different from discount retailers. ↑
— a: Despite their weight being thrown behind a recent “Octoberfest” knockoff, though that was perhaps a one-time abberration caused by John Morrison in campaign mode and looking to shore up the boofhead vote. ↑
6: Is that a lot, on a per-capita basis? I have literally no idea. I do vaguely recall some statistic that suggested us Wellingtonians ate a weirdly-high proportion of our meals outside of our homes, so there’s probably something in this. But who knows? A bamboozling barrage of numbers is a pretty sure-fire sign of a bullshitter, all else being equal. ↑
7: To note one little point against bothering to define “craft beer” at all — a topic on which I’m still undecided and not going to totally open the valves on, here — just look how strange it is that beer is basically the only noun in the ad that they feel needs an adjective. It’s just “bread, ice cream, pizza”. No need to gild the lily. “Boutique”, as a qualifier for various small industries, seemed to quickly come and go, and “artisanal” pretty-much instantly became synonymous with hipster pretension. Again; get your hand off it. We’ll probably survive if we just call it “beer”. ↑