Get your hand off it, Wellington

Absolutely Positively Wellington's 'Well Proud' ad, detail
Pile of beery (and other) goodness from Positively Wellington Tourism’s ‘Well Proud’ ad

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?

Postively Wellington Tourism's 'Well Proud' ad, claims
Better boasting through dubious statistics

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

Positively Wellington's 'Well Proud' ad
Positively Wellington Tourism’s ‘Well Proud’ ad — or: full size

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”. 

22 thoughts on “Get your hand off it, Wellington”

  1. Agreed…although I see nothing wrong with promoting great beer and Wellington’s special place in that.

    Perhaps we’re not in that “10”. I can’t quite read what the source is there.

    But if we’re in that “10”… Perhaps we count because there is a really really stupid rule, which isn’t really a rule if you read the actual legislation and related documentation (but is being pushed hard by the “over compliance” of some large retailers), which requires us to put an address on our packaging. On some bottles we have a PO Box in Miramar. one that we no longer actually own rights to the use of, and most now simply have our wersite… which, in my opinion, is correct because it is “business address in New Zealand”. Nowhere does it state that a physical or postal address is required.

    Why not put a physical address? Because we produce at several breweries. And we wouldn’t want some poor beer geek to rock up to one of them thinking that they’ll meet us or someone who works for us… and because that bottle you are holding may not have been produced where the label says it was! The website seems like the very best address we could use but, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it will hold up if we actually want to sell to supermarkets.

    Also, and possibly most importantly, because I’m generally seen as the creative brains of Yeastie Boys (Sam is the poster boy) we’re very much seen as Wellington-based. Our poster boy / financial dude lives in Auckland. It’s just like the fact that Icebreaker may be seen as a Wellington clothing company when they’re probably producing in Taiwan (certainly somehwere closer to there than Wellington).

    1. Someone from the Dom / PWT is welcome to provide the canonical 10, but yeah, I’d wager that Yeastie Boys was counted. And, provided you don’t say something as needlessly specific as “brewery in Wellington” I think YB absolutely is a distinctly “Wellington”, er, thing in some senses. Enough for locals to brag about, at least.

      It’s just the nature of the bragging that gets to me. Hopefully my pro-Wellington bona fides aren’t in doubt by the people grumpy at me for ungratefully nit-picking!

    2. In the first City of Ales fest in 2012, we (the organising committee) made the decision to limit ourselves to Auckland breweries. However we did include Yeastie Boys, on the somewhat cheeky basis that Sam lived in Auckland. Therefore I think we got to serve the first keg of Gunnamatta in NZ, because beer.

  2. I saw this ad in the paper on Monday I think and initially thought is was an ad for Garage Project or Tuatara. So many boxes and bombers and stuff!

    The tone of the colouring and over slickness of the prop set up looks like its straight from Clemenger and not from a small intrepid design company that a small brewery would use.

    It’s not that hard to capture the tone of local brewing or even get the facts right about it. This is just local government bragging about something they had nothing to do with and still don’t really understand. Hence, a really boring elitest ad that once again makes craft beer look unaccessable to every day people.

    1. Totally agree. Which is why it’s a little unfortunate. Yes, it’s “free advertising” for everyone, in a sense. But it’s awkwardly done in ways that potentially aren’t helpful.

    2. it kinda does look like an advert for Garage Project… but nothing like one they’d create themselves!!

      I only just saw the full size thing online and it say “Source: Dominion Post Wellington Report”. What the heck was that?

      1. The DomPost Wellington Report.

        “A six-part series – from June 10-16 – on the true state of the capital and its immediate neighbours, examining its housing and population, economy and employment, governance, infrastructure and identity.”

        Source: dompost.co.nz

        I’ve got no idea where the journos got the stats from for the stories though.

        1. Ah, so “Wellington Report” is a thing. I thought they meant just generally “a report in the Dominion Post, Wellington”. I’m trawling through the relevant pages to try find the canonical List Of Ten. (So far no luck.)

  3. I’m always conscious of using the word “brewery” when discussing Funk Estate. I tend to use the term “craft beer company” and I always try to give credit to the brewery that brewed whichever beer is being discussed. I think Contract brewers play a big part in the industry (*high fives stu*) but the distinction is remains important.

    I also agree with Stu’s comment about there being nothing wrong with promoting Wellingtons special place as far as great beer goes.

    1. Well then, *high fives, Jordan*, says me. I only suspect that you guys were the tenth on PWT’s list, but I think it’s a good bet. And I couldn’t agree more that it’s an important distinction to make! There’s not a damn thing wrong with contract brewing operations — nothing wrong with any business model, inherently, except when they pretend to be something they’re not, which you guys are studiously avoiding, to your credit.

      And hell yeah Wellington has a special place. I’m just not sure the marketers get it.

    1. I’m pretty sure all their beer is still contract-brewed, which puts them in the same camp as Yeastie Boys and Funk Estate — as in they shouldn’t count for a run-down of “breweries”, and if we switch to adding a list of contract producers we’ll quickly get much closer to 20, if PWT was in the mood for a yet-bigger boast. (Interestingly, some of their contracting happens at Fork & Brewer, one of the 8, but I believe a lot still gets made at Townshend.) They’re even further out than Tuatara, of course, so the “Wellington” bit of the classification will still be stretchy when they get their own tanks.

      So I still think it’s 8, and I still think 8’s great.

  4. Depends if you are talking about Auckland as the city or the region. If you look at places like Nelson, Marlborough they would have almost as many. Dunedin would be up there as well, as we have Speights, Emersons, Green Man, McDuffs, Meehans, Velvet Worm, Birch Street and a few other small operations. Extend that to Otago and you can include Scotts, Wanaka Beer Works, Queenstown Brewery, Arrowtown, Herne and I’m sure there are more. That makes 13 off the top of my head. Based on my figures and the population count, per capita I’d say we can proclaim either Dunedin or Tasman as the Craft Beer Capital of NZ.

  5. By virtue of all the dodgy accounting going on here then, Tahi bar in Warkworth was the first true independant craft beer bar in the North Island making Warkworth the Beer Capital of the pointy bit

  6. Stu…Phil …Is Wellington part of the North Island, I always believed it to be an independant state with John Key as leader and Len Brown ran everything else.
    Yes we turn a youthful 6 next month. Making us the oldest craft beer bar outside of Wellywood we would like to believe..but none of it really matters what matters is that people get access to good beer hopefully wherever they are and it is good to see growth in the Auckland scene but it is an extremely fickle market. It has always had the talk but not always the walk to go with it.

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