Beervana 2015 ― upcoming absences and presences

Er, somethingbeer from someonebrewery (Beervana, 22 August 2014)
My first beer of Beervana 2014 ― and Wellington through a filthy stadium window

When the list of Beervana-attending breweries came out a little while ago, I stayed up late and made a spreadsheet comparing the attendees over the last few years against the Brewers Guild membership and the list of standholders at this year’s Great Kiwi Beer Festival. Obviously. And while it’s definitely true that there’s a whole pile of interesting stuff on offer this year, it was initially the absences that grabbed me.

It hasn’t been uncommon to hear ― over what we might come to call the Stadium Years ― that Beervana has gone mainstream, or something to that effect, often uttered to explain why individual drinkers feel like “moving on” to other (more niche) festivals. I’m sympathetic, here: I’m all for people doing whatever they like, and hugely fond of smaller-and-more-focussed events, and a big fan of “mainstream” ― or at least stream-spanning, less pejoratively ― ones as well. It’s a rich ecosystem we have,1 and we’re all better off for that. My point here, though, is simply that the data doesn’t bear out diagnosing Beervana with the dreaded mainstreaming ― or at least: to the extent that there was a flare-up, it quickly reversed itself.

Take, for example, The Many Faces Of Asahi,2 who are completely absent: there’s no Boundary Road, no Founders, no Sam Adams, and BrewDog (formerly distributed by them) will only be present via their new importer, Beertique. That’s a fairly stark contrast to 2013, when the company had four separate bars, out of a total of 31. Likewise, D.B. have retreated somewhat: they’ve abandoned the idea of Monteith’s and Old Mout Cider bars and are instead concentrating on their Black Dog brand. Even Lion (longtime suppliers of infrastructure to the festival) have pulled back a little, leaving behind both their nonsense Potemkin brand, Crafty Beggars, and gateway Australian offering, James Squires.

Something from Townshend's (Beervana, 22 August 2014)
My second beer of Beervana 2014

If I had to categorise the breweries who aren’t featured this year ― and from what I’ve told you of how my brain works, you know that I do ― I’d divide them into minnows too new and/or small-scale for an appearance to have much reward,3 regionals who have some special focus on an area that isn’t Wellington,4 and bargains who put most of their attention in the price-sensitive corners of the supermarket trade and for whom marketing budgets are tight and/or the demographic of a wide-appeal festival isn’t their best fit. Awkwardly, in the process of throwing names into those three buckets, I think it’s fairest to say that Stoke / McCashin’s and Moa5 both fit into the latter; they’d protest otherwise, I’m sure, but I suspect they’re only fooling themselves.

So yes, the event is changing. Every non-dead thing does, and it’ll change even more next year when its new owners have more time to properly ponder a course correction. But it’s not a linear watering-down. Drinkers and festival-goers are also themselves forever changing, so what we probably have here is a multi-variate version of the familiar perception threshold shift that sends people chasing more intense versions of a thing (be it hoppy beer, sour beer, spicy chili, gnarly mountain bike tracks, or crunchy sci-fi epics) to recapture the strength of the original thrill ― and also handicaps their ability to judge how much of a perceived change comes from within, and how much is actually attributable to the world.

Interrobang badge (My house, somewhen in 2014)

Anyway, lots of interesting things will be pouring at the stadium this weekend. I’ll be there,6 and will attempt to track down some gems upon which to report back. I’m also going to be loitering in the seminar room (as I’m prone to do at these things) and helping present a Quiz on the Friday and my own User’s Guide To Beer on Saturday. If you’re around, keep an eye out for a nerd with a notebook and an interrobang badge; odds are that’s me.7

(And yes, I am trialling a new footnote system with this post. If it’s a huge improvement, or a giant leap backwards, do let me know. I suspect the answer might depend on your thing-reading-thing, too, so any details as to your experience per device would be appreciated.)

  1. As I keep banging on about; see for example my short post from this time last year, and a podcast episode from the inter-festival period shortly before that.
  2. a.k.a. “Independent” or “Boundary Road Brewery”; it’s the same damn thing.
  3. There are a few interesting minnows attending (e.g., Wild & Woolly), and some non-attendees have featured at previous Beervanae, but the cost-benefit calculation for people at the small end of the scale will always be particularly chaotic.
  4. Some of whom, again, have had a stand in other years (e.g., Cassel’s & Son’s, Sawmill, etc.), but you can see why they mightn’t bother every time.
  5. About whom more another time, inevitably.
  6. On some sort of hybrid of an un-paid-for Media Pass (for which, thank you, Beervana) and a Staff Pass for my un-paid wrangling of the semiar room (for which, you’re welcome, Beervana).
  7. And finally ― “v777777y6umjy=d ///////// ////////// ////////// ////////// ////////// ////////// ////////// ////////// ////////// ////////// ////////// ////////// ////////// ////////// ////////// ////////”, said Tilda, having noticed that my laptop was warm and seemed a fine place to sit.

16 thoughts on “Beervana 2015 ― upcoming absences and presences”

  1. Well said, seeya there!

    Re the footnotes, the whole article loads in Feedly but not the footnotes.

  2. a. The footnotes are awesome! As Scott says above, they don’t load in feedly, but then feedly is really just an aggregator for me. I click through if I intend to actually read/comment on something. 🙂

    b. I’m not going this year, but it has nothing to do with coolness, shark jumping, or any of that bollocks. I had a horrible time last year, but I think that was more the headspace I was in, combined with being unable to find a bar I could actually breathe in to have a quiet pint. It’s certainly nothing to do with the festival itself, which I hope ends up growing even larger and going as mainstream as possible. When everyone drinks better beer, we all win. It’s not supposed to be your favourite indie band you secretly get angry about when other people discover them. I was sad to hear a lot of people expressing that sentiment last year. Also, new job. No leave.

    c. Brewaucracy isn’t going for precisely the reasons you outlined which apply to minnows. While there’s never really been any point in us being there, I love David Cryer to bits, and place him in the under-recognised heroes of the industry category, and we always went to show support. I wish all the best to the new organisers, and have given them my support by documenting the “how to run a homebrew competition” process so it could be followed without much pain by any given volunteer. All that said, there will be a solitary case of Bean Counter via our friends at Beertique. Get some if you like. 🙂

    d. Have a fantastic time. I will miss our all-too-brief catch ups and indeed will miss all the Wellington people I feel like I’ve not seen in forever. Love you long time.

  3. I had gone for the past two years. But cannot stomach going.

    The cost / benefit, or cost/experience is not worth it.

    Getting to Wellington, the hotel and food costs, and then charged $45 so I can additional pay a not too small amount for a drink in a little plastic cup?

    Then the crowds, the long wait to load money on the wristband, the most hyped beer running out early in the first session and a range of standard offerings crowding out any interesting new stuff.

    I can walk to the bottle store and get a lot of interesting stuff.

    1. i guess it all depends on what beer means to someone.

      i go to beervana, because beer is not about personal cost to me. i go because if everyone just went to the bottle store, events like beervana would never have got off the ground, and there would be no talk of how ‘mainstream’ it was becoming, cos there wouldn’t be the same interest from the broader public, which is actually what counts if we want good beer to proliferate in this country.

      i go to beervana, and i pay for the flights, and i pay the entry, and i pay for the beer, and i drink the beer, and i enjoy drinking the beer.

      but i go for just about every reason other than the beer that i drink there. cos we can all go down the bottley every weekend, but not every weekend can we support the growth of the industry and the interet of the public as a whole in the same way that we can at beervana

  4. Well put, as always. A few semi-random thoughts from me:
    – I too noticed some differences in the list this year. A few non-attendances, and a few less-presence-than-previously (e.g. Epic, Parrotdog) but I also noticed a whole bunch of new & interesting stuff. There are still more beers I WANT to drink than I will technically be capable of drinking in one session.

    – we are the 1%. What I mean by that is that those of us who read your erudite ramblings are more likely to be well-travelled beer geeks, so it’s harder to find beers we haven’t had. Beervana is and should be appealing to a wider audience than just us, and I think they’ve got the balance about right. I had complaints at City of Ales this year about there being “not enough new & unique beers” – I think this is a positive sign of the growth of the market.

    I’m very much looking forward to Beervana this year. I’m bringing my newly-resident-in-NZ father along, so I expect I’ll be taking it a little slower & steadier, which will be nice.

  5. Good write up- however I’ve become a bit of a Moa fan in recent times- not because of the Stoke/Moa supermarket beers- but because they have some exceptional specialty beers. As a general hater of their press releases Etc- I’ve had to u-turn my earlier opinions on theirs beers. The imperials, sours and seasonal are worthy…

  6. I’m still on the fence about going to Beervana, and your post has reminded me that before I make the final decision I really ought to READ THE BEER LIST. My biggest reasons for not going were that:

    a:: My tastes tend to run away from the sours and the funky beers (although not exclusively), which has certainly been the trend of late, and just generally makes Beer Festivals a little less interesting at the moment *for me*. I’ve done the ‘well let’s just try them all, yay!’ and now I just know that I (mostly) don’t like them.

    b:: I also tend to stay up to date on current beers through excellent use of local pubs 🙂 and Beervana has in previous years largely been beers that I’ve tried at my local already, other than the limited festival brews (see note c), as opposed to say GABS which is almost all festival brews. Actually, I think mostly normal stock is a great idea – nothing more frustrating than falling in love with a new beer only to be told you can never have it again – but it’s another lack-of-incentive when you’re as spoiled for great beer pubs as we are in Wellington.

    c:: This isn’t a *primary* reason but for me the last two years worth of festival brews were not at all enjoyable, on the whole. There were a couple standouts, but mostly entirely Not My Sort Of Thing – to the point where both years I stopped even trying them unless it was a sip of someone else’s.

    … and it occurs to me that all three of these things are things that might well not apply to this year, and I should really, you know, CHECK THE LIST.

    My biggest reason TO go, is of course all the lovely beer people who turn up, many of whom I only get to see a couple times a year, and I’ll miss them lots if I don’t go.

    Lovely post as always, and your footnotes are perfectly normal, at least in Chrome on a laptop. 🙂


  7. re “crafty buggers”

    i was talking to someone from lion, who’s worked for them for some years, (not in the marketing dept) who said they BOUGHT the CB brand off someone in aussie!! so it’s not even a shit idea, based on lion’s own original marketing powerhouse creative juinces- they paid someone else for it……………..

    par for the course perhaps?

  8. some notes as (confessions of) an ex-Beervana employee:

    1. Asahi weren’t there last year because Pamela Anderson.

    2. Interesting to me that 3 of this years missing stallholders are ones who in previous years were the absolute worst to deal with:

    – repeatedly drinking behind bars to the point of me hulking out and threatening to close down their stall and kick them out….three times (“but he’s the brewer!”)

    – repeatedly giving beer away for free.

    – turning up 1 hour before the doors opened to the public to build their bar

    – sending one person to pack out their bar. This person had no idea what to do then had a panic attack and fled leaving everything behind ….. for days

    methinks they weren’t taking any of it seriously so no surprise that they aren’t there this year.

  9. Am, disappointingly, giving it a miss this year as well. There are several reasons including:

    1. I just bought a house and Beervana weekend funds were hard to fit into the budget.
    2. We had an excellent weekend in Wellington a month or so back that was just a festival short of how we normally spend Beervana weekend (Malthouse-Goldings-Hashigo, repeat).
    3. I thought it was only fair to give Beth a year to put her stamp on it

    (At least 2 of these are just me grasping at straws)

  10. Having been a regular for years (overseas terminal; town hall), this will be my first beervana since 2011. While I enjoyed the beer then (Feral brewing was a highlight), the venue was poor and the Friday night crowd was not my scene. Since then, most of the beers that appealed to me at beervana were available elsewhere, and I’ve enjoyed the vibe and beers at PBE much more.

    My initial motivation for going this year was simply to take the chance before a small human complicates life. But having seen the list of beers, and got time off work to the Friday day session, I’m now quite excited about it.

    My impression (probably contradicted by data) is that a few years ago, increased demand for good beer was not matched by diversity of supply. But the (my) inability nowadays to keep up with the good and the interesting really increases the value of Beervana and the other festivals.

  11. Nice post! What did you use for the footnotes?

    (Also, not going to Beervana because I’m saving to go drinking with my Dad in the Pacific Northwest in two weeks #humblebrag)

    1. Cheers! The plugin is just called Easy Footnote, and certainly does what it says on the tin. There are a bunch for WordPress, but this was the closest to what I wanted. A post-Beervana project is to figure out how to hack it a little closer to my own weird styleguide (dropping down a font size, etc.).

      And damn nice work with the PNW trip! I look forward to the FOMO.

Have at it: