This time last year, I was recounting three years’ of Brewday experiences over the hill in Martinborough, as I missed out on the festival’s fourth incarnation. This time last week,1 I was on a train to Upper Hutt — the event’s original organisers had sold it, and it’d been relocated there for this year (and, all going well, onwards). The move brought some skepticism, including from myself, but I went exploring2 and am happy to report that the transplant seems a success and the prognosis looks good.
There’s only 35 kilometres of raw distance between the old venue and the new; it’s under an hour by car, even with the winding road over the hill. But — as I said last time — psychogeography is weird. A lot of Wellingtonians tend to treat Martinborough as “weekend away” territory: it has a reliably warmer microclimate, wineries, and open fields into which to plonk a beer festival. Upper Hutt is working class: there’s large tracts of semi-abandoned industrial buildings (though a good number, not coincidentally, are being converted into breweries), and a kind of charmingly dilapidated racecourse as the best bet for a venue. So it’s different, and obviously so, but it still works. The more-suburban location means regular trains, there’s a station literally across the road, and there’s discounted return tickets to designated events such as this. That gives you a massive catchment of easily-transportable potential patrons,3 more than capable of making up for a smattering of folks — like a lot of my own friends, admittedly — who might pass if it’s now “just” an afternoon beer festival.
On top of skepticism of the new location and the new operators, the forecast was for buckets of rain, which would’ve likely — haha — dampened turnout somewhat. Patches of blue opened up in the early afternoon and plenty of smug comments were made in the sunshine before everyone was reminded that meteorology is an actual goddamn science and a proper deluge arrived almost as on-schedule as the trains. But there was plenty of shelter to be had and people seemed mostly unfazed — as Dad always said, humans are basically waterproof; so long as your nostrils point down, you’ll be fine. I was slightly more careful than usual with my notebook and my camera, but undeterred. Others just covered their tasting glasses as they walked.
The festival’s focus is on local producers, not on particularly obscure or unusual beer, but I (nerd that I am: notebook and all) was still easily able to find enough to try to fill my time. I stuck mostly to sour and funky things, as I seem to do at these things lately.4 Food options looked good, though as a Brewday veteran I didn’t stray far from the crew who’ve been showing up for years and expertly slapping together preposterously messy and massive venison burgers. And the music was, well, predictably terrible — the usual crappy covers band nonsense that does nothing for me but which I can easily-enough tune out; there’s always a small crowd dancing along by the end of the afternoon. Go nuts, y’all.
I got the sense that attendance might’ve been similar to the original Brewday, back in 2013. Given everything — the relocation, the weather, and the overall sense of a reboot — I take that to be a good sign. Apparently it’s the Upper Hutt City Council itself that has bought the thing, and the more I think about it the more I like the idea of a local government owning an event like this: a Council can have a different perspective and sense of the “value” in these things. A festival could scrape by and break even, or even run a small loss, and still be worthwhile for the wider community. Upper Hutt is obviously positioning itself as a hub for small-to-medium-sized breweries,5 and this’ll complement that nicely. There’s a good chunk of population living within this thing’s reach and they’ll be well served by a festival as diverse, relaxed and welcoming as this. That seems like exactly the sort of thing I’d want my Council supporting. I suspect I’ll be back, with or without my umbrella.
- I’ve scheduled this post to go up as the train departed, because this time right now I’m actually on a little break down in the Marlborough Sounds and hopefully having a swim.
- I did a (very) small amount of work for the organisers (offering advice on the layout, and which breweries to put where for the thing to make sense) and got a free ticket in return. I’m not sure if “beer media” people were offered free tickets even without the minor consultancy-work sideline. A few of my tasters were also gifted / discounted by stallholders who happened to be friends. I try to give them money. (Which sounds like a humblebrag, but fuck it; all disclosures kinda do anyway.)
- Well, relatively. Something like a third of a million people live along that train line. This is a small town, even when you include its exurbs.
- Particular highlights were Garage Project’s ‘Petite Mort’ (a Brett-fermented thing-in-progress from their ‘Wild Workshop’), Kererū’s Guava Berlier Weisse, North End’s ‘Become The Ocean’ and Panhead’s ‘Culture Vulture’ (a relatively ‘straight’ gose and a lychee one, respectively, both had while chatting to their brewers).
- Going so far as to offer incentives of various kinds to companies to set up in some of that aforementioned abandoned industrial space. Though I did hear mention of also trying to coin a moniker like “Brewtown” or something, which I hope doesn’t happen. These things don’t need to be given a brand.