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 141161.1
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.
Sometimes, being nearly right is actually worse than being completely wrong. A story headlined Higher Alcohol Levels In Craft Beer Catching Drivers Out was published yesterday, and proved to be an instructively terrible example of this. It’s broadly in the ‘single out beer to be the bad guy in a story about booze in general’ genre, but goes an extra step and zeroes in on “craft beer” for some speculative shaming. Frustratingly, they built their pile of wrongness incredibly close to an important point, which they just wound up burying in crap.
I had three beers yesterday — all of them pilsners and two of them that one right there from Tuatara. Shortly before they were bought out by DB / Heineken, they changed its name to ‘Mot Eureka’ and gave it a new look. I’m not at all a fan of either move,1 but it was still tasting lovely and it was nice to get reacquainted with what once was the default beer of Wellington.2 I couldn’t help notice, though, that the new blurb on the label was complete bullshit and shamelessly revisionist nonsense.
The latest round of the Brewers Guild of New Zealand Awards1 were announced this weekend and this year they’ve given us more data than usual to play with. For the first time, the Guild has released information on what was entered, as opposed to just telling us who won, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m the kind of nerd who watches the Olympics and wants a per-capita column on the medal tally. Raw results are one thing, but I’m curious well you did relative to how hard you tried. And now, after an hour or so of strangely-enjoyable data entry and spreadsheeting,2 I know.
Seven years ago, I first hit Publish on this thing. The frequency at which I’ve done so, since, has oscillated wildly1 ― as have my reasons for doing so. After burning out a bit at university, writing about beer was originally a distraction from “more serious” topics ― but that only lasts as long as it takes you to notice how all your favourite “big things” in philosophy more-generally just show up in beer, anyway: the fact that bullshit2 and hypocrisy are everywhere, that most bright lines of classification fall apart on closer inspection, etc., etc.. The parallels are inevitable: our species has been making this stuff for thousands of years, so everything weird or wonderful or woeful about us is reflected in it, and vice versa.
This piece first appeared in the August 2017 edition of SOBA’s magazine, The Pursuit of Hoppiness ― a thing which has evolved a lot recently and spawned a nicely-maintained online incarnation, among other improvements. I’ve seen that version of this post handed around a bit already, but I wanted to also share it here (as I have done with other pieces). Overtly hazy beers remain a hot-button topic (as you may already have noticed), but I think the whole thing is most useful as a microcosm for how we think about history and fashion and matters of taste overall…
As I sit down to write this, I’m finishing off a glass of some newfangled hazy beer from an “independent” brewery not far from here. It’s distinctly murky, which blunts its otherwise-lovely golden colour but it’s got a nice amount of flavour without too much bitterness. I could see myself getting used to it. “Sparkling Ale”, they call it. From a Coopers Brewery in Adelaide, founded as recently as 1862! That’s basically just yesterday, given that we humans have been making beer for some 7,0001 years…
So. A wild satirist appeared, and is proving super effective. We haven’t really had one around here before, and I don’t know what good deeds we did to deserve Too Much To Beer as our first. It’s entertaining and incisive stuff, doing what all the best satire strives to do when it gets up in the morning: highlighting absurd truths and using humour to make a point worth making. As of right now, its creator is still anonymous and ― despite being a naturally inquisitive sort ― I’d like them to stay that way.