All posts by Phil

Three bars on East 7th Street, New York, one Monday in November

That’s McSorley’s ale house (which is old), not McSorley’s house (of old ale)

Late last year we were fortunate enough to be in New York, happily spending each day walking towards some landmark or other and then exploring the surrounding neighbourhood a bit before catching the subway home. After visiting the stunning Public Library and the enormous Strand Bookstore, I saw we were close to a couple of pins I’d put into my map before the trip1 so we walked a few more blocks — and stumbled into a succession of quietly magical moments. One unassuming little street, three lessons in how to be a great bar.

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A hop called Anchovy, and the impossibility of April Fools

A can of Angry Norwegian Anchovies from Futurama s01e06, 'A Fishful of Dollars'
Ingredients: Anchovies. (May contain traces of anger.)

A few years ago, U.S. brewing company Fast Fashion sponsored a new hop varietal and named it “anchovy”, in a move that’s probably half in-joke turned outwards and half marketing stunt.1 It’s still fairly niche, but it pops up occasionally in this part of the world, and always restarts a train of thought of mine when it does.2 Personally, I love anchovies; that’s a word with positive associations for me,3 and I can see the fun in the incongruity of naming a hop that. But the beer industry has an awkward relationship with comedy that’s worth poking at a little.

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Medals and math V — close calls, clean sweeps, and other countries

A bottle of 8 Wired's 'Wild Feijoa' on the bench out the front of my house
My apparently-now-traditional way to toast the Champion; on the bench outside my house

So. Beer awards, again. (And belatedly, again.) The announcement that entries were open for the 2024 Brewers Guild of NZ Awards, together with the fact I was at the presentation dinner for the Australian competition last week,1 plus the chance to drink a bunch more New Zealand beer than usual at The Catfish recently have all combined to spur me into finally publishing the number-crunching I did for last year’s BGONZAs. As always, there’s some interesting details in here that are easily overlooked if you don’t do a little elementary statistics, and plenty of trends and quirks to keep in mind while anticipating doing it all over again in August.

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Epic fails — some thoughts on why

Late last week, the story suddenly broke that Epic1 had gone into liquidation. As one of the best-known names of the early craft beer scene in New Zealand, and likely the “gateway beer” for a sizeable chunk of the subculture, the news was received with shock and sadness, labelled a tragedy, and many wondered what it foretold for the wider industry as they praised the legacy of founder Luke Nicholas. But a lot of the reaction has mistaken historical influence for current relevance or viability,2 and overlooked some real problems that should have been more obvious to all concerned.

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The New York Times crossword as a measure of mainstreaming

Closeup of the New York Times Crossword for 14 July 2023 with the clue 'One might be hazy, for short'

Like a New Zealander excited when the country is mentioned out loud in overseas media or just actually included on a map, I’m always interested when beer pops up in unexpected places. Last Friday’s NYT crossword had ipa among its solutions, which itself isn’t uncommon — the crowded design of American crosswords mean they reuse some three-letter words a lot — but the clue specifically referencing hazy struck me, and I wondered if that was new, and what (if anything) it might mean.

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Fixation: not really Melbourne’s, and not particularly consistent

Fixation Brewing billboard on a bollard at the University of Melbourne, which reads 'Melbourne's Own Consistently Excellent Beer'
A boastful billboard wrapped around a big bollard — a bollboard? a billard? maybe a billboll?

Melbourne’s Own Consistently Excellent Beer, the billboard read, provided you walked back and forward a bit or at least leaned side to side, since it’d been stuck up on a surface that was too tightly curved. I’d seen variations on that poster campaign before, but now it made me mad; they’ve gone from the usual advertising puffery into raw uncut nonsense and lies. Fixation hasn’t been either for years.

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Medals and math IV — two in a row seems like it means something…

CORRECTION — the original version of this post incorrectly said that ‘Chance, Luck & Magic’ was the overall Champion Beer for the second year running. It wasn’t; Burkes Brewing ‘Unforgiven’ Porter won in 2021. Thanks to Michael Donaldson for noticing and letting me know. The data here is unaffected, but some of my commentary was thereby off.

An opened bottle of Garage Project's 'Chance, Luck & Magic' beer
A cork popped by way of congratulations

After this year’s Brewers’ Guild of New Zealand Awards — the BGONZAs, to their friends — the headline result was unusually clear: Garage Project1 just absolutely smashed it. Their ‘Chance, Luck & Magic’ took out the Best In Show award, prompting me to buy a $49 bottle of beer (which was suitably delicious, I should note), and they won the Champion Large Brewery title (for the second year running, no less) in spectacularly unambiguous fashion, since at least two other breweries would need to merge and pool their winnings to come close to G.P.’s medal haul.2 After that, it might seem superfluous to dig in the weeds of the data for other stories lurking in the details, but I have my traditions, and I am undeterred — and I think there’s still some things worthy of a little more attention.

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Medals and math III — a bonanza of BGONZAs

The crowd at the Australian International Beer Awards in 2019, before crowds of anyone anywhere started to feel really different...
These were AIBAs, not BGONZAs, admittedly; it turns out I don’t take many awards night photos

It’s beer awards night back home in New Zealand. I’ll be tuning in as best I can from over here in Melbourne1 and doubtless obsessing over various weird little details and patterns once I’ve got the full results. As I’ve tried to make the case here before,2 I think there are a few interesting stories lurking underneath the headline results that get most of the attention on the night, and you can only really find them by crunching some numbers. So let’s quickly do that for the awards that have happened since I got distracted by a) moving and b) a pandemic, so we’re all caught up and ready for more — since, as of tomorrow, I’ll have five years worth of data to play with, which feels like it’ll be a good time to go looking for trendlines…3

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Independence isn’t…

'Indie' Beer (My house, 24 July 2020)
This definitely isn’t what they meant

It’s Indie Beer Day1 here in Australia, which seems like a weirdly appropriate time to reflect on why I can’t really bring myself to care about “independence” itself. Living in a country where that word is (now) the go-to organising principle for a lot of lobbying, events, and branding — certainly much more than it is back home in New Zealand — I’ve realised how it leaves me cold. Sure, “independence” loosely correlates with some things I do care about, but the link is so flimsy that it just doesn’t make for a good guide to follow or banner to wave. As it happens, most of my favourite beers are from independent breweries, and, all else being equal, I’ll probably pick one over a non-indie alternative — but all else is very rarely equal.

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A New Zealand brewery headcount

Look! There’s one, right there, lurking in the background. Move quietly. Don’t startle it.

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 141 161.1

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