The “beer community” is frequently celebrated as a special thing and one of the reasons this is a rewarding hobby to have, and a nice industry to work in. And that, broadly speaking,1 is right and true. But since switching back to bartending I’ve been struck more and more by the distinct — although obviously overlapping — nature of bar culture and the nice ways that a good one can have a community all of its own. The title here comes from an excellent Jim White song2 that gets stuck in my head whenever I’m pondering this and marvelling at the myriad ways that people use the bar to share little moments of celebration or of solidarity or anything in between, including weirdly heartwarming mundanity — and: beer.
Last week saw a nicely-timed bit of beer journalism: just as us New Zealanders were settling down to enjoy this year’s batch of green-hopped1 beers — served within days of their release — a flurry kicked off online about the dodgy practice of some U.S. breweries putting longer “best before” lifespans on beers they send to Australia than what they are labeled with back home. So a can of, say, Stone’s Go To IPA will have a much-hyped 120-day ‘expiry’ in California, but get given a whole year on the shelf in Canberra. It’s a saga worth reading through, if you haven’t already, and perfectly illustrates a nice little point of moral philosophy2 — that hypocrisy is a special kind of dickishness.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the usual pint on Saint Patrick’s Day. Aside from a general indifference to tradition and a specific aversion to the way that holiday’s been borrowed and bastardised and bent into an excuse for problematic daydrinking — I’ve also got a particular gripe against Guinness for so completely overshadowing the way so many people think about dark beer or anything on Nitro, let alone both.
More information always seems like a worthy idea. But the truth is a complicated thing and some people are very skilled bullshitters — able to spin a rare species of lie from saying something entirely accurate, which carefully exploits ambiguities in someone’s question or levers off errors in their background understanding. ‘Beer the Beautiful Truth’, a new campaign launched by the Brewers Assocation,1 is sadly just this kind of bullshit. It’s the opposite of what beer needs right now.
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.
Continuing in the strange experimental spirit we started with our ‘Will It Shandy..?’ investigation, Dylan ― of The Bottleneck blog, and my comrade / direct superior at Golding’s Free Dive ― and I ask the yet-more-nonsensical question: Will It Gaff? We realise that’s probably not really a noun, nevermind a verb,1 but we wanted to pick up the thread of mostly-forgotten ginger-beer-blends (with names like “portergaff” and “shandygaff”) that we mentioned in passing last time. For this round, we enlisted Annika Naschitzki ― of Tiamana Brewery, and herself an occasional blogger, who handily hails from a different (and definitely livelier)2 beer-blending culture.
After an introspective and intentionally unstudied look back on 2016, I thought it might be nice to balance things out with some data. I use Untappd to log my beer-drinking, as another aid against my shoddy memory ― though there’s always the problem of needing to remember to use your memory-aid1 ― and being a paid-up supporter lets me dump out the year’s check-ins,2 and tinker with a spreadsheet and see what patterns emerge.
This piece originally appeared in the summer edition of SOBA’s magazine, The Pursuit of Hoppiness. A few recent discussions1 of whether (and how) we should more-openly mix our politics and our pitching or purchasing have reminded me to belatedly post it here.
Introducing himself and his mission, Michael Jackson (the drinks writer, not the other one — as the inevitable caveat goes) often said “I want you to think about every beer you put to your lips”. He definitely didn’t just mean taste; he always talked about history, and context, and companionship. But my suspicion is that he wouldn’t have stopped there, and I submit we should add ethics to the list: sometimes, the behaviour of the people who make or sell a beer is reason enough to avoid it entirely. I’m even fairly agnostic about the details. I just want to see more people drawing a line somewhere.
So, that was 2016. It was… interesting. As you perhaps noticed. Plenty happening in the beer business, but no shortage of distractions in the wider and weirder world. Despite working on various of beer’s front lines, I felt a little disconnected from it all last year. And so rather than trawling through my notes looking for particular favourites (such as I’d do when preparing for a Year In Review episode of the podcast) I took some time for a more-general contemplation of the year gone by, and its heroes and villains — or at least those who are not helping,1 and those who are. Here, I present three loud boos and three cheerful hurrahs.
I’m a big fan of sour beers. I like what they do to my brain, in terms of their inherent deliciousness. But also — and I say this as a bartender, host-of-tastings, and general observer of the business — part of the fun is what they do to the brains of other people. Nothing more efficiently upends a newbie’s naïve understanding of “what beer is”,1 and nothing seems so capable of making professionals spout nonsense. After a few recent articles and tasting sessions,2 I just want to take a moment to defend sour as a character and as a category.