Category Archives: Mediawatch

Collections of interesting finds in the wider beer-related media — worth reading for their excellence or their egregiousness

The beer-media baseline

I spent a few hours on Saturday in the beer-bunker that is Hashigo Zake, in the company of two-dozen-or-so like-minded folks and enjoying the Brewers Guild Awards beaming at us from Auckland over a mercifully-dependable livestream. It was a properly marvellous occasion,1 and the Guild (with new host, Hilary Barry) put on a great show. It’s truly heartening to see the gradual evolution of the industry, particularly the maturation of the “craft”2 corner thereof as it becomes less of a niche or subculture and settles into being just part of the landscape. But as if on cue, two abysmal videos surfaced late last week3 — both from TV3’s ‘Story’ program — to remind us how far we have to go in terms of generalised acceptance and understanding. If you can stand the cringe, I think they’re worth watching for how instructively shallow and terrible they are.

Screenshot from
Apples, oranges, and a silly hat

The first is styled as a taste-off between craft beer and quote-unquote “normal beer”, with the former signified by hats, hipsters and IPA and the latter bluntly equated with lager. Through four rounds of anonymous beers from unidentified styles served in a misnamed bar (“Beer Brothers”), the contestants follow their tired generational stereotypes and spend a suprisingly long time saying not very much of substance. The comparisons, kept completely mysterious, don’t really illuminate anything: were the beers they put up against each other even trying to do similar things or was this pure apples-to-oranges time-wasting that forgot that everything is best in its right place and something calm and friendly isn’t automatically inferior to some-other-thing attention-grabbing and audacious? Who the hell knows?

Screenshot from
Heineken and other nonsense

Weirder and worse, though, is the rambling chat with Scott McCashin.4 It puts the “taste-test” piece to shame in terms of its wordy emptiness, with bonus side orders of contradiction and claptrap. The website dutifully regurgitates McCashin’s nonsense claim to being New Zealand’s first craft brewery — a boast which rings hollow whatever your definition of that contentious term5 — and you could easily come away from listening to the piece knowing a lot less than you did going in. It’s an absolute mess: mainstream beers are all ‘thinner’ and brewed with ‘less ingredients’ and perhaps particularly ‘less hops’, seemingly across the board — and Heineken fills a strange duel role as the name-dropped example of something flavourless and disappointing and the hoppy interesting thing that started a revolution. Craft beer, he says, “doesn’t have sugar added” which will come as a huge shock to generations of Belgians and Brits and others — if you don’t understand that sugar isn’t an inherently evil ingredient and can be used to make certain types of beer more enjoyable (rather than merely for cost-cutting) then you need to stop “educating” the public immediately and maybe reconsider whether this is the right business for you. Scott’s sole good point about the wide appeal of craft beer is lost under a mountain of muck and the reporter does nothing to tease out any clarity or coherence, instead belaboring a weird analogy about religion and dragging out the old “extreme beer is for hipsters” trope. His late realisation that all this uncritical dreck amounts to a mere ad is depressingly tossed aside.

Both of these pieces should’ve been spiked. There’s just no there there, in either of them. They add precisely nothing, merely reinforcing old clichés and (worse) muddying the water. The latter, in particular, is hopefully an embarrassment to the producer, editor, reporter and subject alike. If the brewery are delighted with it, or the Brewers’ Guild and/or their PR firm have chalked these up as marketing wins,6 then excuse me while I despair. There is a lot of good stuff going on in the beer-related and beer-adjacent media.7 Some of it, to my delight, percolates into the mainstream and is presented to diverse new eyeballs. But we all need to do more, and do it better, to break through the stereotypes and misinformation and nonsense.

Beer writing: a word of caution

Most beer writing is crap.1 This should be unsurprising and uncontroversial for the simple reason that most of everything is crap. Enshrined as Sturgeon’s law, this isn’t a cynical or depressing conclusion; just a sound observation and call for better mental hygiene. But that strangely-comforting general cause shouldn’t blind us to the idiosyncratic causes of crapness in beer commentary — insidious things which we should strive to keep in mind. Reading with your faculties more-sharply engaged is just as life-enhancing as drinking more thoughtfully is. I recommend both.

'The Ultimate Book of Beers' (2014) — here under fair use for criticism / comment
Neither the best, nor the last — mercifully

I was forcefully reminded of all this when I picked up2 The Ultimate Book of Beers, a glossy British publication3 from just last year which attempts to round-up the world and history of beer by way of two hundred pages and four hundred examples. The result is, quite frankly, terrible. But it is at least instructively terrible, and that makes it great — even though it’s not the greatness they were seeking.

Too much beer writing sinks to the level of crap insidiously, because it either is or just appears like it might be advertising in drag; most amateur and professional commentators still won’t spell out commercial entanglements with their subjects (which might account for surprisingly-strong praise or mysteriously-missing criticism, or both), or even just note that the proximate cause for them talking about some particular thing at all is that free samples from the brewery arrived in the post.4 But sometimes, you don’t even need to start pondering potential moral wrongness; occasionally something will just overdose on old-fashioned factual wrongness. Here, there were some telltale false steps early on — like retelling a debunked version of the history of IPA that’d make Martyn Cornell spin in his grave, if he wasn’t still alive — but the wheels most-obviously fell off, for me, when I flipped ahead to the New Zealand section, curious to see their summation of the place where I live, and (after all) usually drink.

New Zealand beer spread from The Ultimate Book of Beers (2014) — here under fair use for criticism / comment
New Zealand beer, through a lens of significant weirdness

The three-spread section features sixteen beers5 and manages to make errors both trifling and troubling which vary from obvious marketing-guff passed on as gospel to patently bizarre weirdness pulled from nowhere obvious. They get their hop varieties confused, slightly mangle a few brewery and beer names, entirely elide the reality and centrality of contract brewing in our modern scene (Epic, Bach, and Yeastie Boys are all listed as if they were bricks-and-mortar operations),6 completely ignore the many-branded natures of our bigger companies,7 and a give over a half-page section to a beer (namely Pink Elephant’s ‘Imperious Rushin Stowt’) that hadn’t been brewed for several years when the book was published.

The selection, as a group, is also pants-on-head nonsensical. This isn’t even destined to be useful to future generations as a (flawed) historical document because the sampling is so un-self-consciously bizarre: it doesn’t track with present or historical popularity, or award-winningness, or uniqueness, or any kind of story about what we’re doing here. It’s not even a case of “we went there and this is what we had”, which would at least be obviously personal and idiosyncratic. My best guess is that the breweries listed were the quickest to respond to requests for photos and blurbs — not a great way to go about an “ultimate” survey.

'Did you know'?, from The Ultimate Book of Beers (2014) — here under fair use for criticism / comment

Then there’s the utterly baffling claim in a break-out text box that “ice brewed beers are popular in New Zealand”. This is an unbelievably niche practice of freezing some of the water out of beer to make what remains stronger, and you’d struggle to find more than one example around here, if that.8 When the answer to one Did you know? aside is “no, I fucking did not, because I understand what ‘knowledge’ is and your statement was complete bollocks”, all the others are cast into question. There’s basically one of these putative factoids per page, and while I’m a determined collector of trivia I’m nowhere near expert enough to rule on most of the others. The presence of that, though, is an unpromising sign. Which is a perfect microcosm for the rest of the damn book — given the smattering of errors and distortions I can spot in the accounts of beers I know, how can I put any stock in the listings for things I’d never heard of? Easy: I can’t. If they so weirdly and subtly and pointlessly flub the story of beer in New Zealand — a country so historically and culturally linked to theirs that their flag is (for now) on ours — there’s scant hope for the rest of the planet.

All of this is emblematic of wider problems: this area — like all fields of criticism and reportage — is beset by challenges of overturning myth, unpacking spin, overcoming biases, and navigating conflicts of interest. I don’t know nearly enough about the creation of this book to accuse it of falling foul on the ethics — that’s a minefield for another time and another example — but the point is that you need to be wary of crapness in all its forms and whatever its cause. And when you hear the clang of a factual error or catch the whiff of an un-declared conflict of interest, hold on to that skepticism. We should do more to make it unnecessary — and it wouldn’t take much; a little more humility, a little more honesty — but unfortunately, it’ll still serve you well.

Wellington bars, from inside and out

Malthouse as "Ma house" (13 September 2013)
My former workplace, after serendipitous signage failure or inspired minor vandalism

After a (nearly) three-year sojourn among the (nearly) nine-to-fivers, I’m back bartending.1 Happily, I can report that this is still an excellent town in which to do so. Despite an increasingly-plausible2 rivalry between a few centres, the sanest conclusion is that Wellington is (still, for now) the country’s best place for going out and having a beer. The established reputation and the potential challengers make it an easy target for muggle-media dispatches ― of which two recently caught my eye for their disconnect between how things look to their authors, and how they appear to me, a long-serving drinker and drink-server.

'Wellington — the home of craft beer' by Donna-Lee Biddle (, 11 July 2015)
An article in the Waikato Times, featuring my new workplace

The first ― a travelogue-ish piece from Donna-Lee Biddle in the Waikato Times ― is innocuous enough. It’s a little overawed and awkward, but isn’t that basically all of us upon stepping into a new scene? Two minor details were a little jarring, though. The line that “plenty of brew bars have the brewing equipment on display” overstates things rather a lot, unfortunately, since we only have three such places (one of which is very recent) and this is one area in which our “beer culture” is unambiguously bested by (at least) Auckland and Christchurch. It’d be unseemly to brag about the things you knew you were behind on.

Weirder, though, was the doubled-up emphasis on Golding’s Free Dive as the after-work hangout of all the brewers in town. Which is firstly unfair to all the other bars ― this town’s beer drinkers are, in my experience, a more ecumenical lot who merrily wander about the place and could fairly be said to be “regulars” of multiple places ― and paints an unreal picture of brewers’ social lives. By and large, more’s the pity, they go home. They work stupidly long days which usually start at Unreasonable O’clock in the morning. And besides, they make their own beer, of which there’s always offcuts to take home, and the beer business is frankly just not among those lucrative enough to support the habits and hobbies some others maintain. I wouldn’t want to give anyone the impression that any or all of our bars are perpetually crammed with industry insiders. They’re more diverse and welcoming than that.

More pernicious, however, was the nonsense in Cuisine magazine from David Burton,3 who is to local food writing what Gordon McLauchlan is to local beer writing: a dinosaur without the actual-dinosaur saving graces of being awesome and/or extinct. His protracted whinge as to the state of beer-bar food bears basically zero resemblance to reality and does the City a real disservice. The anchor of his piece is this claim ―

With each successive craft bar fit-out in Wellington, in has gone the deep-fryer, and out have come the bar snacks of old school Kiwi pubs, albeit this time in the guise of “dude food”.

― which is manifest bollocks on multiple counts. For starters, let’s torpedo his overused “dude food”4 forever, as a phrase. With very rare exceptions, food has neither genitals of its own nor opinions as to yours. This is a non-category for precisely the same reason that there is no such thing as “girls’ beer”.5 People of various kinds enjoy things of various kinds. If you’ve been paid to spend time in restaurants for several decades and haven’t noticed that, just what the fuck have you paying attention to?

Emerson's 'Southern Clam' stout, plus whisky and oysters (LBQ, 20 July 2014)
Beer with superfancy lunch. And whisky. Admittedly my beer-and-food photo collection is relatively rather lacking.

Secondly, deep-fryers are just machines. They can be used for bland stodge as much as for delicious interestingness; I’ll wager there’s one in most places he raves about. And anyway, he’s simply wrong: Hashigo Zake and Golding’s lack them entirely and the former, especially,6 bends the usual notions of “pub food” quite dramatically and has been around for yonks in local subculture terms. It would’ve at least made for a fine counterexample ― but instead he weirdly cites The Hideaway, a spot which is in no sense a craft beer bar; not by its own claims, or by its menu, or his own review, or… anything. And against his implied boast that the good-wine places are still exclusively the good-food ones, you need only look back to his notes from Ortega Fish Shack: in a rightfully glowing review he entirely fails to even notice their lengthy and mindful beer list, which regularly gains beer-nerd praise (and isn’t the only top-end restaurant in town to do so).

The simple fact is that David Burton just isn’t a “beer person”. And that’s fine and fair. Not everyone has to like what I like as much as I like it. It becomes problematic, however, when he’s repeatedly tasked by editors to report on something he neither particularly knows nor especially cares about ― and yet feels so free to pontificate despite those two factors. Donna-Lee Biddle might not yet count herself a beer person, but her mis-steps are the polar opposite; the tiniest stumblings of an open-minded and enthusiastic newcomer.

‘Outsider’ writing is a necessary and excellent thing; a key part of bringing more outsiders in, if they find themselves keen. And there’ll be a lot more of it in the run-up to Beervana and then (later) during the annual Brewers’ Guild awards season. I just hope it tends toward the Donna-Lee kind and increasingly little comes from throwbacks like David.7

1: About which more in the next episode of the podcast, he says, getting very-slightly ahead of himself. 
2: If still prone to occasionally lapses in to mean-spirited-ness and badly-judged / poorly-executed humour. (Looking at you, Steve Plowman, on the latter.) 
3: Perhaps mercifully in this case, they don’t put their stuff online. Unless and until they tell me to take it down, though, here’s a vaguely-readable rendition so you know I’m not misrepresenting the bastard, at least.
4: Limiting myself to one easily-searchable location, he uses it for write-ups on Coene’s Provisions, Crafters & Co., and San Fran. Judging by the latter, we might have Tim Ward to blame for introducing him to the term. 
5: Note the careful apostrophe. 
6: As to the latter, you’d think he might’ve noticed while praising the bar and its surroundings ― and feebly trying to coin the nickname “Little Portland” for the area. But alas. 
7: And since I’ve put myself on first-name terms, I’ll close with a quiet smattering of applause for the “says Beth” and “said Scott” of Donna-Lee’s piece. The newspapery pratice of Last Names Only For Everything, like we’re stuck in some fucking Dickensian boys’ school, really grates on my brain. 

Weekend (re-)Reading: Beer For A Year

The Beer For A Year masthead
The Beer For A Year masthead

I’ve been meaning to re-read Alice Galletly’s marvellous ‘Beer For A Year’ for ages. Despite best intentions, my own output is still at a low ebb — you should see the brimming Drafts folder I have on here1 — which often prompts me to go back through things I’ve enjoyed reading and which spurred me to write more. I bring up certain B.F.A.Y. posts regularly as I hack away at something vaguely related — but it’s high time I enjoyed it properly again: chronologically and cover to cover.

And in one of those marvellous coincidences that my brain seems enduringly capable of creating — where procrastination leads to eventually-excellent timing — I started re-reading Alice’s first post with my coffee this morning: bang on its three year anniversary.

So in lieu of umpteen neglected Sunday Readings, I gift to you 365(+) posts of excellent ramblings; wherein an ‘outsider’ with a wonderfully unpretentious enthusiasm undertakes a Herculean task, repeatedly doubts her wisdom for doing so before [SPOILER ALERT] ultimate triumph, instantly falls into an excellent system of hypothetical-relationship-based beer taxonomy, and myriad other delights. I’m less than a quarter of my way through the re-read, but loving it all over again already — it’s well suited to binge-reading, with that same joy in overdose and thematic overload you get from wallowing in a whole season of a favourite TV show.

1: I mean you actually should. As in, I’m trying to finish them off and get them publishable, I really am. You’ll have to excuse some fairly dated references in the mix. But I suppose that’s always been my thing, in a way. It turns out even self-imposed deadlines make that delightful wooshing sound

Sunday Reading

The Void Stares Also (Wellington harbour, 20 February 2014)
And when you gaze long into the fog, the fog gazes also into you. (Or something like that.)

Well, I’m compiling them on Sunday, anyway. Unless you live in a very-tardy timezone or wait a while, I guess you’re not actually reading them on one. It’s been a couple of rather overwhelming weeks here at Beer Diary HQ; busy, distracting, exhausting and gradually restoring — all in ways both good and bad and bit-of-both-actually. Wellington itself has been all over the place, too, so I haven’t felt alone. The above was a few days ago; fog so thick you nearly forgot the City existed just there and sights around the harbour were awesomely transformed as everything took on more of an Edge Of The World feel. Today, conversely, was another do-some-gardening and jump-off-a-pier day.1

George and I will be back shortly with the season-finale Year In Review episode of the podcast — now’s the time to send in memory-jogging / two-cents-having suggestions for your Beer Of The Year and Glass Of Beer Of The Year,2 plus any general feedback you might have on format, distribution, and all that. There could well be a beer in it for you. Meanwhile, though, there’s this:

  • The Bottleneck Awards 2013: Speaking of years-in-review, I’m pretty sure this is my favourite. Dylan’s got a wonderful knack for pointed rambling, and y’all should be reading him regularly.
  • That’s a paddlin’: A charming account of a (minor) part of gearing-up to homebrew. Which I still haven’t gotten myself around to, somehow. Jase’s previous project — the Beer Money blog — was a great ride, and his latest seems to be coming along nicely.
  • Beer & Gender in baby steps: There’s been a little soul-searching (and back-seat soul-searching) about CAMRA lately, and I thought this was a nice sketch of some super-simple little things that the organisation could do to help the cause of equality. And, generally, if you can help, you should.3 And there are ways every person, business, organisation — or thing — can help. And sexism in the beer industry can get fucking grim and sad. So let’s all help, please.
  • Guests of BrewDog: Three dispatches appeared this weekend — from Martyn Cornell (him of the indispensable myth-busting beer history), Adrian Tierney-Jones, and Peter Alexander (a.k.a. Tandleman; someone who often curmudges a little hard even for me — see, e.g., his objections on the above beer-and-gender piece) — after a writers’ trip to BrewDog HQ and environs. They’re all worth reading, but I can’t help but be a little sad at how credulous they all are. Admittedly, I’m (now) firmly skeptical of those self-styled “punks”, but those pieces all soft-pedal the authors’ prior concerns (most hiding them in hyperlinks, rather than acknowledging them more directly) and come with shamefully piss-weak disclaimers4 that the trip — a significant value in travel, accommodation, goodies and access — was all on BrewDog’s dime.
  • Kippers, etc.: Speaking of BrewDog, you’d do well to also (or instead) spend your minutes with Luke and Dave’s Ale Of A Time podcast. The most-recent episode, among other delights, spends a good while on ‘Hello, My Name is Vladimir’, one of those marketing stunt beers the BrewDogs are so fond of, which — in Luke’s estimation, and with which I completely agree — just horribly misses the mark.
  • On conflicts of interest, kind of: Local theatredude Uther Dean5 on the many weirdnesses of “criticism” and review, the tension (but inevitability) of having people who both create and critique,6 and the elation and despair that producers subject themselves to when they read responses to the work. It’s not even vaguely about beer, but it could so-easily be.
  • Diversity of response: The latest round of The Session mandated non-traditional “reviews” (i.e., not reviews) of beer, and there’ll be gems for all tastes among the roundup (which came in two parts) — on which I’m only really just getting started. I didn’t manage to participate, but it’s probably obvious that I’m not hugely fond of traditional beer reviews — the kind that end in stars, numbers, or bottlecaps…
  • Catch One-point-eight Million: This is why brand loyalty sucks. They — by which we presently mean “Tui” (i.e., D.B., i.e., Heineken), but it extrapolates out perfectly — foster it in you at your expense for their sake. It would’ve been perfectly possible to run the ‘Catch a Million’ promotion at-or-close-to cost, and it’d have been just as brand-building and just as fun. But no, they can’t help extract wodges of extra cash from their “fans” on the way, showing a cynical and weirdly hateful fundamental approach. [Late-breaking update, a few hours later: see the comment below for the additional relevant fact that you could apparently get a t-shirt for free, which alters the math substantially. I’ll have to re-visit this particular case, but brand loyalty is generally still bad for you.]
  • Cellaring, accidental or otherwise: The Beerhive’s other half here offers so thoughts on cellaring beer — with my dodgy memory, I’m particularly blessed in the “forget about it” department, which has led to some amazing aged beers deep in my Stash. You can see that Kieran7 recommends ‘Bigfoot’, tempering the “don’t age hoppy beers” conventional wisdom with the reality that these things just change — it’s up to you and the sensory subjectivity of your own brain whether that’s a good thing. (But as a tangential side-note, can we please end the practice of Googling for vaguely-related images and just slapping them in an online piece without attribution? See @PicPedant on the Twittermachine, for one person’s heroic struggle towards that worthy end.)
  • And finally, an irrelevancy: Because I’m a big believer in the primacy of handwritten originals, and a massive natural selection nerd — though equally much a Wallace fan as a Darwin one.

†: Well, that’s when I started. Let’s ignore that it’s “now” Monday evening; time is an illusion, self-imposed deadlines triply so. (To borrow again from Douglas, and to merge and mangle his quotes.) 
1: By which I mean it was, for the most part, sunny and warm. Which is just different from rainy and grey, not “better”. I’m all for diversity and subjectivity, after all, and am only lately myself really starting to ‘get’ summer, and find a way to fit myself properly into it. 
2: That might seem an obtuse doubling-up, but it’s a distinction that’s served us well for the last two years, and we’re (probably) sticking to it. Meanwhile, recording our Year In Review in March was never the explicit plan, but it seems now to be cemented as Tradition. And I like it; too many Best Of Last Years seem blatted out to meet deadlines. Nuts to them, and to that. 
3: See, e.g., Spiderman
4: I don’t quite know which is worse; one is all-too-subtle and just inline of the main text, the other two are at the end (past a good number of readers’ scroll-bothering, I’m sure), and dropped down significantly in font size — one even vaguely slagging off the mere idea of a disclosure. I’m sorry (n.b.: not actually sorry), but disclosures are utterly fucking mandatory, and need to be front and centre — and not just of the text, I’d argue; they’d do well to remain in the tone. It’s not difficult. 
5: Who directed an utterly fuckin’ excellent adaptation of The Trial, just by the by. 
6: Though I’m often thinking of the potential conflicts and always trying to navigate them, I do hasten to point out that I’m no “creator” (of beer), despite working in a brewery — I’m a functionary, not a decision-maker; a bureaucrat rather than a stakeholder. But I do make words and whinge about words, so his points nonetheless resonate — and, if you ask me, some of our best sources of words-about-beer do also brew the stuff. 
7: Friend of the show and no fan of the summer months, which nicely brings me back to fn1. 

Sunday Reading

They treated the rest of that day as though it was a Sunday, that is to say what you should expect of a Sunday. You need time for big and complicated new concepts to shake themselves down in your brain slowly, without damaging what is already there.

— Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth

Pretty Things 'Jack d'Or' (My house, 15 December 2013)
Pretty Things ‘Jack d’Or’ — on a Sunday, just not this particular Sunday

I’ve got a few longer-form and more-detailed ponderings on the go at the moment — a catch-up on All Things Moa in the year-and-some since their infamous IPO, and an attempt to build a bulwark against some of the more-annoying and more-absurd bits of the recent Moral Panic around beer (too-often standing in for “booze in general”) and the reflex to restrict its availability. But it’s a Sunday, and they never feel like the occasion for such heavy-lifting — except perhaps in the garden — so I’ve instead happily been going through my pile of Interesting Miscellaneous Things To Read.

Back when I was a paperboy, we relished January as a month of lighter-than-usual deliveries thanks to the end of holiday advertising a the general Slow News Month. In the beer world, at least, it seems there’s no such effect:

Kerbal Space Program: A unfortuantely-doomed attempt at orbit
Kerbal Space Program: An unfortunately-doomed attempt at orbit

1: Speaking of which, as I mentioned the other day when writing up my own (at the time accidental) manifesto on the same, I also hugely recommend Matt Kirkegaard’s recent radio ramble on that point (while pimping a Brisbane beer festival). His recent ‘Tao Of Beer’ musing is also absolutely worth a look — and interestingly also clipped the same Hipsters Love Beer video that The Wireless illustrated my piece with; it seems that satire also struck a chord, or even a nerve (as it should). 
2: Something that my day job also just succumbed to
3: Which reminds me: welcome to the fold, Buzz and Hum — a very promising new blog on one man’s love of good beer and good music. Exactly what I was in the mood for after the Jono Galuszka podcast

Someday Reading

Mash Collective 'The Old Persuader' (Sydney, 26 December 2013)
Mash Collective ‘The Old Persuader

So. It’s not quite Sunday, and these posts don’t even remotely form any kind of pattern in time. Such is life, I suppose. Productivity goes all over the place when you get a) really busy, then b) a complete break from being busy at all. Drifting slowly closer to Normality once again — strictly in the timetable-statistics sense, mind you — I’m inclined to have another go at beneficial-habit-forming.1 And besides, just as your holidays are not everyone’s holidays,2 your Day Of Rest — and thereby your catch-up-on-reading-stuff time — isn’t necessarily a Sunday according to the calendar. (Apparently, University mostly taught me how to rationalise missed deadlines.)3

Anyway, I was privileged enough to have a decent-length summer holiday in which I caught up on a metric butt-tonne of (non-beer-related) reading. And so now, in the interests both of spreading the love and of assisting in everyone’s valuable procrastination, here follows an eclectic collection of (beer-related) Things To Read I’ve stumbled upon recently. Enjoy!

  • Beer money: Stu McKinlay — Yeastie Boy and friend of the show — recently wrote a wonderful piece for the local paper’s beer blog, breaking down the cost of his products. It’s a nice antidote to the all-too-frequent whinge about the price of a pint when beer is actually the most ludicrously value-for-money luxury consumption good I can think of. Stu and I agree completely about that,4 and his before-the-beer-goes-in breakdown of costs is a large part of his rejoinder to my complaints of origin-fudging in labelling.5 (He’s also bang on with his own recommended reading / inspiration at the end, there.)
  • BrewDog burglary: Despite the above-mentioned affordability of beer, it seems we’ve “matured” (which almost certainly isn’t the right word) where apparent thefts-to-order of particular bottles are now occurring. Naturally, I’m obligated to wonder if they perhaps orchestrated the heist themselves, just for the headlines. Given other antics, you couldn’t really put it past them, any more… The perils of stunt marketing, I suppose.
  • The Sub: The website for Heineken(etc.)’s in-fridge keg system, similar to Lion’s ‘Tap King’ which recently debuted in Australia. It’ll be interesting to see how these things pan out in the wild, but for now just look at the wank with which it’s presented. Yeesh. And for next, let’s wonder about whether some cleverness and some 3D-printed parts might make them universalisable for dispensing flagons of better beer… (Thanks, of a sort, to Luke — who has recently joined the Podcasters’ Guild — for the link.)
  • Proper history: Brewery History, the journal of the (UK) Brewery History Society, operates a neat model whereby the full text of issues becomes freely available once the content hits its second birthday. The most-recent to be so revealed is their special edition dedicated to the life and work of Michael Jackson (you know, the other one), and it looks like a cracker. I’m ordering a printed copy, after just scratching the surface of the text online. (Massive thanks to Kieran for the pointer.)
  • Probably somewhat revisionist history: The McCashin’s Story is out, and I’m yet to grab / find / borrow a copy for a proper read — but colour me skeptical. The surtitle is transparent nonsense, whatever your personal definition of “craft”, and the smell of myth-making is strong — compounded by the (very gentle) interview Terry McCashin had on Radio New Zealand. Theirs is only a “David & Goliath” story if David later entered into an, er, money-for-physical-company arrangement with the giant. So to speak. They talk up an “#8 wire mentality” after buying an existing brewery, they deride beers ‘notable only for what they lacked’ while peddling Reinheitsgebotty nonsense, and credit themselves with giving Lion its first “lager with legs” presumably never having stumbled upon Steinlager. (That said, I did enjoy two of their ‘Recognition Series’ beers while writing this up — and re-watching Harry Potter.)6
  • Local reportage: A perfectly nice write-up — of my de facto new ‘local’ and its environs — by profoundly hit-and-miss critic David Burton, which slips into oddness when it insists that the area has a nickname it’s never had.7 Best anyone can tell, it was suggested once, in sarcastic jest, on Twitter, and hasn’t ever been used earnestly. A timely reminder that you should always be wary, when reading reviews from abroad: too many writers just can’t help themselves from making up little details to make them seem down with the kids. There’s a need for a general raising of the collective eyebrow given the quality of some stuff out there, and I’ve been meaning to get into that for a while — he says, casting a sideways glance his copies of the industry rag DrinksBiz.
  • Dry January, defended: I couldn’t be more on Pete Brown’s side on this, even though I don’t share in his yearly ritual (or anything like it). I’ve struck my own balance with the chemical realities of beer and the many ways it’s involved in my life — and no longer working nights in a bar and becoming a daily commuter cyclist have definitely helped — and do think it’s important that everyone find their own way to do the same, and to keep checking in with themselves whether its working. Just don’t dismiss people who do things differently; they each might find different balances and particular patterns that work. In extremis, they might give it up entirely. And on that, read this incredibly brave piece by Jackson Wood and — as always — don’t be a dick.
  • And finally, an irrelevancy. Because you really should consider re-watching and/or re-reading Harry — not just because Neville Longbottom is super bad-ass.
Holiday reading (Sydney, 26 December 2013)
Holiday reading
Golding's disappoints (Golding's Free Dive, 6 January 2014)
Golding’s disappoints
Stoke 'Double Pale Ale' (My house, 8 January 2014)
Stoke ‘Double Pale Ale’

1: As much of our civilisation attempts to do, each January. I’m always torn between wanting to join in the hoots of derision for the cycles of failure that most New Year’s Resolutions orbit within, and having to admit that it is indeed an excellent time of year for clean-outs and rearrangements both external and internal. 
2: As a long-serving hospitality worker, I really hope everyone does remember to keep this in mind, each year. But you, dear readers, are Civilised Folk and treat service staff properly at all times, right? Excellent. 
3: Lines from the much-mourned Douglas keep coming to mind, lately: “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.” and “I love deadlines. I like the wooshing sound they make as they fly by.” 
4: And rambled about it together in a piece recorded recently for Radio New Zealand, which will hopefully find its way to air (and online) soon. 
5: Which we didn’t get to on the podcast, but will have to revisit properly one day. 
6: Your Mileage May Vary, as always, but particularly so here because a) I’m genetically near-immune to the diacetyl fault, and b) Em described the Double Pale Ale — which, as Fritz & Maria rightly point out in the above link, is entirely wrongly named — as “nicely buttery”. 
7: It also nicely proved the need for Stu’s Beer Money piece, when the first comment it attracted was a whinge about $10 beers. 

Sabbath Reading

Brewaucracy / 666 Brewing 'Devil in the Details'
‘Devil in the Details’ by Brewaucracy & 666 Brewing at PBE 2013 yesterday

I’ve been on a run of six-point-something-day work weeks, lately; some self-inflicted, some externally imposed. Still not a word of complaint, though — but equally few hacked out to put up here. And so a public holiday to the rescue, delivering a three-day weekend by way of a Day Of Rest in commemoration of a nice idea that’s forever been tricky to actually apply. With some a couple of alarm-free mornings,1 just the right amount of domestic productivity, and a lovely little beer festival, it was a cracker of a super-sized weekend and today has a very suitable Sunday feeling to it.

Which, naturally, puts me in mind of the ‘tradition’ I keep trying to make more traditional. And so, with all the best intentions to do this — as well as everything else — more often, I present for your perusal2 a few choice tidbits:3

    • A history of Canberra brewing. I have a real soft spot for Australia’s deeply-odd little capital — I lived there for a while and had truly formative Beer Geek Moments at the marvellous Wig & Pen — and was delighted to find an apparently-exhaustive history of the beer business in town. Visit the Wig while it lasts, and immediately check out whatever Richard Watkins gets up to next.
    • A sobering longer-view look at the history of American IPA — and of beer in general, while they’re at it. I’m not sure I entirely agree, but I’m much more there than not; we’ve been doing this for a long time, as a species, and it does sometimes pay to do a little internal check-sum on whether you’re losing proper sense of scale in time and place.
    • The effects of alcohol might not be quite what you think they are.4 Two years old, now, but this article was returned to my attention just when I was posting our liquor-law-freakout podcast ponderings. From my perspective as a former bartender, at least, it was summed up best by a friend and former colleague: no one is genuinely different when they’re drunk, they’re just more. If you’re a dick when you’ve had too much to drink, you might just actually be a dick.
    • An uncomfortably close satire of beer-bar offerings. The stout looks good.
    • This lauded (and recently revised) chart, which has (if you ask me) almost jumped the shark into an unreadable mess with its looping glassware-suggestion arcs and the largely-useless-for-non-Americans brand tokens for each type. Paging Ed Tufte. (But full marks for the lower-left’s Spaghetti Junction which consigns a few deserving candidates to being drunk from the can, 40oz, or Solo Cup.)
    • A much more sedate Brewer Portait than usual, enjoyable not just for his delightfully soothing travelling-Canadian accent. Nicely personal and engaging.
    • The (bloody-marvellous) Gruen Planet team talked beer, for the first major section of last week’s show. Interesting to see things from a marketer’s perspective; even though they’re not dogmatically pro-“craft”, they’re still anti-crap — whether the crap in question is outright lies, or just boringness. (They’ve also reminded me that I really, really want to hack the Tap King into a general-purpose flagon-dispensing gadget.)
    •,5 where you can learn — to use the word quite wrongly — that rice is an extravagantly expensive ingredient that other breweries don’t love you enough to us (and definitely not a cost-cutting blandifier), that “ageing” a beer can be measured in mere days (not silly old-fashioned months or years), and that Budweiser can still apparently say (with a straight face and without being fined and/or sued into oblivion) that “no other beer takes as long to make”.
    • And finally, an irrelevancy, because it’s nice to be reminded that the “new” things — be they comic books, videogames, digital art, or whatever — aren’t necessarily just vaguely-modified and somehow-weaker instances of “real” culture; they can be totally and amazingly themselves.

1: Sleeps-in, as I like to call them, ever the fan of a French-style front-loaded plural. On Saturday, my first un-buzz-assisted waking-up in weeks, I actually managed to have a surpassingly suitable song lodged in my brain the second I was conscious. 
2: In either the original sense of “to read with careful attention” or the more-modern usage of “to skim, hoping to vaguely extract the gist”; language evolves in wonderful, liberating and contradictory ways. 
3: Which admittedly do require a more expansive, cultural-studies-esque definition of “reading”, since two of them are videos, one is a (dis?)infographic, and one an interactive webmonstrosity. 
4: Or rather, given the mechanics of the Placebo Effect, they might be mostly exactly what you think they are. Thanks to Amy for the link — both times. 
5: Thanks, if that’s the right word, to Hadyn for the link. 

Birthday Reading

Little Creatures IPA, and its older Pale Ale sibling
Little Creatures IPA, and its older Pale Ale sibling

My recent little trip to Sydney was a marvellously-restoring one, but also did a fine job of further-breaking my already-fragile relationship with the “working week” as traditionally understood, in the process dealing another knock to my ongoing efforts to habituate myself into my Sunday Reading project. The holiday also coincidentally contained a changing of the Beer Diary guard, with the second notebook filling up and finally giving way to its waiting successor — the first entry for which was the rather-suitable and rather-lovely new Little Creatures IPA pictured right there. Given that this site was originally born in the transition from Diary I to Diary II, I’ve prodded myself into a little housekeeping and tinkering since I got home: I’ve freshened up the ‘About’ pages, properly enabled the email subscription system, and (probably most usefully) finally found and activated the mobile-friendly version for those of you reading on your cleverphones. If there’s anything else that needs adjusting, in ease-of-use terms and whatnot, let me know.

Meanwhile, in the course of said tinkering, I noticed that I’ve missed my own ‘birthday’, of sorts. The first post here — a surprisingly brief Hello world referencing a peculiar and now-abandoned post-dating scheme — was on 26 September 2010, so apparently I’ve been at this for three years. Lawks. Given the superawesomeness of the weekend’s shinding, and the zine which helped kick off my still-limping-along Reading ‘tradition’, I should have more to say on the subject of beery birthdays soon, but for now there’s all this:

  • An ode to the interrobang. I was pleased to see my beloved little punctuation mark get a bit of press recently. It’s been my little icon here, on the Twitters, and elsewhere from the start, and is definitely worth knowing. That it was born in the Mad Men-esque Golden Age of Madison Avenue is all the more appropriate, given how often what the fuck‽-esque outbursts are occasioned by the sad Don Draper wannabes at Moa.
  • Graphing the rise of “craft beer”; literally, as a phrase. I’m always interested in the evolution of language in a given field, and even though it’s North-American-centric, it’s a great little initial exploration of the increased traceability of words in the modern, heavily-gadgeted age. Martyn Cornell first blew my mind with the idea that “beer style” — as a notion, a phrase, as the go-to way for organising the industry — is younger than I am, and entirely the invention of one man. (One legendary chap, but still.)
  • The perpetuation of nonsense, despite the existence of myth-busting history (speaking, again, of Martyn Cornell). It’s sad to see that the rapidly-revising “new history” of beer isn’t being more-readily assimilated. I guess there’s always a lot of inertia to push against: taxonomy is hard, history is hard, and language is always evolving — see especially, there, the confusion that results if you don’t know that “stale” didn’t always carry negative connotations.
  • The Cask Report, which also necessitates a third link in a row to Martyn Cornell. It’s almost all good news in there, but the insight into the tension between publicans and drinkers when it comes to just how frequently a beer lineup would ideally change is worth some further pondering; sometimes I do wonder if switching products every keg turnover really is desirable…
  • Pretentious Beer Glasses, for if you need to one-up your friends and colleagues who are busy fawning over that trendy Spiegelau IPA thing. George sent me a link to the P.B.G.C. hoping for a rant, but I think they’re awesome; sufficiently self-aware, genuinely clever, and apparently well-made. (As for the Spiegelaus, I finally caved and got a pair for myself and am slowly coming to the conclusion that they are both pretty cool and pretty silly, much like Tuatara’s new reptilian bottle.)
  • A pondering on intent and “craft”, which — with “philosophy” and “craft beer” right there in the title — seems to be right in my wheelhouse; I’ll have to track down the article itself. I suspect that something like this is the only hope for a “definition”, though it’s always an open question whether we need or want one of those, anyway. (But you can forever rely on philosophers to try and build you a good one, just in case.)
  • Meanwhile, on the other Beer Diary, they’re gearing up for Season 2. Greg Zeschuk used to make videogames — that have accounted for hundreds of very enjoyable hours of my life — and now he makes very well-produced Beer TV; a thing we need more of, please. And on the other-other Beer Diary, Chris Hall wrote a love letter to the Cantillion brewery, as much as it visibly pained him to give anything unvarnished praise. Both Diarists are obviously kindred spirits of mine.
  • And finally, an irrelevancy, since a birthday is as good a time as any to remind yourself to think positively about the future, and since you should always pay attention to whatever Neal Stephenson is pondering at a given moment.


Sunday Reading

Brewaucracy 'In Triplicate'
Brewaucracy ‘In Triplicate’ — mere minutes ago, in fact

It’s a vaguely productive but incredibly restoring weekend, here. I’ve been going through the dimmer recesses of my fridge and finally pulling out things like Brewaucracy’s ‘In Triplicate’ — pictured, at right, not too long ago and still going as I write this —and belatedly realised that last weekend was so (oddly) productive that I neglected my Sunday Reading completely. As a tradition, we’re off to a shaky start indeed — but postponements of various kinds and durations are par for the course, around here; if anything, that is the meta-level tradition.

George and I — and a plus-one who didn’t really count as a guest in the usual sense — sat down for a podcast recording session yesterday, and I’ve got my Matariki and Beervana debriefs in draft form; more-regular transmission stands a good chance of soon resuming. Meanwhile, there’s still plenty going on to catch up with:

  • Boak & Bailey’s ‘Let’s Go Long’ collection. If you’re ever short of reading material, checking in here is a wise move, and it looks like they’re planning on making a tradition out of it — which is good news for all concerned and something for us Antipodeans to aspire to joining in. Ron Pattinson contributed a head-crushing thirty-five tonnes of words in the form of his work-in-progress history of porter, which is worth a look for the detail into which real history — of the myth-busting and evidence-gathering kind — must necessarily go. But my favourite so far is the curators’ own piece on the (often shamefully untold) history of beer and women. (B&B’s site also sets the gold standard for lists of disclosures and pre-emptive responses to lazy PR.)
  • The Froth-Blower’s Manual, by Pat Lawlor1. Em found me this for my relatively-recent birthday, and it’s an enduring source of flip-through-it entertainment. It’s positively a relic, published in the sixties though with content that apparently mostly dates from closer to a century ago, but is properly charming despite its incredibly-dubious reliability. Neil Miller’s raved about it a few times before, and it seems relatively easy to find in libraries and second-hand bookstores.
  • Heineken’s effort to target the over-60s, as reported on The BeerCast, with assistance from the author’s admirably-crotchety dad. It turns out that Heineken run a kind of crowd-sourcing ‘Ideas Brewery’, which feels like a fairly stark and sad admission that they don’t really know what they’re doing. The insight into their processes is hugely telling; the blunt reaction of a relatively random real person is damning.
  • Moa’s Disingenuous Shitfight #1: Cloudy Bay. Hitting a few stumbling blocks with the consenting process for their — necessary, if their business plan has any hope in Hell — expansion, Moa are in a slagging match with one of their neighbours. A nearby winery has objected to their proposal and Moa responded with a press release wherein “Moa CEO Geoff Ross says the brewer is considering housing its new facility in a ‘winery’ to appease the French” — knowing full well that it’s not the size of the facility that counts, it’s the level of use; wineries are (largely) once-a-year hives of activity whereas breweries can be productive (and thereby noisy, etc.) every single day. Given how often Moa wank on about their founder’s winemaking experience, I think you’d be excused for expecting them to know that…
  • Moa’s Disingenuous Shitfight #2: Tui / DB / APB / Heineken. Meanwhile, a Tui billboard appeared, satirising Moa’s recently-tanked share price, and Josh Scott (through a rather-obvious ghost writer) hit back with one of their wordy full-pagers which managed to entirely undermine what could’ve actually been a good dig about the labyrinthine ownership of the Mega-Congloms — if they hadn’t just said that it should be “all about the beer”. If ownership’s fair game (and it is), then share price is fair game. Moa really are levelling-up their Hypocrisy, these days; “foreign ownership” is a big element of Shitfight #1, too — but it’s a bit rich given that Geoff Ross made a chunk of his brewery-buy-in money by cashing a cheque from a bunch of Cubans. The take-home lesson from both Shitfights, if you ask me, is that there can always be more than one bad guy in any given conflict; there’s not necessarily a hero, there’s often just two equally-obnoxious losers taking drunken, uncoordinated swipes at each other.
  • And finally, an irrelevancy, because I’m an enormous fan of The Simpsons and was already feeling relatively philosophical about its legacy since I just last night farewelled my beloved — if anything, even moreso — Futurama. Again.
And with that, it’s time for the last (delicious) sip of this ‘In Triplicate’. Cheers!

1: Not that that biography mentions TFBM, shamefully. Meanwhile, the other readily-Googleable “Pat Lawlor” is responsible for the stupidly-awesome Twilight Zone pinball table. It’s an auspicious name.