Category Archives: Mediawatch

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

‘Sunday’ Reading

Moon Dog 'Black Lung III'
Moon Dog ‘Black Lung III’, one of many Birthday Treats

Attempt to start a new weekly tradition, miss your self-imposed deadline for just its second incarnation. That does sound a lot like a ‘me’ thing to do. But in my defence, it was my birthday. Well, my birthday weekend — I took liberties with the calendar when the realities of work broke my usual Take The Day Off commandment; fair’s fair. It was a marvellous weekend, though: beginning in earnest on the Thursday with the Michael Jackson Memorial beer tasting at Regional, shambling through a few nice pubs on Friday night, baking (or at least vaguely helping-to-bake) a Coopers-Stout-fortified chocolate cake on Saturday, watching some fantastic roller derby with a belly full of (good!) beer I’d daringly drunk from a can while biking along the waterfront to get there, then mooching at Hashigo with my ears full of superawesome jazz drumming, braving Sunday morning for the sake of the markets, babysitting a mercifully-quiet brewery shop before kicking some serious arse at trivia with friends (and nachos and beer).

But enough gloating — and, seriously, may all your birthdays be similarly Your Kind Of Thing — it’s (past) time to share my recommended reads for your downtime — on whatever day it falls this week.

  • Anything by Michael Jackson. Obvious, but mandatory. I shamefully realised that I don’t actually have my own copy of any of his seminal beer books, despite years of using his Malt Whisky Companion as a reference (I was a whisky nerd before I was a beer one). I’ll soon remedy that. During Thursday’s tasting, Geoff read great passages from MJ’s work, and showed clips from the recent Beer Hunter movie, which all reinforced what a terrific chap he was and how much he helped shape and document the beer business. He’s a member of my own internal pantheon of Authors Gone Too Soon —together with Douglas Adams and Iain (±M.) Banks.
  • A (vague) summary of the ‘Brothers Banks’. In charmingly rambling and kind-of beer-clouded Gonzo style, Dylan takes a stab at answering the question that popped into 95% of brains at the Brewers Guild awards: who won the Morton Coutts trophy?
  • A meta piece on the undying “craft beer” debate, from a brewer making the simple point that the term obviously means something, and sometimes that’s enough.
  • The Thirsty Boys on why they haiku. Mostly I’m just happy that they do, so ably documenting the Beer Geek Church that is Hashigo on a Tuesday — which has sadly become less a part of my own weekly routine. I do confess to hoping that the post itself would be in haiku, though, big fan of recursion that I am.
  • Beer Cycling in Belgium, an envy-inducing post-holiday ramble from Luke which (especially after more than a few Belgian beers in the MJ Memorial tasting) has me determined to start a specific Holiday Fund.
  • A piece on cider versus “cider”, which needs a great-deal more name-and-shame, though I’m not qualified to engage in such — if anyone can prod Kieran Haslett-Moore into ranting out a local version of Pete Brown’s recent piece, that’d be great.
  • Martyn Cornell in reportage mode (rather than in his mythbusting historian hat) on the emerging Two Cultures of (UK) beer festivals, something that’s been on my mind since Matariki / Beervana. Though, while I’m a big fan of (mass) observation, what I really want is data; I must try and get some real sampling going.
  • The Wonderbrewer of Nowheresville, a really nice long-form piece on the brewer from Hill Farmstead, the ludicrously high-scoring Vermont brewery which can’t help but put you in mind of the Emperor’s New Clothes effect and superdeadkeen to try their beers for yourself. Massive thanks to aimee whitcroft for the link, because the rest of the week’s articles — and the ‘magazine’ in general — looks like it’s got plenty of other goodies to be going along with.
  • And finally, an irrelevancy, because the world needs more good books just like it needs more good beers — and you can judge a person by how they consume both.

Sunday Reading

Yeastie Boys' Big Mouth Zine
Yeastie Boys’ ‘Big Mouth’ Zine

A day of rest sounds like a fine idea, as the peak of the local beer-business-craziness begins at last to recede — and even though my Sunday has been relatively productive so far, it’s certainly been restfully so. My general timetable still hasn’t settled down so much that I’m getting a lot of Rambling Time, but my Reading Time is mercifully intact and I wanted to start sharing a little of it more widely — since there are metric bucketloads of good stuff out there worth casting your own eyeballs over.

My intention is to do this kind of thing regularly, making little bookmarks as trawl the internets with my morning coffee during the week. I’m sure I’ll miss out plenty of gems this time, my memory being what it is, but here’s plenty to get started with:

  • Yeastie Boys’ birthday zine, Big Mouth: A lovely surprise in the Hashigo Magazine Rack was the above-pictured little masterpiece, produced to celebrate five years of operation for Sam & Stu. Em’s been reading it on the porch as I assemble this post, and blurbed it simply as “positively cool”. It’s got ramblings, disturbingly hilarious imagery, oddball humour — and even occasional mentions of, you know, beer. I’m not sure if they will or have already put it online, or whether it’ll remain an old-school dead-tree production, but it’s worth seeking out for sure.
  • Let There Be Beer: Melissa Cole dissects a tragically shallow and bland promotion, which reminds me all too much of Lion’s local ‘Made To Match’ attempt. Despite a wealth of potential awesomeness in the “beer and food” field, these fail entirely. Sad.
  • Beervana debriefs: I’m grotesquely overdue to write up my own — it’s here on my computer, in draft form, and was originally even a Beervana Preview, before ingloriously falling off my bike like a complete gumby on my way to the Brewer’s Guild Awards thwarted my plans of posting that — but the task has been ably handled, in images and text and video, by Jed Soane, Tim Herbert & Jono Galuszka, and Paul Wicksteed respectively — and that’s just for starters.
  • The (Full) Session: James has returned from his Little Country travels, during which I had the fortune to meet him (lovely chap), and posted his round-up of ‘Elevator Pitch’ rambles — of which there are a lot, and I’m very much enjoying going through them slowly, adding most of the authors to my forever-expanding Feedly (if they weren’t there already). A whole mass of short pieces is a great way to survey the scene and see what a diverse mob of awesomely opinionated weirdos we all are.
  • A little post-awards profile of Martin Townshend, whose beers I seem to habitually (and deservedly) recommend on the podcast, which is worth it just for the photo that makes him look like a mischievous little imp, hardly bigger than a bucket.
  • Moa’s annual meeting results: As much as a non-zero-axis graph irritates me every damn time, I’ll admit to being transfixed by the movement of Moa’s share price. Michael Donaldson, last week, wrote a great little piece about their recent and ongoing woes, and it’s been the subject of plenty of pondering which I’ll (mostly) leave alone for now. It’s interesting that their publicly-traded status opens a window into usually-private meetings; the notes from their recent annual meeting are online and worth a read to see how the (at best) terminally deluded talk amongst themselves. Personally, my favourite bit is this, from Geoff Ross:

    To start, I would like to re state the Moa Vision — ‘To Become New Zealand’s beer brand, globally’.1 Given New Zealand’s growing beverage credentials worldwide, given that every country has a beer brand attached to it — Mexico Corona, Australia Fosters, Italy Peroni etc. We believe we have the brand story, the exportability via our shelf life, and provenance and identity to be this brand for New Zealand.

    Craft Beer continues to be in growth worldwide. And whilst there are more entrants, there will only be a small number of participants that have the capability — skills, capital, and experience — to become a business of scale and global in nature. We believe Moa has what it takes to be one of these brands.

    I put it to you that anyone who doesn’t mind the contradictions in that pitch (and how akwardly it sits beside boasts of being a “super-premium” beverage)2 either doesn’t know what the fuck they are talking about — or is speaking to a room full of people who don’t know what the fuck they are talking about and is attempting to extort as much money as possible from them before they figure it out.

1: Not that I should have to be the one to point this out to them, but the “vision” in the original IPO document was to create “New Zealand’s beer, globally” — letting that troublesome word brand slip in before the comma is perhaps a revealingly significant difference, and down that road lies sublime ridiculousness
2: In case you need help: clear-bottle-and-a-citrus-wedge Corona is the poster child for “it’s just too damn hot, I’ll have a vaguely-beer-flavoured sparkling water, thanks”; Fosters is popular internationally as mass-market swill, reduced to the kind of shallow commodity that just gets brewed under license close to wherever its sold, and so laughable in its home market that even its parent company wanks on about “Crown Lager” instead; and Peroni’s just, well, an incredibly boring example of the same. Those were Ross’ three examples? How incredibly out of touch is he? 

‘Made to Match’

'Made to Match' landing page
‘Made to Match’ landing page, with standard age-verification nonsense

So, it looks like Lion — one half of the local brewing duopoly, and ultimately a subsidiary of Kirin* — is taking out a series of infomercials on TVNZ. Product placement so thick it amounts to entire blocks of ‘programming’ was probably the invention of home improvement shows and hardware stores, and maybe brewery marketing departments just got jealous and wanted in on the action.

Al Brown, one of those forever-wandering-with-a-film-crew TV chefs, will host ‘Made to Match’: a series about beer and food matching, apparently including the range of beers available, some background on their styles, and what goes well with what. I couldn’t be more behind the idea of normalising beer in this way — the near-constant conjunction of “and wine” whenever the topic turns to good food is grindingly sad — but there’s a lot to lament in the pitch of this show / ad campaign / thing. I’m honestly not sure what category of production it belongs in, from what I’ve seen so far; whether it’s a series of daytime advertorials, online-only webisodes, or an actual ‘show’ that’ll be broadcast on to the physical teevee box. But then, “television”, much like “phone”, is one of those increasingly-abstracted gadget-concepts, anyway.1 It all has the same effect, in the end, especially when the programming-advertising boundary is blurred this hard.

It takes ‘origin-fudging’ — the increasingly common practice of being, shall we say, less than entirely truthful about the history and production of various beers — to a depressingly deep new low. Here, every brand is presented in a maximally-distorted way, just as the marketing department would like. The mere fact that all of these beers are produced and/or distributed by one company is entirely elided, and Lion itself only rates a mention in the beer-descriptions department during the (hilariously straight-faced) write-up for Lion Red. Even Steinlager is treated almost as if it were a from different company, and Lion / Kirin* are entirely absent from the website’s WHOIS information; there, it’s all TVNZ. I’m sure it’s all well within the rules about product placement — tellingly, Lion’s own corporate policy seems only to care about when other people use their products as props, and doesn’t commit to being open about when it does so — or at least that someone on a healthy retainer stands poised to so argue, but it does stink a bit.

"Beck's", trying hard to look German
“Beck’s”, trying very hard to look German

The beers that Lion brew here in New Zealand under license are hyped as long-heritaged international imports as hard as possible: Beck’s is “the No. 1 German beer in the world” and “…brewed according to Reinheitsgebot”;2 Guinness is “known worldwide as the beer of Ireland, and the gold standard for stouts”;3 Oranjeboom dates “back to 1528” and is a “popular European beer [which] originates from Breda in Holland”; Stella Artois’ story “dates back to 1366” and its “the best selling Belgian beer brand in the world”.4 On the more-local front, gdmfing Crafty Beggars make an appearance with Lion still not feeling proud enough of their brewers and their beer to admit that the ‘rogue brewers’ are their employees, while Speight’s ‘Distinction Ale’ happily crows about winning several awards despite the categories they were in being directly contradictory to how the brand is marketed. And just look at how the ‘James Squires’ beers are steeped in their Colonial Australian history and bursting with references to the country’s first commercial brewer, deftly skating past the uncomfortable fact that the beers are merely named after him; there’s no history here, just brandwank.

The blurbs always fall just short of outright lies — their lawyers are too good for that — but, taken together, form a teetering pile of half-truths and non-sequiturs that looks very-carefully-crafted indeed to achieve maximum bullshit without opening up liability, and to maintain the illusion that this is a diverse range of beers picked for their inherent qualities and suitability to the task, rather than a (presumably) bought-and-paid-for exclusive placement which locks out all other local and international candidates. All that said, if you delve into the “Terms & Conditions”, Lion do finally front up and say ‘Hello! We’re in charge of this thing, by the way.’ — and the statistics are predictably grim on what miniscule fraction of humanity actually clicks through to pages labelled that. But it’s mostly there to completely disclaim, in the usual spineless boilerplate, any promises of accuracy — their marketing code of practice, equally tellingly, contains no particular commitments about being truthful and forthcoming with the facts — and to (weirdly) suggest that I’m not allowed to link to them without their express permission, in an apparent complete misunderstanding of how the internet works.

Crafty Beggars blurbs
The disingenuous Crafty Beggars bottle blurbs

Big breweries (and Lion, in particular) have a habit of playing their brands — and thereby their consumers — off against each other, in a way that’ll easily leave the impression that ‘Made to Match’ is better-rounded than it is. For everyone who makes beer who isn’t Lion, it’ll do a tremendous disservice-by-omission, and so it damn well better have an enormously prominent “this program brought to you by Lion” kind of disclaimer front and center — especially (but not only) since it’s airing on, and seemingly produced in substantial cooperation with, the national broadcaster. Little buried disclosures (like what they have so far) are only ever the absolute minimum, they’re not automatically exculpatory.

It’s going to be worth watching to see how they play that kind of thing — and to find out more about TVNZ’s involvement — but I’m not optimistic enough to think it’ll be anything other than a sin-counting exercise in seeing how shameless they are, rather than waiting to see if they front up decently. Which is a real shame, because there’s a huge need for mass-media beer education of an engaged and entertaining sort, but you just can’t trust the Big Breweries to handle this stuff in any kind of fair and honest and genuinely informative way.5 Their structure, their contrived “brand stories”, their peculiar kind of cowardice when it comes to the realities of their history and how they operate, and their ingrained shitty haibts just won’t let them, it seems — their approach to selling their products is entirely at odds with providing information.

The 'Made to Match' footer, crediting everyone except Lion
The ‘Made to Match’ website’s footer, crediting everyone except Lion

*: This post originally phrased Lion’s ultimate parentage as “Kirin / Mitsubishi” which I’ve since learned isn’t correct. Kirin is a member of the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, but that’s not the same thing as being a subsidiary of the car maker, which was the impression I initially had, and passed on, here. Thanks to Danny at Lion for the correction (July 2018).
1: I don’t own a television set, but I watch a fair amount of ‘TV’ — though not like it was traditionally broadcast, an episode at a time, once a week. And my phone spends a tiny fraction of its time as a “phone” — most of the time it’s a really little computer with sensory capabilities that more resemble a goddamn Trek-esque tricorder. Welcome to the future. (Now where’s my flying car?) 
2: Even though it’s not, for several reasons; the claim to follow a German law is just one of many ways they insinuate a German origin. 
3: It’s definitely not that, though it is for Irish Dry Stout, a corner of the black-beer spectrum that it basically invented. Speaking as a long-suffering bartender, way too many people see black beer and think “Guinness” and — if they happen not to like Guinness — shut themselves off from a wonderful range of options. 
4: Glengarry / Hancock’s hilariously inept promotional video has been ridiculed plenty — but still not enough. For present purposes, it’s worth re-watching as the least-subtle-ever use of that slippage between “beer” and “beer brand”. 
5: It’s an utterly trivial example, really, but the contradiction between the inclusion of a pretty-good ‘Why you should always pour your beer into a glass’ section and the classic “everyone at a barbeque drinking from the bottle, with the label carefully-but-casually held facing outwards” montage of the introductory video speaks volumes right out of the gate.