Category Archives: Observations

More-or-less — well; more, since they don’t live in another category — random reports on various interesting things that catch my eye

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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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.

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

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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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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Medals and math II — the numbers behind this year’s beer awards

Neon signage at the ParrotDog bar, Lyall Bay
Statistically-nicely done, ParrotDog

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.

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Tuatara Pilsner’s new origin story

Tuatara 'Mot Eureka' (Pōneke, 26 October 2017)
Tuatara Pilsner — I still can’t quite bring myself to say the other name

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.

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Medals and math — batting averages at the beer awards

Mural detail (Garage Project, 10 October 2017)
Friendly competition? (Detail from the mural at Garage Project, the new Champion Brewery)

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.

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