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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
So that was the week that was. The week that was a while ago, now. How time flies when you’re quietly recuperating. Weirdly, given the work I gravitate towards, I’m a natural introvert and crowds of lovely beer nerds are still, you know, crowds. I think exhaustixhilirated just about covers it; sound prediction there, Phil From The Past. You get a strange view of things during festivals when you’re doing too much to do much, but from where I was standing, this is what Beervana — and its satellite events in The Road Thereto — looked like: