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.
So, that was me. I’m the wag, in the old-timey parlance of the newspaper. There’s little point pretending otherwise, since the sign was twenty steps from the front door of the pub where I work — and a large part of my m.o. here involves uploading literally hundreds of handwriting samples you could compare against. I’m all for the normalising of beer into the wider popular culture, but this crap isn’t helping. And I say that as a bearded someone (admittedly, it’s neither “bushy” nor “bristly”) who works in the (for want of a better word) craft beer business.
You know the usual Holiday Beer story — go to warm and/or sunny location; mooch around; enjoy the local pale lager; (re)discover the fun of blandness-as-a-virtue and enjoy a forceful reminder of the power of context1 — but mine’s a little different. After the frantic Festival Season subsided, Beer Diary HQ relocated for a week to Niue, which isn’t big enough to have its own brewery. So I drank Steinlager, instead.
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:
The days are just packed.1 This is always a weird time of year to be a beer geek who works in the beer business; the combination of so much going on and so much to do warrants one of those legendary compound German words. I am exhaustixhilarated. This is terrificifying. So, naturally, Emma and I nicked off for a fifteen-hour one-day road-trip to see the final days of an exhibition and that freakin’ gorgeous mountain. There wasn’t even any beer involved. It was great. Bring on the week ahead, I say.