So,1 as may or may not already be obvious, Beervana is nearly upon us. As it does every year, now, it’s brought a swirl of beautiful madness with it — the City is brimming with beer geeks and the calendar is crammed with things for them to over-occupy their time. Working in the beer business, though, can complicate the enjoyment of this week a little precisely because there is such a glorious mountain of stuff going on. Spare an extra thought for your barpeople; they’re likely pulling long hours and achingly envious of your ability to flit from spot to spot.
There’s a lot going on in my little corner(s) of the industry, as well: flinging beer hither and yon — slowly driven bonkers by the cautious ordering of restaurants unaccustomed to the enthusiasm of the beer-drinking public this time of year, and so requiring re-up after re-up — and lending a minor hand in the pile of other projects entailed by a day job at a brewery that goes utterly batshit on the eventsand special releases fronts. So I’m mostly hanging out for the festival itself, since I’m missing out on most of its satellites.
And I am, admittedly, superkeen. I stand by my sympathy for people who’ll now skip Beervana — feeling it’s outgrown them or they’ve outgrown it — in this rich ecosystem of ours, but I always enjoy it as pilgrim, participant, hypercritical observer, and raving evangelist. And as performer again, this year, with the Beer Diary Podcast: Live! on each evening, which should be buckets of fun — and the audience is open to all comers.
This is the big week in beer, in New Zealand. It’s our Christmas. Imagine how run off your feet you’d be, if you were an elf, and bolt that to the giddy excitement you felt when you were a kid. It’s both at once, and it’s bloody marvellous. Bring it on.2
1: If this post’s title earworms you as quickly and strongly as it did me, I make no apologies. ↑ 2: Meanwhile, I should reiterate that the placeholding ‘Station Ident’ idea is one shamelessly stolen from Honorary Friend Of The Show Warren Ellis. If you’re not reading his notes at morning.computer, you’re missing out on some of the best short-form stuff around. (And that really is a valid URL, now; the third age of the internet is really going to be strange.) ↑
Feminism, as they say, is1 the radical idea that women are people too. By very simple extension, women can be beer enthusiasts, bar owners, beer writers, and brewers. There’s a lot more to say on the subject, obviously, but it’s not really my gig to hold forth given my obvious lack of lived experience — a Very Special Podcast Episode was recorded this weekend which will probably elaborate thereon, instead, and that reminded me about this tasty beer and its somewhat-unusual context.
LBQ — that is to say, Little Beer Quarter; a well-established bar here in town which happens to be owned by women — was hosting a mini-tap-takeover by Moa, a company with something of a well-deserved reputation of boorish, sexist and otherwise-bigoted marketing. The high-water mark, such as it is,2 was perhaps their relentlessly shitty IPO document, but their offenses — both stunningly major and perplexingly minor — would probably be just too depressingly exhausting to fully catalogue. Their outright dismissal of women as potential consumers (nevermind investors or just non-ornaments) sees them fail at the earliest possible moral hurdle and earned Moa a spot on my own personal (and mercifully short) Boycott List.
The tension here — that between the character of the bar and of the brewery3 — was noted a fair amount online, with many surprised that LBQ would give Moa the oxygen, after freely taking (gentle) jabs before. Personally, it was admittedly gratifying to be reminded that I wasn’t alone in holding a grudge. A lot of people will independently bring up their history of appalling marketing and cite it as a reason for not buying their beer, skipping their offering at a festival, or not going to an event of theirs. We are, after all, enjoying a preposterous embarrassment of riches in our options in the beer world, so it’s relatively easy to boycott something for over a year and not really feel like you’re missing out at all. Consumer choice wide enough allows consumer judgement on any criteria they feel like applying — which is precisely how things should be. Moa, it has to be said, had been keeping their heads relatively low, lately;4 it looks like they thought they could just slink away from their prior bullshit and have everyone quietly forget about it — and it looks like they were wrong. Re-starting with a sincere “we screwed up — we acted gross, and we’re not going to do it again; we’re actually mostly going to get out of the way and let the beer speak for itself” could do a lot.5 They’ve conspicuously failed to make any kind of attempt in that direction, and that’s unfortunate for all concerned.
And maybe LBQ were still giving them a nudge in the ribs even as they hosted this perhaps-premature event, because on the afternoon of the takeover, they announced that they’d tapped a keg of the Beer Baroness-brewed edition of ‘Unite’ Pale Ale, the International Women’s Day collaboration beer. So I had that, for my own point-making circumstantial reasons, but I’ll eagerly have it again for its inherent deliciousness because it was just splendid. Nice how that works out, sometimes. A zippy little sessionable pale ale, it was very much My Thing — and a fresh batch is reputedly On The Way. The titular Baroness is Ava Wilson, who is also the manager of the ridiculously wonderful Pomeroy’s Pub, convenor for the NZ chapter of the Pink Boots Society (soon to have its inaugural meeting, and the mothership of which organised the global brewday), seminar-wrangler for the Great Kiwi Beer Festival, and an all-round superawesome individual. If you, like Moa’s marketing suits, live in the same country as Ava and you still don’t think women could be “beer people” then I submit that you are an ignorant retrograde.
I would at least hope — in a rare fit of optimism — that the craft beer ‘community’ was on the whole a welcoming, safe, and enjoyable place for women to be. Better than ‘the average’ (non-beer bars and festivals, the public at large..?), maybe, somehow. But it’s a long way from perfect, and every awful bit of sexist branding,† all the tired old stereotypes and presumptions that never quite die (see, e.g., how often people think “girly beer” might actually be a category, and what it’d consist in, and why), and every crappy bit of treatment women still endure in bars — they’re all worth calling out and resisting. So yes, among my self-chosen descriptors, I’ll wear “feminist”6 as happily as I do “beer geek”.
Original notes: Beer Baronness ‘Unite’ Pale Ale 17/7/14 @ LBQ, amid a Moa tap takeover, so at least partially for irony + point-making. But the thing itself hardly needs an excuse; really nicely zippy + zesty hoppy little 4% thing. Not hugely weather-appropriate, but the bar is super cozy anyway. Lots of interesting reactions to this event, but my take is just that it’s premature. Apologetic fronting-up, then the charm offensive and re-focus on the beer.
1: If I felt like quibbling — and, let’s face it, I basically always do — I’d say “begins with” rather than “is”. But it’s a damn fine slogan, and at least damn close to the mark. ↑ 2: With “water” in a decidedly euphemistic sense, let’s say. ↑ 3: “…or at least its marketing department”, as the usual caveat goes — including from me (e.g., footnote 1 in my post on the IPO itself). And while it is true that the beers range from fine to great and the brewer himself is indeed a lovely chap, there comes a point where something goes on long enough and everyone involved really is at least a little bit culpable by association. ↑ 4: Well, other than hiring Shane Warne to front their product in Australia. Which makes little goddamn sense for several reasons, not least of which the boofhead reputation he’s transparently struggling to shake. Against their otherwise softly-softly tactics of late, I’m pretty much at a loss to explain that one. Perhaps it’s a mistake to try to attribute a rationality behind it at all; it might just show their instincts. ↑ 5: Just because someone will always come along and set a worse example, I suppose it’s at least a relief they aren’t just trying to obliviate their past misdeeds and erase them from the record (except for one example that we’ll get to later…) — unlike WilliamsWarn, whose foray into #everydaysexism was made all the sadder for their reaction to criticism. ↑ 6:Simplicter. I was in the habit of saying “~ ally”, but I’ve lately been convinced otherwise. ↑ †: Coincidentally, in the inadvertent extra delay in getting this online, the guys at the Ale Of A Time podcast uploaded an episode wherein they also address the sexist branding / beer-naming problem. So at least it’s getting a little more air and pushback — though I take a stronger line than both of them. ↑
My big present-to-self this year, after several years on a semi-dependable runabout that has massively improved my daily / weekly / seasonal routine, is a nice new bike. While I did make sure to wear my super-smug cyclist t-shirt when I picked it up, today,1
I’m no rabidly dogmatic anti-combustion-engine fanatic — but I really do suggest you strongly consider getting your own velocipede, if you don’t already have one: it’s a nice mix of relaxed and efficient transport, with little traffic, no parking meters, and genuinely-therapeutic windows into the Zen Of Cycling — wherein you may come to believe that there seldom are hill climbs or headwinds so punishing that they’re ultimately unworthy of the blistering downhills or superpowering tailwinds that eventually follow.2
And what better to celebrate with than a radler? An actual radler, mind. Not that wrongly-named and more-wrongly-trademarked carbonated dishwashing liquid that D.B. peddle, nor their new-and-differently-horrible “Export Citrus” — which weirdly might kinda count as more truly “radler-esque”, and which must have them laughing all the way to the bank given that they charge basically the same for something upon which they pay a fraction of the excise tax. No, this thing was actually pleasantly refreshing. I can imagine it’d go truly gangbusters on a hot day, especially after and/or during a good non-commuter ride. There’s naught wrong with a well-made shandy — but therein lies the thing, doesn’t it? Waldhaus’ version (not really surprisingly) manages it; being recognisably beery (albeit superfriendily and easily beery), with lemonade that avoids tasting fake, candy-ish, and contrived as it too-often does.
It’s an often-mentioned madness that I technically shouldn’t have been allowed to buy that beer, here, thanks to an incredibly stupid quirk and/or interpretation of the local law. There was recently a knock-back on just this style term in the Czech Republic for Heineken — which, at a high level of abstraction, is D.B. — that deserves to be celebrated, but unfortunately doesn’t signal any kind of good news, here, given the vast differences in jurisdiction. There was a distinct element of protest and provocation when Hashigo Zake imported this,3 almost daring D.B. to send them a lawyer’s letter which they’d no doubt just frame and hang on the wall. Nothing ever came of it, but given the long-running rule that you risk losing trademarks you don’t actively defend, that might’ve been bad tactics on their part — and, just maybe, a brilliantly patient long-lead play by Dominic. Radlergate gave context to the Porter Noir Saga which came and went relatively quickly, but maybe there’s life left in the former fiasco yet. Hopefully it’s sensibly solved by the time I’m shopping for my next new bike, at least.
1: Even though I want to quibble with it, myself; there’s a good deal of CO2 involved in making a bike and getting it to me. But still. “Vanishingly little CO2, in comparison” doesn’t really make a good slogan. ↑ 2: Remember I say these things about hills and winds as a Wellingtonian. And while it’s maybe a trite example — but perhaps a decent-enough slogan (see above, n1) — it really might do your mental health a lot of good. It did mine. ↑ 3: Their distribution arm has since spun off and transmogrified into Beers Without Borders. ↑
Still enjoying my Sydney sabbatical — especially now the heat has eased somewhat — I’ve been reconfirmed in a small thought about small bars, of which this town has increasingly-many, thanks (apparently)1 to a relatively-recent law change. I had a bit of a ramble recently on the podcast about licensing laws and will need to return to the topic properly now that New Zealand’s “reforms” are in effect, but for present purposes my concern is that our current (and former) rules were applied almost entirely uniformly, whatever they are. There’s always a certain facile attraction in blanket legislation, but my recent wanderings have reinforced a simple point perhaps too-often overlooked: you are insane if you treat all licensed venues alike.
There is a lot wrong with the prevailing Antipodean drinking culture, and I’m not remotely suggesting that “small bars” are flawless2 or the complete answer to anything. But you have to applaud Sydney for its neat little ecosystem of different-sized places doing different-styled things, giving varied ideas and formats an airing and seeing what works. Treating every venue as if they were heaving, recklessly-discounting, neighbour-nuisancing boozers just because that seems an easier way to tackle genuinely-existing3 problems will wind up causing a tonne of needless collateral cultural damage. A lot of New Zealand’s new rules seem unfortunately destined to make life harder for exactly the kinds of operations that represent (on their good days) a more-enlightened approach to things-with-booze-in.4
From my bartender-training days, I remember “test-tube shots” being specifically called-out and demonised in the materials as if they were somehow inherently a sign of ill-advised drinking. But here one was at Stitch — a supercute basement bar in downtown Sydney, decked-out with a suprisingly-successful sewing machine aesthetic (including dozens of vintage Singer machines, and treadle-equipped tables to sit and drink at) — and it’s hard to imagine that an eighteen-dollar Boilermaker5 of a mini-Old-Fashioned and a dependable American import6 is ultimately implicated in many worrying and/or unhealthy nights out. Instead, it was a thoughtful and delicious little addition to their overall offering, perfectly capable of being Enjoyed Responsibly. If you can’t handle even the small amount of nuance needed to allow for just those kinds of possibilities,7 you need to get out of the policy-making business. All drinks are not created, or served, equally.
1: I’m a Foreigner; forgive me if I get the details and/or the history wrong. And by all means — and as always — corrections, clarifications and continuations are more than welcome. ↑ 2: This post’s title, to head off any observant but poorly-read pedants, is an irresistible little English cliché (of weirdly-uncertain origin, apparently) more than anything else. ↑ 3: Although almost-always overblown. We do love a good Moral Panic, as a species, it seems. But that’s another post for another time — and will require a lot more references (though Pete Brown does a damn-admirable job in pulling a bunch together for semi-regular and enjoyably-sharp rants thereon). Meanwhile, just have a look at the scaremongering quote from the Hotel Association rep. in the above-linked Time Out article. Battle lines in the policy debate aren’t as simple as regulators versus retailers; the huge operators will happily slag off the small to try and lobby against losing their advantages. ↑ 4: Indeed, recalling the spectacular tin ear I complained about the other day in regard to Wellington’s advertising, our Council’s first draft of changes for the local area included the creation of a ghetto — styled as an “entertainment precinct” — which would’ve hugely favoured the City’s obviously-problematic operators and seriously hampered further evolution of the increasingly civilised fringe. I remember being outraged by the incredible wrong-headedness of the idea around podcast-recording time; fortunately, it was abandoned. ↑ 5: See also Whisky + Alement, next time you’re in Melbourne, for a really excellent range of deftly-matched [Craft] Beer + Whisk[e]y combinations. ↑ 6: Albeit one with a bit of an identity crisis, to be fair; the brewery bleats on nonsensically about how “traditional” and “small” it is while a) committing the classic Big Business sin of trademarking a style term and b) producing 20ML already and planning under c) it’s new mega-corporate owners to d) quadruple capacity. ↑ 7: And then, once your imagination’s nice and warmed-up, to contemplate rules, conditions, and fees that differ appropriately in response to the character of the place in question… But again; details another time. ↑
In this, as in all things, context is king. Perfect circumstances can rescue the naffest of beers — and mismatchings of time and/or place could equally ruin the most otherwise-charming. Today, Wellingtonians were rightly beside themselves with the sheer loveliness of the weather out there, seizing upon this as the first real Saturday of the summer by pootling around in boats, sitting in the warm sunshine, or hurling themselves off a pier and into the still-actually-rather-brisk-now-you-mention-it harbour. Myself, I was gardening.1 My deeply-ingrained nocturnality is slowly and awkwardly (but painlessly enough) giving way and I’m becoming a little more ambitempstrous2 as I slowly discover worthwhile things about the daylight hours the Normals inhabit.
Meanwhile, there was a Crafty Beggars ‘Wheat As’ in my fridge, thanks to its — potentially ironic — inclusion in a little Thank You parcel the Brewers’ Guild gave me after I helped go over the Beer Writer Of The Year nominees earlier this year. Since I was hugely not a fan of it the first time I had it — as an inherently-underwhelming thing as well as because of its annoying halo of brandwank — I resolved to give this “bonus” bottle its best-possible go. A few hours of serious hack-and-slash dig-and-heave garden rehabilitation provided exactly the right opportunity to climb the goat-track to the Thinking Chair in the back corner of the property to take in the view,3 eat some delicious cheese, and have a beer.
And it was, I’ll cheerfully admit, fucking glorious; properly refreshing, flavourful but not distractingly so, it went gangbusters with the cheese (and its surroundings), and had the added benefit of being a sessionable four-point-zero percent. Given the price-point these things seemed to be pitched at — doubtless to serve as a bulwark against Independent / Asahi’s rather-aggressive (and successful!) attempt to carve out some market share — it could prove one of the bargain buys of the summer. If — always a crucial “if”, and always up to the individual — you can bring yourself to hand over your money to its producer.
If you’ll forgive the loose extrapolations from a single (but sublime) moment, this impossible-to-overstate element of context is a good part of the reason why I can never bring myself to push the “ratings” buttons in Untappd, and a strong element of my ongoing leeriness of beer awards. What would I be rating any particular beer against — my assumptions of what it was going to be like, its reputation, its “style” (defined by its marketing department, or someone more “objective”?), or how it fit the particular occasion, no matter how little thought I gave to my selection? And likewise, what hope can any number of potentially-bloody-marvellous beers have of being at their best in a little tasting glass, among scores of broadly-similar relatives, at a table full of weary judges?
I would happily stand up in any beer geek support group and say “Hi, my name is Phil Cook and, just the other day, I acutally bloody loved a Crafty Beggars ‘Wheat As'”. Hopefully, this is part of what separates the enthusiasts from the snobs. I won’t be rushing out to buy more — Lion aren’t in boycott territory,4 but I think there always plenty of more-deserving candidates for a dose of my meagre monies — but, in context, it was great. If you need me, I’ll be up in my Thinking Chair, mulling that over.
1: And then I hurled myself off a pier. ↑ 2: Apparently the actual word is “cathemeral”. ↑ 3: Caveats: 1) it’s a rental, not “mine” (nor even “my bank’s”) in the ownership sense, 2) there’s a seriously perilous goat-track to get to this spot; it’s not even vaguely representative of the rest of the place. I hope my Middle Class credentials are unsullied after you’ve seen my Harbour Views. ↑ 4: Unlike, you know, some people. ↑
One of the genuinely-many delightful things about celebrating “occasion beers” keyed to non-local occasions is that the magic of timezones can grant you quite a bit more time — in case you’d like to keep the party going, or just if you’re the forgetful and distractable sort.
So I didn’t get around that absurdly sexy Anchor Porter right there until the local day-after the Fourth, which was probably still the actual Fourth, since ours is a large-ish and sedately-spinning planet, around which it takes a while for daylight to circuit. No harm, no foul, right? But gawd is Anchor Porter sexy, in a bookish and interesting way that a hack Hollywood director would be obliged to convey by having it take its glasses off and let its hair down.1 Which is me anthropomorphising to a worrying extent, I realise, but I run of out words to describe the reliable-but-perpetually-exciting loveliness that the beer’s always granted me. I was, therefore, almost glad to’ve run out of time on the local Fourth; it deserves your full attention.
My first beer of the night — the rumours are true; one of the few unalloyed joys of bartending is that you occasionally / frequently drink while you work (although the hours and the pay sometimes drive you to it, on balance) — was a ‘Hop Wallop’ IPA from Victory in Pennsylvania, generously shouted-by and shared-with our friend Kimmy (who, if memory serves, hails from nearby). Apparently originally a hop-harvest seasonal, it has all that lovely, intensely-aromatic high-velocity fruit salad kind of zip. It was heady doses of lushness and gorgeousness at the front, quickly replaced by a surprise bitter punch in the neck before it ran off and hid long enough for you to be lulled back by the nose. (Then wham-rinse-repeat happily all the way down the glass.)
We were also lucky enough to all split a rigger / growler / flagon3 of Brewaucracy’s then-new ‘Punkin Image, Ltd.’, a pumpkin beer and, as such, something very American while being not at all Fourth-ish. They’re traditionally Thanksgiving-related things, but when you’re displaced on a spherical planet, the seasons get all ass-backwards. So another of ‘our’ Americans, Annika, made proper pumpkin pie, and an unmistakable home-comfort happiness dawned on very many faces. Except mine. Mine was a face full of skepticism and doubt, since I’ve long held to the maxim that Pumpkins are Pig Food and Pigs are People Food; for peoples to eat pumpkins would be to inadvisably leapfrog the food chain. But I’d previously tried Dogfish Head’s pumpkin beer, and was astounded to find myself enjoying it, so I gave them both a chance — and can happily report that I am, weirdly, very fond indeed of both pumpkin beer and pumpkin pie as much as I still detest pumpkin pumpkin. Maybe it’s a texture problem, with the actual thing, or just the fact that — in both the pies and the beers — any flavour they might’ve had before they went in is completely swamped by deliciously soothing and satisfying winter spices.
And finally, I had (in my personal stash, secreted in a corner of the fridge) a great-big bottle of the then-new vintage of Yeastie Boys ‘Her Majesty’. Sharing it with a bunch of my favourite beer-geeky women made enough sense just leveraging off the name, but the label on this vintage went out of its way to deliver a beautiful fuck you to the sadly-prevalent sexism in this business, and that firmly cemented the idea. A rather-radical departure from the previous year’s edition — with which I began my second Beer Diary — other than in the Belgian-yeast department, I have vague memories of it causing some consternation at the Matariki Winter Beers Festival, but I definitely recall enjoying its dry, peachy funk. But it couldn’t really fail, when served according to the directions: “Enjoy responsibilty with friends, laughter and music”. Done.
This year, I’ll be helping out at Hashigo which — owing to the formidable stock of West Coast U.S. beers they import and the statistically-significant fraction of expats in the local craft beer community — is traditionally a busy one. They’ve rather spectacularly one-upped my “Four of July” from Malthouse last year, with eight visiting Americans in a row all along their main bank of taps. Should be a great lark.
Original Diary entry: The Fourth of July 4/7/11 working @ Malthouse with Petey & Halena. 1) Victory ‘Hop Wallop’ IPA ÷ 2 with Kim, who shouted for the occasion. 8.5% 355ml nicely pale + hazy. Big nose, blunter fruit salad cf. Hop Wired etc., nice big bitter sting, but not lingeringly so. So kind [of] like Punk, in that see-saw 2) Brewaucracy ‘Punkin Image Ltd.’ with Annika’s pumpkin pie! Which is hardly-usual for the Fourth, but this is the other hemisphere. Both were delicious + smooth. So my Pumpkins are Pig Food stance doesn’t apply to pie or beer, it seems. 3) Yeastie Boys ‘Her Majesty 2011’ with Haitch, Amy, Shannon, Annika + Kim — some of my favourite beer-geeky women! Total colour / weight inversion from 2010, but still Belgian & Odd. Light, dry, fruity — peachy, I thought. But what do I know? 4) Anchor Porter. Well, that was the plan. I forgot it until the next night. Such a fucking marvellous thing. Rich + fabulous.
1: Much to the consternation of geeks and just-plain-decent-thinking people alike; we know you can be perfectly sexy with your still hair up and your glasses still on. 2: I’ve been enjoying the increased topicality of posting closer to the day I actually drink a beer, but I’m resolved not to let those beers that I had to vault right over languish unpublished forever. I’ll try and make one calendar year the high-point of my slothful delay, switching back-and-forth between historical and current posts as I go — but leaving that mind-breaking back-dating scheme I formerly used entirely to its retirement. 3: Depending on your linguistic heritage, knowledge of Antipodean slang terms, and/or the state of local trademark law.
When you’re waiting for your plane home to Wellington, when you’ve been staying with friends in the near-Southern suburbs of Melbourne, when you’re in a post-Spectapular state of beery bliss mixed pleasantly with mild lethargy — and when, perhaps, you’re me — there really is no answer to “what shall I do this afternoon?” other than: wander down the road to the Local Taphouse and mooch.1
I do love the Taphouse; it’s just so completely my kind of pub in a bajillion different ways. And to make matters even better, a good friend of mine (and former colleague from two crappy bars here in Wellington) had transplanted there and had the day shift. She fixed me a medically-necessary coffee, ordered an equally-mandatory stonking great big burger and poured a terrifically mood-improving beer in the form of a little glass of Mountain Goat ‘Hightail’, an old favourite of mine. I first met it at Beervana one year, then the leftover kegs joined us at Malthouse, and its easy-going, surefooted and balanced nature admirably coped with the rather unusual “go-with-this-breakfast” task I set.
We sat, we rambled, and we had a few little tasters of various beers. It was a perfect little afternoon at the pub; an ideal dose of simple hospitality after our grand and busy weekend. The Brooklyn East India Pale Ale caught our eye — hailing, as we do, from a country where that style term is famously abused by one of the nation’s biggest-selling mass-market sweet brown lagers2 — and charmed us with its very old-school marmaladey Englishness, as did a bottle of Moon Dog ‘Melon Gibson’, a slightly-sour fruit beer from a “Marvellous Mullets” series (together, brilliantly, with ‘MacGuava’ and ‘Billy Ray Citrus’) and a welcome case of swagger and silliness accompanying worthy and interesting beer, rather than the former being used as a substitute for the latter; Moon Dog seem refreshingly capable of both.
It’s hard to resist a tasting paddle when you’re at the Taphouse,3 so before I realised how little time we had before we needed to head to the airport (through some combination of my lousy memory and being too accustomed to my little City, perhaps), I picked a fairly-random collection of things from the Big Board. Brew Boys’ ‘Ace of Spades’, my first of theirs, would’ve made even better sense with my coffee (but the burger, probably not so much) and was wonderfully fat, full and roasty. The Holgate ‘Temptress’ which followed was a fantastic contrast, with obvious chocolate and vanilla sweetness and the lovely smoothness that Nitrogen can give — and all the niggling dispense issues it can cause, which just kept K.T. happy supplied with a steady stream of leftovers.
Changing favour gears rather drastically to 3 Ravens ‘Ale Noir’, a smoked-and-Pinot-barrelled dark was rather confusing and confronting, but the beer seemed potentially quite interesting — not that I’ll get another chance with it; the brewery seems to’ve closed between then and now, sadly. After all that, Mornington’s IPA, perhaps inevitably, came across as outrageously fruity, almost to the point of absurdity. Generously hefty in the flavour department, it was full of citrus-peel bitterness that crackled across my brain. Those to in combination set me up nicely for the Australian Brewery’s Smoked IPA, which turned out surprisingly accessible; the smoke in ‘Ale Noir’ had that baconny, Rashuns-ish edge, but this had the sparkly notes you get if you squeeze orange peel into a candle flame, which made all the sense in the world given its citrussy pale ale base.
And then, pretty damn sated, we bid farewell and made our way to the airport and back home to Wellington. It was a freakin’ excellent weekend in the dear old Melb, and the Taphouse team deserve a lot of credit for GABS and their utterly-lovely home base. I’ll definitely be back next year, and hopefully considerably sooner than that.
Original Diary entry: Post-GABS Taphouse Afternoon Mooch 14/5/12 with Dom + Dave, and KT behind the bar. Coffee + Hightail + a sublime burger to start, then little tasters of Brooklyn EIPA + Moon Dog Melon Gibson. Before a near obligatory paddle: Australian Brewery Smoked IPA (5.9%), Mornington IPA (6.2%), 3 Ravens ‘Ale Noir’ (Smoked, 5.4% — Their Dark, aged in Pinot Noir barrels), Holgate ‘Temptress’ (Choc porter, 6%), Brewboys ‘Ace of Spades’ (Nitro stout, 5.9%). Going backwards, since nothing really seems strategically obvious. AOS: Big, fat + full roasty bitterness. HT is crazy smooth, vanilla evident (and a bitch to pour, so KT gets plenty of dregs) AN: Weird, a little confusing, but intersting. MIPA: Ludicrously fruit nose, after all those. Big citrus peel bitter body, afterward. SMIPA: Surprisingly accessible, given all that. AN is definitely baconny + Rashuns-y, this just has a little of that burning squeezed-pith sparkle.
1: Possible idiosyncratic dialect alert: I tend to use mooch in the lesser-but-still legit intransitive sense of “to loiter / wander about aimlessly” rather than the more-pejorative transitive one of “to obtain freely, esp. by subtle begging”. But it also does bear pointing out that Dom (owner of Hashigo Zakea and fellow GABS volunteer) did pick up the tab for all three of us, which was a bloody lovely thing to do. — a: Coincidentally, I’ve just made another potential-conflict disclosure — because I’ll be joining the Hashigo staff as an occasional fill-in to ease the squeezier weeks in their roster, earn me a little more beer money and keep my bartending muscles from atrophying — so I should get a few words of praise out of the way now, since the following thoughts were ultra-confirmed over GABS weekend. Hashigo really do genuinely invest in their staff (in ways varying from the mundane, like generous staff discount, to the spectacular, such as bringing his second-in-command along to Melbourne most-expenses-paid or arranging staff to go visit breweries and join in making one-off beers), and it shows. Their staff turnover is incredibly low, in an industry famous for high rates but a sector wherein accrued product knowledge and familiarity with regular customers and craft beer notables is absolutely key. The Fork & Brewer, which opened late last year and still hasn’t quite found its feet, is teetering right on the border of complete (i.e. 100%) turnover of its front of house staff — the last time Hashigo had a “new guy” was a year ago. Therein lies a difference worth watching, and worth learning from, if you ask me; it’s a pretty key symptom and cause of the health of any given bar in this scene. 2: Style-wise, Tui is really a “New Zealand Draught”, and (deservedly) cleans up in that category at the local beer awards. D.B., who produce it, are typically proud to shout awards from the hilltops (with a decades-old trophy still boasted on Export Dry’s label, and Tui’s ‘Blond’ sibling crowing about its more-recent successes), but they just can’t quite bring themselves to celebrate Tui being an award-winning something when it’s marketed as a something-else. Given how freely they bullshit about style on all other occasions, that’s frankly a pathetic lack of conviction. (I’d also go further and suggest that beer awards should have a little more muscle on the issue and just bar beers from being entered into categories that are contradicted by their presentation to the public.) 3: I assume. I’ve never tried.
If I go missing one day, if you can’t find me for a while and have no idea where I’ve gone, check the cupboards and crawlspaces at Josie Bones in Melbourne. I’d only been there an hour before I was casing the place, looking for a place to stowaway and secretly live — emerging in the dead of night to drink lovely beer and feast on delicious leftovers.
Like my now-beloved Local Taphouse, Josie Bones was one of those amazing-sounding places that opened shortly after I moved back to Wellington. But despite occasional trips back, I’d never managed a visit until the Saturday afternoon between GABS sessions three and four. Hashigo’s David Wood and I met up with my Melbourne-resident friend Toby, and we seized the chance.
It was freakin’ awesome — as I may have telegraphed by suggesting I might disappear there some day. It’s a cute little place (smaller than I, for some reason, thought it’d be), charming and welcoming, well-presented but completely unpretentious. We took a seat at the bar, and quickly realised we were being served by the two founders — recognisable to those People Who Watch the Teevee Box as former Masterchef Australia contestants.
Josie Bones is a massively uncommon thing; a place that properly ‘gets’ food and beer. The beer menu is a gloriously fat clipboard of helpfulness (backed-up by the knowledge and enthusiasm housed in the brains of the staff), and there’s a healthy range available from the taps and/or the fridge. They’d done a wet-hop beer dinner just a few days prior, and several survivors were still pouring. I opted for Bright’s ‘Harvest 150’, since I couldn’t stop yammering about their Fainter’s Dubbel at a mini-beer-fest in Fed Square a few weeks previous. It, too, was exactly what I wanted — fat, rich red malt and plenty of fresh-hop zing and zip around the palate; full-on, but self-assured, rather than desperately clamouring for attention. I (a currently-unemployed person who’s lately been earning meager bartender-money, as I said before) splashed out on some stupidly-delicious food, and the combination of sensory delights nearly crippled me with joy. (And left me, not to belabour the point, idly planning how to move in.)
The overwhelming sensation — of the people, the place and the beer — was of welcome. Which is remarkably rare, in the “hospitality” (quote-unquote) business, but gleefully and glaringly obvious when done right. It’s a (deservedly) famously “meaty” place, with back-bar art and even door handles that seem to scream “Vegetarians: Fuck Off”. But that’s not it at all. I have it on very good authority from a non-omnivorous friend that, if you stand your ground and ask for things other-than-flesh, they have plenty and it’s just as mind-meltingly delicious. So the trotter-handles and the carcass-painting aren’t a prohibition; they’re just a friendly warning. Ditto the broad beer spectrum. It’s there if you want it, and if you’re remotely curious or just vaguely open-minded, you’ll be helped towards finding something you’ll cherish without scorn or harangue. They’re proud of their ability to match beer to people and people-and-beers to food expertly derived from former animals; they present it forthrightly and with justifiable pride. But it’s not all they do — though if they do bring you into their fold, you’ll become a tally-mark on their wall. I’m told they started keeping track of people they made recant their former “I don’t drink beer” self-identification — and that the smaller tally represented de-converted vegetarians.
Original Diary entry: Josie Bones 12/5/12, inbetween sessions. Finally made it here, and I already want to secretly live in one of their cupboards. Smaller than I thought, nicely kitted out, friendly and welcoming. I’ve got a Bright Brewery ‘Harvest 150’ (7%, $10, 330ml), which is stunning. Gorgeously red, smooth tan head, big fresh hop presence. Like what Garage Project were going for (and mostly got) with ‘Oldham’s Farm’. I splashed out, in hunger and excitement, and got Crackling of the Day (Pork, $4), Fries with Thyme + Prosciutto Salt + Chiptole Aioli ($9) and Crispy Beer-marinated Quail with Pickled Quail Egg ($9). Now, I’m rather satisfied, I must say.
At GABS, I was understudy for Local Taphouse’s Guy Greenstone, who was set to host ‘Beerista’ introductory tasting sessions at the ‘Craft Beer College’ series of free seminars running at the festival. He had a run-in with pneumonia, but was looking hearty during Friday’s Session One, so I seemed to be in the clear. Until about ten minutes before showtime. I was called in, hurried upstairs — from the front door, where I’d been head-counting for the security guys — and stumbled through (well, it seemed to me; apparently it went fine) a fun little chat about on How To Taste A Beer And Thereafter Ramble A Bit About It — with much-appreciated help from Pete Mitcham. Tremendous fun, in the end, but a bit hectic and nerve-wracking on short notice and (as I keep pleading, I know) little sleep.
So: a beer. A proper glass thereof, no mere tasting paddle would do. And no other beer made as much immediate sense as Garage Project’s ‘Double Day of the Dead’ — the miraculous resurrection / version 2.0 / GABS 2012 Special Edition Reprint of ‘Day of the Dead’, my favourite beer of 2011. Weirdly, given the tactical shift I made just recently, this also amounts to my first-ever actual Diary entry here online for a Garage Project beer. Which feels very odd given how often I bang on about them in the podcasts (one of which was recorded with them, in their actual garage)1 and how very-many of their beers are waiting in my notebook ready to be uploaded (soon — ish), but these are the consequences of falling way behind in my rambling.
The beer, like its first edition, is a strong (and moreso, second time out) black lager, made with cocoa, agave syrup (i.e., the precursor to Tequila), and smoked chipotle chili. I vaguely recall something being mentioned about a dose of vanilla, too, for this batch — but I have a notoriously crappy memory. It’s got a lot going on, but all the components get along harmoniously and feel like they’re there for a reason. Despite a somewhat-similar shape but a briefer bill of adjuncts, it feels quite a lot more purposeful than Resolute’s ‘Zaragoza’, for example. The booze and the chili add a comforting-but-confronting warmth, the agave (with the vanilla, if I didn’t just hallunicate its mention) seems to smooth out the base nicely, and the cocoa has the wonderfully dusty quality of the tiny little shards of smashed hollow Easter chocolate. It’s fantastic, and was just exactly what I needed.
GABS bought a lot of each beer — running back-of-the-envelope calculations on what the event must’ve involved, money-wise, damn-near did my head in earlier today — and must’ve taken the entire run of many beers that appeared. Not quite so with this one, I was able to tell those jealous Wellingtonians who could only live their Spectapular through me and my all-day Twitter ramblings. There’s a small amount stashed aside and we’ll probably see some of it around town soon. And hopefully some more a few months’ from now, for the Día de los Muertos itself — after it spends the intervening time on holiday in a bourbon barrel. Which is a pretty fucking exciting prospect, if you ask me.
And as I mention in my notes, a proper-glass at GABS was a little on the steep side, price-wise — this was a relative bargain, at $10 worth of tokens, roundabout in the middle of a $6 to $16 range2 — but that’s probably inevitable, given the nature of the event as one stocked almost-entirely with one-off brews. Plus, it pays to remember, that’s me writing as someone a) presently unemployed, b) spending New Zealand dollars in Australia with a non-delightful exchange rate, and additionally c) a person who earnt those slightly-limp New Zealand dollars on criminally-underpaid bartender wages.
Original Diary entry: GABS Glass #1: Garage Project ‘Double Day of the Dead’ 11/5/12 Reward for crash-replacing the host of Beerista. Proper glasses are crazyexpensive, though I can see why. Two notches up in strength, and I can tell: a little booze-heat evident before the chili heat. Cocoa — upgraded to Whittaker’s — is lovely and dusty in that weird way I like. Still nicely balanced and well-assembled, given its many adjuncts. (A dash of vanilla this year, I think they said.) A worthy resurrection.
1: When it was incredibly empty, in hindsight. There was a big comfy couch where the brewhouse now stands and barely enough spare space to swing a proverbial cat. It’s been replaced by all sorts of lovely shiny stainless steel. 2: The low end was populated by a surprisingly-varied collection of beers not necessarily united in gentler strength or simpler-looking recipes whereas the high end of the territory was held by Renaissance’s Oak-aged edition of their much-loved and marvellous ‘Stonecutter’. Despite the high price, I kept hearing good things about it from various visitors — and the GABS organisers did make the wise and simplifying move of making all tasters one token, whatever the price of their full glass. 3: With apologies for the considerably crappier camera in my phone, not the ultra-lovely one I always have in my bag. I suppose I was just enjoying my beer to much, and didn’t think to re-take the shot with the mask, after snapping that image for the Twitters.
GABS Weekend was genuinely awesome — and pretty-much exhausting. I just never caught up on the fact that my trip started with 26-odd-hours awake running on a mere two hours sleep. But these are trifling #firstworldproblems; I was having a marvellous time, giddy with beer-geek joy, doing a bit of volunteer monkey-work, meeting lovely people and sampling a surprisingly-modest few beers. I couldn’t keep up the standard I set on Day One, so will take the time now to post a few more photos and some very-preliminary afterthoughts I’ve thunk since.
— The People: Visitors
There were lots of people — ten-thousand-plus, distributed unevenly over the five sessions: a quiet and probably-valuable “soft” opening on Friday afternoon, a busier Friday night, the biggest crowd on Saturday afternoon, followed by a middling evening and a suitably-sedate Sunday — and they ranged massively from hard-core nerdy anoraks to “normal people”. The mix varied predictably (Friday night: more normal, Saturday day: more nerdy) but was never too lop-sided in either direction. They were good crowds, too; I have it on good authority that not one person was thrown out all weekend.
All those people and tasting paddles did stress the serving setup, and — ultimately — break it a few times. Queues got long, but people adapted by carrying multiple paddles and — barring minor flare-ups on Facebook and such — didn’t seem to let it ruin their mood. It’s a difficult event to design a system for, especially untested, and the organisers are wise to the issue and already talking about sensible-sounding revisions for next year.
— The People: Volunteers and Brewers
I was basically a backup-member of a few-hundred-strong volunteer army — I had a few duties at each session, but normal recruits did one or two full shifts. The economics of beer festivals is such that they’re basically always dependent on people working in exchange for a few tickets and tokens, and the fun of it, rather than regular wages. There was a lot of prep-and-re-prep to be done between sessions, on top of all those thousands of serves of beer, and swarms of coloured shirts got it done admirably.
Brewer presence is a tricky thing to figure out at beer festivals, too — it’s certainly a factor that Beervana needs to work on, and is working on — GABS-attending brewers had distinctive caps (though black hats all look alike at a distance, inevitably), but they also had a really-sweet VIP area (for which tickets were available to the public, at a premium price) with snacks and its own bar. Brewers were rare-ish on the main floor, but crowds were big and I still managed to meet a fair few — and, again, the organisers have already come up with a minor re-shuffle that should make them even easier to find, next year.
— The Food
Outside the building, through the big Southern doors, was a row of food vendors opening out of trailers and tents and whatnot. They were brilliantly varied, from pizza to curry, and reasonably-priced; basically perfect Festival Food. I didn’t have a dud snack or meal, and I had some absolute gems — particularly the gob-smackingly fantastic po’ boys from the guys in the Gumbo Kitchen truck, which was (rather brilliantly) playing things like the Treme soundtrack.
— First After-afterthoughts
It was a great weekend, and I’m very glad I made the trip. I’ve inherited my Dad’s engineer’s-eye for criticism and potential improvements, but basically all of them that came to mind were straight-away mentioned, unprompted, by Steve (the Festival Overboss) when I caught up with him late in Sunday’s session. He, and the rest of the organisers, are all over it. So I’m stowing most of them in my brain, satisfied that the wrinkles will be smoothed and next year will be even more awesome. I’m in.