Grant Smithies: Craft beer - Drinking by the book

Wellington beer writer, Alice Galletly.

Wellington beer writer, Alice Galletly.

This might be, I thought, the perfect guidebook for a man like me. A thirsty man, in other words. A man who's permanently parched.

So I took my review copy of Alice Galletly's How To Have A Beer (AWA Press, $26) to my favourite Nelson bar, a former church called The Free House.

Here, in a splendid old building where parishioners once got down on bended knee to pray before the god of their choosing, adherents now gather to worship intoxicating beverages strapped together from malt and hops, water and yeast.

Come Friday night, we're all down there: a merry congregation crowded into pews, singing from the same hymn book. It can get raucous, and we forget the words sometimes, but the spirit is in us by night's end, no question.

Your reporter rashly attended Wellington's Beervana last year without a beer instruction manual.

Your reporter rashly attended Wellington's Beervana last year without a beer instruction manual.

* Alice Galletly on weird beer trends, holiday brews
* Beerhive Blog: Is NZ beer the best in the world?
* How to blind taste beer like the experts

When a review copy of Galletly's book arrived in my mailbox, I laughed out loud. How To Have A Beer, indeed. It sounded like an instruction manual for something automatic, only one step removed from Walking 101, How To Take A Breath, or A Beginner's Guide to Chewing Food.

I've been booklessly drinking beer for decades. My method goes something like this. Step one: buy beer. Step two: down the hatch. Step three: Rinse and repeat.

But Galletly's slim, witty book goes a little deeper. As I sat beneath the dappled shade of a hop vine in the beer garden, the introduction alone had me laughing so hard, I slopped IPA on my shorts.

Galletly was a late-starter with beer, it transpires. As a creative-writing exercise, she was keen to blog about something and her first plan was to write about offal.

But a person can only eat so many livers, kidneys, lungs and hearts before they weary of entrails, so the domain name is now all yours, if you want it.

Beer seemed a better bet, so Galletly put herself through a sort of "beer boot camp". In 2011, she downed 365 different beers, writing up every last sip on her blog, Beer for a Year.

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She became, as she puts it, an "accidental beer nerd", and is now keen to share that knowledge around in the hope that more people might reach beyond bland, mass-produced lager and get a bit more adventurous with their supping.

I didn't need asking twice. As I read through Galletly's short, funny chapters of beer history, brewing styles, tasting strategies and so on, I sampled IPA, stout, lager, saison and bitter.

Over time, my vision became blurred and the pages became trickier to turn, but I soldiered on.

I got to the page where the writer advises beer novices to "treat each beer as you would a prospective lover", so I tried complimenting the beer out loud, laughing at all its jokes, touching my hair a lot and sucking in my belly slightly as I walked back to the bar, without telling the first beer I was seeking a second beer.

At which point, the barman decided to stop serving me.

"But I'm doing research for a column!", I protested. "Go home," he replied. So I did.

 - Stuff


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