From Drinker to Brewer
“Hey, do you want to share this with me?”
I was at The Fish on Friday night, sipping on a pint of Mac’s Sassy Red I had carried over from The Celtic Inn. If you were anywhere near the Regent Arcade in Palmerston North this past Friday night, you would know why I sought out the relative serenity of the cocktail bar instead of staying at the Irish-themed boozer. I’m not saying I hate bagpipes, but there are only so many times I can put up with a drone going off in my ear before I contract sub-bass tinnitus for the next month.
Anyway. I am sitting at the bar chatting to the barman about the random selection of United States-import beers his boss recently purchased, when I spot Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude in the fridge. Infamous for its divisiveness, the man responsible for its inception, Stu McKinlay, got hate mail when he released the peat monster on an unsuspecting public.
“Hey, do you want to share this with me?”
The barman pulls a bottle of Rex from the fridge. Turns out the bar just got a case of it in, and he needs to know what it tastes like so he can sell it to people. It is 7 per cent, but I’m walking. Also, I do not have to pay for it.
There has been an article doing the rounds on social media this past week which has been very well received.
This piece by Andy Crouch, excellently written and researched, is well worth your time.
But if it seems a bit TL;DR, here is the summary: Jim Koch - founder of Boston Beer Company and Samuel Adams, craft beer’s first billionaire, and one of the pivotal figures in the craft beer renaissance in the United States - is angry because people are not stocking his beer. That is happening not because the beer is bad, but because he makes more beer than you could imagine, his brand is no longer new, and his range has not kept pace with drinker's changing preferences.
British beer writer Peter Brown has excellently expressed his opinion on the situation - and you all should read it, and more of his work, because his writing is stunning - but my mind wandered down a different path.
New Zealand’s craft beer scene is not as mature as the United States’. I have heard various people say we are anywhere from five years to a decade behind. But there is already a beer brand here that many craft beer drinkers will not touch anymore. It is either too common, too ‘‘big business’’ or too bland: Mac’s.
Learning how to drive was the most formative part of my beer education.
I know that sounds odd, but hear me out.
My dad taught me how to drive. He sent me around Wellington’s narrow hilly streets in a SUV. You don’t know panic until you’re driving up Pirie St and bus is heading downhill and refusing to give way to you, a jelly mess with less than 10 hours driving time in your book. Add in your father holding on for dear life while muttering expletives into the footwell, and it is enough to drive anyone to drink.
After all-too-regular moments like that, it was only right we stopped by either Regional Wines and Spirits, New World Island Bay or New World Thorndon to pick up a few cold ones for a debrief.
And while we sampled almost every style of beer known to man during the multiple debriefs we had, there was one that never featured - wheat beer.
For such a young country - young in European terms, that is - New Zealand’s drinking habits have been through a hell of a lot of changes.
From being a dry country (there are no records of Maori drinking alcohol prior to European settlement), we went through a period of massive growth of beer consumption.
Then the ‘‘binge drinking’’ culture emerged, typified in the six o’clock swill. Men packed into bars like sardines, sculling beer from jugs and small glasses, with barmen distributing the insipid drink known as New Zealand draught from hoses.
Then, despite the deregulation of the market and aggressive pricing by supermarkets and alco-pop dealers, alcohol consumption fell.
In less than a week, the way New Zealander’s drink will once again change.
The shrinking world we inhabit, with goods and information forever becoming easier to get from elsewhere, means the relationship between where we live and what we do is as irrelevant as ever.
It’s like that old cliché – the car is from Japan, my work shoes are from Italy, I play drums from the United States, listen to music by an Australian band, and the Indians who own the local fish ‘n’ chip shop (a British institution) down the road offer Chinese dishes.
If you ever want to have a fleeting experience of another culture, you can walk down the road and get a curry, or watch a movie online, or turn on the Discovery Channel and get your fix.
Beer is in the same boat. Go to the bottle shop and labels disclose the origin of many beers; Scotland, the United States and England are represented in most craft beer sections in New Zealand bottle stores these days.
Tasting those beers has, naturally, influenced how brewers here operate. Luke Nicholas of Epic is a prime example. He built his brand on the back of the highly hopped American-style IPAs that he loves to drink.
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