Ultimate guide a bit of a fizzer
This column is a bit of a change for us, since it is a review of two books we have been reading in the past month. One covers the current sate of affairs, and the other provides an illuminating look back.
We were honestly thrilled to hear last year that Beer and Brewer magazine was going to publish a complete guide to Australian and New Zealand beers and breweries. It's been a heck of a long time since any such thing has been tried, and the scene has changed so much that nothing really begins to cover the current New Zealand beer world.
On getting our copy of The Ultimate Beer Guide, we immediately flipped to the New Zealand section, and were a bit crestfallen – bewildered, dismayed, and then just simply amazed that a product feeling so incomplete could be published under this title.
Which is not to say it's worthless. It is the only thing like it on the New Zealand market right now, and most of the information is accurate. It looks and feels nice. It's a stake in the ground, proclaiming that there is a range of craft beer in this country, and it is possible to travel the country with a focus on finding these products. We just worry that an experienced beer tourist from overseas might give up in frustration after a few days of trying to use this as a guide in that endeavour.
This book sadly has made no attempt to conform to that travel guide convention. The New Zealand regions leap around unpredictably, and the stories within them are often not arranged into a path a traveller could follow.
The good writing, good photos, and many good breweries included are discredited by the omissions, errors, maps and contradictions that are also present. For example, it's pretty obvious the Top of the South writer would have quickly corrected the severe misplacement on the map of Townshend and Monkey Wizard breweries had they been asked to proof it.
We have heard one person refer to the book as an annual, and if indeed it is being updated as of now, then we still have hope it can be the useful tool it intends.
Adventures in Beer: the Search for a Half Decent Pint in New Zealand is a self-published compendium of Bruce Holloway's beer columns written from 1998 until he stopped writing for Fairfax Media in 2011. He has had a small print run done, but is mostly promoting the Kindle version for download from Amazon.com.
The introduction makes clear that the book is not supposed to be written for people like us (beer nerds of the worst kind). He is writing from the drinker's perspective. And while each column may try to stick to an average guy's pursuit of good beer, the book is a goldmine.
First, we have been in the New Zealand beer scene for only about five years, so this holds a wealth of popular history. Bruce's journey over time through the columns does an excellent job of illustrating change in the industry.
The content of his pieces also progresses from general knowledge to very specific style critiques. As much as he doesn't want to be a geek, you can see that it has happened to him anyway. We believe that's a concentration of what's happening to the general population as well. While not all of our readers are geeks, people are more aware of the variety of options available.
Unlike Beer and Brewer's Ultimate Beer Guide, this book is not particularly pretty. It has no photos, and the layout is quite unremarkable. But also, unlike the Ultimate Guide, it did not disappoint us. It contains exactly what it promises.
Overall, we are glad Bruce pulled his column collection together, and can recommend it to anyone who wants a random wander through the modern history of beer in New Zealand. It's not going to serve as an ultimate reference guide, but that was never its intention.