A refreshing brew-point
When we arrived in Wellington for Beervana last month, we had heard of Michael Donaldson's new book, Beer Nation, the Art & Heart of Kiwi Beer (Penguin 2012). We hadn't received any promotion of it, nor had time to pick up a copy.
We felt a bit out of touch, then, when everyone was running around getting it autographed as if the title were Beervana Yearbook 2012.
It had really struck the right chord with the beerigentsia and from our brief perusal, it seemed to be of a new mould for Kiwi beer publishing.
Michael Donaldson has won the respect of the brewing community for the quality of his columns in the Sunday Star Times, and we weren't surprised when he was named a runner-up for this year's inaugural Beer Writer of the Year Award, but clearly this book played a large part.
We've finally had a chance to take a proper tour through the book, and we are pleased to report that it isn't just a book for Beeks.
Given the way it was being used to gather signatures, plus breathless comments about how up to date it was, we initially anticipated another attempt at a complete survey of the craft beer scene. While it isn't that at all, you needn't fear that it's a dull, factual recounting of New Zealand beer history either.
What Donaldson has created is something fresh and very readable, which includes beer history and discussion of today's market. While much of the history is drawn from books we've read, he is a patently good writer, and therefore has converted that information into much more interesting linked stories.
On a number of occasions, we found ourselves reading for longer than we had intended.
His most successful strategy has been to focus on key people in the industry, and use them as focal points from section to section. We'd heard a few grumbles about important people being omitted, but now we see that it was necessary fallout from keeping a laser focus on getting the story across.
He carefully selected a cast of characters who are pivotal and well spoken and scattered their own words throughout the book.
It is intriguing that he never announces or apologises for this cunning plan. To quote the book jacket his goal is to “inform, delight and awaken your thirst for New Zealand's favourite beverage” - which never claims to be comprehensive. And yet the tone is so comfortably authoritative using quotes from undisputed experts that it's easy to assume that it must be.
That said, with over 20 years in journalism, Donaldson clearly foresaw that this well told and beautifully presented story would be far more effective in spreading the good gospel of good beer than another promptly outdated "textbook" on the subject. And this must be why it was being clutched to the breasts of a number of brewers who received no mention at all.
And thus we can wholeheartedly recommend this to the average Kiwi who couldn't be bothered to read most books on beer. As beer geeks, we might quibble a little over some details, and we might want a lot more focus on the exciting boom in big new flavours from tiny breweries. But as he quotes Luke Nicholas of Epic Brewing, “. . . but we just need more love in the market place - so many people just don't even know about it.”
If you haven't had a chance to try local-boys-in-the-big-city (and now trophy holders) Parrot Dog of Wellington, Moutere Inn has brought down a pallet of their beer – watch for a number of their oddly bird and dog-themed creations to rotate through the taps.
Sprig and Fern are implementing their own New Beer Tuesday for September, with a new seasonal coming each week. The gold medal-winning Harvest Pilsner will be followed by a fascinating series of barrel-aged beers, each bigger than the last.