Last Thursday I visited the Lion Nathan brewery in Otara with a dozen other SOBAites. It was amazing, a true monument to efficiency, technology and the sheer amount of beer you can bottle in an hour (150,00 bottles p/h).

The Packaging Room. Photo: Barry Hannah

First stop was the packaging room, a ridiculously large room where bottled and canned beer whizzed around on conveyor belts. A very cool area with two robotic arms arranged boxes of cans into the perfect formation so it would fall into place on a pallet. I don’t even want to know how long it took to set up that particular machine. The whole system was just so efficient, things moving to the correct place at the correct time, looking so effortless.

Bottom of the auter. Photo: Barry Hannah

The brewing area was mind-blowing because of it’s sheer size. The lauter wouldn’t fit in my bedroom. The mush tun, kettle and whirlpool were only slightly smaller, still large enough for me and half a dozen friends to have a beery spa in. We nearly lost half of the SOBAites in the chiller where the hops are kept and our tour guide had to pop back and get them. He was trusting enough not to pat any of them down.

Outside with the fermenters, I started to have second thoughts about the wondrousness of it all. Out here it was cold, dark and kind of a creepy, with large fermenters hanging above a multitude of pipes and lots of small green lights. I could very easily imagine the climax of a horror movie being based here, bad guys popping up from behind pipes while the green lights reflected off the face of the heroine. It pulled me out of the ‘oh wow it’s all big and shiny’ stupor and I started to think.

Fermenters. Photo: Barry Hannah

The best analogy I can come up with is socks. Hand-knitted socks are the most comfortable and warm socks you can possess. I also have a stock of mass-produced, store-bought ones, but they’re boring, and they don’t work as well. That said, there is something positive about being able to create thousands of socks or beer that are identical. You know when you buy a bottle of Mac’s Gold exactly what you are going to get, which is something you can’t guarantee with the smaller batched craft beer. Similarly, sometimes my left sock turns out different from may right sock.

Both mainstream beer and mass-produced socks have their place in the world and I’d go as far as saying both are necessary for life as many people know it. But I’d rather be a smug weirdo and sit here in my handmade socks, drinking craft beer.

Big thanks to Barry Hannah for the photos. 

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