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September 2011

Beer and Rugby

For better or worse, beer and rugby are intrinsically linked in New Zealand. The money from beer sponsorship has kept many a small club alive, but has also contributed to the culture of binge drinking after games, including the infamous court sessions. This mix of big breweries and mass-swelling means the beer of choice for many beer fans is some insipid, sweet lager – it’s also usually the only thing on offer at the ground or sports bar.

Originally I thought the Rugby World Cup was shaping up to be more of the same. With Heineken’s purchase of the beer sponsorship and the draconian measures of MEMA, the only beer to be consumed or spoken of at the games was the terrible Dutch lager. Outside of the games, Steinlager’s  tv ad, which rather cleverly side-stepped the conditions of MEMA, was the talk of the town – and unfortunately seems to have worked. The day of the opening ceremony I happened to be in the beer aisle at the supermarket, where a dad was loading boxes of the nostalgic white cans into his trolley. ‘This is all Daddy’s going to be drinking for the entirety of the World Cup,’ he proudly informed his young son who was also in the trolley.  I hate to think in how many other supermarkets this scene took place.

But none of this is new really; what is new is that while this is still the norm, there is now alternatives. We no longer have to drink rubbish beer while we watch the rugby. I spent the NZ vs Japan match quite enjoyably at Galbraiths Ale House, made more so by the company, beer (Yeastie Boys Lady Marmalade and a Bob’s) and that they had chosen to turn off the commentary.* Galbraiths has actually gone DB-free and therefore there’s not a bottle of Heineken to be found in the place. The wonderful Ireland vs Australia game was spent at a mate’s, drinking Croucher Pilsner and Emerson’s Clam Stout. Last Saturday, I watched the All Blacks thrash Japan at the SkySport Grill who have twelve craft beers on tap.** We now have choice – not between different types of flavourless lager, but between many different beers and even different venues. Aucklanders can enjoyed a chilled-out pint of Bob’s, roar with the crowd at SkySport Grill with a Tuatara Helles in hand or stock up the fridge at home for a cozy night in watching the men in black.

Of course this isn’t the case everywhere – my Dad is still without a craft beer tap anywhere in his home town of New Plymouth. But by the next World Cup, thing might have changed – maybe even New Plymouth will have a craft beer bar where you can watch our national team with a truly nationalistic beer in hand – made in New Zealand, owned by New Zealanders and even New Zealand-styled.

* I loathe professional rugby commentary. It’s basically just a pile of clichés strung together and they’re too damn polite. My mates are generally more entertaining and make more sense. My only exception is the great guys on the Maori channel who make very little attempt to be neutral and say wonderful things like ‘Aw, cuz, what did you do that for?’

**Admittedly, this was the only good thing about the Grill – there weren’t enough staff or toilets and none of the seats seemed to face any of the screens.

Win Fudge! Help Auckland craft beer drinkers!

I’m expanding the beer directory part of this website. I’m currently working my way through the craft beer on tap venues, writing reviews and taking photos. I’d also like to have a directory of which on-license premises (be they bars, cafes or restaurants) have bottles of craft beer. I’m not going to review all of these, but I think it would be a good resource to have.

Auckland is big though and I need your help, which is why I’ve set up a competition – email me the name and address of three venues in the super city region that stock craft beer bottles (but don’t have craft beer on tap) and you’ll go in the draw to win a batch of delicious homemade fudge. It’s not much a prize, but you can also be smug in the knowledge that you’ve helped craft beer drinkers all over Auckland – and I’ll let you choose between Russian and chocolate fudge.

Send through your entries to rosalindaymes@gmail.com. Entries close Monday 26th September at five pm. You can enter as many times as you like, so long as you name three different outlets each time.

Restaurants & Craft Beer: A Case Study

Recently my sister Emma and her fiancée Josh bought out the other half of the restaurant that Josh is a chef at. Feast, as its called, is a good wee restaurant and I’m not just saying that out of family loyalty: it was listed in Cuisine magazine’s 150 restaurants to try and received a great write-up in Fashion Quarterly. They already had a couple of craft beers, but Josh wanted to expand the range. As Em has taken over the front-of-house duties and was re-evaluating everything from the artwork to the fridges, it fell to her to investigate their options.

First she went local. As they are in Cromwell, they tried the Arrow Brewing Company beers and quite liked them. Stocking local beers something I’d really like to see more restaurants consider. Yes, Auckland restaurants often serve local brews – Lion’s brewery is, after all, located in Otara, while DB is not far away in Otahuhu. But it would be good to see great local beer on the same level of importance that local wine and food is given. An oft complaint of my Dad’s is eating out in Blenheim, being offered a dozen wines produced within a 50k radius but not a single one of the great local brews. I’d even extend ‘local’ to ‘Made in NZ’; how frustrating is it to be offered Heineken and Carlsburg next to a New Zealand wine ?

When trying the beers from Arrow, Em and Josh came up against another issue: 500ml bottles. I gather Josh originally thought 500ml bottles would be too big, but after the two of them went out to dinner and shared a bottle, he revised this opinion. This is also another thing I wish more restaurant decision makers would do: actually try things. Personally, I really like sharing a bottle of 500ml over a main – after all, don’t many people order an entire 750ml bottle of wine? And more importantly, how can you know the answer if you haven’t tried it?

So far, my sister was going about selecting her craft beers is a rather sensible manner. Then Dad and I got involved. It started with an email from Dad, saying he knew they were thinking of local beers for Feast, but Hawkes Bay Independent Brewery do a range in classy 330ml bottles, especially for the restaurant market. ‘I know your sister will say ‘aaargh green bottles’,’ he wrote, ‘but they are really good beers’. To which I predictably said ‘aaargh green bottles’ and accused Dad of being superficial about beer labels.* Em, with her FoH hat on, admitted while I might be right about Dad, but ‘we need to think about it ‘cos our beers are on display and people pick with their eyes sometimes.’ She’s right of course; beer labels do need to be attractive and recognisable. But I think I’m right as well: you don’t want to reward someone for trying a new beer with a skunky mess.  In many cases though, I don’t think this will be a problem; New Zealand craft beer labels are generally very attractive and consistency is rising.

Then, much to my disgust, my darling sister attempted to sell me her leftover Moa Methode. She’s got nothing against the beer’s taste or their horrid advertising – she simply hates pouring the bottle-fermented beer that delights in frothing over. She can do it – she is after all, an experienced hospo worker. But newer or less experienced staff can’t. Bottle-fermented beer is a more extreme case, but it is important for staff to have a reasonable knowledge of which beer glass to use, how to best pour that beer and even simply knowing which beers the restaurant has to offer.

The point of this rather rambling post is not what restaurant should be doing – I’m in no way qualified to offer such an opinion. Instead I hope to offer what they could be thinking about and what questions they should be considering – more importantly, that they should be considering craft beer. I’m quite proud that my sister and future brother-in-law are giving craft beer a proper go in their restaurant and happy that they feel there’s a demand for it in small town New Zealand.

If you’d like to check out Feast, they’re located in Shop 7, The Mall, Cromwell, open Tuesday to Saturday.

* He’s still yet to try any Green Man beers, simply because he doesn’t like the labels.

NZ Media Finally Realise Craft Beer is Cool

 

It’s finally happened: the New Zealand media have realised that craft beer is cool. Two lifestyle magazines currently on the shelves have articles about craft beer. The first is Good magazine, promoter of all things green and ‘good’ with their large five page feature on craft beer . Under the intriguing descriptor ‘Slow Drinks’ the articles covers New Zealand craft beer from A for ‘Ale or Lager?’ to Z for Zymology and informs readers about ingredients, beer styles and the best available brews on the market.

The second magazine is Metro, with Paul Tudor’s ‘The Beer Drinker’s First XV’ article. Metro’s main focus is what’s hot in Auckland (namely motorways, house prices and schools), so the in-depth one page article came as a pleasant surprise and hopefully a sign of craft beer’s rising status in the big smoke. Even more pleasing was the focus on where you can buy these great beers in Auckland – finding craft beer in Auckland is not a always an easy task and Tudor’s article listed several outlets I’ve not yet tried. Hopefully Auckland’s eateries take note and next year’s Metro Top 50 Restaurants will feature places with good beer.

In addition to these one-off features, Dish magazine continues to comment on New Zealand’s ‘kick-arse craft beer scene’ (their words). The ‘By The Glass’ section regularly contains beer news and reviews, while Kiwi craft brews often feature in their matching recommen-dations for the recipes. I imagine this focus will continue while Victoria Wells is editor, after her success with Epic Brewing in taking top honours in the Beervana Head-to-Head Media Brew with their collaboration coffee-fig stout.

Another regular feature is Michael Donaldson’s column in the Sunday Star Times. His most recent column featured a rebuttal against Don Kavanagh’s statement in the NZ Herald that New Zealand beers are becoming unbalanced and over-hopped.  While Kavanagh argued that ‘excessive alcohol and excessive hops make beer less drinkable’, Donaldson championed having a broad range of beers available, saying ‘If a brewer wants to pack in hops like a shopaholic in Milan, then so be it’. I’m not about to enter that debate here (although you can guess on which side I’ll be), but I will use the debate as an illustration of something that greatly excites me: the Kiwi media are passionately discussing craft beer. They have some knowledge and plenty of opinion and I think that’s a healthy sign craft beer is becoming more commonplace in New Zealand.

The best thing about these articles, regular features and debates is the timing; this coverage will be in airport book shops, cafes and stores during the Rugby World Cup, just waiting for overseas tourists to pick up and look at. Hopefully some of these visitors will see past the suffocating Heineken advertising that’s blotting our cityscapes and realise we’ve got some amazing beers here. And who knows – maybe even more Kiwis will notice as well!

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