Last night I wrote a rather angry post about a New Zealand craft brewery (well, more specifically, their marketing team). On reflection I decided not to post it – first, because it would merely give their advertising tactics more publicity, and second, I didn’t feel it was in my style. I would rather be positively contributing to our burgeoning craft beer scene. So I stepped away from my computer and went downstairs for a beer.

Once downstairs, I somehow ended up attempting to explain to my flatmate Shelley how beer is made and how brewers give it different flavours. Now, I have a fairly good grasp on how beer is made and an even better handle on the English language. But it was like trying to explain how to tie shoelaces without using your hands or a pair of shoelaces. Shelley is a wine drinker and on the very rare occasions when she drinks beer, it’ll be something mainstream (I think that’s why there’s an Export 33 in our fridge).

Some concepts were easy to explain. Mashing, for example, is a fairly easy one – the brewer mills his malted barley, breaking the grain open so the sugars can be released when they are soaked in hot water, providing sustenance for the yeast. The use of hops for both bittering and aroma was also fairly uncomplicated, using Kelly Ryan’s analogy that hops are to brewers what spices are to cooks.

A bit more technically challenging to explain why different beers have different ABVs. There’s a lot of processes and concepts built into this – starting gravities, attenuation, strains of yeast and what not – and to be honest, I’ve only got a handle on it myself very recently. But I think we got there in the end.

Where it completely – and surprisingly – fell apart was beer styles. Shelley has only ever tried NZ Lagers and Guinness. I think this is probably the extent of many non-craft-beer-drinkers experience and I would liken it to a person having tried only two types of cheese – colby and edam. The sheer variety outside of either of these two is almost impossible to explain. And it’s probably one of those instances where you shouldn’t be explaining, but showing instead – sitting down with half a dozen different styles, so you’ve got examples at hand. Because really, it’s much easy to show someone how to tie their shoelaces by demonstrating on a pair of shoelaces.

All in all though, I felt the conversation went well: we’ve decided to have a flat beer-tasting session. And it was a much more productive way of promoting New Zealand craft beer than slagging off some marketing team.

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