2016 in Review

February 18th, 2017

It is fitting, given the apparent lack of Beer Project updates, that this “year in review” has taken until 2017 to appear. 2016 seemed like it was a bit of a slack year. Only one blog post (with photos from Greater Wellington Brew Day twelve months earlier), a Twitter account and a Facebook account created for The Beer Project that broadcast mostly radio silence, and a camera that only seems to come for a ride in my bag each to a software job that is incredibly enjoyable and challenging but zaps most of my creative energy, leaving little for fun side projects like photographing breweries.

Given this, you would expect that this review will be short. However, I have managed to photograph six breweries, only slightly below my yearly average of 6.32, plus visited two more that I hope to revisit to photograph a brew day in the near future. I have also made good progress on the first draft of a Beer Project book, to the detriment of my bar visits. My day job is going to be especially busy over the next few months and I also want to polish off the book in that time, so don’t get worried if you see even less of me out at bars over that time (and if you do see me tell me to get back to work on my book).

So let’s review the year with a photo or two from each shoot (I have the highly optimistic intention of revisiting each of these in more detail in the future but given the number of unfinished drafts on my computer I wouldn’t stake my life on it, or even bet a beer).

The first photo shoot of the year was at Tiamana Brewery in Wellington, handily only 600m from my work. Brewer Annika, originally from Berlin, shares the brewery space with Llew from Wild & Woolly, who I photographed in 2015. It was interesting visiting the same space but with different subjects using slightly different methods.

Mashing in at Tiamana Brewery.

Annika checking for a leak from the conditioning tank hatch.

July saw us in Pukekohe visiting family during the school holidays. One day I made the trek through Auckland’s horrendous morning rush-hour motorway traffic to visit Liberty Brewing in Helensville, where the brewers are masterful and photogenic.

Alan Wood emptying out the mash tun.

Joseph Wood cleaning the filter.

August saw the excellent evolution of Beervana. Opening up the whole concourse was revolutionary. I could only make it to one session and then I was caught out by that session finishing an hour earlier than I expected. Combined with bumping in to so many people to talk to I missed out on returning to my favourite stand, Craftwork. The one beer I tried was excellent and Lee-Ann and Michael have such great style.

Stands continued to exhibit innovation (Choice Bros silent disco) and creative ideas (Panhead, Eagle, Garage Project and many others).

Breaking Bad with Eagle Brewing.

McLeod’s Brewery from way up in Waipu.

Beertown.NZ writer, Martin Craig giving us the beer forecast.

Leading up to Beervana, ParrotDog ran a hugely successful crowd-funding campaign. I happened to be at the brewery enjoying the most amazing burger I’ve ever eaten (cooked up by ex-Hot Water Brewing brewer-turned-burgermeister, David Kurth – check out the Serial Griller food truck if you’re visiting Coromandel) when the Matts got a call from the Herald wanting a photo. I obliged and found later that I have an incredibly similar photo from Beervana five years before.

The young Matts. Beervana, August 2011.

The slightly-older Matts. ParrotDog Brewery, August 2016.

Reviewing old photos for my book, I rediscovered some great old square portraits. This gave me the idea to pull out my old Bronica medium format film camera for a bit of a change from my modern digital style. As I work around the corner from ParrotDog I used their brewer, Adam Laird, as a test before I headed south on a road trip. After a failed attempt where I loaded the film the wrong way (I do not miss film at all) I got a portrait I am very happy with second time around.

September was the highlight of my year. I had postponed a trip to the South Island I had planned for the previous summer after starting a new job. This year the Yeastie Boys organised a brew day at Invercargill Brewery for their shareholders (full disclosure – I have a small shareholding in Yeastie Boys (and ParrotDog), and also my partner now works for Yeastie Boys). We decided to combine a trip for the brew day with a trip to visit family in Queenstown. A comment from a colleague about the cheapness of campervans in the shoulder season saw the road trip reborn.

Steve Nally treated a small band of Yeastie Boys shareholders to some Southern Hospitality, cooking up some great meatballs on the BBQ while we pretended to help with the brewing (there was lots of pointing and asking questions, no actual work). Damon, the actual brewer did all of the hard work, while Stu took us through a tasting session, blending some barrel-aged beers with the standard range.

Damon feeds grain into the mill’s hopper.

Steve Nally rustles up a delicious lunch for the Yeastie Boys shareholders.

Yeastie Boy Stu.

My next shoot fell through due to a change of brew day so I shot through to Wanaka, where Beertown had informed me there were good things going on. I stopped in at Wanaka Beerworks/Jabberwocky. Boulton & Chip had just finished up bottling but after a chat about brewing and the good life in Wanaka, they sent me to visit Ground Up, a small new up-and-coming brewery with a climbing theme. Jules and Oli are a couple of pro climbers who have made the move from home brewing to pro brewing cautiously starting with a 100L kit. They were brewing twice a day to keep up with demand and before Christmas I heard they hit 4 brews in one day. They were lamenting not taking the plunge with a 600L kit to start with.

Wanaka Beerworks.

Oli preparing yeast. Ground Up Brewing.

Jules preparing a fermenter. Ground Up Brewing.

From there I raced off to Oamaru to meet Lee-Ann and Michael of Craftwork Brewery at the Criterion Hotel for a drink and a chat. My timing was perfect. The next day they were brewing into koelschips, flat pans left open to the air overnight to capture the local wild yeasts. The brewery was obviously put together with love as it was the most beautiful brewery I have visited. A quote from  William Morris on Michael’s bookbinding website states their guiding philosophy: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, nor believe to be beautiful.” Beautiful beers too.

I decided it was fitting with the Craftwork ethos that I not use the flash but return to my trad black and white style, but the warm and muted tones of the brewery suited colour better. Just what I need, a third style.

Lee-Ann and Michael, Craftwork Brewery, Oamaru.

Lee-Ann and Michael pouring wort into koelschips. The wort is left in these to cool overnight and be inoculated with the local wold yeasts.

In the early evening I set off, hoping to get a few kilometres closer to my next stop, Amberley, so I wouldn’t have to be up so early in the morning. I took my favourite Canterbury backroad, Scenic Route 72, stopping for a restorative cup of tea at a friend’s in Geraldine before being thwarted by fog just past Mayfield. I crawled to the nearest campsite, a lovely spot in Rakaia Gorge.

Up at 6am I made it to Amberley in time to get a V (it had been a long week) before heading to Brew Moon in time for the brew day. Head brewer Belinda Gould switched from winemaking to brewing in the early 2000s. Now she is training her son Toby, who has return from mining (and home-brewing) in Western Australia. Her husband and other son, ???, also work in the business. This day they were brewing a black IPA for Pomeroy’s 20th anniversary.

The outstanding pizzas and delicious beers make it well worth a stop as you’re driving down to Christchurch.

Belinda and Toby mashing in at Brew Moon.

Toby emptying the mash tun.

The BrewMoon bar and brewery at night.

It was such a hugely successful and fun road trip that I hope to fit in another one this year. Maybe it’s time for the north of the North.

I attended The Pacific Beer Expo in October and exhibited a few of my recent photos. I continued my streak of forgetting to take a photo of my photos on the wall. I did greatly enjoy the festival though: great beer, great weather, great venue, great people. Heaven really. 

November saw me in Christchurch for a get-together with old university friends. I had planned a spare day in the hope of photographing a brew day at Eagle but the stars did not quite align. I did get some photos of the Eagle team though.

David Gaughan, head brewer at Eagle Brewing.

The team at Eagle Brewing.

I also had an interesting and informative chat with Simon Courtenay, beer brand/label designer extraordinaire. You can blame Simon for convincing me to join Instagram: I am now slack at posting things on three social networks. Sadly I forgot to photograph Simon, but here is an old one from Beervana a few years ago (I love this shot: that was a fortuitous accident from bungled settings).

Simon and friend. Beervana 2012.

The annual last-minute rush of photoshoots for the New Zealand Beer Calendar filled my early December. Megan and Jess did a great job of organising things. Again I just had to turn up with my camera to capture the magical, the mythical, and the marginal. From sirens luring sailors with the call of craft beer, to Barley’s Angels (almost 20 years I’ve been using Photoshop and I’ve finally learnt how to use the pen tool), and an homage to the The Usual Suspects. It’s the one time of the year I get to bust out Photoshop for some ridiculous fun.

Hashigo Zake pool party.

Hashigo Zake pool party.

The joy of Christmas.

Mike from Panhead, Kieran from North End. Woodsmen.

The Usual Suspects.

Barley’s Angels.

What does 2017 have in store? That six weeks have already flown by is worrying and I have a day job deadline in two months that will involve a lot more work and energy, but I hope to be back photographing breweries in April. I promise to blog at least once more before then. 

Enjoy your beers.

P.S. some other highlights of 2016:

Favourite beer: North End Salt and Wood Blackberry and Cherry Sour. One of the special bottles that supporters of the North End Barrel Program received. Blackberry would be one of my favourite flavours and paired with one of my favourite styles of beer makes this a winner in my book.

Favourite movie: Not related to beer but pertinent to the times, The Lives of Others. A wonderfully told story of love and surveillance in 1980s East Germany. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2007. Yes, I am behind on everything. My second favourite was a New Zealand film: The Dark Horse. Cliff Curtis puts in an amazing performance as a mentally ill chess champion who starts training the local underprivileged kids of Gisborne to play chess. Based on a true story. Intense and incredible.

Greater Wellington Brewday

February 22nd, 2016

Every time I write about a beer festival I want to say it is the best one ever. Beervana, Pacific Beer Expo, X-Ale, the SOBA Winter Ales Fest: they are all immensely enjoyable, each with their own strengths and characters. Greater Wellington Brewday is no different. Sure it may have taken me twelve months to write about it but it is still fondly remembered, and by writing about it now you have time to get a ticket for this year’s festival in Martinborough on this coming Saturday, February 28th.

The formula for a great festival is simple: good beer, good food, and a pleasant environment, all of which attract good people, the most essential ingredient to any successful day out.

For Brewday, the good beer is all about Wellington. Wellington has long been the craft beer consumption capital but for many years there was a dearth of breweries. Five years ago there was only Tuatara and Peak with breweries anywhere near the capital (plus half of the Yeastie Boys were based here). Then four years ago, breweries started popping up every week. This inspired some genius to conceive of a festival to showcase the great beers from the Greater Wellington region and Brewday was born.

Somehow I missed the first two Brewdays but having heard so many good reports I finally made it along last year. I thought I had been keeping up well with the local scene but there were many new breweries there I had not come across before, or had only tried a beer or two. Tiamana, Wild & Wooly, 9 Barnyard Owls, Choice Brothers, Webb Street Brewery, Hop Hustlers. Most didn’t have breweries. Instead they were using the Occasional Brewer or sophisticated home brew setups to test the waters. Some had plans for breweries. Tiamana and Wild & Woolly now share a brewery in Mt Cook (the suburb in Wellington, not the altitudinous southern alp) and Choice Bros’ brew-pub plans are progressing while using Te Aro Brewing’s brewery for now (yet another new brewery).

Set in a paddock on the road in to Martinborough, Brewday has a great, relaxed bucolic vibe with the feel of an A&P show. Woodchopping competitions would not feel out of place (indeed as a woodchopping fan, adding wood-chopping demonstrations would be on my list of improvements, along with dog trialling).

Enjoying the Wairarapa sunshine.

The food includes plenty of great local produce. Mmmm, venison burger with beetroot relish. Paella matched with wheat beer.

Panhead Whitewall wheat beer and paella, a perfect match.

Getting to and from Martinborough is part of the adventure, for a Wellingtonian. Some people rent a house and stay the night. You can take the train to Featherstone and then a festival bus to Martinborough. Last year I got on the LBQ bus. This included many beer-lover bonuses, like a cooked breakfast and beer before leaving, a beer or two on the trip over (with a perfectly-timed toilet stop in Featherston), a goodie bag (including a croissant, lollies, and cake), a ticket to Brew Day (of course), more beer on the bus back (with a less-perfectly-timed toilet stop at Melling), then a nightcap at LBQ to top off a perfect day. Great value, both in money ($100!) and company. Sister bar Basque is running the bus this year. Check their Facebook page for availability. I highly recommend it.

If you’re in Kapiti then Tuatara and North End are putting on a bus too. No excuses. Just get there. The beer is great.

* Today’s post bought to you by the letter beer and the word “great”.

The LBQ bus to Greater Wellington Brewday.

ParrotDog Matt.

Hats and t-shirts.

Kieran Haslett-Moore from North End pouring a delicious Baby Grand.

Wild & Woolly Llew Bardecki.

Garage Project.

Martinborough Brewery

Garage Project.

Ciaran from Malthouse.

Garage Project.

Hop Hustlers and mountain bike enthusiasts.

Hop Hustlers.

Another hat.

H2O and rainbows.

Selfie with a brewer and hats. Choice Bros brewer, Kerry Gray, happily poses.

Brother Brayden from 9 Barnyard Owls.

Hats and mo.

Alex and Chris from Kereru.

RIP good guy Paul Wicksteed. Here he was helping out Aidan at the Baylands Brewery stand.

Mr Golding from Golding’s Free Dive.

The subdued bus ride home.

Diving in to 2016

January 7th, 2016

The good people from LBQ.

It is now 2016 which means that you should have a new calendar on the wall. If you’ve been paying attention you’ll be lucky enough to have a New Zealand Beer Calendar (or two!). This was the second year that Megan Whelan and Jess Ducey organised the calendar to raise money for the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network. The 2015 calendar made $15,000 to help SAPN train Wellington bar staff to identify and limit possible sexual assault. You can read about how the idea came about here.

It was a bit of a scramble to get the first calendar done, given it was conceived at the end of October. This year there should have been plenty of time. To make it an even tougher assignment Megan and Jess decided there needed to be a small NSFW calendar to complement the main calendar (and to give you something to compliment your favourite bartenders, barflies, and brewery staff with). Twice as many photos to take. Surely that would mean we would shoot them over at least two months instead of just the month of November we had last year. We had October and November available, and a bunch of talented photographers around the country.

Somehow the timing didn’t quite work out and the first Wellington shoot took place on November 17. Two hectic weeks, and seventeen shoots later, I was done. I had also more than enough naked butts for one year. Somehow we still managed to have the calendars ready earlier than last year. This year we start earlier, right Megan and Jess?

Because there are generally only one photo per month, there were many great photos that didn’t make the final calendars. This is a chance to celebrate some of those. If you like what you see then I hear there may be a few copies left. Get along and order from the Beer Calendar website now. Thanks to all who have already supported the calendar: the bars and businesses that sponsored, all the people who pledged or bought a calendar, the wonderful models – naked and clothed – (especially the LBQ crew who jumped in the harbour twice for us even though they made us promise they’d only have to jump once. I owe you all a beer), Meg the designer, all the photographers, and the printers. It’s a mission, but damn, it’s worth it.

Kerry Gray (Choice Bros.) and Llew Bardecki (Wild & Woolly) soak away a hard day of brewing. This was the first shoot and there were so many great photos we could probably make a Choice Bros/Wild & Woolly calendar.

Mike Conroy, Wellington’s most entertaining beer enthusiast has a present for you.

The Beerded Ladies.

“Yes, I do like a good handpull.”

It’s sad to realise now that this was Funk Estate’s final farewell to Wellington before their move to their own brewery in Auckland.

Blue Steel from Ted, Baz, and the rest of the crew of the Kelburn Village Pub.

More Blue Steel at Beer Without Borders.

Just a little more Blue Steel.

Kia Manawanui. The Thirsty Bitches at Bin 44.

David Wood and Van. If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.

Having starred in two naked shots already, David Wood thought the Hashigo Zake photo should be naked too.

Dom and Tasi wait to get their beards.

“Look, I wasn’t calling you bitter!” Golding’s has gone to the dogs.

Pete Gillespie reveals the secrets of a dog wrangler.

Secret rituals of the Society of the Third Eye.

I may enter this outfit into the World of Wearable Art next year. #whenPhotoshopGoesBad

Wild & Woolly Brewing

October 15th, 2015

Many breweries have popped up around Wellington in the last three years. This has been convenient for The Beer Project because I haven’t been able to get out of Wellington to photograph breweries as often as I’d like. Recently two brewers, Llew Bardecki of Wild & Woolly Brewing, and Annika Naschitzki of Tiamana Brewery, have joined forces and finances to create a shared brewery in the suburb of Mt Cook, only two hundred metres from my office. Even more convenient.

The Wild & Woolly name could be equally well inspired by it’s handsomely dishevelled owner, Llew, or his wonderfully inventive brews. A 2.5% Berlinner weisse is already an unusual style in New Zealand, but add kaffir lime leaf, lemon zest and Thai basil, then you definitely have a wild and wacky, but incredibly tasty, beer. The brewery officially launched at Hashigo Zake with a beer named Silver Cat Angry Gummy Bear White Stout, an absurd and previously non-existent concept beer invented by Dylan Jauslin in a parody post about the top 20 beers you must try before you die. Just the type of challenge Llew enjoys.

Llew has been inspired by relatively normal (and existent) beers too. Early in his home brew career Llew tasted Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black and loved it so much he decided to make a clone. It turned out pretty well. Today he was brewing that hoppy porter again. To celebrate the beer’s origin Llew is wearing a Yeastie Boys t-shirt. “An observation I’ve made, and Stu [McKinlay of the Yeastie Boys] will like this, is that brewers are like bands: they will wear t-shirts of other brewers while they work,” a particularly apt simile given most of the Yeastie Boys beers being inspired by songs.

Llew expects this brew to hit the limit of what the mash tun can comfortably hold. Mashing-in starts well but the mash temperature end up too high. Llew starts adding buckets of cold water to bring the the temperature down. The mash level gets dangerously close to the top before the temperature is close. Deft use of the mash paddle blends the cold water with the warm, and the correct temperature is reached without a drop spilt

A few weeks later I return. Llew is transferring the base beer for his Pacific Beer Expo beer into a white wine barrel for three weeks. It is a blonde ale so there is plenty of time to impart a subtle oak flavour that shouldn’t overpower the beer. It will be dry hopped with Pacifica hops and mandarin closer to the festival. As the beer is transferred Llew cleans a few kegs. Everything runs smoothly. The brewery is hosed down.

Llew is wearing his Yeastie Boys t-shirt again so we finish the night with a portrait, one to confound future beer historians.

“Long before I dance under those lights”

September 2nd, 2015

In a few weeks, after lengthy debate and analysis, representatives of the Brewers Guild of New Zealand will announce the grand champion of the of the most hotly contested, the most highly coveted, and the most revered category in the New Zealand Beer Awards: Beer Writer of the Year.

I’m sure the organisers of the New Zealand Craft Beer Calendar chose August as the month to feature beer writers especially to coincide with this momentous announcement… What’s that you say? The Brewers Guild moved the awards to September? And the Champion Brewery is the most important award? Well damn, we definitely needed some writers on the inside to craft a better ending to this story.

Beer writing is one of the world’s most competitive blood sports so it was only natural to pose the writers in a contrasting setting, the sedate environs of the boxing ring. Eight of Wellington’s best beer writers gathered at Gloves Boxing Gym and took turns pummelling each other with puns, punching with palindromes, sparring with spoonerisms, counter-punching with counterpoints, sucker punching with similes, parrying with portmanteaus, fighting with foreshadowing, left hooks with deft books, and low blows of litotes. The setting lent itself to plenty of drama, at least it appears that way in the few shots where none of the writers are laughing.

And the contenders were:

In the black corner, winner of the inaugural Beer Writer of the Year award, representing the intersection of beer lovers and critical thinkers, Phil Cook, writer of The Beer Diary.

In the white corner, beer writer for Fishhead magazine, writer of the article that marked the Genesis of The Beer Project, Hadyn Green.

The referee: if beer writing ever loses its appeal to Denise Garland then the array of fantastic poses she pulled for this shoot indicate acting could be a good option. Check out her blog A Girl and Her Pint. I have also just realised that she is mentioned as a “journalism student” in Hadyn’s piece above.

The sparring partner: bar manager extraordinaire and writer of the fabulously witty, sometimes scathing, and always entertaining The Bottleneck, Dylan Jauslin.

The bookie: the almost-ex-beer-writer-because-now-he’s-busy-setting-up-a-brewery, writer of Beer From the Motherland (last updated in 2013) an now the writer of the North End brewery blog, Kieran Haslett-Moore.

The gambler and the journalist: the beer writers who have the unfair advantage of being actual trained journalists, Michael Forbes and Shane Cowlishaw, writers of the Beerhive Blog

The trainer: The perfect straight man to Phil Cook on their Beer Diary Podcast, George Langlands. Does he write? Well, he definitely tweets a bit, sometimes about beer, but the best bits are the daily photos of his puppy, Zola.

Good luck to all of the writers who have entered for the Beer Writer of the Year Award. It feels that, much like the beer itself, the overall standard of beer writing in New Zealand is on the rise. Long may you all fight on.

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” – Muhammad Ali