The Origins of The Beer Project

January 19th, 2011

Let me get 2011 started by telling you a bit about The Beer Project, which I don’t think I’ve ever explained.

What is The Beer Project? It is my attempt to document photographically the thriving craft beer industry of New Zealand. The passionate brewers driven to create beers with unique and interesting flavors, in styles that most New Zealanders have never encountered. The bars who have faith that their customers will enjoy these new, tasty brews. The events that get people excited about interesting beer. And the drinkers themselves, who have happily discovered that there is more to beer than New Zealand draughts and “international” lagers.

The Beer Project began accidentally in February, 2009, when friend and writer, Hadyn Green asked me to accompany him to the New Zealand Beer Festival at Waitangi Park to take photographs to illustrate his story. Five films shot in ascending states of drunkenness resulted in some of the best photographs I had ever taken. This got me thinking. I loved beer. I loved photography. Why had I never thought of combining the two before?
Mudslide
Revellers at the 2009 New Zealand Beer Festival, Waitangi Park, Wellington

While mulling over this question I was contacted by Stu McKinlay, one half of the Yeasties Boys, to compliment me on my photos from the beer festival. Sensing an opportunity I told him my idea for a long-term project about New Zealand beer culture. He was intrigued and chatting to him via email and over a few beers at Bar Edward he helped me refine and focus my ideas. I decided to start with the brewers, visit them one-by-one, photograph them at work, and slowly build a body of work. Evolve the project as I went along. I soon realised Stu was the perfect man to have on my side: starting as a perfect first subject, then as an ass-kicker, pushing me along when I was too slack to make progress. Stu became the bearded poster boy patron saint of the Beer Project.
Beardy Stu
Stu McKinlay of the Yeastie Boys

I started with the plan to visit a brewery every two weeks on average. Progress has been slower than planned, averaging only one brewery a month (somewhat slower than NZCraftTV’s awesome trip that starts today), but I have impressed myself by not giving up. Of course loving beer really helps. The plan is to publish a book this year but unless I win Lotto so I can spend a month traveling around the remaining breweries, it may just be Volume One in a continuing series.

New Zealanders have always been big beer drinkers but now it seems that our palettes have matured. We have added culture to beer. It is an exciting time and one that I enjoy being a part of, both as a drinker and a photographer. So join me as I attempt to capture the evolution of craft beer culture in New Zealand. It’s more that just beer and beards.

Who is The Beer Project? I am Jed Soane, a photographer and software developer from Wellington, New Zealand. You can see more of my photography on Flickr. You can contact me at jed@thebeerproject.com, follow me on Twitter, or buy me a beer at one of Wellington’s many fine beer establishments.


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