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2016 in Review

Saturday, 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.

“Long before I dance under those lights”

Wednesday, 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

A Short Road to Beeervana

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

Beervana is only one sleep away. This post was meant to appear a week ago to slowly ease you into this week’s events, a Pacific ale to make you realise how thirsty you really were, but now there is only time to throw an imperial IPA in your face before force-feeding you an iStout ice cream float. Go get a ticket to Beervana now, if you haven’t already. Quick, before I feel the need to break out the sours.

I recommend getting the Beervana app to help you get the most out of the festival. I am a little biased here. My day job is leading the mobile development team at Powershop and we were responsible for putting the app together. In our spare time we knocked off some of the rough edges from last year’s version of the app and even added a cool new feature: Untappd integration, which will save you badge-loving freaks the the drudgery of double-entering your reviews. And, of course, make a wish list of all the beers you want to try so you don’t forget them by the end of the session. Enjoy!

The Beervana 2015 app for iOS and Android.

Now, to get to the point before Beervana 2016 gets here, here are a few of my favourite photos from Beervana last year (if you just want to see even more you can just go straight here).

Pete Gillespie of Garage Project mixes some beer ice cream using liquid nitrogen.

Denise Ratfield (Pink Boots San Diego coordinator), Tracy Banner (head brewer at Sprig & Fern) and Ava Wilson, the brewer behind The Beer Baroness, at the Pink Boots Society Bar.

It was cold at Westpac Stadium for Beervana 2014. Ski gear was a good call.

Cassels & Sons’ bar.

Sean Burke from the Commons Brewery in Portland.

Joe Wood, head brewer at Liberty Brewing.

Kieran Haslett-Moore, head brewer at North End Brewery.

Some very serious drinkers.

A maniacal brewer. Dylan Shearer from Funk Estate.

Dylan Jauslin, of The Bottleneck fame, wearing a great jacket, talking to SOBA president David Wood.

Love is all you need. And beer. And possibly some dumplings.

If you want to see even more here you go. Make sure you say hi if you see me at Beervana. I’ll be the one with a beer in one hand and a camera in the other.

Hawkes Bay Brewers

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Beer and mandarins.

Life at The Beer Project has been pretty intense in the last few months, by my laid-back standards at least. I have been chipping away at something that I have been putting off for a long time. It is something that doesn’t come easily to me but I am determined to get it done. Many beers have been sacrificed along the way to keep me going and my sanity has been preserved by attending few good beery events.

One event I was very disappointed to miss was the Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge. In a highly uncharacteristic bout of organisation, I had booked a family trip to the Hawkes Bay to visit relatives for the last few days of the school holidays. Although I was disappointed when I realised I would miss catching up with friends at Malthouse’s big night, it was OK because I had exciting Beer Project work to do.

Whenever I go on holiday I try to photograph a brewery to add to my collection. I knew there were two or three in Hawkes Bay but when I did a bit more research I was pleasantly surprised to discover seven breweries. After a few emails trying to line up two of them to photograph, I ended up with five visits planned over three days. I’ll cover each brewery here separately over the next few weeks but for now I’ll give you a quick overview.

Zeelandt (pronounced Zay-land)
Big IPAs and extreme beers don’t interest Chris Barber. He brews a solid range of European-inspired beers, all subtle and well-balanced.

John, the assistant brewer, checking the bottling machine.

Chris Barber, owner and head brewer of Zeelandt Brewery.

Roosters
Hawkes Bay’s original brewery bar. I remember occasionally seeing Roosters Dark at Regional Wines and Spirits in Wellington a few years ago, but 90% of their beer is served at their bar.

Darryl Tong, head brewer at Roosters.

Darryl Tong, head brewer at Roosters.

Brave Brewing
Matt Smith was Champion Brewer at the SOBA National Home Brew Competition in 2013. This was enough to convince him to go commercial. He now has a 300L brewery in his garage and has just quit his day job to commit himself to brewing full-time.

Matt weighs grain for the brew.

Matt mixes the yeast in the fermenter on his trial batch of an oatmeal stout.

Matt Smith, owner and head brewer at Brave Brewing.

Giant Brewing Co.
A very small operation brewing on a 50L Farra system with the odd batch contract-brewed at Roosters. I love their logo and labels.

Chris Ormond caps a bottle of Giant beer.

Chris Ormond labels a beer.

Godsown
An engineer with a dream. Godfrey was working in Nigeria when the government started blocking beer imports. This led him to start home brewing. Now he and his wife Rachel are close to opening a brewery in Maraekakaho.

Godfrey Quemeneur, co-owner and brewer at Godsown Brewery.

Revenge of the Fifth

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Beer is love, even for those fighting for the Empire.