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.

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