Beers From The Edge
Wednesday, 09 September 2009 09:44

It seems there is a day, a month or even a year for every good cause at the moment.  The United Nations alone has already declared 2009 to be Year of Astronomy, Year of Natural Fibres and the Year of the Gorilla.   I tend to celebrate more idiosyncratic tributes such as ‘International Talk Like William Shatner Day’ and ‘Bacon Day’.  However, I recently discovered that September is ‘Editors and writers month.’  Being both, I am naturally delighted to be so honoured.

However, one of a beer writer’s constant frustrations when trying to push craft beer into the mainstream media is the frequent impact a journalist or editor’s pre-conceptions and prejudices can have on the final article. 

It can be as simple as the choice of pictures used to accompany positive or negative stories about alcohol.  If you look closely, negative stories usually have stock photos involving beer or RTDs while positive stories tend to use pictures featuring wine, usually in a quite sophisticated setting.

A few years ago it even got to the point where I actually wrote a letter to the editor about the topic and they actually published it.  Given that I am both under the age of 70 and in full-time employment, I am not a typical letter to the editor writer.  In this instance, I wanted to make a strong point to the Sunday Star-Times (who are by no means alone in doing this).  I wrote:

“I was disappointed with the choice of images your paper used to illustrate three alcohol-related stories last week.

For a story about the dangers of drugs and alcohol in general, both pictures showed beer alone.  There were no images of wine, spirits or drugs although they featured heavily in the article.

On the next page, your cartoon had characters labelled “beer” and “spirits” assuring people that they would still “get the kids smashed”.  A character depicting “wine” was conspicuously missing.

The only image involving wine was two young women happily enjoying a glass of red.  It accompanied a cheery story about a pub promotion to ward off the cold. 

In choosing a selection of images which basically denigrates beer and celebrates wine, the Sunday Star-Times is reinforcing a mindset that all wine consumption is sophisticated and responsible and all beer consumption is not.

That is simply not the case.  A good beer can be enjoyed in the same way as a good wine.  Equally, all forms of alcohol can unfortunately be abused by people.  It is not limited to just one category.  There is a reason people are called winos after all.”

It did not work.  A couple of weeks later they did exactly same thing again.  I wrote in again but this time my missive was not published.  The problem continues to this day but my days as a letter writer were, thankfully, over. 

In hindsight, I’m not sure why I was surprised.  I had seen a perfect example of the phenomenon in 2005 when I was head steward at the New Zealand Beer Awards.  One of my (many) roles was media liaison which meant that when the local paper made an appearance I had to explain the judging process, set up a few interviews and ensure they got some good snaps.

The journalist seemed overly pre-occupied with how many beers they judges would drink each day. Around fifty, I explained, but they would only drink around 20-30ml of each, constantly refresh their palates with water and the tasting day ran from 9am to 7pm.  In total, they would drink around 1.5 litres of beer over 14 hours with plenty of water and food.  Some of us consider 1.5 litres of beer (less than 5 bottles) to be a spirited lunch.  By my calculations, the judges could have legally driven home (though none did of course).

Naively, I assumed I had given an adequate explanation.  After all, I had worked in politics for six years so surely it would be easy to spin a story which was actually true for a change.  As it turned out, of course it wasn’t.  While the photo of the judges working in deep concentration was great, the accompanying article was tiny and dominated by a lead sentence to the effect of “swilling beer for a living isn’t easy but someone has to do it.”

Judging hundreds of beers is difficult and requires a palate more consistent and perceptive than mine. 

At the recent Brew NZ Beer Awards, 17 judges had to evaluate over 350 beers (75% more than the previous record).  There were some surprise winners and some surprise omissions.  I certainly did not expect two of my favourite breweries, Three Boys (Christchurch) and Croucher (Rotorua), to miss out on medals entirely.

Some attendees seemed surprised to see that Aotearoa Breweries picked up two bronze medals, one for their Mata Artesian (European Ale Styles) and one for Mata Manuka (Flavoured and Aged Styles). 

On reflection, that surprise is unwarranted as Aotearoa have consistently picked up medals (usually bronze and silver) in Australasian beer competitions over the last couple of years.  For the first time, Malthouse is offering the entire range from this fiesty Kawerau brewery:

Mata Artesian is a light bodied pale ale. Its subtle balance and rounded hop profile means it is perhaps more English-influenced than brash American upstart.  Made with organic water and a dash of native manuka honey, Mata Manuka is a spritzy golden beer with a late, delicate touch of honey sweetness.

There are also two special Mata releases available only while stocks last.  The first is the zesty Mata Feijoa which showcases the unique, juicy taste of real feijoa.  Finally, there is the intriguing Mata Horopito, a cloudy wheat beer edged with a hint of horopito.  It is only the second beer I know of to use horopito, New Zealand's native pepper, the other being Mac’s latest seasonal Solstice.  The brewers describe Mata Horopito as a bit of a freestyle beer – exactly what you would expect from a brewery making “beers from the edge”.

Cheers


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine

Links

Talk Like William Shatner Day - http://www.stuff.co.nz/technology/2284808/Talk-like-William-Shatner-Day
International Bacon Day - http://internationalbaconday.blogspot.com/
Brew NZ Results – http://brewersguild.org.nz/brewnz-files/Awards%20Night%20Catalogue%20copy_2.pdf
Aotearoa Breweries - http://www.mata.net.nz/
Malthouse Facebook Group - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wellington/Malthouse/7084276173
Real Beer – http://www.realbeer.co.nz/blog/blog.html
Beer and Brewer Magazine - http://www.beerandbrewer.com/