Great Beer Epiphanies 1: Michael Donaldson and Brayden Rawlinson
Tuesday, 28 August 2012 17:31

Being an old-school sort of writer, my beer library contains a number of actual proper books, rather than just long lists of useful internet links.  The latest addition to my collection is “Beer Nation: The Art and Heart of Kiwi Beer” by Michael Donaldson (Penguin, July 2012, $44.95).  This sizable but well-written tome is a valuable new resource for anyone with any interest in the New Zealand beer scene – past, present and future.

One day recently, the Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scottish Malthouse Proprietor Colin Mallon was pottering around at his crepuscular workstation when he heard the dulcet tones of Michael Donaldson being interviewed on Radio New Zealand by my close (Facebook) friend Jim Mora. [1] Colin was particularly taken with Michael’s beer discovery tales. 

As Michael tells the story, he had his first beer – probably a Double Brown or Lion Brown - in the summer of 1979.  Perhaps understandably, he did not like the taste so by summer’s end he was a bourbon and coke drinker. [2] Years later, he went to Leuven in Belgian and learned that beer could taste different, but he says that lesson did not really stay with him.  He became a Speight’s man, revelling in its famous reputation of bitterness. 

In “Beer Nation” he charts his gradual change from brand loyalty to beer geekiness.  Michael writes:

“My salvation lay in a return to New Zealand in 2005 – back to a beer culture that had changed dramatically.  It was January and my brother handed me a Monteith’s Summer Ale (5%). Hello, this is different!  I probably wouldn’t drink it now but back then it was another step towards the realisation that I’d first had in Belgium ten years earlier: as much as I had once loved Speight’s, there more to beer than 4% brown lager.  My intermediate steps were courtesy of Mac’s Hop Rocker (5%), Monteith’s Winter Ale (5%)… 

But I took a fork in the road one Christmas Eve at the Martinborough Hotel, where Emerson’s Pilsner (4.9%) was on tap.  To say it was a religious epiphany is a bit extreme, but it was a revelation.  All the small steps that had taken me to this place seemed suddenly like a giant stride.  That sudsy, fruity, tangy, fragrantly hopped and very moreish pilsner consumed in the heart of wine country was transformative… I’d crossed the line and had become a beer geek.”

Unlike Mr Donaldson, I embrace the word “epiphany” [3].  Loyal readers, many attendees at my beer tastings and even random people I have met in the supermarket are probably familiar with my beer epiphany moment – it was a glass of Pink Elephant Mammoth (6.5%) on the balcony of the old Malthouse when I should have been in a Philosophy lecture. 

While I was more than happy to endless re-tell this thrilling rollercoaster of a beer anecdote, Colin suggested that I approach some figures in the local beer scene and capture their beer epiphanies.  Their brief was to describe "the moment when you discovered craft beer, or went from a mainstream drinker to a craft beer drinker.  We are looking for a story and the beers that changed you."  To date, four have kindly agreed.

The first to do to reply was Brayden Rawlinson, a home brewer, an aspiring brewer and a fixture on the Wellington craft beer scene.  He was typically straight to the point:

“Two words:  Tuatara Ardennes (6.5%).  This is the beer that changed my life.  Every craft beer drinker should remember the beer that served as the buffer between the good (craft) and the bad (the rest) beer drinking stages of their lives.  For me, the stalwart Tuatara Ardennes was it.

So there I was - standing in front of the beer section at Kapiti Pak’nSave with a vacant expression on my face - staring longingly into the fridge in some kind of hedonistic trance, as was quite often the case on a Friday night.  "What'll it be tonight, Brayden?" the voice inside me said.  "The usual, or do we dare probe into the world of craft beer and give one of these Tuatara's a try?  Say, isn't that a type of lizard?" [4] I grabbed the six pack of Ardennes.

I arrived home from my escapade and a thought suddenly occurred to me: I might as well go the whole nine yards and pour this bad boy into a glass as well.  I popped off the cap and proceeded to pour it.  The bubbles sang to me as the golden liquid filled the glass.  I inhaled deeply and took a sip of what was my very first craft beer.  I took another sip and set the glass down, somewhat confused and I remember thinking to myself at this point in time: "If this is beer, then what the f$@% have I been drinking?!"

Ever since that fateful night I have endeavoured to drink any, and only, craft beer - I even started a group on Facebook called 'Beer Diary', which was set up originally so I could keep track of which craft beers I had drank.  Now Beer Diary is basically an amateur beer review group of over 200 people, and I encourage others to join up and get reviewing!

If you are a regular at any of the numerous craft beer associated events that go on around Wellington, such as Beervana and the Pacific Beer Expo, you have almost certainly come in contact with me one way or another.  I probably either poured you a beer or had a yarn to you about it.  Wellington is a vibrant and exciting place to be in the craft beer world at the moment, and from here it can only get better.

As well as volunteering for just about every beer related thing that I can, I also dabble in the art of home brewing.  I have brewed beer since studying organic chemistry in 6th form at College [5], but only recently have I started taking it a bit more seriously.  I would love nothing more than to turn my love of beer into a profession.  Recently, at the conclusion of Beervana this year I thought to myself why not take it to the next level?  Thus, Ninebarnyardowls was born - watch this space.  Search and like Ninebarnyardowls on Facebook to keep up to date with me and my dream.”

The link to Ninebarnyardowls and the Beer Diary is helpfully provided below.  In the second instalment of ‘Great Beer Epiphanies’, we should be featuring two professional brewers and a man who is such a regular at Malthouse that the Wellington City Council considers him an integral feature in the structural integrity of 48 Courtenay Place.

Next time, we drink “prohibitively expensive”, “haughty” and “petulant” craft beers. [6]

[1] Or “Mr Mora” as I affectionately call him.

[2] This is quite remarkable as the mainstream media would have you believe the concept of mixing bourbon with coke was only invented by evil RTD companies in 1999.

[3] Even if my spell checker does not.

[4] “The tuatara is a reptile endemic to New Zealand which, though it resembles most lizards, is actually part of a distinct lineage, order Rhynchocephalia” - from Wikipedia so it must be true.

[5] Mr Rawlinson must have shown exceptional willpower to hold onto all that homebrewed beer until he turned 18 years of age and could legally drink them.

[6] Matt Rilkoff’s Taranaki Daily News review of Tiger lager coined these descriptors while making a determined bid for “Worst Beer Article of 2012.” 

Cheers

Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine

Links

Michael Donaldson on Radio New Zealand - http://tinyurl.com/8vcrmra
Brayden’s Ninebarnyardowls on Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/ninebarnyardowls2012
Brayden’s Beer Diary on Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/groups/300777766618055/
Monteith’s Brewing – http://monteiths.co.nz/
Mac’s Brewing - http://www.macs.co.nz
Emerson’s Brewing Company - http://www.emersons.co.nz/
Tuatara Brewing Company - http://tuatarabrewing.co.nz/
Malthouse Facebook - www.facebook.com/pages/Malthouse/7084276173
Malthouse Twitter – www.twitter.com/#!/malthouse
Malthouse Taps on Twitter – www.twitter.com/#!/MalthouseTaps
Neil Miller on Twitter – www.twitter.com/#beerlytweeting
Beer and Brewer Magazine - www.beerandbrewer.com/