Great Beer Epiphanies 2: Mike Conroy and Matt Warner
Wednesday, 05 September 2012 22:26

I had intended retelling the story of my own spell-binding craft beer epiphany moment in this post. However, in a political power play reminiscent of Russia preventing United Nations sanctions against Syria earlier this year or Great Britain blocking a proposed multinational solution for the Suez Crisis in 1956, that plan has been comprehensively vetoed by one of the “Great Powers” of the Wellington Beer Scene.

Colin the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Malthouse Proprietor has insisted that I instead gather more stories from some of the Capital’s famed “beer-arti”. Despite my initial reticence [1], it has proved an inspired and most excellent notion.

Last week, we heard about beer writer Michael Donaldson’s beer “revelation” and aspiring brewer Brayden Rawlinson’s beer “epiphany”. This week, I put roughly the same question (“what was the moment when you discovered craft beer or went from a mainstream drinker to a good beer drinker?”) to Malthouse stalwart Mike Conroy and Malthouse favourite Matt Warner from ParrotDog Brewery.

Describing Mike Conroy as a Malthouse “stalwart” is perhaps unfair – only because it is an understatement. Like the Wellington City Council, I often fear for the building’s structural integrity when he is not there. Fortunately, that is not too often though rumours persist that he has some kind of day job. Mike wrote:

“Those of you that didn’t know me before Malthouse might be surprised to hear that I was not that discriminating when it came to beer – Tui, Speight’s, DB Export, Joseph Kuhtze, Rheineck (don’t judge me – I’m over 40 and grew up in Naenae) – as long as it had “BEER” on the label, I was fine.

Some 4 years or so ago, Malthouse moved to Courtenay Place, replacing a brief footnote in Wellington’s bar history, Steam Bar [2], and we decided to adopt it as our local. My first craft beer experience happened one drawn out Friday afternoon.

My drink of choice, as was the fashion of the time, was Pinot Noir but it didn’t seem right to be drinking wine in a craft beer bar so I asked the waitron of the day (Scotty or Ben – top class blokes and well versed in beer) to recommend me something and the suggestion was Epic Pale Ale.

My first sip was hesitant; my second sip (read: gulp), not so much. The flavours were like nothing I’d experienced in a beer before (again, don’t judge me – read the beer list in the first paragraph). There were all sorts of fruit flavours going on and I really didn’t know what was happening but I liked it.

From that point on I was hooked and I tried more – Renaissance Perfection Pale Ale, Tuatara IPA and Three Boys IPA. I was hooked - I’d been bitten by the Craft Beast and bitten good.

Since then, I’ve become a huge fan of the IPA/APA varieties, the hoppier the better (Tuatara APA, Epic Hop Zombie, Liberty C!tra etc) and I’ve developed a liking for the Black IPA style as well (sorry Neil) – Liberty’s Yakima Raven springs to mind as a favourite.”

I must confess that I was unaware of Mike’s shady beer drinking past before reading this. Like most, I simply assumed he was a craft beer devotee of considerable pedigree and practice, rather than a comparatively recent convert. A rough calculation on the back of an envelope [3] indicates that in terms of consumption he has probably caught up with 91.7% of established craft beer drinkers in just four years.

After several protestations of modesty and a considerable amount of prodding on email and Twitter, Matt Warner from the ParrotDog brewery has recorded the fateful series of events which eventually led to him owning a brewery by age 25:

“My last summer in New Plymouth before moving down to Wellington for University involved drinking copious amounts of the mighty blue cans of Brenner. This was quickly followed by the consumption of the same amounts (if not more) of the dazzling black cans of Lion Brown in my University hostel in 2006.

My first year of flatting in 2007 became much more sophisticated, when my flatmates and I moved on to 16-packs of Flame and then, for the latter half of that year, dozen boxes of the revolutionary Mash. Whether it was the Golden, Citrus or Energy variant, it did not matter. This new beer was it. [4]

And then the much needed catalyst for change hit me on a spring day in 2007, as I sat down on the couch in my Kilbirnie flat to read the October issue of Salient. Neil’s ‘Beer’ column then caught my eye at some point, and, in that single column, two major points appeared. One was the painful revelation that Neil had named Mash Energy and Mash Citrus as two of his three ‘Worst Beers of 2007’. I’m guessing that this was what really caught my eye in the first place. [5]

The other major piece of information that I noted, which has no doubt at least indirectly led me to be in the building where I am typing this piece out right now, was that Neil named this beer called Emerson’s Pilsner as one of his three ‘Top Beers of 2007’.

As soon as I began to earn some money while working a summer job in Wellington, I found myself at The Malthouse one Friday night with a little bit more cash than usual. I craned my neck up to the top of one of the gigantic beer fridges staring down at me and there it was – a 500ml, beautifully blue-labelled bottle of Emerson’s Pilsner. The brewery and beer name from the column had stuck in my mind for a month or so and now it was time to see what it was all about.

I ordered one and asked for two glasses so that I could share it with my mate.As I brought the glass to my mouth (definitely not my nose!), I remember being smacked in the face with, what I later came to understand as, ‘hops’. A big, fruity and sharp (yet strangely smooth at the same time) bite met my tongue abruptly. It felt like real flavour and there was plenty of it.

This would lead to a rapid decline in my consumption of Flame and Mash (I didn’t really have a choice with the latter, as they soon pulled it out of production much to Neil’s delight in future Salient columns); and it also led to a lot more sampling of other flavoursome craft beers at The Malthouse for the rest of summer.

One of these subsequent beers that I particularly remember having a huge impact on me was Epic Pale Ale. It had a big ‘hop’ flavour again, but in a totally different way and it was supported by very different (what I also later came to understand as) ‘malt’.

Then, before I knew it, summer was over and it was quickly back to the student lifestyle again where the eventual next move on the craft beer path was put into action in late 2009 – home-brewing!”

The rest, as lazy journalists say, is history.

Home brewing led to contract brewing which led to owning a brewery and making a trophy-winning beer called BitterBitch.

Until I interviewed Matt for a feature in Dish magazine, I had no idea that my 2007 Salient column had played some role in his beer development. The fact that he ended up brewing my favourite beer of 2011 creates a whole Disney Circle of Life vibe there.

Next time, we drink James Earl Jones.

[1] I had already drafted a 36,000 word expanded version of the “I had a Pink Elephant Mammoth on the old Malthouse balcony” tale complete with 377 new footnotes, two appendices, a small map and the bibliography from the philosophy text book I should have been studying at the time.

[2] Colin and I are both pretty sure it was called Seam Bar but the confusion and uncertainty indicates just how bad the place really was.

[3] This term usually denotes a pseudo-mathematical process which involves squiggling a few lines of random numbers followed by a big equals sign pointing to the exact figure you already thought was “about right”.

[4] This paragraph makes Mike Conroy’s beer history look like he was drinking Trappist ales from age twenty.

[5] I suspect that it was really because the column contained the famous line “While sampling the Mash Golden Lager, I was watching Chuck Norris (in a bulldozer) fight David Carradine (in an armoured half track). This beer was so bad that I didn’t really enjoy the scene.”

Cheers

Neil Miller

Beer Writer

Beer and Brewer Magazine

Links

Epic Brewing Company – www.epicbeer.com

ParrotDog Brewery on Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/parrotdog/info

Emerson’s Brewing Company - http://www.emersons.co.nz/

Worst Beers of the Year - http://salient.org.nz/columns/the-worst-beers-of-the-year

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/