August 27th, 2012 by Crafty Pint
When The Crafty Pint first attended a meeting of the Victorian Association of Microbreweries to explain our vision for the site a few years ago, the last line of the proposal we handed to the brewers in attendance was a shameful rip off of Martin Luther King. In place of a cri de coeur for racial equality, we attempted to tug at their heart strings with:
“I have a dream to see craft beer pouring at the MCG!”
Quite whether it will earn us a place in one of those ‘Greatest Quotations of All Time’ compilations remains to be seen, but it’s a dream – and one that we’ve not given up on. And why should we when, across the ditch in Wellington, almost 8,000 people gathered to drink nigh on 300 craft beers at the city’s equivalent, the Westpac Stadium? OK, so we’re pretty sure the bars will be back to pouring carbonated piss by now, but allow us this one tenuous intro… Especially as Beervana, New Zealand’s largest beer festival, is such darn fun once you get past the “I’m in the bowels of a stadium. This is weird.” moment and find your eyes wandering no further than across the spread of taps and hot plates serving up frequently superb beer and food.
Now in its 11th year, it’s a gathering of brewers and beer lovers from all over New Zealand, with a smattering of overseas guests and a bar area dedicated to Australian beers. It falls on the last weekend of Choice Beer Week, a collection of beer events around Wellington that included the NZ Beer Awards, and this year was the biggest one yet. Originally run by the NZ Brewers Guild, it was bought a couple of years back by David Cryer, owner of ingredient supplier Cryermalt, and lines up stalls from brewers large and small, old and new (but predominantly small and new) with food from leading local restaurants and chefs. There are also a couple of rooms that play host to beer and food masterclasses, home brew competitions, Q&As and the like.
The Crafty Pint attended three of four sessions, more than enough time to sample a wide range of beers, from real ales from the likes of Emerson’s and Townshend’s that capture the essence of traditional British ales perfectly, to hugely hoppy IPAs such as ParrotDog’s trophy-winning Bitter Bitch and Tuatara’s dangerously quaffable Double Trouble. There was plenty in the unusual category, meaning you could find out what anything from beetroot and raspberry to native plants and spices would do to a beer. And there were seriously beefy numbers too, not least 8 Wired’s Bumaye, a pinot noir barrel-aged imperial stout that clocked in at 17 per cent (not seven per cent with exclamation signs either side of the “7” as we originally assumed…).
Largest queues were usually reserved for the newest and quirkiest breweries. While you could have heard a pin drop among the tumbleweed at the Stella Artois, Mac’s and cider stalls, there were queues often ten deep to sample wares from the likes of the Garage Project. At one session, we were keen to try their carrot cake beer, which had won the trophy for Festive Ales (those brewed especially for the event), but it had sold out within the first hour. A taste of their impressive stein beer – and a few others from their range over the remainder of the weekend – hinted at why they’re making such waves. Expect to see their beers cross the Tasman soon.
The food stalls, some using beer in their products, were uniformly excellent (at least those we patronised); at one point we concluded that if we were forced eat nothing but black pudding, chorizo and scallop on a stick for every meal for the remainder of our existence, that would be just fine. Even the music playing over the stadium’s speakers added to our enjoyment; not since school days back in the UK have we heard The Levellers pumped out to such a large crowd.
It would remiss to ignore the small part we played in the event too. The organisers had invited us to enter a beer in the Media Brew competition. We wrote about the beer’s conception a couple of weeks ago and it’s a story with a happy ending: the Auld Bulgin' Boysterous Bicep took first spot with a perfect 45 out of 45 from a panel that included David Cryer, Brian Watson, head of judges at the NZ Beer Awards, and top Wellington chef Martin Bosley. We’ve started building the pressure on Murrayâs to make it a full length brew for winter 2013; just needs 720 mussels and 360 oysters. Wish us luck!
The organisers seem to have enjoyed it as much as their guests too. David Cryer told us: “We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from visitors so far. In particular they have commented on the improved layout which reduced congestion through most of the concourse; the heightened presence of brewers through the Brewery Bars and Self Pour taps; the extraordinary range of beers on offer; and, like last year, the excellent quality of the food.
“Similarly, guests who were part of our Ultimate Experience, Beer & Food, Home Brewing Masterclass, and Home Brew Competition, have all reported positively on their experiences.”
Despite the large crowds and even larger amounts of beer, he also declared himself pleased to report that “our paramedics administered only three band aids over the two days, and security only had to remove one group who decided to pay a visit to the rugby field.”
On a personal note, he added: “I enjoyed so many beers it is difficult to single them out. I took great satisfaction from our Real Ale stall dispensing from cask on handpull. For a short time I was back in the UK with all the wonderful memories.
“The Festive Stall had some highly innovative treats from a Feijoa Lambic from 8 Wired to a Marmalade Beer from the Twisted Hop, so from sour to sweet right across the range, wonderful stuff.
“I picked a range of Australian beers and these were really well received and it was nice to have our Australian cousins over in our house, having been in theirs so many times promoting our New Zealand beers and being so wonderfully accommodating to us.
“We are extremely lucky to have an exceptional range of beer on regional stalls and such dedicated teams behind the Brewery Bars and Self Pour Stall Holders, who have taken advantage of the opportunity within Beervana to showcase themselves and their brands.
“Personally I thoroughly enjoyed the two days, seeing the beer industry side being well promoted through their brands and seeing their adoring public get the chance to meet them. The overwhelmingly positive vibe was almost tangible. Looking forward, we wish to innovate and improve by enhancing and encouraging the connections between brewers, restaurants, beer retailers and, most importantly, the rapidly growing legions of good beer lovers.”
Certainly events like this – in a city like Wellington with a growing number of excellent beer venues, such as Hashigo Zake, Little Beer Quarter, the Malthouse and Fork & Brewer, plus many other bars with a number of taps supporting genuine craft breweries – will only add to the numbers of good beer lovers. And given that’s what The Crafty Pint is all about, we’ll drink to that.
Please note: Most of the photos in this slideshow (and the one of Richard Emerson at the top of the article) were taken by Jed Soanes, founder of the spectacular site The Beer Project. If they’re any good, they’re most likely his.
David Cryer expressed a desire to thank his organisational team “who are too many to mention all by name but first and foremostly Jessica Venning-Bryan, my project manager, and Debra Dufty, my event organiser, without them the event canât happen, also to their team and they know who they are. To my team at Cryermalt who supported me and lastly but not least the volunteers who turned up in droves and worked hard, enjoyed themselves and gave Beervana its distinctly unique flavour.”