Like many Kiwis, Jono Galuszka’s first forays into beer were of the cheap, cold and tasteless kind during his university days. Things have changed significantly since, with Jono named New Zealand Beer Writer of the Year in 2015, and now joining the Crafty Pint team as our New Zealand writer.
Before his first Crafty piece is published, Kerry McBride has a chat with her old journalism school buddy to find out how he fell in love with beer and how the beer landscape in New Zealand is looking.
Before beer, Jono was a coffee nerd. After finishing his degree in Palmerston North – a student town of 78,000 people two hours north of the capital – he moved back to Wellington to get his journalism studies underway. Thanks to his time in Palmerston North cafés and at a coffee roastery, he quickly picked up similar work in Wellington, where he began to really explore flavour, texture and aroma. But, when he landed a job at Wellington beer institution, The Malthouse, beer quickly began to play a huge part in his life.
Since then, he has moved back to Palmerston North, picked up both a beer blogging and homebrewing habit – and even collaborated with the likes of Yeastie Boys – all while working as a court reporter for Fairfax New Zealand. With the beer scene across The Ditch becoming ever more intertwined with Australia, and Australian beer lovers regularly making the trip there to explore its myriad delights, Jono will be offering Crafty Pint readers a monthly insight into what is getting people talking, who is making waves and where you’ll find good beer beyond the realms of the bars of Wellington.
When and how did the craft beer bug first catch you?
I had the typical university student experience of beer – cheap, cold and tasteless – but graduated to green bottle Eurolager when I started working. When I lived in Wellington I would walk past [highly regarded off licence] Regional Wines and Spirits every day on my way home, usually schlepping a box of beers from a supermarket much further away.
It was not until I walked in looking for a bottle of white wine on a blazing hot day that I realised the store had, and still has, one of the best beer ranges in the city. I took a four-pack of Epic Pale Ale home, thinking it would taste like Tui (a brown fizzy sweet lager branded as an East India Pale Ale), and my life has not been the same since.
Before beer, you were into your coffee in a big way as well. Did it seem like a natural progression for you?
I worked in cafés and a coffee roastery as a student. The roastery work, which included weekly taste testing of the fresh roasts, was formative in making me think about flavour, texture and aroma. It also gave me a heap of hospitality experience, which ended up in me getting my first job in the beer scene – pouring pints at Wellington institution The Malthouse.
When did you move to Palmerston North, and how did that change/shape your experiences with NZ's craft beer scene?
I moved to Palmerston North, colloquially known as Palmy, five years ago. I took the job at the local newspaper before a very important question went through my mind – where am I going to get a good beer? Almost every bar in the city is tied to a contract with one of the big three New Zealand brewing companies – Lion, DB and Independent – and I was not going to drive two hours to Wellington for a pint.
A big thanks goes to Joseph Wood from Liberty Brewing, who at that stage also ran a homebrew supplies store. He gave me some great advice on homebrewing my own beer, but also talked me into blogging about the journey. That was how I started writing about beer, which has shaped my experiences with the New Zealand craft beer scene more than anything else.
How has Palmy's beer scene developed over the last few years? Are trips to Wellington still as necessary to keep up with the play?
Palmy has a brilliant liquor store in Liquorland Albert St, so getting the latest releases has never been tough. Bars around town are starting to try find room for more offerings, which means people must be asking for different beers. There must be plenty of demand, as a former Invercargill Brewery employee is about to open a brewpub in the middle of Palmy. Saying that, it is always good to get out of town to get things which don't make it here. I have family in Hamilton and Wellington, so I fit in beer hunting around family gatherings.
How did your first attempts at homebrewing go, and is that something you still do in any big way?
I have been a bit too busy recently to keep up with my own brewing, but it is something I love doing. My first few beers were better than I expected, and things only improved from there. The first beer I ever brewed on my system was a very early version of Yeastie Boys' The Sly Persuader (a golden ale with candi sugar made from botrytised viognier), which Yeastie Boys creative director Stu McKinlay used to enter a media-brewer collaboration competition at Beervana. I guess I'm trying to say I had a very good teacher!
I mainly used homebrewing to gain a better understanding of how ingredients or brewing techniques can influence a beer. It also helps me save a few dollars, which is helpful when I'm saving for things like a house and beer hunting trips.
How have you seen the New Zealand beer scene change recently? For example, what is the mood like at present towards things such as brewery buyouts and the bigger guys creating craft brands to crack into the market?
The people and brewers that have been in the scene for some time are moving along with the new trends (sour beers, barrel aging, etc) just as they always have. I feel people are being more mature about things.
When Emerson's was purchased by Lion in 2012, people came out saying they would never drink that brewery's beers again. I heard nothing like that when Lion gobbled up Panhead last year. It is just a case of people getting more mature about things.
What trends or influences do you expect will have an impact in NZ in the next few years?
It seems every other brewery is either buying barrels or installing a coolship these days, so we should see a glut of barrel aged and spontaneous beers in the coming years (more about that another time). I also expect plenty of brewpubs to open up as brewers find it increasingly difficult to get their beers on tap in tied bars.
But what intrigues me the most is what Lion, Independent and DB have in store. Lion released an imperial IPA through its Mac's brand in 2016, while the beers coming out of DB-owned Tui's downscaled brewery were far better than I expected them to be when I visited recently. The amount of beer being drunk in New Zealand is falling, so the Big Three – whose profits are on a downward trend – either have to buy established companies or get a quality craft beer strategy in place if they want a decent future.
Outside of beer, how do you keep yourself busy?
The thing that keeps me busiest is the day job, writing about crime and the court system for Fairfax Media. The beer writing acts as a nice yang to that yin. Music, however, is my biggest passion, even above beer. Some people may have poker night, or play pool together. Me? I get together with some mates and make a hell of a lot of noise. I mainly play post-punk, but have been known to fill in for jazz bands from time to time.
I also spend a fair bit of time exercising. When booze is an unavoidable occupational hazard, it makes sense to look after myself. Also, my staffie-cross Buster loves getting out with me in the morning.
Watch Jono in action here or listen to Man In Rug on Soundcloud here.
Look out for articles on the New Zealand beer scene from Jono each month here at The Crafty Pint, starting with a piece on Marlborough brewery Moa, an operation whose reputation for controversy often precedes it.
If you're a New Zealand brewer or beer lover and are keen to have your story shared on Crafty Pint, get in touch with Jono at @jonogaluska.
You can read previous Crafty Pint articles on the Kiwi beer scene here, including Nick O's four-part tour of some the North Island's lesser known spots. And don't forget you can vote in the first ever GABS Hottest 100 Craft Beers for New Zealand too.