Best & Worst of Beer in 2017

Best beer experience: The Free House, Nelson. Summer. Twilight. Hand-pulled Townshend’s beer. To paraphrase Josh Ritter (Me & Jiggs): You know it’s perfect because you have to leave.

Best non-quite beer experience: Lucky enough to get a tour of Garage Project’s Marion St wild and barrel-aging brewery, co-founder Jos Ruffell proffered me a glass from a tank and asked what I thought. It tasted like a wild beer but way more fruity and tart than I imagined it should be … I said as much. “It’s chardonnay,” he said, with a smile.

 I wasn’t expecting to like it but I did: 8-Wired’s Hippy Cucumber. I was gifted two cans when taking over a Jucy campervan to drive back to Auckland from Wellington. So refreshing, so cucumber. Delish though.

Worst beer experience: Brother’s Beer Kina Stout at GABS … felt like they’d poured fish sauce into  beer.

Breakout beer opinion-writing: Step up Jason Gurney. A scientist by day, Gurney has evolved from a beer-lover into a strident voice prepared to call out things he sees as wrong.

Still the best, though: Phil Cook has been the number one beer cynic of his generation and continues to be compulsory reading. His stripping of the sugar-coating on the Beer The Beautiful Truth campaign was the best writing on the subject. “If you’re losing sales because you’ve miseducated a generation of customers, then that’s your damn chickens coming home to roost”.  

Ephemeral but sublime (does anyone else remember The Rip from Dunedin circa 1984?): Satirical website Too Much To Beer started with a real fizz with some great pisstakes on brewers and the industry. The highlight was which genuinely had some people believing it, accompanied by the requisite outrage.

Best social media: Like Heart Smiley … whatever the emoticon, Liberty Brewing got a fuckload of them. Irreverent, funny, sincere, honest, don’t-give-a-shit … they did everything with a true west Auckland spin. And just the start of this video is enough to give you a taste (it does veer towards bad taste at the end … but that’s Liberty).



Worst social media: Garage Project’s hurried announcement they were going to contract brew at bStudio in Napier. More haze than an East Coast IPA.

Worst mainstream media: DB’s billboard for their Export Hop Lager … the Mmmmm Hops is as dated as the band who already made a beer called that and it’s neither Mmmmm nor hoppy but I see that bloody billboard four days a week at the top of Nelson St in Auckland and it makes mad as hell to realise how many people might get suckered into trying what is really a marketing exercise.

Best mainstream media: Liam Dann’s look at growing pains:

Best beer packaging: Garage Project’s Mutiny on the Bounty. I reckon the pirate maps are hand-burnt and then hand-wrapped.

Best online beer service: Beer Without Borders.

Worst PR by a former craft darling: Panhead had problems with cross-infected beer mid-year … there was a lot of customer noise about this and the responses from the brewery I saw on various social platforms was evasive and indirect  was just a tad poor. This is a good personalised summary:

Best PR: Garage Project’s handling of the Death From Above critique.

Most memorable interview: In writing the updated version of my book Beer Nation – Another Round I spent an amusing, heart-breaking hour on the phone with Mike Johnson, the founder of mike’s in 1989.

“Every year I was pretty much just breaking even – there was just enough to feed the kids and run the vehicles, but that’s it. I never starved but there was never any money. That brewery cost me three relationships. Back then it was everything – I got really burned out, absolutely tired. I was probably having issues with depression but I didn’t know that then.”


Best first impression: Boneface Brewery in Upper Hutt. All the beers I’ve tried have been bang on, well-packaged  and at a good price. They’ve taken the Panhead model and replicated it perfectly but in such a way as to retain a unique identity.

Hope for 2018: Said it before, will say it again … somehow we kill off the term “craft”. It really is meaningless, has been misappropriated, twisted and doctored beyond recognition.  

Happy New Year!