If I needed any more empirical evidence to support my ‘I’m A Changed Man’ claim, it can be found in my reticence to create this list.
When I started the Beer Money Blog, I genuinely thought that the ‘Awards’ post was going to be the crescendo. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved reading end-of-year wrap-ups – where the highlights of the year are neatly packaged into bundles, and filed in various pigeon holes. But now that the time has come to write one myself, I’m not so sure.
I genuinely don’t mean to jump on the End of Year List Apologist bandwagon – but the fact remains that it would be plain-old wrong to read this post and assume that it adequately summarised my topsy-turvy Year in Beer. This list is, at best, a 90-second highlights reel that only captures the essence of my experiences.
Having said all of that – it is genuinely fun to acknowledge your favourite things and people…so on with the show!
(As alluded to in the title, it’s a Super Summer Bonus Bumper Post – so pull a pint of Pilsner, kick-back in your favourite deck chair and prepare to systematically disagree with me…)
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Beer of the Year
Rather than bury the lead, I’ve decided to start with my favourite beer of 2013 – which, contrary to the norm, isn’t the biggest award in this list (I’m saving that until last)…
Winner: Otis, by ParrotDog
If you missed the post that wanked on about this beer, here it is again (look for the especially awkward moment when I compare Otis to Thom Yorke). Its appeal is simple: Otis is luscious, unctuous, and voluptuous – everything anyone needs on a cold winter’s evening (or anytime, for that matter). It’s hauntingly good stuff – and at only $5ish a bottle really should be a contender for the Best Value award.
His Majesty 2013, by Yeastie Boys (a Belgian Golden Strong Ale so good that it fiddled with my hippocampus) and Sauvin Noveau, by Garage Project (a delicious Grape Harvest Pilsner that, metaphorically at least, sits Herr Reinheitsgebot down for A Wee Chat about the burden of self-limitation).
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Brewer of the Year
This category is a genuinely tough one – there are so many brewers doing wonderful things in Godzone, each of whom should be congratulated and supported. We are incredibly lucky to have the likes of Søren Eriksen (8Wired), Steve Nally (Invercargill Brewery), Luke Nicholas (Epic) and lots of other exceptional folk (many of whom don’t have ‘Head Brewer’ titles). Collectively these brewers are pushing boundaries and, in true Kiwi style, punching well above their weight. While they’re all worthy of recognition, there are a few brewers that (for my own reasons) I want to pay particular homage to here.
Winner: Kelly Ryan, Good George/’Indie’
Leonardo de Vinci said: “I love those who can smile in trouble.” Never has a quote more perfectly glove-fit an individual as this one does to Kelly Ryan, who by anyone’s metric has had one hell of a year.
2013 started with Good George – the Hamilton brewery where Ryan was Head Brewer – hitting its stride and winning plenty of friends (and awards) with their Tasty Treats. To my mind, Good George is The House That Kelly Built – since without his pedigree for perfecting delicious beers (and lets not forget the award-winning Drop Hop Cider), it’s well-within the realms of possibility that Good George may not have attracted as much attention as it has.
But the measure of a man (or a woman for that matter) is not found in the good times – it’s found at the bottom of the barrel. As many of you will know, Kelly’s Olympian father passed away this year – with the preceding ill-health abruptly throwing Kelly’s lifecourse on a tangent and ultimately forcing him to leave Good George to be with his family. Kelly left a final post on his blog telling us that he was stepping back from the mash tun, and at the time I joined the throngs of well-wishers and wrote a poxy piece about how big a loss Kelly was from New Zealand’s brewing scene.
In a shameful abridgement of Kelly’s tough year down to a three-act structure, our Hero is metaphorically rising from the ashes. In the past few weeks, his Twitter feed has started to flicker with the light of a brewer on the comeback trail. Pictures of mash tuns and filled carboys mercifully reinforce the fact that adversity can keep even the Great Ones down, but not for long. It doesn’t matter if he never steps inside a commercial brewery again; all that matters is that somewhere Kelly Ryan is standing above a brew kettle, stirring spoon in hand. It returns balance to the Force that keeps the world spinning.
Stu McKinlay from Yeastie Boys (for superb creations like His Majesty and Gunnamatta, and also for enthusiastically supporting this blog); Dave Nicholls from Moa (for ignoring the too-often-moronic practices of his management team, going Head Down-Arse Up, and continuing to produce some of the best beer in New Zealand); and Pete Gillespie from Garage Project (for producing some of the maddest, most inspiringly-delicious beers I’ve ever had).
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Best Album to Drink Beer By
I am, quite simply, the antithesis of trend-setting; instead, I have a tendency to discover cool and amazing things several years after everyone else has chewed them up and spat them out. Music is a cornerstone of my life, but I’m so-damned-far-behind that I’ve only just moved on from alt rock (okay… I’ll never actually move on from alt rock…but I reserve the right to flirt with other genres, under the pretence that I’m going to).
Winner: The Wild Hunt, by The Tallest Man On Earth
I’ve only just this year discovered this soulful folky gem – he’s a contemporary Bob Dylan, sans eight-verse political diatribe. He’s also Swedish, which for some reason just makes him that much cooler. The track ‘King of Spain’ messes with all Forty-Trillion of my cells….and is best enjoyed on a sun-laden deck with a glass of Emerson’s Pilsner.
The King of Limbs, by Radiohead (see ‘so-damned-far-behind’ comment above). Anyone whose eyes aren’t forced shut by the utter bliss of ‘Separator’ needs help. Seriously.
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Beer Writer of the Year
Almost everything I’ve learnt about beer and the industry that serves it has come from outstanding beer writers. It’s one thing to possess knowledge; it’s another to be able to impart it with enthusiasm and eloquence. These are my fave writers from 2013.
Winner: Phil Cook, from The Beer Diary
Will any beer writer ever catch up to Phil?
Even after what could be considered a somewhat ‘quiet’ year of beer writing (by his own standards), he’s still the best in the business by a reasonably wide margin (somewhat approaching a country mile). He may be a tad curmudgeonly – and his vendettas against certain breweries have become the stuff of legend – but regardless of whether you agree with what he’s saying, the way he says it is always well-crafted and deliciously digestible. But be warned: you may get lost in his footnotes and not emerge for hours, having followed a tangential thought down a rabbit hole…
Phil, quite simply, pisses me off – by being the writer that I wish I was.
Michael Donaldson, from the Sunday Star Times, continues to do an excellent job of clearing the Fog-of-War that separates Camp Beer Geek from Camp Beer Muggle. Jono Galuszka, from the Manawatu Standard, has the journalistic chops to play an important role in our continuing beer evolution (and comes up with descriptors that just bloody-well annoy me with their brilliance).
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The Best Value Award
And now, to the Main Event: the Best Value category. But rather than being a particular beer – or even brand – I’ve gone a little bit more Meta…
Winner: The (Humble) Plastic Rigger
That’s right – rather than an actual beer, the Best Value Award instead goes to a beer-carrying vessel – the Humble Plastic Rigger. I’ve got a stack of them – largely as a result of turning up to Regional Wines and Spirits with a wallet and little else – and each one was the best $1.50ish I’d ever spent. I’ve spouted on about the value of the humble rigger for ages – but to briefly repeat: a fill-your-own station (exemplars: the aforementioned Regionals, and my new Happy Place Liquorland Howick) opens up the craft beer world to a those of us on a budget. Since the beer comes from the brewer in bulk packaging (i.e. a keg), the money saved from bottling and labelling can be passed on to the end user (he says, having a very naïve Black Box idea about how the Price of Beer tallies-up). It also enables the infrequent pub attender (read: Me) to enjoy a beer that may not make it to a bottlestore. It’s Win-Win!
Homebrewing saved my bacon earlier this year: we were having a particularly ‘light’ fortnight (i.e. We Ran Out Of Money), and so the continuity of the Beer Money Blog was in jeopardy. Luckily, I remembered that I had Nine Litres of homebrewed amber ale, just conditioning-away in the cupboard. It wasn’t Hud a wa’, but it was a worthy approximation; and beyond that, it was mine.
Homebrewing has started to become a wee bit of an obsession of mine – but not just for the incredible value that can be derived from putting down your own pale ale or oatmeal stout. Having learnt so much about what can be achieved with pretty basic equipment – and how many brewing ‘ships’ have been launched from a humble Coopers kit – I’m genuinely saddened that the heady Kit-and-Kilo days have soured the taste of homebrew for the masses. I also reckon homebrewing has an ill-deserved reputation as a selfish enterprise – when in reality, collaboration with friends and family on recipes and brew days is an excellent excuse to build (and maintain) relationships over a common interest.
The disconnect between the Ghosts of Homebrewing Past and the present-day reality that I’ve observed fascinates and perplexes me – and for that reason, I’ve decided to make bridging that disconnect my new project for 2014. But more on that in weeks to come…
(That last bit was called a tease – and as you can tell, I’m appalling at it.)
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Well, that’s it. I’ve received way more from this blog than I ever put in, and can’t wait to start a new project next year. I want to acknowledge Alice Galletly’s outstanding Beer for a Year blog – which really did serve as the template for my own effort, and can still be read from start to finish like a well-thumbed book.
Thanks for reading – and for all the positive feedback on Twitter and Facebook. See you in 2014!
**Drops microphone, walks off stage to dead silence**