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Friday, 21 December 2018 20:05

2018 – The Year that Was (Beer Edition)

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This time of year is called “the silly season” for the media and politicians. This is because most people’s minds, whether they are still working or not, have already turned to presents, parties and hospitality. As a result, papers get thinner with even less hard news than usual. Equally, politicians often announce big but potentially controversial polices in an (often successful) attempt to minimise public scrutiny.

 

The media is full of “top ten” lists and declarations of various “people of the year”. In fact, the Herald even did an epic “Top 50 Rugby Players of 2018” piece. I agreed with about two of the placings. Political pundits are judging their “politicians of the year” and there is fierce debate among them whether it should be Jacinda, Winston or Jacinda and Winston.

 

Speaking of Mr Peters, after Parliament had risen, he announced that New Zealand would join the UN convention relating to migration and refugees. Right to the end he was denying any decision had been and then, once Parliament had risen – boom – we are going in.

 

In my contribution to the “silly season” I’ve been asked to offer some reflections on craft beer generally and Malthouse specifically. Here we go with six reflections:

 

A year of tap takeovers

 

Malthouse has hosted many excellent tap takeovers over the years. They were doing them way before they became popular. In 2018 Malty out-did itself with 12 monthly beer launches and tap takeovers from some of New Zealand’s best breweries. Dubbed “Project Silver” (as in Silver Anniversary) it was a huge success. I attended several and those who read last week’s blog will not be surprised that my favourite project was Epic. There were a slew of beers there that even I had not tried before.

 

Upper Hutt is Beertown

 

I never thought I would write so much about Upper Hutt, far less be so overwhelmingly positive about it. However, Upper Hutt has dragged itself from a virtual craft desert to Beertown with four craft breweries and their cellar doors. They have been strongly supported by the Council which also helped Upper Hutt secure Greater Wellington Brewday, my third favourite beer festival of the year. [1]

 

It is hard to find a bar in Wellington that does not have an Upper Hutt beer pouring. Malthouse has had a fair few available over 2018 and that looks set to grow in 2019.

 

It’s not all good news though

 

While the craft business is strong, there are of course issues including growing competition, tight margins, scarcity of ingredients, and declining brand loyalty amongst drinkers. [2]

 

My personal bugbear is activism in licencing decisions.  In many areas, virtually every application is opposed by the public health officer, the Police, academics (usually from Otago University) and local busybodies. In some cases, all of them. Yes, some venues deserve to have restricted hours or cancellations because of repeated bad behaviour.

 

The issue for me is the use of problems that don’t exist (“New Zealanders are drinking more than ever:” Not true.) The use of policies that have not been proven (one-way door policies), and the invention of problems that have not happened yet and might never do.

 

A prime example is a new Wellington supermarket that had to accept very short hours over fears – I am not making this up – students would take the Cable Car halfway up and then go drinking in the park. Quite a prediction – but sadly it worked.

 

Rising quality of pub food

 

While there are still pubs offering the standard old menu to go with their standard beer list, other places are serving diverse dishes ranging from street food to gourmet meals. The incredible popularity of the Wellington on a Plate burger and beer contest is a testament to this.

 

Malthouse food has also improved considerably with the addition of chicken wings, some new deep fried favourites, development of the pizza menu, and, vitally, the continued retention of the iconic ugly bread. It was one of the very first items out of the tiny Malthouse kitchen.

 

Seriously, the kitchen is tiny. If you ever see it [3] you will wonder how the staff manages to pump so much food, usually while working behind the bar. My hat is off to you all.

 

Style Wars

 

Beer tastes are always evolving. Sour beer accelerated its rise in the market with plenty of new and innovative creations. I am pleased that we have not reached “peak pale ale” as some predicted with glee. In fact, pale ale seems to growing in popularity. It is still top of my style list.

 

It might be the company I am keeping but pilsner seems to be coming back into fashion as drinkers discover or re-discover the joys of a well-made crisp Pilsner. Barrel-aged beers are in demand. These styles are time and labour intensive so brewers must plan months or even years in advance. I do not know they do it – I barely know what I’m doing on Monday.

 

A final plea

 

Malthouse is the proud owner of the Modus Hopperandus – a wonderful, magical machine which can infuse flavours from other ingredients into the beer when it is poured. 2018 saw all kinds of ingredients from coffee to chocolate to fruits to herbs and even once (I think) flowers.

 

One thing I did not see in there this year was actual hops. Hence my regular plea in the blog for Malty to “actually put hops in the Hopinator”. I guess hops are in high demand, hard to get and relatively expensive, but just once in 2019 would be awesome.

 

Next time we drink to (and almost certainly on) Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. So, I’d like to wish seasonal greetings and good cheers to all the readers of this blog. Thanks for your support and feedback over the course of 2018. Hope to see all of you again in 2019. Cheers.

 

[1] Before anyone asks, the other two are Beervana and Beers at the Basin. I don’t count Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge as a festival. If I did, it would be number one.
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[2] I think this is also a good thing in many ways.

 

[3] And you are probably in trouble if you do...

 

Cheers

 

Neil Miller

Beer Writer

Cuisine Magazine

TheShout Magazine

 

Links

 

Malthouse Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/malthouseNZ/

Malthouse Twitter – www.twitter.com/#!/malthouse

Malthouse Taps on Twitter – www.twitter.com/#!/MalthouseTaps 

Neil Miller on Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/#!/beerlytweeting