Because if things had gone to plan I would have been proudly describing the amazing amber ale that I'd brewed for the Beervana Media Brew along with fellow food blooger Delaney Mes (and much more legitimately “media") and Stu from Yeastie Boys. But some unfortunate events and timings meant that we were one very good looking team, with loads of ideas and nowhere to brew.Oh well, the beer continues to flow, and thousands of litres of it will indeed be flowing this weekend at beer Christmas, aka Beervana. And what a wonderful beast she is, where beer geeks from around the pacific descend on to Wellington to suckle from her malted teet.
So who better to talk to than David Cryer, the man that makes it all possible? He's reared this glorious beast (I guess I'd better commit to this analogy) from a lovable runt in need of some TLC into a grade A, blue ribbon, best in show spectacular.
As we were meeting outside of acceptable beer drinking hours ("acceptable" is entirely subjective, but this was 8.30am on a Monday), we talked over a cup of tea and David started out by telling me how Beervana came to be...
It was in about 2000, the Beer Wines and Spirits Council, which was owned by Lion and DB, wanted to do the beer awards in Wellington and do a beer show at the old town hall. About 2000 people attended the first one and went on for four or five years with varying success. They didn’t feel they were getting enough out of it so they stopped doing it. But in the meantime, the Brewers Guild who had set up in about 2005 bought the rights to this beer show and changed it's name to Beervana, in 2006 we then went to the town hall and quickly started hitting capacity with 4000 attendees. So the only place to go was the stadium. I bought the event just after the Christchurch earthquake. A lot of the key guys had been in the earthquake, their houses had been ruined, their businesses were ruined, they just didn’t have the energy for a big beer festival as well.
Why the stadium?
We don’t have any constraints on capacity but most importantly it's for the food. I don’t want to be told what food we can have. We needed the energy of all the Wellington restauranteurs doing whatever they liked, getting them buzzed about beer, and then getting everyone buzzed about what food could go with that beer, Martin Bosley Beervana's Culinary Director has done a wonderful job of curating the restaurants and food trucks that will be there this year, it's a very diverse bunch. People can be critical of Westpac because it’s a big concrete ring but I really love it because we can do whatever we like there. You couldn’t burn it down, even if you tried. One year we had someone bring in a dirty BBQ and it was like being in a scene from Apocalypse Now. Smoke was everywhere. It was classic.
Have there been breweries that have been on since the start?
Yeah, like Emerson’s and Epic. Quite a few actually. They just keep rolling back. They see the value of it because Beervana captures a different audience. A lot of foodies attend and maybe they haven’t tried that much craft beer, or they haven’t tried it at all. So the idea is to have a beer selection that is from entry-level beers as well as hugely complex challenging beers. So there’s something for everyone.
So you see food as an important part of Beervana?
I believe beer has got a better natural fit with food. Wine is quite acidic, it’s quite high alcohol, whereas beer can range from 0 percent alcohol through to 40 percent. You’ve got this endless complexity of the product so it can match with any food.
Do you think beer is a gender specific thing?
No way. We pride ourselves on our attendance of women at Beervana but we’re still too low. We’re about a third women and attendance rising. Gendered marketing is just crazy to me. The beer market are predominantly marketing to men, completely ignoring 51 per cent of the goddamn market. Women want to drink beer, but they don’t market it properly. It’s like they gave up about 20 years ago or something.I think the old days of men going off and drinking in rooms together are over, men don’t want to do that anymore. I think if we all drink beer together, it’s a bit of a win-win situation!
Who do you admire in the industry?
John Harrington, down at Harrington’s Brewery. He’s just slogged his way through it for years. West Coast publican, who set up a brewery with his two sons, and they’re still going. Longevity is an impressive thing for me because it’s a very vibrant, changing industry.
Tracy Banner is one of the best brewers in the country. The Sprig and Fern beers are sensational. I really love their American amber.
I also love the new guys, just the vibrancy that Parrot Dog and Garage Project have bought, and Panhead is another great new brewery. I remember seven years ago, Macs Brewery moved their brewery out of Wellington and we were saying ‘so, this is the craft beer capital of New Zealand, sorry that there’s no one here'. But now it’s a lot easier because suddenly we've had all these breweries pop up.
I also admire the big breweries generally. You may think I’m trying to pay the bills here. But there’s a nice synergy between the small breweries and the big breweries. There have been at least two occasions when big breweries challenged small breweries on quality and they forced small breweries to lift their game. At the end of the day, if people don’t produce decent beer, people are not going to buy it. If you trundle out rubbish, you’ll be gone in no time. The bigger guys have helped the smaller breweries, because technically, the big breweries are excellent brewers. There’s a guy, Doug Banks at DB, and he has helped a lot of small breweries. They ring him up and say, "Hey Doug, I’ve got this issue with my beer, what do I do" and he’ll help them. This whole thing you read in the paper sometimes, big versus small – it might be the marketing guys, but it’s certainly not the brewers.
What do you love most about Beervana?
I love putting on a party. I regard Beervana as just me having a party for about 10,000 people. The challenge is to make it bigger next year because I always want to have a bigger party [hearty laugh].
Do you have a favourite food and beer pairing moment?
My food epiphany was from Martin Bosley. Martin did all these amazing food and beer matches for Cuisine, and he pulled out Renaissance Stonecutter with gorgonzola, and I thought ‘hmmm...ok’. But then I tried them, the two and two went together and made five for me. I was just blown away.
What do you love about beer?
Everything. [laughs] I like the making of it, the drinking of it, the sociability of it. I think that one of the major advantages beer has over wine, is it is a sociable drink, because it’s traditionally lower alcohol, so you can sit and talk and in four hours’ time you’re still able to talk. Especially if you drink Bookbinder.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
I think the biggest challenge is... I have to be careful what I say here, is the current alcohol environment. The perception out there of alcohol is not super positive. Craft beer has brought change for good, I believe it’s getting people to drink less, but better. That’s a big thing we like about Beervana is that 10,000 people turn out, they’re only there for about four and a half hours, and when they leave. Yes, they've drunk a bit but they’re leaving happy, they’ve learned something and not making nuisances of themselves. Beer is not an irresponsible drink, it’s the people who drink it. Those people will always drink something to take themselves to a point where they fall a bit out of control. But we control it through session times, by having good food, and the environment says it’s really uncool to be a dick.
Do you have a favourite junk food?
Oh god. Yeah, I do have a secret shame. It’s really embarrassing. It’s KFC’s potato and gravy and it’s not the small size, it’s the large size. It’s a terrible thing to admit. I'll be driving around Australia visiting breweries and I’ll pull in just to get one of those. Only occasionally. I’m getting it under control. It’s a shocker, isn’t it?
Do you have a first memory of beer?
My grandfather built this four-flagon holder for himself and he used to always have them full of beer. It was his little stash. I didn’t drink any, but I remember seeing it there.
Do you have a beer you want to try but haven't yet?
It’s not a beer, it’s quite a few beers. One of my dreams is to go to the Czech Republic and I want to try all the Czech pilsners, fresh from the breweries. There are so many over there and it’s the most amazing beer country in the world for me. Because all beer is at its best when it's drunk fresh. That’s why with Beervana we have a large percentage of people from Auckland, and from Australia, and some coming out from America, because beer people like to travel and the reason they like to travel is because you should drink beer as close as you can to the brewery, which takes me back to my Czech story. I want to get as close as I can to the breweries in Czech Republic so I can try the great beer style at its best.
Where do you eat in Auckland?
I love Depot. I played rugby with Al at university, we were in the Teddy Bears Rugby Team, which was a bit of a Vic Uni institution. Steve Logan was also in the team. Al was the centre, he was a very good player actually, and Steve was the flanker. They drank Steinlager in those days! Al is such a good guy. He’s done such great things for Auckland. Now he’s got to get the beer scene to match in Auckland because we just don’t have a good scene there and it’s a purely Wellington thing and I think it’s partly the geography of the city. The Australians who fly in for Beervana, one of the things that blow them away is the level of knowledge of beer from everyone in general and they can walk from bar to bar, every bar is so different and there is a great love of beer in each one. They think they’ve come to beer heaven.
Some might even say....Beervana David! Speaking of which, see you there!
22 - 23rd August
11 - 4pm and 6pm - 11pm