More and more, I come across establishments in Auckland that value flavor and quality over popularity or price. They know that today's customer is more informed, and they know that it’s no good just stocking any craft beer to tick a box. The customer wants to engage with the staff and to be a part of the culture.
A big part of what drives this industry and its growth is its authenticity. It’s not easily faked. Those that truly embrace variety and form their own opinions on what they like and want to sell will fare well over the next year. It’s not an easy decision for some to make when looking at a potential balance sheet: the margins on craft beer are much lower compared to mainstream beer but the type of customer that opts for craft is the customer that you want. They’ll come back for more, and they will tell their friends.
I’m glad that its catching on in Auckland, with more and more places starting to get involved. As Luke Nicholas put it last year on his blog, Auckland "has the most potential in New Zealand. The most new customers, the most potential bars. Craft Beer + Auckland = the biggest win for beer in New Zealand in 2015."
A new addition to Auckland's scene who is doing just that is The Garden Shed in Mt Eden. Themed as you might expect with upside down buckets for light shades and trowels for tap handles its a comforting venue that's relaxed and unpretentious - wholesome even!
The people in charge took a firm stance that craft beer would be involved from the outset and the staff are eager to get amongst it with favorites from Mike’s, Epic, Hallertau and Behemouth already making a steady appearance on the taps. We have some Prospector on at the moment, so I popped down for some quality testing and to grab some lunch. I had the fish cakes, which came topped with a perfectly poached egg, relish and a really fresh salad on the side, washed down with some farmhouse ale it was delicious!
The cafe flows to an outside area adorned with pot plants and creepers, covered with a sail to keep the rain out. It’s definitely one of the best places to enjoy a beer in Auckland. Comfort, good food, friendly staff and a growing selection of great beer is a good combination. The writing on the trowels (tap handles) doesn’t appear to be updated regularly so you may have to ask what beers are on.
Its often the little things that really make an impression when you visit somewhere new. Having the bill brought to you topped with a packet of lettuce seeds to take home was a great touch. I’m already looking forward to going back.
Well that was an exciting finish to the year. From when we brewed our first batch of Frontier at Scotts in July and then Prospector in December my schedule started to fill up with a stupid amount of things that needed doing. Launching two beers in 6 months while still working 50hrs a week mixing television shows (still my day job) was a challenge for sure. Not to mention learning all of the little things that make up running a business. But we made it up to December with sanity intact and a great sense of joy in the fact that, we can actually do this! The process works and the little details that I agonize over (water chemistry, PH healthy yeast and the right ingredients) all add up to make beer that Im truly proud of and is increasingly receiving excellent reviews.
Christmas is a crazy time for most but I now fully empathize with hospitality staff for they are the worst hit by the madness. At the very tail end of December our new beer Prospector hit the shelves and that meant I had some very last minute promo work to do. Visiting bars and stores at this time of year is probably not the greatest idea as they are scrambling to keep up anyway, so I do thank all of those who took the time to sit down with me and taste some beer. The overwhelming support was a great end to the year!
A little frazzled and in need of a proper relax my wife and I took off to Bali for 18 days to recoup and reset. It was actually a belated honeymoon, we've been married for five years but never had the time to head away. Indonesia is a great place for a brewer to go on holiday. There is only one major beer available, Bin Tang and its basically Heineken, refreshing enough but plain as a tin can. With no bars or breweries to hunt out the mind can let go of its relentless pursuits and unwind on fruit juice and Nasi Goreng. We did however stumble across this crazy Bali hoople missing half his teeth and making Arak which is a spirit distilled from fermented palm sugar. As you travel through Indonesia you realize that anything can be built form bamboo and this was no exception. The most ghetto pot still Ive ever seen. I wasn't expecting much other than petrol when I tasted it but it was surprisingly clean, there were a load of esters from what I imagine must be an uncontrollable fermentation previously but it was a very clean spirit. I thanked the man and took a bottle which I think I paid $1.50 for.
Home brewers are a funny lot, particular, obsessive and always thinking about beer. And not in a contemplative sort of way but an all encompassing, bat shit crazy kind of way. It usually goes one of two ways: Either on a lark you come to dabble, get fed up with the amount of cleaning involved and give it away. Or you completely give your self to the hobby and never look back. So what if your first beer tasted like paint thinner and nail polish remover you are so in awe of the all powerful yeast and its magical properties that not even flavor clouds your feeble judgment. Convinced you are god and your sacrament is the holy grail of good times..... Well, maybe a little overboard but after a few bottles of paint thinner the mind does what it does!
Thats about the point when you decide to start brewing all grain and figuring out the nuts and bolts, art and science of making beer. You will probably continue to make average tasting beer batch after batch but every so often there will be a lightbulb moment when all the pieces come into balance and you make a beverage that far exceeds your expectations. Of course the problem with this is that you have instantly raised the bar in terms of your own perceptions and expectations and the never ending cycle of betterment continues, always seeking that next high point of perfection, peace and understanding. 'ohhhhhhhhhhhhhm'
But seriously... Its not hard to make good beer. Its difficult to make exceptional beer but with a few pots and a bag of grain you can follow some basic guidelines and be on your way. I started with an all in one kit and made some rough tasting alcohol that made me feel invincible after a bottle, and tortured in the morning! I was drinking local brews from all the heads; Liberty, Epic, 8 Wire... and I could tell what it SHOULD taste like, I knew mine wasn't close so I started reading and listening to everything I could get my hands on to do with brewing. I started buying grains and building my own recipes using Beersmith. I picked up an esky and put a braided hose in the bottom of it to lauter my mash, got a stainless pot to boil in, a grunty burner, hoses, fittings... Then a tea urn to heat water. Gear lust had taken hold and no empty cupboard space in my house was safe!
I spent every hour I could find listening to podcasts from The Brewing Network. And as a testament to the amount of knowledge that is locked up in that station, within a year I had learnt enough to pick up a gold medal at The National Homebrew Competition in 2012. Brewing is all about avoiding little mistakes. You'll make your fair share of them every single brew day while your learning. But listening to The Brewing Network every day will fast track your progress immensely and I highly recommend subscribing to their podcasts.