Sixty brands serving 300 beers: what 40-something wouldn't be in heaven, asks Jesse Mulligan.
Craft beer is booming. The week Beervana was on in Wellington, local brewer Parrot Dog went cap in hand to the internet to raise some money to expand. Within two days it had received $2 million in pledges from fans, donors and investors keen to be part of a popular and successful brand.
Despite this, Parrot Dog's stand at the festival was modest — I'm guessing the company judged it not a great idea for people to see their donations splurged on expensive-looking marketing collateral.
There were no such worries at Garage Project, whose stand was a monument to excess — a giant stage-like construction wrapped in colourful branding with music, costumes, giveaway merch and party games. It dominated the festival in more ways than one - a much smaller outfit operating nearby reckoned its bottom line was benefiting just by being close enough to catch some of the Garage Project spillover.
In this, Beervana's 14th year, and with 60 brands serving 300 beers in Wellington Stadium, brewers have learned to offer something special to attract drinkers to their stand. Most brewed something special for the festival — Good George's tanker of beer stuffed with whole grapefruits, for example, or Tuatara's G&T featuring a naturally sour beer spiked with gin.
Supermarket brands like Mac's had a tougher job, convincing cynical hopheads to interact with the brand by offering quirky portrait sketches.
There was another stand devoted to drinking safely and responsibly, but when I went past it had no staff and the lights were off.
I was at Beervana with five other men. One of them asked me: "What do you think is the average age here?" but when we looked around we couldn't tell who was 45 and who was 25. The beards and the out-of-shapeness combine to an ageless quality, and of the thousands of largely male visitors at the daytime session I only spotted one group of young blokes conspicuously not handling the high-alcohol beers.
Numbers were up 40 per cent on last year, one of the organisers told me. The Saturday sessions were sold out but not unpleasantly crowded, and the only sign of infrastructure strain was a 2.1x Uber price surge in the city by mid-morning. There were a good number of seated rest areas, few queues and plenty of opportunities to pull a brewer aside and tell him what he was doing right and wrong. In a few cases the him was a her, and the industry gender balance is expected to keep improving.
Along with beer, there were also 20-odd food stands. The variation among them was impressive, though it seemed like everybody had some version of pulled pork. I ate well except for a rash decision to buy a cold, soggy beef roll. I finished it anyway — I'd got good at consuming unpleasant things with a smile on my face, having tried a couple of traditional English bitters earlier in the session.
Like most food and drink festivals, you didn't want to think too hard about the economics of it. Entry was $45 and, given that you had to pay for samples, all this money really got you was a plastic glass that you had to hand back at the end. Still, everybody left happy and, really, what else are us 40-somethings going to do with our cash? If they were smart they'd run a vinyl LP shop by the gate on the way out.
The brewery owners I spoke to seemed happy to be there, even if some thought the community spirit of previous years was starting to fade. Anyway, most of them have bigger fish to fry. I talked to one guy who does well in New Zealand but is having bigger success in China. "Look at this!" he said, proudly holding up a bottle. "It's 888ml — the Chinese love it because eight is their lucky number."
As usual, innovation was the big story this year at Beervana, and there's apparently still plenty of room for new ideas.
Accommodation: The Museum Hotel in Wellington is right on the waterfront.
Further information: See beervana.co.nz.