Before craft beer, there was beer.
It was uncomplicated. It was uninteresting.
In the early 90s the tap options at student bars in Palmerston North were Lion Red, Tui, DB Draught and, for the hipsters, the Euro-sounding Steinlager; the green bottles went well with moleskin trousers.
For those of us without moleskins, the only way we knew how to sex-up a jug of draught was to drop a shot of spicy Drambuie in it.
Whether it was because I'd sunk a Pandora Pond-volume of it at university, or because the delicious Hastings-brewed Limburg Hopsmacker had me at first sip, beer had silently staged a welcome revolution.
Beer's still uncomplicated. The process remains remarkably simple. Despite us laymen having no idea how the matrix of steaming stainless-steel works, brewers are still just celebrants of the three-way mash of malt, yeast and hops.
The difference now is that beer is interesting.
It has nicety, subtlety.
Palates piqued, drinkers now take delight in its newfound nuance. The ensuing critique resulted in the gentrification of beer. Thus, if there's anyone to blame for its complication, it's us, the drinkers, who have made it so.
In fact I've come to realise our local "feast" of craft brewers (yes apparently that's the collective noun for brewers) are in fact the grounded ones.
The cult of the new
Zeelandt brewer Chris Barber makes no apologies for ducking the vagaries of the industry, including the hazy craze.
"Hazy beers are making a big noise, but they're not really our approach," Barber says. "Hazy's more like a fruity cocktail and tastes like beer straight out of the tank."
The Eskdale-based brewer admits to a "stubbornly" European approach. "We haven't embraced the IPA and hazy trends and probably do miss out on those drinkers, but we don't want to confuse our market."
Besides, his "traditionally modern" old styles are paradoxically novel.
"While we're not doing the latest things we're introducing styles that were hidden away for years." So an old pint, centuries later, is a new pint.
A current example is his smoked German-style lager called a rauchbier — due on shelves early May — which channels a malted barley that's traditionally smoked over flame.
GodsOwn brewer Godfrey Quemeneur, who runs a 800-litre brewery in his "backyard" near Maraekakaho, says his older-style German pilsner still boasts the greatest demand.
"Pushing boundaries and crafty experimentation is fine, but if brewers are entering a competition the old rules come back into play," he says. Unless of course, you enter the "other" category.
"From a global perspective they're [rules] not going to bend that easy. I don't think all the new trendy beers will survive.
"Most people at Beer Appreciation Day this weekend are there to try those new, cool, big-experimental beers, but when they go back home and open the fridge they're going back to something they really enjoy.
"That said, just like the lager revolution, maybe the trendy hazy IPAs will become a staple and be around forever. Who knows."
Brave brewer Matt Smith, who leans primarily on a "US hop flavour", says changing styles are part of the game: "I don't think there are necessarily old rules brewers should stick to — anything to keep people interested is a great thing.
"My only concern is that there's so much demand for those new sorts of novelty beers that brewers may not have the sort of financial mandate to make the classic beers, and then those classics fall away."
Tigermilk is their local IPA bolter, which the Hastings-based brewer says has become their "accidental flagship beer".
"Tigermilk started as a one-off we did every now and then and people kept asking for it. It overtook everything else and now accounts for at least 50 per cent of our production."
The "local" paradox
Hawke's Bay wine boasts something its beer can't — provenance.
As the regional slogan claims, great things grow here — but not commercial hops or brewing barley on a scale to cater to beer production.
Marlborough's stranglehold on hop growing, pelletising and processing, plus prohibitive plant licensing rights for some hop varieties, mean water is the only local ingredient in local craft beer production.
GodsOwn's "hop garden" is the exception, yet even then their yearly harvest sustains only one in their range, Holy Hop Green IPA.
But while the family-run brewery uses primarily out-of-town hops, their own vines have proven a drawcard.
"For us, growing hops isn't just about using them to make beer," Quemeneur says.
"People come out here to see hops, to feel them, smell them, sit among them, some get married among them and some get to experience picking them. Our little patch of hops is paying itself off."
As for local ingredients, watch this space. "People are trying. I know of a few local hops projects here and in Gisborne. I think we'll get there one day."
Smith agrees there are small burgeoning pockets of resistance.
"In terms of hops, it'd be a big battle, as Nelson has the infrastructure and the pelletising equipment. But I know there are quite a few people looking at it. Plant variety rights are an issue too — but there's no reason they [hops] can't be successful here. Any brewer will tell you they grow like weeds.
"We try to make up for provenance by being such a community-focused brew pub, and focusing on local ingredients as much as we can."
Back in Eskdale, Barber's all for a future where brewers can use local ingredients, but for now it's product over provenance: "At this point I'm concentrating on making sure I have great ingredients from all the right places."
From where I'm sipping, boasting true Hawke's Bay provenance at this stage is aspirational, despite local hops and grain making positive headway.
Besides, the mainstream view of "terroir" is a tad simplistic. That is, the popular understanding seems to limit terroir to the environmental ecosystem that grapes, grain or hops find themselves in.
When really, the classic, more nuanced French definition of terroir incorporates the influence of the human hand. So I reckon our beer's more local than we give it credit.
Given the beer bar has already been set so high, the thought that one day the industry could boast an even deeper local resonance is something to raise a glass to.
Here's to the second revolution.
* Check out many of the Bay's best fermentists - Brave, Giant, Iron Pot, Paynter's cider, Roosters, Zeelandt and Zeffer cider at Beer Appreciation Day (BAD) at Havelock North's Duart House on Saturday, March 13, from 12.30pm – 7pm. Tickets at eventbrite.co.nz