Saturday, November 27, 2010

Institutionalised Stalking

I'm getting asked more and more often about whether we will take some kind of official position with foursquare (the location service, not the grocer). And of course some time soon Facebook's answer to foursquare will be rolled out in New Zealand and presumably become dominant.

Is it just me or are location services the most insidious and potentially dangerous development in the short history of electronic social networking? It amazes me that people disregard the possible consequences of voluntarily creating their own public, electronic trail for whatever short term benefit it gives them. And facebook's feature that lets other people create your trail for you is even more mind-boggling.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I find the whole subject very troubling, especially since people seem to expect us to embrace the whole idea. (Hashigo Zake was "registered" as a location on foursquare months ago without me being consulted.)

Keen to get feedback....

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Roman Beer


This week Hashigo Zake was lucky enough to host a visit by Italian brewer, beer distributor and bar owner Alex Liberati. Alex is a knowledgeable and charismatic evangelist for craft brewing. He was also keen to soak up New Zealand brewing culture and find some candidate beers for his importing business. An improvised tasting was put together with bottles that Alex brought in his luggage combined with a few local staples and one or two experimental ones from local brewers. Then when we ran out of time Alex stayed an extra night so we could continue. In return barman/chef Sam put on a bowl of green lipped mussels that had our guest in raptures.

Next time Alex makes it this way we'll put on something more structured for a bigger audience.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Suspending Judgement

Blogger Martin Craig became a folk hero to many earlier this week when he revealed that he had secretly entered a commercial beer (Ranfurly Station Pale Ale) into the SOBA National Homebrew Champs and... it bombed. It scored 11/50 and was slated by the judges for various faults.

Since then there has been a little reflection amongst those close to the incident with respect to, shall we say, the ethics of entering someone's beer without their knowledge and in doing so breaking the rules of the competition.

Then today Martin's post disappeared. Fortunately for the curious, google has a cache.

It's tempting to jump to the conclusion that corporate and legal forces have been brought to bear on Martin. Or maybe he's taken pity on Ranfurly.

So should those of us who greeted the news of this guerrilla beer judging with glee also pause for a moment? Perhaps yes. I was reminded of the spat that broke out about a year ago when local brewer Stu McKinley harshly commented on a bottle of Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard on realbeer.co.nz. That beer had been imported to New Zealand under circumstances that Stone's President Greg Koch expressly disapproves of and tries to stop. It was "grey market" and had been shipped without refrigeration.

Greg vented on the realbeer forum. Other participants generally disregarded Greg's assertion of brewer's rights, but anyone who has tasted Oaked Arrogant Bastard in peak condition would probably side with Greg.

As an importer and retailer trying to avoid the grey market, and as a fan of Stone Brewing, I naturally took Greg's side in that spat. So to be consistent I guess I have to concede that the brewers of Ranfurly Pale Ale were not treated fairly on this occasion. But in my book brewing bland beer is a far bigger crime.

Now I wouldn't bother with a spiel like this unless it was somehow self-serving, so here goes. Hashigo Zake is about to strike a blow for brewers against the use and transportation of beer in ways that they don't approve of. But the real winners will be our customers. We'll make an announcement at the Hophead's Picnic tonight.

Monday, September 27, 2010

One-a tara, Tuatara

On the 18th, 19th and 20th of September this year, three of Tuatara Brewery’s beers were served alongside many of Japan’s finest, and a number of other imports, at the Yokohama version of the Great Japan Beer Festival. This was surely a first for a New Zealand craft brewery and represented a bold play for a stake in the vibrant Japanese craft beer market.

The origins of the venture lay in an approach from the brewery to Hashigo Zake looking for contacts in Asia that might lead to export opportunities. The subsequent advice from Nagano Trading, Japan’s leading importer of US craft beer, was to exhibit in the GJBF. This was easier said than done. Between the peculiarities of the market and the intricacies of Japanese bureaucracy, the equivalent of months of preparation had to be squeezed into a few weeks before a pallet of kegs and bottles set sail in late August. In the end there were just hours to spare when the beer arrived at the Osambashi Hall in Yokohama on the morning of September 18.

Flying out of the Wellington winter to meet the beer and represent Tuatara’s interests were David Bernard of Tuatara and myself, in my capacity as “the guy who once lived there and knows some people”.

Before we started the hard work of dispensing New Zealand beer, 50mls at a time, there was a free day in Yokohama and Tokyo, spent at as many of those cities’ serious beer outlets as time would allow. There was the Nakameguro Taproom of Baird and the Aldgate and Craftheads in Shibuya and Yokohama’s own Thrashzone. At all four bars the stamp of Nagano Trading was evident. Many taps were pouring immaculately fresh beer from a variety of US brewers, even at the Baird Taproom, which sets aside four of its 28 taps to guest beers. It was eye-opening to see the impact one importing company has had on the Japanese market, particularly in Tokyo, whose beer drinkers might just be the most spoiled on the planet. Not that these treats come cheaply. A US pint glass (474 mls) can cost between 1000 and 2000 yen ($NZ15-30).

Indulgence is certainly the theme at the extraordinary Thrashzone. It starts with the owner, Koichi Katsuki, who indulges his two loves - extremely noisy thrash music and “extreme” beer. He manages to squeeze eight kegs into two kegerators – most of them high octane and highly hopped. A few are local but probably the majority are imports. There’s no concession to anyone seeking a session beer and very little room to do anything except sit or stand, drink and admire the heavy metal videos on the big screen behind the bar. But amazingly when some well lubricated foreigners wandered in late one evening, he willingly agreed to a request to “put some Queen on”.

On the morning of the 18th we arrived at the venue. The Osambashi Hall is part of a huge, modern equivalent to Wellington’s overseas terminal. It extends more than 400 metres into Yokohama Bay. The hall itself occupies a portion of the terminal, with 2000 square metres of bright, open exhibition space. The exhibitors line the sides, leaving vast open space for festival attendees to mingle. Tuatara are with other imported beers, most of which are American, but we also find ourselves rubbing shoulders with Italy’s Revelation Cat. Curiously one of their taps is pouring a lambic, dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin.

The paying guests start to arrive and a steady trickle wander up to see what we’re about. On offer are Tuatara’s IPA, APA and Ardennes. Signs are improvised to explain what the beer names signify, and a map appears with an arrow to Otaki. The Japanese seem comfortable ordering an IPA or Belgian Ale and tend to overlook the APA. Fortunately a different dynamic is at work on the other side of the trestle tables and the APA is quickly in demand from our fellow workers. In fact it becomes clear that amongst the plethora of highly hopped and/or flavoured beers from the USA, there are few, if any, classic American Pale Ales.


Overall the feedback is quite encouraging. While Tuatara’s IPA is far too nuanced and moderate to compete in an environment like this with the American IPAs, the APA is fresh and aromatic, has stood up to the sea journey across the tropics and is popular. One influential player stresses the need for original beers showcasing New Zealand hops. While his case is valid and I agree up to a point, he eventually has to concede that the reception has been too consistently positive to ignore.

By the third day of the festival the managers of several prominent bars have been through and expressed interest in getting access to the beer. Our ally says that it’s a matter of waiting and seeing how many calls come to him from bars asking for kegs. But there are extra kegs in this shipment and all the signs are that these will be snapped up by Tokyo bars.

While future orders are far from guaranteed and the hard work of adapting to the target market has barely started, there are signs that Tuatara might have a new export market. This should be great news not only to them but to all New Zealand craft brewers. Between sessions at the beer festival we took several cases of New Zealand beer, naturally including Tuatara, but also Renaissance, 8 Wired, the Mussel Inn and Emersons to an informal tasting for many of Tokyo’s most prominent beer lovers, writers and, well, pissheads. The reception was universally positive. There is little doubt that beers like Emerson’s Pilsner, Captain Cooker, Hopwired and Stonecutter Scotch Ale would gain an instant following if we could simply get a consistent supply of them to Japan.

I’m sure there is plenty of scepticism about the export potential of New Zealand craft beer. We came across it when another local brewery applied for funding to help get to the GJBF too. The dismissive tone of the poorly-informed functionary who turned them down sends shivers down my spine. Even if the craft brewing industry here is small and immature, sceptics overlook the trail being blazed by our hop industry. New Zealand hops are the height of fashion amongst leading brewers like Mikkeller, Baird and Sierra Nevada and are probably being used with little fanfare in many other

famous beers. At the GJBF we found ourselves next door to an Italian brewer boasting about his use of New Zealand hops. Aficionados are desperate to taste beers brewed in the land where these very hops come from. It’s time some of the resources bestowed on cinderella industries like wine, fashion and software were donated to something we have a natural advantage at.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Beer and Loathing, 2010 edition

There was near universal dismay on Thursday when the 2010 BrewNZ awards turned into a benefit for the country's most despised misunderstood brewery - DB. But the results were, in a way, as unsurprising as the fallout. History was simply repeating itself after all - http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/BU0205/S00270/db-breweries-swoops-up-most-awards-at-nz-beer-cup.htm.

There are two main reasons for DB's seemingly inexplicable triumph. One is the modus operandi of beer judging. Beers are judged according to the style that they are entered against and in a mainly negative fashion - i.e. they are marked down for faults, not up for positive attributes. So for a beer to do well it must fit rigidly to the guide for its style and have none of the technical faults that elude almost everyone except those trained to discern them. So many a fine beer, full of flavour and merit, falls foul of the judges for technical reasons.

But these constraints are well known, if frustrating, and to ignore them is to be out of step with the world of beer judging.

More dubious is the grouping of the 70 or so recognised styles into 17 categories for the purposes of distributing trophies and, presumably, finding the champion brewery.

Some people would be surprised to find New Zealand Draught (dark, minimally flavoured, sweet, caramel coloured lager) is not only a recognised style, but is worthy of a trophy in its own right. Meanwhile European style ales (including innumerable interesting and difficult to make styles) have to share a single trophy.

So DB's Tui is one of two New Zealand Draughts to get a silver medal - a disappointing result considering the style and the beer are almost one and the same - but gets a trophy to boot. While the European-style Ales category yielded four golds and umpteen silvers but just the one trophy.

A similar story emerges if you compare the category of low-cal, low-alc and gluten free beers with that of the diverse and competitive New Zealand, US and International Ale Styles. The net result was a trophy for Export 33.

It's like some weird kind of gerrymandering.

When Three Boys Brewery was announced to have come second in the race for Champion Brewery the cheering and applause were deafening. When DB was announced as overall winner there was muted applause, compensated for by "We Are The Champions" being piped through the PA. Really classy. But outside the Duxton's Ballroom people weren't so polite. I almost felt sorry for DB's dinner-suited boss who must have heard the railings of a prominent SOBA member two feet away at Hashigo Zake later that evening. (But any sympathy went out the door when I heard of DB's latest attempt at intimidation of SOBA over the Radler farce.)

The outstanding question remains why the Brewers Guild allocate trophies the way they do. Could it be a relic of these awards' history? They were instituted by the large breweries themselves under the guise of the Beer Wine and Spirits Council. Or is it some kind of appeasement? One insider commented that DB's success was down to Lion's failure to provide a foil by sharing the honours in these relatively craftless styles. If the intention was for the industrial brewers to cancel each other out and leave room for a plucky small player like Three Boys to come through then it was a tragic miscalculation.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

They're Using Our Hops Here.

Regular customer and frequent flyer Jos Ruffell recently brought in a few bottles of Sierra Nevada's amazing Southern Hemisphere Hop Harvest Ale. We've also been stocking Mikkeller's Nelson Sauvin IPA for some time. Meanwhile our favourite Asian brewery, Baird, have been experimenting with New Zealand hops, and as we speak they are filling kegs for us with two pale ales showcasing NZ Cascade and Hallertau respectively.

Which begs for all these beers made overseas with NZ hops to be given some kind of showcase. And that's what we're planning - probably as a tasting in September. Now we've only got about half the beers we need for a decent tasting. So we're keen to hear of any other beers being made overseas that are built around NZ hops. Suggestions welcome...

Monday, June 7, 2010

plus ça change...

With business booming and a regular email going out to subscribers (and archived here), there hasn't been so much to talk about here. Fortunately there are always a few idiots out there keen to cover themselves in glory with some really dumb petty crime. Check it out. Full marks to Dave though for seeing it happen and retrieving the item.


And guys if you're watching, that little glowing thing high on the back wall is a camera.


Monday, April 12, 2010

World Beer Cup

I'm still absorbing the news of Baird Brewing's success at the World Beer Cup. To be tied with Ballast Point for the most gold medals in the competition is staggering. And as luck would have it our shipment of Numazu Lager (best American-style Amber Lager) went on sale today.

Melbourne

Four days in Melbourne created an opportunity to catch up with the local beer and bars. There was no shortage of highlights, starting with the Little Creatures Dining Hall in Fitzroy and the nearby Lambs Go Bar. Then a long day being shown around by Adam of Boutique Beverage Distributors included visits to the Hargreaves Hill and Mountain Goat breweries and a couple of damned good bars whose names elude me right now. Later on I made it to the Local Taphouse in St Kilda.

There's no doubt that some extremely good beer is coming out of Victoria and the scene is thriving generally. I'm particularly looking forward to more chances to taste beer from Hargreaves Hill and Jamieson.

There were plenty of annoyances too. Do any bars there post their opening hours? And minimum charges to use EFTPOS? (Actually I can see the attraction of that for an operator but it's hardly putting the customer first.) And being prompted to tip was like being back in the UK or US.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Going Full Time

We've been meaning to extend the opening hours for a long time and tomorrow's the day. A new sign for the door is being printed now, proudly stating our opening time as noon. Not that anyone ever paid any attention to the old sign saying that we open at 4pm.

Anyway it's another really satisfying milestone for us, given the dire predictions that were being made liberally all last year.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sharing the Love


One week in and the off-licence is working just as we hoped. A few customers are going out of their way to pick up modest orders of Rogue, Mikkeller and Flying Dog bottles. And we've had the odd rigger too. Some come in purely for a takeaway order but quite a few are deciding to take an extra bottle home after they've had a couple in the bar. No trouble, no debates, and certainly no "pushing booze on children" or whatever it was that the hysterical Bernard O'Shaughnessy predicted.

But the time to take things to the next level is approaching. Following a suggestion by a regular customer (thanks Ben) we found shopify, a web application that lets small operators like us come up with an online store with little effort. And as long as we handle issues such as shipping, pricing and payments in the simplest way possible, cultbeerstore.co.nz should be in business within days.

I should elaborate on those three issues a little because I'd like to invite constructive feedback.

1. Shipping. This will be by courier. We have to get back in touch with the courier company that we planned this with several months ago to confirm pricing. They gave us a complicated menu of pricing that takes into account weight, volume and destination. This is probably far more complicated than we can achieve with our simple website, so we will just simplify these down to a couple of prices and absorb the differences.

2. Pricing. For now, pricing is based on our bar prices, discounted 20%, which is what we've been doing with takeaway sales in the bar. The results still resemble bar prices as much as bottle store ones, so there's potential to drop them. In fact shopify will let customers claim a percentage discount using a code. At this stage we plan to let people do exactly that if their order is sufficiently large. And trade pricing can be enabled the same way.

3. Payments. We're looking into using payments gateways but it is actually possible to go live without one. The solution is to invite customers to make bank deposits using (in general) internet banking. I think this will actually prove acceptable to most people. I assume that trademe customers use this method regularly. It must be more cost-efficient than using a credit card. A payments gateway may not be too hard to implement and we may even have one by the time we go live, but I'm tempted not to just to see how acceptable direct credits will prove.

Shopify has proven pretty powerful so far. From what I gather there is an API that developers can use to make it perform tasks more complicated than its generic capabilities can be manipulated for. It would be good to hear if anyone has experience with it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Nuisance Dealt With For Now



This came in the mail last week.

So Mr O'Shaughnessy and the forces of [insert mocking phrase here] have been defeated for now and we can sell takeaways.

More info will follow, but for anyone interested, you can now come in between 4pm and 11pm and buy anything off the beer menu to takeaway at a discount.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It's an ill wind

At least Bernard O'Shaughnessy has helped us score some free publicity... http://www.capitaltimes.co.nz/article/2741/Publicnuisance.html

Food

We kicked off our 2010 tasting programme tonight (the 26th) with a matched beer and food evening. The event was proposed by our regular customer "M", who happens to be the executive chef at a Wellington restaurant that will remain nameless, but which most of us will never get to dine at. Chef M looked at our grill-less, oven-less, extraction-less kitchen and decided he could make it work. He and I picked some beers that he could work with and he figured out a menu. I expected some shortcuts here, some stuff out of packets with a bit of garnish there, and maybe one serious, thought out dish. How wrong I was.

Chef M and his assistant turned up with an array of prepared portions, sauces, garnishes, a couple of extra domestic appliances and a plan and got to work. They were ruthlessly efficient, cleaned as they went, never raised a sweat and did things with certain kitchen devices the manufacturers never intended. Without extraction we had strong food aromas spreading through the bar and our normal cooking methods are designed to avoid this, but as a one off the glorious seafood and red meat aromas could be tolerated.


The results were stunning. It was a real eye-opener for us beer geeks who struggle to turn out passable meals and snacks from our primitive equipment. The full menu is below.



  • Nelson Scallop & Tauranga Prawn Duo on Coriander & Carrot Mousse with Three Boys Wheat
  • Venison with Black Pudding Crumble, Rhubarb Compote, Kumara Porridge with Mike’s Organic Ale
  • Nori-wrapped Salmon with Pickled Cucumber & Raspberry Balsamic Glaze with Baird Angry Boy Brown Ale
  • Bacon Wrapped Angus Beef Fillet on White Bean Cassoulet with Rogue Chipotle Ale
  • Kikorangi Blue Sandwich with Sea Salt Chocolate Canache served with Renaissance Craftsman Chocolate Stout
  • Banana Tarte Tatin with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream served with Eisenbahn Bier Likor
For the record, the most popular dish of the night was the Angus Beef Fillet, the most popular beer was the Baird Angry Boy Brown Ale and the most popular match was the Banana Tarte Tatin with Eisenbahn Bier Likor.

Many thanks to everyone who participated and especially to our chef and sous-chef.



Friday, January 8, 2010

Objectification

It has been our intention for some time to get an off-licence. Mainly this is so we can get faster turnover and a quicker return on our imports, but also because it's something that customers are asking for. It took a while to organise all the paperwork because September to December of last year were simply so busy. Then having set the whole thing in motion, something went wrong with the publication of our public notices and the whole thing was set back several weeks.

This delay has had even worse consequences than we could have foreseen because it means we've unwittingly come to the attention of one Bernard O'Shaughnessy of Newtown. I say we've come to his attention but in all honesty, I find it unlikely that he knows the slightest thing about us. I say this because he has lumped us together with every other company that published a public notice regarding a liquor licence on December 17th and the text of his "formal" objection makes no connection between his problem with the liquor trade and the way we do business.

His objection is expected to delay the issuing of our licence by one or two months. This is even though the local licensing authority have said that they support our application and are as frustrated with O'Shaughnessy's wholesale objections as I am.

I'm using very restrained language here. I don't think I need to say what I really think, because here, here, here and here are the four pages of his objection. I won't even suggest what readers' reactions might be. Feel free to comment, but please don't use language and terms that might raise legal issues, because I'm considering legal action for defamation myself, in the hope that it will convince O'Shaughnessy that using the provision for objections in the Sale of Liquor Act in this manner is a misuse of the process and an unjustified slur on businesses such as ours.

But you be the judge. And if anyone has any suggestions that will help us throw out this objection sooner rather than later then chime in.