Neil Miller, who was farewelled in Wellington to laughter and bagpipes today, was one of this country’s most influential beer writers.
Prolific, funny and with a knack for dishing out nicknames that stuck, he sadly passed away on June 1 at Wellington Hospital after a short illness aged 49.
Neil was well-known through his prolific work on The Malthouse blog — he penned over 500 of these missives and they were all entertaining, funny and informative.
At his funeral, fiancee Tamsyn Badland, noted that Neil once commented that the blog “was his best work”.
He was a regular panelist on Radio NZ’s Afternoon show as well as Newstalk ZB’s The Huddle.
He wrote for Beer & Brewer, The Shout, Cuisine, Witchdoctor and this magazine. I’ve never seen him more delighted than when he won the Beer Writer of The Year trophy at the Brewers Guild Awards in 2015. Well, except for the time he he caught the attention of Australian cricket star David Warner with his “David Warner Likes Nickelback” sign that he took to a cricket match in 2016. That sparked a Twitter conversation with a confused Warner that turned into a news story on Stuff.
He loved cricket and Star Wars almost as much as he loved wrestling and both were surpassed by his deep devotion to his country of birth, Scotland.
He nicknamed Richard Emerson “the Chuck Norris” of New Zealand brewing, gave Luke Nicholas of Epic the moniker of Imp, which in turn became the name of a beer. Stu McKinlay of Yeastie Boys says their flagship Pot Kettle Black was created in part as a way to unite his love of malty beers with Neil’s love of all things hoppy.
McKinlay first met Neil at one the beer tastings he used to run at The Backbencher pub in Wellington.
“Neil was running some beer tastings at The Backbencher in the early 2000s that I attended regularly. He introduced me to some fantastic stories about breweries and beers, during this time, and we quickly developed a friendship that was based around our diametrically opposed views on both politics and beer. I was never a debater in the same realm as Neil but I loved a good discussion around these things — especially over a beer. On the beer spectrum, Neil was very much a hophead with a big love of US-styles while my love was born of British and Belgian beers.
“I was homebrewing very regularly through this period and set myself the challenge of creating a beer that would make us both happy. A strong, complex, malt-accented beer with a big hoppy twist. What started out as a hoppy brown ale in my mind, morphed into a Porter with a big whack of hops. It quickly became a fan favourite with friends and soon after — with the help of Invercargill Brewery’s Steve Nally (who I met through Neil) — became Yeastie Boys first commercial release in 2008.”
Neil’s huge love of big hoppy beers led to Liberty Brewing creating Miller’s Humulus in his honour in 2015.
While a beer lover, Neil was a political junkie at heart. He described jokingly himself as belonging the “vast right-wing conspiracy” said Tamsyn at his funeral.
As former colleague David Farrar noted: “He was, I thought, the most talented researcher I had seen. He trained up a generation of MPs on standing orders, on speaking in the House and more. And he brought joy to all those who worked with him — through his terrible Hawaiian shirts, his indoor cricket playing in the corridors and his great sense of humour.”
A legendary debater and karaoke devotee, he was wickedly quick-witted, had a huge heart and a big warm love of people and animals. The one thing he couldn’t abide, said Farrar, was cruelty to animals and he had a particular fondness for sloths and elephants.
Neil’s legacy in the New Zealand beer scene is unrivalled and he paved the way for a generation of other writers, including myself. His support and encouragement meant the world when I was starting out.
We offer our sincere condolences to his family and friends, and especially his fiancée Tamsyn who — above Scotland, wrestling, Star Wars and beer — was the true love of his life.
Neil was a small shareholder in Wellington’s Fork & Brewer pub which will host an open mic evening in his honour on Thursday which will feature many great stories I’m sure.