New year’s resolutions typically involve trying to drink less beer … but that’s just not the way the end of 2022 went for me.  My cat died, my day job is sliding towards redundancy, my mortgage is about to be buried under a truckload of interest rate rises and my waning patience with politics continued its slide from ‘unsatisfied’ to somewhere around ‘pitchfork’.

So no, I’m not resolving to drink less.  These resolutions are more about what I’d like to see out of the industry in general over the new year.  Hopes, dreams and positive directions I’ll try and lend my little bit of strength towards rolling the chariot towards in 2023.

Drink more NZIPA

Last year was fairly strong for IPA, with solid releases over the year and the new “cold” style mixing things up right at the end with a fresh new approach.  But some of the beers that really stood out were all NZ affairs.  Oast House Party from Sprig & Fern, and Reverb from Emerson’s are two that really stuck with me.  Both expertly harnessed the strengths of local hops, and — packaged in an 888ml bottle and six-pack respectively — were exceptional value.

New Beer Year resolutions

We shouldn’t need a reminder that New Zealand hops can (and should) make great IPA, but getting one now and then doesn’t hurt.  There’s so many other reasons to get behind the style too.  Less carbon miles, less dependence on American hop allocations and more investment in our local hop growing.  

For my part I’m going to be giving extra attention to local IPAs this year, starting with a Top-10 NZIPAs list coming soon.

Drink more Dark Beer

I want dark beer to do well; I think we all do.  But as much as I might advocate for it, when I look back over the year I didn’t actually drink all that much of it.  Part of that’s on me, and part of that is because there just wasn’t much around in the first place.  I bought significantly more Australian Cooper’s Best Extra Stout than anything local.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Cooper’s Best Extra, but it’s not the beer that’s going to save dark styles here in New Zealand.

The ‘stupid strong’ corner of the style is (rather singularly) being kept alive by heavily experimental releases like Garage Project’s Surrender To The Void series.  These are amongst my favourite beers to explore, but the massive ABV and often bizarre ingredients can make them quite the undertaking.

This is a hard one; because dark has declined to such an extent that new drinkers aren’t being exposed to it any more.  You can routinely walk into a craft beer bar and find there isn’t a single dark on tap.  So all I can do, and all I can ask of my fellow drinkers, is that when the opportunity to explore such a beer does appear, take it and see what happens.  

Once winter rolls back around I will be making my annual report from the New Zealand Stout Challenge, and ideally I’ll have plenty of positivity coming out of that one.

No more lazy hazy

It wouldn’t be a Tim Newman piece without at least one gripe about hazy beer, so here it is.  I’ve long since accepted that hazies are here to stay, although I stand by my prediction that we would see the peak last year (it will take the entry numbers from this year’s competitions to prove that out or not).  

If they’re to remain such a dominant presence in the beer landscape then I think it’s even more important that they get better.  Not to say there hasn’t been progress in the quality, there certainly has, last year especially.  But they’re still out there… the releases I think of as the ‘lazy hazys’.  Unfocused, sagging, wishy-washy beers without any energy or identity.  Bumped out with the brewing version of a shrug to hopefully catch a free ride on the hazy wave.

New Beer Year resolutions

The responsibility isn’t just on brewers here either, drinkers too need to scrutinise what they’re consuming and consciously go after the good stuff.  

More batched and vintage releases

Let me rotate my booze cap and talk about wine for a second.  Wine evolves and fluctuates, changing between vintages as it represents the varying climate, viticulture and winemaking.  In a beer, this would be considered inconsistency, but with wine, it’s not just accepted, but celebrated as a facet of what makes the drink so interesting.  

I’d like to see more brewers (and more drinkers in kind) embrace this kind of variation, rather than hem themselves in by adhering to the model of batch consistency.  

McLeod’s are the champions of this approach with their 802 series of unfiltered IPA.  This is a beer that sticks to two things, it’s ABV and being so hazy it should be served with a spoon.  Beyond that they’re free to experiment with new hops and hop combinations, and the only thing that has to change on the label is the batch number (they’re onto #48!).

New Beer Year resolutions

If more brewers experimented with that model I think it would be a huge positive.  Imagine a batched version of 8 Wired’s Hopwired, or GP’s Pernicious Weed that explored new hops and flavour directions over the year.  It would satisfy the craft audience’s endless thirst for the new, without our poor brewers having to come out with a completely new beer and new label (and corresponding beer pun) every time.

Better beer storage at supermarkets

Most beer needs to be stored under chill.  We know this.  But every year, without fail, it doesn’t happen.  Both of the big supermarket players are guilty.  One of my locals even has their ‘New Releasessection OUTSIDE the refrigerated shelves.  Often brand new super fragile hazies, just sitting there perishing at ambient temperature next to the cask wine.

In the defence of the supermarkets, it’s not an easy problem to solve.  There’s never been more producers crowding the craft space, and filling the entire premises with chilled shelves isn’t a viable option.  Those shelves themselves are part of the problem, being just about the most energy-inefficient way of cooling anything.  

Maybe it’s time the craft beer just got moved into the walk-in chillers and all that cheap lager got booted out into the store.  Yes, it’s cold in there, you’ll live.  The supermarkets could even have jaunty loaner hats to wear — or they could do tastings inside — the trend factor would be off the charts.  

Alternatively:  See below.

Shop At Specialists Or Order From The Source

So supermarkets can be a problem, as described.  But the big guys aren’t the sole arbiters of all craft beer sold.  Specialist retailers exist and they’re doing good work.  My local, Punky Brewster, doesn’t just keep all their beer under chill, they have UV filters on the glass doors of their fridges.

Beyond that, almost all breweries big and small now have an online store and will ship directly.  As long as you know what you want (or are willing to explore) then buying direct is a great option.  It’s better for the producer since it gives them more margin and ideally it’s better for the beer since they have more control over how it’s stored before it gets to you.  

The responsibility of ensuring that the condition is good falls with the producer, so if something is not up to spec let them know.  

Get My Butt To More Events

As far as my attendance at beer events, both local and national, it’s been a pretty slack few years.  I could blame Covid, and it’s true that put a dampner on the number of events being organised, but ultimately it’s my own shut-in nature that’s keeping me from getting out there.  Now that things are well and truly cracking off once again this summer, I’m going to be making a conscious effort to get amongst it and be part of things.  

It’s a responsibility that the craft beer scene is going to have to cumulatively shoulder this year because the economics of 2023 are going to bite hard.  We don’t know how hard yet, but it’s clear enough that nobody is going to get off easy, and many brewers and premises are going to struggle.  

Knowing some of them, I can tell you that quite beside the financial boost, it’s seeing the familiar faces show up that truly reminds the producers of our industry that we’re here with them.  From brewers to the publicans, and all the way down the worn but unbroken chain of our hospitality sector, it’s having people turn up that makes the difference.  

So get out there.  Don’t just drink craft beer, live it.