It’s 5.30pm, Thursday night, and I’m on my way to Buster Crabb for our monthly SOBA meeting. Before I do, I nip into the brewery and apply a quick coat of epoxy resin, it’ll dry overnight and I can do the same again in the morning.

The first to arrive at Buster’s, I take a little quiet time for some contemplative research. I’m greeted warmly, and bartender Tom is quick to present me with a couple of tasters, but I’ve already decided what I’m drinking, I’ll have the tap pilsner.

Our own (Richmond Brothers Bohemian Pilsner) will be released to the public soon and my mission is to experience as many examples of the style as I can. It’s an enjoyable task, and tonight’s contender from New New New Brewery in Dunedin is no different. Clean and crisp, I make note of the pleasing elements, reminded that beer is good.

A handful of members arrive. Kevin Downie being one, Scottish accent and endless passion in tow. We greet each other as friends, recounting old covid ‘war stories.’ Beers are ordered, and received. The meeting is started. Kevin, producing a pad, declares happily, “this month we have an agenda”.

We make our way through it, quickly crossing items off the list. Kevin turns to me and asks expectantly “and where are you guys at?” but I have to give him the same old bad news “Still building.” To ease his disappointment, I add that the pilsner we have made for this year’s (now postponed) Hop n’ Vine festival will soon be available – a courtesy provided by the Invercargill Licensing Trust, and the news seems to reinvigorate him.

“Write me something for the Pursuit of Hoppiness magazine” he asks and I promise I will.

It’s an excellent opportunity, I reason, and great for the company profile. As I consider the different possibilities, our party size increases, and so does the level of lubrication. We sprawl out across to other tables, and polite conversations ramp from gentle murmurs to an animated din. Familiar faces are recognized, that I hadn’t notice come in, and I make a point to talk to them all before I go, but like the completion of the agenda, it’s a job that will remain undone.

Hugo Zaat, from The Factory (voted by SOBA as Southland’s best brewery for 2019) arrives and we talk shop. Over the night I will meet a piano tuner, a chef, and some of Southland’s best entrepreneurs, among others. It’s an eclectic and enjoyable mix. I’m starting to understand where I want this article’s direction to go.

My mind turns to Hadley Rich and the crew from Timaru’s Ship Hop Brewing. On tour to source bright tanks and explore the Christchurch craft scene, an ambitious call is hastily made to reach out. “We are novice brewers looking for some advice” we explain – and to our delight and dismay –  they graciously agree to meet. A quick detour to Timaru, and over the next hour we are treated to the finest in hospitality. The generous and selfless accommodation (particularly regarding vital and sensitive information) is enough to leave us blushing. Culminating with an exclusive guided tour of the Ship Hop operation, Hadley has become our cult hero, of whom we immediately vow to emulate.

Then there’s the Hopfather himself, Richard Emerson. We encounter him at a Level 1 ‘Meet the Brewer’ evening, an event organised (again) by Kevin Downie. After the meeting proper, we assault Richard with a barrage of questions at the bar. He is as equally a gentleman as he is a champion brewer, and provides us with expert advice that will not only help to shape the build of our kit, but steer the way we run the company itself.

It’s this kind of ridiculous goodwill that we will be confronted with time and again in the industry, and something that should not go unheralded.

I watch Kevin, as he (feigning effrontery) challenges us to present our SOBA cards for verification – checking that they’re still valid. He expresses his keen desire to increase our membership, and when he produces his own card revealing he is SOBA member No. 6 we are all suitably impressed – but not surprised. Kevin’s unparalleled commitment to craft beer, especially in Southland, has proven nothing short of relentless, and, it’s to that continuing endeavor that I’d like to pay this tribute. To the man who has made this night possible, bringing all of us – united by our determination to celebrate good beer – together under one roof, a heartfelt cheers!

If you have an interest in beer and would like to join SOBA, I can only suggest to do it. Financial benefits (like discounts on craft beer purchases) will help to make the decision easier, but at root, it’s the ability to associate with an amazing section of the community that provide the truly outstanding value here.

Having said that, I can’t forgo the opportunity for a shameless plug. Join with us at Richmond Brothers Brewery on Facebook. If you’d like to connect, comment, offer free advice, or just feel that we might be related, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Otherwise, join SOBA Southland. I’ll be seeing you there.