"It's got a lit dance floor, dvd player, big screen, a bar, disco lights and a moon roof." The man stood proudly beside his stretch Humvee; smoking a cigarette and looking exactly like the kind of person your parents warn you not to take rides with.
He'd caught us peeking in the windows while we waited for our ride. In our defence, we were very drunk.
"Drove down from Auckland yesterday" he explained. "The girls are in the supermarket buying alcohol."
"Can we have a look inside? We're journalists" I added, tapping the media pass dangling around my neck. He grinned as he opened up the back. It was as though someone had taken a bar like Boogie Wonderland or Red Square and miniaturised it and put into the back of a truck. We showed how unimpressed we were by taking photos.
Eventually "the girls" showed up with armfuls of wine and the truck made its awkward and elongated way into the narrow, darkening streets of Wellington.
Did I mention we had been drinking?
Earlier in the day I was eating breakfast at a French café in Newtown. Outside the rain thundered down. Down is an unusual direction for rain in Wellington, usually it travels across. My phone hummed with a message from my photographer: I'm still keen, when should I meet you?
Jed is a family man and I felt bad for corrupting him. I thought that the idea of drinking dozens of exotic beers in the pouring rain would be a turnoff for him. Apparently I was mistaken. I left the café with a "Parisian" baguette stuffed in my jacket for later, a very smart move.
When I met Jed he was standing in the rain outside the main gate. We said our hellos and I noted how smart it was that the press passes had been made from water (and beer) resistant material. We lined up and exchanged large wads of cash for stacks of chips, a brilliant system devised by casinos to lessen the effects of "oh my god, how much money have I spent?!"
But why have chips when you're a journalist? For example Bennett's is an intelligent brewery that understands how the media works (i.e. we got free beer). After being told about their various beers and (oh dear god) cider, I settled on the Strong Ale – a beer for "real men", drinking anything else would make me seem like a pussy. Jed had the dark ale. Neither of these were particularly good choices for our first beer.
Don't get me wrong, both beers were strong and flavoursome and, quite frankly, very good. But mine really was deceptively strong, and Jed's was thick, like a good dark beer should be. But we would not be slowed down. We bypassed the Miller tent (yes, I believe I said the same thing "WTF? Miller?") and went to an old favourite of mine, Croucher's.
The two pretty young girls with very tanned skin strongly urged us to try the Blonde but were unsure whether or not to charge us. I felt sorry for them and we decided that we couldn't really mooch our way around the whole festival (we would still try though).
Nigel (above), told us how the Blonde was an accident, an experiment that went right but would be hard, if not impossible to repeat. For this reason they didn't bottle it, instead they have been selling it solely at festivals around the country, so I was one of a small group of people to have tried it. I don't care if this was a lie, it made me feel special, and besides it was a good beer.
In fact I may as well say it now that I only had one bad beer all day. It was so bad that I tipped it out after only drinking half. And because you're dying to know, it was the Russian Baltika. A famous Russian beer? Well that should've tipped us off straight away, and if that didn't the fact that it had just bought Carlsberg and is now "Europe's largest brewer" should have. I asked what they meant by "largest", because I'm a fucking journalist and need the fucking facts. Apparently it means they produce the most beer (another warning sign).
At some point I lose track of the chronology of the day and I am forced to rely on my #beerfest Tweets. Jed's photos were fantastic but sadly still no help. He took eight notes in total for the six rolls of film he shot.
I do remember bumping into two people who were possibly from the Hutt Times. They were asking us how much free beer we had received, they hadn't got any. We told them to try Bennett's and to go with a serious look on your face: "Oh yeah, the breweries want you to be serious". After they left we joked about how sad it was to meet people from a dying media.
Rather aptly we had met them after we had just interviewed a rather ingenious man over a Yeastie Boys' ale we purchased solely for the name. The man,
whose name and company was lost when my dictaphone died Craig from BeerNZ, is doing for the brewing industry what the movie and music industries have been doing for years (but with no DRM issues). Basically he is a beer distributor, the brewers send him beer and he gets it into pubs, instead of pubs going directly to the brewer which can a pain for both parties. For example he's the distributor for Epic in the South Island. It's not a completely proven system just yet but it's a start.
This was completely different to the Kirin story. I like Japanese beer a lot. And Kirin Ichiban is one of my favourites. However, the Kirin I was drinking was from Australia. One of the major breweries owns the Kirin licence and is brewing the beer through the same process and with the same ingredients as they do in Japan. And yet… something's missing…
If you go to a Japanese restaurant and they have Kirin in the big brown bottles, this is parallel imported beer (just like the Nikes you buy at The Warehouse). But it's real Japanese beer and (for some reason) tastes better. My recommendation is that you only ever have this kind of beer.
And while I'm telling you what to drink, the best beer of the day was easily the Epic Mayhem. Luke from Epic is a beer-lebrity in these parts. I think every local brewer knew him and mentioned Epic when we were talking. I got the chance to interview him for Made From New Zealand (can't quite remember how James Stewart roped me into that one) about the general processes, what made Mayhem so good and how he was going to knock the socks off the British when he went over as guest brewer. I'll make sure to link to the video when it goes up.
I don't think I've mentioned the rain enough. This was not a sunny day. The footing had become treacherous and folks were looking for shelter. And when folks are crammed in under things can become very close and random conversations start.
We met a guy named Greg (we think it was Greg) who was a very nice guy and even politely turned down Jed's proffered chips. The Canadians were apologetic but friendly (how Canadian of them). They were also soaked to the skin and in high spirits. As were the guys in lederhosen (more on them later). While drinking another Belgian Ale we started chatting with a journalism student called Denise. Denise was also interested in how much free beer we had received. I could sense a theme.
After a long talk about journalistic ethics and statistical literacy we sent Denise off in search of a Croucher's and hopefully on the path to journalistic righteousness. I had to ask the people next to me how to spell "righteousness" for my tweet. They were wrong, but friendly. Tents in the rain don't have much room for dicks.
Speaking of dicks, we were talking to the guys in lederhosen again. Jed was taking a few snaps when these two bystanders yelled out that the lederhosen guys were "homos". At this point in the evening I had just enough to drink that I swung about and said "What?"
In hindsight I have no idea what I was thinking. I walked up to pair and started with: "These guys are having fun, drinking, sliding around in the mud (as were many others), and generally having a great time. You're the 'homo'". I don't think he was expecting this from a stranger, no less someone with a media pass dangling around his neck. He mumbled something about "sliding around too", but his fairly dry clothes said otherwise. He ended up having to listen to my berating for a while. His friend stood beside us, rolled a cigarette and grinned, so I pushed my luck.
"Is that an Atlanta Braves hat? You a fan?" I asked. He gave the head tilt that means "yes" in our part of the world. "I'm a Mets Fan, how are the Braves doing so far this season?"
"Alright" he replied, "they could do better". I smiled and nodded. It's one of my pet hates and yeah I know it was a dick-move; as you may have guessed the baseball season hasn't started yet. Anyway they posed for a photo and the Atlanta Braves fan made it one of my favourites.
In the end it seems Beerfest was a financial loss and promotional gain. The people who were there seemed to have a grand time, dancing and drinking and laughing.
All of these people will be back. And I look forward to meeting them all over again.