A sign of the times: Talking craft beer at Womad

by Sam Button / 13 March, 2019
Michael Donaldson (left) gives writer Sam Button a few tips at Brothers Beer in Auckland

Michael Donaldson (left) gives writer Sam Button a few tips at Brothers Beer in Auckland. Photo/Rebekah Robinson.

Craft beer enthusiast Michael Donaldson is among the writers and thinkers taking the stage at this year’s Womad festival.

It’s Christmas Eve, 2008. Journalist Michael Donaldson is sitting with his wife Deirdre at the Martinborough Hotel in the Wairarapa. She is drinking wine; he is about to taste an Emerson’s Pilsner for the first time. It was his “epiphany beer”, helping to turn him from a man who knew a good drink to becoming one of New Zealand’s top beer reviewers.

At the time, he was sports editor at the Sunday Star-Times. “We had a new editor and being a bit full of myself, I said, ‘I think we need a beer column and I’m the person to write it for you.’” Since then, he’s become an occasional craft beer reviewer for North & South, and has written three books: Beer Nation (2012), The Big Book of Home Brew (2015), and a biography of legendary Dunedin brewer Richard Emerson, due out this July.

In a sign of just how big the craft-beer scene has become, Donaldson is also joining the festival circuit for Womad’s “World of Words” programme, showcasing writers and thinkers from around the world – alongside music headliners ranging from Teeks and The Black Seeds to Benin’s Angelique Kidjo (with her take on Talking Heads) and South London duo The Correspondents (Bowl of Brooklands, New Plymouth, 15-17 March).

Read more: Burke’s backyard: Is this NZ's smallest brewery?Unhappy hour: The downside of the craft beer business

Donaldson’s topic will be the business of beer, looking at whether the country can sustain its 200-plus breweries; he’ll also tackle what he calls that hairy old chestnut: What is “craft” beer, anyway?

It was the 1990s, when he was living in Sydney, that Donaldson discovered what New Zealand was missing: a nascent craft-beer industry. (Personal highlights from across the ditch include Cooper’s Sparkling Ale from Adelaide and Freemantle’s Little Creatures, which he once described as the best beer in the world.) “The breweries that were popping up here then were basically exaggerated home breweries,” he says. “New Zealand wasn’t aware craft beer existed.”

Since then, the local scene has exploded. In 2012, Luke Nicholas of Auckland’s Epic Brewing put the market at about 10,000 people. Now, Donaldson reckons, that number would be closer to half a million – and craft beer has truly become an art form. Visitors to the brewery website for 8Wired are invited to submit haiku about their drinks.

So, people are writing poetry about beer now, says Donaldson, and he thinks that’s great. “For a long time, it didn’t deserve anything sweet said about it at all.”     

This article was first published in the February 2019 issue of North & South.

Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the fortnightly email.

LatestDiningArticlesWidget - Latest Dining Articles with RestaurantHub
Error loading section - Error executing child request for handler 'System.Web.Mvc.HttpHandlerUtil+ServerExecuteHttpHandlerAsyncWrapper'. The remote server returned an error: (404) Not Found.
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Keeping up appearances: The challenging job of restoring NZ's lighthouses
104978 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Keeping up appearances: The challenging job of res…

by Fiona Terry

Ensuring lighthouses stay “shipshape” isn’t a job for the faint-hearted.

Read more
The former major reuniting service medals with their rightful owners
105015 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

The former major reuniting service medals with the…

by Fiona Terry

Service medals are being reunited with their rightful owners thanks to former major Ian Martyn and his determined research.

Read more
PM announces 'Christchurch Call' to end use of social media for terrorism
104952 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Politics

PM announces 'Christchurch Call' to end use of soc…

by Noted

A meeting aims to see world leaders and CEOs of tech companies agree to a pledge called the ‘Christchurch Call’.

Read more
Red Joan: Judi Dench almost saves Soviet spy story from tedium
104942 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Red Joan: Judi Dench almost saves Soviet spy story…

by James Robins

The fictionalised account of a British woman who spied for the Soviet Union is stiflingly quaint.

Read more
What to watch on TV this Anzac Day
104749 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Television

What to watch on TV this Anzac Day

by Fiona Rae

Māori TV once again devotes the day to Anzac programming, including a live broadcast from Gallipoli.

Read more
Twist in the tale: Why Margaret Mahy changed the end of her classic debut
104490 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Books

Twist in the tale: Why Margaret Mahy changed the e…

by Sally Blundell

The two different endings of the beloved A Lion in the Meadow still provoke debate. So which is better, the 1969 original or the later, kinder one?

Read more
Mapping the second brain: The latest science on the effect of your gut bacteria
104884 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Health

Mapping the second brain: The latest science on th…

by Donna Chisholm

Most of us have heard the five-plus-a-day message for fruit and vegetables. But new research into gut health suggests that advice may need tweaking.

Read more
How a mother and daughter changed their diet to manage irritable bowel syndrome
104896 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Nutrition

How a mother and daughter changed their diet to ma…

by Donna Chisholm

A mother and daughter with irritable bowel syndrome say that diet was the missing ingredient in controlling the condition.

Read more