Since I started writing about beer in 2013, I’ve completed several projects: I started with a six-month-thing called The Beer Money Blog, which was all about how to survive as a beer nerd on a shoestring budget. That project fueled a flame for homebrewing; and so I started the Brew Hui Project, which was all about my journey from novice to approximately-still-a-novice homebrewer. Not long after that project ended, I started the Brew Hui Podcast, in which I traveled to different breweries around the country, recording brew days with the best in the business and sharing it with all eleven of my listeners.
But as far as beer writers go, I’ve always been a bit of a square peg in a round hole. While beer and brewing is my spare-time obsession, my day-job is as a public health researcher. In the past few years, there were times when I would literally spend my day writing an academic manuscript about risk factors for cancer and heart disease – and then spend my evening writing about my love for one of those very risk factors.
When it comes down to it, I’m a walking hypocrite.
At first, I shied-away from the unique position that I held at the crossroads between public health and alcohol consumption. On the one hand, I was frightened about losing credibility with my colleagues in public health – while on the other, I was frightened of being labelled a wowser by my fellow beer nerds. But in recent years, I made a crucial decision: that life is just too short to play pretend. I decided to just go all-in and embrace the awkwardness. I started by writing a piece called ‘Hypocrisy Now?’, in which I confronted all the sticky unease head-on; and by the end of that piece, I had decided that I had an opportunity to use my weird position to make a difference.
One of my first priorities was to write about my (ongoing) battle to achieve moderation in alcohol consumption, in an effort to reach-out to my fellow nerds who were similarly struggling (prepare yourselves: I’m about to quote my own writing. But it’s my blog, and I’ll self-gratify if I want to):
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: booze (and thus beer) is a luxury. We don’t need it to survive; and the moment that we believe we do is the same moment that we need to recognise that we have a problem. Make no mistake: as beer brewers, commentators and nerds, we walk a dangerous tight rope when we evangelise and advocate the consumption of alcoholic drinks. The ground that awaits below the rope is brim-full of nasty creatures: addiction and mental illness, cancer and cardiovascular disease, abuse and acute injury. (I will happily supply citations for the body of health research that has established these facts to anyone who doubts them.) In short, as wonderful as our little corner of the booze industry is, anyone who truly believes that we are not playing with fire is either a) a fool, or b) selling something… As passionate advocates for the proliferation of high-quality beer, and in the absence of irrefutable evidence of harm, moderation is the only space that we can hope to occupy with anything approaching a clean conscience.”
Building on that piece, I followed-up with a blab about standard drinks, and their usefulness in helping us achieve moderation (more self-gratification to follow):
“The way that we define a Standard Drink in New Zealand definitely isn’t perfect. But the fact that it has at least some relationship with how our body processes the booze that we throw at it makes it a metric Shit Tonne more useful (and less arbitrary) than many other health-related guidelines.”
I was truly amazed at the response to my natterings on the subject of moderation: they seemed to strike a chord with an underlying base of folk who, like me, love great beer but are weary of chronic over-consumption. I eventually embraced my role in the beer writing world as That Moderation Guy – and vowed that I would embody that role as long as I could whack a keyboard.
But here’s the thing: looking back at the things I’ve written in the past couple of years, I reckon I’ve started to sound a bit like a stuck record. Just as there are only so many ways you can slice a pie, there are only so many ways you can convey the benefits of paying more and drinking less. To be perfectly frank, I’ve arrived at a sad and frightening realisation: that I am completely drained of interesting things to say.
And like anyone who has run out of things to say, it’s about time that I bloody-well shut up.
Beer writing has given far more than it ever cost: there were the fan-boy moments, like brewing with Ben Middlemiss, or popping pints at Dunedin’s Albar with Richard Emerson (his shout). There were the amazing folk who reached out and told me that my ramblings had helped steer them towards a healthier relationship with booze. But above all, there are the good mates I’ve made as a direct result of beer writing – some of which have become regular golf or fishing buddies. These things have enriched my life, and made me a better person – and without the beer writing, they wouldn’t have happened.
I have a general loathing for stereotypes: however the last six years have taught me that, as a rule, beer people really are good people. I suspect that has less to do with the commodity itself and more to do with commonality of spirit: you’re never short of something to talk about when you’re with a fellow brewer or beer nerd. The ice is swiftly broken between you, and the stroll across common ground is never long enough. Between us, we recognise that none of this beer-stuff actually matters – we’re not discussing the measles epidemic, or the finer points of climate change – but at the same time, there is a mutual understanding that beer is unequivocally the most important thing in the world. It’s this contradiction that I completely adore about our hobby; and while I won’t be writing about it anymore, I’ll never stop seeking those paradoxical conversations.
So, to sum-up six years of bleating: I implore us all to drink less and be prepared to pay more for the privilege. Booze is, was and should always be a budgetary luxury; not a cutthroat-priced necessity. If you think you might be drinking too much, count your weekly standard drinks and aim to keep that number in the mid-teens. You can still have plenty of fun within that boundary, and you’re all but assured a regret-less week (unless, of course, you save all of them for Friday night). If you haven’t already, insert a couple of booze-free days into your week: they are a useful means of informing ourselves if we’re drinking because we want to (love), or because we have to (habit). Recognise that alcohol-related harm is very definitely a thing, and that, in our hobby, we are absolutely playing with fire. As such, be slow to judge those that are trying to reduce alcohol-related harm; they’re not all complete wowsers. Some of them love good beer as much as you do.
And remember: in reality, these are all just notes-to-self.
To Phil Cook, Alice Galletly and Jono Galuszka: for inspiring me to follow in your footsteps. To Stu McKinlay: for being the first believer. To Michael Donaldson: for encouragement, and publishing my stuff. To all the brewers: for warmly inviting me into your breweries and homes. Ngā mihi ki a koutou.