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


How to enhance your dining experience – with water
103174 2019-03-22 00:00:00Z Dining

How to enhance your dining experience – with water…

by Metro

A stunning dining experience isn’t just about food and wine. Water plays a big part too.

Read more
Facebook won't give up its insidious practices without a fight
103856 2019-03-22 00:00:00Z Tech

Facebook won't give up its insidious practices wit…

by Peter Griffin

Facebook came under fire for its response to the live-streaming of the Christchurch terror attack, but it's digital nudging that's also concerning.

Read more
In photos: The world unites in solidarity with Christchurch
103800 2019-03-21 15:36:46Z World

In photos: The world unites in solidarity with Chr…

by Lauren Buckeridge

Countries around the world have put on a show of solidarity for the victims of the Christchurch terror attack.

Read more
The tangled path to terrorism
103777 2019-03-21 09:59:55Z Psychology

The tangled path to terrorism

by Marc Wilson

The path that leads people to commit atrocities such as that in Christchurch is twisting and unpredictable, but the journey often begins in childhood.

Read more
If 'This is not New Zealand', let us show it
103768 2019-03-21 09:31:27Z Social issues

If 'This is not New Zealand', let us show it

by The Listener

The little signs among the banks of flowers said, “This is not New Zealand.” They meant, “We thought we were better than this.” We were wrong.

Read more
Extremism is not a mental illness
103785 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Crime

Extremism is not a mental illness

by The Mental Health Foundation of NZ

Shooting people is not a symptom of a mental illness. White supremacy is not a mental illness.

Read more
PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles
103805 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Crime

PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automa…

by RNZ

Ms Ardern pledged the day after the terrorist massacre that "gun laws will change" and would be announced within 10 days of the attack.

Read more
No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 years of GCSB & SIS public docs
103770 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Politics

No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 y…

by Jane Patterson

There is not one specific mention of the threat posed by white supremacists or right-wing nationalism in 10 years of security agency documents.

Read more