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"I’m worried . . . I love it so much . . . It means so much to me . . . I don’t know what’s going to happen."

In August I was invited to take part in a beer debate during ‘the Road to Beervana’. The debate was held in one of the smaller auditoriums at the legendary Bats Theatre just off Courtney Place. ‘The Road To Beervana’ is a new initiative designed to turn the annual Beervana weekend in Wellington into a week-long celebration of innovative beer and quality food. It’s early days but the concept is starting to gain momentum.

There is one memory from the evening that will stay with me for a long time. I have joked about it with my friends but like many moments of unintentional humour it captured a wider truth.
So what happened? Well towards the end of the debate questions began coming in from the audience. After three or four standard Q and A’s a woman in her late 20’s or early 30’s put her hand up. For the sake of this story let’s call her Esther.

“I’m worried . . .

I love it so much . . . “

As Esther spoke tears literally welled up in her eyes and her voice began to quiver.

“It means so much to me . . .

I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

It’s 2016 and even the world’s greatest optimist would admit there are major issues that warrant concern. Donald Trump, homelessness in Auckland, Brexit, the state of Australian Rugby, the housing bubble, Donald Trump . . . No really Donald Trump!

I’m sure you have already guessed that the subject of this seemingly well-adjusted woman’s angst was none of these issues. No it was the future of craft beer. I have tried not to use the ‘C’ word since I joined the Brewers Association but out of respect for Esther’s passion I will utter it once in her honour.

Esther’s worries must have heightened in May when Panhead Custom Ales announced they had been purchased by Lion. The purchase of the super-hip Upper Hutt brewery follows the acquisition of Emerson’s by Lion in 2012. In a recent column I discussed what a resounding success this sale has been for both companies and most importantly for consumers. Lion have made it clear they intend following a similar partnership model with Panhead and if they are true to their word the net result is that beer will be the winner.

At a recent industry event one of Wellington’s leading micro-brewers addressed the twin issues of craft beer v mainstream beer and independence v multi-national ownership. He said for consumers there are only two types of beer – ‘good beer’ and ‘bad beer’ and that everyone in the industry should celebrate ‘good beer’ regardless of whether it’s brewed by a one-person operation in Coromandel or a multi-national in Auckland.

In a later column I will discuss in depth the evolving landscape of the New Zealand brewing industry and the vital role DB and Lion play in ensuring the one-person brewery in Coromandel has a chance to succeed. But for now let’s celebrate Esther’s passion, her dedication, her love for ‘good beer.

Let’s start by giving Esther a big bear hug (apologies for the pun) to say thank you, thank you for loving beer, thank you for caring, thank you for drinking beer and most importantly don’t worry it’s going to be okay.

The good news for Esther is that she is not alone. There are now thousands of beer zealots in New Zealand who are experts in hops, malted barley and in some cases even yeast. They discuss each new brew in sombre adulation. For them Beervana is a spiritual journey akin to a V8 supercars fan travelling to Bathurst, an art critic visiting the Tate or a three-year old attending a Wiggles concert.

The growth of beer fanaticism in New Zealand is part of a worldwide cult. In Europe, North America and Australia similar communes of ‘hop-heads’ have evolved. Recently I was in Sydney and visited several places of beer worship in uber-cool inner-city Newtown. On a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon, hundreds of Gen X and Gen Y graduates huddled in formerly disused warehouses nodding in wonderment at the power of ‘good beer.’

I’ll leave it up to others to discuss how or why this has happened but my one bit of advice is that if you meet Esther and her fellow worshippers treat them with dignity and reference. Discussing beer is a serious business. Please do not be sarcastic or even mildly ironic they will not take kindly to it.

They love ‘good beer’ and for that we should treat them with respect.