I love our wee corner of the beer scene: I love the people, I love the brewers, I love their process, and I obviously love their produce. But time-and-time-again, the nasty, base, dark side of our scene rears its ugly head – and casts all of us in shadow.
I’m thinking of a key example: the Brewer’s Guild of New Zealand Awards ceremony this year. Like many around the country, I tuned-in and watched the whole thing over the internet. Everything started with a hiss and roar for us North Aucklanders, with plenty of early medals and trophies heading north; but as the night wore on, the ugly head started to rise. Acceptance speeches began to slur, and toward the pointy-end of the night many of the award-gatherers were practically (if not actually) legless. One award-acceptor had to apologise for his boss, who was so pissed he couldn’t string a sentence together; unfortunately for himself and those watching, he tried anyway. Even some of my heroes of our scene – folk with decades of service to the industry, whom I deeply respect – let themselves down by clearly gulleting too much grog before rising to accept their awards.
Shutting the laptop at the end of the night, I felt wholeheartedly embarrassed to be even a tiny part of our scene.
Chatting with some brewer-mates the following week, they agreed that the ceremony had descended into chaos; that, by the end of the night, it had all become a weeny-bit feral. They talked about the shit beer options that were available in the 4-5% ABV range, and the over-availability of ridiculously-delicious and stupidly-boozy stuff. It was a recipe for disaster; and unfortunately for all involved, it was also televised.
I earnestly want to believe that we are collectively evolving in the right direction: that we’re moving towards the Pay More, Drink Less paradigm that I (and others) have been wanking-on about for years now. But that night, watching the cream of our scene dancing around like pissed chooks, my faith in the current status of our evolution took a steep dive.
Before you have a crack at me for being a party-pooper – or worse, a wowser – let me clarify: I’m only using the sozzled end to the BGONZAs as an exemplar of a wider endemic issue. It’s a problem that is rife in our scene, as much as we like to pretend that it isn’t. And the issue is this: we’re all just a little bit too comfortable with drunkenness.
I’ve said it more times than I care to remember: anyone who believes that we – myself firmly included – aren’t playing with fire when we produce and/or promote alcoholic beverages is either a fool, or selling something. Tonight, someone somewhere is going to hurt themselves with alcohol. Someone is going to hurt or disappoint someone they love because of alcohol. Someone is going to experience mental torment because of alcohol, or struggle with their addiction to it. But still the rest of us drink: because life is unquestionably short and more-than-sporadically hard, and alcohol is a fun distraction. Those negatively impacted by alcohol are paying the societal cost that allows the rest of us to play with fire – and this isn’t a responsibility that any of us should take lightly.
I’ve said before that moderation is the only space that we, as beer nerds, can hope to occupy with a modicum of a clean conscience. This applies to each of us as individuals – counting our standard drinks, avoiding the tilt phenomenon, etc. – but it also applies to how we collectively behave as a scene. Behaving like a bunch of Uni students on O-Week is okay when you’re a Uni student on O-Week, but it’s not the kind of behaviour that those involved in the sale or promotion of booze should be a part of. We can’t just say that people should drink responsibly; we have to show them how it’s done. We have to be models to follow, not examples to avoid.
The BGONZAs proved to me that we still have a lot of evolution to do in our attitude to drinking. But if you look hard enough, the opportunities to do so are all around us: it’s in the uncomfortable conversations that none of us want to have with a mate or partner who is drinking too much. It’s in tackling the uncomfortable truths that none of us want to admit about our own drinking.
And it’s in holding the figures at the helm of our industry responsible for acting like boofheads while the world is watching.
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