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Tuesday, 28 March 2017 09:42

Issue 400: The Surprising Evolution of a Beer Blog

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In October 2008, I penned the very first Malthouse blog which was, appropriately enough, titled the “Pursuit of Hoppiness”. That was a phrase I first heard in the United States at the World Beer Cup. I really liked it, and there is the added advantage that it also reflects quite nicely my beer tastes, then and now. Here is the first paragraph in full:

“Blogging is apparently no longer the exclusive domain of tubby guys in track pants posting their every waking thought from the comfort of their parent’s basement. In fact, web logging has become so thoroughly modern that even politicians, Te Papa and real journalists are doing it now. The good people at Pinnacle Life, for example, believe they have enough interesting observations about life insurance to fill “The Life Insurance Blog.” Therefore, it stands to reason that somewhere as funky and cool as the Malthouse should definitely have its own blog. And now it does.”

Much to my surprise, Google reveals “The Life Insurance Blog” is still active, but not nearly as active as the Malthouse blog. Take that Pinnacle Life Insurance Company! [1]

The second paragraph establishes two trends that would reappear frequently in the next 398 posts. Namely, making it very clear that what I wrote on the blog “did not necessarily reflect the views of Malthouse management and/or staff.” That disclaimer has been invoked a surprisingly high number of times for some reason.

Brewing nicknames also made their debut just 66 words into this blog’s history with a reference to “Colin the Handsome Scottish Proprietor.” That would shortly evolve into “Colin the Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor.” (To this day, I still cannot spell “proprietor” correctly without the help of spell check.)

This epithet needs some explaining because I have been earnestly asked on several occasions if I really do find Colin handsome.  The honest answer is “yes”, and not just because my next task is to send him an invoice.

Let me explain the origins of Col’s sobriquet, at least as I understand them. [2] Colin had done an interview with a local paper. In it, the journalist referred to him as “softly spoken.” Later asked what descriptor he would have used, Colin immediately replied “handsome”. Thus, a legend was born.

It should be noted that “Steve ‘Huggy Bear’ Nally” from Invercargill Brewery also featured in Blog Number One. For the record, he still hugs me. Later in the same post, the Impish Brewer Luke Nicholas gets a mention too. For the record, he is still pretty Impish.

The first beer to feature in the Malthouse blog was Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black. To demonstrate how long ago this was written, I refer to the Yeasties as “newcomers” and do not refer to Stu’s outrageous trousers – mainly because he was not wearing them back then.

I then teared up a little when I was reminded the second beer covered was the legendary and much missed Cock and Bull Monk’s Habit, particularly the bit when I correctly predicted that “there are rumours – sad rumours – that this fine beer may be harder to source in the near future.”

It is also struck me that the blog was much shorter than subsequent posts. In fact, it would have finished approximately here. It has taken me 398 posts to realise that Malthouse has been getting twice as many words for roughly the same money over quite some time. Partly that is because Colin is a tough negotiator, and partly because my writing style has become more expansive. [3]

That first post also lacked what would subsequently become one of the most popular parts of the Malthouse blog – cheeky footnotes. They would appear later with the first recorded instance appearing to be post 66 which was called “Oyster Stout – Right Here, Right Now”. In an interview with me, Ralph Bungard from Three Boys had used the flavour descriptor “sea-side-iness”. It was followed by an asterisk which guided alert readers to the very first Malty footnote which simply read: “He really did say this.”

Since then, there have been more footnotes with several posts even reaching double digits. The asterisks were later replaced by bracketed numbers following feedback and more changes are planned. We fully plan to have clickable footnotes in place by Issue 600. [4]

I have always been very open that the total inspiration for the Malthouse footnotes was the great British beer writer Pete Brown. In fact, I can tell you the exact one because it is flagged in a copy of the book “Man Walks into a Pub: A Socialable History of Beer” which always sits by my desk for inspiration.

The context – Pete is telling the 1814 Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery tragedy story. Basically, a massive brewery vat containing one million pints of porter exploded and a lot of people died. Somehow, he makes it funny... Anyway, in the text he wrote “this meant that more beer than you can possibly imagine jetted out under very high pressure.”

The footnote – “Yes, I am sure you can imagine an awful lot of beer, but trust me, this was more.” [5]

 

I am running out of space and readers are undoubtedly running out of patience so here is an incomplete list of other Malthouse blog trends over the years:

 

  • My passionate love of hoppy pale ales.
  • My burning hatred of sour beers.
  • Constantly losing my on-going battles with technology...
  • Creating more brewer nicknames, some of which actually stuck.
  • Much longer blog introductions before actually talking about beer. Even Jeremy Clarkson thinks several were excessive.
  • Frequent approving references to professional wrestling.
  • Frequent approving references to right wing politics.
  • The Peoples Blogs in which customers described in their own words their favourite beers and why. [6]
  • Extended interviews with Malty staff – the popular Staff Profiles in Courage series.
  • “The next time, we drink to” ending...” which was totally stolen from Epic Meal Time, the on-line cooking with bacon and booze.
  • Repeated brewer interviews, on-line research, and reading books and magazines actually taught me a great deal about beer.
  • Occasionally throwing in extremely obscure words I have come across.
  • Throwing in the occasional funny and/or outrageous flavour description.
  • Finding out about Malthouse events before they are publicly announced appeals to my inner Spook.
  • Helping promote Malthouse events – which after all is part of this job – and seeing them succeed. [7]
  • THE MALTHOUSE WEST COAST IPA CHALLENGE, baby!
  • Surprisingly few complaints.
  • Surprisingly no legal action.
  • Lots and lots of titles with puns or quotations.

 

Perhaps the biggest reason I love writing the Malthouse blog and why I have done it for so long is that I get to express my personality – for better or worse. I think it is some of my best work. A lot of my other beer writing has to be done in a more formal, more journalistic style because of the nature of the publications it will appear in. There are also strict word limits. The opportunities for humour (if any) are more restricted both in frequency and tone. I completely understand those reasons and accept them.

However, for the Malthouse blog the only two rules from Colin have been “make sure you mention the allocated topic at some stage” and “dinna get me sued.” Thanks to Colin and Ciaran from Malthouse for the weekly opportunity to get on my little soapbox.

I am as surprised as anybody that we have reached the 400 milestone. If you had told me that would happen when the first post was published I would have laughed and called you a Whig. Well, it happened. It has been a blast and this (hopefully) won’t be the last.

 

Next time, we drink to Jane Clifton, one of my favourite writers of all time. She truly is a national treasure.

 

[1] I can be quite fiery, after I checked I have no insurance policies with Pinnacle Life.

[2] “As I understand them” – another phrase that graces the blog frequently.

[3] Translation: Wordy and tangential. 

[4] This does not necessarily reflect the views of Malthouse management and/or staff.

[5] For the record, Pete Brown used a single asterisk for this wildly influential footnote.

[6] A fine example of “references to professional wrestling” as above.

[7] There may be no causal link of course.

 

Cheers

 

Neil Miller

Beer Writer

Beer and Brewer Magazine

Cuisine Magazine

TheShout Magazine

 

Links

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Neil Miller on Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/#!/beerlytweeting