Adventures in Beer, The Search for a Half Decent Pint in New Zealand, by Bruce Holloway (2011) is the latest title in New Zealand beer publishing.
After following a tweet link to a video promo, we embarked on an adventure in Google trying to find out about Adventures in Beer. Knowing that Bruce Holloway has been a New Zealand beer writer for some time, we thought it would be nice to quickly toss a news bit about the release onto Beer@Brewzone, but needed a little more info about the book. Sadly, we only found a few links back to the video. Watching it again, we spotted the address of a promo page.
Here we learned that in the book, Bruce “alternately celebrates or criticises the brews he loves and hates, from a drinker’s perspective.” We also read a web version of the book’s introduction, and found contact details for the publisher.
We emailed hoping to get a press release, but got a personal email from Bruce instead. Turns out he decided to self-publish a compendium of his beer columns written from 1998 until he stopped writing for Fairfax Media in 2011. He has had a small print run done, but is mostly promoting the Kindle version for download from Amazon.com.
We’ve never met Bruce, but he ended up sending a “prepress” copy. So, instead of a newsblip, we will go ahead and write a full review. (Be aware some design issues might have been resolved in the final version.)
We are really pleased to have this book. The introduction makes clear that the book is not supposed to be written for people like us (beer nerds of the worst kind). Nor does Bruce think he’s one of us- he is writing from the drinker’s perspective. And while each column may try to stick to an average guy’s pursuit of good beer, the book is a goldmine for the likes of us.
First, we have only been in the NZ beer scene for about five years, so this holds a wealth of popular history that isn’t documented anywhere. For example, we know the facts of the Montieth’s plant shenanigans, but this gives a much better insight into how people reacted to them.
Also, on the history front, Bruce’s journey over time through the columns does an excellent job of illustrating change in the industry. This bloke’s bloke writes progressively more about craft beer over time, as the availability of craft increases in the marketplace. The content of his pieces also progress from general knowledge to very specific style critiques. As much as he didn’t want to be a geek, you can see that it has happened to him, especially when you see some of the annotations he has added with this publication. We believe that’s a concentration of what’s happening to the general population as well- maybe not all are geeks, but all are geekier.
That said, he has an impressive breadth of topics and styles. He has written a lot on the mainstream beers that actually don’t have much written beyond the marketing hype. Other columns are pure silliness, which is okay, too. It’s a good reminder that beer doesn’t have to be taken too seriously – in the end it is just a beverage.
Unlike The Ultimate Beer Guide – Australia & New Zealand that we recently reviewed, this book is not particularly pretty. It has no photos, and the layout is quite unremarkable. But also unlike the Ultimate Guide, it did not disappoint us. It contains exactly what it promises. We are, however, a bit frustrated by the editing. The columns are arranged in no discernable order, and the dates aren’t listed in the table of contents, so we can’t easily follow the historical line. Also, there is no index, so we can’t find a particular beer or topic unless it’s named in the title. (We aren’t Kindle users, so maybe that version would be more searchable?)
Overall, we are glad Bruce pulled his column collection together, and can recommend it to anyone who wants a random wander through the modern history of beer in New Zealand. It’s not going to serve as an Ultimate Reference Guide, but that was never its intention.