Book Review: The Ultimate Beer Guide – Australia & New Zealand from Beer and Brewer Magazine (2011 LipCORP)
We were honestly thrilled to hear last year that Beer and Brewer Magazine was going to publish a complete guide to New Zealand beers and breweries. It’s been a heck of a long time since any such thing has been attempted, and the scene has changed so much that nothing in print really begins to cover the current NZ beer world.
Since we were out of the country when it came out, we felt extra lucky to get a discounted copy off the counter at the Free House in Nelson last week. We immediately flipped to the New Zealand section, and were immediately a bit crestfallen – bewildered, dismayed, and then just simply amazed that a product feeling so incomplete could be published under this title.
After a few days of digesting, we have come up with as charitable an explanation as we can think of: Given the size of the market for such a book, particularly a NZ guide, the budget would have to be rather restrictive to achieve any sort of profitability. Further, with the scene changing so rapidly, publishing quickly would be imperative to capturing any sort of “snapshot in time” of the beer landscape.
That said, the printing quality rather belies the quality of the editing. It seems that all of the scrimping must have been in the production team – we can only imagine a couple of well intentioned but terribly harried editors trying to pull this together in just a few months.
Which is not to say it’s worthless. It is the only thing like it on the NZ market right now, and most of the information is accurate. It looks and feels nice. And we believe NZ needed a book like this to help drive the market for even better guides in the future. It’s a stake in the ground, proclaiming that there is a range of craft beer in this country, and it is possible to travel the country with a focus on finding these products.
We just worry that an experienced beer tourist from overseas or a new Kiwi convert to craft beer might give up in frustration after a few days of trying to use this as a guide in that endeavor.
Part of the frustration is that the good writing, good photos, and many good breweries included get discredited by the omissions, errors, maps, and contradictions that are also included. Even accepting it’s a rapidly produced overview of a rapidly moving target, some of the errors just should not have happened. We are certain the Top of the South writer would have quickly corrected the severe misplacement on the map of Townshend and Monkey Wizard had they been asked to proof it. Anyone could have cleaned up the list of NZ beers included. All the claims on the cover disintegrate into unsubstantiated hyperbole after just a cursory glance at that unedited mess. (Would anyone think there might actually be three Hallertau Breweries in NZ?)
Our other major gripe is with the organization. If you look at any travel guide, you find that there is some sort of geographical progression, no matter how arbitrary it might be. This book, while claiming to be for travelers, sadly has made no attempt to conform to that convention. The NZ regions leap around unpredictably, and the stories within them are often not arranged into a path a traveler could follow. Again, imagine the poor German tourist that reads about Hawkes Bay, then New Plymouth, then Kawrau and attempts plotting a path through them? We have real trouble imaging the writer constructing it that way, so likely some very odd editorial decisions were made.
Maybe the Australia section was more carefully constructed, but how would we know? It’s only natural to evaluate the whole product based on what we do know already, and that raises too many doubts to trust what we don’t know. We want to use it, but our sense is that we will have to verify everything from another source, which seriously defeats its “ultimate” purpose.
We have heard one person refer to the book as an annual. If indeed this is being updated as we speak, then we still have hope that it can be the useful tool it intends.