What is “Craft Beer” College?


Two questions we’re frequently asked are “what is Craft Beer” and “what is Craft Beer College”? One question is easier to answer than the other…

To start with the tricky one…“Craft beer” almost seems redundant now that we’re privileged enough – especially in Wellington and increasingly across the rest of the country – to have access to a reasonably diverse range of delicious and interesting beer, from a variety of brewers and breweries. In many – if not most – of our bars and restaurants in Wellington there is a choice to be had; between beer and wine, and amongst the beer list itself. Happily, we don’t need to go to places that don’t cater to our tastes.  But, this hasn’t always been the case…and that’s probably why the “craft beer” moniker came into being.

For a long time in Wellington, and across New Zealand, there wasn’t much choice in beer. Where there was, it was often called “craft”. It was a way of defining the beer that wasn’t big brewery, that wasn’t premium lager, that wasn’t New Zealand draught. It was also a way of defining the brewer…as a craft person…Most would agree that this is who Richard Emerson, Tracey Banner, Carl Vasta and the likes were…(and still are).

These days “craft beer” is even harder to define than it once was, and seems less relevant as a moniker but, we like our business name…It speaks to why we exist and what we do. It comes from the team at the Great Australasian Beer Festival. They ran Craft Beer College during their festival sessions to teach participants a bit about beer, to talk to the brewers, to do some beer and food matching; it was a great name and a great idea. It was about making sure their festival wasn’t just about drinking – it was about celebrating the diversity of beer, of brewers and breweries and teaching people a little more about what they were drinking.

That’s what Craft Beer College is about. It’s about promoting and educating about beer in a fun way.

When it first opened we used to sit at Hashigo Zake and watch heaps of people come in a get a bit overwhelmed. Beer geeks were fine – they were Malthouse regulars, or veterans of Bar Edward or Bodega. Others were less certain – they’d not had much choice before and now they did, they weren’t entirely sure what to do with it! People didn’t know much about beer, beer styles or their own likes and dislikes. Our early public tasting series, “Introduction to Beer” set about to change that. For a few years we presented tastings on malt, hops and yeast – yeast was always the best – and had an “exam”! All exams should be beer-based, and include beer-based prizes. The Yeastie Boys were always super generous. And, people would walk away with Beer Without Border, Garage Project, Kereru and other prizes…It’s hard to remember to thank all the people that helped out in those early days.

These days, Introduction to Beer is less relevant…(necessary might be a conversation for another blog). Wellingtonians love to be a bit different and have embraced craft beer, beer…Introduction to Beer is too introductory for them! So, we now have a focus on private tastings and tours. Work groups, friend groups, tourist…whomever…book us to run tastings or to take them around town to your breweries and bars. It’s fun. They get socially excited! And, every now and then they realise they are learning some as well. How to taste beer; about the beer they like (and sometimes don’t); about history…Hopefully this is what this blog will be about as well…We look forward to chatting about breweries, beer and beer related things.

Watch this space, and come join us for a tasting or a tour. Later this year – teamed with Beer Without Borders and Hashigo Zake we are going to do beer and chips, beer and chocolate and beer and cheese…yummm.