Putting them away with JK: We attend an Event at Tuatara’s new brewery

by Mr Goulter on October 11, 2012

10.09.05
It’s 9:50am and the glitterati of Paraparaumu are itching to get they drank on. Outside the brand-new Tuatara Brrry (or Brewery, as it’s known on paper), they huddle under the awning to escape a rain that never falls, hugging the outer wall of the benighted edifice — hoping, perhaps, to osmose their way to double-vision. But not a drop’s to be drunk until the Prime Minister arrives for his scheduled ribbon-cutting. At this rate we’ll still be sober at 10. Sadface.

After a year’s construction, the new brrry looks set to inaugurate an exciting new decade in the life of a Wellington success story. Tuatara was founded in 2001 (though as we’re reminded at every opportunity, its true genesis came some time earlier with blokes in the pub and kiwi ingenuity round behind the cowshed and so on). As anyone fond of “X is the new Y” constructions will tell you, beer is the new wine is the new mead is the new… whatever Australopithecus used to get rat-arsed on; but back when founder Carl Vasta began brewing craft beers in a moonshine shack above Waikanae (tin shed, oil-drums, #8 wire, etc, etc), no one could have known just how rapidly the company would grow. No one ever went broke, as they say.

The PM is close now. Hairy plaid-shirt hipsters rub shoulders with shiny-browed burrheads in business casual; through them stride the event’s overlords, whose jeans/blazer combos bring a spark of Crockett/Tubbs Vice to a crowdful of Conchords and Apprentices. Overalls and slogan-shirts (“Don’t just open a beer, open your mind”), topped off with here-for-the-beer sneers, mark the venue’s proles from the pundits. Watches are checked regularly; cellphones bring by-the-minute updates on the PM’s progress. (And, strictly speaking, render the watches redundant.) Pallets of virgin glass — “330 NZGM AMBER L/NECK” — fence off the courtyard like an FPS barricade.

The brrry’s located halfway down an industrial cul-de-sac whose other residents include a glassworks and a metal-forming outfit. Behind a stiff-looking dude in pinstriped gray and Secret-Service earwear, a chainlink fence divides the Tuatara boutique from its closest neighbour, Youth Quest, which provides a safe space for troubled and trouble-prone young men. (“They’re good guys,” says the organization’s Jeremy Neeve of his new neighbors: “They’re not going to force our boys to drink.”) The boys are out on break, tossing a league ball around: a half-dozen young guys with unironic rat-tails and several orders of magnitude more melanin between them than this whole crowd combined.

And then, down past Zion Motors and Shut Up! Storage, rolls the Prime Ministerial motorcade. The Kapiti Brass Band warms up with droopy parp-parp moans that call to mind the conclusion of a ‘Tara-fueled evening out on the pull. The atmosphere is electric: We’re about to hit the turps! And also John Key’s here.

The PM asks one of the overall-clad brrrrs what he does: “modeling” is the laconic reply. Key’s eyeballs are held in their sockets by force of squint alone. We’re ushered to the podium, where the Tuatara brass are waxing Carnegian about drive, focus, attitude, and a little Kiwi Ingenuity so’s we know this is no place for woofters. General manager Sean Murrie touts Tuatara’s impressive growth – 40% even in a period of international stagnation – and praises his company’s product for having broken out of the beer-geek niche. (“Judas!” a plaid-shirt tragically fails to yell.) With an off-license catering to the public, and an on-license for walk-ins imminent, Murrie says he looks forward to offering public tours, “because a brrry’s usually a pretty sterile environment.” Well, thanks, buddy.

Kapiti mayor Jenny Rowan thanks Tuatara for remaining in the region, even as this Wellington favorite expands nationwide and out into Australia and beyond: “In this economic climate we’re always talking about creating employment, specially for our young ones.” Key follows her lead, using the brrry opening as a lead-in for an exegesis of his party’s policy re: The Grog.

10.46.27
“If we want to change the binge-drinking that’s happening in a small faction of New Zealand, we need to change the culture,” Key tells his audience: “It’s not about drinking until you get wasted. That’s the thing I tell young people all over the country.” The vast majority of New Zealanders, says Key, like to reach into the fridge for a beer (singular) after a hard day’s work or on a hot Saturday – and it’s this impulse that craft-beers like Tuatara serve.

Inside (with the beer!), elbow-to-elbow crowds line up for a hit of the stuff that’s powering all this to-do. Roof-to-floor placards offer insights into the Tuatara brewing process (tl;dr: use really expensive ingredients and don’t fuck it up). Posters deriding the stupid-wanker meaninglessness of awards are bolstered by shelves piled generously with well-earned same. Tuatara’s 2012 limited-edition, the double-IPA Double Trouble, sits viewable with 3D glasses for the brew’s signature label. (The Craft Beer Moment has apparently entered its “Marvel Comics circa 1996” or “Hollywood movies circa 2009” phase.) The Double Trouble’s not available on tap as offered – piss-up in brewery threatened by organizational oversight! – but the company’s other offerings are quaffed lustily, modestly and sensibly. Mr. Key’s “small faction” of problem-drinkers evidently misplaced its invite.

And I think it’s important to state, on the offchance that readers might be looking for some insight into the “beer” portion of this event, that while your correspondent is usually a $15/doz Haagen man, the Tuatara APA is freaking delicious and I fancy I could drink a whole glass (if I weren’t driving, which of course because the Pram, and if it didn’t make me ill, which of course because beer; sorry, should have mentioned that earlier). If this is what it’s like to have a beer with John Key (standing next to you), our PM just passed everyone’s favourite political yardstick with flying colors!

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