This week ‘The Beerhive’ launched, a podcast which sits comfortably between the not-unrelated worlds of between beer and politics. Host Shane Cowlishaw explains the pod to Duncan Greive.
Wellington has become essentially the unquestioned home of craft beer in New Zealand, helped by its weather, its geography and sensibility. The nature of their jobs means politicians and political reporters also end up spending considerable time, uh, appreciating the form. Journalist Shane Cowlishaw, formerly of the Dominion Post, now of Newsroom, has spent more time assessing it than most. He started blogging about beer while at Fairfax, and lately took a break from the fierce heat of this election to debut a podcast named ‘The Beerhive’, co-hosted with Michael Forbes. It’s recorded in a pub, and features conversations with politicians, journalists and brewers about politics, journalism and beer. He spoke to me what prompted him to add another job to the already brutal intensity of this campaign, how things are going at Newsroom and which politicians he most likes to drink with.
How’d you get into craft beer?
The first time I had a non-mainstream beer was probably while living in Vancouver in 2007. But when I returned to New Zealand I became a student, then a poor journalist, so it was back to the cheap dozens for me. It wasn’t until I moved to Wellington in 2010 that I began to try new beers at places like Hashigo Zake, The Malthouse etc and the rest is history. It led to homebrewing, then blogging on Stuff, then many long nights drinking with brewers for “research”.
Which brewers do you most enjoy and why?
Brewers are usually colourful characters so it’s a good time hanging out. Kerry Gray from Choice Bros has become a good friend, I got to know him through home brewing and watching him go from humble beginnings to opening his own brewery/bar called HUSK in town has been cool. Mike Neilson from Panhead is also someone I respect, having built his business into one of the top breweries in the country within just three years before selling it to Lion. If you’re talking hoppy beers you can’t go past Joe Wood at Liberty, while I’ve always really liked Emerson’s beers. Richard Emerson is the man.
Wellington and craft beer seem deeply intertwined – does that extend to the political class in your experience?
Hmmm, do you mean are all politicians alcoholics? I couldn’t possibly comment. I think there’s a few things that have led to Wellington’s beer scene becoming so big, one is the collaborative atmosphere of the city and its geography. It’s pretty simple for a brewer to walk a few blocks and talk to another for advice, borrow ingredients etc. Wellingtonians famously love eating out and drinking, but the city also has the highest median income in the country I think (which is helped by Government being based here) so they have cash to spend on beer.
Push comes to shove, which politicians do you most enjoy drinking with?
There’s plenty I’ve never had a beer with, but Defence Minister Mark Mitchell is always a good laugh. ACT’s David Seymour is one of the youngest in Parliament so you often see him at the Beehive’s bar, while I can report Gareth Hughes’ home-brew is decidedly terrible. The other week Jacinda Ardern showed me her whisky cabinet, which was impressive (no sampling though, it was 10am). I’m hoping I can share a tipple with her at some point but she doesn’t drink beer. Maybe I can convince her to have a depth-charger.
Where did the idea of the Beerhive spring from?
We started it in 2013 as a blog to follow our journey as we began home brewing. We were both working for the Dominion Post at the time so it first launched on the paper’s website, before it was merged into Stuff. It slowly evolved into a general blog about beer and was great fun, but when I left Fairfax earlier this year it had kind of run its course and the idea of a podcast came up. It’s given us the ability to expand out from strictly a blog for beer geeks, using our skills and contacts as journalists to interview a wide range of guests. Beer will still be the central focus though, it’s recorded at Wellington pubs the Fork n’ Brewer and The Malthouse, so it’s hard not to be. As for the name, I’m going to take credit for that genius moment (I don’t have many).
What can we expect from the first season?
We’re aiming for about eight episodes for the first season, to see how things go. With the election next week, we’ll be putting out two politically-themed episodes featuring some local Wellington politicians and some political journalists. From there we’ll have some episodes that are very beer focused, and some with other interesting, familiar faces. If we make it to season two we’ve got some great ideas for guests, but we’re always open to ideas!
How are things going at Newsroom? And what’s the biggest thing you’ve learned over the first six months or so?
Things at Newsroom are great. I spent about nine years at Fairfax, a big machine, so it has been quite the change shifting to a small start-up with only 10 or so people. That’s come with its own challenges (mainly things like who’s buying the stationary) but overall it’s been fantastic. We’ve had a great reception from the public to what we’re trying to do, helped along with some big Mel Reid investigations such as the Todd Barclay recording scandal. It’s been great being able to work closely with legendary journalists like Mel and also people like Bernard Hickey, Mark Jennings and Tim Murphy. You learn a lot!
This election: we thought 2014 was brutal, but this is somehow more intense. How are you handling it – and what’s been the wildest moment for you so far?
How have I been handling it? With a lot of 10% Russian Imperial Stouts (and whisky). Seriously, this election has been bonkers. It’s my first time covering an election full-time, I’ve covered previous ones from the periphery but even seasoned political journalists say this one has been unrelenting. I think part of it is the fast pace of the media industry these days, but you can’t escape the fact that since the Barclay story there seems to have been an unrelenting number of other huge stories and political meltdowns. There’s still 10 days to go as well, I’d suggest the wildest moment is still to come…