and be easier to see from space than the Mount Tongariro volcanic eruption.  Regular readers will know that this timid writer is never prone to hyperbole [1] so when I make these observations they can be safely taken to the bank.

It is shaping up to be a huge week or two for beer lovers in Wellington.  In addition to the four sessions of Beervana on Friday 17 August and Saturday 18 August, there are the New Zealand Beer Awards on Thursday 16 August (including the announcement of the 2012/2013 Champion Brewery of New Zealand) and the now-traditional Mashing In party at the Fork & Brewer on Wednesday 15 August.  On reflection, calling that week “huge” may be understatement, the mortal enemy of hyperbole.

Malthouse will be open extended hours to cope with the inundation of Beervana punters, brewers, volunteers, malt suppliers with magnificent hair, bloggers, various members of the Twitterverse, real media types, chefs, foodies, retailers, beer writers, politicians and even paying customers.  The entire Brew NZ week is a real chance to mingle with others who share a love of fine brews.

The topic of this week’s blog is the Society of Beer Advocates, popularly known as SOBA. This shadowy organisation was founded around this time of year in 2006 and they conducted their first ever membership drive at the Welly Beer Festival, a one-off beer show which bridged the gap between the end of the old Brew NZ Beer Show and the first Beervana run by the Brewers Guild. [2] Volunteers from SOBA have been instrumental in the success of the modern Beervana festivals in recent years.

In late July or early August 2006, there was a meeting of the minds in the old Malthouse on lower Willis Street.  There, ten of the country’s best beer minds congregated to discuss forming an organisation to promote better beer and to combat negative stereotypes. I know because I was there.

At four minutes and thirty four seconds past seven pm on Monday August 7 2006, the name SOBA was first mentioned on the internet [3] when Hamiltonian Greig McGill sent the initial post to the nascent [soba] mailing list. [4] In a surprise to virtually no one, the first person to reply – and argue – was Luke Nicholas, the Impish Brewer from EpicTuatara’s Carl Vasta still holds the record for shortest complete post with a signature for “Sounds positive. Cheers CV.” Within a week, someone was using the list to send spam.  In this case it was Fraser McInnes and his Bodega News newsletter.

The organisation’s name at this point was still formally up for debate though the nearest rival – The Beer Masons – never really seemed to have much support.  Society of Beer Advocates was the brainchild of Brendon McKenzie (now the founder of Revolution Brewing) while he was “in a Monty Python mood that day.” When industry legend and former Ministry of Silly Walks official Geoff Griggs put his support in behind SOBA the decision was confirmed. Mr Griggs also coined SOBA’s memorable tagline “Beer for all the right reasons.”

Now that the organisation had a name and a surprisingly lengthy charter, it needed a logo, incorporation, office holders and, above all, members.  The logo (still used today) was designed by Greig McGill’s brother off the vaguest of briefs to “make our name look cool.”  Incorporation took fifteen signatures plus $100 for “the man”, and the office holders were elected after a brutally polite campaign where everyone kept standing aside for each other.  Luke Nicholas was the first president, I was the first vice-president [5] while Greg McGill was Secretary and had to keep doing all the work.

On 9 September 2006, the first and only Welly Beer Fest took place.  It was organised by the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor Colin Mallon because he felt it was vital that Wellington had a public beer event during Brew NZ week.  Somehow, he pulled together a festival which, despite probably taking years off his life through stress, was considered a triumph by most of the punters who attended.  It took place in a warren-like venue below the Old Bank Arcade in Wellington and bought in a healthy crowd. [6]

In addition to signing up dozens of new members, including one juvenile chap who insisted on his membership number being 69 before SOBA even had 19 members, the festival produced SOBA’s first mention in the media. Cameron Williamson, a well-known procurer of pints and long-time media friend of craft beer, wrote in the Dominion Post “Perhaps the freshest idea was the establishment of a brewer’s guild of sorts. Based on the same ideas spawned the campaign for real ale in Britain, New Zealand’s society of beer advocates will champion beer with irregular meetings over the occasional pint. It will go by the delightfully ironic name of SOBA and be online shortly at”

In the subsequent years SOBA has done far more than irregular meetings and occasional pints. Membership has built up steadily and SOBA is conducting campaigns, running beer festivals, publishing a most excellent free newsletter, holding social events, commenting in the media, educating the drinking public and finding great deals for their members.  I would rate SOBA as an unqualified success and a tremendous positive influence on the New Zealand beer scene.

The driving force behind the formation of SOBA was, in my opinion, Greig McGill who really put in the hard work to make things happen, while Stu McKinlay and Luke Nicholas provided a lot of the spark and creativity. Their work has been carried on by a succession of office holders, volunteers and members. Sure, there was idle chatter at the start about “1,000 members in the first year” and we scheduled a good pub guide of Wellington for “early 2007” but the successes overshadow the misses.

That is why it is great to see Malthouse offer a 10% to SOBA members on presentation of a valid membership card.  I suspect this will prove hugely popular in coming weeks.

Finally, Beervana have released comprehensive and quite exceptional tasting notes for all 271 beers which will be on sale at the festival.  The notes include not just the name, style and alcohol content of each beer, but also descriptors of the look, smell and taste as well as ratings for bitterness and sweetness. This remarkable resource should help punters plan their limited time (and palate) at Beervana and the link is listed below.

[1] In fact, I loathe hyperbole with the fire of thousand suns.

[2] The rights to run Beervana are now owned by Cryermalt’s David Cryer, universally hailed as the “Boris Johnson of Brewing”.

[3] Obviously discounting the unrelated Society of Old Bold Aviators, Superior Officers Benevolent Association and the Society of Bad Asses (who are so bad ass that they are still using a Geocities account – take that 21st Century!)

[4] Younger readers may need to consult a history wiki to find out what a “mailing list” was.

[5] I declined Stu McKinlay’s nomination to stand for President saying “I am flattered but I will be voting for Luke as President.  I’m more than happy to be nominated as Vice President (yes, Dan Quayle IS my hero).”

[6] Anyone complaining about bottlenecks at Westpac Stadium never went to this event.


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Beer and Brewer Magazine


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