This place reminds me a lot of Wales.
The mountains are numerous and green; not that slightly dusty green we see in California but a luminous emerald green we normally see only on paint chips at the hardware store. The roads are narrow and in many places winding, and narrow bridges cross over bounding streams that dash from the mountains because it rains all the time.
There are sheep everywhere and lamb is the best deal in restaurants. The natives speak with a distinct and identifiable accent and are friendly and helpful and caring and are passionate about rugby. The towns and streets have names impossible to pronounce.
However, though much is the same, the steep places are steeper than in Wales and the high places are much higher; it is much farther from here to there than in Wales and more lonely along the way.
The place names, though just as curious as in Wales, suffer from an excess of vowels rather than a shortage of them. That’s because they are Maori names not Welsh ones and this is New Zealand.
This short column comes to you from Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand where my dear map-reader has safely brought us after we landed at Auckland about two weeks ago.
Of course, I have been observing the beer culture along the way. Part of this is by plan: I made arrangements before leaving Davis to visit the brewing program at Massey University in Palmerston North where I was kindly received and shown equipment I could only dream about when I was at UC Davis. Also, through colleagues, I arranged to visit the quite tiny but innovative hop research center at Motueka and to visit a large working hop farm in the region.
In addition, it turns out that New Zealand has a growing and successful craft brewing industry and at almost every stop of our journey I have been able to send in my business card at breweries and brew pubs and have the brewers welcome me most kindly; they are proud to show me the equipment and products and discuss problems and perspectives; I have enjoyed that no end.
At one small brewery in Blenheim in the South Island the brewer turned out to be a Californian and a former student who emerged from the cellar shouting: “Prof Lewis — I don’t believe it!” We fell on each other’s shoulders.
One thing I notice is that consumers here make no real distinction between craft brews and mainstream products of the regular breweries. All the beers are quite distinctive and full of character and tasty and almost without exception, regardless of style, highly drinkable and well-balanced. That is, they are sensible beers (I can hear some people groaning with boredom). I have not encountered a single product that I would call an extreme beer — those black, bitter, alcoholic, barrel-aged, sour and fruit-flavored beers so loved of many craft brewers in the USA.
That is, the beers are all about the consumer, not the brewer.
Similarly, this spectacularly beautiful country, with its tiny population, is all about its people, not its elected politicians; on the news this morning I heard a minister of the government say out loud and in public the following: “We should do it because it is the kind thing to do.”
— Reach Michael Lewis at email@example.com. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com