Uphill Battle for Good Beer

Jono Galuszka talks to the new Palmerston North regional coordinator for SOBA.

Palmerston North is a perfect caricature of provincial New Zealand. Almost all the pubs are tied up in a big brewery contract, the newspaper made the local rugby team its Person of the Year a couple of years back, and the only event that always sells out is the stockcars.

Sinking piss, rugby and petrol – a gloriously boofheaded trinity.

Jason Franssen knows it all too well. He has spent all but a few years of his life in Palmerston North. He loves rugby, loves beer and is familiar with the drone of cars going around in a circle. Frankly, he is the perfect person to be the city’s SOBA regional coordinator.

Jason Franssen at work in his home brewery.

Jason Franssen at work in his home brewery.

Alcohol was not a massive thing for him, growing up in a fairly religious household, but that soon changed. “As soon as I got a taste for it I was like, ‘give me more, give me more’. It used to be just sinking piss when I was a young fella, sitting on Tui as most of us did back then. Once I found brewing, and once I found real beer, it just changed.”

The gateway beer was a bottle of Epic Pale Ale, which he bought because everyone else was trying it. A couple of years later, he put down his first home brew – a kit-and-kilo batch which, by his account, tasted horrible. A year of making beer like that every week, playing around with different ingredients as he went, led him to doing all-grain brewing.

He has since moved onto doing a YouTube vlog titled ‘ManawaBrew’, where he details some of his extreme brewing experiments. The most recent, and arguably most frightening, was using a yeast culture he farmed from silage to ferment some feijoa pale ale wort. The base beer – Dr Jekyll – was sent to the New Zealand Home Brew Conference in March, but some of the wort was retained to be turned into Mr Hyde.

“I’m a big fan of anything that shouldn’t be in beer. I couldn’t find a lot [to read] about silage in beer so I thought ‘bugger it, let’s do it’. I’ve tasted it and I haven’t died yet.”

Taking on the role of regional coordinator was about giving back to the beer community and industry. “I’ve been involved for a while on the home brew side, so I thought I could have a go on the commercial side. I think Palmy needs more craft in it.”

He may be only a few months into the (unpaid) job, but membership has already risen and liquor outlets are offering SOBA discounts. He even managed to convince the local bottle store to pay half the membership price for people who signed up to SOBA at a recent expo. He says the appetite for people caring about what they drink, instead of simply swilling it, has been there for some time.

“I have noticed a change, just in town. You see a lot of bars don’t have a big Tui sign outside anymore.”

But it is still an uphill battle. Almost all of the bars in the city are tied to a contract with Lion, DB or Independent Liquor. Add in the fact the city’s public transport stops at 6pm most days – and even earlier on Saturday – and the environment for people wanting to enjoy good beer at good pubs gets harder, Jason says. But for him, his role is about people enjoying whatever beer they like.

“I’m keen to promote beer, brewing and the industry as much as I can. Just make some noise to anyone who wants to listen. I just know that I like beer.”

Back to The Pursuit of Hoppiness: Spring 2016

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