Mussel Inn

Lockdown was not all bad for beer – no, really

April 1, 2021
2 mins read

Witchdoctor beer guru NEIL MILLER promised a column on how the lockdown wasn’t all bad for beer, and he never breaks a promise.


A very young beer writer on his first work trip meets Luke Nicholas (Epic) in the much-missed Cock & Bull Tavern

Last week’s article, ‘The virtues of fruit beers – A definitive guide’, fooled a surprising number of readers who obviously do not know me very well. I received messages such as: “I am not opening this puff piece – fruit beers are terrible”, when of course the article contained exactly no virtues of fruit beers (well, maybe a grudging nod to grapefruit IPAs), but 13 specific reasons why they are just evil incarnate. Yeah, because we do not mess around at the opulent Witchdoctor Beer Headquarters (also known as ‘My Desk’).

Today, however, I am actually going to deliver on my promise to present positives for beer that came out of lockdown. New Zealand recently marked the first anniversary of our hard lockdown. It was not a fun time but, compared to many countries around the world, we had it pretty good.

Being essentially under house arrest apart from state-sanctioned trips to the supermarket where you had to queue for 90 minutes just to get in, certainly gives one time to think about beer. So, I did. Usually while drinking it in the Witchdoctor Beer Meeting Room 1 (also known as ‘My Couch’). Lockdown helped me rediscover my love of pubs when I was eventually allowed back to them.

The famous fridges at Malthouse being lovingly tended by a Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scotsman

I have loved pubs for a long time. In fact, I stepped foot in a pub two years before I stepped foot on New Zealand soil. Admittedly, as a four-year-old, I was a bit of a lightweight, and certainly a much lighter weight than I am now.

Most weeks, I go on a pub date with my beloved. We sit on the couch, read the paper, eat lunch, and drink beer. We have lively debates about the newsworthy issues of the day, I occasionally help her with the crosswords, and she pretends to be interested in my insightful commentary on whatever sporting event is on-screen. It is great.

Pubs are a great place to catch up with people you have not seen for too long. Catching up on lost time takes time and that means more beer. As beer scribe Pete Brown said, “fancy a pint” is the finest sentence in the English language because it almost never means just one pint. Plus, when the bar staff greet you by name and bring you ‘the usual’, then you look so much cooler to your friends.

This one may be more controversial, but I am more than happy to go to the pub by myself. No-Mates, No-Matter. At lunchtime, I am known to head to the local with a good book, a pad and pen, and my cell phone. The walk gives you time to think and the change of atmosphere (and beer) can inspire some of the best ideas and writing (that’s why you take the pad).

One of the only times Neil was ever allowed behind the bar – the iconic Mussel Inn

Post lockdown, it was encouraging to chat to publicans reporting that people they had not seen in a while were coming back in saying “glad you are open” and “I want to support my local business”. Seems it was not just me that missed pubs.

Lockdown gave me a renewed appreciation of just enjoying a drink with someone you are not locked in the house with for weeks.

Next time, more funky glasses!



Avatar photo

Neil has been writing for well over 20 years on beer, politics, books, pro-wrestling, education, and retail. An NZ Beer Writer Of The Year, he’s written for several beer-dedicated magazines, contributed to our leading dailies and is probably best known for the epic Malthouse Blog, which showcased the beer knowledge and quirky sense of humour he’s looking to bring to the mighty Witchdoctor!

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