Will Ziebell is a Melbourne-based writer for The Crafty Pint. He’s a history graduate, journalist and recent winner of 2018’s AIBA Media Award. We sat down with a Mornington Peninsula VinAle White at the The Taphouse in Darlinghurst.
On getting in to the industry.
I was doing a history degree and right about the time I was about to finish, one of my favourite websites to read at the time, The Crafty Pint, just happened to put an ad out looking for new writers. I pushed a bunch of history ideas through there and started freelancing, and then it kind of snowballed.
My very first article I published was about the history of hop growing in Tasmania. Now, what I write is more journalistic than historical, but I still like to think I bring a bit of history in to every article. Pure history is hard to write because you don’t have the quotes to base your article around. But, history is an argument, it’s not just fact. It’s what you’re deciding is important at the time. Dates are absolute but that doesn’t mean that the arguments behind them are.
On the most historically interesting beer style.
I like the history of Pilsner. It’s interesting, despite being the world’s style, it’s one of the world’s youngest styles. It’s only two decades older than Coopers. Coopers was founded in 1862 and the first pilsners were made in 1842. It’s not that much older than a brewery that still runs in Australia, and Australia is a young country.
Pilsner has this amazing combination of factors. One of the things that helped its growth was that glass had just popularised. Before that, the colour of beer never mattered. Only a select few nobilities drank out of glass, most people drank out of ceramic, or metal. Glass became cheaper to produce and it became a status symbol of the middle class. For the first time ever, how a beer looked mattered just as much as how it tasted.
Also, since it was brewed in Plzeň, a trade city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire which spanned most of Europe, it was incredibly connected and the style was able to spread in a way other styles weren’t. The Habsburgs had just put down so many train lines!
On his favourite article.
My favourite article I’ve ever written was about Sailor’s Grave when they launched. A lot of things came in there. The butter factory that they’re based in, my grandmother’s grandfather, used to manage it. He was the first manager of that butter factory, so I was aware of the building. My grandmother was still alive when I wrote it and we were able to talk about it, which was really interesting.
Chris and Gabby, who bought it and renovated it, one of them went to high school with my Dad in Melbourne. So, I had all these weird connections to this butter factory in Orbost and then found out a brewery was starting there. I called Chris after finding that out and I was really blown away with what he was talking about doing there, his philosophy around brewing, what he was interested in, the kind of styles he wanted to make, in this tiny little regional town. It really excited me.
I’ve written a few articles like that, where I’m able to really go in deep while not taking away from the story. It’s still journalistic, I’m still quoting people, but I have this canvas going on the background which you can just sort of play with and paint an interesting picture and tell a fantastic yarn.
On his least favourite article.
No least favourites, but what I will say is that when I started writing, I spent weeks and months on articles. Not physical time, but thinking about them, having them in the back of my mind. Finishing them and not doing another article for a while after, I really liked that, when I wasn’t a proper writer. Everything I write is better than what I submitted two years ago, I’m a much better writer now, but I don’t feel as rewarded because now it’s my day job.
On how it felt to win his award.
Um… weird. I’ve entered it before but this year I didn’t tell anyone, just thought I’d see how it went. Being called up on to the stage was really exhilarating… and terrifying. I had to give a speech, which I wasn’t prepared for, and I almost got up and said, “I’m not very good with words.” That would have been terrible!
It’s nice to be liked and recognised. My award was kept in a very prominent place in my share house for a while, because my housemates need to understand that I’m a legend. They don’t really understand that they’re living with a winner. It moved around, I put it in their bedrooms for a bit, it was in the kitchen. Now it’s in a very special place in my bedroom, next to some indoor plants and my incense burner. It’s like a shrine. But not to me, to the AIBA.