What feeling does drinking craft beer incite in you? Is it friendship, as you share a beer with a group of friends? Is it unwinding after a long day? Or maybe excitement at an important milestone?

Most of these experiences seem to have an element of ‘sharing’. Of enjoying craft beer with someone else — a friend, a relative, or a partner. Or being with others while you compare the delicious complex flavours. That’s the way craft beer should be enjoyed as much as possible, don’t you think?

It’s not just the beer tasting that is shared though, but also the brewing and even ideation process. I have a memory of head brewer, Pawel, from Mount Brewing in Tauranga, telling me the story of how he and fellow brewer, Leonie, came up with the idea for Breakfast of Champions. Playing ping pong, they were quite literally throwing ideas back and forth. You can imagine the giggles and excitement as one of them threw out the idea of “bananas”, “blueberries” and “maple syrup” to add to their oatmeal stout. And when the brew finally came to fruition, you can imagine the shared brewer’s anxiety over whether or not the flavours would come together into a balanced tasty beer. It does by the way, and I recommend it.

For me, there are three recent experiences of drinking beer that stick out in my mind, all shared with close friends and family.      And remembering these experiences incites feelings of friendship, gratitude, and maybe even some everyday heroism. Can I say that about my own story?  You see, these are stories that will hopefully make you want to jump on whatever dream that has been gnawing at the back of your mind. Screw the excuses. Do it now, before you no longer have the option to do so.

But let’s back up a bit…

Danielle Kerchmar

The stories are about my husband Conor and me. We met in eastern Ukraine in the oblast of Donetsk while serving with the US Peace Corps —  me teaching English and Conor working in a community centre. When Peace Corps service ended for us, we headed to Colorado to re-start our professional lives. There, we got masters degrees, interned, and then started looking for places where we might want to live long term.

In 2016, Conor was offered an internship working at the Fonterra in Auckland. Having had the travel bug for a while, we jumped on the opportunity and packed up our lives. We rented a small and cheap [read: mouldy] apartment in east Auckland, and we started building our community. We talked about having kids, buying a house, and settling down after years of moving around the world.

But alas, fate had another idea for us.

On his way to work one day, Conor had a motorcycle accident and broke his right foot, restricting him to the couch for several weeks. He passed this time watching Netflix and YouTube videos. Forced to stop many activities that brought him joy, he started questioning everything he had been doing in life and sought out videos of people living alternative lifestyles. It was in this search that he ran across a YouTube channel, Sailing Florence, about sailing around the world on a meager $US18,000 a year.

Conor had never considered sailing. He was a mountain boy from Salt Lake City and he had no background in boating. But something about it appealed to him, and he was soon watching sailing vlogs on YouTube every night. He found numerous couples who had bought a boat, quit their jobs, and gone fulltime sailing with zero experience. Holy shit, he thought, we could do that! And he immediately tried to convince me.

Now, many of my old coworkers will remember a period where I talked about my ‘crazy husband’ and his random idea to go sailing. But we had a track record of doing this sort of thing. From living in Ukraine and jumping in ice cold water, skinny dipping in a river leading to a castle in Austria, hitchhiking to a remote cape in Uruguay, and spearfishing at night in Fiji, Conor and I had done our fair share of crazy, out-there, absurd things. So, it didn’t take long for me to also embrace the idea.

Story 1: The best six months of our lives!

In many ways, the stars aligned for us. We had been saving to buy a house for many years, so we were able to reallocate that money to buying a boat instead. My work offered me a chance to learn video creation, which set us up for our YouTube channel, Sailing Pivo. When New Zealand went into a Level 4 lockdown in March 2020 it meant time saved on not commuting would be spent reading and watching what we could about sailing. And finally, Conor got promoted at work, which allowed us to stuff a little more into savings, along with our reduced spending from being on lockdown.

In December 2020, only 18 months after the original idea, we were able to quit our jobs, bought a 40-foot bluewater cruising yacht, and set off sailing.

Now, sorry to interrupt, but do you know that feeling when you look back on something at one point and then you look back again at that same memory after a significant change and the same memory has suddenly changed? It’s weird, confusing even, and surreal. That happened in a big way. If you asked me in June this year what I thought of how sailing was going, I’d say, yah, this is fun, glad we made this leap. But if you asked me now, I’d tell you with way too much passion and conviction, “Pursue Your Dream! NOW! GET UP OFF YOUR DEVICE NOW AND GO!”

You see, our adventure was too short-lived. For two reasons. We pulled into Gulf Harbour Marina for a simple throttle cable adjustment, and we ended up getting stuck doing repair after repair. We were burning through our savings, burning through summer, and we weren’t able to get the sailing experience needed to jump to the Pacific Islands during a short weather window that was coming up. Sounds miserable, right?

What we didn’t know at the time, though, is just how crucial being in Gulf Harbour Marina would be. It was during our time there that we met “00Paul”, who now appears frequently on our channel. After watching one of our videos, Paul passed our boat in the marina and introduced himself.

The three of us bonded over our mutual love for craft beer. Often, we would head to the nearest craft beer venue or share a beer on one of our boats while the sun set. We became good friends to the extent where we felt very comfortable showing up at each other’s boats uninvited to share a six-pack.

But, as things happen, when we moved on from the marina and Paul remained, the lack of shared beers and experiences meant we communicated less often and we slowly faded from each other’s lives. We did occasionally send videos to each other of virtual beer toasts, our cute short legged pup, Pivo, or Paul would send a video of a beer he was brewing. We thought we would eventually meet up again when we sailed back to Auckland. But we were each living our own lives in separate parts of New Zealand and we didn’t have long enough of a history to feel comfortable ‘bugging’ each other constantly.

Little did we know how quickly our lives would intersect again or how important our mutual love for a carbonated beverage would be.

When Everything Changed

Conor and Pivo

We had sailed from Auckland all the way around Coromandel Peninsula and down to Tauranga where we did an extended stop to make some repairs on the boat. It was there that Conor started developing severe migraines. Over the course of a month, they got worse and worse, and nothing seemed to help. We made drastic changes to our environment, food, and habits, but had no success. The migraines worsened.

In a desperate last move, we decided to leave the area with two extra crew in tow in hopes that the migraines were caused by something in the area. We set a destination to Great Barrier Island, with a pit stop in Whitianga to wait out a storm that was blowing through. It was there that the migraines peaked one night. After making a call to 111 and telling them Conor’s symptoms, they decided that he needed to be taken to the emergency department immediately.

At Waikato Hospital, they took Conor in for a CT scan, and within an hour had the diagnosis. He had an 8cm meningioma brain tumor on his right frontal lobe. They needed to operate immediately.

Story 2: Beers For The Soul

I was in shock. I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. Conor wasn’t coherent and had short term memory loss, so he didn’t either. Luckily, my friends did. They immediately organised themselves to make sure we weren’t alone, that housing was booked for me, and that meals were delivered throughout the day. And when the evenings came and I had to leave Conor at the hospital, they made sure I had a good beer to distract me. And it worked.

And so here is the second story of shared craft beer. That first night, I hardly remember feeling sad (or feeling at all) as I sat at a beer joint with my friend, Jamie. And as the sadness and sense of loss started to hit me, I started to lean on the sense of love and gratitude for my friends as they thoughtfully remembered which flavours I liked the most and had a cold crafty waiting in the fridge for me when I arrived at the Airbnb each night.

I can remember one beer vividly: an Urbanaut with a tropical flavor. I am unsure of which one specifically. I had this deep sense of pressure release as the sweet carbonated flavor hit my tongue and rolled down the back of my throat. That, mixed with the warm tears and heady feeling from too much crying, somehow made that one of the best beers I have ever tasted. Can a beer taste like stress relief? I guess that’s why we all enjoy it so much, eh?

Story 3: The Beer Bond

The days progressed, beers were shared, and a short five days after diagnosis, Conor successfully had the tumor removed. He recovered fast, and four days after surgery, the hospital discharged him. But they said we shouldn’t go back to the boat. Conor, under no circumstances, could hit his head, and he would likely have balance issues for a while.

Suddenly, we were in desperate need of a place to stay. We put a call out to our network, and our friend, 00Paul, who we had met only six months prior said we should come his way. He had a place out in the middle of nowhere that wouldn’t have too much stimulus and would allow Conor to recover in peaceful nature. It sounded perfect.

Conor with his post-surgery head gear on

The third story of shared beer took place at Paul’s beautiful home. We had Me Time Mosaic Hazy IPA by Behemoth that first night. We sat in his living room and had one of those evenings where you feel like you can share and say anything without any judgement. We laughed at the irony of things as Me Time was the beer we joyfully shared on that last day when Conor and I left Gulf Harbour Marina — and now we were having it again, in sadness, as our sailing dream was put aside.

The thing is though, in the midst of the sadness, there has also been this sense of gratitude for what something as simple as beer has brought us. Craft beer has been a hallmark of our YouTube channel, as we reviewed different beers and breweries as we sailed along the New Zealand coast. We met so many amazing and talented brewers and bar owners, tried so many delicious beers, and shared so many moments with others who also appreciate the craft.

When the news hit of Conor’s diagnosis, several breweries and good friends sent us care packages of our favourite beers. Now on Fridays, our community reaches out to us and asks us what beer we are drinking. And of course, we probably wouldn’t have stayed with 00Paul if it wasn’t for our mutual love of beer.

So, I guess it’s not just about the beer, but the experience you’re having with the beer. Lots of memories are made over this delicious drink. The next time you’re drinking a craft beer, look around you, appreciate who you’re with, the memories you’re building, and spare a thought for the ones you have shared a beer with, as you never know how they may come through for you or how you may need to come through for them.

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