One-time Mitsubishi factory rally driver, motoring journalist Michael Taylor has taken the plunge and branched out into a left-field side venture.
Taylor has started a news and review website on global beers while continuing in his primary roles as a motoring writer, editor and communications consultant.
It is rather ironic that a car guy, a motorsport guy at that, has stepped into a field which is normally taboo when mentioned in the same breath as motor racing and day-to-day driving.
Taylor, born and raised in the south western Queensland town of Goondiwindi which was made famous by a racehorse called Gunsynd in the early 1970’s, is starting his eighth year of living in Europe.
Since 2006 he has based himself mainly in Italy where he enjoys the magic carpet ride of trekking to different countries for car launches, car shows and motor racing events where his work is published in a variety of publications in many countries.
Taylor drove the Hyundai Tiburon coupe in the 2002 Targa Tasmania with co-driver Anthony McLaughlin and was team-mates with Aussie rally legend Ross Dunkerton in the factory-backed Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Magna VR-X AWD effort in the ARC in 2004.
Now the former RACQ Road Ahead magazine, Courier-Mail, Daily Telegraph and Motor magazine journo has rocked his contemporaries by setting up the Beeriosity.com website.
Any drop produced anywhere in the world is fair game for Beeriosity’s reviewers.
From peddling racecars and hot road cars to peddling hot and cold brews is indeed a hemispheral change. Speedcafe.com’s Gordon Lomas caught up with former colleague Taylor to learn more about his world outside of cars.
SPEEDCAFE: Firstly MT, why Beeriosity.com?
MICHAEL TAYLOR: You know how most people in our industry take the ‘that’s not possible’ as a challenge, well that’s how it started.
A few guys got together on Facebook to drink a different beer every day for a year and Beeriosity essentially came out of our frustrations with the Facebook platform.
The key frustration was that you couldn’t search for beers on it, and in my head that just meant we were wasting a potential resource, especially as craft brewing is booming in Australasia.
We built something with that as its core, so if you see an interesting beer at the bottle shop, you can just go to Beeriosity, search to see if it’s any good and make your decision from there. Life’s too short to drink bad beer and it’s also too short to get suck drinking the same inoffensive commercial beer everywhere you go.
We just wanted to help people find the best beers and be a bit beer curious.
It just steamrolled from there and it has turned into a beer lover’s cultural hub.
SPEEDCAFE: Did you set up the site solo or if not who else is involved?
TAYLOR: Beeriosity’s Irish creative cove, Paul Jones, and I have built it and are in charge of it, but we also have Yeer in Beer (the Facebook challenge) founders, Shane Maguire and Scott Ellis on board, along with regular reviewers like Graeme Bernauer and Chris Aylen. Graeme is the crotchety old bloke, Scott is Fairfax’s TV reviewer and is a funny bugger who worked with me at the Telegraph 10 or 15 years ago and Shane is a frighteningly harsh reviewer of bad beers.
SPEEDCAFE: Tell us about the Yeer in Beer deal last year?
TAYLOR: 2012 was a leap year so that meant 366 different beers. What made it hard for me is that beer isn’t close to the cultural core of Italy. Most bars carry a standard distribution package of four or five fairly bland beers. Yeer in wine would probably have been easier. Fortunately, Bavaria is just up the road (by Australian standards).
One of the rules was that you couldn’t ‘bank’ beers, so we had to be careful when we headed intercontinental to make sure we got all the time zones right and weren’t trapped for 12 hours on a jet that only had beer we’d already tested. But the thing struck a cord and took off on Facebook and we’ve transferred that feeling with the same people across to Beeriosity.
It probably couldn’t have been done a decade ago, but there are now thousands of small brewers who do it out of utter passion and hundreds of them in Australia and New Zealand alone. It’s sort of where wine was 20 years ago.
It’s a lot like when motorsport is healthy and all the small teams start emerging from the woodwork or splintering off from major teams. And, also a lot like motorsport, some have a knack for it and some don’t.
SPEEDCAFE: What are your plans for the site, advertising bucks etc. Is it generating any revenue now?
TAYLOR: Beeriosity is in its Beta test phase now. Pre-production in car speak. We haven’t done much to push its presence yet but most of the Yeer in Beer members have signed on already to help us identify any issues to work on. So far they’ve been pretty positive.
There’s a three-stage development program and the revenue generation plans don’t kick in until phase two. The core Beeriosity players come from editorial backgrounds so it’s more important to us to have a pure product that brands itself as honest but fun and easy to read with a lot of integrity.
The key for us is to maintain and develop its interactivity. If money is the major driver from the start, your planning messages can get mixed, so we will establish Beeriosity’s position first.
Like Speedcafe it’s a cultural hub for a passion that you and I know is much loved in Australia and the world, but sadly neglected in the mainstream media.
We’re just filling the vacuum they’ve created.
Do you think the average Australian bloke would rather read about ‘why these are the five best summer beers in the world or ‘the ongoing superficial adventures of some American woman who’s never contributed a tangible thing to humanity?’.
Beeriosity membership is free and people can have as much or as little involvement as they like, but they’ll never be charged either way.
Our future isn’t married to the idea of advertising revenue. That is planned to come and it’s not going to hurt, but our revenue stream will be based around a different business model.
SPEEDCAFE: That was quite a crisp and honest description so on a lighter note what’s the worst beer that’s passed your lips and ditto the best?
TAYLOR: I’ve had a lot of appalling beers in the last year. Seriously bad beers. The Australian reviewers have been particularly harsh on the O’Brien and Arvo beers but at least they’re fun to write about.
Just as I was thinking my worst beer of the year was going to be either Belgium’s Silly Scotch (seriously there is a Belgian brewer called Silly) or New York’s Pork Slap Farmhouse Ale, along came Budweiser.
In late November I had a Budweiser and Clamato in California. It was like they’d poured the remnants of a chilli dip into a 500ml can and I can’t understand why their judging panels and clinics convinced them to take a risk on this crap but won’t take a risk by delivering an awesome, complex, nuanced beer.
We’ve had beers that tasted like Maltesers left in battery acid, we’ve had beers that felt like you’ve been chewing on a pen too enthusiastically and got a mouthful of ink and we’ve had beers that tasted like pethidine dissolved in Alka Seltzer.
But I’ve had some awesome beers along the way. We did a Best and Worst of 2012 a week or two ago and my Top 10 had eight different brewing styles. There’s a fabulous small brewery about 70km south of Munich called Maxlrain that provided two of my Top 10, but I haven’t heard of it being available in Australia. Seven of my best beers weren’t just from Germany; they were from Bavaria.
SPEEDCAFE: How do the Aussie brews stack up on a world scale then?
TAYLOR: That’s hard for me to judge personally but the locally based blokes are raving about some of the better craft brewers, like Little Creatures, Ekim, Stone and Wood, Mountain Goat and Red Duck, along with Yeastie Boys from across the Ditch.
The only Australian beers I see regularly are things I’d rather not drink, like Foster’s.
SPEEDCAFE: Beers and cars don’t mix successfully anyway. It’s a weird marriage MT don’t you think?
TAYLOR: Well they don’t mix at the same time that’s for sure. But show me a bloke with a decent shed and he’s sure to have a fridge and 99 per cent of them will have beer in it.
The drivers might all be flat-bellied midgets but 98 per cent of most teams in every category of motorsport around the world aren’t flat-bellied midgets.
And from my experience, the people who aren’t the drivers love a cold beer at the end of the day especially at the end of a race weekend.
These days I end up bouncing around the world a lot. I slept in 197 different beds last year which opens up opportunities for an oddball beer at the end of a day’s work.
A beer at the end of the day’s work is more common in Europe even than Australia and more than half of what I do involves the Germans who are pretty fussy about beer and extremely regional too.
I can’t count the times I’ve flown into Munich airport at 7am and seen people packing a weissbier away.
SPEEDCAFE: How long have you been living and working in Europe?
TAYLOR: I got here in January, 2006, so this is the start of my eighth year. It’s all been a bit of a blur but I love being able to jump in the car and wander off to Switzerland or Germany or France or Slovenia for the weekend. There’s always something new to pique my interest here, whether it’s something historical or geographical or culinary or just trying to understand the ways different nationalities or cultures see the same topic.
It still learn new things here everyday.
I’m just north of Milan now (I was in Modena until a year ago) so I’ve got six or seven countries within a four-hour drive.
And if I get bored I just pop up through Switzerland and Austria, hit a German autobahn and stand on it for an hour.
SPEEDCAFE: Do you keep tabs on Aussie motor racing?
TAYLOR: Sure and you guys with your updates are easily the best for helping me to do that. I’ve always been a sucker for almost any form of motorsport and I’ll watch just about all of it in preference to just about anything.
F1 is easier to follow here because I can watch most races and still have a full night’s sleep. And I know a lot of Ferrari and Toro Rosso blokes. Ferrari was 20km from my house in Modena and I used to catch up with the Toro Rosso guys at Bologna Airport all the time.
I’m actually pretty happy with Daniel Riccardo’s progress because I remember spending a lot of time with him and his dad down in Valencia for the Formula BMW World finals when he got everybody’s attention.
I stayed in touch with Atko during his adventures here and kept an eye on Brendo and Rhi and Molly, too. Rallying will always be my first love and I pore over the ARC stage results to see how mates like Jack Monkhouse, Simon Knowles and the Evans boys are doing.
It doesn’t have to be drivers you know. I even get a kick out of seeing an unclad F1 car or a Le Mans car with a PWR radiator in it.
SPEEDCAFE: Then what is the best motor racing event you have been to in Europe and the worst?
TAYLOR: Le Mans is astonishing on so many levels. From technology to the crowds, from the sideshows to the track but it would fall just shy of being my favourite. The Nurburgring 24 Hour race is like a German Bathurst but with production cars and four times the real estate to scatter to. That’s my favourite partly because the Germans are contrary to the stereotype, so passionate.
And there’s so much variety on the grid and the closing speeds are frightening. And then there’s that iconic track.
The 1000 Lakes Rally (I know it’s not called that anymore but like Lang Park it will always be the 1000 Lakes to me) runs a very close second.
The best one I’ve actually competed in is easily the Mazda Ice Race up in Sweden. A Bathurst-length track graded into a snow-covered frozen lake with 20 other cars at -15 or -20 degrees.
Brilliant fun, distilled car control and we were competitive which always helps to leave a good memory.
The worst? Not sure I’ve ever been to a truly bad motorsport event. I think the Italian Grand Prix at Monza would be about the most over-rated thing I’ve ever been to. There are really only two passing places and spectators can only see one of them.
SPEEDCAFE: When do you plan to return to Oz so we can alert the brewers so they can boost local production output?
TAYLOR: Hah! Beeriosity and I are all about the quality, not the quantity. I’ll probably be back for a few weeks later in the year so I’ll take you taste testing (or market researching as we call it).
The girl (partner) is pushing for us to live in Australia. She’s Bulgarian and almost cried when we left Australia after Christmas a couple of years ago.
Like so many Australasian drivers, mechanics, engineers, execs and even marketing folk, Australia provided me with a fantastic grounding in my trade but Europe is the main game and right now I’m enjoying being in the main game.
There are just so many incredibly sharp and insightful people in the car business here and I hardly ever have a conversation where I don’t learn something.
There will be a day when I come back for good because the travel schedule here is unsustainable but you won’t need to bother the major breweries on my behalf.