I’m breaking with tradition to write in English for three reasons.
1) I don’t want to misrepresent this vitally important topic.
2) It will not be appreciated by most Europeans* with their crappy lager (yes, not even you Germans with your high and mighty purity law).
3) Rob requested it, and he was recently confused by the menu item ‘camembert au four’.
Anyway, I am happy to report that Australia has some really good beer. Granted, poor lager is the staple for most Aussies (though famously NOT the well-known export Fosters). However, like much of the world, there exists a growing craft beer movement.
Unsurprisingly, this focusses on American-style craft beer, so you’ll be happy to know that the UK is still the only place in the world where you can easily get all of the three genres of beer: lager, real ale, and ‘craft beer’ (which in my mind is just a cross between the first two).
So, to the detail. A beer tour of Australia…
We started in Western Australia and our first brewery produces probably the best-known craft beer in Australia: Little Creatures. A professional setup in a sanitised ‘warehouse’ with huge brauhaus-style tables and a smart looking food menu were initially off-putting. However, when we found the tasting area of the bar (in the right-hand warehouse) the barman was one of the friendliest of our trip. He took the time to talk us through each of ten beers on the tasting tray and even brought out two more special editions. We enjoyed the nationally popular pale ale enough to buy a six pack but we also particularly enjoyed the malt flavours of the bright ale. I liked the Elsie wheat beer, a genre which turned out to be fairly rare in Australia and Alice’s favourite was the white rabbit dark ale. 12 beers.
We moved on to Margaret River, a region about 3 hours south of Perth known for its wine but with plenty of beer producers too. We started at beer farm where we had a small but excellent set of beers in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. The India Pale Lager was particularly memorable as it managed to retain the hops and citrus of an IPA in a refreshing lager. 16 beers.
Next up was the Eagle Bay brewing company. More of a restaurant than a brewery, it still had a selection of six beers and we managed to get a seat on a comfy sofa by the fire which warmed us up on a rainy day. The beer wasn’t bad but a couple were quite bland; they did make a good black IPA, another rare find in Australia but personally I’m not a huge fan of the heavy malt and heavy hops combination. 22 beers.
On the next section of our tour, back to Perth and then over to Adelaide, we took an inopportune break from beer and so missed out on two of the top new breweries in Australia. In Perth, Balter brewing and in Adelaide, Pirate Life. We went some way to rectifying this at the end our trip by sampling their trademark beers whilst sitting by the river in Melbourne. Balter’s XPA was a very solid american pale with lots of hops. Pirate life’s IPA was too strong and too bitter for my taste, although this may have been because it was paired with very sweet Korean fried chicken! Nonetheless, if you’re in Adelaide, I would definitely visit their brewery, though at nearly £4 a can I wouldn’t buy it from an bottle shop. 24 beers.
Driving from Perth to the east coast we drank quite a few Fat Yak pale ales. They weren’t the best beer we had in Australia but they were much better than your standard lager and were by far the cheapest at £1 a can from Aldi. We also invested in a pack of Stone and Wood pale ale from Bryon Bay. A rival to Little Creature’s nationwide popularity, it was equally hoppy but less fruity and more floral; I’d definitely buy it again. 26 beers
I really enjoyed this paddle from the newer brewery in Byron Bay, though in retrospect we can’t remember any of the beers very well so perhaps it wasn’t that exciting. Maybe it was the funky art work or the vibe of the town, probably the hipp(i)est place in Australia. 30 beers.
The next stop was, for once, not a tasting paddle but some schooners at a pub quiz hosted by the Fritzenburger Brewery Bar in Brisbane. The IPA and the wheat saison were good but we both really loved the hazelnut stout: so often dark beers list flavours, most commonly chocolate or coffee, which just don’t come through: No such problem here. Alice started with their basic Pale Ale which I thought was rather bland. However, upon winning a round of the quiz our team bought a growler of the same beer which was totally different: really fresh grapefruit made a great pale ale. The poor keeping of the first keg was a disappointing stain on an otherwise great brewery. 34 beers.
Also based in Queensland is Feral Brewery. We didn’t get chance to visit it, but sampled their trademark Hop Hog in the beautiful surroundings of Kosciusko national park. A predictably hoppy beer left me wanting more, if it was earlier in our trip I’d have bought a pack. 35 beers. I thought I’d add a quick note here to point out that beer is Australia is very expensive – this single bottle cost $6 from an off licence and pubs are similarly extortionate. There is also confusion over how much beer you’re ordering!
Arriving in Sydney, we had a schooner of Kosciusko pale ale, which was disappointingly bland and expensive but this was more than made up for by a trip to 4 pines brewery. We arrived at 4.50 but made the excellent decision to wait until 5 for the opening of their ‘kellar door’, an area where they sell experimental and interesting brews. This was by far the best overall paddle we tasted in Australia, with all five beers giving something interesting, from a banana and rye beer, to a good wheat beer and a strong ‘Australian’ IPA. We don’t normally like strong beer, especially at 9%, but this had so much flavour that the strength didn’t overwhelm it. Leaving, we bought a six pack of their standard pale ale – a good beer, we enjoyed our final bottle in the airport just before security. 41 beers.
Still in Sydney, we stumbled upon the Endeavour tap rooms, which sits in the shadow of the harbour bridge. They had a deal of 4 tasters for $10 from 4-6.30pm so we tried all 8 of their brews. Apart from a couple of boring pilsners, we enjoyed all of these. I particularly liked a marmite-like very smoky beer but Alice preferred their standard pale ale, which I agree was very good. 49 beers.
On our drive to Melbourne we enjoyed our 4 pines collection before reaching the Yarra Valley. More renowned for its wine, it nevertheless features several breweries and we stopped at Coldstream. The atmosphere and decor were good but the beer and service was the most disappointing on our trip: I can only remember a flat pear cider and the staff were too busy making cocktails to show interest in beer. 53 beers.
Arriving in Melbourne we happened upon the crafty squire, a large outlet for the mass-produced James Squire beer. We liked that you could choose which of their beers to have on the sampler and I particularly enjoyed the Cabin Fever, a session IPA which had a lot of flavour for a 4% beer, but overall, we wouldn’t rush back. 59 beers.
Last but far from least came a trip to the mountain goat brewery in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond. We mostly wanted to go here because of my love of the mountains but it turned out to be one of our favourites. We got great chat from a kiwi brewer who served us and I particularly enjoyed the refreshing beer that he had brewed himself (I think it’s called Barnaby’s choice); indeed, all four were good. We loved the atmosphere; in fact, its warehouse style felt like a more developed version of our Oxford favourite, the tap social. It was a great way to end a surprisingly tasty set 63 of Australian beers.
*Apologies to Scandinavians, who do know good beer.