Falling in Love with Margaret River

Thanks to Augusta Margaret River Tourism for
the help and support on this portion of our trip.

The four days in Victoria were only a warmup for the main event of the trip, our first visit to Western Australia. We focused our visit to Australia’s largest state on the area around Perth, but our first destination was Margaret River in the southwest corner of the continent. Long known as one of Australia’s most famous wine regions, Margaret River is also home to a large concentration of breweries.

Cowaramup Brewing in Cowaramup

The three hour drive from Perth airport to the Margaret River region was pretty much a straight shot. As someone joked to us, “It’s a left, then a right…” All the breweries in the area close in the early evening so our late afternoon arrival only afforded us time for one stop, Cowaramup Brewing. [Get ready because names with ‘up’ are going to come fast and furious. It means ‘place of’]

The view from Cowaramup

Cowaramup Brewing was a good introduction to what would be a defining feature of most of the region’s breweries. The impressive and modern brewpub  was open (literally) to an expansive outdoor seating area with an incredible vista of the surrounding Western Australian countryside. Not even the giant biting flies with the huge green eyes could ruin the moment, though. Despite the painful bite, the flies are one of the few creatures in Australia that can’t kill you.

Sample paddle at Cowaramup Brewing

Merideth and I grabbed a seat to enjoy the view and warm summer weather. After a long drive, the sample paddle was a very welcome sight indeed. There were five beers to try, ranging from a Pilsner and Hefeweizen on the lighter side to a Porter on the dark end of the spectrum.

The Special Pale Ale, an English-style Extra Special Bitter with English hops, could have been the beer of the paddle. However, the almost 90 degree temperatures screamed for the excellent award winning Pilsner (Champion Lager at the 2011 Australian International Beer Awards) or the wonderful Hefeweizen. Cowaramup was a great introduction to the Margaret River beer scene.

Merideth at the Grove Vineyard

With only two days to visit the seven remaining breweries, plus do other tourist stuff, we needed to get busy on Wednesday morning. Luckily, the Grove Vineyard in Wilyabrup, with it’s 9am opening time, was a perfect starting point for the busy beer traveler. A winery and distillery, the Grove Vineyard recently added beer to their repertoire.

Drinking the House Ale

Not a surprise, we were the first customers of the day when we arrived a little after 9am. There was only one beer available, the House Ale, an American-style Pale Ale. Hopped with Citra and Nelson Sauvin, the brew was well-balanced with a big malt backbone. The Grove Vineyard only had one beer, but Merideth and I both enjoyed it.

A shack in the bush

Bush Shack Brewery in Yallingup was the odd ball of the Margaret River breweries. Truth in its name, Bush Shack was, compared to the other area breweries, a shack in the bush, complete with warning signs about snakes. I don’t mean this in a bad way. Bush Shack’s laid back surroundings and atmosphere were much more what we are used and drawn to, except for the snake part.

Prior to our visit, Merideth had picked up one of their rack cards at our hotel that listed their beers. Frankly, we were a bit worried. A chili beer, a lemon lager, a strawberry beer; these all raised red flags in our minds. But we couldn’t have been more wrong.

The sample paddle at Bush Shack

Starting with the Strawberry Blonde, Merideth and I were quite impressed by the selection of brews. My previous experience with strawberry beers leaned towards sweet, heavy-handed brews that might have well been strawberry soda. Bush Shack’s version had a dry, subtle strawberry flavor that beautifully complimented the base Pale Ale. And it was a slam dunk with the hot and humid weather. Same could be said for the Twisted Lemon Lager. All eight beers were solid and flavorful, well, except maybe the Chili Beer. But, admittedly, that’s just my crusade against my least favorite flavoring in beer.

Thanks go out to the friendly crew at Bush Shack for making us feel so welcome!

The beautiful view at Eagle Bay Brewing

A short drive up the road was Eagle Bay Brewing in Eagle Bay. Of the Margaret River breweries, Eagle Bay had the most stunning setting. Set on a gentle rise, the brewpub overlooked rolling hills and cows roaming through tree-studded fields. From our vantage point at our table, we could even see Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse in the distance.

The sample paddle at Eagle Bay

Brewer Nick d’Espeissis, whose family land we were now standing upon, brewed one of the best lineup of beers of the trip. The first three, a Kölsch, Pilsner and Vienna Lager were the most impressive. Merideth really appreciated the light and refreshing Kölsch while my thirst was quenched by the crisp Pilsner. The Pale Ale was also excellent, showcasing Nick’s experience brewing in the Pacific Northwest.

Lunch at Eagle Bay

Lunch was equally delicious. We got the sense that in order to keep up with the posh wineries, pouring good beer just wasn’t enough. The brewpubs had to have a food menu to match, which of course delighted us to no end. Merideth and I both ordered pizza. I’m big sucker for pizza with fresh greens on top and the peppery rocket, what we call arugula, was a perfect accompaniment for the spicy sausage.

Thanks to Margarita and Nick for taking time to chat with us and for their excellent hospitality!

Look mom! No wet suit!

We finished our incredible first full day in Margaret River by soaking in the Indian Ocean for the very first time. The shimmering, turquoise blue waters made Merideth gasp on first sight. Used to the cold Pacific Ocean on California’s coast, we thoroughly enjoyed standing in the Indian Ocean’s warm waters. After such a fantastic first day in Margaret River, we went to bed dreaming of what the next day might bring…

View all the Margaret River images…

Melbourne Urban Beer Hike

Since our last visit to Melbourne a little over two years ago, a number of beer bars had opened in the city center (or CBD in Aussie). With one last day before flying off to Western Australia, we decided to spend the day checking out what was new in Victoria’s capital.

Ned Kelly's death mask

After arriving in Melbourne in the morning, we wasted no time in getting our day started with a bit of culture: a visit to the Old Melbourne Gaol, where we ducked in and out of numerous small cells once inhabited by some of Australia’s first residents. Prominently displayed throughout the jail were the macabre death masks of those executed, including the infamous Ned Kelly.

Although our entry also entitled us to “enjoy” the Police House Experience, we opted out of it. We weren’t quite up to re-enacting the process of being booked into jail. Instead, we headed to the first stop on our Melbourne Urban Beer Hike – The Court House Hotel.

The Court House in North Melbourne

Not a brewery but a craft beer café, the corner establishment felt like a 1920s supper club. I love the movie The Cotton Club and the music playing could have been straight out of that soundtrack. We chose a high table in the small bar area near the entrance. The first customers of the day, the bartenders had time to chat with us about Australian craft beer and the high taxes on alcohol that result in beer costing between $9-$14 a pint.

Lunch at the Court House

I enjoyed the Golden Ale from Mountain Goat, a brewery we had visited on our last trip to Melbourne in 2010. Of course Chris went for the McLaren Vale IPA as we snacked on a charcuterie plate and marinated feta. This was our first of five planned stops, so we took it easy and moved on to our second stop (or at least tried to).

We followed along the busy main streets of Melbourne dodging city dwellers as they went about their work week. We found Biero Bar without problem, but they were closed. As in, we’re closed indefinitely. We later learned that the owners are re-branding the place and it may or may not be a craft beer café any longer.

We continued on and ended up in the small lanes of Chinatown. The dirty and somewhat seedy back alleys were lined with yummy smelling dim sum restaurants but Penny Blue, the third planned stop on the UBH, was no where to be found.** Chris finally gave up and started looking for our fourth planned stop – Cookie.

We couldn’t find Cookie, either. So far we were one for four on this UBH, a disappointing (and frustrating) prospect to say the least. However, we popped into a convenience store with a 24-hour internet café in the back, looked up the address, and much to our surprise learned that Cookie was literally right next door to where we were.

The bar at Cookie

Up a dark staircase on the first floor, we found Cookie. The most striking feature of this place was the long white marble bar. We took seats at the bar and were served by an attentive young bartender.

Home to a large beer selection, we were a little disappointed in the lack of local beers on draft. Our well-meaning server even steered me to (what I found out later was) a pseudo-craft beer. However, they did have some good beers on, like the Temple Midnight IPA, a new brewpub in Melbourne that we wouldn’t have time to visit. Midnight IPA was a dark brew with a nice hop flavor and roasty character. They also had WiFi, so Chris and I barely spoke during our stop at Cookie.

The hip and modern Beer Deluxe

We finished up our UBH at Beer Deluxe, a slick and modern establishment in Federation Square. The first thing I noticed about Beer Deluxe was that California beers (and the Bay Area in particular) were well represented, including Bear Republic, North Coast, Moylan’s, and Sierra Nevada to name a few. Of course we weren’t there to drink our local beers, though. We wanted local Australian beers and they had a nice selection of those, too.

Enjoying a beer at Beer Deluxe

Chris started with Feral’s Hop Hog, while I drank the Pale Ale from Stone and Wood. Beer Deluxe had great nibblies, as well, and the Turkish bread & dips and red lentil cakes paired well with our beer. The atmosphere was nice and it wasn’t too crowded, which was perfect for meeting up with James, an emerging beer writer (beerbarband.blogspot.com), to talk beer.

James took us to a James Squire pub nearby to taste their limited release Mad Brewer’s Hoppy Hefe. Just as the name indicates, the beer was a hoppy hefeweizen a la HopfenWeisse. While it was short in the Hefe department, the beer had a pleasant hop bite. A nice ending to a challenging Urban Beer Hike.

**During our hike, we eventually found Penny Blue, but it was closed for re-modeling.

View all the images from our day in Melbourne


Port Phillip Bay Beer Loop – Part 2

On our first trip to Australia, we made a day trip down to the Mornington Peninsula from Melbourne. Long the playground for Melburnians, we loved Mornington’s laid back atmosphere and rural charm. We barely scratched the surface of the area’s offerings during the first trip, so this time we made a point of staying over the weekend.

Disembarking from the ferry at Sorrento,  we headed up the Peninsula along a coastal road. Despite the sporadic showers, the beaches were crowded with weekenders insisting on a day playing in the sand.

Merideth at Hix Beer

Hickinbotham of Dromana was our second winery/brewery combo stop of the day. Pulling into their parking field, Merideth and I were taken aback by the number of cars. We joked about drinking the Hix beers, as they’re called, amongst hordes of heathen wine snobs.

Hix beer

Unlike other winery/brewery locations we have been to, Hix had a rustic feel to it. Grabbing the only two available seats at their tiny bar, we were relieved to see others around us drinking beer. Merideth and I ordered one of their five beer sample paddles.

It didn’t take us long to notice that we had placed ourselves between two hen parties. The one in the barrel room to our left all wore crazy wigs. The other, outside on the patio, wasn’t dressed as crazy but they certainly seemed more tipsy. We couldn’t figure out whether the guy in the lederhosen was a male stripper or just out for a Saturday afternoon at a winery. We decided this could be the most interesting stop of the day.

The lineup of Hix beer

Hix burst on the Aussie beer scene last year by winning a gold medal for their Pale Ale the first time they entered the Australian International Beer Awards. There were four standard brews in the Hix lineup, Pilsner, Pale Ale, Brown Ale and Stout. Augmenting these four was a light-bodied Summer Ale. The two standouts for me were the Pilsner and award-winning Pale Ale.

Thankfully, the dude in the lederhosen never took off his clothes.

In the 'industrial' part of town...

After checking into our hotel in the town of Mornington, we walked to our final stop of the day, Mornington Peninsula Brewery. After two straight winery/brewery stops, Mornington was much more familiar setting to us — an industrial space.

The tasting room seen from the loft

We walked into the beer garden already filled with locals out on a Saturday night. Inside large roll up doors, there was a spacious tasting room and bar. Above the brew kit was a loft with a few tables and some comfy sofas. Since a birthday party dominated the few inside tables, Merideth and I set up shop in the beer garden. (Until it started raining, then we moved to the loft)

The randall at Mornington Peninsula Brewery

There were four beers on the sample paddle: a Belgian-style Wit, Aussie Ale, a brew made with all Australian ingredients, Pale Ale and Brown. The Brown Ale, with a delightful roast and nuttiness, might have been the best beer of the sample paddle.

While we played a game of Scrabble, Merideth enjoyed the Wit poured through their randall filled with oranges. I went with the Double IPA, a beer not served with the paddle. I haven’t had too many Australia DIPAs but Mornington’s was the best so far.

The lighthouse at Cape Schanck

One of the draws to coming back to the Mornington Peninsula was to seek out its natural beauty. Sunday morning, we drove to the end of the Peninsula, exploring Mornington Peninsula National Park. Beginning at Cape Schanck, we walked the rocky beaches around its lighthouse. As we climbed over rocks and gazed into tide pools, we listened intently for the bark of the Fairy Penguins. No barking sounds, all we could hear was the crash of the waves and the howling of the wind. The scenery was nothing sort of spectacular.

I feel like I am being watched...

After the beach, we moved inland searching for the elusive Koala. Instead, we found a kangaroo viewing track. Reaching the end of the trail, we could see the mob about 100 yards away in a clearing of the low brush. As we looked at this group, we started noticing heads popping up in the brush much closer to us. The kangaroos didn’t look especially happy about our presence, but we never felt threatened. We slowly withdrew from the area, wondering about what the defensive maneuver was for a kangaroo attack.

View all the Mornington National Park images

One of our favorite stops in Australia

There is something special about Red Hill Brewery, the only repeat stop from our first trip to Australia. It’s rural setting, relaxing patio dining, great beer and food drew us back for a second visit. Arriving early afternoon, it was a perfect stop for lunch after a morning of hiking.

Stoemp Cakes and Pork Scratchings

Being familiar with their brews, Merideth and I stuck with with their Golden Ale and Wheat Beer, probably my favorite example of a Bavarian-style Hefeweizen Down Under. The beer is fantastic, but we also knew that the food was top notch.

Local Mussels in a Beer Broth

We started with the Stoemp Cakes (deep-fried mashed potato balls) and Pork Scratchings. The chicarrones were excellent. They had the crispiness of corn chips rather than the melt-in-your-mouth type that we have had before. While Merideth went with the Pork Belly for her main course, I chose the local Mussels in a Beer Broth. The mussels were wonderfully briny, but I think the best part of my meal was dipping the peasant grain bread in the broth. We finished the incredible meal by sharing some Panna Cotta.

It was a great second visit to Red Hill Brewery, capping off a wonderful day on the Mornington Peninsula. Thanks to Karen for taking time to chat with us… and thanks for the beers!

View all the Mornington Peninsula images…


Port Phillip Bay Beer Loop – Part 1

While most of this trip is in Western Australia, we began our beer travels exploring breweries in the greater Melbourne area. Over three days, Merideth and I made a giant loop around Port Phillip Bay. Beginning our journey at Melbourne airport after a 15 hour flight from Los Angeles, we drove east for our first stop of the day.

Hargreaves Hill Restaurant in Yarra Glen

Hargreaves Hill Brewery, located in the quaint town of Yarra Glen, wasn’t  a typical first stop of a big trip. It didn’t count on The List, failing the brewed on premise requirement. Despite this, I wanted to visit Hargreaves Hill Brewery because I had heard good things about their food and beer.

Somewhat jet-lagged and tired, Merideth and I managed to sit down at an outside table and get a sample paddle, as they are called Down Under, ordered. It was nice to finally relax and soak in some of the summer sun after a long journey.

Pork belly and beer at Hargreaves Hill Brewery

There were six beers in Hargreaves Hill’s lineup, ranging from a Pilsner to a Stout. Given that it is summer in Australia, both Merideth and I gravitated towards the light end of the spectrum. The Hefeweizen was wonderfully refreshing with a delicate amount of banana and clove. The Pilsner was clean and crisp, with a pronounced hop bite.

Normally, I try to order a different menu item than Merideth. But neither of us were going to pass on the succulent Pork Belly on a bed of parsnip and apple mash. It was absolute heaven on a plate. Despite not counting on the List, Hargreaves Hill was a incredible beginning to our second Australian adventure.

Beautiful Victoria

Backtracking west, we drove through the rolling hills of the Victoria’s countryside. As I kept my eye on the road, Merideth intently scanned the fields for kangaroos and the trees for cockatoos and other birds. Occasionally, she would point things out to me, an activity that kept us both alert and awake. In a little over an  hour, we arrived at our final destination of our first day, Woodend.

Merideth in Woodend

Woodend was a typical Australian small town with one main street that was home to all the shops and businesses. Holgate Brewhouse, a brewpub and hotel, was located right in the middle of the main drag. It seemed like an eternity since we had left our house, so it was nice to finally not be on the move.

Holgate Brewhouse

Dating from early last century, the pub, with it’s warm and cozy feel, just exuded charm. Merideth and I settled in at the bar, joining a group of locals having an afternoon pint.

There were eight beers in the sample, including a Saison from Bridge Road in Beechworth. Merideth really liked the White Ale, a Belgian-style Wit and Temptress, a chocolate Porter. For being only 6% ABV, Temptress had a boozy nose, though, thankfully, not taste. It was really smooth and chocolatey.

The beers at Holgate

My two standouts were Road Trip, their interpretation of an American-style IPA, and the ESB, which they had on cask. Road Trip, made with Chinook, Centennial and Cascade hops, was more well-balanced, not from the hop assault school. I was just disappointed that they weren’t pushing it through their Randall.

After dinner, a few more pints and a game of Scrabble, Merideth and I decided we had stayed up long enough. We retired to our room upstairs for a well-deserved night of sleep.

View all the images from Yarra Glen and Woodend

What is a prickly moses?

We were up early on Saturday morning as we had a three hour drive to our first stop of the day. Heading south from Woodend in sporadic rain showers, we reached Geelong in a few hours then headed west. Despite the early departure and long drive, we arrived at Otway Estate Winery and Brewery in Barongarook somewhat bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

We were the first customers of the day, the only other activity was the setting up of a wedding in their function room. I think the staff person was a bit surprised by the fact that Merideth and I drove three hours to taste beer before 11am. But kudos to her for scrounging us up some breakfast.

Breakfast of champions
Raconteur IPA

We sampled eight beers, all of which were well-crafted, in two sets of four. The Pilsner and Wheat Beer, a Wit, were both delicious. The Blueberry Hefeweizen was deftly flavored, with a dry fruit character. The Summer Ale, Merideth’s favorite, was a really pleasant, light-bodied Golden Ale that made us wish it was more like summer outside. (The skies had cleared but the temp was still only in the 60s).

The beer I was there to try was Raconteur IPA, a creation of Hendo’s, one of the Otway brewers whom we know {Hendo has since moved on from Otway]. Raconteur, also made with Chinook, Centennial and Cascade hops, was much more an aggressive beer than the Road Trip of the previous day. Much more my type of IPA, Ranconteur could stand up next to any of the hop bombs I drink at home.

Things don't look so good for a ferry crossing...

From Otway, we drove back east towards Port Phillip Bay and the ferry crossing at Queenscliff. As we arrived at the ferry terminal, the wind began howling and the skies opened up with a deluge of rain. I immediately started thinking about our last ferry crossing in rough weather.

A pleasant ferry crossing

In the spring of 2009, Merideth and I took the ferry from Wales to Ireland and things didn’t go so well for me. As we sat in the car waiting to drive on, Merideth tried to calm my nerves, assuring me that it was only a short trip. Luckily, the storm quickly passed over and the ferry ride to Sorrento was quite pleasant. Thus began the Mornington Peninsula portion of our Port Phillip Bay Beer Loop.

View all the Otway, Queenscliff and Ferry Ride images


New beergeek.TV Episode – Craft Beer Down Under, The Journey to Sydney

Drinking an Australian brew

“Craft Beer Down Under: The Journey to Sydney” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.

Merideth turned 40 in December and she didn’t really embrace the milestone. Instead of making our normal holiday pilgrimage to Europe, we decided a trip to Australia was what Merideth needed to cure the turning 40 blues. This trip marked our first beer adventure outside of North America or Europe.

In two weeks of beer travel, we journeyed from Sydney to Melbourne and then back.

So enjoy the second part of our beer adventure in Australia…

For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.