“Craft Beer Down Under: The Journey to Melbourne” 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 first part of our beer adventure in Australia…
For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.
The eve of Christmas Eve was the last serious day of beer travel on our Australian trip. We had three breweries to visit and then we were done. Almost as important, we had been putting off Christmas shopping (“Let’s just do it in Sydney…”) so we still had a number of Christmas presents to purchase. We hadn’t seen much of Sydney besides Circular Quay plus what we saw outside the taxi window. Thus, we decided a walking tour was in order.
The starting point of our day-long walk was our hotel, the Lord Nelson. Unfortunately, we left before the pub opened so we couldn’t fortify ourselves with a few pints of liquid bread. Crossing over to George St., we headed up towards the city center. Merideth popped in and out of a few stores while I dreamt about that first beer of the day. At Market St., we took a left and headed towards Hyde Park.
For those who started the walking tour with a few refreshments at the Lordie and now need to pee, there are plenty of pay toilets in Hyde Park. The cost is 50 cents.
To prove we are not complete beer heathens, I did plan our route to the first brewery so we could visit a couple of normal tourist spots. First stop was Hyde Park Barracks on the northern end of Hyde Park. The building was designed by Francis Greenway, the same gentleman who designed the complex that houses the Goulburn Brewery we visited on our second day of the trip [see “CanBEERa“]. Today, this 1819 building houses an excellent museum documenting the convict/transportation era of Australia’s history.
Walking to the southern end of Hyde Park brought us to the ANZAC Memorial. Built in 1934, the memorial is dedicated to the 120,000 men and women who served in the Australian New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) in the First World War. War memorials and cemeteries are one of the my favorite things to visit when traveling. With a degree in History, I find such monuments not only interesting but also powerful and moving. And I have to say, the ANZAC memorial was all three.
Strolling out the end of Hyde Park, the educational portion of the walk was over. And only blocks away was our first brewery of the day.
Located in the Macquarie Hotel, we only learned about the Schwartz Brewery from the beermen.tv guys the night before. Somewhat an embarrassing revelation for the master planner (There is a brewery in Sydney I don’t know about?), I guess Schwartz Brewery likes to fly under the radar.
There were five beers to try at Macquarie Hotel including a never heard of before Bavarian Red Lager. It was an interesting beer. But my highlight at Schwartz was the Pale Ale, made with cascade hops. Maybe I was entering the ‘ready to go home’ phase of the trip, but what reminds a California beer geek of home more than cascade hops?
Walking back towards George St., we were at Red Oak Boutique Beer Cafe, our second brewery of the day, in 20 minutes. As always, Merideth found us a seat outside, while I went inside to get our sample tray. But, there was a hitch in the plan, the brewer at Red Oak doesn’t believe in sample trays. Hmmmm… interesting… For beer travelers, this was somewhat unwelcome news as Red Oak had almost a dozen beers on draft. Perplexed, I ordered a Hefeweizen for myself and a Honey Ale for Merideth.
In place of a sample tray, Red Oak did have food and beer Tasting Boards. Costing 20 AUD, there were five to choose from: cheese, meat, vegetarian, seafood and dessert. Each board had a nibble of food paired with a beer. Merideth first ordered the cheese and followed it with the dessert. The dessert board was delicious. A nice concept but with one slight flaw; there were overlapping beers on the boards that Merideth ordered.
Red Oak was another brewery with a holiday beer. Christmas Cheer, available in 250ml bottles, had a light body perfect for summer combined with a nice amount of holiday spice. Well done.
A short walk from Red Oak had us at the bustling King Street Wharf. James Squire Brewhouse is a chain of brewpubs with locations in Sydney and Melbourne. I had received conflicting information whether they actually brewed at each location or the beer came from their production brewery.
As everyone knows by heart now, for it to count on “the List” the beer must be brewed on-site. So, it was with a great sense of relief that when we walked into the pub, we not only saw a brewer at work but also a list of the beers that were brewed there.
Ordering two of the on-site brews, Sundown Lager for Merideth and The Craic for myself, we joined the post work crowd on the patio who were just starting to get their holiday groove on. The Craic, an Irish Stout, was a really nice version of the style. Dry and roasty, the best part was the Craic wasn’t served on nitrogen.
We returned to a very crowded Lord Nelson pub. As Christmas Eve is a time to spend with family, it looked like Christmas Eve2 was the evening everyone was going to gather with friends at their favorite pub and celebrate. The Lordie appeared to be the pub of choice for many Sydney-ites. We joined the festive crowd.
It was time to rest on our laurels, relax over a few pints, and play some scrabble. We didn’t get much shopping done on Christmas Eve Eve, but we did visit three new breweries and see some cool Australian history. On Christmas Eve, we finished up our shopping and drank at the Lordie. We deserved a break after all the miles we drove and breweries we visited on our first ever trip to Australia. Christmas Day we jumped on a plane and arrived home in time to spend our second Christmas Day with the family.
Our fifth day’s drive on the Princes Highway brought us back to Sydney for the final portion of our Australian adventure. We enjoyed our time along the coast but, as they say, all good things must come to an end. We also needed to get back to Sydney to record the holiday episode of beermen.tv.
After a four day drought, we had a brewery to visit in the city of Wollongong, about an hour and a half south of Sydney. Wollongong is the third largest city in New South Wales. After four days of driving on the almost deserted Princes Highway, the busy streets of Wollongong were a bit nerve wracking. After one or two wrong turns, we found Five Islands Brewing Company down by the ocean.
Another gorgeous day in Australia, Merideth found a seat outside while I ordered a sample tray of beers. Of the six brews, we had a first for the trip: a fruit beer. Not my style, I have to admit South Peach was subtly flavored, something not all brewers manage.
The Parkyn’s Shark Oil was a nice effort at an American-style IPA but the star for me was Bulli Black. FIBC describes it as a Dark Ale, but the roasty and chocolate flavors reminded me of a Stout. A favorite dark beer of the trip…
No time to savor the beers or walk the beach, we were quickly back on the road continuing our journey to Sydney.
While no relation to it’s namesake, I proudly share my surname with the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel in Sydney. Conveniently located in the Rocks, the Lordie is one of mankind’s great inventions, the brewery-hotel. It would be our home for the final three nights of out trip. After embarrassingly dragging our three big bags through the crowded pub in search of the reception desk, we returned after checking in to grab a couple pints to bring up to our room.
After checking email and getting settled, we still had a couple of hours before we had to head down to Circular Quay for our beermen.tv gig. Finishing our first pints, we headed downstairs to the pub, grabbed another pint and a seat outside.
The Lordie was very British, being the first place since Wig and Pen in Canberra to serve their beer in imperial pints. Unlike Wig and Pen, Lord Nelson had no cask versions. Their beers were served on draught from the frost encrusted tap housing typical of Australia. Despite no cask, I think I liked Lord Nelson’s brews better than Wig and Pen. Maybe it was the name.
The names of the beers all referred to Lord Nelson or a nautical theme. The exception was Quayle Ale, their Summer Ale, named after former U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle. Before we headed down the Circular Quay, we managed to try three of the six brews: the aforementioned Quayle Ale, Trafalgar Pale Ale, an English Bitter, and Victory Bitter, an Extra Special Bitter. All were nice beers especially for the hot and humid summer weather.
We recorded the beermen.tv episode at the Ice Bar Sydney, a short walk from the Lord Nelson. It was somewhat strange to leave the 85 degree temperature outside and enter a world that was 23 degrees; especially while wearing shirts and a t-shirt. I’ll admit I wore a parka during the setup but only wore gloves during filming.
We were in an Ice Bar because the episode was about holiday beers. Since it was summer in Australia, holiday beers were few and far between. We happily provided three California examples: Anchor Christmas, Sierra Nevada Celebration and Alesmith Yulesmith. Watch the episode at beermen.tv.
After filming the episode, we walked up Circular Quay towards the Opera House to a Chinese restaurant where the beermen.tv guys (they do have names… Damien, Mark and Todd) treated us to dinner. Thanks guys!
The choice was fortuitous as the restaurant had Foster’s in the bottle. We didn’t expect to find Foster’s in Australia but I guess you need to go to a Chinese restaurant that caters to tourists. Still on my macrobrew research project, I dutifully ordered one. I’ll say of the macrobrews I tried, Foster’s was the best.
After dinner, it was back to the Lordie for a nightcap. What a day!
Apparently, it sometimes rains in Australia. After almost a week of glorious weather, we awoke Thursday morning to the threat of rain. But we wouldn’t let a little bad weather get in the way. Our plan was to visit some breweries south of Melbourne. After a farewell pot of beer with Ute and Wolfie, we hit the road.
We had already heard good things about our first destination, Red Hill Brewery. Mentioning their name to several Australians produced the same positive reaction. Thus, as the rain started to fall, we were eager to get to Red Hill South located on the Mornington Peninsula, about an hour from Melbourne. For a brewery out in the country, Red Hill was pretty easy to locate. Pulling into their car park, we took the large number of cars to be a good sign.
Finding a seat on their patio as the rain pelted down on the roof, we ordered a sample paddle and gazed at the food menu. Ogling the Stoemp Cakes (potato croquets) on a nearby table, I had a feeling this was going to be a good meal. However, I didn’t expect it to be the best meal of trip. Using ingredients sourced from the Mornington Peninsula when possible and their own garden, Red Hill would do just that. We started with the aforementioned Stoemp Cakes followed by Pork Belly with Mashed parsnips and Red Cabbage. Absolutely delicious.
The beer complimented the food very well. Three beers on the paddle are always on tap at Red Hill: Golden Ale, Wheat, and Scotch Ale. The last beer was their Christmas Ale, our first encounter with an Australian holiday beer. All four of these beers included hops from their own field, the only one on the Mornington Peninsula.
Despite the weather being of the holiday brew variety, the wheat was the star for me. A Bavarian-style Hefeweizen, the Wheat had a nice banana nose, though it was a bit under-carbonated for my tastes (which can be said for all the Hefeweizens I tried in Australia). The holiday beer was not forgotten. A Belgian-style Abbey Ale, we purchased the last 750ml bottle to bring home.
After our great lunch, it was time to head back towards Melbourne. A few days prior to our departure for this trip, I read on one of the beer forums that a new brewery opened south of Melbourne. Located in Black Rock, a small town on the coast, True South had only been open for a few weeks the day we visited.
My visions of tasting beers on a sun-splashed deck overlooking the ocean were dashed not only by the weather but also a holiday party had taken over the upper floor where the deck was located. Finding a seat outside downstairs, we ordered samples of the beers. No paddle this time; I don’t think they had arrived yet.
There were three Ales, Summer, Pale and Dark plus a Pilsner. There also was a low alcohol beer. All were a little light for our American craft beer trained palates. But for a brand new brewery, the beers were pretty good. I look forward to visiting True South on our next visit to Melbourne to see how they develop. Maybe then I’ll get to sit on the sunny deck overlooking the ocean.
Just a dozen or so miles up the road and probably easy to find if we knew where we were going was 2 Brothers Brewery. Located in an industrial park along a main road, we arrived just in time, not only to beat the heaviest rain of the day, but to also join the local post-work crowd for a beer.
First thing we noticed while we were enjoying our second paddle-free sampler; the conditioning tanks behind the bar had New York City nicknames. Turns out the brewing kit comes from Times Square. I assume from the Heartland brewpub that no longer brew on site.
2 Brothers had four beers to try, including two ‘firsts’ of the trip: a Brown Ale and a Märzen. (We also had our first cider, a Perry, but this isn’t cidergeek.com.) The Märzen was the star of the group with a nice malt backbone that one expects from the amber colored lager.
2 Brothers seemed like a cool place to hang out but unfortunately we needed to get back to Melbourne.
Like in the States, Thursday is the new Friday in Australia, too. We found this out when we went to the Local Taphouse in St. Kilda, a few kilometers south of Melbourne’s city center. The Local was packed with young professionals just off work. Luckily, we were able to squeeze into a spot at the bar.
Which Local did we like better? I would have to say the Sydney location… and for only one reason. When we were in Sydney, everything was new. At that time, we hadn’t been to any breweries besides Paddy’s. But at the St. Kilda location, the beer selection was a bit of a disappointment for me. We had already tried many of the Aussie beer selections they had on tap. If we had gone to St. Kilda first, I am sure I would have liked that one better. I was able to try one new beer that was very nice; Brass Monkey Stout from Sail and Anchor Brewery in Fremantle.
This ended our Melbourne portion of the trip. Melbourne might be Australia’s second city, but as craft beer goes, they might be second to none.
After three great days in Victoria’s High Country, it was time to move on. Our next destination was the capital of Victoria, Melbourne. There we would part with Ute and Wolfie who were flying home to Germany the next day. We had heard that Australia’s second largest city had a better beer culture than Sydney and it was time to find out for ourselves.
Our first stop was Three Ravens Brewing Co. in the northeast Melbourne suburb of Thornbury. With Merideth diligently navigating, we successfully negotiated the congested city streets and found the brewery in a industrial park. Stooping to get under the partially raised warehouse door, I searched around for my contact, Marcus. The Three Ravens brewer, Marcus graciously took time out of his busy schedule to fit into ours.
Three Ravens began as a lunchtime homebrewing hobby for several guys at an engineering firm and eventually blossomed into a full fledged production brewery. In business for six years, Three Ravens has a wall full of brewery awards to mark their success.
Beginning with the now ubiquitous Wheat beer, in this case a Wit, we were treated to seven brews that constituted the most solid lineup of beers we had tried to date in Australia.
The highlights for us were the Golden Ale, 55, an American-style Pale Ale, USB (Über Special Bitter) and Dark, a Rauchbier.
I never expected to try a smoked beer on our trip to Australia. Our group that split on the world famous Schlenkerla in Bamberg (the other three against me) agreed that Dark had the right amount smoke to please all of us. Very satisfied with with our introduction to Melbourne beer, we left Marcus to continue on with his day while we headed to the city centre.
Central Melbourne was hot and humid this Wednesday afternoon. Abuzz with all manner of people, tourists wandered about while Melbourn-ites scurried to and from work. Finding our hotel, we had just enough time to check email and get organized before it was time head to our next brewery. Catching a tram to the eastern suburb of Richmond, we were on our way to Mountain Goat Brewery.
Wednesday was one of the two days, the other being Friday, that Mountain Goat’s tasting room is open. Opening the heavy door, we walked into the tasting room (a large warehouse space) to be confronted by a what looked like an office holiday party. But it was no ordinary office holiday party, it was a costume party with a multi-cultural theme. No one told me to bring a costume to Australia!
After the initial shock subsided, we ordered a taster set and found a seat on the fringes of the party. We tried to guess which country people represented as we sampled the beer.
There were four beers in our sample tray but I will focus on two. The first was Steam Ale. This brew was the reverse of what we know as a California Common. Instead of being Lager fermented at Ale temperatures, Goat’s Steam is an Ale fermented at Lager temperatures. A very nice beer.
Then there was Randy, the Steam Ale passed through their version of a Randall. The only other time we have seen such a device was at Trinity in Colorado Springs. Sitting proudly on the bar, Goat’s Randall was much more impressive. Most impressive was the giant wrench uses to unscrew the top. Filled with Riwaka hops, a New Zealand variety of Saaz lineage, the nice Steam Ale was transformed into maybe the beer of the trip. As a hophead, to have little hop floaty bits suspended in my brew was a dream come true.
I could have spent all night at the Goat drinking Randy and trying to figure out the country the woman with the duck bill was portraying. But I had forgotten Scrabble and we had to meet back up with Ute and Wolfie and some of their friends. Meeting up with them at the Fitzroy Pinnacle, we would spend the evening drinking Goat’s Steam Ale. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a Randall.
Postscript: Down the street from the Goat Brewery is the Royston. A dive-ish bar that has Aussie craft beer on tap, it looked like a cool place to hang out. Unfortunately, there tap system was on the fritz during our visit. Our next time in Melbourne, we will be definitely going back to the Goat, and hopefully everything will be operational at the Royston.