Category Archives: Australia

Victoria High Country Brewery Trail – Part II

After a good nights rest, we were back on the Brewery Trail the next morning. Our plan was to visit the two northernmost breweries on trail before coming back to Beechworth for a hike.

The giant Ned Kelly in Glenrowan
The giant Ned Kelly in Glenrowan

But before we sampled some beer, we had the one more piece of Hume Highway kitsch to see, the giant Ned Kelly in Glenrowan.

Now, Ned Kelly is not kitsch. He was a real person. To the authorities, he was a bandit, thief, outlaw and murderer. To the local population, he was a hero; a sort of Robin Hood protecting them from oppressive Colonial rule. He was captured in June 188o during a gun battle in Glenrowan, famously wearing body armor which included a helmet. He would be executed later that year in Melbourne Gaol. [If you want to read more about Ned Kelly, his definitive biography is Ned Kelly: A  Short Life by Ian Jones]

The kitschy part of the story is the Ned Kelly industry that has sprung up. Besides the giant Ned Kelly that dominates the town, the store/museum was full of Ned Kelly trinkets to buy; T-shirts, plush toys, a metal helmet mailbox, statues… too many things to name. There was even a Ned Kelly stubby holder (koozy) that said “Ned Kelly says drink a beer”. You couldn’t help chuckling at all the stuff.

Buffalo Brewery in Boorhaman
Buffalo Brewery in Boorhaman

With our niece and nephew Christmas shopping done, it was time to get back to the Brewery Trail. Driving down the country roads on our way to Buffalo Brewery in Boorhaman, we  couldn’t help feel that we were going back in time. While not that far from the highway, the sparseness of countryside harked back to an earlier era. Located at the Boorhaman Hotel, Buffalo Brewery brewed its first beer in 1902. After a long dormant period, brewing resumed in the 1990s.

Ms. Cherry adorns the label of Buffalo Brewery
Ms. Cherry adorns the label of Buffalo Brewery

Buffalo Brewery even has a connection to Ned Kelly. Their label is a portrait of  Lily Arabella Cherry, purported mistress of Kelly gang member, Steve Hart.

The first customers of the day, we enjoyed our samples out in beer garden. We tried five brews. The Wheat, Lager, Stout, and Dark Ale were all nice beers. But the star of the show was a Ginger Ale. I am a huge fan of real Ginger Ale (not Schweppes) and am always excited to try alcohol versions. Buffalo Brewery’s Ginger Ale is the closest thing to the soda version that I have ever tasted. It was excellent!

Six pack of Ginger Ale in hand, it was time to move on to the next brewery.

Vintara Winery, home of Bintara Brewery
Vintara Winery, home of Bintara Brewery

Rutherglen is a well known Australian wine producing town and on its outskirts is Vintara Winery. Visible from the road, their winery, restaurant and tasting room sits majestically on a hilltop. The building also houses Bintara Brewery. Coinciding our arrival with what seemed to be a work holiday party enjoying the Vintara wine, we pondered the consequences world’s colliding. Beer meets wine in a no holds barred showdown.

The Crystal Wheat
The Crystal Wheat

Being lowly beer people, we grabbed the furthest table from the holiday party to sample of our beer. Actually, I think it was the only other table outside. Joined by the ever present flies, we settled down for some lunch and beer.

There were two beers to try, the required Wheat and a Pale Ale. [Before I comment on the beer, I just want to say that some of my best friends are winemakers.] The brews were of the ‘don’t offend anyone’ school. There was nothing wrong with beer, it just didn’t do anything for either of us. However, the beer proves our point of context. On a nice, warm December afternoon as part of a holiday party or gathered with friends, either beer would have been a perfect sipper.

A friend we met on our Beechworth hike
A friend we met on our Beechworth hike

After completing our lunch, it was time to head back to Beechworth for our hike and post hike beer at Bridge Road. It was a memorable two days on the Brewery Trail.

Postscript: We would visit one more ‘brewery’ on the trail the following day, Boyton’s. Another winery, I don’t go in depth about Boyton’s as they don’t brew on site at the present time (thus, they don’t count on “the List”). They have plans for a brewery in the future and we look forward to visiting again when the onsite brewery is established. We missed only one brewery on the trail, Jamieson. Their remote location didn’t fit into our schedule.

 

Victoria High Country Brewery Trail – Part I

We left ‘bustling’ Canberra early Sunday morning for what I thought was going to be a three to three and a half hour drive to the Victoria High Country, the northeastern part of the Australian state. We were headed to the self-proclaimed “premier craft brewing region in Australia” and their seven stop Brewery Trail. The drive turned out to be be closer to five hours but as they say, good things are well worth the wait.

Merideth at Dog on a Tucker Box...
Merideth at Dog on a Tucker Box…

Despite the unexpected long drive, we still found a few minutes to stop for some more Australian kitsch. Located right off the Hume Highway, the “Dog on the Tucker Box” is a small statue of a dog sitting on a box. A piece of folklore that dates from the 1850s, the dog is said to be protecting his master’s possessions. The statue on the highway was unveiled in 1932.

After the Big Merino, I expected something BIGGER…a giant dog on top of a giant tucker box. The little statue was a bit underwhelming. I guess in the 1930s, people just weren’t into bigger is better. And the requisite gift shop wasn’t even open, as it was undergoing remodeling.

After our quick stop, we were back on the road headed to the High Country.

The vineyard view at Sweetwater Brewery
The vineyard view at Sweetwater Brewing

Our first stop on the Brewery Trail was Sweetwater Brewing in Mt. Beauty. Located on Annapurna Estate, a vineyard and winery, the idyllic and tranquil setting was the perfect cure for a long drive.

Owner Peter Hull, a former Melbourne-ite (or is it Melbournian?), is living the dream of many beer geeks: he got away from it all and opened a brewery. The brewery is located in a building on the Annapurna property and has a small bar with outdoor seating at the winery’s tasting room.

The sampler at Sweetwater
The sampler at Sweetwater

The beers tasted really good after the long drive. There were five to choose from, ranging from a Weissbier to a Porter. Besides an IPA, my other benchmark beer is a Hefeweizen; good breweries know how to do it right. Though slightly under-carbonated for my tastes, it had all the flavors of the good Hefe.

The other stand out beer was the Summer Ale, a 4.5% ABV brew using local hop varieties. It was the perfect beer for the 80-some degree late spring day.

The beers at Bright
The beers at Bright

Our next brewery was up the road in the town of Bright. The aptly named Bright Brewery is located on the main road that goes through town. A modernish-looking building comprises the brewery and tasting room with ample outdoor seating out front. Actually, it seemed to be the only seating which left us wondering where people sit in winter. The breeders are even accommodated as the brewery is located next to a playground so the kids can be ‘unleashed’, as their brochure says. On this early Sunday evening, a good-sized crowd enjoyed their beers while listening to a music duo. With sample paddles in hand, we joined the them.

The sample paddle at Bright
The sample paddle at Bright

Bright had six beers to try, including an Amber and a Pale Ale. Their Witbier was really nice; another perfect brew for the hot day. The other favorite (oddly the beer not suited for the day’s weather) was the 8.5% ABV Abbey-style Dubbel. While more apropos after a day on the nearby ski slopes, it was a nice Dubbel, something I never expected to find Down Under. The sixth beer on the paddle, the “Brewer’s Choice” was an Australian Light Lager. While not a fan of the style, I mention it here because it was made from all Australian ingredients.

The old Coach House houses Bridhe Road Brewery
The old Coach House houses Bridge Road Brewery

We were then off to our final destination of the day: Beechworth. Our base for the next few days in the High Country, Beechworth is a historic gold mining town from the 1850s. [As an aside, we highly recommend our hotel in Beechworth, the Latrobe… a former lunatic asylum.]

Beechworth is also home to Bridge Road Brewery. The brewery, tasting room and beer garden is located on Beechworth’s main street behind Tanswell’s Hotel in the old coach house. Entering through a covered lane off Ford Street, the beer garden is an oasis from the town’s busy shopping area.

Two of the eight beers at Bridge Road.
Two of the eight beers at Bridge Road.

We even got to try a beer out of the fermenter. A person, who I assume was brewer/owner Ben Kraus noticed that we had gravitated towards the hoppy beers and gave us a sample of the not-yet-released brew. It was a single hop Ale made with local Galaxy hops… a brew that instantly went on my potential ‘best of the trip’ list.

Two of the three Chevalier beers
Two of the three Chevalier beers

Like many of their American counterparts, Bridge Road has created a high end line of beers, the first time we saw this in Australia. The Chevalier series is comprised of three beers: Saison, Bière de Garde and Dunkelweizen. All three are available in 750ml bottles and we tried all but the latter on draft. While I didn’t like them as much as some of the brews in the regular lineup, Bridge Road gets props for pushing the envelope in the Australian beer scene.

A great first day on the Brewery Trail.. Part II is next.

The restroom sign at Bright Brewery
The restroom sign at Bright Brewery

 

CanBEERra

From each person we met in Sydney on the first day of our trip we heard, “Why are you going to Canberra?” Our traveling companions, Ute and Wolfie, were asked the same question. They really didn’t have a reason, except they were riding with us. We, on the other hand, had two reasons to go to Canberra. First, it provided a good stopping point to break up the long drive from Sydney to our next destination, the High Country of Victoria. More importantly, however, Canberra is the home of two breweries,  including a pioneer in Australia’s craft beer movement.

The complex that houses Goulburn Brewery
The complex that houses Goulburn Brewery

The first stop on our drive to Canberra was the town of Goulburn, home to a brewery of the same name. After a few wrong turns, which gave us an opportunity to tour parts of the town, we located the brewery on the edge of Goulburn.

The brewery’s claim to fame is that it is “Australia’s oldest brewery.” Construction of the complex, Bradley Grange, began in 1833. Designed by a famous Australian architect, Francis Greenway, the complex still survives today as a brewery, restaurant, function venue and museum.

The beer choices at Goulburn Brewery
The beer choices at Goulburn Brewery

It was a beautiful day in Australia, so we sat in the courtyard. The former cooperage, the courtyard was a nice place to have some lunch and sample the beers.

The three beers available, Gold, Fine Sparkling Ale and Stout, were all real ales, fermented in open vessels. The brews were interesting, especially the Stout, which didn’t have any hops. I have tasted no hop beers before, but I knew they were hop-less before I drank them. Goulburn’s Stout took some getting used to… it tasted like a Stout but your taste buds were expecting that nice hop bite that never came.

This is why it is called the Big Merino
This is why it is called the Big Merino

After leaving the brewery, we weren’t done with Goulburn because there was still the “Big Merino” to see. A tribute to Goulburn’s biggest industry, wool, the Big Merino is a giant, hollow, anatomically correct, concrete sheep.

In trying to find Big Merino, we took another series of wrong turns and got the see other half of Goulburn we missed when searching for the brewery. I was expecting this majestic setting on top of a hill overlooking the town, but we finally found the giant concrete sheep squeezed into a highway service area next to the petrol station and fast food restaurant. Passing on climbing into the sheep, the access being through the Big Merino Gift Shop (no kidding), we settled for the walk around. I thought that this was something Vegas was missing and Merideth commented that it looked more like Jabba the Hutt (judge for yourself).

German-style beer in ACT
German-style beer in ACT

With fun and games over, it was time to get back on the highway for the serious business of beer travel. We were headed to ACT, Australian Capital Territory, and Fyshwick, a town just outside of Canberra, and the home of Zierholz Premium Brewery.

Two things intrigued me about Zierholz. One, they were a German-style brewery started by a German emigre. But more interesting was that their brewing kit came from the defunct Wild Duck Brewery in Eugene, Oregon, a brewery we visited over a decade ago. We easily found Zierholz in an industrial park off the main road.

The sampler at Zierholz
The sampler at Zierholz

Lady luck was with us on this day. Zierholz was closing early for a private function. If we had climbed up around in the Big Merino and arrived a half an hour later, we might not been able to try the beer.

During our visit, there were seven beers to sample, ranging from a Pils to an Australian “Steam” to a Porter. The stars were the Shankbier and the German Ale, Zierholz’s interpretation of a Kölsch. I even enjoyed the Amber, a style which I normally find very bland. Both of us are huge fans of German-style beers and finding excellent examples in Australia was both a surprise and a pleasure. Ute and Wolfie felt right at home.

A little slice of England in Canberra
A little slice of England in Canberra

From Zierholz, we arrived in the Canberra city center within a few minutes. The downtown area of Australia’s capital was a ghost town on this Saturday, which I hear is common for the weekend. Walking up what we assumed was the main drag, the only businesses open were the pubs and a Wine and Beer Merchant. That was fine, since we were in town to visit a pub, Wig and Pen. Established in 1994, Wig and Pen is one of the first craft breweries in Australia. Entering the pub, you saw the familiar trappings of an English-style pub seen throughout the world.

Engoying my pint and free WiFi at Wig and Pen
Enjoying my pint and free WiFi at Wig and Pen

If I had an expectation from Australia, it was to find at least one English-style pub serving cask beer. And Wig and Pen was it. While they have expanded into German-style lagers and Belgians, my first pints were both cask, Bulldog Best Bitter and Brewers IPA. Both excellent. I finished off the evening with their Velvet Cream Stout, which by world-wide law has to be served cold and nitrogenated. Merideth thought it was “too roasty,” but I liked it a lot.

To sum up the visit to Canberra, I’ll admit it’s not going to be on everyone’s Australia itinerary, but for a beer traveler, it shouldn’t be overlooked.

Australia War Memorial in Canberra
Australia War Memorial in Canberra

 

Our First Day Down Under

Merideth turned 40 this week and she is not really embracing the milestone. Instead of making our normal holiday pilgrimage to Europe, I decided a trip to Australia was what Merideth needed to cure the turning 40 blues. This would be our first beer adventure outside of North America or Europe.

The onset of winter in California, chilly temperatures and a forecast for lots of rain, made perfect timing for our journey to Australia. On landing in Sydney in the morning after a 14.5 hour flight, we were told the temperature was a pleasant 71 degrees. Nice…

After finally getting our bags and clearing quarantine, we were quickly in our rental car headed to our first destination, Paddy’s Brewery. Located in the Sydney suburb of Flemington, Paddy’s was also where we were staying on our first night. We somewhat easily found it, with only one wrong turn that was quickly corrected.

The brewery and awards at Paddys
The brewery and awards at Paddy’s

While I think I got plenty of sleep on the flight, my tired mind wasn’t quite prepared for Paddy’s. Entering the somewhat sleek reception area full of gaming machines, we waited as a gentleman cashed in on what looked liked a several hundred dollar jackpot. Merideth and I looked at each other asking with our eyes, “Are we in the right place?” After checking in, the manager offered to show us around. Walking to the back of the building, there was a much more familiar setting; the brewery and pub. Seeing the brewing equipment was a relief, we were in the right place.

Enjoying a Paddys Pale Ale
Enjoying a Paddy’s Pale Ale

After a quick shower, we settled into their beer garden to have a few beers, check email and wait for our friends Ute and Wolfie to arrive. Bellying up to the bar to order a few pints, I get the second surprise of  the day; a pretty, young, blond waitress in bra, panties and high heels (all black) standing next to me. She ordered a couple of beers from the bartender, placed them on her tray and sauntered back to her customers. This could be a whole new spin on beer travel! Pints in hand, I practically ran back to Merideth to tell her the good news. She wasn’t impressed.

Later, I would learn that this was a feature of a particular type of bar in Australia… unfortunately something that is not commonplace for brewpubs. And no, I didn’t take a picture. Not that I didn’t want to, I just didn’t know if that was something one did in Australia. I didn’t really want to have to explain on the One Pint at a Time episode why I had a black eye.

As for the beers, they were solid. Year in and year out, Paddy’s consistently wins Australian International Beer Awards so they must be doing something right. We tried the Pilsner, Pale Ale, India Pale Ale and Chocolate Porter and were pleased with our first introduction to Australian brew.

Merideth and Sydneys most famous landmark
Merideth and Sydney’s most famous landmark

After catching up with Ute and Wolfie, we parted ways to meet up later. We had a few hours to kill so we caught the train into Sydney to play normal tourist. Getting off at Circular Quay, we had no real plan so we started to wander around The Rocks, the original part of Sydney.

Our first impressions were of a young and hip city that, on a Friday afternoon, takes off early from work to hit the pubs. As we wandered the streets of the Rocks, the bars were already packed full of the twenty-somethings starting the weekend. Our last three days of the trip are back in Sydney so I am sure we will much more to say about Australia’s most well known city.

Drink beer... Good idea...
Drink beer… Good idea…

It was time to meet our first Australian contact. Taking a cab across the city to the Darlinghurst neighborhood, we were scheduled to meet Todd from beermen.tv at one of Sydney’s craft beer hot spots, the Local Taphouse. I was excited to meet Todd, not only because he was a local contact, but also so that I could unload the 9 bottles of craft brew from the States that I had been lugging around Sydney.

With locations in both Sydney and Melbourne, the Local is a pioneer in serving craft beer. Quite a different scene from Paddy’s, the Local was full of the same hip, young crowd we saw downtown. Over a few Aussie beers, we talked with Todd about the Aussie beer scene and planned for our appearance on their holiday beer episode when we returned to Sydney.

The beer list
The beer list

If we were pleased by our earlier experience at Paddy’s, we were delighted by the beers we tried at the Local. My first beer was Alpha Pale Ale from Matilda Bay Brewing. A West Coast (USA) inspired hoppy brew, it could easily stand alongside its American counterparts. Same with Feral Brewing’s Hop Hog, an American-style IPA and Little Creatures Pale Ale.  Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be visiting any of these breweries as all are on the other side of the continent.

We took our leave of Todd to meet back up with Ute and Wolfie at the Lansdowne Hotel. We were supposed to see a punk band, the Rumjacks, but Merideth quickly faded after one beer and a bad opening act. Not knowing what really to expect, We certainly had an interesting first day in Australia.

Cold Aussie macro lager.... yum yum
Cold Aussie macro lager…. yum yum