Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Australian Beer Round-Up

Given that we left Australia almost 7 months ago, this write-up is long overdue. But there was a pretty cool beer culture to be found in good ol' WA if you looked for it, and I felt it would be a shame to go undocumented. To be fair we have touched on it more than a few times in our travel blog, but I wanted to condense into one post some of our favourite beers while living in the Golden State.

My original idea for this post was to write it over Christmas, where we would likely be drinking something different each day. I had the witty idea to punningly title it 'Twelve Beers of Christmas'. Getting round to writing this up means I have monumentally missed the boat, to the extent that as I started to write this Christmas four months gone, and now as I actually get round to publishing it, 8 months! I also don't think I did manage a different beer each day, and if I did I can't remember what it was! So I decided instead to write up our favourite beers from our time in Australia, my fading memories aided by the little beer diary that Charlotte bought me for my birthday. This way I won't have to bore you to death with descriptions of twelve beers, you can count yourself lucky to be getting away with a mere seven.

Bootleg Brewery – Grandfather Barley Wine
This beer came in a regal 800ml champagne bottle that demanded to be opened on a special occasion. It was slap bang between Christmas/my birthday and New Year and we were on holiday, so it just about met this criteria. I bought this while the Parkers were visiting us and we had taken a trip to Margaret River. Joe and I had opted to drive and do beach and breweries rather than cheese and wineries with Charlotte, Mike and Kath. I couldn't resist picking up a bottle and the wonder is that it lasted 3 months in the cupboard. It had already been aged a year so it had had sufficient time in the bottle to develop rich and plummy qualities. My notes tell me it tasted of treacle and cola sweets, and it was certainly a lot darker and more fruity than any barley wine I have ever tasted. It managed to balance a brooding richness with sweet effervescent refreshment, making it a perfect celebratory yet warming drink on a winter's evening. We were drinking it in the summer so we enjoyed it late on when the temperature had dropped, but I can imagine this going down well at a festive fireside celebration back home, and despite it's 9% strength it wasn't too heavy at all.

Coopers – Original Pale Ale
This was a staple that we regularly grabbed from the fridge or the esky on a hot day, super crisp and dry in true Australian style. To be fair it is quite a long way from a pale ale but it's very refreshing nonetheless, just what the (Fremantle) doctor ordered down the beach on a sunny day. The only thing I'm not convinced about is whether the yeast floating around in it adds much flavour, I suspect it's a gimmick as I didn't notice the difference when drinking the more finely filtered draft version. It does look fairly unappetising if you bother to pour it in a glass (in fact my notes tell me it looked like "cloudy urine with floaty bits"!). But Australian beer isn't often afforded the luxury of a glass, probably so as not to waste precious time in the journey from fridge to mouth in the stifling heat. As for the sediment, Coopers actively encourage you to shake it up and drink it along with the beer, unlike most English or Belgian ale which would often be advised to store upright for at least a day for it to settle before pouring carefully into a glass. Of course some people choose to pour the yeast in too, to add an extra dimension of flavour (or ruin the beer depending what it is). A quick glance at their website reveals there is a 'ritual' specific to each of their beers (apart from the finely filtered lagers and light beers of course). It is apparently proper to roll, rock, tip, twist or rotate the bottle a specific number of times before opening. Never mind that the act of drinking out of the bottle is going to shake up the sediment anyway. But the marketing worked, and I happily carried out the 'ritual' of rolling my pale ale before twisting off the cap and taking a long gulp; cold, refreshing, dry and crisp - all fairly meaningless descriptors but apt in this moment. It had just enough malt character and bitter hops, along with a good value price-point (beer is expensive in WA!), to keep me coming back for more.

A massive pale ale, packed with juicy hops this is a supremely quaffable beer for hot summer's day. The hops pack a sweet grapefruity punch, before culminating in an aggressively dry finish. Dangerously drinkable, you wouldn't know it was almost 6%! Feral have been making a name for themselves recently, and I've already come across a couple of their beers in New Zealand. I also read this week that one of their brewers is shipping out to England to help Wetherspoons brew a cask Australian IPA for their annual beer festival. Let's hope he can help turn Australian's on to the beauty of cask ale, although maybe to be drunk in winter only!

Gage Roads – Saison 2008
I found this in a booze warehouse (think B&Q but filled with alcohol) down near Albany, but it was actually brewed just down the road from where we lived, in Palmyra. I can't say they usually brew anything particularly inspiring so I was interested to try one of their one-off specials. Saison originates as a French farmyard ale, brewed with wild yeasts. As such this can give it a somewhat barnyard flavour, but in a good way! This was a very classy Saison; ultra-dry and super-fine carbonation gave it a likeness to Champagne. Quite a hoppy affair, giving it a pleasant lemony flavour. A very enjoyable beer, and more than worthy of it's posh bottle.

Little Creatures – Rogers
This is a malty beer in the English style but with a hoppier slant, probably to ensure it stands up to antipodean standards of chilling (ie. to within an inch of the beer's life). Any Australian will tell you this is a typical 'whining Pom' complaint, and to be fair in summer the colder the beer, the better. If it's too cold then you need only wait a few minutes for it to warm up a bit. But what I found annoying was that in winter it was still served outrageously cold, and given that all the bars were designed for summer they generally weren't very warm. So you'd go to the bar and order a nice porter or stout, maybe even an imported European festive special, hoping to feel warm inside with some roasty malty goodness, only for it to served at the kind of temperature that makes your hand stick to the glass. Anyway, rant over, back to the beer. This is lovely malt dominated beer, sweeter and lower alcohol than most Australian brews and perfect for an afternoon barbecue. I reckon it would have tasted pretty good on cask too.

Little Creatures – Pale Ale
This was our go-to beer for the time we spent in Australia, it isn't referred to as the beer that spawned a hundred pale ales for nothing. Delicously malty with a good whack of citric hops, but still in fairly dry, dusty style as favoured down-under. It was excellent to regularly enjoy this at their brewery bar, literally straight from the maturation tanks. Working a stone's throw from this place required epic restraint not to pop in every lunch time! Beer geek side note: I did find that the filtering was hap-hazard at times; sometimes you'd get a wonderfully fruity and hazy beer, and other times it was crisp and clear as a bell, which changed the dynamic of the beer completely. Needless to say I preferred it the less filtered version, but it was always a very enjoyable beer. Just thinking about it makes me feel homesick for Freo!

Mountain Goat - Rare Breed IPA
This is probably one of the best beers I had the pleasure of trying in Australia, big malt backbone with a hoppy bite which we both likened to lemon bon-bons. Sadly I didn't catch on to the 'Goat until towards the end of our time in Australia. I got this bottle from the awesome bottle shop, The Freo Doctor. A great beer, it was indeed just what the doctor ordered!

If you've made it this far down, bravo. This was a bit of trip down memory lane for me; thinking about the various occasions I had the pleasure of supping these tasty drops. At the beach, in the van, on the balcony, in one of our favourite bars (Sail & Anchor, Clancy's Fishpub - miss you!) or plonked on the couch. All happy memories bookended by good beer. Cheers to that!

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