43-46. Canberra

January 3, 2012

Bear with me.

What Canberra is and how it relates to the rest of the country can only be understood by someone who has lived and worked in Australia for a while. The basic facts are that it is the federal capital, conceived in 1908 but not properly functional until the late 1920s, sitting in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and forming the seat of the federal government. Around that government an infrastructure has been planned and developed based on public servants and good works. It has a reputation for being worthy but a bit boring.

Those are the basic facts. Explaining how it affects everyday life in Australia, how Australians respond to it and how it functions is much more complex. If you were to think of Australia as a basic family property, including a house and outside space, I would suggest that Canberra is Australia’s garden shed.

The garden shed traditionally is the domain of the father, the head of the household. Consider him to be the federal government and the public servants who work for it. It’s where he goes when he wants peace and quiet to consider the matters of the day. It sits within the garden area of the property but is a self-governing territory, much like the ACT within New South Wales. The rules there are also slightly different: for example, it’s fine to store pornography and fireworks within the shed but they are frowned upon, and indeed legislated against, in the rest of the property. Often the father will come out of his shed and inform the rest of the household that he has made decisions that affect them all. There may have been consultations but these are usually just an exercise in public relations and have no bearing on the final decision. The father has spoken.

The house and the garden are the domain of the mother. Consider her to be the state governments. She actually runs the property on a day-to-day basis, making sure essential services are running (cooking, washing, cleaning, homework, sports, pocket money). However, the father in the garden shed considers that he knows best and will proclaim laws that the mother does not think are in the best interest of the rest of the family (her constituents).  There is therefore a constant battle between the mother, who really runs things, and the father,  who thinks he does, over how the property will be run. And who can come and stay in the spare room.

The father, although he makes sorties into the rest of the property when he has to, is under the impression that the garden shed is a fantastic place to be and, if he had his own way, he would be happy to stay in there all the time. Everything is within easy reach, he’s built all the facilities he needs – indeed they’re often of a better quality than their equivalents in other parts of the property – and while it can be a bit cold on winter mornings, it soon warms up in the sun.

The mother and the rest of the family, although they pop their heads in when they have to, would prefer to spend as little time as possible in the garden shed. You have to walk down a long path to get there, its character – clean lines, dull efficiency – reflects only the father’s view of things, and all the exciting toys are back in the house.

Garden sheds often house homebrewing facilities and Canberra is a big enough garden shed to house two forty gallon plastic bins and their associated plethora of tubings, in the forms of the Zierholz and Wig and Pen Breweries. The Wig and Pen is quite possibly the greatest brewery in Australia, certainly my favourite, and I will discuss it in a later post.

The Zierholz Brewery is not too shabby either. Based out in the only suburb of Canberra I know of that has two porn warehouses, Fyshwick, Zierholz is run by German-born Christoph, a man who knows how to make Bavarian beer and make it well. The Brewery runs as a small-scale industrial-chic beer hall (with an excellent pork-based menu) but also supplies a few favoured outlets within the ACT, one of which being The Pork Barrel Cafe, located just around the corner from Parliament House. I was in Canberra for business and took the chance to have a beer with my brother-in-law, one of the people who help Dad create the Garden Shed rules (I may be stretching this imagery too far: he’s a public servant).

My first drink on this rather warm evening was 43. Zierholz German Beer, which despite it’s rather generic name is a version of the classic Kolsch from Cologne. Dry, appetising, and just the thing to quench a thirst but get the tastebuds raring for more. I then moved on to  the intriguingly-named 44. Zierholz Swill, which they don’t appear to make any more, but from memory was a sessionable english bitter-style beer, probably close to their amber ale. Having now exhausted the establishment’s Zierholz taps, I thought I’d give Redoak another go, given that (at the time anyway) one rarely saw their beer on tap outside of their own premises. 45. Redoak Bitter was malty, biscuity and perfectly ok, but probably no better than the far less pretentious Little Creatures Rogers Ale, which I thought it closely resembled. I finally got to the actual Zierholz brewery in early 2011 and can highly recommend it. They are now selling five-litre kegs of six of their beers to take home. I’m wondering if I would be able to take one on the plane back to Sydney as hand luggage. The little Dash-8s that usually do that route aren’t pressurised: would this cause a mid-flight beer explosion?

Speaking of flying back to Sydney, the next day when I did so I apparently drank 46. Cascade Light in the Qantas Lounge and in the plane. Why, I’ve no idea, as full-strength beers would have been available. Perhaps I was poorly.

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40-42. Tasmanian Trilogy

July 26, 2011

In Hobart

cricket ground behind me

I’ve been lucky enough to get to Hobart twice with work, but unlucky enough for both times to be in the dead of winter. Winter in Tasmania means daytime temperatures of 10 degrees celsius and the nights reaching freezing point. Mind you, the summers are hardly the blazing hot sunfests that are seen as typically Australian, so it doesn’t make much difference really. The small corner of Tasmania I’ve seen leads me to believe that it’s a very pretty island, with geography not unlike the softer parts of the north of England. Hobart itself is more like a regional town than a capital city, but it has a pretty harbour and the mountains form an attractive backdrop, laced with snow both times I was in town. When I visited for the first time, in June 2009, I was lucky enough to have a meeting at the Bellerive Oval, which has one of the most beautiful backdrops of any Test cricket venues in the world. It also has a very ugly oil painting of Ricky Ponting and a statue of David Boon in its grounds, proving that for each positive there’s at least one negative.

I don't think this is how Moo Brew is produced. But you never know.

In late May 2010, heavily delayed flights on Boganair had caused NFFEF and I to arrive at our harbourside hotel, the Grand Chancellor, tired, cranky and too late to face walking out into town for food, so we hunkered down in the hotel bar for a couple of stress-relieving beers and whatever snacks could be provided. I was really pleased to see that one of the beers on tap was 40. Moo Brew Pilsener. Moo Brew is a range of beers from the Moorilla Vineyards in Berriedale, Tasmania, some of which I’d seen before on my travels as they come in very distinctive bottles. My impression of their Dark Ale, drunk a year previously, had been good and the draught Pilsener didn’t disappoint either – not overpoweringly hoppy but nicely bitter and refreshing. Moo Brew’s range is becoming easier to find in NSW but is still a bit of a rarity up on the mainland. However, it’s worth a taste if you can find some.

Once we’d finished moaning about budget airlines and finished our respective beers (she drank Corona, you won’t be surprised to hear) we headed off to our respective rooms and I decided to hit the minibar for a nightcap. The best choice in the fridge was 41. Boags Draught (erm, in a bottle), a reliable if dull 4.6% lager from one of Tasmania’s duopoly of brewers. Boags (independent until 2000 but now part of the Lion Nathan conglomerate which in itself is part of the Japanese Kirin company) is brewed in Launceston, Tasmania’s “other” city and home town of the only Tasmanian I know well enough to call a friend. The other big brewer in Tasmania is Hobart’s own Cascade (independent until the nineties and now owned by Fosters) and there’s quite a rivalry between the two. My Tasmanian friend ducks out of all this by drinking only Coopers Pale Ale. A wise choice as far as taste goes, but he may find himself in trouble next time he goes home. Mind you, he is as big as a house and knows martial arts. I think he’ll be ok.

Anyway, the Boags Draught was a bit of a let-down after the Moo Brew, being only a notch above Tooheys New, but it did the job. I was relaxed enough to sleep.

The next day we went to our meetings and then endured the long cab ride out to Hobart airport, which appears to have been built far enough out of the town to allow for a lot more development than has actually happened. It’s a funny old airport too, in that the Qantas Lounge is actually situated before you go through security, which means that when the flights are called there’s a flurry of businesspeople trying to get through the metal detectors in time while normal people, who’ve had to pay for their beer and newspapers in the normal departure lounge, get to the front of the queue to get on the plane for a change. The other odd thing about the Q Lounge there is that it’s the size of someone’s front room and has no bar staff – there’s a fridge with beer in it and you can help yourself. Still on the quest to get something I couldn’t get elsewhere I chose 42. Cascade Draught (erm, in a can) as this is not available on the mainland. I can report that residents of the other five states and two territories are not missing anything, despite it being Tasmania’s biggest selling beer.


Aussie Hot 100

February 2, 2009

The Local Taphouse, Melbourne’s best pub (and soon to open a branch in Sydney), has compiled a list of the 100 favourite Australian beers as voted for by “hundreds of people… from around Australia”. I’d suggest that this was not a sample worked out to adequately represent every beer-drinking person in Australia, otherwise the list would have been very different. Still, it gives me a few names to conjure with, and something to argue with in due course.

The full list is here, but, to aid the lazy, here’s the top twenty without the need to click:

1 Little Creatures Pale Ale
2 Murray’s Icon 2IPA
3 Mountain Goat Hightail Ale
4 Knappstein Reserve Lager
5 Little Creatures Bright Ale
6 James Squire Golden Ale
7 Coopers Sparkling Ale
8 Coopers Pale Ale
9 Holgate Mt Macedon Pale Ale
10 James Squire Amber Ale
11 Jamieson ‘The Beast’ IPA
12 Murray’s Nirvana Pale Ale
13 Holgate ESB
14 Hargreaves Hill ESB
15 Murray’s Grand Cru
16 Nail Stout
17 Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale
18 Holgate Hopinator Double IPA, Red Hill Imperial Stout
20 Moo Brew Pale Ale

Looks like I picked a winner to drink on my first night out here, then! I’ve drunk 9 of those top twenty and, the Little Creatures Bright Ale apart, wouldn’t argue that they were decent beers.  I’d argue that James Squire Amber is superior to the Golden though. But anyway…

I think I run to 23 of the hot 100. Plenty of work for me to do then. Nice to see my session favourite, Toohey’s Old, sneak in at 99.  Oh look, no Cascade beers at all!

(Collapse of) Stout Party

January 21, 2009

A night at home alone, so time to try some of the bottles in the cupboard. Two stouts and a porter, from weakest to strongest. Yes, I know, a Sydney summer night is not the time to be drinking strong dark beers, but my internal season-adjuster-thingy hasn’t flipped over yet. Two summers in a row (if you can call what I experienced in London between June and August “summer”) have confused me no end.

The first contender tonight is Hatlifter Stout, from the Grand Ridge Brewing Company of Gippsland, Victoria. Grand Ridge definitely err towards the boutique end of things, with an interesting range which includes a very nice Scotch Ale (not on their website now) which I tried a while ago, a Belgian Blonde, and a premixed Black and Tan for those too lazy (or tight) to mix their own.

Hatlifter Stout

Hatlifter Stout

The Hatlifter poured a dark ruby colour, with a yellowy head which dissipated quite quickly. There was a caramel smell with a definite whiff of alcohol, which as this is only 4.9% (1.3 standard drinks/bottle) was surprising. The first taste was vanilla, followed by maltiness, a bit of licorice and a definite coffee flavour in the aftertaste. A smooth taste and one that did not grow tiring as the glass emptied. Worth drinking at cellar temperature, I’d say. I’d definitely drink this again.

From a micro to a macro for the next bottle – Cascade Stout. Cascade is the oldest surviving brewery in Australia, originally founded in Tasmania in 1824, but since (I think) the late 1980s part of The Fosters Group (CUB). Despite now being part of the evil empire (and from the sound of it, they weren’t exactly innocents in the old days anyway) they make decent enough beers, which I’d take over a New any day.

none more black

Cascade Stout

To the bottle in question then. Cascade Stout is part of their “Craft Collection”, so I’d expect it to have something a bit extra in the taste. Advertising has misled me again. The main taste I got from this was a metallic, bitter one. There was a slight creaminess to it and it had quite an attractive roasted smell, but otherwise it was pretty dull and quite a bore to finish. As you can see from the picture it was the darkest of tonight’s brews, an opaque black with an attractive tan head. Quite strong, at 5.8% (1.5 standard drinks/bottle), so useful for getting drunk but not a lot else. Rather a disappointment.

And to finish it’s back to Murray’s Brewing Co for Murray’s Best Extra Porter. A birruva monster at 8% (2.1 standard drinks/bottle), Murray accepts that’s it’s only “vaguely” in the porter style, and throws the “imperial” * word around too. I was reminded of a Belgian Dubbel, but not a great example of that variety. It didn’t smell of a great deal, had a bittersweet taste and, again, I felt bored with it by the time my glass was empty. Head stuck around though.

Murray's Porter

Murray's Porter

And another thing. For the third time with Murray’s beers, part of the bottle has come away with the crown cap – that’s twice with Pale Ales and once with the Porter. Not good.

Another reason not to drink straight from the bottle

Another reason not to drink straight from the bottle

At least all the glass stayed in the cap...

At least all the glass stayed in the cap...

So, the clear winner of the night was Grand Ridge’s Hatlifter Stout. I shall be getting some more of those some time soon, probably from Dan Murphy’s (Willoughby Branch), my new source for vaguely interesting beers. Meanwhile, as the temperature hits 35 degrees celsius, I think I’ll leave Stout Party 2 (Cooper’s, Sheaf, Abbotsford…any other suggestions?) a few months.

*Originally used on some nice strong brews sent to the Russian royal court, “imperial” is now the word American microbrewers affix to their stupidly-strong stouts when they want to give their expensive tramp juice pretensions.