19, 20. James Squire Amber Ale and Matilda Bay Fat Yak Ale

April 2, 2010

The real "Amber Nectar"

Recognise that picture? It’s the full version of this blog’s header.

I took the picture in October 2008 at the James Squire Brewhouse, on one of my first forays into Sydney on my own. The first Amber Ale I drank in 2010, however, was in company as our friend Beccy was visiting from London and we met up with her in the Albion Place Hotel on George Street, a handily-placed pub for meeting folk in. A bit trendier than I usually like, it nevertheless scores high in two categories – (a) a short but good selection of local and international beers, and (b) it’s right next to the main cinema drag. Food’s not bad either.

Getting there early, I plumped for the old Amber to wet my whistle.  The picture up above shows you its beautiful colour. The taste is malty, pleasantly hoppy, has a touch of nutty spice and a slight metallic/fruity finish. Very drinkable. Heavier than the Golden Ale, and boozier – 5% against 4.5% abv. One that English people looking for a beer that’s similar to a Bitter back home might like.

I was then distracted by the foreign lagers on display, the best of which being 19a Budweiser Budvar, which was served in a proper 500ml glass and, as usual, was about a million times nicer than that dreadful American pretender (King of Beers my arse).

A quick one before we headed off for food was required. I plumped for Matilda Bay‘s Fat Yak Ale, a brew that’s only been on the market for a year or so and one that’s aimed fairly and squarely at the American Pale Ale lover. Cascade and Sauvin hops smack you around the head. You get the picture.  It makes me feel hungry, somehow, so our trip to Capitan Torres immediately afterwards was most welcome.

Matilda Bay started off as a  microbrewer out of the excellent Sail and Anchor pub in Fremantle, WA before setting up in their own right in 1989. Alas, it wasn’t long before Carlton United Brewers (i.e. Fosters) bought them out, so like James Squire, Matilda Bay is, despite what they’d like you to think, merely a boutique arm of one of the big two. They also brew Dogbolter (good but alas not the skullsplitter of the same name beloved of those who drank in Firkin pubs in the 1990s), Beez Neez (honey beer – never a good idea imho), Alpha Ale (even hoppier than the Yak)  and a Bohemian Lager, some, all or none of which may turn up on this page at some point.

The original brewers at Matilda Bay set up Little Creatures in Fremantle in 2000, still independent today and, without a doubt, the subject of an upcoming post here.


15. Sunshine Coast Best Bitter

February 4, 2010

other Sunshine Coast beers are available

Through a door from The Platform Bar is Grand Central Cellars, one of those bottlos you both wish was next door to your house but also, both for health and financial reasons, are glad isn’t. It has a great range of local and imported beers, including some very expensive (and no doubt EXTREME) limited edition Rogue beers which I’m in no hurry to try.

Wanting to make sure I tried another local brew I opted for a bottle of Sunshine Coast Best Bitter. The knowledgeable and friendly salesman pointed out that it was the Sunshine Coast Brewery‘s other beer, their Summer Beer, which had recently won an award. But I was interested in what they’d make of doing a Bitter, having not had a decent one since I left England and stuck with my original choice.

So, it’s copper in colour, with a pronounced bitterness – ooh, about 33 IBU I reckon. From the first taste I’d say they use a mixture of Pale, Munich, Crystal and Wheat malts and I was definitely tasting a cocktail of Sauvin, Amarillo and Goldings hops.

Well, that’s what the unusually informative label on the bottle told me anyway. My real experience was that it had a sweet maltiness, was fruity, and a little biscuity. Reminiscent of some English bitters but I couldn’t tell you which ones.

I couldn’t leave such a bonza bottlo without taking home with me a couple of imports and I settled on 15a. Saison Dupont,one of my all-time favourite Belgians (in a 750ml bottle) and 15b.  Meantime High Saison, which the salesguy informed me taste of “flowers”. He wasn’t far wrong. I had bottle 385 of a limited edition of 1320, trainspotters.

10. Hargreaves Hill Stout

January 31, 2010

actual stout not pictured

A sunny Saturday afternoon found Louise and I in Darlinghurst with her brother and his wife, and I managed to persuade them to stop into the Local Taphouse for a quick one. The Local is the Sydney sister to East St Kilda’s original, which Louise and I stumbled upon by accident back in November 2008. Both places are beer meccas, keeping a rotating selection of interesting draughts from home and abroad (16 taps!) plus a good selection of bottled stuff. They also – and this is important – have a nice atmosphere and knowledgeable and friendly staff. If only the Sydney branch wasn’t in the Eastern Suburbs…

In deference to our visitors we shared a paddle of samplers of pale-aley locals so that they might find something they liked. In my 2010 beer odyssey I really don’t think I should be counting little slurps as “beers drank” so we’ll pass over that – and mention what is technically beer 9aKostrizer Schwarzbier, a light (4.8%) black ale with a sweetish tinge which I had drunk in Germany a couple of years ago and was, on this day, one of only two dark beers on tap (well, it is summer).

The other dark beer was part of a brewery showcase for the Hargreaves Hill Brewery. This Victorian brewery was destroyed in the bush fires of February 2009 but has risen, phoenix-like, to be brewing again and doing very nicely. Three beers were on display – their pale ale, their hefeweizen and their stout, which was my choice.

At 6.7% this is a strong brew, chewy, very black in colour, with good licorice and coffee flavours. Worth checking out. Not sure if Hargreaves Hill are up to bottling this yet, but if you find it on draught you should definitely give it a try. Might be worth the 50km trip out of Melbourne for a visit to their brewery tap.

I mentioned above that the staff at The Local were friendly. Well, as we were supping up and about to leave one of them came over to us and, very politely, told us that the table we were sat was reserved for a group in about twenty minutes time, would we mind moving to another? Just as we were about to say that we were leaving anyway, he continued to say that he’d shout us a free beer each for our inconvenience. How good is that? Louise and I had another, and because we felt so welcome we bought another beer after that, what is I suppose 10b, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen, the smokiest beer on the planet and one of my top three beers of all time. The memories of Bamberg came flooding back with every sip. It was about this time, Mark and Deanna having long gone, that we started phoning Louise’s friends to see if they’d be up for a beer over in Newtown…

*The* Zaphod Beeblebox?

July 12, 2009
Taylor Walker

Taylor Walker

Sometimes namesakes happen by accident. I had a friend at school called Neil Bowie, whose elder brother was called David. His parents had the excuse of being (a) not particularly hip, and (b) producing their own David Bowie in 1967, before the Laughing Gnome had become a household name. The parents of my sister’s 1980s-era schoolfriend Elizabeth Taylor perhaps had fewer excuses.

Anyway, imagine my delight at discovering there is a current Aussie Rules player called Taylor Walker. Mr and Mrs Walker, living as they did in Broken Hill, were probably unaware that there was a London brewery of that name between 1781 and 1959, and that you can still see pub signs and paraphenalia carrying that name around London today as Carlsberg-Tetley, who now own the name, still used the brand until relatively recently.

I’m now off to try and convince Louise that we need to change our last name to Perkins so that we can name our first-born Barclay. Works for either a boy or a girl, I’d say.

Also Taylor Walker

Also Taylor Walker


June 28, 2009


Due to various work-related circumstances, our honeymoon ended up being just over two months after our wedding.  Mainstream New Zealand beer, Heineken and VB(!) were much in evidence in The Cook Islands,  a sorry state of affairs in such a beautiful spot.

When we previously went to the Cooks there was a local beer but that brewery closed down a couple of years ago. Since then two fine gentlemen have started up the Matutu Brewery on Rarotonga, an independent microbrewery with two main beers to their credit so far.

Matutu Mai is a lager in a German style, light and refreshing. I only drank this a couple of times as I was far more interested in Matutu Kiva.  A pale ale in the style of a British ale, it’s not bad at all. My first taste of both beers was in Kura’s Kitchen at Atiu Villas, the island of Atiu‘s biggest tourist accommodation (six villas) and our base for a fantastic five days.

Distribution is…spotty. Back on Rarotonga, I went into a few places in Averua one day to get some bottles only to be told that the truck hadn’t come so they didn’t have any. When would they be likely to get some? Dunno, maybe tomorrow, maybe not. I ended up tracking a six pack down in Muri at a small general store that let me have them for a very welcome NZ$2.50 (AU$2.00) each. At The Pacific Resort the night before one had cost me NZ$7.50…

On Atiu, Roger and Andrew at Atiu Villas had a decent supply at a decent price so all was well during our stay there. I was the only person on the island actually drinking them though. More on Atiu’s own beer in an upcoming post.

I’ve found out since I left that the Matutu boys are happy to give you a tour of their brewery, and that if you turn up at their place with a suitable receptacle they’ll fill it up for you with your choice of their beer, fresh as you can get. Yet another reason for me to return to the Cooks.

There are two further things I’d note about the beers. The bottles are filled to within millimetres of the bottle top, which is good value if a little dangerous when opening. Also, I did notice differences in quality between bottles depending on how long they’d been out of the brewery, and the two I bought back to Sydney with me were slightly flat. If they can get the consistency right, though, I think Eric and James will be onto a winner. Buying local and tasting nicer than Speights have to be two good reasons for supporting Matutu.

Warka Warka

January 30, 2009
Fozzie probably doesnt realise that this gesture is offensive to non-Americans

Fozzie probably doesn't realise that this gesture is offensive to non-Americans

In the comments on my Kent Brewery post, Megan (of Burwood) asked me to keep my eye out for Warka Strong, a Polish beer she was fond of but having trouble finding in Sydney. Well, I took my first trip to 1st Choice Liquor on Willoughby Road, Naremburn yesterday (on the 273 bus route), and amongst the fine selection of local and imported bottles… there it was.

I bought a bottle ($4.something) to see what Megan might like about it and I was pleasantly surprised. Most Polish beers I’ve tried before have been dull lagers or dull strong lagers. This is strong  (7%, about 2.6 standard drinks in a 500ml bottle) but not dull at all, with a vaguely Belgian witbier taste. Heavy on the banana aroma too which means that it’s safe from Louise. I’d drink it again.

It looks like 1st Choice have a new branch at 158 Liverpool Road in Ashfield, which my sources tell me is quite near Burwood.  With any luck they’ll have Warka there too! I love a happy ending.