35-37. Back home

July 24, 2011

Crazy Horse, The Cat, Sniffer and pals

Well, back home in Sydney, not Blighty, but it’s always worth posting a picture of the 1970 England World Cup Squad playing “Touch The Truck“. Or touch the Ford Cortina in this case.

35. Coopers’ Extra Stout

An old favourite, thick, black, roasted barley taste. 5.8% so don’t drink too many in a row. I’m sure it used to be 6.2 or 6.3% when I first drank it back in 2006, but I may have imagined that. I think these bottles were drunk at home, based on the scanty evidence to hand. When Old is just too light, get yourself one of these. Never seen it on draught anywhere, although I’m hopeful I might do somewhere in Adelaide when I finally get to spend some time there.

36. Mildura Wee Heavy

I have no memory of this. I probably bought it at Dan Murphys’ on a whim. It appears this has now been rebadged as Mallee Bull. The brewery looks like an interesting place to visit, being as it’s in an old cinema, so if I’m in Mildura at some point (unlikely, I know) I will drop in and remedy my omission.

At Redoak

37. Redoak Oatmeal Stout

Ah, Redoak. A brewery that never misses an opportunity to say how many awards it’s won and yet still can’t actually get beer right. It has two main problems: 1) it tries to brew too many different styles, but masters none, and 2) it serves them all too bloody cold. Now, this isn’t an Englishman abroad’s usual lament about getting his bitter too cold – it’s a serious point.  Serve your german lager styles cold, that’s fine, but ales and stouts need to be served at 10-12 degrees Celsius. Stout should not be served at 4 degrees as if you do that you can’t taste it, and all the roasty flavours you spend half a paragraph going on about in the tasting notes can’t be discerned. One of the blokes at the Brewery says that they serve them cold as that’s how Australians expect their beer and you can always let it warm in the glass if you prefer it that way. This is wrong on all counts. If an Australian is going to brave the copper shrine to beer and beer/food matching that is Redoak’s swanky bar/restaurant in the heart of Sydney, they’re likely to either be someone who knows about beer or someone who is open to being converted. And if they’ve been dragged in against their will there’s three or four cold lagers on tap to keep them happy. In 2011, in the middle of the most culturally savvy city in the country (ok Melbournites, we’ll fight later), don’t treat your customers like philistines. And, more importantly, if you let your Oatmeal Stout warm in the glass before drinking you notice that it’s rather thin and uninspiring. Give me Samuel Smith’s version any day, which you can buy in discerning bottlos (Jim’s Cellars in Crowie has it) in pint bottles for less than the cost of Redoak’s “award winning” brew.

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32-34. Perth

March 13, 2011

Picture actually taken in Sydney in December. But the attitude to the beer stays the same.

32. VB
33. Carlton Draught
34. Platinum Blonde

Perth’s a funny place, probably my least favourite of the Australian state/territory capitals. It just feels so…soulless. When I’ve been there for work I’ve always tried to spend my evenings in Fremantle, Perth’s port town, which has something approaching life in the evenings and a couple of good book/record shops plus a couple of worthwhile breweries. But more about those in a later post.

The first time I went to Perth in 2010 (which appears to have been in late February so I have got my beer chronology slightly out of order) I had other plans for the evening, which involved being driven into the inner suburbs by a man I’d never met who would only answer to the name of MegaMike. It was all to do with a music-related project which has stalled slightly (must get it back on track) but it involved a very pleasurable evening in the company of MegaMike, his mate Dion, and a strange Welshman. A mysterious man with only one hand made a brief appearance too.

When in MegaMike’s house, do as MegaMike does, so the beer drunk that night was a succession of longnecks of VB, Carlton Draught and Platinum Blonde. VB is the biggest-selling beer in Australia, but I’ve yet to find anyone who has a kind word to say about it. Even Victorians: I went to a wedding in the Dandenongs where VB was the only choice of beer and everyone else on my table, Victorians all, declined to drink it, declaring it “piss”. The only real difference between VB and Carlton Draught is that the VB is slightly darker in colour and has a slightly stronger taste. On a hot night in a room full of heat-emitting technology, both of them did the trick.

Platinum Blonde was launched by Woolworths (owner of Dan Murphys, Liquorland, BWS and probably many more bottlos) in 2008 as a cynical attempt to take the “low-carb” market away from Pure Blonde and its imitators, and therefore increase their already frightening hold over the entire retail scene. “Low-carb” beers are huge in Australia, sold to gullible fools as somehow less fattening than normal beer, and easier to session drink. Some even maintain that they give you less of a hangover too. It’s all bollocks. There may be less carbohydrate in the beer, but that’s not what makes you fat – it’s the calories in the alcohol that make you fat. And “low-carb” beers are not low alcohol beers – Platinum Blonde is 4.6%, the low end of full-strength. If it’s easier to drink and less likely to make you feel bloated, that’ll be the relative level of carbonation. Or all in your head. Like the fact that your hangover is less strong.

Anyway, after the VB and Carlton Draught, this tasted crisp and even a bit citrussy, a pleasant surprise. I tried it again a few days later, with a clean palate and a clear head, and it tasted horrible. Sometimes context is everything.

Her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard


22. White Rabbit Dark Ale

May 4, 2010

Phooey

Over at a certain Australian homebrewers’ forum people got very excited towards the end of last year about White Rabbit Dark Ale, a newish product from Little Creatures’ Victorian arm. I’m here to tell you that it’s nothing to get excited about. The brewery website may well go on about it not being “born to follow” and being fermented in open casks so that the yeast can “party” but really, it is not appreciably better than Toohey’s Old. And at $20 a six, compared to $14 or less for Old, I shall not be drinking it again, unless I find it on draught and there’s nothing better on. Most underwhelming.


21. Toohey’s New

May 2, 2010

A bucket of beer. Now that's classy.

Oh dear.

Post Spanish food and Sangria, a final beer was required and we went to the usually reliable, comfortably scuzzy, and just two doors down Sir John Young. While it doesn’t have a wide range of beers, the indoor drinking space is hemmed in by pokies and odd types flit in and out disturbingly frequently, I’ve always been able to get a Barons’ Pale Ale or something equally acceptable here. Not this time though, and in desperation (Carlton Draught? Pure Blonde?? VB???) and, it must be said, out of duty to record the highs and lows of aussie beer for this here blog, I uttered the dread words…

“A schooner of New, please.”

It was the end of the night. It was wet and tasted of cardboard. Wet cardboard. I had no desire for a second.

The more curious among you might be wondering why there’s a picture of a champagne bucket full of low quality megaswill at the top of this post, especially as there’s no New visible. Well, it’s a picture I took, much to the amusement of my colleagues, at the National Training Awards in November last year. There we were, in Canberra’s twelfth-finest conference facilities (they’d forgotten to book early was the rumour), the cream of vocational training all around us, Greedy Smith from Mental as Anything about to sing the national anthem, accapella, the wine and food carefully chosen, and what had they done for the beer drinkers? Bunged a few cans of low-quality Carlton products in champagne buckets and left us to it. There weren’t even any glasses.

I was the only beer drinker on my table so, trying to follow Viv Savage‘s dictum to “have a good time, all the time”, I set about emptying our bucket. I believe this is where the phrase “taking one for the team” originated. It’s certainly where my work nicknames of “bucket boy” and “the can man” came from.

The next awards ceremony I attended (get me, I live the high life) was earlier this year, but after the night with Beccy mentioned above. The NSW Sports Federation Awards were perhaps a more parochial affair, but they were at least notionally black-tie (people who work in education are not expected to make as much effort it seems, scruffy buggers), had a far more, um, raunchy, set of entertainers, and the food wasn’t bad either. So when I and my glamorous female work colleagues were in the pre-dinner vestibule, thirsty on a very hot Sydney summer night, what was the choice of beer?

There was no choice. Toohey’s New, sir?

On a closer inspection of the pumps I noticed that Heineken could have been a choice but there’d obviously been a decision somewhere along the line that that foreign stuff wasn’t going to be offered. Thirst quenched and brow mopped with handkerchief, I moved onto the wine.

Every two years my work runs a conference, and the latest version happened at the beginning of March this year. On the first night there’s always a dinner and staff are invited. It was a fun night, I was able to do some decent networking (not usually my strong suit) and have a good time with my colleagues, and the food was probably the best of the three occasions I’ve mentioned so far. The band was a bit loud, but there was space outside to chat later, and you could take your drinks out with you. Another hot, hot night in Sydney, so beer was the obvious choice of drink. Waiter! A beer if you please!

Toohey’s New.

In a country where beer is the accepted social drink, and more and more people are understanding that it can be a quality product on a par with wine for variety and taste, why is is that at every corporate event I’ve been to effort is put into the choice of the food and the wine but no-one even thinks twice about the choice of the beer, but just assumes that anyone who wants one (and it’s usually a higher proportion of people than at British equivalents) will be happy with any old swill? All I’m asking for is a choice of two beers. One of them can be New if it has to be, but a James Squire or a Little Creatures would show that the venue valued all its customers and, frankly, realised that they had tastebuds.


Good Friday?

April 2, 2010

No beer for Jesus if Calvary had been in NSW...

Licensing laws. All over the English-speaking world they are a mess, as politicians use them to their own ends and outmoded conventions and expedient fixes cling on like barnacles to the rock of supposed sense. This blog is, of course, named after the consequences of one particular sop to a vocal minority.

I discovered today that it is illegal to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises on Good Friday in the state of New South Wales. Pubs and clubs can open, so you can get as trollied as you like and gamble your life savings away on the pokies as long as you’re paying pub prices but you can’t buy a bottle of wine to have with your dinner at home. Or, in my case, some beers to drink while you’re reorganising your files on your computer. No, that’s not a euphemism and yes, I do lead an interesting and fulfilled life, don’t I?

Good Friday is taken much more seriously here than in the UK – pretty much all retail outlets close down and many restaurants don’t feel the need to open. In fact, it’s only been a couple of years since pubs have been able to open on Good Friday. That’s fine and I don’t have a problem with places being closed once or twice a year. What I object to is the lack of sense in allowing on-sales but not off-sales. What purpose does it serve? I’ll stock up next year. Or move to Victoria, where this silly double standard apparently doesn’t exist.

(Last Good Friday I was in Canberra and, frankly, couldn’t tell the difference between everything being open and everything being closed)