Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Beer Destination - Australia: By Duncan Rowland

The following post was written by GCPB blog reader, Duncan Rowland, who visited Australia back in May and thought he'd share his beer experience during his stay there.  Rowland has contributed to the blog before, writing a piece on the Olde Angel Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake and a beer dinner he attended at Toronto's Safari Bar & Grill.  Enjoy!

On May 17 I arrived in Sydney, Australia for a week of work. Outside of any corporate goals, I intended to get out and sample some local Australian beers at as many establishments as I could manage. Given that I was staying in the CBD (the Central Business District; what we would call "downtown"), the most accessible area for pubs was The Rocks, the area established by the first fleet arrivals in 1788. The Rocks is well known as a touristy kind of area, but once you step away from George Street, and head north under the Sydney harbour bridge overpass, it reverts to a genuine neighbourhood with what were once workers' homes, a school, and three pubs that are worth 20 hours in economy class. 
The first place I visited was "the Hero of Waterloo", on Lower Fort Street. It looked like a standard workingman's pub, with no pretensions...or cushioned seats. The first thing I noticed that had changed in the 14 years since I last visited Australia was the increased selection of beers on tap. When I lived in Melbourne in the mid-90s, 99% of the pubs had just 2 taps: Victoria Bitter (VB", the number one seller across the nation) and Foster's Special Bitter, a rather dull light beer. At the pubs I visited this time around, there were at least 6 on tap, and frequently more. The Hero of Waterloo featured ten, from VB to microbrews and the usual imports such as Stella, Guinness and Kilkenny. I sampled a Boag's Premium Lager (my favourite when I was in Melbourne: I really missed that beer in the 14 year interval), James Squire Amber Ale, and a Cascade Pale Ale. James Squire beers, named for the first brewer of record in Australia, are brewed by the Malt Shovel Brewery, which is owned by the large Lion Nathan brewing company. Both Boag’s and Cascade beers are brewed in Tasmania and form an interesting north (Boag’s) vs. south (Cascade) rivalry on the island. I could have sat at “The Hero” all night, but my drinking companion had to go so rather than drink alone like the barfly two seats to my left (who had to hold his beer glass in both hands in order to drink from it), I decided to head back to my apartment. 

That plan lasted about an hour before I decided to get out and try another place: The Australian. The most difficult aspect of drinking at The Australian is actually finding the damn place in the evening if you’re approaching The Rocks from George Street. Eventually I and another couple of would-be patrons walked up a staircase off of Cambridge Street that led us to Gloucester Street, turned around and there it was. The selection at The Australian was extensive and well worth an extended visit. Unfortunately jet lag was starting to kick in and the next day was a regular workday,  so I took the less risky path and had two beers and a pizza, paid my bill & left. The beers in question were excellent: a Beezneez Honey Wheat, which is made by Matilda Bay Brewing (a division of Fosters, but don’t tell anyone) and a Little Creatures Pale Ale, brewed by the Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle, West Australia. In an odd coincidence, the founders of Matilda Bay started up Little Creatures after they were bought out by Fosters. The Beezneez was very refreshing and would be a great summer beer here in Canada. Despite its name, it wasn’t overtly honey tasting, nor would I have said it was a wheat beer if I hadn’t read the tap. Like Boag’s, I wish I could get some here. The Little Creatures was one of the best beers I’ve had in a while, with a subtle fruit aroma, and full-bodied taste. If you spot it at the LCBO or in a pub, buy several. 

The final visit to The Rocks was two nights later on Friday.  This was the visit I had been looking forward to all week: the Lord Nelson Hotel. The Lord Nelson is a brewpub, selling 6 beers at the hotel, with some also available in bottles around Sydney. The pub was the most crowded place I went to that week, which prompted me to take my beer outside for some fresh air. Unlike in Toronto, you can drink outside of a pub without threatening to tear the fabric of society (at least, that’s what our liquor laws seem to imply is at risk). Or so I thought: outside of the Lord Nelson, you have to remain seated. It was dark out, so in retrospect what they really had was a patio, but without the clearly marked barriers that seem to be required in Ontario. 

It had been raining most of the day, so the chairs were wet and not very enticing. So I stood there with three co-workers and drank some really good beer. About 15 minutes later, a barman came out and asked us to stand closer to the wall, which was kind of strange, but he asked nicely, so we moved closer to the wall. A few minutes later, the cops showed up, and it seemed like the right thing to do would be to go inside. The police officer went in soon after, found the bar manager and walked him around the pub, with the bar manager looking distinctly more uncomfortable than the officer. After a few minutes, the cop left. It was kind of unnerving, given that she was armed with an automatic pistol and what I can only guess was a taser gun (I was curious, but not curious enough to ask and verify my guess). All the while, people just stood around, talking, drinking and ordering beer. Very sublime. Anyway, the beers I tried were the flagship brew “Three Sheets”, the Admiral Ale, the Quayle Ale, and the cheekily named Victory Bitter (“say, that sounds like ‘Victoria Bitter’...hey, wait a minute!”). All of the beers were excellent and well worth flying 14,000 miles to taste. Sadly, none are available here.

One general observation about Australian beers is that they all tasted thirst-quenching and very satisfying. As you have likely deduced by now, I like drinking beer and sometimes will try more than one in an evening, but these beers were something else: I could have sat and drank one after another for a long time. It’s probably just as well that I don’t live in Sydney; I’d end up looking like Homer Simpson. That being said, I heartily encourage you to visit Sydney and all of Australia if you get a chance. I was only in town for a week and had to work every day, but it was a pleasure to be there all the same, as the city is both beautiful and welcoming. There are many, many more pubs to visit than the three that I have journalized here, so save up your pennies and go. 

** As always, guest posts are always more than welcome here.  If you're interested in writing something for the blog, please contact me anytime**


Dan Dickinson said...

I forwarded this link to my brother who recently moved to Sydney. He'd been to The Australian but not The Hero of Waterloo or The Lord Nelson, so he tried them both on Sunday afternoon. He described them both as "heaven" and told me to get my ass over there for a visit. I may just have to do that.

Troy Burtch said...

Dan, that is great news! That is exactly why I like blogging!

Hungry Gal said...

Nice post, Duncan. Any beer that has beezneez & honey in it has my vote for a summer beer, too!

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