Back home in the UK, Australia has a similar reputation to the U.S. when it comes to beer; a bad one. It’s a commonly held belief that drinkers in the U.S. are limited to “light” beers and filthy common lagers. In Australia the only beer available is Fosters and everyone drinks it all of the time. If you were to hazard a guess at how many times I’d seen someone drinking Fosters, or how many bars I’d seen it on sale in and you’d picked a number greater than zero then I’m afraid that you’re very wrong. Their own website even goes as far as to claim that Fosters is Australian for beer and I wonder if perhaps their marketing team have had a few too many brews themselves.
Let’s talk about the UK for a second, because I don’t quite understand how the population have come to the conclusion that our beers are obviously superior to those of our friends overseas. Walk into any high-street pub in the UK and you’re likely to find a selection of what is essentially the same tasteless, fizzy, yellow-to-brown alcoholic liquid available on tap. The most popular larger in the UK is Carling and for those who don’t know, Carling is regularly compared to horse urine. Want to guess what comes second? Yep, you got it; Fosters. Now I don’t want to suggest that the UK only produces bad beer as that’s far from true, but I do believe that us Brits should really stop assuming that the menu abroad can only be worse.
There are some big players on the Australian scene, VB or, to give it it’s full, un-abbreviated name; Victoria Bitter, Carlton Draught, XXXX, and Coopers to name a few. These are those most likely to be found on tap in any self-respecting Australian bar. However, that’s not all; there’s almost always another set of taps with something a little more modern. Microbreweries are a big deal in Australia with some very popular beers available, notable names include Little Creatures, James Squire, and Matilda Bay.
Since I developed a proper taste for beer in the last few years, as opposed to drinking it simply for the pleasure of getting drunk, I quickly decided that while I was in Australia, I’d have to sample as many different beers as humanly possible. Trips to the beach or the park, nights in and nights out (I don’t need much of an excuse to get on the good stuff) have often led me to get a taste of something new and I concluded that it was high-time that I became a super amateur beer enthusiast. Flicking through the menu at one of the cities many beer cafes, by the way, is now one of my favourite ways to start an evening. Who said the cafe-culture was all about coffee?
Until recently I had very little idea of what the brewing process involved. Along with my friends back home, I believed that beer could be categorized into four distinct flavour groups; garden, table, coffee and bread. Whilst this remains true, for the most part anyway, a little tour and an evening at one of the local microbreweries has helped me to understand why beers taste this way.
Mountain Goat are responsible for one of my favourite craft beers; the steam ale. Smooth, crisp, refreshing and with just the slightest hint of both bread and garden. On discovering that their brewery is located in Richmond, I made plans to head over their on one of their open nights for a look around and to sample some of their other work. The brewery is definitely micro; tucked away in the corner of a large warehouse with the rest of the space dedicated to seating and a painfully trendy bar. Obviously I loved it. First up was a pot of Steam to keep me hydrated during the tour which began moments after I arrived and happened to be as much of a beginner’s guide to brewing as it was a tour.
What did I learn? Firstly; about the Reinheitsgebot, or the Bavarian Purity Law, which was a regulation from the 14th century concerning the production of beer in Germany which stated that the only ingredients that could be used were water, hops and barley. It wasn’t until the discovery of pasteurization in the 19th century that yeast was discovered to be the cause of fermentation, and apparently until then almost anything, including mushrooms, soot and older, successful brews, could have been used by brewers to aid the development of that delicious alcohol.
Next up was what effect those ingredients have on the beer. The mineral content of the water used has a major impact on the resulting tastes of the brew. A higher mineral content requires a larger amount of cereals and hops for the flavour to be found stronger than the water. Mountain Goat have a water filtration system that is apparently of such high-quality that they could use sea-water and still produce the same great taste. I’m fairly sure this is an as-of-yet untested claim. The barley, or wheat, or whatever cereal is to be used, effects the strength and the colour of the beer and will produced the sweetness. The hops are used for flavour, they create a bitterness to counteract the sweetness from the cereal and also as a preservative. I also discovered that Indian Pale Ale (IPA) was created almost as a byproduct of preservation. Beer being shipped from Britain to the colonies would often spoil, or at least whatever the sailors didn’t drink would anyway, and eventually more hops were added to aid with the preservation over the long journeys and resulted in a stronger, hoppier flavour.
The tour was fairly stationary, I think we maybe took ten or twenty steps before it was over and we were sent back to the bar to enjoy a couple more drinks. It would, I believe, have been criminal to be at the brewery and not try something a little bit special. At the end of the bar they have a Randy, a Randall Handle, which is used to infuse hops, spice or fruit into beer just before it’s poured and at the time of my visit, it was filled with grapefruit segments. The beer was a lemon something or other that was being brewed in partnership with Brooklyn Brewery in the U.S. and was up there as one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.
Alongside their craft beers, the bar also has a kitchen which pumps out some pretty crafty pizzas. Halloumi,pimento stuffed green olives, rosemary and lemon drizzle might be the most pretentiously topped pizza I’ve ever had to enjoy and it was washed down incredibly well with the IPA.
What I’m trying to tell you is that Australia has an incredible beer scene. Some of my favourites are Four Pines‘ Pale Ale, the above mentioned Mountain Goat Steam Ale, Little Creatures Bright Ale, and Kooinda’s Black IPA. I hope that when I do eventually make it home, I can find a retailer, or even better a beer cafe, where I can reminisce with a bottle of the good stuff.