Monday, December 20, 2010

Our Australian Beer Adventure

The Beer Geekette and I recently returned from a three-week trip overseas (which only partially explains why I haven't written anything for three full months now). Included was one week in Thailand - great food, but no beer worth writing about - and two weeks in Australia.

And there we were quite surprised by two things in particular: How tasty emu is on pizza, and how much the Australian craft brewing and regional brewing scene is advancing beyond its reputation.

During our stay we hit six different breweries, everything from the ultra-local and recently opened to the mega-brewery sans the tour.

First among them was quaint 4 Pines Brewing Co. in the Manly Beach area of Sydney, a 2-year-old gem with a char-heavy Dry Irish Stout and a Pale Ale with a bit less of a citrus profile than its American brethren. The place wasn't rolling at 4 p.m. on a Monday, but it was a great first-day introduction to the local efforts happening there.

Then, friends introduced us to The Lord Nelson Brewery in Sydney's oldest hotel, which serves a wicked lamb burger and a varied selection of largely English-style beers. The 3 Sheets Australian Pale Ale was particularly compelling with a citrus splash accompanying a surprisingly heavy malt profile.

Rocks Brewing Co., in the historic Hart's Pub in Sydney is also a 2-year-old entrant to the scene, a fine place with its own beers and guest taps, cricket on the TV and kangaroo on the menu. Not to sound redundant in its stylings, but the Fearless Tasting Crew, Sydney chapter (all five of us), ordered several pints of the 1809 Pale Ale to enjoy its aggressive, nearly American-style citrus bite.

Hunter Beer Co., located in the Hunter Valley wine region, also had a pale ale that the bartender correctly labeled as hoppy enough to be American, but what the crew fell in love with was Liquid Bacon. A golden ale with a heavy mesquite smoke presence (that really did smell of bacon), it bordered on mouth-watering, leaving us vowing to come back to the small hotel brewery on some future trip.

Bluetongue Brewery, also in the Hunter Valley, tasted American in that what-the-rest-of-the-world-thinks-of-us-after-they-drink-an-Old-Milwaukee way, complete with a premium lager reminiscent of high school parties. It was no shock to learn that it was a joint venture of SABMiller and Coca-Cola Amatil.

By far the most interesting experience, however, was touring the Malt Shovel Brewery, maker of the ubiquitous James Squire ales and brainchild of Chuck Hahn, former Coors brewer extraordinaire. Chuck, who appeared to love the sound of American accents, was nice enough to show us around and explain how he'd started the microbrewery after leaving the U.S. and trying his hand at several other Austro-Kiwi breweries. James Squire - named for a convict who became Australia's first brewer - was found at most watering holes, and for good reason. From the sweetly malty amber ale to the orange- and licorice-tinged Abbey Ale, the beers were spot-on renditions of each style and very refreshing at that.

What we did not find anywhere we went was a Foster's, which apparently is spurned by Australians in favor of their locally made and distributed products. And after sampling those products for two weeks, it's understandable why. The country's microbrewery community doesn't seem to be into the cutting-edge experimentalism of Colorado's most notable brewers yet. But it's making a host of tasty beers in multiple styles that, hopefully, can make their way overseas one day.

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