New Zealand is a wonderfully varied place. Beaches, mountains, hills, fjords, countryside, wine, beer and even the odd city. Many are not odd. New Zealand in spring has all of those things, still. But, if you’re English, you have to bear two things in mind: Cold and Hot. Auckland, in particular, does a wind that chews more than bites, drizzle that attaches itself to your soul and hard rain that flays skin. It makes you want to sit in front of a fire and defrost with a nice hearty porter. Alternatively, thanks to the absence of ozone, it also does a sun that scorches and burns your skin. It makes you want to take your clothes off so that you can sit for hours, if armoured with factor 50, in the sparkling shine drinking a lovely cold pale ale.

This is great, both make you feel alive. New Zealand in spring is enervating, more so even than in the rest of the year. But when it comes to writing a nice varied blog about the country’s various beer offerings it means you don’t venture much into the middle ground between refreshing and hearty. Very infrequently do your needs fall somewhere in the demilitarized zone between 8 Wired’s Imperial Stout and Parrot Dog’s Flaxen Feather Blonde.

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So, this blog about New Zealand’s beers has devolved into a straight fight: do Kiwi pale ales stand up to the might of Aussie pales and can they do the big, chewy porters that the Aussies just can’t muster?

The refreshing thing about a lack of knowldge of the machinations of the antipodean beer scene (for want of a better phrase) is that you can start your drinking journey free from pre-conceived ideas about breweries and just concentrate on the taste. Before research you don’t know which beer is a local brewer producing small batch beer for the love or a multi-national trying to cash in on the zeitgeist by mass-brewing a slightly quirky variant of one of their big sellers. Taste is everything and I’ve tried not to research the histories of the beers or breweries – I am doing that as you read, so I can berate myself for getting suckered.

PORTERS / STOUTS

The short answer to the ‘do Kiwis do better porters than Australia’ question is YES. While New Zealand does at least two seasons in its’ calendar year, often within ten minutes, Australia does not. Australia is almost always hot, even in the south where it still manages hot for about nine months of the year. They simply don’t have the climate where the average enthusiast is thinking, *bit parky out, I’d like to sit by a wrought iron radiator with a meal in a glass*. There are few months where there’s a nip in the air. It may also be denial. Australia does not do central heating, it refuses to accept that it ever gets cold and, similarly, they seem equally disinterested in realising there’s a need to make beers that suit that brief chilly mood.

TASTING VENUES
Brothers Beer (Auckland)
Oyster Inn (Waiheke)
Brew On Quay (Auckland)
Duke of Marlborough Hotel (Russell)
16 Tun (Auckland)
Bank St Social Club (Wangharei)

In short, New Zealand is culturally and meteorologically predisposed to being drawn into a lengthy need for stouts and porters. As a consequence Kiwis make more of them, make them more frequently and have an understanding of what people need from them.

Australia does a good number of sound, mid-range, easily drinkable, late 20th century stouts and porters. Nelson’s Blood (Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel), The Butcher (Rocks Brewing), New World Order (Temple Brewing) and Breakneck (Napoleone Brewers) will not disappoint. But while those names evoke the current heavy, thick and tasty British craft porters and stouts they are in fact more refreshing, fizzy and conducive to the vague warmth. Their names imply they know winter struggle, they think they have the balls to compete with Funnell Blower (Box Steam), Ola Dubh (Harviestoun) or 03|03 (Brew By Numbers) but, while they can be very nice, they don’t have the punch to kick through your bone-jangling cold.

This may sound like a criticism but it is not, it’s an observation of different needs. The UK sometimes gets snow, the country grinds to a stand still while it thaws, people wring their hands at the inpetitude and then someone points out that putting in infrastructure to cope with excessive snow is a little pointless. It’s very expensive to acquire buses and trains that can cope with relatively extreme weather on the off-chance that that weather turns up for a few days a year – it is simply not economical. Similarly, it’s not cold enough for long enough in Australia for it to be economically viable to try to make a beer for a scenario that may never transpire.

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And, don’t get me wrong, the UK does hundreds of this type of standard porter and stout, usually courtesy of old-style breweries or those at the vanguard of bringing back old recipes. There is a place for this. New Zealand has those too – Montieth’s Barrel Aged Porter is perfectly nice if a little thin, Mike’s Organic Chocolate Milk Stout is pleasing in a slightly-too-watery-hot-chocolate kind of way and the Otis Oatmeal Stout (Parrot Dog) is like an alcoholic Weetabix (or Weetbix as they weirdly call it over here).

But, unlike the Aussies, New Zealand have the need for something a little bigger and they do it better for the English palate.

THE BEST PORTERS / STOUTS

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The Big Smoke. 8 Wired Brewery’s beefed up porter with its’ Bamberg Rauchmalz is smoked to the max. They claim it won’t overpower but the dark chocolate is marinated in Frazzles and smoked almonds so you’d struggle to find food to compete with this that won’t give you gout. It’s marvellous. I’m not a huge fan of smoked beer either but this is just brilliantly balanced, it’s not a face full of BBQ with some alcohol in it.

London Porter. Emerson’s Brewery describe this as an old school porter and it’s colour points that way. But don’t be dissuaded by the slightly off-putting red-ness of this, it’s lively and fruity and does the chocolatey, sweet and sour toastiness that should be in a nice homely porter.

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Batch 2.18, imperial stout by the 8 Wired brewery. The absolute daddy of dark beers in the southern hemisphere. The chances are you won’t be able to get this outside the brewery or a well-connected craft beer house (Brothers Beer in Auckland) but it’s worth a trip to NZ alone. “Woof!” was all I managed to repeat while drinking it but I wouldn’t argue with the brewers assertion of “dates, jaggery and vanilla beans, oak aged and fermented in open oak foudres”. King-sized taste.

Imperial Stout. The Moa Brewing Company have managed to make a beer that tastes like Pedro Jiminez, raisin-arsed with a dark chocolate finish. The brewer says “… a very strong, upfront and rich beer hopped to over 100 IBUs … this beer not only displays coffee, mocha and smoked cedar characters but also some sweet and savoury notes unique to Moa Imperial Stout. A great beer to cellar and age”. This would need to be bought in some bulk to manage to cellar and age it, you’ll drink it all day from October to March.

Vanilla Coffee Porter. Mike’s Organic Brewery has packed in an island’s worth of V and a barrista full of C to make a very tasty P that packs more flavour than its admittedly limited viscosity would suggest.

Mataccino. The Aotearoa Brewery have some good contenders in this bracket and this is a proper big porter. It’s all coffee and chocolate, as you’d expect from a beer “infused with locally roasted coffee, cacao nibs and vanilla beans”. *applauds*. Imagine being from the 80s and drinking Sade’s ‘Diamond Life’ produced by Quincy Jones.

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Of course, having said all that about Australia being too warm to make exellent porters we have to appreciate that they spend most of the year catering for exhausted, hot surfers as they prepare to do whatever surfers do when they’ve stopped surfing and need a little me time.

England has a tendency to overly tart pale ales, the recent preponderance of sours will tell you all you need to know. There often isn’t enough warmth and generosity in our pale ales, they can be a tad upright, a bit stiff-upper-lip. That’s not to say we can’t: Seven Bro7hers’ ‘Session Ale’, ‘Rock Top’ by Old Dairy,  Wylam’s ‘Writer’s Block’, any of Brodie’s Amarilla pales and many, many others are tasty as hell.

New Zealand seems similarly afflicted, some very good pales, some annoyingly sour rubbish and a decent lump of bog-standard. But, whoah, the best ones are very good.

THE BEST PALES

Panhead Custom Ales: Quickchange XPA, Super Charger & The Vandal.

It took me two sips of two different beers to realise Panhead Custom Ales were going to be the best brewery in New Zealand. And boy do they know what they’re doing when it comes to pales. Hence, there are three on this list, so I thought I’d lump them into one paragraph. Their darks didn’t quite cut the mustard but these three made my UNTAPPD reviews go slightly nuts. Quickchange: “Gooseberry. Lush. Pantastic. Bee On Quay. Oompah Dads Army, Blackadder.” Vandal: “Monster hoppage. Brendon MacCullum. Boom. Fruity, thick and bitter but yet not bitter. A big six to long on”. Supercharger: “Big lively hopmonger, Jiff.”

Panhead have a marvellous website, by the way. PANHEAD

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Pale Ale. Epic Brewing‘s little trickster, Daniel Vettori in a glass. 15 [fifteen] hops it said in the bar blurb (16 Tun, Auckland) but the brewer says “there are 23 [hops] crammed into this bottle, many brewers would call that ‘insane’. We call it flavour.” Oddly malty for a hop-packed brew but it’s sweet and nettly and, appropriately, was Supreme Champion Beer at the New Zealand International Beer Awards. You can’t argue with that. With so many hops you might think this will be a subtle beer but it’s more like an orchestral crescendo, you might just be able to pick out the gong but it’s the volume that leaves your ears ringing. Very much more than the sum of its parts, a mighty punch.

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Yakima Monster. Grrrrr … another monster hopped pale, this one (obviously) an American from Liberty Brewing. A 2012 award winner, most of Yakimas hops have been shipped in for this yet it’s sufficiently fruity to stop the tangs.

APA, American Pale Ale. The Tuatara Brewery are up there with Panhead and Epic and not just for their incredibly tactile reptilian bottles. A massive great hint of weed in this one, not just that hoppy ganja whiff, and a quick toot on the pina colada.

APA, Aoteara pale Ale. Tuatara’s totally tropical adventure. Get yourself on a secluded northern island, after which this beer is named (the north NZ island rather than a specific island, that is), and sit under a palm tree. Pineapples, kiwi hops, fucking marvellous with the spicy shrimps at Topsail.

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Basically: New Zealand 1-1 Australia

Footnote:
If you’re not from 1986 then you probably aren’t a fan of pilsners. That ubiquitous taste. But, Auckland’s Crab Shack (they of the fucking jam jar glasses) redeem themselves with great crab and Speight’s Triple Hop Pilsner. Really rather enjoyable, the extra hops shine through in the taste and while that rather stark feel of a pilsner is still there, it seems softer. Gold Medal at the 2013 International Brewing Awards.

As I sit here on the veranda pondering whether to write anything about beer this week, I think about everyone else working hard in their windowless offices, dry air being blasted at them from all angles at a just-slightly-too-cool temperature to ensure no snoozing on the job … this pleases me, so I have a drink and resolve to soldier on lest I’m considered tardy and letting the British side down in some horrendous way.

Having acclimatised to the Australian way of life, I’ve concluded that an Australian likes a Pale Ale. The Aussies LOVE a pale ale. They are everywhere, like dangerous spiders, half decent sushi bars and the threat of Chinese multi-nationals buying up all indeginous brands and companies.

It’s as if the Aussie fear of the sun and melanoma (I have been slip-slap-slop-ing apart from one miscalculation where my feet protruded slightly from the pergola one surpsisingly sunny morning and I got a touch of pink shin) has infected their beer making, their desire for everything is for it to remain pale, pure, driven aryan white.

It may also have something to do with endless hours of sitting on beaches, pretending to be able to surf (in fact no one can, it’s a moon-landing of myth that man can stand a top a plank of wood and ride on water up to several feet high) and the need for a cool, refreshing stubbie.

Alternatively, this love of pale may also come from the fact they haven’t got the hang of dark, sturdy, wintery porters yet either. An amateur would suggest that it’s not cold enough in Straya for dark winter beers but the experienced traveller will know that Aussies don’t do central heating so, if it’s not boiling out it’s freezing inside. They should be better at warming cockles.

Either way, they can’t do dark.

SCIENCE >>>

Pale Ale is so-called because pale is the colour of the malts used. Malts tend to be, well, malty in colour and on the brown side, hence the usual colour of beer, particularly when the malt provider is nicely toasted. With a Pale Ale lighter malts are used or toasted less. Easy.

And with those lighter malts, the hops come through more, indeed they tend to be beefed up a bit. Exotic hops too, from the land of the free, usually. Except they aren’t free, they’re bloody expensive and so is the beer.

Of course, hops are considered a herb, an anti-bacterial, a natural preservative and a fragrance provider. They are actually just flowers but when used in sufficient quantities not only give ale a more acidic turn, they preserve and balance a beer, which makes it rather more suitable for a delicate palate, a colder serving temperature and, ergo, a warmer climate.

That’s the boring stuff out of the way.

So, the Aussie male loves a brew made from delicate flowers, just like themselves, prissy little feminists like Brad, Scoddie and Merv, all metrosexual paragons of Aussie reason, sense, goodness and low-key masculinity.

In just shy of two weeks I’ve had 22 different Aussie-brewed Pale Ales, I am already an expert. A swift scan through untappd also reveals I’ve had pushing 500 Pale Ales in the last two years. Expert. I am an expert in almost nothing but I’ve tried and tested a fair few of these buggers so I’m damned if I’m not going to assume some sense of what’s lovely, shit and or shitter … where was I?

Oh yes, 22 Aussie-brewed Pale Ales: Australian Pale Ales, English Pale Ales, American Pale Ales, American IPAs, American Pale Wheat Ales and American Amber Ales (OK, OK, you Aussies like American shit, Ford or Holden, Ford or Holden, Ford or Holden – I’m going Holden for the record, those low-slung open back utes are a joy. I’d like a green one with bull horns and one of those noisy exhausts that car men have) …

Here’s my considered opinion of the Top 6 best Aussie Pales on offer, in this exact order:

1. Pacific Ale (Australian Pale Ale) 4.4% – Stone & Wood
What The Brewer Says: “Inspired by our home on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and brewed using all Australian barley, wheat and Galaxy hops, Pacific Ale is cloudy and golden with a big fruity aroma and a refreshing finish.”
What I Say: A pale, pale, super pale straw coloured thing, lots of melon, melon, bit of roobarb and custard. “Big fruity aroma” indeed, sufficiently good it gives even the most Paris Hilton Bondi barmaid a fair stab at suggesting a ‘decent brew’ to the local pretentious. Very much enjoyed the (relatively) wank-free nonsense on the brewers’s website. It’s a beer, we made it out of this stuff, we did this to it and it makes us think of the sea. Done.

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2. IPA (American IPA) 6.2% – Mornington Peninsula Brewery
What The Brewer Says: “Mornington IPA is an American hopped India Pale Ale. Light orange-tinted amber in colour, this heavily hopped ale delivers rich stone-fruit aromas of peach and apricots. An initially sweet malty palate opens up to a fruity hop flavour and rising bitterness that will satisfy the bitter beer drinker.”
What I Say: Mighty hops. Face-tingling. Gooseberry crumble, the pure genetics of Sarah Cracknell and the heart of an Irish welder.

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3. 28 Pale Ale (American Pale Ale) 4.8% – Burleigh Brewery
What the Brewer Says: “American-style pale ale boasting a deep amber colour and a fragrant bouquet. 28 Pale Ale is a medium bodied beer with masterfully balanced hoppiness. A flavourful beer with a complex, fruity character – citrus, grapefruit, passionfruit and lychee notes. ”
What I say: Slightly weissy, Turkish delighty. Roses. Frans Thijssen. That may not make sense, just get the video of Ipswich Town – Boys of 81 and you’ll know what I mean – just watch Frans slap Michel Platini’s lardy arse all over Europe. It also makes more sense to a Brit than the bollocks they say about why they made this beer. Had they not said this it might have been 2nd: “Inspired by the style of the cool and care-free 70s, 28 Pale Ale makes you want to grow your hair long, throw on a pair of brown, high-cut shorts with orange piping and head for the beach.” No, it makes me want to drink it, I grew my hair long five years ago on the (as it happens correct) assumption that growing my hair long would shortly be a thing that I used to be able to do. I do have the shorts though.

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4. Three Sheets (Australian Pale Ale) 4.9% – Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel
What The Brewer Says: “Lifted florals of citrus with a balanced malty dry finish. Our House Favourite here at The Lord.”
What I Say: It’s a MELON! Lush. Also my Nelson house favourite. If listening to Dot Allison read the collected scripts of Tenko is for you, then this beer will be right up your alley. Tenko. *Adopts Peter Griffin Voice* Roadhouse. It’s a beer, one sentence is more than enough, hats off to the Nelson. for brevity.

5. James Squire: Hop Thief 7 (American pale Ale) 5% – Malt Shovel Brewery
What The Brewer Says: “Hop Thief 7 American-style Pale Ale is a beautifully balanced blend of galaxy and mosaic hops that delivers fresh citrus and tropical fruit aromas while retaining subtle earth characteristics and the firm malt backbone”
What I Say: Sweetish, up-front hops, fades into subtle bitterness. It’s like you wanted to listen to Sussudio and you got to listen to Sussudio but then someone put on generic beach house – but that’s kind of OK, you had your fun. But deep down you want to kill. Noice.

6. Glamarama (Australian pale Ale – (Sydney Brewery)
What The Brewer Says: “HERE’S TO ANOTHER PERFECT SUMMER ALE! CRISP AND CLEAN, LIGHT AND REFRESHING, THE WAY YOU LIKE YOUR WAVES. AND AS FOR THAT CHEEKY LITTLE TOUCH OF TROPICAL FRUIT AND CITRUS YOU DETECT EVERY TIME YOU TAKE A SIP? THAT’S NATURE’S WAY OF TELLING YOU IT’S GOING TO BE A LONG HOT SUMMER.”
What I Say: Yes, THEY DID LEAVE THE CAPS LOCK > ON. Straw coloured pale summer ale, butterscotchy, little bit of citrus and mango, clean and refreshing, THE WAY I LIKE MY PUBIC SHAVES.

If it’s not pretending to ‘catch waves’ your average Aussie can always be seen throwing a Pale Ale down their neck. And, because of this, they do it pretty well.

FOUR, count them * * * * gold stars for Aussie Pale Ales. Get them in your life.

 

You’re probably getting a picture. A beardy twat with a swept-over cut-under on top, a shirt buttoned to the neck, tight chaps and some pointy shoes or deck feet?

And there would be nothing wrong with me if that were the case. But, sorry, I am bald, Robert Pires appropriated my facial hair in 1995 and I hate doing up a shirt fully as it reminds me of the noose I used to have to wear when I was a responsible adult, gainfully employed. No more.

I am, though, nothing if not an occasional cataloguer, a some-time man of lists, an (not always) itinerant recorder of things. So, when I was introduced to a computer application that allows a user to log ones beers and ciders … I instantly became an addict to beer. No, wait … yes, that’s honestly the correct order of things, if it wasn’t for technology I wouldn’t even know what beer is.

So, what was with the wine-ponce *hints of citrus* in the first two blogs? Well, when in Rome. If you’re going to blog about beer then I guess you have to give something to the reader that is of beer, describe a taste. A taste is only a taste if you taste it, though, and everyone’s tastebuds are different, so it’s difficult.

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That is particularly the case if all you can taste is lemon, biscuit, butterscotch and that really nice sweet chewy taste of a dark winter porter. My pantheon of tastes is now used up. That isn’t true, I am merely slightly lazy on occasion and today is one of those days. So, sometimes, all you’ll get is “Smelly Arsepocket by the NOT THE FACE Beer Co. is a very NICE BEER. You’ll just have to trust me, I wouldn’t lie to you. I really like beer and the only thing I’ve decided I don’t like is sours. They can do one. If I wanted sour I’d buy some Tangfastics and go on a perpetual car journey around the M25.

While I really like beer, I also hate shit tasteles beer, which is something that seems to set me apart from about 95% of the world’s population. But, while I can taste, I have code words for something REALLY good. If you want in on the secret, here it is:

“Citrussy”. This is code for “this is a really zingy, complex, refreshing beer that is nice if you’re sitting in the baking sun on Champion Hill at the business end of a 6-0 home win.” [niche knowledge required for this one, sorry]

“Toasty”. That salty sweet and savoury joy you get from a nice dark beer or porter when sitting round the fire in a cosy old boozer listening to a close friend tell you how he wished he could win Gloria back this Christmas because otherwise little Johnny won’t grow up with a much-needed father figure who can show him how to gamble, carouse, fight and sweat profusely while trying to do up that final button on his bulging trousers.

If the letters that spell L-E-M-O-N are present in a seemingly rambling review, in a different order, this means *WOW*, this beer is nuts! Example taken from a comment on the beer bible, the untappd app: “A pale, pale, super pale, straw, melon, melon, roobarb and custard – with spicy calamari”. This special piece of praise was heaped on Stone & Wood’s Pacific Ale and the code embedded in that review was noticed by the brewer, who instantly saw it and ‘toasted’ my view with thanks and gratitude. I love it when this happens. Though, oddly it never happens when you slate a beer. [Hello Kernel Brewery with your ‘London Sour’].

However, the presence of M-E-L-O-N may also mean I’m drunk and in love with beer. I will revisit such beers later to check the veracity of my love, just like Madonna would. She likes beer, what was the line out of her beer song? Ah yes, “Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another”. I’ll have another, then, y’all can go hang.

Beer wankers are like any bores, harmless enough and no threat to you. Humour them, if nothing else you’ll get a decent recommendation of what beer to have in whatever venue you happen to be in. If you want some peace, just say you like Fosters and they will shuffle off to a quiet corner to read my their copy of the CAMRA newsletter.

Enough, let’s wank over beer.

The Venue: The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel.

This is a hotel, with a pub in, and the pub has a brewery in it! And it’s my new local! And the pub sells bacon sandwiches! It also provides exclamation marks for excited British.

The bar menu is wonderfully schizophrenic and inclusive, part British pub, part vegan cafe, part Euro bistro, part dinkum Aussie meat fest: Pie. mash and peas, grilled aubergine with goats cheese mustard and bulgar wheat, Nepalese curry, and several types of steak. Despite that, the menu is compact and clearly considered.

The sarny. OK, this is without a doubt the most expensive bacon sandwich ever. $17 of your Ozzie dollars, or £8.50ish of your Sterling. But. BUT. It’s a double decker, three-slices-of-bread sandwich, two thick, massive bits of salty slightly crisped bacon, four chunky slices of tomato, topped up with lettuce, mayo, cucumber and a fried egg. And you get a hearty plate of fries. I didn’t take a photo, you have to visit to see the beauty.

The Beer: Three Sheets Pale Ale – Lord Nelson Brewery: 4/5.

The brewery brews six brews for your brew drinking delight. In a spirit of temperance and desire not to get pissed yet today, I’ve had two (there’s another in the fridge – they do take outs). The Trafalagar Pale, tidy little number, not as malty as the brewer claims, in my humble, but definitely session gold. *negatively re-assesses view of James Squire’s pale ale*.

The Three Sheets Pale Ale is another matter altogether … I’m going Strawberries on the nose, the brewer says ‘floral’, so let’s go with Strawberry flowers, do they smell? In the mouth, it’s only fucking M-E-L-O-N! And it lingers for literally hours leaving you with a perpetual feeling of lying on Collaroy beach being drip-fed beer and strawberries (and melon) by Nicole Kidman. Best Aussie summer beer I’ve had so far and it is brewed a few hundred metres from my balcony. Here’s the view by the way.

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Food pairing. It’s a thing. Ignore it, get over it or go with your tastebuds. Having said that, sometimes it’s difficult not to be left with the impression that you’ve had the wool pulled over your eyes

Featured: Doyle’s Fisherman’s Lager, Malt Shovel Brewery.

As if to emphasise the previous blog’s note on the corporate appropriation of craft beer culture, the Malt Shovel Brewery gets its’ second mention in the first two entries.

The Venue:

But, first, Doyle’s. Doyle’s is a Watson’s Bay institution, 15 minutes by ferry from Sydney’s Business District. Home to a fine but shallow sandy beach, some excellent headland, pricey real estate and the fish restaurant loved and enjoyed by many visitors and locals alike.

The sheen of just-so society pervades the restaurant, it’s *nice*. It’s really nice, the kind of seaside bucolia that we think we need. And why not, what’s not to like about sitting in the sunshine, cooled by a Pacific breeze, eating (vaguely) healthy sea food while supping a nice white wine? Or a beer.

Doyle’s could remain a family-run backwater, a bastion of the old against the nearby gleaming new. Sydney’s glassy, metallic CBD is there, front and centre, perfectly framed by each side of the bay, a phallanx of expensive yachts in the foreground while you sit in a sea of freshly laundered shirts taking lunch.

As with most *lifestyle* aspirations this makes you squirm a little but then the sunshine hits and you forget about why your skin is crawling. And, in line with popular company expansion and brand gentrification, the old-school resturant’s nod to modernisation and lifestyle affirmation is an eponymous signature craft lager that is actually brewed by Sydney’s behemoth brewer.

The galling thing with most brands who try to appropriate something outside their sphere in an attempt to remain relevant, inclusive and enticing is that they cherry pick randomly with no thought to what they’re getting and why they’re getting it.

As with the Opera House, Doyle’s have picked something that is annoyingly appropriate.

The Beer: Doyle’s Fisherman’s Lager – Malt Shovel Brewery Doyle’s Brewing: 3.5/5

It’s easy to be a craft ale fan and be sniffy about lager but it’s just another drink. And, to be honest, lagers vary pretty wildly and have, perhaps unfairly, been ragged-on due to twenty odd years of homogenised brews from massive, profit driven corporates selling a bewildering variety of very similar tasting beers.

This particular lager isn’t obviously one of them. A generic attention to over-fizziness is one thing that puts off ale lovers. Doyle’s is very easy on the fizz, it’s more hoppy and golden than the average lager and it has that umami maltiness you only really get if you’re not just banging out numbers to fuel the masses.

What Doyle’s has acquired, whether by accident or design, is a beer that is pretty much a lightly oaked chardonnay that goes down easily when you’re sitting with a fillet of something fishy. Not cultured enough to know what wine you want with your snapper fillet? Well then, get yourself a BEER, mate, it goes with everything. From an elitist little enclave you’re suddenly able to talk about footy and mix it with the lah-di-dahs.

A slight aside but the main reason to come here, view excepted, is for £75 you get a seafood platter for two. It will feed four. At least. Squid. Mussels. Fried fish. Lobster Mornay. Massive king prawns. A whole blue swimmer crab. Two smoked trout fillets. Four oysters. And a mountain of chips that would feed Kylie for about a year. Not really necessary.

The hoppiness adds a slice of lemon to the peppery squid and the creamy lobster mornay. The maltiness gets into bed with the battered John Dory and sprinkles some savoury sweetness on the prawn and chorizo pasta. You really can’t go wrong with this lager.

Yes, it’s slightly galling to encourage this sort of thing two blogs in a row but, you know what, hats off to Malt Shovel and Doyle’s, they’ve managed to provide something that is nice, refreshing, seems to suit whatever you’re eating. Having said all that, it’s difficult not to be left with the impression that you’ve had the wool pulled over your eyes.

Lifestyle beer. It’s a problem but not a big one for the tastebuds. But can anyone manage being a beer wanker?

Featured: James Squire’s One Fifty Lashes, Malt Shovel Brewery. Growers Golden Ale, Endeavour Vintage Beer.

Relocating to a new city for four months is a good thing. Fancied it. I’ll be honest, Australia was not the first choice of possible countries. And Sydney was not the first choice of cities within that not first choice country.

But necessity dictates that it’s home until 2016. And, as I don’t, technically (or in reality), have a job, I need something to do. So, here we are, I’m going to be a beer wanker abroad.

Sydney. Name two popular things about Sydney? 1. The Harbour Bridge. 2. The Opera House. Seems as good a place as any to start, especially when home is five minutes from both.

The Venue: Opera Bar

The first thought sitting at the Opera Bar is that it’s an urban paradise, a near 360 degree view of the Opera, the Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay, the sails of the Opera a shiny ceramic magnet. But, it’s a magnet for tourists so rather like a pretty, sunny Leicester Square.

The Opera bar is adjacent to, rather than in, the Royal Opera House and it’s buried beneath a walkway so, from the opposite shore, all you can see are some protective umbrellas whose dual purposes appear to be sun shade and a flimsy barrier to the swarms of hungry, aggressive sea pigeons. So, more like the Royal Festival Hall balcony than Leicester Square.

Like the RFH it’s making (a kind of) effort for craft beer lovers. RFH have Meantime on tap and the Opera House has James Squire. However, like Meantime, James Squire’s Malt Shovel Brewery is not now the local, unique craft brewery it once was and continues to imply it is. It’s massive. It’s owned by Mitsubishi through Kirin. And, depressingly, the first thing you come across on the brewery’s website is the ‘lifestyle’ menu heading. Urgh. The beers are also ubiquitous in every bottle shop.

Born of the Hahn micro-brewery in the late 80s, the James Squire name comes from a rubbish career criminal banished from Surrey to become Australia’s first convict brewer, credited with starting the first commercial brewery in Oz. He was convicted in Oz of stealing medicines, one of which was a herb called Horehound that apparently resembles the properties of hops. His punishment … 150 lashes.

The Beer: James Squire ‘One Fifty Lashes’ Pale Ale – Malt Shovel Brewery, 3.5/5

An *Australian Pale Ale*. Basically a pale ale. A slightly cloudy straw coloured pale ale. The PR bullshit says “the ideal starting point for anyone looking to embark on a quest towards an appreciation of more flavourful beers. It’s a completely approachable …”. Well, as PR bullshit goes, it’s pretty par for the hackneyed, stereotpypical bullshit course. But, as with all stereotypes, there’s a basis in fact.

This is actually a really nice beer. Approachable? Yes. Approaching beer is always a good thing. When the beer does not repel you, it invites return. And you will return. As far as session beers go this is a tasty, refreshing 4.2% so, though a little outside the session window, it’s not going to do too much damage and you’ll not be longing for Fosters.

It’s not a new thought but this is classic corporate whoring taken to an art form. Appropriate the sub-culture and incorporate it into your own ethos to suit your own ends. This can irk. Craft  beer has been a thing for a while, it has been a growing thing for half a dozen years and it’s now got to the stage where local-brewed beers are seen as a large enough thing for big companies to get involved. The trouble is, you can’t have a global local unless you’re HSBC. So, you have to steal some elements you can get away with (taste and lifestyle aspirations) and package them as an authentic reality in a fabricated world.

But, to be frank, this is an appropriate beer with an appropriate background in an appropriately corporate situation, it backs up the hype. Of course, this was the first beer in Oz and thirst and tiredness may be an impairment, this may well taste like water when tried again. That said, first impressions: if you come across Malt Shovel’s other beers you will definitely give them a try, despite your misgivings, once you get the bitter taste of embarking on an appreciation quest out of your mouth.

But, what’s this?

The Beer: 2014 Growers Golden Ale – Endeavour Vintage Beer Company, 3.25/5

Sitting at the pumps alongside the *lifestyle* beer is Endeavour’s Golden Ale. Endeavour are a Tasmanian brewery, largely an independent conglomerate of three individuals making small batch craft ales but teaming up with bigger boys to deliver bigger quantites. This is, presumably, how the little guy gets dropped into the Sydney leisure industry’s most high profile area.

Disappointingly, this beer’s subtlety is probably its’ downfall against the relatively big flavours of the 150 lashes. Have this first and then the 150. The “spices, floral notes and the citrus lift” claimed by the brewer are all there but are restrained. Classy beer on it’s own merits but swamped in this company. Ironic, no?

IMG_6946Loved this. The cobbles, the ghostly dead-eyed forms arcing over the three characters: a wide-eyed child, a creepy moustachioed Don and what could be a ‘fabioler’ from the island’s Festes de Sant Joan de Ciutadella. The hinges form neat crosses and this all pans out above the cobbled streets.

Street art, back streets of Ciutadella, Minorca.

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A tiny organism in an vast and unhelpful world. A familiar world, a busy world, many others around of different hues but no one familiar or close enough to see that a massive, potentially dangerous beast looms over you, with who-knows-what in its’ mind. Read More

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