Brief comment on Aussie brews….
…..and praise of two micro-breweries.
I am sure that quite a few people, when they think of Australia – along with the sunny beaches, croc-infested outbacks, cute marsupials etc. – think of beer. But the generic beer down here really means pale lagers, with each state producing its own version: Carlton Draught, Victoria Bitter, Tooheys, XXXX, Swan Draught etc. That is not to say Aussie lagers are bad, they are actually much superior tasting, and indeed quite refreshing at the end of a hot day as compared to the slightly flavored
water piss passed of as beer in the US (German expats on the other hand, possibly for good reasons, have an entirely different opinion on how a lager should be, but that is another matter). Even some of the low-carb stuff here, like the imaginatively named and cheekily marketed Pure Blonde, have a clean crispiness to them not found in say, (shudder!) Michelob Light. Additionally, there are some really good ales made by small breweries like Cascade (the oldest brewery still in operation) and Boags – incidentally both located in Tasmania – that do more than wash down those barbied snags.
/Brief Rant Mode/
However, in some bizarre twist of irony, at most bars and restaurants there is a seemingly endless demand for Corona Extra (with the insufferable lime wedges) !! Aussies, both male and female, don’t seem to get enough of it. Makes me cringe and fear for the future of these people.
One unfortunate aspect within the Aussies beer world is the market dominance by mainly two players, Fosters (although you will be hard-pressed to find Foster’s Lager out here) and Nathan Lion, which means that you are often forced to consume the marketing hype launched by these two (this could possibly explain the Corona craze, the beer being distributed by Fosters down here). Even the small breweries like Cascade and Boags mentioned above are owned by one or the other. Coopers is possibly the only independent brewery that operates on the large-scale.
Additionally, at least in the Brisbane are, I have not found any micro-brewers, which was something quite common in the US. Thankfully, on a recent visit to Perth, I got an opportunity to taste beers from two great micro-breweries in Western Australia, Matilda Bay (which again is owned by Fosters!) and Little Creatures. Both breweries make a variety of lagers and ales and although their Pilsners were kind of disappointing, the Pale Ales rock. I have had the Little Creatures Pale Ale in a bottle in Brisbane itself and it is without doubt, still the best beer I have tasted in a long while. But drinking from the tap at the pub located within the brewery made it extra special. The Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale is not easily available in bottles (at least in Brisbane) and it was refreshing to have it while watching live cricket at one of Perth’s landmark breweries, The Brass Monkey. Additionally, Matilda Bay makes a honey-flavored amber wheat beer, Beez Neez, which IMO is a fine indoor/evening beer, and a German-inspired red lager, Rooftop.
Among other beer varieties, I have noticed that the India Pale Ale, which used to be my favorite in the US, is not very popular down under, in spite of the British connections. It is much harder to find than other beers, and the only one I tried so far, James Squire, failed to impress. The Germans mentioned before have an apparent distaste for ale and usually drink Becks (More out of patriotism than real taste, I suspect). Thankfully, most Aussie cities seem to have a few Irish pubs around, so the old reliable stout, Guinness is always at hand. The other readily available non-Australian ale I have been really impressed with is the Old Speckled Hen. An English bitter, it is best tasted served from the tap, at the right temperature (around 16C) and served in an Imperial Pint (bears the royal insignia no less) glass. Also best enjoyed late in the evening at the pub whilst watching a EPL match surrounded by rowdy English fans !
In short, regular Aussie lagers seem to do the job in keeping with the outdoorsy nature of this country and yet there is a bit of variety in the form of exciting ales from micro-brewers and imports to keep the connoisseurs happy. In the coming months I will get to visit Tasmania and New South Whales and will to keep any beer-lovers lurking around updated if any decent new micro-brews are discovered.
Final disclaimer: Note that these perspectives are from a non-regular beer drinker . I still prefer cocktails when I have the chance. But the quality of cocktails they make at the bars here is abysmal, not to mention the struggle involved in making the barmen/women comprehend even the simplest of recipes. So I stick to beer now (when in Rome…..) . Besides, beer is very refreshing after long outdoor activities, or after the day at the beach, or when attending to the barbie. And there is plenty of that happening in sunny down under.
: Read that as Coors, Millers, Bud and suchlike. Sam Adams does produce a decent lager, as does Labatt up north.
: And yes – in spite of its proletariat background – just like wine, there are subtleties that need to be recognized while tasting beer – color, head, aroma, taste of hops etc all go into distinguishing a beer. Personally, I use a simple yardstick: tastes good at the moment versus not good 🙂
: To be fair, Australian do drink fair bit of wine as well, and Aussie wines, especially reds like Shiraz, are exceptionally a great value.