Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The state of Craft Beer in Sydney

There are a lot of things that Australia gets right: barbeques, lots of time off work, lollies, beautiful beaches, and animals with funny names.  Other things are not so good: $20 movie tickets, poor customer service in restaurants, no Netflix, and driving on the wrong side of the road.  The last time I lived here, craft beer was definitely in the latter category.  Now, I find that it is moving in the right direction, and there are a lot more choices.

To give you an idea of the general taste in beer here, Corona is one of the most popular beers, and one of the more expensive.  The first two beers I drank after arriving were Coronas.  Now don't get me wrong, they were quite refreshing after traveling for 20 hours and finally getting to relax outside on the patio.  But it's not something I want to drink on a regular basis, and definitely not something I would pay $50 for a case of 24 bottles.  At least there are some well-known and readily available Aussie brews that are quite good (Coopers, James Squire, James Boag). Aussies are not really into craft beer.  For the most part, they aren't even aware of the choices out there. Here is what I've found in the Sydney Area.

A long-time favorite of mine is the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel.  The first time I came here was after my first day of work in Sydney back in 2005. I discovered that Monday night was Pie Night, where you can get a meat pie with mushy peas, mashed potatoes and gravy for $5 (now the price is $7, but it's still a great deal).

They also brew their own beer. Their regular lineup includes some pale ales, an English bitter, and a summer ale.  My favorites are:
- Old Admiral, a 6.1% old ale (pictured above).  It is full-bodied and malty, with strong caramel notes.
- Nelson's Blood, a 4.9% porter.  Very similar to traditional Irish stouts.
The Lord Nelson is now selling their beer in bottles, so I can now enjoy their beer in my own home. I highly recommend the Lord Nelson.  This will always be a favorite of mine.  It holds an especially dear place in my heart because this is one of the first places that I hung out with a really cool Aussie girl named Michelle, who would eventually become my wife. Here is a pic from that fateful night:

There are two newer brewpubs that have opened in Sydney in the past couple years.  The first one I visited was 4 Pines Brewing Company. I heard about this place from watching the documentary How Beer Saved the World. It is only a 10 minute drive from where we are currently living.  Nice atmosphere, with an outdoor patio overlooking Manly Wharf.  The food menu has some nice options, although very expensive as with most Sydney dining.  The cheapest option for lunch was a $13 burger.  Tasted great, but the patty was as big around as a McDonald's patty, and just a little thicker.  But the beer was good.  Their regular lineup include an American style Pale Ale, Kolsch, Hefeweizen, ESB, and Stout.  They also have a rotating lineup of specialty beers.  The first beer I had was the Wee Heavy.  I was expecting a malty Scottish-style ale, but it actually had a strong peaty smoky flavor.  I liked it, though I wouldn't drink it often. 

I went a second time, and their specialty lineup was a series of Summer Ales, each single-hopped with a different hop variety.  I tried the Amarillo and the Galaxy.  Both were great, especially the Galaxy.  I was so happy to find a place where I can get decent hoppy beers.  They also sell their beer in bottles, and I bought a 6-pack of the Pale Ale for the price of.....$20.00!!!

That kind of price makes you really savor your beers.

The second new microbrewery/brewpub, just around the corner from 4 Pines, is Murray's Craft Brewing Co.. This brewpub has 18 taps and 2 handpumps, which makes it the best selection I've found in Sydney.  It is on the main road across from Manly Beach, which is a very trendy area.  As such, the food prices here are ridiculous as well.  The most reasonable option is the gourmet sausages for $18.  I had the beef & porter sausage with mustard.  Delicious! 

A friend got the full rack of ribs, which was about $38, but it did look good.  The beer was excellent! The best I've had yet in Sydney! (And the most expensive.)  I first ordered a glass of the Wild Thing Imperial Stout (10%). 

This is one of my favorite types of beers, and I thought I would never be able to find it in Australia, so I was very excited.  And it met my high expectations, tasting just as good as an American version.  But, it was $12 for a small glass!!  The cost of beer is really going to curtail my drinking.  I need to start homebrewing soon!  Other beer sampled were:
- Grand Cru: tasty blend of a Belgian Trippel and Belgian Golden Strong Ale.  8.8%
- Angry Man Brown Ale:  a 6.5% strong Brown Ale that went great with the sausage.
They also have an American style IPA, a Porter, and an Imperial IPA (with the motto, It Kicks Arse) that I can't wait to try.

For the craft beer lovers in Australia, the website The Crafty Pint will keep you up-to-date on all the breweries, brewpubs, bottle shops, and beer events all over Australia.  I've already found some bottle shops a few hours away with great selections of craft beer from all over the world.

The craft beer scene in Australia is really starting to take off.  This would be the perfect time to open a brewery/brewpub/craft beer bottle shop.  Or even perhaps.... a craft beer and board game cafe?  :)