Having sadly missed out on the GABS, I arrived with the family in Melbourne on the Friday of Good Beer Week, determined to make up for lost time in my search for some quality Aussie brews in and around the capital of Victoria.
After refuelling in the sumptuous deli section of Queen Victoria Market and taking a short stroll through leafy Carlton Gardens, the first stop in boho Fitzroy was a rejuvenated back-street local called the Rainbow. Host Jason was quick to guide me through his ‘Pint of
Origin’ New South Wales promo featuring on the eight taps, so after some deliberation, I settled on the Rocks Hangman Pale Ale. This Sydney American pale ale at 4.9% had plenty of zingy flavour from the late hopping of cascade and liberty. As we chatted about Good Beer Week, the pub’s refurbishments and his time in the London pub trade, Jason kindly printed off a list of awards from the AIBA. This was scrutinised with interest while moving on to a 4 Pines ESB – usually only available from the cellar door in Manly – a classic 5.6% copper coloured ale.
Fearing the girls could easily knock an early dent in the beer budget via their nearby vintage clothes shopping, I planned for mid-afternoon rendezvous at the eclectic Grumpy Greens on Smith Street. The bar only stocks items produced within a 200km radius of
the city and I was assured that the Buckley’s Lemon Grass Pale Ale was a rare treat. It certainly was the most aromatic brew featuring this delicate plant that I have tasted to date. The girls gave a big thumbs-up to the Two Brothers Cider, proclaiming it full of flavour
with just the right amount of carbonation.
My cunning plan to sanction a visit to the Church Road retail outlet stores of Richmond was so as to ensure we were close by Mountain Goat Brewery for their Friday 5pm opening. Housed in a converted tannery, this stunning brewery bar was pumping an hour later. I
ducked their standard tap range, going straight instead for the seasonal and delicious Young Henry Fresh Hop Ale at 5.2%. Next up was their Pepperbury Black IPA, also with plenty of hop character, tasting not dissimilar to one of New Zealand’s black apa’s, Croucher Patriot, but a shade stronger at 7.3%. After an early start and a long day we decided to hop on a tram back to base in Flinders Lane armed with a couple of bottles of their Surefoot Sweet Stout to wash down takeaways from Pie Face.
Day two focused on my only ‘official’ Good Beer Week event, a vertical tasting of Red Hill Brewery’s legendary Imperial Stout. Car hire was necessary, as this idyllic brewery bar is nestled in the heart of the rural Mornington Peninsula, about an hours drive south of
town. After cuddling koalas en route at the nearby Moonlight Wildlife Sanctuary, we arrived ready for lunch, accompanied by a paddle of the four tap beers on offer. These comprised Hargreaves Hill Belgian Farmhouse Ale (3.5%), Bridge Road Imperial Pilsner (7.5%),
Red Hill Stickle Alt Ale (5.4%) and Red Hill Hop Harvest ESB (6.0%). The latter was a standout, so moreish, actually pulled direct from an English cask and definitely worth a follow-up pint.
The tasting itself, hosted superbly by head brewer Dave Golding, featured his annual 8.7% seasonal release of Imperial Russian Stout, each being 330ml bottled in 2011 and in previous years back to 2008, when the brewery was first established. The vintages were matched with chef’s specials featuring oysters with sea salt, secret-recipe spicy pork croquettes and a vanilla ganache with chocolate pieces. Truly beer and food heaven in the autumn sunshine. Aside from describing the makeup of the brew itself, Dave also cited his visit to New Zealand as one of the major influences in his overall research and development programme and spoke highly of our own Ben Middlemiss, who continues to offer valued input to the brewery.
Local annual devotees to the tasting proclaimed that 2010 missed the mark and that 2009 remained the champ. Bearing in mind that all the brewery’s hops are grown on site, (predominantly Tettnanger), some variation is likely to be inevitable, but they were all memorable beers sampled on a memorable day.
Day three was Sunday, so this meant hopping on the 3a tram out to St Kilda, home of the famous morning Craft Market, Luna Amusement Park and of course, the Local Taphouse on Carlisle Street. My expectations were sky-high for this establishment after receiving various glowing reports, but being brutally honest, I felt let-down by the unavailability of four of the advertised tap beers, plus the rather poor service. Yes, the rooftop bar was a cool setting and yes, I met Sam Posseneskie, one half of Yeastie Boys fame and yes, I got to try the local Three Ravens Barrel Aged Porter Noir (5.4%), but sorry guys, only a seven out of ten from me, despite Italy’s Brew First Spaceman IPA (7.0%) tasting awesome.
The evening saw us head off to Rod Laver Arena for a superb sell-out concert by Florence + The Machine. For pre-gig drinks we chose the iconic Victorian hotel, Young & Jacksons, situated opposite Flinders Street Station, where a personal favourite, Perth’s Feral Hop Hog IPA, was tasting on good form from the tap. Contrast that with the diabolically-bland Boags Draught, the sole available beer available at the Arena, proving conclusively that the Westpac isn’t the only southern hemisphere sporting venue serving crap beer.
So to the final day of our terrific short break, which unfortunately began with a wild-goose chase, attempting to track down ‘Biero Bar’, as featured in the current Ultimate Beer Guide to Australia & New Zealand. This establishment, at the Docklands end of Little Lonsdale
Street, is now actually called ‘Déjà Vu’ and whilst the outside advertised craft beer range looks enticing, the bar only opens from 4pm until late, Tuesdays to Sundays. Should have gone to Specsavers.
Plan B was backtrack across town to Federation Square, where Beer de Luxe is one of several bars and cafes scattered around this large and most favourite of CBD meeting places. Although a little pricey, the Beer Bible extends to 15 pages, so in theory there should be something to suit everyone’s pocket and they also do a mean chilli seafood spaghetti. Signing off the trip in style I kicked off with a Moo Brew Belgo Belgian Pale Ale from Tasmania, followed by a Doctors Orders Plasma White IPA from Sydney and topped off the session with a Murray’s Wild Thing Imperial Stout at 10.5% from Newcastle. All three beers were in good condition and full of flavour, plus the staff were knowledgeable about the origin and profile of each brew.
So, despite missing both GABS and the AIBA Awards, I managed to sample twenty superb craft beers in a range of bars and breweries across this most stunning, vibrant and craft beer-savvy of cities. Good on ya, Melbourne!
PS The girls loved the cider, shiraz and shopping.