Strewth, mate... it's Australia !
Last Updated : 17/03/05
Report by Billy Whizz - photos now added.
Well, it’s like this, see – I was offered just over two grand to go to Australia and speak for an hour. Difficult decision, I thought, but eventually I talked myself into it. The event in question was a conference in Melbourne, at which I was invited to give a keynote speech. This is just by way of setting the scene, so I won’t say much more about it.
Having decided to go, I also arranged to visit my cousin Brian and his wife, who have lived in Canberra for 27 years, and he suggested furthermore that I ought to fly back from Sydney, since he could easily drive me there. So, this became the opportunity to visit three cities I hadn’t been to, and I set about looking for brewpubs and craft beer outlets. Several sites came up from searches, giving a range of info, but the most trustworthy seem to be http://www.beerme.com/ and http://www.australianwineandbeer.com/beer/breweries.htm . These are kept more up to date than many, and certainly gave me enough to go at. Also, I managed to discover a publication advertised by Regional Development Victoria: The Beer Lover’s Guide to Victoria’s Microbreweries. They send it to me in .pdf format and also put a couple of hard copies (pocket size) in the post – wonderful! Regarding Canberra, I could only find two places on the “beerme” site, but my cousin confirmed that he didn’t know of any others either.
So, departure was on Wednesday 9th Feb from Manchester via Dubai, due to arrive Melbourne at 0630 on Friday 11th. This would be ideal, since one of the micros (Mountain Goat, in a warehouse) was only open on Friday evenings, when they had a weekly party – otherwise they only supplied beer to be sold elsewhere, and there’s a list of these on their website. Problem number one – a 15 hour delay in Dubai (I kid you not), apparently due to a broken aircraft. Apart from getting my passport stamped and a brief excursion to the Millennium Hotel outside the airport for a wash and brush up and good feed, there were no highlights of this particular part of my itinerary. Dubai airport is not bad for décor and facilities, though the mock Irish bar there (obviously ordered from a catalogue) is the naffest I have ever seen (and that’s saying quite a lot)
Well, this delay put things in a different light – or dark, as it happens, since I arrived in Melbourne at 2130 with Friday almost gone. It had certainly scuppered my plan to visit the Mountain Goat brewery and get their beers on the home turf (or steep craggy rocks, maybe). Checked into the hotel (also the conference venue, which was handy), and was thinking what to do when a friend (and fellow attendee) ‘phoned my room saying he was about to leave me a message but then found I was there and wondered if I wanted to come out to the pub. Not needing a second invitation, I was down there before you could say, “Fosters”. I had previously given said friend one of the two copies of the pocket size beer guide, and he – having arrived at the beginning of the week – had found the James Squire Brewhouse on Russell St, only 150 yards from the hotel. We went and sampled a few in there – in fact I tried all nine on offer, of which Highwayman and The Craic were the best. Then we looked for the St Arnou, over half a mile away on Little Collins St. Nearly midnight by this time, but still surprised to find it shut. Trams had now stopped running, and we ended up walking back to the James Squire, where we were the last to leave at about 0145. Jetlag, what jetlag?!
Original plan was to get the train to Geelong for the Scottish Chiefs Tavern (Steam Packet Brewery) on Friday morning, so this was deferred to the Saturday. I was up before 8 and raring to go. First port of call was a picture framers, since the baggage handlers had managed to smash the glass on a picture I was taking for my cousin, even though it was buried in the middle of my big suitcase. Then bought a weekly MetCard for about £12.50 (valid on trains, trams and buses over a similar area to the GMPTE Wayfarer), and met my friend. We took the tram to Spencer St Station and bought tickets to Geelong. A pleasant 1 hour journey later and we were walking down to the seafront, where we pottered around for an hour or so before finding the Scottish Chiefs, which is not easy to spot from a distance. This appears to have changed hands recently and had been newly refurbished. Only two beers on (Pale and Amber), so both were tried, along with some good food. They normally also have Stokers Ale, but not available at the time.
On return to Melbourne, we looked in on the St Arnou, but found it only opened at 6pm, so we got the 96 tram to Gunn Island Brewbar in Middle Park – between Melbourne and St Kilda. This is an old (Victorian?) area of the city where the houses have attractive porches and verandahs with cast iron tracery. The Gunn Island brews three, which were all tried, along with some other brews from Matilda Bay (Western Australia), Cascade (Tasmania) and Coopers (South Australia). My friend then returned to the hotel to rehearse his talk and I had a look round, ending up at the St Arnou again. The beers are brewed in Sydney, but they are a small craft brewery. This outlet is in the business district and hasn’t been there very long – opening hours are mainly 6-9pm, since the bulk of its custom is from businessmen “on their way home” after work – I guess they stay until the wife gets them on the mobile… Anyway, had two of their five beers on tap, and a bottle of Mountain Goat Pale Ale to boot.
Now a bit tired, and back to the hotel. Had a superb Chinese for dinner – the Chinatown arch was literally opposite the hotel. Then looked for the Three Degrees, without success, and also a beer garden the airport taxi driver had told me about, but this turned out to be an illusion, so popped in the James Squire for a nightcap – Saturday over.
Decided that I’d go down to St Kilda (Melbourne by the sea) for breakfast on Sunday, before going for some more beer. I was just on my way out when I saw another friend sitting in the lobby. He had just arrived from the airport, but couldn’t check into his room until after lunch. Told him my plan, and he decided to join me. 96 tram stopped on next corner to hotel, and took us right there. Walked up and down for a bit on the prom (could have been Fleetwood, except for the palm trees) and eventually selected a place that did a good full breakfast. There was some cycle racing on at the time, up and down the main street. They were also preparing for a music festival later in the day, to which my other friend was going. Anyway, breakfast over, we made our way back to the tram stop and travelled back to Middle Park – I had a few other beers to try there and my friend drank a couple of glasses of the India Pale Ale, which he liked a lot. Then a question of how to get to Bell’s Hotel in South Melbourne – fortunately the bar staff at Gunn Island were able to help, and suggested we walk down Armstrong Street to a different tram stop – no 112. This turned out to be ideal. Got off at corner of Clarendon and Dorcas Street, and Bell’s was one block east and one north, on Moray Street.
Bell’s was the first one I’d been to that has a proper system for giving small samples of each beer – others will sometimes do this but in an extemporary way. Six beers were tried, and I went back to the Stout Billy. My friend had two glasses of the Hell’s Bells. Both of these were 6.5%. Being still a little full from breakfast, we declined lunch there and made back for the hotel. My oppo checked in and was not seen again until the next morning. I registered for the conference, checked the copy of the talk I had sent, then went out again and this time found the Three Degrees. It is in a shopping mall on the north side of Lonsdale Street, between Russell and Swanson Street, and can be reached by a walkway that goes through the mall parallel to Lonsdale Street. Has only been open since last June and is not in the little booklet or on “beerme” – thanks to Dave Simister for the tipoff about it. Well, only one of their own beers available just now, but more to come, and several other craft beers were also offered from Matilda Bay and Cascade. A few tried, then I consulted my list of outlets for the Mountain Goat beers. Niagara Hotel further up Lonsdale Street (383) was the nearest, so there I went. Unfortunately, they were waiting for a delivery, so tried two Coopers beers. The bottled Best Extra Stout (6.3%) was “bonzer”. Had still not had lunch, and now nearly 5pm, so went into one of the many Greek restaurants (Stalactito), corner of Russell and Lonsdale for a feed. Then back to the hotel for a snooze before the evening reception that kicked off the conference. Went out with a few friends later for another Greek meal (their choice, not mine) and so to bed.
The conference occupied Monday to Wednesday, my talk being at 1pm on Tuesday. However, since I was not reporting to anyone on the proceedings, I could pick and choose which items I went to. Monday I managed to get out to the St Arnou to clear up their other beers, then had a cruise on the Yarra river in the evening, with buffet and the local “big beer”, VB, available. Tuesday I did a bunk at 2pm when my own talk finished, and took in a couple of other possible outlets for Mountain Goat. The Mitre Tavern (Bank Place) had none, having just changed hands, but the Sherlock Holmes at 415 Collins Street came up trumps with not only the Ale on tap but also Three Ravens Blond and Mildura Mallee Bull, thus scoring another couple of Victoria micros – all good stuff. Went back to the Niagara Hotel and got Mountain Goat Hightail Ale (supposed to be like an English real ale), then repaired to the Three Degrees for other offerings from Matilda Bay, including a prodigiously bitter Alpha Pale Ale (they’re not kidding). Conference dinner was on Tuesday night, after which we adjourned to the James Squire again and one or two did not make much of Wednesday morning’s proceedings (I got up before 8 every morning while I was in Oz).
Wednesday was not up to much as I had to pick up the picture (which the guy managed to break again getting the glass in the frame – pffffff!), pack, and get to several talks before departure. Tried to make it to the Three Ravens, which is well northeast of the city. It was a long tram ride followed by a bus and a walk, and unfortunately I had to turn back or I would have missed my flight. Picked up a bonus in the ersatz Irish bar at the airport (P J O’Briens) – Cascade Premium Lager.
Just a 1 hour flight to Canberra with Virgin Blue for about £25. My cousin Brian met me at the airport and drove me round a bit before arriving at their house in a district called Chapman. About 8pm by the time we got there, so no time for much else, apart from some food. However, we packed loads into the coming four days.
Thursday began with sightings of several striking birds in my cousin’s garden – cockatoos, galahs and rosellas – and an early morning walk around Chapman and up the adjacent hill. I realised how destructive the 2003 bush fires had been, burning up many houses quite close to my cousin’s. After putting the picture in for repair again, Thursday saw visits to the War Memorial (which is also a very large museum), Lake Burley-Griffin, Yarralumla Bay, a drive through the embassy quarter, then Parliament House (including a few minutes in the debating chamber itself, which is almost the same as the Commons, slagging each other off with yah-boo-sucks type speeches), then after all that we got to the Wig and Pen. This was by far the best brewpub of my whole visit. They brew 12 beers, of which 11 were available, and feature 3 on handpull served at correct real ale temperature. They did not offer samples, so my cousin and I joined the quartermasters for the afternoon and tasted the lot. Several were superb, including such contrasts as the Amber Hefeweizen (4.7%), Velvet Cream Stout (5.6%) and of the real ales Bulldog Best Bitter (4%) and Brewers IPA (6.4%). Wonderful. That night, went for a very passable curry at the Indian Affair in Philip and finished at one of the many Southern Cross clubs, drinking Toohey’s Old and Resch’s Lager.
No ale on Friday apart from a few stubbies and tinnies out of the eskie with the barbie (try that on Babelfish!), but otherwise a spectacular day. Temperature climbed above 30ºC and plenty of sunscreen was in order. After picking up the picture (now fixed at last), I visited one of my cousin’s offices at Tuggeranong – one of the nicest workplaces I have seen anywhere, with a recirculating landscaped stream running between the two buildings, a barbecue area and great views of surrounding country, where loads of kangaroos can be seen grazing in early morning and late evening. Then on to Pine Island, Lanyon homestead (a traditional Aussie ranch). Tharwa, and Tidbinbilla nature reserve, where we had our barbie. This was at one of the ubiquitous sites equipped with free electric barbecue units. I drove to several spots around the reserve. The bush fires had devastated the animal population around Canberra, and although most birds came back quickly, the animals are slowly beginning to re-establish themselves. Only one Koala survived the fire, a 6-year old female called Lucky, though she was badly burned and is now cared for in her own little compound. We paid her a visit (she was asleep clinging to a tree with her face inwards, so no good pictures), and also saw emus, kangaroos, the rare bushy-tailed rock wallaby, ibis and pelicans. Then went briefly to the Deep Space Communication Complex (Australia’s Jodrell Bank), Cotter Reserve and Mount Stromlo. The many telescopes at Mt Stromlo were all destroyed in the bush fires, and it is a sad sight to see the ruins of the buildings. Plans for rebuilding are afoot but hardly started yet. Anyway, that was our last stop before returning to the house, where I had a very nice dinner with four other friends of my cousin and his wife.
No respite on Saturday – shopping for wine and souvenirs, then to the National Carillon (55 bells – the heaviest 6 tons – attached to a playing console which was open for the day. From thence we went into the centre again to visit the Australian Pizza Kitchen (APK) – the other brewbar listed for Canberra. They just do two ales, one being a very refreshing 3.6% Ginger Beer served with ice cubes, and the other a changing special, which was a German style lager at 6% – seemed like a Doppelbock to me. Declining the pizza, we went back to the Yacht Club by Lake Burley-Griffin and ate some great fish and chips on a picnic table, with the obligatory beer from the eskie (Aussie term for a cold box, as if you hadn’t worked it out). In the afternoon, we took out a friend’s dog for a walk, then had to get to the Governor General’s estate at 5pm for an open air “prom” concert, complete with orchestra, large soprano and a mix of popular classics and film music. Not the most highbrow affair but quite pleasant, and it was boiling hot until the sun went down. After the concert finished at 7:30pm, we all went to my cousin’s daughter’s parents-in-law’s house, for a party to celebrate her mum-in-law’s 60th birthday. Drank quite a few there, including three bottles of homebrewed “stout” (more like old ale, actually) that were very pleasant. Took photos of possums that came down to pinch some fruit we put on the fence. Can’t remember what time we got back home. Rained heavily overnight – had been forecast earlier but held off until after the concert and party, which was great.
Sunday was my last day in Oz, but Brian had big plans – my flight from Sydney didn’t leave until 2155, so arriving there at lunchtime still left several hours for a whistle stop tour. I hadn’t looked at Sydney brewpubs, so went on the web and we found an ideal one in The Rocks area: the Lord Nelson (Kent Street). Duly set off from Canberra with some provisions, and I drove more than half way, in some filthy weather. However, when we arrived in Sydney it was dry. Drove past the airport into the city, over the Harbour Bridge and then a few miles east to Manly Beach, where we walked around and went in the Steyne Hotel for a jar. I then got a ferry ticket back into Sydney, and arranged to meet cousin at the Lord Nelson at 3:30 (he drove back across the bridge). Took lots of photos of the city, harbour, Opera House and bridge. We both made our rendezvous on time, and enjoyed six of the Lord Nelson beers – Nelson’s Blood at 4.9% was about the best of a good bunch. Brian then wanted to show me the market he had passed earlier on his way to the pub. I could see the sky getting darker and feel rain in the air, but I had to go along. Sure enough, just when we were furthest from the car it started slashing down, followed by thunder and lightning. Got fairly well soaked, but made it back up the hill to The Rocks and found a pub called The Australian (Gloucester Street) that they had mentioned to us in the Lord Nelson. It’s quite close to there, and they serve two craft beers that are brewed by the former owner of the pub in Picton, NSW. Quite a nice bonus for a couple of wet travellers. The people at the next table came from Chesterfield, would you believe! Anyway, no time to hang about. Back to the car, then cousin drove to Darling Harbour where we walked in the fast-descending dusk through the Harbourside shopping mall and along the waterfront, not being able to get much wetter. A few more (by now perfunctory) snapshots to add to the 600 I’d already taken since leaving Manchester, then a final journey to Bondi Beach. Not at its best in heavy rain with darkness falling, but at least I’d been there. Got soaked again by passing cars since there was so much standing water on the road. However, the final fish and chips in the Bondi Hotel along the front were very good indeed. Accompanied this time by Diet Coke, as I don’t drink alcohol just before or during long haul flights. My theory is that for a lot of people jetlag is 60% hangover.
Got to the airport at about 2010, bought some T-shirts, decided to wear of them in place of my soaked top, then almost time to go to the boarding gate. In contrast to the outward journey, going home was plain sailing, though the 14 hour flight from Sydney to Dubai in continuous darkness did drag a bit. Upside was that Dubai to Manchester was in complete light – I think we passed over Iran, Turkey, the Black Sea, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany and Netherlands before Norfolk came into view over the North Sea.
What do you think? Worth getting paid to do that? One thing’s for sure – it won’t happen again for a long time!
James Squire Brewhouse, 115-127 Russell St, Melbourne, Vic 3000
Brewed on site (no ABVs quoted):
Brewed at the Malt Shovel Brewery (website defective):
Scottish Chiefs Tavern, cnr Corio and O’Connell Streets, Geelong, Vic 3220
Brewed on site (Steam Packet Brewing Co; no ABVs quoted)
Gunn Island Brewbar, 102 Canterbury Road, Middle Park, Vic 3206
St Arnou Beer Bistro, 582 Little Collins St, Melbourne, Vic 3000
(beers brewed in Sydney; http://www.st-arnou.com.au/starnou/ )
Bell’s Hotel, 157 Moray Street, South Melbourne, Vic 3205
Three Degrees Bar Brewery Brasserie, Number One QV Square, cnr Lonsdale & Swanson Streets, Melbourne 3000
Wig and Pen, Canberra House Arcade, Alinga Street, Civic Canberra, ACT 2601
H indicates handpulled ales served at 8-10ºC
Australian Pizza Kitchen (APK), Bailey's Arcade, London Circuit, Civic Canberra, ACT 2601
Lord Nelson Hotel, 19 Kent Street (cnr Argyle Street), The Rocks, Sydney, NSW 2000
The Australian, 100 Cumberland Street (cnr Gloucester Street), The Rocks, Sydney, NSW 2000
Beers from Scharers Little Brewery, Picton NSW
Other craft beers (and where bought)
Matilda Bay (Western Australia)
Coopers (South Australia)
Mountain Goat Brewery (Melbourne)
Three Ravens Brewery (Melbourne)
Mildura (Mallee, Vic)
|Wig and Pen||Australian Pizza Kitchen (APK)||Australian Pizza Kitchen (APK)||Bell's Hotel||Bell's Hotel|
|Canberra||Canberra||Canberra||South Melbourne||South Melbourne|
|Bell's Hotel||Gunn Island Brewbar||Gunn Island Brewbar||James Squire Brewhouse||Lord Nelson Hotel|
|South Melbourne||Middle Park||Middle Park||Melbourne||Sydney|
|Lord Nelson Hotel||Lord Nelson Hotel||Scottish Chiefs Tavern||Scottish Chiefs Tavern||St Arnou Beer Bistro|
|St Arnou Beer Bistro||Three Degrees Bar Brewery Brasserie||Three Degrees Bar Brewery Brasserie||Wig and Pen||Wig and Pen|