Some Thoughts On Australian Beers And “Pubs”

Now that I am once more awash in BBotE to share with the world, I have the time to collect some travel related thoughts before they fall out of my brain completely.  It is a bit early in the morning to maintain my usual standards of insobriety, so you’ll have to excuse that and be content with the amount of rum consumed last night to make the bad touch of performance appraisal season go away.

First off, I find the lack of proper pints, even American half-assed standard pints, in Australia disturbing.  I understand that the scorching summer heat and what it does to beer is why all the bottles are stubbies and the bars pour at the same diminished volume.  What it tells me is that Australia is in desperate, perhaps medical, need for Steins of Science to keep beer properly cold.  It also makes some of the tales of Australian drinking excess I’ve heard over the years a little less impressive when you realize a beer is only 285ml (10 fl.oz.) and how someone could go through a case with ease.

Let us discuss the Australian, specifically Sydney, “pub”.  I use the quotation marks because having visited a good chunk of the anglophone world, I can say with some confidence that the term pub is generally a smallish, dark, but welcoming place where delicious beer and a limited menu is available (foods primarily of the “can you fry this?” nature).  It is inhabited by the locals because it is stumbling distance from home.  In short, it is a home away from home when you want beer and other people just to remind you the human race is still on and not lost.  This could be why Warren Ellis spends so much time haunting his pub to get writing done.

In America, well…the West and South at least, we did not come by pubs naturally until relatively recently as Prohibition caused a drinking/eating culture discontinuity.  Many of our modern pubs are calculated marketing replicas of England and Ireland’s rather than coming by that character naturally with time.  When you find a place that has accreted the necessary detritus dictated by the tastes of the owner and the clientele, truly wonderful things happen.  See also: The Warehouse Cafe in Port Costa, CA.  We are a poor and benighted people, easily distracted by McDonalds french fries, but we’re trying.

On the two occasions that someone in Australia suggested going to a “pub” and specifically used that word (the Pennant Hills Inn and a place in Mona Vale that has already faded from memory), I was quite surprised by the sprawling size of the places.  This was not a pub, it was the mutant hybrid of a beirgarden and an Ikea cafeteria.  This is not to say the food or beer were bad (actually quite good) but it was some expectation mismatch.  The Kirribilli Hotel, The Local Taphouse and most definitely the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel fit the normal mold.  I think it would be quite easy to lose entire days into the Lord Nelson and it’s beers.

LORD NELSON HOTEL ASIDE: When I was at the bar ordering drinks, one of the people at a table next to where we were sitting leaned over to my girlfriend and asked “Excuse me, are you American?” Since we were waiting to meet a lucky test subject and give her 2L of Ethiopian BBotE, she thought we’d finally found our contact.  She responded in the affirmative.  When I got back to the table, I was asked how I got my Mythbusters t-shirt because the one I was wearing is only given to crew & staff.  I told him that got it for volunteering to do redhead ice bath torture on their “No Pain, No Gain” episode.  He thew himself back in his chair and said “I knew I recognized that hair!  Spent an awful lot of time staring at it during editing.  Hi, we work for Mythbusters.”  Small world…

Anyway, a Steinwielder Mark in Canberra gave me a list of beers to try while I was in Australia.  I was not able to find everything on his list, but that’s okay because I supplemented it with quite a few other things.  These were notes taken whilst drinking, so standards of insobriety were upheld.  Transcribing is a bit difficult however:

Knappstein Reserve Lager – strangely orange/citrus on first taste, and a peppery after taste several sips in.  Enjoyed in at the “pub” in Mona Vale.  The name escapes me now.  See, I’m already forgetting things.

James Squire Golden Ale – very pleasant fruity flavor with a hint of char from the malt.  I obviously liked it because my notes say I had five of them.

Coopers Sparkling Ale – light and refreshing, but I prefer the Coopers 62 far more.

Coopers 62 – clean and fruity.  Went away remarkably fast, dammit.

Little Creatures Bright Ale – A bit bitter at first, but grew on me by the 3rd sip.  After that had about six of them at the wedding.  Addictive little buggers.

Blue Tongue Pilsner – skunky wheat flavor.  No thank you.

Blue Tongue Lager – very skunky smell, but the flavor quickly turns sweet on the tongue.

Mercury Sweet Cider – appallingly sweet, felt like was exhaling granny smith apples.

Mercury Dry Cider – Brut champagne.  Very, very dry as advertised.  I like it.

Lord Nelson Old Admiral – caramel aftertaste.  Despite claims to being heavily hopped, they’re barely noticeable by Californian standards.  We are insane.  Had 3.

Toohey 5 Seed Extra Dry Cider – very tart, not dry, green apple flavor.  Feh.

Fat Yak – very fruity nose, “golden” flavor with even more meaty, fruity flavor.  Apricots?  Had 4.

The “Playa Grade” Stein Of Science

A while ago, sometime in the vicinity of February in the warm and boozy cocoon of the Forbidden Island tiki lounge, I seem to have promised a certain burner that I would figure out how to make a Stein of Science that could stand up to Black Rock City.  She declared the idea of loading up the stein in the morning with a cold beer, tromping around all day, and still having a cold beer in there to be perhaps the best possible thing EVAR.  I may have been a scorpion bowl or two deep into the evening and with a pshaw or two, I said that it shouldn’t be a problem and I’d get right on that.

Fast forward five months to this week.  Project Status Report – Diddily/Squat, to quote one of my favorite Bloom County strips.  UNTIL TODAY!

You see, the problem has primarily been a matter of creating a lid that:

  1. Was sufficiently airtight to not let dust sneak in.
  2. Was sufficiently watertight to not leak the delicious beverage that it is keeping cold.
  3. 1 & 2 remained so with a little bit of playa dust accumulation.
  4. Did not completely defeat the thermal properties of the dewar.

First efforts revolved around trying to cannibalize an existing airtight sealing top and adapting it to the stein.  This was a failure mainly due to the dewar’s internal dimensions not particularly matching any other extant vessel.  I do have a lovely variety of bailtop preserve jars for my kitchen to preserve…something…in I guess.

Other identified problems involved that the average airtight lid would turn the stein interior into a greenhouse while out on the playa.  Dewars are exceptionally good at keeping a constant temperature, but if you intentionally add more thermal energy it’s going to keep that too.

Working from a very simple baffled pancake design of silicone and HDPE (if it’s good enough to build chemistry labs out of, it’s good enough for my steins), I think I have a functional lid design and ordered some bits to start experimenting with.  If all goes well, I hope to have something to throw out to the world by mid-August.  But to answer these three questions right away:

  1. No, it won’t have a straw hole.  A straw through the top and down into your beverage introduces an opportunity to leak, collect playa grit and, most importantly, is a thermal short circuit from the outside world directly into your drink.
  2. Yes, I’ll sell the lid separately.  But for the sake of the sanity of your safety people, DO NOT fill a dewar with liquid nitrogen and use one of these lids.  The foam lids that dewars normally come with are vented so that expanding vapor can escape.  This lid is intended for beverages in the desert, not LN2 in the lab.
  3. Of course, the Playa Grade Stein of Science will come with a carabiner.  It would hardly be Playa Grade without one.  Dur.

And now the three rums and Coke is gone.  Perhaps another is in order.  Perhaps bed.  Hmmm…

A Caffeine Clarification

In response to an urgent missive that asked if I was adding an extra caffeine to BBotE (or, perhaps, massive quantities of speed) I must answer with a most emphatic “No”. He took a 50ml belt around 10pm before heading out the clubs, was still dancing long after the bar closed and, after willing himself to sleep sometime around 8am, woke up without the usual trashed feeling he got from his usual “Club Power Ups”.

Incidentally, I think someone’s been playing a bit much Mario.

While BBotE may indeed by the club drug of the future (new ad copy: “The dance-all-night pep of meth, but delicious and without losing teeth”), the only thing I’ve got in BBotE is what I can extract from the beans. Experience from environmental clean up operations tells me that nothing tends to grow well in the soils contaminated with methamphetamine and the precursor chemicals, so the bean growers around the world probably aren’t lacing their beans with it.

The average coffee bean has somewhere between 10-20mg of caffeine in it, depending on varietal.  By comparison, the average 8oz cup of drip coffee has approximately 120mg of caffeine.  The is speaks to the efficiency of the normal extraction techniques as I somewhat expect that we all use more than six beans to make a cup of coffee.

So, no, there is no need to add extra caffeine.  There is plenty there to work with in the beans, you just have to work a bit to get at it.  Besides, the happy days of getting reagent grade chemicals by mail order is receding further into the sunset.  Alas…

More Awesome For The Entire World

My time in Australia and New Zealand taught me several important lessons:

1) Winter is the best time to visit the antipodes.  Most of the unpleasant wildlife is hiding from the elements.  Humans, luckily, have mastered pants technology and can cope with inclement weather.  Sadly, winter does limit the scantily clad on display.  Take the good with the bad, I suppose.

2) Asia and Australia go to New Zealand to ski in austral winter.  Sure, they have their own snow at that time of year, but New Zealand’s is nicer.  Late June/late July is not yet peak season so good deals are still available for lodging.  Cheap flights…less so.

3) New Zealand’s immigration/customs authority has gotten less friendly since I last visited 7 years ago after spending a year in Antarctica.  They are quite stringent about you providing proof of a departing flight and a visa to prove that you can go where said flight declares as its destination.  It seems that some cheeky monkeys discovered that quite a deal could be had by buying a one way ticket to New Zealand and then letting the Kiwis pick up the tab for sending them home by deportation.  Not likely to permit you a return visit, but good value travel.

Now, on to more salient observations about beer.

I am to shocked to report that for the majority of establishments in Australia, their default serving size is a 330 fl.oz. (AKA half imperial pint) glass.  This left my Stein of Science regularly half full and me pouting for more beer.  I attribute this to the harsh summers of Australia where serving more than a half pint of beer at a time would leave it warm and unpleasant before the drinker completed their glass.  It is a natural response, I suppose, when a superior drinking vessel is unavailable.

New Zealand, however, has hewed more closely to their cool Brittanic roots and still serves in proper imperial pints.  The United States has no excuse for the bastardization “standard pint” that we serve.  To me, it is as if the founding fathers are gypping me out of beer every time I go to the bar here.

However, the time of want for superior drinking vessel and BBotE is at an end!  Behold, the new international listings!  (edit: since superseded with a superior shipping module, all you have to do is enter you address anywhere in the world) The time has come, fair is fair…no longer must Australia suffer at the hands of warm beer, baked to 45 degrees just as Midnight Oil once sang.  You too may enjoy a beer or cocktail that maintains a nicely chilled temperature.

Oh, and the rest of the world, this applies to you too.

P.S. – Still working on the bulk shipping option to other lands.  A 12 pack of 1L bottles seems to be a bit heavier than the US Postal Service wants to cope with. More news as it becomes available.