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.