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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beer in Australia: Cairns Pt. 1

This is the fourth installment in the Australian trip series.  Read the previous post titled Beer in Australia: Melbourne Pt. 2. 

After Melbourne, Nicole and I flew to the Outback and Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, home of Australia’s most famous geological standout— Uluṟu/Ayers Rock.  Oddly enough, Kata Tjuṯa/Mount Olga is a nearby formation that is bigger in area, height, and Aboriginal sacredness but, for some reason, it never hit it big in the European-descendant demographic.  I think I can see the reason why, though.  Being such a monolithic structure makes Uluṟu a little more impressive than the conglomeration that is Kata Tjuṯa. 
Uluṟu/Ayers Rock

Kata Tjuṯa/Mount Olga

Like many a Coloradoan, I’m easily moved by the grandeur of nature. The formations in Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park are no exception.  Even while other tourists jabbered on about Lady Gaga and other such nonsense in a tone loud enough to be heard in New Zealand, I was still able to have a meditative moment on the sunrise tour of Uluṟu.  Such is its spiritual power.  My only complaint about this leg of the trip is that we didn’t spend enough days exploring the surrounding landscape.

When we weren’t taking in the sights we were hanging out at the small cluster of accommodations and restaurants located a few miles from the rock.  Before dinner one night I decided it was time to crack open two of the beers I picked up at The Local Bottlestore & Provisions. 

Pacific Ale
Stone & Wood's Pacific Ale (4.4% ABV) is unfiltered so it has the cloudy appearance that is so familiar to the process.  It is a pale yellow—almost pastel—and it looks a bit like a Belgian wit.  A rocky, bubbly white head tops off the beer.  Pacific Ale has yeasty, zesty scents as well as a pungent passion fruit or grapefruit aroma.  According to Nicole: “It smells like Hawaii.”  The fruitiness is apparent on the tongue but it’s not as obvious as it is on the nose.  There is also a yeasty undertone and little to no bitterness; this beer is all about showcasing the fruit flavors that linger and tingle on the back of the tongue.  In terms of mouthfeel, Pacific Ale is dry, dry, dry.  Dry as the Outback I was drinking it in.  It’s downright arid: a desert.  It is probably the driest beer I have ever had as well as one of the best Aussie beers I’ve ever had.   

Hop Hog
Next, I popped the top off of Hop Hog American IPA (5.8% ABV) from Feral Brewing Company.  Looking at Hop Hog reminded me of Avery IPA: it’s a slightly foggy, dark, golden yellow.  Also like Avery IPA is the fact that you can smell the hops from two feet away.  This is definitely a slap-yer-face American IPA.  The hops smell Cascade-esque and have a grapefruit essence.  When it comes to the flavor, well, it’s not exactly easy drinking nor is it as harsh as, say, Modus Hoperandi.  It’s at a medium-level of bitterness; even the usual bite in the back of the mouth is a lot mellower than most IPAs.  In short, there are no KO hop punches, just kidney punches.  I must admit, I liked this beer quite a bit.  This is an instance where a foreign brewery did a fairly good job of replicating an American style.  My hat is off to you, Feral Brewing.

Our final stop on our Australian adventure was Cairns (to pronounce like an Aussie, disregard the “i” and “r”): a perpetually warm city near the rainforest and Great Barrier Reef.  By the time we landed and settled in at our hotel the sun was beginning to set and we were in need of some snacks and suds.  Blue Sky Brewery is where we set our sights.

Blue Sky is in an open-walled courtyard type of setting with a small bar and seating area located just off of the sidewalk and a larger bar and seating area set back into the niche.  We bellied-up to the larger bar, I ordered an IPA (I didn’t write down its proper name and it’s not on the website because it’s not a flagship beer—it might have been Big Hitter), and we took a seat off to the side.

IPA (maybe)
The IPA is mostly clear but with a hint of haze.  The color is that of darkish gold or, perhaps, fool’s gold.  I was quite surprised when I took a big whiff and detected nary a hop aroma.  It was, instead, bready.  There was a much stronger yeast profile than a hop profile which is mighty peculiar for an IPA.  The flavor continues the trend of deception: almost no hop bite.  Sure, the hops are there but they’re tamed to such an extent that they can scarcely be called the centerpiece of the beer.  There is also a lemony quality to the beer.  The overall impression I got was that it is less an IPA and more an unusually hoppy Pilsner.  Did I even get the right beer I wondered.  I didn’t pay really close attention during the pour so it is definitely a possibility that the bartender might have been pulling on the pilsner tab instead of the IPA.  Miscommunications resulting from hurdling the dialect barrier could have occurred or perhaps the bartender just wasn’t paying attention to her hands. Other instances of seemingly misplaced beers at Blue Sky eventually led me to believe that a beer switch-up was likely the case.  Probably.  More on that in a later post.

Beer dork that I am, I was making quite the show of assessing my beer by holding it up to the light and in front of a white piece of paper.  Not surprisingly, this turned a few heads.  One such head belonged to Todd, an employee of Blue Sky and the man who was about to proctor the Believe it or Not bar trivia.  Politely, but with obvious curiosity, he asked what in the Sam Hill I was doing.  After a quick explanation I handed him my card, he handed me Tess’s card (she being the Advertising & Marketing Manager for the brewery) so that we might get in contact and get an insider’s view of Blue Sky, and thus set in motion a series of events that eventually capped off our Aussie journey (do be patient, dear reader, for these events will unfold before your eager eyes through my most masterful storytelling).

And, hell yes, we participated in the pub trivia.  If you don’t know me but have read this blog then you can be assured of three things: I like beer, I like roller coasters, and I like pub trivia.  Just like at the Mitre Tavern, we placed second.  The killing round was the sports round; it was almost exclusively about cricket, rugby, and Aussie-rules football.  To a couple of Americans, these sports look like the bastard children of Quidditch and Calvinball so, needless to say, we floundered.  We did, however, get the bonus round correct and walked out of Blue Sky with a free six-pack of Blue Sky Pilsner (4.5% ABV).  Sweet.
Cairns Gold

During the game I enjoyed a Cairns Gold (3.3% ABV).  This time I know I got the right beer because they served it in a “stubbie” AKA bottle.  I know that in America we call short bottles stubbies but it seems that all bottles in Australia share this designation.  Cairns Gold is very clear and has the color of dark champagne.  It is the color that non-beer geeks associate with beer.  A floral hop aroma is pretty easy to root out (yes, Aussie readers, I know what “root” means to you but I’m writing to a predominately American audience so get your mind out of the gutter).  These floral hops have an interesting effect on the taste; the beer is not bitter but possesses a sweet, flowery, and fruity flavor that is reminiscent of eating a honeysuckle.  I would pin the causes of the flowery and fruity flavors on the hops and the sweetness on the malts.
True Blue

The final beer I had before departing was True Blue Stout (6.4 % ABV), a beer that, I think, is suffering from an identity crisis.  The colors are right for a stout: dark, chestnut brown, red highlights, and an off-white head.  The aroma, however, is slightly off.  It has a very mild smell and it’s not very roasty.  It smells, instead, like the sweet malts found in a nut brown ale.  The flavor redeems True Blue to some extent; it does taste a little bit like a stout with a mild roast flavor and light coffee and dark chocolate aftertaste. It also has a tiny base of bitter that sits in the back of the tongue.  However, as I drank, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was also tasting the nutty flavors of a brown ale.  Whatever redemption was in the flavor was taken away by the mouthfeel; True Blue is too dang light to be a stout.  It’s not heavy and it’s not thick and creamy.  A stout should feel like a meal, this beer was just too thinned out.  It tasted quite good, though; I just don’t believe it’s being marketed correctly.  My advice to Blue sky: re-brand True Blue as a brown and then formulate a new, monstrously thick recipe for a stout and serve that sucker on nitro.

We have more to talk about including a rainforest trip, snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, and a lot more interactions with the fine folks at Blue Sky.  Stay tuned for more.



I think Chris summed up the highlights of Ayer’s Rock. However, I will add a couple of things about the wildlife. Our hotel warned us of the presence of giant centipedes and to keep our luggage zipped at all times. Luckily, we did not see any giant centipedes but we did see some large spiders hanging out in their webs. I am not sure what kind they were because I couldn’t handle looking at the spider identification book long enough to figure it out. As we walked to some of the lookouts we saw some tracks that could possibly have been dingo tracks. During our sunrise tour we were told to keep a lookout for camels. Unfortunately, we only saw a dead one by the side of the road. It still amazes me how large they are
Wicked Cider

After the outback we were off to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. The reef was the main reason I wanted to visit Australia. As a science teacher, I wanted to be able to use the reef as examples in my classroom using pictures and firsthand experience. When we arrived in Cairns, I used the GPS on my phone to look for places to eat dinner. One of the places that showed up on the map was the Blue Sky Brewery. Chris, of course, was excited to visit the brewery. I was happy to see that Blue Sky had their own cider so I could continue my quest to review Australian ciders. The Wicked Apple Cider (5% ABV) holds the tagline “Be Tempted – It’s Wickedly Cool” and the label displays a naked siren surrounded by snakes. The Wicked Apple is champagne in color. It is clear with several bubbles. The aroma is that of tart apples, such as Granny Smith, with a light apple flavor and a hint of tartness. The cider is smooth, crisp and refreshing.



  1. Hey Guys,

    Glad you enjoyed the Hop Hog and the Stone & Wood Pacific Ale.

    Hope you had a great time in Melbourne.

    James (The Local BottleStore/ Taphouse)

  2. Thank YOU, James. That's a great place you got there in St. Kilda. It was cool to see Colorado breweries like Left Hand and Avery represented at the Taphouse.

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