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attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Beer in Australia: Cairns Pt. 2

This is the fourth and final installment in the Australian series.  Please read Beer in Australia: Sydney, Beer in Australia: Melbourne Pt. 1, Beer in Australia: Melbourne Pt. 2, and Beer in Australia: Cairns Pt. 1 before reading this post.

The next day we visited Kuranda, a village in the rainforested hills outside of Cairns.  There really isn’t much to say about Kuranda other than it’s just a big tourist shop.  The one interesting part of this off-shoot excursion was BatReach, a bat rehabilitation shelter with a focus on the native fruit bat.  Some people have an aversion to bats but I honestly can’t see why.  Have you ever seen a fruit bat up close?  They look like flying puppies.  How could you hate that?  Your heart would melt if you saw the cookie-eating bat that hung nonchalantly on the finger of the lady running the program.  When the lady was tired of holding it, she’d just put the little rascal on the edge of a patio table and it would hang there and wait to be picked up again.  It was adorable and I want one.
After BatReach, we noticed a ton of wild fruit bats hanging out in Cairns

The next day our tour sent us to snorkel at Green Island.  That was a miserable trip.  I have an ironclad stomach but even I was queasier than a freshman at a frat party as our overcrowded vessel became airborne over every whitecap.  That, however, wasn’t even the worst part of the trip.  One would think that, being in the Great Barrier Reef, the exceptionally beautiful aquatic wildlife would justify the nauseating trip.  No such luck.  Go lay face down (or, for you hip internet kids, go “planking”) in your front lawn and you’ll get a near exact replica of what we saw that day: sea grass under ankle-deep water.  The only wildlife we saw were Japanese tourists who shrieked every time a piece of seaweed grazed their skin.

After the utter bummer of Green Island, we returned to Blue Sky Brewery to meet up with Tess and attend our VIP tour of the brewery (actually, they have public tours on a daily basis but those Aussies sure know how to make an American blogger feel like royalty).  We called upon Tess and, while we waited for her, I ordered a Reef Blonde (4.7% ABV).  There was a dialectical barrier between me and the bartender because I didn’t know what a “jug” was; I just knew that Reef Blonde in a jug was on special.  Long story short, I received a pitcher of beer that I needed to chug in about five minutes.  At least it’s a low-carb beer.

Tess arrived about halfway through the pitcher so we chit-chatted about breweries as I polished off my beer.  Of course, outside of the state, most people don’t know much about beer in Colorado beyond Coors.  Since I’m the self-proclaimed ambassador of Colorado beer, I talked up the state’s ales and lagers and did my best to explain their greatness to our Aussie hosts.  There’s no need to get hung-up on Coors when there’s over one hundred others to choose from. 

Our talk with Tess was a mutual learning experience.  We learned that, even though Blue Sky has only been open since 2008, it has already won 14 Australian International Beer Awards and its kingdom now includes a taproom at the Cairns Domestic Airport.  This business is booming; I hope it doesn’t bust. 
Blue Sky's airport location

We also learned that Green Island is a terrible place to snorkel and that only tourists who don’t know how to swim go there (I think we figured that out on our own, though).  Tess said it’s outer reef or nothing when snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and, coincidentally, Todd AKA Hot Toddy, our quizmaster from the other day, also worked for an outer reef dive company called Down Under Cruise & Dive.  Foreshadowing much? 

The pitcher was emptied so Tess handed us off to Sean (there are so many ways to spell this name that I’m going to try and use all possible variations and hope I get it right at least once), our friendly Canadian guide and Blue Sky’s apprentice brewer.  Shawn took us to the brewing room and gave us the spiel on grains, hops, cleaning the kettles, the bottling line (very tiny for a brewery of this size), and making cider.  Shaun was also nice enough to give us an additional copy of The Beer Lovers Guide to Australia.  We really raked in the schwag on this trip! 

The tour was nice by any standard but the most memorable moment involved a urinating man (stay with me).  In the men’s restroom, above the urinals, there is a picture window that looks into the brewing room.  I peeked between two fermenting tanks and noticed a man staring right at me.  I stared back until I realized he wasn’t staring at me, he was staring into that far-off land men go to when coaxing out a stubborn stream.  I, embarrassed, quickly looked away and hoped we wouldn’t have another encounter.

Seann led us back to the bar where he poured us a tasting paddle to sample on the house (at least, I think it was on the house; I don’t remember paying).  On our paddle was: FNQ Lager (4.4% ABV), Blue Sky Pilsner (4.5% ABV), IPA, Cairns Gold (3.3% ABV), Wheat, and True Blue Stout (6.4% ABV).  I’ve already reviewed Cairns Gold and True Blue in the previous post so go there for those tasting notes.  I’ve also reviewed the IPA, too, but I’ve got more to say on that.
From left to right: FNQ, Pilsner, IPA, Wheat or Gold (they were probably mixed up), & True Blue   

FNQ—or Far North Queensland—is clear and straw colored with a white head.  The sweet malt aroma is abundant on the nose.  In terms of taste and mouthfeel, FNQ is crisp and dry; a typical, easy-drinking summer beer that fits the light lager category quite well.  The viscosity, however, seems a bit more pronounced in this beer than in others of its type.  It could do with some lightening of the body.

I am torn on Blue Sky Pilsner.  I mentioned in the previous post that we won a six-pack of Pilsner at Blue Sky’s pub quiz which I took back to the hotel, cracked open, and poured into a glass.  I was, in a word, disappointed; it smelled like burned toast, the flavor was akin to something like Natural Ice, and it felt as thick as clam chowder.   Pilsners are supposed to be light and crisp, not thick and soupy, no sir!  There is, however, redemption for this beer because, on tap, it’s a whole new ballgame.  Pilsner on tap is light-bodied and clean tasting—everything this style of beer should be and everything it isn’t in a bottle.  Maybe I got a six-pack that had been sitting around too long.  It was free, you know.

I tried the IPA off of the paddle and I was sure, then, that I had indeed been given the wrong beer when I ordered an IPA the other day; there are too many discrepancies between the two tasting notes for them to be the same beer.  The beer Shon served me was clear, yellow-gold in color with a light hop and lemon aroma.  The flavor, likewise, was lemony and had a hop character that was milder than most IPAs but it still packed a bit of a wallop.  It had to have been the Pilsner I was drinking the other day—or not.  Maybe the glass was just too cold when I first had the IPA thus killing the power of the hops and leading me to believe I had been the victim of a beer switcheroo.  That’s possible, too, since I wrote both times that there was a lemon character to the beer.  In all honesty, I have no clue; I’m probably just over-thinking it.

The next beer on the paddle was supposed to be Cairns Gold but one of three things must have happened: Shaxwn (silent “x”) made the innocent mistake of switching up a beer or two, Chaun (“ch” making the “sh” sound like in the word cache) wanted to test our mettle as beer analyzers and see if we would notice the incongruity, or Cairns Gold tastes so different on tap than it does in a bottle that it turns into a wheat beer.  I’m going with the first possibility.

Blue Sky’s wheat beer is the best wheat I’ve ever had.  That may not be too impressive since I don’t like wheats but I still think that’s some pretty high praise.  I liked this beer because of its unique bubblegum flavor and aroma (if you think Dry Dock Brewing Co.’s Hefeweizen tastes and smells like bubblegum then you need to get a load of this).  It is light on the clove and banana acts as back-up to the bubblegum.

We thanked the crew at Blue Sky for their fantastic hospitality and went on our merry way until, after about two blocks, we realized that we had no plans for tomorrow and that’d we’d done everything we wanted to do in the city.  What were we to do with a whole 24 hours?  We thought Green Island sucked, the outer reef is supposed to be good, and Todd works for an outer reef dive company.  Math may not be my strong suit but I was starting to add things up.  We did a 180, found Todd, and set up a reservation for the next day’s excursion.

Let me say it again:  Green Island sucks.  You’d know that if you never went to the outer reef but you definitely know it when you’ve seen what else there is to explore.  In the outer reef, it’s deep enough to dive below the surface.  The fish are more abundant and colorful.  We saw two sea turtles, a small shark, and Wally the Maori wrasse (basically, a giant blob of a fish that always hangs out with the divers because the crew feeds him every time they drop anchor).  If you ever snorkel the Great Barrier Reef make absolutely sure you’re going on an outer reef tour.  Might I recommend Down Under Cruise & Dive?

Before I end this post I want to quickly review the remaining two beers I picked up at The Local Bottle Store &Provisions.
Icon 2IPA

Icon 2IPA (7.5% ABV) from Murray’s Craft Brewing Co. looks like murky apple juice and it has a thick head.  Funnily enough, it also smells a lot like apple juice.  Keeping with the theme, the flavor has hints of apple—the Red Delicious type.  After the initial fruit flavor, a hop buzz enters the scene.  It’s not too intense but it’s there.  Licking the foam off of your lips tastes like a mildly flavored apple candy.  Icon 2IPA gives the drinker an all-mouth coating although said coating is thin. 
The Ox

The Ox Imperial Stout (9.4% ABV) from Red Duck is black with brown highlights and features a mochaccino-colored head.  Chocolate aromas overpower coffee aromas and the sinus-clearing scent of alcohol is also present.  These notes stay true in the taste, too; the alcohol is so predominate it almost tastes like liquor more than beer.  One can taste a little of the chocolate up front but the burn of the alcohol makes concentrating on anything else difficult.  The Ox is quite light-bodied for a stout.  Possibly, the amount of alcohol in the beer thins it out.

That about sums up the trip.  Thanks to the bartenders at the Portland Hotel, the guys at The Local, and the staff at Blue Sky for giving our adventures in beer a local flair.  Thanks, also, to Australia in general for a great trip.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been neglecting my Colorado brews for too long and I’ve been meaning to reconnect.


Chris pretty much summed up the highlights of Kuranda. Although, there is Skyrail which allows you to travel above the treetops of the rainforest from Cairns to Kuranda but we didn’t take it.  We heard it is a cool ride, though. We also resisted the urge to buy a kangaroo nut sack bottle opener, flask, change purse, etc.

Sean from Blue Sky recommended Monteith Brewing Co.'s CrushedApple Cider.  I found a bottle at the local bottle shop and gave it a try. Many of the ciders brewed in Australia use a concentrate but Montheith’s still uses real apples. After buying the cider, I realized that it was actually brewed in New Zealand.  Australia and En Zed (that is NZ for those using the American English language) are pretty close, though, so I am still going to write about it. Monteith’s Crushed Apple Cider is clear with a champagne color and strong apple aroma. It almost smells and tastes like a sweet wine. This is probably one of my favorite ciders that I tried.
Crushed Apple Cider

The main reason that I travelled to Australia was to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef; the rest of the trip was icing on the cake. The first day at Green Island was frustrating. As someone that gets motion sick in a car, I was dreading the boat trip. When the guide told us that there was a high wind advisory, I was a little worried. To make things worse, I forgot the Dramamine in the hotel room. So, I found a seat and closed my eyes.  After about 5 minutes, people were grabbing barf bags like they were going out of style. I continued to keep my eyes closed and fight off the motion sickness.  About 90% of the people on the boat were getting sick and I did not want to be one of them. Thankfully, I made it to Green Island without getting sick but, the whole time we were on Green Island, the only thing I could think about was the boat ride back.

Our first attempt to snorkel resulted in Chris getting a coral-scraped belly and a lot of wasted time looking for a place that was deep enough to float. We went to the beach on the other side of the island and found a place to snorkel where we found a few cool fish but nothing too exciting. I have seen the same stuff snorkeling in Hawaii. The water was also a little on the cool side since it is winter in Australia. After about 45 minutes of looking at the same fish, I decided it was time to go back to shore.  At least the ride back to Cairns was not as bad and we caught a glimpse of a humpback whale.

After a disappointing day on Green Island, I was looking forward to our second day of snorkeling in the outer reef. Of course, the boat ride was just as miserable. At one point we looked out the window and saw nothing but water: no sky, no horizon, just water. But, when we finally got to the outer reef, you could tell that it was going to be amazing snorkeling. Rather than having to find a place to snorkel from a beach, we snorkeled right off the boat.  We saw sea turtles, a reef shark, an alligator gar (which got a little too friendly with Chris [Yeah, when Toddy threw a handful of fish at me when I was climbing the ladder ~ Chris] ), Nemo (or at least one of his cousins), and a whole bunch of other sea creatures. I can’t wait to see the pictures I took. On the boat ride home we saw another whale but this one gave us a little more of a show. I hope I can use these pictures in my classroom and talk about the changes that are happening to the reef.

On our last day in Australia we visited Port Douglas. Port Douglas is another “touristy” village with markets and shopping. It also has a scenic “Four-mile Beach” which was very beautiful. To pass the time in Port Douglas (after I made Chris stop into every shop and walk through the market twice), we stopped in the local Irish Pub. I ordered the Bulmer’s cider which I just looked up and learned it is an Irish Cider. I guess I will wait to review that until I visit Ireland. Next summer’s adventure?

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