"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Beer in Australia: Melbourne Pt. 1

This is a continuation from Beer in Australia: Sydney.  Please read that post before reading this one.After wringing out our clothes from the apocalyptic deluge, we put Sydney in our rearview mirror and set our sights on Melbourne.

The first thing we did after arriving at our accommodations was to get our bearings.  Melbourne is little more difficult to navigate than Sydney because of its lack of prominent landmarks: no giant bridges, no pointy opera houses, no large bodies of water.  However, downtown is on a simple grid system and the tram system is pretty straightforward so it didn’t take long to procure a basic understanding of the city.

Our first stop in the city was the Portland Hotel, a historic, downtown hotel that houses, among other businesses, the James Squire Brewhouse—one of several breweries in Australia with the James Squire designation.  Yes, it is a chain brewery but chain breweries aren’t necessarily bad.  There is merit to the argument that chains lessen the uniqueness of the beer due to the fact that it is available in several locations and it is true that chain breweries do not have a local vibe but, if the beer is of high quality, do these complaints really matter?  Actually, even I can’t fully convince myself that it doesn’t matter at least a little but, in truth, the buck stops at the taste buds; good beer is good beer.  Besides, even though James Squire has a set line-up of beer that is the same throughout the country, each location also has one or two unique beers that are brewed in-house and are only available at that single branch.  I’ll also give the brewery kudos for naming their company after something as cool as a beer-brewing convict.

The first beer I had was one of those unique, in-house beers: Portland Pale Ale.  Portland is a clear, pale yellow.  Due to this paleness, at a glance, one might think they were looking at a Belgian wit.  One whiff would certainly dispel any confusion, though; the faint floral hints present in this beer are standard in the average Aussie-style pale ale.  Also keeping in line with the style is the light hop flavor.  There is a little hoppiness to the beer but it is hardly the punch in the face that we American beer geeks are so used to.  Furthermore, what hints of hop the beer does have are fleeting; you can’t taste them ten minutes after your last swallow like in an American version.  The malts are also quite effective in cowing the hops.  This particular pale ale also featured some sweetness to accompany the bitterness.  As per the Aussie pale ale norm, Portland finishes dry.
The next beer I ordered was Speculator American Pale Ale.  In Colorado, we make beers that reflect cultures from around the world.  We have English pale ales (e.g. DPA from Great Divide), Scottish ales (e.g. 90 Shilling from Odell), Mexican ambers (e.g. Mañana from Del Norte), and Belgian ales (e.g. most of the offerings at New Belgium).  I ordered Speculator because I was curious to see how another country did our beer.  Speculator is a clear copper color and it is a little bit hazy.  So far, it’s on par with what I know about American pale ales.  The hop aroma is perhaps a tad bit weak but it is close enough to make the grade.  The hops have a grapefruit essence to them.  It is in the taste where things start to go astray.  Speculator, in my opinion, is too malty; it deteriorates the bitterness.  The hops are there, though.  They’re just not in-your-face; it’s a hop love tap rather than a hop punch.  The bitterness does, however, have a tendency to stick in the drinker’s mouth for awhile like so many an American pale ale.  Speculator doesn’t exactly make the drinker slobber but it’s certainly wet when compared with Portland’s dry finish.  The verdict: it’s a darn decent beer but it couldn’t go toe-to-toe with its U.S. counterparts.  Maybe I’m being too nationalistic and propagandizing my country’s beer but I’m sure I’m not the only one.  Tell me how many Irish will admit that Left Hand Milk Stout is as good as Guinness.  That’s what I thought.

In addition to great beer, James Squire also has great bartenders.  One was a fellow from Albuquerque (small world) but he wasn’t our main server so we didn’t get to talk to him much.  However, we were able to chat with the Aussie bartender for quite some time.  It was he who explained the fundamental differences between an Aussie pale ale and an American.  He was also kind enough to give us some local tips on other local breweries and craft beer bars.  Best of all, he had 2010 version of The Beer Lovers Guide to Australia that he flat-out gave to us for free because he knew we were beer geeks.  Thanks, mate.  Whatever they’re paying you aint enough. 
After James Squire, we walked around the city with no particular purpose.  We ambled about looking for neat architecture (and a bathroom for me) and eventually found ourselves at the train depot and Etihad Stadium where they play Australian-rules football AKA “footy.”  When I was studying in New Zealand, I caught about a five minute glimpse of footy on TV and, although I had no idea what was going on, I was intrigued.  Before we left for Australia I tried to research any games that might be happening when we were in town but I wasn’t having any luck; I wasn’t even sure if the sport was in season.  Nonetheless, we walked to the stadium to at least get a few pics. 

Along the way we happened upon a sidewalk stand selling North Melbourne Kangaroos gear.  Well, if we couldn’t go to game we could at least get a souvenir shirt.  Footy is Australia’s most popular sport so a shirt with a team logo is a more authentic souvenir than, say, a Hard Rock shirt or something with a koala on it.  I got the retro logo shirt because it looked a lot like my retro Colts shirt.  After purchasing my shirt I turned to leave and heard the cashier say, “Enjoy the match!”

Eh?  There’s a match today?

We scurried over to the ticket booth and, sure enough, the game was in the middle of the second quarter.  Again, footy is a very popular sport in Australia and I wanted to be a part of something uniquely Aussie so we purchased two cheap seats and hurried up the ramps.

At first, we still had no idea what the hell was going on down on the field but we still enjoyed the action.  Eventually, we asked some other spectators what it was, exactly, that we were watching.  After getting the basic concepts down, we enjoyed the game a whole lot more.  I won’t bore you with an explanation but it’s basically a sport unlike any other sport because it is a combination of all sports; it’s rugby, soccer, basketball, and volleyball all mixed into one.  The ‘Roos won the match so I guess you could say they’re my favorite footy team (I did buy the shirt, afterall).  But, I guess I’ll count the opponents—the Brisbane Lions—as my second-favorite team since it was Lions fans that explained the game to us.  So, if you like nonstop action and athletic men in shorty-shorts then give footy a try.  Of course, I still like my American-rules football the best:  bigger hits and some semblance of strategy (footy looks like pee-wee soccer what with everybody on the field fighting over the ball like it’s a greased pig).
Roos V. Lions
Using our newly acquired book, we looked up Saint & Rogue, a craft beer bar and restaurant.  There I had Little Creatures Pale ale (5.2% ABV), a clear, Jurassic Park mosquito-trapped-in-amber colored beer.  Based on the aroma, I could tell that this was the hoppiest Aussie pale ale I have had to date.  It was a bit piney on the nose.  Alas, the aroma misleads for, on the tongue, the hops are very mild: no kick, no bite, no fire breath.  There is, perhaps, a bit of malty sweetness to the beer as well.  Little Creatures Pale ale leaves the mouth salivating after each sip.
Little Creatures Pale Ale
We did a lot of stuff in Melbourne.  Stay tuned for Melbourne Pt. 2.


I have one last note about Sydney that I forgot to mention in the last update. What goes through your mind when you walk into a bar at 11 am and see a man dressed as a pirate? Well, this is what happened when we arrived at Lord Nelson’s. The fun continued when a group of four walked in looking for this pirate as part of a team-building scavenger hunt. They proceeded to sing a crazy song, dance around, shake their booties at us, bribe us with chocolate money, and ask us to rate their dance.

When we first arrived in Melbourne there was a brief break from the rain. As we walked to the James Squire Brewery in the Portland Hotel, we passed a store called Lorna Jane. They sell workout clothes for women and will be opening a store in LA soon. Of course, I had to stop and take a picture and buy a gift for my mom, Lorna Jane. It is rare to see the name Lorna except for the Lorna Doone cookie.

James Squire Cider
Once at James Squire, I looked at the chalkboard with the list of brews. I found something that is not common on tap in the US (or maybe I just never noticed): cider. As we went to more breweries and bottleshops AKA liquor stores, I noticed that locally brewed cider is a main staple. So, I decided that, for the remainder of my time in Australia, I would focus on cider rather than beer. I didn’t write down the name of the cider at James Squire but I do remember that there were two. If you go, have both as I am sure they are both delicious. The cider that I had was tart with a taste like a white wine. It had no distinct aroma. It was clear in color with a light haze and lots of bubbles. I came to the conclusion that I was going to enjoy my cider critiquing experience. I paired my drink with some fish and chips which was pretty tasty. Another thing that I learned about Australian breweries is that they offer glass sizes other than the pint. They have a smaller glass called a port (also called a schooner) that is about half the size of the pint glass. This is perfect if you want to try multiple brews, but don’t want consume so much liquid.

Nightscape of Melbourne

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