Get the low down on Down Under beer
Added: Monday, March 19th 2012
Ultimate Beer Guide Australia & New Zealand, LipCORP Publishing
There’s far more to Australian beer these days than Foster’s and Castlemaine. A growing number of Aussie drinkers couldn’t give a XXXX for bland, near-frozen lagers. The same goes for New Zealand, where Steinlager no longer refreshes the taste buds of discriminating Kiwi beer drinkers.
Mass produced brands still dominate the market and Victoria Bitter – which is a lager, not a bitter – is the Number One beer in Australia and sponsor of the national cricket team. But there are now 120 small craft brewers in the country, while New Zealand has more small brewers per head than any other country in the world.
The craft brewers are not attempting to challenge the hegemony of the national brands -- they have neither the marketing muscle nor the dollars to do so. They are carving out a different route: offering top-quality beer for local markets, often operating as brewpubs and restaurants.
The craft beer scene Down Under is aided by the substantial number of writers who take a keen interest in the subject. And TV chefs, unlike most of their British counterparts, are not sniffy about beer. At the International Beer Awards in Melbourne in 2010 I had the pleasure of appearing on stage with Paul Mercurio, who not only hosted the event but also regularly features beer on his TV show and is the author of Cooking with Beer.
The beer scene Down Under now has a splendid book that acts as a guide to all the breweries in Australia and New Zealand. The Ultimate Beer Guide is the brainchild of David Lipman, a fervent supporter of the craft brewing movement. He has twice staged a national festival, Beer Expo, in Melbourne, and publishes the influential Beer & Brewer magazine that covers not just the commercial brewing scene but is a mine of information about home brewing, too. Most Aussies wisely live around the coast but for those inland, where pubs are as rare as a snowy day, brewing at home is an essential part of life.
The guide cleverly manages to be a coffee table book that, in paperback form, is easily transportable. It’s packed with ravishing full colour images of the two countries, interweaved with equally fascinating photos of breweries, pubs and restaurants, where great beer is matched with fine food.
A trawl through the book shows that, as with the United States, craft brewers are keen to go beyond conventional styles and offer a great diversity of beers. Chuck Hahn, the American godfather of craft brewing in Australia, introduced drinkers to the delights of a true Pilsener at his Malt Shovel Brewery in Camperdown on the outskirts of Sydney. As a result, many brewers in both countries are producing Pils that prove that cold-fermented lagers can have aroma and taste rather than syrupy fizz.
There are many interpretations of India Pale Ale and pale ale, in both British and American versions: American-style pale ales, in common with the beers produced in the northern hemisphere, zing with tart, citrus hops character. In spite of the climate, brewers are not shy in making dark beer, ranging from porters and stouts to such darker lager styles as Bock. When I dropped in on Chuck Hahn at Matilda Bay in 2011, bottles of Porter were clanking round on the bottling line (which goes anti-clockwise in that part of the world), proving that Australian beer drinkers are not afraid of the dark.
One of the most remarkable outlets for good beer and food in Australia is the Redoak Boutique brew restaurant in the heart of Sydney. It’s the country’s most awarded small brewery – awards that have been won by the passion David Hollyoak has for brewing and the brilliance of his sister Janet in matching his brews with food of the highest quality. David’s wife is Belgian, which explains why he has added to his portfolio beers that have the addition of cherries, blackberries, raspberries, lemon myrtle, spices and honey.
In the Mornington Peninsula region of Victoria, David and Karen Golding’s Red Hill Brewery offers Golden Ale, Scotch Ale, Imperial Stout and Weizenbock, all matched by excellent tucker in the on-site restaurant. With a name like Golding, they just had to grow hops, and a small hop garden alongside the brewery produces German and British varieties, including – naturally – Goldings. Snooty wine makers objected to a brewery being built in the area but now they drop into Red Hill after a hard day tending the vines for great-tasting beers packed with the flavour of the hop bine.
It’s easy to sample the beers of Australia and New Zealand with a guide that is broken down in to the states and regions of both countries. If you’re planning to go Down Under in search of good beer, don’t leave home without it.
*$24 Australian dollars plus post and packing from: www.beerandbrewer.com/books