Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

April 13, 2009

Beer Diary:

Gimme A Bite Of That Vegemite Sandwich

Only Eddie Glick could accidentally wind up in Australia. But since he’s there, he might as well try the local craft beer.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
Everyone is a goddamn comedian.

Although Jill’s description of the goings-on at headquarters is spot-on, her little joke about me being on “vacation” was high-larry-us.

You wanna hear about a “vacation,” helpfully defined by Jill, ex-librarian, as “a respite or a time of respite from something.” Well, here it is. I’m sure you won’t believe a word of it, but nobody’s paying you to read it.

So, remember cousin Dick Glick and his new bride Trixie, whose incredibly inconvenient wedding forced me to miss the Great Taste of the Midwest last year? Well, Dick’s dad, ornery Uncle Vick, up and keeled over nigh on a month ago at the ripe old age of 89. Even though he smoked multiple packs a day, drank rot-gut whiskey by the gallon, and never exercised a day in his life, no one saw this one coming. Anyway, trying to weasel out of an Irish wedding is one thing, but ducking an Irish funeral is just on the other side of impossible. If you were dead your friends and family would be getting grief for years about how you were such an inconsiderate asshole that you didn’t at least get to poor Uncle Vick’s wake, for Christ’s sake. So I didn’t even bother trying to put up a fight with Ma on this one.

I get sent out early to help organize because Dick is a moron and I’m the only one spry enough to move flower arrangements, apparently. But instead of flying into San Francisco, Ma gets me a transfer through Los Angeles, what may very well be the shittiest airport on the planet. To complicate (and, eventually, totally fuck up) matters, I have either the world’s worst cold or a mean-ass flu. And instead of being able to hide in the basement and nurse my illness with a couple pints of Founders Imperial Stout, I’ve gotta get on a plane. So, bleary-eyed, I grabbed some cold meds from the medicine cabinet, get to the airport, get on the plane (un-deplane, in flight attendant-ese), and pop what appear to be off-brand DayQuil tablets.


Not DayQuil-like pills. Instead, Slick’s muscle relaxers for his bad back. Why he keeps them in an unmarked tray in the medicine cabinet we will never know. What we do know is that a double dose of muscle relaxers for a guy whose idea of “hard” drugs are extra-strength ibuprofen will pretty much put said guy in a short-term, semi-waking coma.

I don’t even remember getting to LA. I don’t remember getting off the plane (deplaning) and getting onto my connecting flight. All I do remember is waking up feeling groggy but extraordinarily well rested. And well rested I should have felt, because I had just slept about 15 hours straight on a plane to fucking Australia.

That’s right. Somehow, some way, I got onto the wrong plane in LA. I didn’t even know such a thing was even possible. But there I was, standing in a line for customs with two thousand other smelly people in the Melbourne airport, with duty-free retailers badgering me to buy supposedly cheap magnums of Johnnie Walker Blue. After finding a pay phone (which, unlike here, Australia still has, and which take credit cards) I spent the next three hours on the phone with Ma figuring out what the Hell happened and how the Hell I was going to get back. Long story short: I was stuck in Melbourne for at least two days before Ma could talk with her travel agent to find me a flight back to the States.

(And, yes, I had my passport with me. Why? Because right before I left for the airport I “remembered” my driver’s license was expired, so I told Ma I couldn’t go out early after all because the new security restrictions won’t let you through without a current and valid ID. Upon which Ma yelled, without even pausing for thought, “Then take your goddamn passport that you got for going to Germany, you sneaky little shit!”)

So, in Melbourne, nothing to do, knowing nothing about either Australia or the city (apparently they speak English down there). What’s the best way to get to know a place in a hurry? Drink the beer.

Ma found me a hotel downtown, so I checked in and walked out. That 15-hour nap had pretty much nixed my cold, so a beer was definitely in order. I walked about two blocks when, lo and behold, I spied a business sign titled Beer Deluxe. What can I say: I’m lucky that way. (Especially if your definition of “lucky” is passing out and waking up in the wrong fucking country/continent/hemisphere/side of the international date line.)

I walk into the bar, and plop down onto an open bar stool right in front of the taps. (Again, lucky that way.) It so happens that I’m wearing my Goose Island t-shirt, so the bartender eyes me and says, “Since you’re wearing a beer shirt, you better be interested in our beer list.” Seriously, if you just silently read those words in an Aussie accent, that is exactly what the first bartender I met Down Under said to me.

So I explained that since I was stuck in Melbourne for a few days, I was duty-bound to sample the locally brewed beer. He pointed out a few of the taps, then went to grab the bottle list. By the time he’d gotten back, I’d already picked out my first beer: Otway Pilsner, from a tiny brewery in the Otway Ranges, in the state of Victoria.

The bartender said, “OK then, pot?”

“Um … just the beer, thanks.”

(I later learned, after several confusing exchanges, tap beer came in several sizes depending on the bar you’re at: a roughly 10-ounce “pot,” a mid-sized “schooner,” and a “pint,” which was either 16 or 20 ounces, depending on the bar.)

Maybe it was just because it was the first beer I had since my ordeal had began, or maybe it was I just hadn’t had a really good pilsner in such a long time, but this beer was fantastic: a big, welcoming Saaz hop pop in both the nose and finish, with a bright and crisp palate. It’s been a while since a beer tasted so good.

Beer Deluxe turned out to be a new, shiny, contrived-to-be-trendy beer bar that focused on Belgian imports. Although I love a good Belgian beer, I decided to focus on the brews I could only get in the land of Oz. I sampled a Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale, described as an “American style” pale ale. Meaning, of course, hoppy. Which it was (that is, compared to virtually all Australian brews; more on that later). But it was a decent pale ale, dark gold, with a big hop nose and sustained but not overwhelming bitterness, lending it a dry and bracing finish. One customer, an older chap, told the bartender: “It’s lovely.” Believe me, in an Australian accent it sounds even wussier than you’d think.

Also tried a James Squire IPA. (James Squire was an ex-convict who at the end of the 18th century became the first man able to grow hops in Australia. For this momentous achievement, the government awarded him a cow. Righteous bucks.) Although not nearly as hoppy as a good American IPA, the James Squire take had plenty of bitterness, Fuggle-like and earthy, with a small, biscuity malt profile to keep things dry.

The real standout, though, was from a brewery right there in Melbourne. Temple Saison was a straw-colored, light-bodied brew sporting a lemon-and-spice nose. The sipping was bright, crisp, and refreshingly tart, a beautiful, perfectly executed saison.

Over the next couple of nights I hit a few other spots around Melbourne, a large city—over three million—with a very European feel. The downtown area is tunneled with narrow alleys crammed with outdoor cafes and funky boutiques. I visited scruffy bars and hoity-toity taverns in search of Australian brews. Like Little Creatures Pale Ale, a light-bodied pale with a funky nose and tiny hop bite. Or Mountain Goat Hightail Ale, served “real” (cask-conditioned) with a nice hop nose and balanced malt/hop body. Another Otway brew, Prickly Moses, a summer ale, that turned out to be light and fruity, but ultimately weak and on the tasteless side. And another Mountain Goat, this time an organic IPA, which was quiet and complex, with a fruity nose and earthy, dry finish. And—after finding it on the internet while surfing on my hotel’s computer in the lobby—I had to hoof it out into the Southgate & Southbank neighborhood to investigate a site that tickled my Midwestern heart: Bell’s Brewery. It was actually a small hotel with a miniscule brewery somewhere in the back. Their only beer on tap was a pilsner, and it was so awful I couldn’t even finish it. Larry Bell doesn’t have anything to worry about.

Although Melbourne is a cool, laid-back, cosmopolitan city, I was glad to finally hear from Ma about getting back to the U.S. She called me at the hotel to tell me her travel agent wrangled a cheap ticket for me for the next day.

“Cool,” I said. “Where do I fly into?”


Hobart. My geography knowledge is pretty lame. “That’s in southern California, right?”

“No.” Long pause. “Tasmania. You’ve got a two-day layover there before flying back to LA.”

You have got to be fucking kidding me …

continued with Run For Your Lives! A Beer Dork Is On The Loose!

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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