Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

May 6, 2009

Beer Diary:

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

Lost in Australia, Eddie Glick wanders around Tasmania looking for beer.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
So there I was, stuck for a couple of days in Hobart, Tasmania, waiting for a flight back to the States. And if you’re as much of a dumbass when it comes to geography as I am, you’ll need someone to tell you that Tasmania isn’t its own country; it’s a state of Australia, along with Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, and the Northern Territory, which technically isn’t a state but a territory. And then there’s the Australian Capitol Territory, which is kind of like our Washington, D.C. without the Pentagon and the president of color … although one of their cabinet members was the lead singer of Midnight Oil. Man, I hated that fucking band.

But anyway, Tasmania is kind of isolated from mainland Australia, it being an island and all, and the rest of Australia tends to view Tasmanians the way Americans view West Virginians or the Spears family. No clue if that’s justified or not. Hell, all I knew about Tasmania was what I learned from watching Yahoo Serious's eternal classic, Young Einstein (a movie, that is, after all, about beer), and Bugs Bunny cartoons. But it turns out they make plenty of beer down there in Tasmania, some of which is pretty damn interesting.

First off, Tasmania is home to Australia’s oldest continuously operating brewery, Cascade, founded all the way back in 1824. They put out a whole range of brews, from their Export Stout (a decent stout with chocolate and roasty notes and a body that, while not huge, has some meat to it) to their Premium Lager (I wonder why it is that when it comes to beer, “premium” is synonomous with “tasteless macro swill”). I also tried their Bitter, a light brew with a tiny hop profile and a barely-there malt presence. The Cascade Pale is almost as light (maybe even lighter?) than the Premium Lager. It did have some body, a miniscule hop nose, and even a bit of earthy bitterness in the finish, but it was pretty weak for a pale ale.

Cascade and its adherents seemed to be locked in a north-south war with James Boag, the other big brewery on the island (Hobart, home of Cascade, is on the south end of Tasmania). I came across a few of Boag’s beers, like St. George, a watery, crystal clear, spittin’ image of American light lagers, and Draught, a brew that had a little more body, taste, and “beeriness” than the St. George, but otherwise pretty pointless. Wizard Smith Ale was far and away the best of the three: dark gold, with a dry malt and earthy hop nose; estery malt to start, but a subtle but distinct hoppiness to finish things off.

To find these brews I hit some old pubs scattered around the Battery Point neighborhood, the historical district of Hobart. These were seafaring taverns on the hills overlooking the city’s massive harbor. Once the haunt of countless sailors over the past century or so, they’re now blue collar local hangouts with rather mainstream beer lists. But my most interesting exploits were in a more touristy section of town at a place called Knopwoods Retreat, the best beer bar in Hobart (and formerly a brothel, back in the days of love and scurvy).

There I got my first taste of Moo Brew, a “boutique” brewery that was more like a side project for the Moorilla Estate vineyard outside of Hobart. Unfortunately, Moo Brew was living proof that not all craft beer is good. Their Pilsner was a bland lager devoid of any pronounced malt or any trace of hops. Dark Ale was just as watery, with just enough roasted malt added to provide a harsh, unpleasant finish. The best of the bunch that I tried (I couldn’t track down their Pale Ale or Imperial Stout) was the Hefeweizen. It poured an unfiltered straw color, but its head was wholly unimpressive. Instead of a banana/clove nose, all I got was sour hops. The sipping was better, with some hefe-like frutiness, with a light body and a crisp hop finish. Not a great Bavarian-style wheat, but drinkable.

At Knopwoods I also sampled a couple of brews from Ironhouse, another “boutique” brew from White Sands Estate along Tasmania’s east coast. I was unimpressed with their rather weak Porter, although their Pale Ale wasn’t half bad: a copper-colored “American-style” pale, with a biscuity maltiness underneath fruity, almost Centennial-like hops. That hoppiness melded well with a firm body and meaty but dry malt backbone. Nice beer.

I talked to the bartender at Knopwoods Retreat for a while, and she highly recommended Dark Isle Leatherwood Porter, a honey porter made from Leatherwood honey, a tree indigenous to Australia. However, it proved as elusive to me as the mysterious thylacine, and I was unable to track any down.

Another brew I stumbled across, this time in some seafood restaurant on the wharf next to my hotel, was Hazards Ale, the sole beer brewed by Wineglass Bay Brewing. When I ordered it, the waiter recommended against it because it was unpasteurized and it had “no preservatives,” and when he drank it he claimed it gave him a stomach ache. Dumbass. I don’t care if people are beer idiots, but if they don’t know shit about beer they shouldn’t be foisting off their erroneous beliefs on others. I wasn’t in the mood to call him a dipshit, but I went ahead and ordered the beer.

I was glad I did. This was a dark bronze brew on the heavy side of medium, with some Hallertau-like spiciness in the nose. Estery maltiness lingered through the sip until finished off by a light hop finish. I found it to be a nice, drinkable alt. So I had two.

But the most interesting beer and brewery I discovered in Tasmania, the down under of Down Under, was, in all places, in a distillery. Lark Distillery, a tiny little place barely a block from my hotel, had a small bar in the back for customers to sample their wares. They had some interesting stuff, especially some whiskeys and liqueurs made from indigineous herbs and spices (more on that later). But I was shocked to see a beer engine in the center of the bar with a logo for a brewery called Two Metre Tall. There I learned that this tiny brewery, located not that far outside of Hobart, is run by a guy named Ashley Huntington and his wife Jane. There they not only make their own beer, but grow and produce all of the beer’s ingredients. That is fucking awesome! Grow the barley, grow the hops. The woman behind the bar highly recommended their beer, and said they were having a difficult time keeping it in stock because of insanely high demand. (And, true to form, the next night I swung by, and their lone cask was tapped out.) The beer they poured was Cleansing Ale, a golden-colored brew with a soft body, tiny malt profile, and an herbal-like, peppery finish. It was interesting but unassuming, basically an herbal ale.

I couldn’t believe how many Tasmanian brews I came across during my prolonged layover. It just goes to show that if you really look you can find good beer in the darkest corners of the planet.

But it was time to get back to the good old U.S. of A. and some great Midwest craft beer. Not wanting to chance anything, I got to the airport early … for my 6:00 a.m. flight. Turns out the Hobart airport isn’t all that big, and everything was closed, even security. So I sat there for half an hour before I got to my gate, and promptly heard my name called by the cheeky fellow at the service desk.

“I got fucking bumped?!?”

“I’m terribly sorry, sir, but we’re overbooked. And since you’re traveling alone and were the last to buy a ticket …”


So they pushed me onto a different flight to Sydney.

“However,” the nice man said in his pleasant Aussie accent, “you’ll have a connecting flight through Cane.”

Cane? Where the fuck is Cane?” Turns out he was saying Cairns, a tourist city in far northern Queensland, another Australian state that the natives regard to be a glorified backwater. But since I’d been up since four that morning, I didn’t have the energy to throw a tantrum like a little girl. I just went to my new gate, sat down, and consoled myself with the possibility of discovering more Australian beer. Because no matter how freaky things get, there is, after all, always beer. And I had a feeling I was in for some interesting times in this Cairns place.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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