Saturday, January 12, 2013

Melbourne Beer

Melbourne, while not as geographically grand as Sydney, has a wonderful bohemian tradition of local and crafty food, drink, shops and even hipsters.  Which is probably why it is often compared to Vancouver.  Heck, a seemingly faux craft beer bar has even crept its way into the Cairns airport - and Melbourne must be even more beer-developed.

By chance Mrs. Hoplog and I ended up in a small hotel directly across the street from the old Victoria Brewery building.  The building is now filled with shops instead of brewing equipment, but Victoria Bitter is still possibly the most popular beer in Australia.  (Note: Fosters is next to invisible in Australia; it's all Victoria Bitter and Carlton.)

Mrs. Hoplog and I didn't have easy access to a good craft beer store, so we grabbed some random craft beers at the local bottle shop and had an impromptu tasting.

4 Pines is actually from Sydney, but all of them were solid.  The Cascade beers (hey Steamworks, there's another use of the term...) from Tasmania were mixed - the original pale ale wasn't great, but the stout was excellent.  And the Mountain Goat was a Steam Beer - the reach of Anchor Brewing's trade-mark for "steam" doesn't appear to extend to Australian beer, so it's actually labelled "steam" instead of "California common".

Little Creatures

We popped by the Little Creatures pub in the hip Fitzroy neighbourhood.  Little Creatures is a Western Australian craft brewer that is big enough you can find it almost anywhere.  The pale ale is a good fallback choice when nothing else is available.

Until recently, the main space contained long communal tables like a Bavarian beer hall.

The beer was solid - probably a step up from Granville Island's usual offerings.

But with the typical $10/pint prices, we felt like our limited beer dollars should be spent on something more local and/or interesting.

It was definitely surprising how much more craft beer costs than mass market light lagers in Australia.  For example, the above special at a boutique hot dog/sausage cafe - $10 for a beer and a brat.  But if you want a craft beer, add $3.  If you figure that's $4 for the brat and $6 for the beer, that's a 50% premium for the craft beer.  The same rule of thumb holds true in bottle shops.  In contrast, ordinary craft beer in BC is usually about the same price as the big-name light lagers in the same shop or restaurant.

Mountain Goat Brewing

Temperatures in Melbourne soared above 40 C, and the bushfire danger increased from Extreme to CATASTROPHIC.  (Yes, they print it in all-caps.)  Rather than drive around the countryside waiting to be burned alive, we decided to stay in the air conditioning, only venturing out for a thirst-quenching visit to Mountain Goat brewing when the sun was low in the sky.

The thermometer in our cab read 43 C as we departed.  If that's not time for a refreshing, well-carbonated beer, I don't know what is.

The goat

Mountain Goat is housed in a very Yaletown-esque brick warehouse space, lending it a homey Pacific Northwest craft brewery look and feel.  This is perhaps not surprising, given its origins.  One of the founders took a trip to Vancouver in the mid-90s, where a friend took him out to various pubs to sample our locally-made craft beers.  He was amazed and inspired by what he saw and tasted, and so resolved to start a microbrewery from that moment - voila, Mountain Goat.

The brewery is only open to the public on Wednesdays (when tours are given) and Fridays, serving their beer and lovely pizzas.

Bottle boxes teetering above the bar

Mountain Goat's beers were great.  A lightly spiced (barely-detectable chocolate, ginger, etc.) dry stout hit the spot surprisingly well on this warm day.  As did a thin Summer Ale with a huge punch of passionfruit hop aroma and flavour.  The Steam Beer was a tasty part of their staple line.

Perhaps the most interesting was their Black IPA (Cascadian Dark Ale) run through a randall (infuser) full of pepperberries.  This batch was not nearly hoppy enough to be called a Cascadian Dark Ale/Black IPA, and was slightly too roasty as well, but with the pepperberries it was floral, herbal and spicy but still clean, and a great treat regardless of style.

Mountain Goat is a must-see when in Melbourne.  Take note!

Local Taphouse, St. Kilda

We stopped by the Local Taphouse in the St. Kilda neighbourhood for a late lunch one day.  In a word: fantastic.  This appears to be the Alibi Room of Melbourne (as far I am aware).  Many wonderful beers on tap and in the bottle, all of them interesting, rare and/or very local.

It was heaven.  We had been hoping to find such a perfect craft beer nerd support centre in Australia, and after several weeks we had finally found one!

The duck confit made a nice snack as well.  The food was stellar.

Second storey patio

Wine On Tap

While shopping at the surprisingly good Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, I ran across a wine stand filled with large oak wine barrels - that were actually filled with wine!

This was ReWine - a company that purchases wines from various vintners, ages it and/or relabels it, and sells it direct from the barrel in refillable bottles. You get a few dollars off the next bottle if you bring it back for a refill.

So essentially it's a wine growler shop.  But it made me think - maybe Vancouver Urban Winery and other FreshTap venues like Tap And Barrel could get in on the accelerating beer growler craze in Vancouver, but from the wine side.

Beer Deluxe

We almost missed Beer Deluxe, since we didn't spend much time in the touristy epicenter of Melbourne's Federation Square where it's located.  However, we came in on a quiet afternoon, and discovered an excellent selection of both Australian and international beer, well trained staff, and competitive prices.

As an added bonus due to the lack of patrons, I had an in-depth craft beer chat with a very knowledgeable bartender, who also gave Mrs. Hoplog and I samples of most of their draught offerings between our other beers.  Great service, great beer, definitely recommended.

A straight ahead but very tasty saison

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