The Taste of Melbourne: Beers Part 1 (Around Town)

Well, actually, I could rant about the horror of the meatpie I had at the Aussie Rules football game we went to, but instead I’m going to talk about beer. I had a lot of different beers in Melbourne this week, and many of them are worth talking about:

Carlton Draft: This was plain old terrible stadium lager. Pass it, or pass out. I had one cup and shuddered at the idea of drinking more, but it was the stuff that everyone at the football game was having.

Apple Cider — Bulmer’s? Mangan?: I’m not sure which brands I tried, but both of those names rang a bell. The ciders I had in Melbourne were nice, simple, dry ciders, with a medium carbonation if I remember right. I had a few different ciders, actually, but I’m pretty sure at no point I got to try Strongbow, though it’s the most appealing name. In any case, all the ciders I had in Melbourne were similar and all were refreshing and good.

Fat Yak Pale Ale: Fat Yak’s an APA brewed by the Matilda Bay brewing company in Fremantle. My notes suggest it is serviceable as a session ale, but not something that would blow you away. Perhaps not quite so good that you’d want it as what Charlie Papazian calls your “buddy ale,” but it is head and shoulders above the beer where I live. I had both bottle and draught, and the draught was better, but both were somewhat floral and citrusy, low on the malt and the supposedly high hop flavor wasn’t that high. It seemed a beer that would also be good forr having with a meal, as it got out of the way pretty well. Perhaps that’s one reason I ran across advertisements for deals on a steak and a fat yak at a few places (and heard similar jokes as well).

Alpha Queen Pale Ale: This was at first quite appealing, with a round, rich, deepness to it, and rather closer to a crisp amber in color than some of the pale ales I’ve had. However, after half a glass, when it began to warm up — at which point most ales begin to grow more appealing — it seemed dull to me, and the flavor dropped away. Perhaps I was just a bit tired at the time, but I longed for a little more hop, a little more maltiness. It was, nonetheless, a good experience at the time, and maybe had I been less tired, I would have enjoyed it more. Here’s a video of them brewing the stuff.

Cooper’s Pale Ale: While I can see why this would be seen by many as a good, trustworthy, serviceable pale ale, for me it was just okay, the sort of thing that’s better than the lowest of megabrew grog but still isn’t something I would really go out of my way to get, except of course in Korea.

Mountain Goat Steam Ale: I missed the tour of the brewery Wednesday night, but I had a chance to enjoy some of Mountain Goat’s Steam Ale at a pub around the same time. It was a good solid beer and I was happy to have it. The balance between hops and malts was solid, though I seem to remember something strongly citric and fruity about the palate too. But I think I only had it once, though, and during a conversation that left me with very little memory of the beer itself. I do wish we’d made it to the tour of that brewery, though: I need to make a point of actually making it to brewery tours on future trips, since I can probably learn a thing or two from the brewers and from seeing their equipment.

Beez Neez Honey Wheat Beer: This was a really unusual beer we had as a draught beer at “Cookies.” It had a bright, refreshing palate and was just a little bit sweet, in a welcome and delicious way. Probably not so unsual as honey beers or braggots go, but I found it a refreshing surprise nonetheless. Turns out it’s brewed by the same people who brew the Fat Yak, above — I consider it a lot more successful as a beer.

Little Creatures Bright Ale: I liked this, but didn’t make any notes on why, so I guess I’ll have to just say it was, indeed, a bright, fruity ale and a cheery experience. Very welcome when I did try it.

James Boag’s Draught: This Tasmanian beer was okay, I think, but it pales in comparison to the wonderfulness of the Belgian beers we tried later, so I can’t really sing its praises. I imagine it was probably served too cold, but for my taste, it was just plain background lagery beer. I wouldn’t likely complain too loudly if it were the only option available, but at the same time, I wouldn’t choose it over an unknown either. Indeed, I only had one glass of it before switching over to the Knappstein (see immediately below).

Knappstein Lager: Knappstein was the best beer available at the hotel bar in the convention hotel, the Hilton. It was recommended to me by Jetse de Vries, and turned out to be a staple during our visits there. It was a rather unique beer for a lager, with a residual sweetness and flavor that I and a few others found both unusual and welcome. Knappstein has the unusual and surprising distinction of being a beer brewed at a winery in South Australia, which may account to some degree for its unusual characteristics. I’d love to know more about how the brewer(s) managed to get that flavor out of the malt and hops they used.

The next post will be a review of the Belgian beers I got a chance to savour at a Belgian Beer Cafe in Melbourne.

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