For a Victorian, Cairns in early August is a revelation. With an average July temperature of 26°C it offers a new experience in mid winter “thirsty weather”. Thankfully for the beer lover, the North Queensland city has a relatively new craft brewery creating beers designed for the climate.
Arriving at the brewery for dinner on a Monday night I found it, perhaps not surprisingly, quiet but still lively. The big open entry, brandishing a hanging emblem of hops and barley, leads you to the great sight of a roof-high wall of barrels displaying the brewery’s beer labels and the various AIBA medals won, with their taps funkily hanging over the bar.
The venue is dimly lit and very typical of what can be classified as a ‘Queensland bar’ – designed for watching sports, drinking and commercial Top40 music in a mostly open space that helps to moderate the heat. They cater to all ages, with hip party nights aimed at the 18 – 30 somethings that make the bulk of their trade.
As with other microbreweries around the country, the brewhouse itself is on display, which also includes a viewing window from inside the guys’ toilets, so you can stare into the brewery whilst making room for more product! Nifty!
The beers are also clearly brewed for the north Queensland climate: reasonably light, soft and sessionable. They are very different to the often rich and heavy craft beers on offer at the same time of year in the cooler-climes of Victoria. Having arrived from a wet 12°C Melbourne morning into a sunny 30°C Cairns afternoon, I could immediately see their point.
The night began with a pint of FNQ Lager which, while a very straight-forward lager, is cleaner and clearly a step above the mainstream lagers. It is definitely sessionable and a valuable XXXX replacement for the locals.
Blue Sky Brewery also serves a midstrength beer, Cairns Gold, which is essentially a reduced-alcohol version of the FNQ Lager. In many of the cooler regions across Australia mid-strength beers have been largely ignored until recent years when it became standard at major sporting events to try and quell alcohol-induced bad behaviour. However, in Queensland and the warmer parts of the country midstrength beers reign supreme and it is almost imperative for any brewery to have one.
Blue Sky’s brewing strength comes through in their German Wheat. Golden in colour, the aroma was rich with the classic hefeweizen punch of banana and cloves. The banana flavour was maybe a little too strong and it was possibly lacking a little spiciness on the palate compared to some imported versions. Nonetheless, the German Wheat was most enjoyable following my meal. Blue Sky won a Gold Medal at this year’s AIBA for a smoked variation of their hefeweizen which confirms their ability with this style.
The brewery offers fairly standard pub grub but it is good beer food – steak, chicken parmagiana, pizza, pasta and beer battered reef fish are all on offer. I enjoyed my mushroom burger, which was simple, yet full of taste from the fresh salad and a big hit of pesto, but the bun was a little sad. It’s always a little disappointing when a pub serves up straw-fries which look like they’ve come from the local McDonalds. Tuesday nights offer the best option for value eating, with $2 tacos, an excellent match for the Blue Sky Pilsner.
Blue Sky also offers another warm weather mainstay: low carb beer. Their Reef Blonde is very crisp and has a good hop flavour for a low-carb beer, thanks to the Nelson Sauvin hops used. It will appeal to those looking for a low carb beer and it will definitely meet their approval. However, like all versions of this style it will probably leave fans of flavour a little cold.
Blue Sky’s one foray into darker beers was a little perplexing. Very light brown in colour and high in carbonation, their True Blue Stout resembled a Coke. The small brown head reduced very quickly to a bare few millimetres and in the mouth it felt too light, with a texture that seemed watery and lagerish. There were some mocha notes in the flavour, but the rest of the mix seemed too weak and off-balance. This may well be a stout designed for easy drinking in the heat of Far North Queensland, but compared to stouts brewed in states that actually have a winter, it was underwhelming. Although, maybe it shows the development of a special new style…a Summer Stout perhaps?
While the Blue Sky beers were not directly comparable to beers brewed 3000 kilometres south and a climatic world away, Blue Sky Brewery is an enjoyable place to visit and the beer lover will leave fully satisfied by a unique beer experience.
If you are up in the Cairns region, Blue Sky is definitely recommended.
Lastly, the Blue Sky experience is not just limited to the brewery. You will also find a new Blue Sky Brewery bar in the Arrivals and Departures Lounge at the Cairns Airport, which is a wonderful way to wait for your flight. The beers certainly make for a huge improvement over the offerings at most Australian airports. Hopefully the concept will, er, take off!
34-42 Lake St
Cairns QLD 4870
Phone: +61 7 4051 7290
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