Beer, such a simple word yet one loaded with such meaning.
More than anything else I can think of, it truly transcends boundaries, the idea of a few cleansing brews after a hard day’s work is of a near universal appeal, an experience shared and enjoyed by people from wildly diverse backgrounds and cultures. Just mention the word to someone and it shall conjure up images of good times; buying a round at the pub for the mates, sharing a six-pack while watching a game or waxing lyrical, stubby in hand, at a summer barbeque. Cast your mind back to some of your happiest memories and I will bet you a monkey that there was beer close at hand. For something that is so widely enjoyed, it is odd then, that beer is still so misunderstood…
My home state of Tasmania is a realm split between two superpowers: J. Boag & Son in the north, while in the south we rally to the banner of Cascade. Like most of Australia, the local brew has a near tribal following. Ordering the wrong thing at the bar can earn you a few odd looks or a ribbing from your friends. Variety means having a choice between cans, stubbies and long necks. I began drinking at roughly 18 and, sadly like so many others, my younger self enjoyed beer for all the wrong reasons. Mainly it was a cheap, effective vehicle for getting drunk and secondly, well dammit, it is what real Aussie men drink!
At this time, had you asked me whether I enjoyed the taste of my chosen lager I would have vociferously defended it against the competition, no doubt spouting rubbish about how much “smoother” and “cleaner” it tasted. In reality, had I been sat down in front of a line of ten-ounces full of several different Aussie lagers, I would have had a hard time telling them apart. Flavour just wasn’t one of the qualities beer was all about. Or so I thought…
I will forever remember the beer that changed all that. My single, perfect moment of Nirvana served up in an oddly shaped bottle.
“Moo Brew? What kind of a name is that for a beer?” I thought to myself as I brought the bottle to my lips. The next few moments are lost to me; suffice to say that as my friends picked me from the floor I arose a man reborn. My first experience with what I would later learn was an American-style pale ale was something akin to a religious conversion. Look up the word epiphany in a dictionary you’ll see something like “a sudden realization of the larger essence of something, resulting in a personal feeling of elation or wonder.” That certainly sums up how I felt. Why didn’t all beers taste like this?
I later found out that Moo Brew was made, nay crafted, at something called a microbrewery, located on the banks of the Derwent River in Hobart’s North. I still had no idea what a craft beer actually was but I felt like a man who had eaten cheese burgers all his life and had just tried his first rib eye. I became resolved to try out new beers whenever the opportunity presented itself. I served my craft beer apprenticeship under the tutelage of James Squire, who taught me the wonders of the IPA and the idea that not all dark beer has to taste like leather and sweat. Little Creatures became my constant companion at house parties and barbeques. Amongst my friends I became known as ‘the Coopers guy’ because in most Tassie pubs, the Sparkling Ale was the only plan B.
As fate would have it I eventually moved to Melbourne, completely oblivious to what I was about to walk into. Being a cultured city and knowing that cultured people have a tendency towards drinking wine I steeled myself for the desert of VB and Carlton Draught taps I would inevitably encounter. The reality turned out to be completely different. As I began to explore the bars of the CBD and inner suburbs I began to see taps with names like Holgate, Murrays and Bridge Road – Australian beers I had never heard of before.
Buoyed by these discoveries I became like a game hunter stalking the graffiti-strewn concrete jungle that is the lanes and alleyways of Melbourne, seeking out my prey with relentless intent. I bagged some big ones. My first bottle of Feral Hop Hog still sits on my shelf as a trophy and, truth be told, I was bested more than once. Murray’s Spartacus has been a particularly worthy foe. It was only now as I discovered such noble species as the imperial stout, the ESB and double IPA and exotic beasts like fruit lambics and sour beers that I began to realize the true scope and variety of what the world of beer had to offer.
The greatest discovery, though, was the various bars which served and supported these local beers. The garish lighting, soulless decor and irritating bleeping of pokie machines which seems to be the hallmark of so many modern bars and clubs is nothing but a bad memory soon washed away by the ever changing taps on offer in these temples to all things beer. In an age of social media and entertainment-on-demand, it is all-too-easy to simply buy a carton and sit in front of the TV. Pubs have lost that sociable aspect of people coming together to relax. Not so in places like Biero and the Local Taphouse, where people from all walks of life can come and connect over a shared interest. This is what pubs are traditionally all about and in my humble opinion, this ability to bring people together is beer’s finest quality.
I think I’ll go have another… Cheers!