That’s me you see. Alone, in the corner of a crowded pub on a Friday evening, sniffing my beer. I’m cradling the schooner glass to warm it with one hand, the other hand hastily jotting down aroma characteristics. It may seem abnormal to you, but I’m just doing what comes naturally. I’m a beer explorer, on a journey of discovery. The journey of discovery has taken me many places. On my honeymoon, I and my teetotalling, long-suffering wife visited five breweries, two beer bars and a specialty beer shop. My journey has taken me from the American west coast to downtown Montreal; from the beer halls of Munich to the Trappist monasteries of Belgium. All without leaving Sydney.
How did I get to this point, you ask?
The odd thing is, there was no ‘epiphany’ moment for me. There was no fork in the road where the sports-bar crowd went one way and I went the other. There’s more to becoming a beer explorer than finding that one beer you want to drink for the rest of your life. It’s an ongoing process of discovery. And it’s a hard slog. You have to want it. You have to enjoy it. And, above all, you have to have a companion, or – better yet – a guide.
My guide was my brother. He’d not only been my loyal companion as we embarked on our beer journeys together. I had been his protégé, and my own journey had now taken on a life of its own. And yet, a milestone was missing: a protégé of my own. I’d tried to find him, by sharing beers, imparting knowledge, trying to infect others with my enthusiasm. But then, at the point where I stopped trying, I found him.
Let me set the scene for you.
The setting: A loungeroom in Sydney’s Inner West.
The characters: Me and a mate.
My mate was a beer drinker by nature, but beer of choice dictated largely by cost. Ordinarily, Coopers; if money was loose, Little Creatures. Over the years I’ve known him, I’ve shared some of my most gleaming treasures with him – from New Zealand pilseners to Norwegian barley wines and everything in between. Each and every beer was met with a stirring anticlimax of “I like that”. Full stop.
Then I found it. One day at the bottle shop, I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I just wanted something I hadn’t tried before. The beer I found was Petrus Aged Pale, from the Bavik Brewery in Belgium – a barrel-aged version of their Oud Bruin, a brown beer style originating from the Flanders region and distinctive for its sour taste.
His opinion, on this occasion? “That’s really nice, I like that”. Full Stop.
Or so I thought.
Skip forward a month. I was hosting a BBQ in my flat, and I’d written on the invite “Don’t BYO”, as I had too much booze to go around. Nevertheless, my mate shows up with a bottle in a brown paper bag. With no ceremony, he unveils it to me. Of all things to bring to a BBQ, he’s brought a Gueuze Lambic – possibly the sourest of sour beers.
It was my epiphany moment.
Without knowing it, and without trying, I’d turned my friend from a beer drinker to a beer explorer, like me. I was obsessively seeking out anything new in beer; he had started to actively seek out sour beer. He goes at a different pace to me, but I feel I’d opened another dimension to him, and he was willingly going in and having a look around.
In short, my beer journey had come full circle. While I had never experienced that moment of beer epiphany, it was nice that I’d played a part in somebody else’s.
One Aussie converted; 22,625,300 to go.
The beer scene in Australia is currently undergoing rapid growth, but it is still very much in its infancy. Beers don’t have a found audience, unless they belong to the formidable army of General Carlton or Colonel Lion Nathan. The audience needs to find them.
I’d found Petrus for my friend, not because a semi-naked woman screamed out at me from a bus shelter ad, but because I was looking for new things. He’d found a gueuze to share with me, not because a billboard told him ‘gueuze gets you laid’, but because he’d gone to a liquor store I’d recommended (Platinum Liquor, North Strathfield) and asked Adam for ‘a sour beer’.
The experience with my friend has taught me that Aussie beer drinkers are indeed willing to try something new. But since, to find anything new, they need to go out and look for it, they need to be aware of what’s out there. But to paraphrase an old movie cliché: if you brew it, they will come.
For my part, I’m happy with the gift I’ve shared with my friend. But there’s a world of good beer on our very own doorstep, and most people don’t know to look, because they’re blinded by the stabbing neon lights of the big brewing companies. Sour beer? Just one of many examples of new dimensions on the road to better beer.
Aussie beer drinkers need a guide – and whether it takes the form of a book, a map, a signpost, whatever – it doesn’t matter. I, for one, am here for them.
The question of ‘How did I get to this point’ in my own journey is irrelevant. In the journey of beer discovery, ‘this point’ doesn’t exist. The journey goes on. For now, it’s a question of who my next followers will be.