Crown Casino is not normally a place where you would find me, nor is it a place I would normally be recommending. In fact like most right thinking inner city beard wearing wannabe Communists I shall decry the Casino as the home of outer suburban bogans and a temple of Capitalist greed. I shall then ride my fixie to a farmers’ market.
Of course like most Melbournians I also happen to find myself there from time to time and it can be a scary place for the craft beer loving folk. We are more at home ensconced in dark wood panelling, comfy chairs and ironic decorations. I care about you my readers however, so I have found not one but two bars that you can head to if you find yourself stuck in Crown and in need of a good quality beer.
First up is a bar called The Den. Now this walks the fine line that many a Melbourne bar walks. It is so cool that it is close to impossible to find. You won’t find a sign anywhere, it is underground, under The Atlantic restaurant. If you want to get in you’ll have to walk up to host’s desk at The Atlantic and ask for The Den, you will then follow the white line on the floor, through the restaurant and down a set of unmarked stairs.
This bar is incredibly pretentious, as I mentioned it is underground so there are the expected pipes, steel supports and alike, but there are also random fireplaces, red velvet chairs, a grand piano and random hostesses in gold miniskirts. This bar can best be summed up with a trip to the bathroom. It is completely black, black tiles, black toilet, dimmed lighting, but then there is one single small stainless shelf, sitting there in the cubicle, right at nose height.
But you can forgive all this ridiculousness because they really do have a good beer list. It’s not huge, just fifteen beers in total, but really nicely put together. There is something for everyone, from the afore mentioned toilet goers with Peroni through to local craft fans with Lord Nelson, Bridge Road, 8 Wired and international beers both old school Germanys and Belgians and one single American beer.
And if you were picking one single American brewery then Dogfish Head is a good place to start. A brewery so loved it has both a television show and a book (as well as a couple of pubs, a B&B, a range of soap and some spirits). It’s also not available in Australia so I’m not sure how this beer entered the country (or at least how it wasn’t shipped off to Malaysia for processing after it snuck past Lisa McCune and her buddies).
The beer in question is Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo Marron, a big (12%) American Brown ale that has been aged in Paraguayan Palo Santo wood barrels, well in fact aged in one huge, almost 40,000 litre (120,000 bottles) wooden barrel.
This beer smells unmistakably like Vegemite, more specifically like warmed Vegemite. The colour was Vegemite-like as well, admittedly it was dark in the underground cavern that is The Den, but this is certainly a dark ale, with a thin (but lacing) tea coloured head.
Being American I assumed this would be a big hoppy beer, but it simply is not. Rather it is the malt, the alcohol and the resins (from the wood one assumes) and some fruit tones that were driving the flavour. It’s a big chewy slow sipping beer, and you are left with a taste in your mouth that feels more bourbon that beer.
This was a very good beer, not brilliant, and let’s face it probably not at its best after its unofficial journey to the arse end of the world/AKA Melbourne. I’d have a Pint though. We followed it with 8 Wired Big Smoke, and I have to say that the Big Smoke pipped it on the enjoyability stakes.
From The Den it was time to head home, but not before a slight detour to another bar with a fabled beer list. This is another one I would not have found myself, not because it’s hidden but just because I wouldn’t expect much from it. I have to give a shout out to the Back of the Ferry boys for pointing me towards this one.
There is no real pretension in this bar, in fact it really does undersell itself. For the passerby it looks like nothing more than a standard hotel lobby bar, filled with the usual jetlagged travellers and other people too scared/tired/unadventurous to leave the safe womb/prison-like atmosphere of the Crown entertainment complex. Its purpose in Crown is best summed up by its name – The Waiting Room.
But again here is a stellar little beer list, again a mix of Australian and Overseas brews. For our Tipple this night we chose the Ruedrich’s Red Seal Ale, which was a red or amber ale all the way from California.
For an American brew it was quite gentle, with malts carrying the brew rather than the hops. It was a nice rich red amber colour, had almost no smell except a faint citrus tone. It is a beautifully balanced drink and a nice way to end the night if you are a little bit worse for wear (allegedly). Definitely Pint worthy.