Eagle Bay Brewery

The Cocoa Stout and a hint of the view

When you tell people you are going on holiday to Margaret River they will immediately start banging on about wineries. As both you and I are enlightened (and possibly bearded) beery folk we know that the wineries are all well and good but what is really interesting is the breweries.

Before I took the Pet Shop Boy’s advice or alternatively the Village People’s advice and went west I did a little bit of research. Now I know, as I’m sure you know about the big boys of the WA craft brewing scene, names like Feral, Bootleg, Mash and Colonial, but after a quick trip around the interwebs I discovered that there were more than a few breweries that I’d never heard of.

One of these was Eagle Bay Brewing, in the town of, you guessed it Eagle Bay. I realised quickly that this was not far from where we were staying in a town called Dunsborough which by the way is home to two excellent bars, a Clancy’s Fish Pub and the Pourhouse, which I’m putting just behind the Wheaty as my favourite non-Victorian pub. Given its proximity it’s not surprising that we made it there on our first day in Margaret River.

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The High Country Brewery Trail – Part 2

The Super cute lamb at Black Dog

Okay so we have seen what the big guys in the high country had to offer, but what about the little fellas?
We actually started our trail in Taminick, which is the home of the Booths, who I’m told have been making wine since about 1904. I’m sure everything was going fine and dandy and all cultured like until they hit the fourth generation (isn’t it always the fourth generation who are the troublemakers?) when James Booth decided that as well as doing the wine thing it might be a good idea to bang out some brews as well and Black Dog Brewery was born.
It’s well known that visiting a winery is so much more romantic and let’s face it, socially acceptable than visiting a brewery, it’s all rolling hills of vines and quaint old barns with big wooden barrels of fermenting grape juice.  Given that the Black Dog Brewery is located at a winery it should come as no surprise that it is not like other brewery trips. Firstly you are going to need to spend 10 minutes on some arse-numbing corrugated dirt roads to get there, then you’re are going to have to admire the rolling hills of grapes and wander into a quaint barn past the barrels of wine to the rack of four taps up the back.
But it’ll be worth it as James seems to know how to make beer.  The Lazy Dog Ale and Howling Pale Ale are very well made, but reasonably standard craft beers that appeal to the gateway craft drinker.  Of course we are all card carrying beer geek people here, so we expect bigness, and for that you want to head for the Leader of the Pack IPA, which is a very good IPA.  It smells of citrus, but in a sweeter marmalade sort of way likely a result of a nice balance between the sweetness of the malts and the fruitiness of the hops, there is not too much carbonation either which helps the flavour shine through. Pint
The other stand-out (if indeed you can have two stand-outs) is the Dead Dog Stout, which has a lovely toasted character both in the nose and the mouth, it has a nice solid body without being too hard to work through – a good solid wintery beer that you could still happily drink in summer (or autumn or spring) – Pint.
But more important than the beers, and certainly the reason you go to the brewery is to meet the people and I have to say both James and his dad Peter were genuinely nice guys (and by the way I tend not to tell people that I’m a world renowned blogger* so it’s not like I’m getting special treatment). They both happily sat around and chatted to us as we worked our way the range, we even got to meet Macca, the dog after which the beers are named, who was happy to sit at our feet and be patted, again as we drunk his beer. 
Being country people they then of course invited ‘out the back’ to have a look at the brewhouse, which is actually more akin to an elaborate homebrew set up than the shinny commercial breweries you see in the big smoke, from there it was on to meet a 4 day old baby lamb (it was starting to get a little weird by this point) and of course we got told they were planning to do brewdays with a big spit roast and everyone could stay in the guesthouse they are opening and we should ‘all come back now y’hear.
Okay so they weren’t actually country hicks, or the cast members of Petticoat Junction, but it was impossible not to instantly feel welcome. James is just starting out, but they have big plans, a great brand (the names and graphics on the labels are awesome), some good beers and a great attitude. Look for their beers coming to Melbourne town soon, or better still get up to Taminick and get them at the source.

Not a bad view from out the front of Sweet Water.....

Sweet Water Brewery is at the complete other end of the trail, up in the hills just short of Mount Beauty.  This brewery is not at all what I was expecting, I think I had some grandiose vision of a alpine lodge with a magical waterfall and possibly an Oktoberfest style beer wench serving steins (this may have been because I saw a Swedish milk maid climbing over our fence earlier that morning, but that’s a whole other story).
In truth there is no waterfall, rather what you get is a pretty standard (in fact largely empty) suburban shop on the main street of Tawonga South. Now of course the view from the shop is just a tad better than most suburban shops but it was a little bit odd.
The beers were a little strange too. Maybe it was something in the water (Sweet water is named that because it’s uses Kiewa River water and Kiewa means ‘sweet water’) because these were a collection of the sweetest beers I’ve ever tasted. None of them were bad by any stretch of the imagination, but they were again just not what I was expecting, and not what I was used to.
This of course made the pick of the bunch for me the Weissbier, which had this sweetness which worked very well with the banana tones of the yeast, it made it almost like a dessert beer (although it wasn’t cloyingly sweet) – definitely Pint worthy.
My tip here is if you are a skier, then next time you are heading up to the snowfields drop in at Sweet water, it’s a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon enjoying some interesting brews that have local flavour, and isn’t that was beer touring is all about?  

*Any resemblance to an actual world renowned blogger is purely coincidental.

The High Country Brewery Trail – Part 1 – ‘The Big Guys’

The Famous Bridge Road Tanks

The high country brewery trail is a great little initiative by four breweries that are located vaguely close to each other. Of course this is the Australian bush so they really aren’t that close, if you start at Black Dog Brewery in Taminick it’s a 60km drive to Bridge Road in Beechworth, then another 60km to Bright Brewery, in you guessed it Bright, and then another 31km to Sweetwater Brewery at Tawonga. Total distance 151km (and then you have to get home again).
Lucky for us (fearless assistant/navigator/scribe/fellow drinker Jordan was in tow) we had the whole 4 day Easter weekend to fit in the four breweries which allowed us to go at a leisurely pace, taste most of the beers on offer and even have a few meals here and there. The brewery trail is fascinating for the simple fact that you get to see four very different breweries, with very different approaches, and all in different stages of their development; from the young upstart of Black Dog to the old school establishment (well for the Victorian microbrewery scene) of Bridge Road.
This seems a logical way to split the story as well. You have to be a real beer geek to have tried Black Dog and Sweetwater (or for that matter even heard of them), so I’m going to call them the ‘The Little Guys’ on the other hand chances are if you have even a passing interest in Victorian craft beer you have had a Bridge Road or Bright Brewery beer, so I’m going to call them the ‘Big Guys’. 
Today we look at the big guys, soon (and by that I mean when I get time to write it) we will look at ‘The Little Guys’.
Let’s start with Bridge Road. As I was there on the Easter Long weekend Bridge Road was a madhouse (I only ever seem to go there on long weekends, maybe it’s always that busy, but I doubt it). This led to some very uncraft beer like behaviour like queuing eight deep at the bar and having to scrounge about for a table.
Of course it is all worth it because Bridge Road produces some awesome beers, I’m not going to tell you about them, because I have before here, here and here.  I will however tell you about the only ‘new’ beer for the day which was the 2012 Hop Harvest .  Not surprisingly this is a beer where the hops are on showcase, it tasted super fresh, fruity and a touch grassy. The malt profile seemed a little light to me, but that did make it very refreshing, but still with depth of (particularly hoppy) tastes, so good I had it twice (which is impressive given the level of choice at Bridge Road) – Pint.

Bright Brewery in the Winter Sun

Fast forward a couple of days and we ended our brewery trail at Bright Brewery, which I would have to say is one of the better brewery set-ups in Victoria (I say that about every second brewery though). It is a smallish tin shed that opens onto a big outdoor eating and drinking area which overlooks a playground and a river, all very country and peaceful even though it’s in the shops of Bright.
As myself and Jord worked our way through the tasting paddle (sadly the MIA was indeed MIA which did make me sad) we quickly remembered that Bright are a very consistent brewery. To put it plainly they just don’t ever miss the mark, all six brews were impressive. In fact the four full-time brews are all Pint-worthy; The Blowhard Pale has a nice body and a lingering piney bitterness. The Razor Witbier is surprisingly good for a style I’m not a huge fan of, it feels full of flavour with nice citrus overtones. The Hellfire Amber has always been a favourite of mine, it’s such a smooth beer with a thick body and a subtle hoppy aftertaste and The Staircase Porter is everything you expect from a porter, perfect for a winter afternoon.
The seasonal brews were two difficult styles, but they made an admirable job of it. First up was the Mystic Mild which was a 3% light brown beer that had more flavour in it than most mainstream full strength beers. It even had a hint of powdered chocolate in there and would have been just what you need if you were driving back to Melbourne. Schooner.
The second seasonal was Smoko – a rauchbier, or smoked beer, a style liked by very few. This was a reasonable example, although I felt it fell a little bit short for my personal taste, but then again I want my smoked beers super smokey, so much so that they probably would struggle to sell it to anyone else – Schooner.
So that is half of the Brewery Trail – and the half that was pretty much what I was expecting, great  beers in a pretty standard, pretty busy bar like setting.  The little guys, well that’s a whole other story……

Brewery Visit – Byron Bay Brewery

The Pale Ale

It has been quiet around here of late. You see I’ve dropped out of society and like many people before me headed to the hippie enclave of Byron Bay.
Now we all know of the famous brewery in Byron, Stone and Wood who make the most popular beer for craft beer people in Australia with the Pacific Ale, are located there somewhere. I’m not going to tell you about them because a) the brewery is not open to the public and b) I’ve never really liked the Pacific Ale anyway.
What I will tell you about is the not particularly imaginatively named Byron Bay Brewery. This is located just out of the main shops in an old piggery, which was converted in the 80’s (or maybe the 70’s, I wasn’t paying that much attention) to a sprawling complex with the huge Buddha bar (home of the brewery) a cinema, a huge bandroom and the biggest backpackers I think I’ve ever seen in the carpark out the back.
The Buddha bar represents everything that is good about Byron. It was the birthplace of the Blues and Roots festival, there are a series of weird murals on the wall, including one of naked people with fairy wings bathing in a stream, and of course it seemed to be populated mainly by backpackers and a few aging hippies who were getting stoned in the corner.
The brewery makes a full range of beers to cater for the varied markets that no doubt come through the doors. The range stretches to six brews from a low carb monstrosity through to a very nice pale ale and dark lager.
Myself and Jordan managed to taste all of the beers in NSW-friendly schooner sizes over a couple of visits, including one in happy hour which had unheard of (for craft beer) $3 schooners.
We started with the Pale Ale which is always a safe choice as it’s reasonably hard to make a bad one. This was on the gentler side of the scale, not too aggressive, it had a nice full body (certainly fuller than I expected) and a noticeable pleasant aftertaste.  There was much talk between myself and Jord about whether it deserved a Schooner or Pint, because we were on holidays or maybe because the smoke from the hippies in the corner wafted over we were feeling generous and gave it a Pint.

The really quite weird mural

It was a hot evening so I figured I’d stay on the lighter beers and ordered myself up a Pilsener. Now I have to say I often find this style a little boring, but this was actually a pretty good version of one. It was a lovely looking beer, great clarity, good head retention, the hop taste was spot on. The only shortcoming was a slightly buttery taste which suggested to be it might have been Diacetyl affected, perhaps the heat of Byron got to it – see I do actually know something about beer. Schooner.
I’d had some previous intelligence reports that the Billy Goat which is their dark lager was the pick of the bunch. This intelligence was correct. The beer had a nice creamy head, a full body, yet it was still very refreshing. There was a hint of roasted malt and just a hint of bitterness in the aftertaste. Pint.
Whilst I was drinking this Jord was working her way through the Mid Strength called Red Belly and she was nice enough to give me a taste. I didn’t have high hopes, and I was right, it was a bit of a nothing beer, had just a hint of marmalade in the smell, and the body (not surprisingly) was very thin. Not offensive by any stretch of the imagination, but really not that pleasurable either.  Pot
It was then time for our last round. We had been putting off drinking the Premium and the Blonde (meaning low-carb not witbier) because, well those are both marketing terms not beer styles. Jordan whinged about it, asking why she couldn’t just have the ones we liked again. I mumbled something about having to report on things for ‘my people’ and reminded her that they were $3, if it was shit we didn’t have to drink it.
And that’s exactly what we did with the Blonde.  Jord took a sip and told me ‘This beer is wasting my time, it tastes like nothing, I might as well be drinking water.’  I took a sip and agreed with her, I then apologised to her for making her order such an embarrassing drink and we left it ¾ full on the end of our table. Most pointless beer since Burleigh Brewing’s Big Head. Butchers.
The Premium wasn’t a great beer, but next to the Blonde it was a Belgian master. In truth I think it was actually a good beer that was hiding behind too much carbonation, as it sat on the table and de-fizzed it got better. Schooner.
My advice – if you are in Byron head out to the Buddha Bar and sample some of the Byron Bay beers, probably not all of them, as there really as some lower common dominator beers in there which I guess is what you have to do when you run a brewery in a major tourist area. Then again there is enough in there with the Billy Goat and the Pale to keep the craft beer kids happy too.
The Long Bow Youtube clips. The Byron Blues and Roots festival has amazing line-up this year, there too many great acts to mention. But two highlights are Lucinda Williams and The Pogues.  So here are your vids. Joy by Lucinda Williams

And The Pogues with Dirty old town

Brewery Visit – Temple

Temple's very stylish bar

When Temple opened their doors just before Christmas it seemed that every beer wanker in Melbourne had some sort of collective epiphany, all of a sudden every person with an Untappd login and a Twitter feed were raving about the new Temple to beer in the inner North.
Because I don’t like crowds and I’m a little bit lazy it took me a couple of months before I got around to making the big trip up Lygon Street to Brunswick and I have to say I’m glad I did.
Temple is a slick operation, in fact I haven’t seen a schmicker (any chance that’s a word?) looking brewhouse and bar since I tripped down to True South last year. The bar is all concrete, the tables dark wood with stainless seats, behind the glass a brand new shiny brewhouse looking all technological, and interestingly, ready for expansion if all things go well. You can view the brewhouse from downstairs or head upstairs to a second ultra modern room with more glass and a balcony which overlooks the brewery.
I should mention here that if you have never been to a brewery that ‘viewing a brewhouse’ generally speaking is not that interesting. It’s not like going to sugar shak or Willy Wonka’s, there is a distinct lack of action and orange dwarfs and the magic happens within big stainless steel tanks away from prying eyes. You will get to see a brewer cleaning stuff though and maybe if you are really lucky a fermenting brew causing some bubbles in a bucket of water.
But it’s still worth going to Temple for two reasons 1. the food and 2. the beer. I’m going to start with the food. Quite simply it was amazing, even if you are just drinking and not looking for much you have to get the caramel/chilli popcorn, it will change your life and ruin all other forms of popcorn for you. If you are looking for something more substantial I can tell you the potatoes were fantastic and the Brunswick rarebit was gooey and rich and very nice.  

The shiny and new Brewhouse

And all the food goes nicely with beer. Now there were 6 beers on offer the afternoon I was there, I’m not going to tell you about all of them because, well I didn’t take particularly good notes and hell you should go along and find out for yourself. The highlights for me were the Soba Ale which is an unusual beer, it is completely sessionable, easy to drink and refreshing, yet complex and just a little left of centre all at the same time. It is slightly sweeter than I was expecting and had honey overtones. A nice little beer – Schooner.
Saison seems to be the style du jour, everyone has one and everyone is raving about them. In fact between Temple and Atticus Finch we had three different Saisons that afternoon and I have to say I think the Temple Saison was the pick of them. It was a very good example of the style (as I understand it) a gentle sipper, super refreshing and light, lively and perfectly suited to a sunny Sunday afternoon, or working on a French farm – Pint.
The third beer is another one that everyone is raving about, a black IPA called Midnight IPA. The way I see it IPA’s seem to go one of two ways, either the New Zealand/Australian big fruity hops direction, which means although they are bitter and hoppy they are still quite approachable. The second direction, and the way I think the Midnight goes is the American direction, big bitter, oily, resinous hops. I tend to prefer the first approach. I find it often takes me a little longer to get used to the American approach and it would be fair to say it was like that with this beer. I thought the first pot I had was okay, but nothing spectacular, but by the time I was finishing my second pot I started to declare ‘This is a very good beer.’ It was still very bitter, but the body was starting to come through, not roasted nuttiness that you get with many black IPA’s but rather a smooth, velvety almost oily mouthfeel. A challenging, but ultimately very pleasant brew – Pint.
So in summary, get out to Temple. With their range of beers there is something for everyone (the Bicycle beer is a weird little salty tart beer that’s worth a try and the Brunswick draught is a good quality simple beer that won’t scare your not beery friends) and even if you don’t like beer (although then why are you reading this blog?) the food is just outstanding.

Brewery Visit – Forrest Brewing Company

Half finished beer and the Frog in a Pond - Brilliant.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but there was some discussion between myself and Jord on NYE about what our resolution(s) should be. Now where most people would have gone with lose weight/stop smoking/take an art class/see Paris, we went with a far more down to earth approach.
Visit more microbreweries. Well actually our first resolution was ‘visit every microbrewery in Victoria’, but then after I started naming them we realised that we would need to be permanently drunk for the next 12 months if we did that so we scaled it back to this; 12 microbreweries in 12 months (nominally one a month).
Where possible I’m planning to make these coincide with trips we are already going on (I’m looking at you Byron Bay Brewing, Moo Brew in Hobart and Mildura Brewery) and the first cab off the rank was no different.  
Now if you are stalking me, you’ll know that every year I go to Kennet River. Unfortunately Kennet River doesn’t have a brewery (although myself and Chris did discuss the possibly of opening one in one of our more unrealistic moments of the weekend) but just up the road from Kennet River is the world renowned beer mecca of Forrest. By up the road I mean about 50km away (that is close once you are in the country) and by world renowned beer mecca I mean place with a population of 170 people and one brewery.  
With said local population of just 170 people, one must assume that the vast majority of the customers are driving  in and out of this place (on some challenging roads) so it’s perhaps not surprising that the beer line-up is devoid of 9% IPA monsters and tends more towards the sessionable brews, including a non-beer wanker friendly mid strength.
The brewery is worth visiting though. It’s a cavernous old general store that has been converted, out one side in the glorious sun is a makeshift beer garden, in the main room is a series of long tables and down the back is a pair of comfy couches, a big open fire and a window looking into the brew room, and this is where we settled in.
We were nominally there for lunch, even though it was only three hours since we cooked up bacon and eggs on the barbie for breakfast. I have to say the size of the meals were daunting, but it was so good that it all got finished. Chris even described his steak sandwich as ‘nothing short of amazing’ and Chris is a man who knows a thing or two about dead cows. 
My highlight was actually dessert – Frog in a Pond. Is there any better dessert than the classic chocolate frog in jelly? I’m sure it was meant to be for kids but that wasn’t going to stop me, I even beer matched it to the Pale Ale (it didn’t really work, but what the hell). 
 But let’s get to the important bit, the beers. There are just four beers in the range and they are:
Silvertop: The absolute stand-out for me. It’s a seriously attractive beer, the striking feature is the fluffy white creamy head, which was not unlike the fluffy white clouds that we drove through as we crossed the Otways on the way to the brewery. This isn’t a game changer, rather it is a great solid summer quaffer. I liked it so much I bought a couple of 500ml bottles to take home with me.  Pint
Red Irish Ale:  The mid strength beer, and it tasted like one, which is to say it was a little thin in the body.  It was a good mid strength offering, refreshing, with a slight hint of resinous hops, not really one for me, but definitely one for the drivers – Schooner.
Oatmeal Stout: now this was the one that I’d had at the Microbrewers Showcase which is how I found out about Forrest Brewing. I wasn’t that impressed with it then and this ‘at the source’ tasting didn’t really help. It’s a weird beer, it has the flavours you would expect from a stout, roasted nutty flavours to be exact, but then it lacked body, particularly for an oatmeal stout (in which a silky full body should be signature). As I say I couldn’t really work this beer out, I wanted more, but maybe that’s just me. Schooner.
Pale Ale: Every brewery has a pale ale nowadays and this is a worthy contender, there is a good nose of hops, without any standout ‘oh that’s cascade hops or that’s galaxy’ character. It’s certainly at the entry level of pale ales, but it does enough to keep you satisfied, leaving a lingering bitterness in the cheeks. Pint.
So if you find yourself in the Otways, it’s worth making a detour (or a stop if you are heading to the Otway Fly as you are going to have to drive right past it) in Forrest and trying a couple of their brews, and take my advice, get the frog in the pond – best $2.50 you’ll ever spend.

A Trip to Holgate

The Tasting Paddle

There is a lot to like about a trip to Holgate brewery. It is located in ‘The Country’ which is a place that inner city people talk about escaping to like it has some magical recuperative powers. Of course going to ‘The Country’ for most of the inner city crew means loading up your car with an iPad, laptop, mobile phone, hair dryer and designer straw hat (that is just the right balance of jaunty and stylish) and heading down to Portsea to see the same people you see in the city, sit in cafes that are a facsimile of the ones you frequent in South Yarra and drink the same ‘imported’ beer at the Portsea Pub that you drink at the Royal Saxon.

Well I’m here to tell you to put down those imported beers, throw away your hat (or keep it on I don’t care) and go west (well north west). Better still you can throw away the car keys too. Just jump on the Bendigo bound train at Spencer Street and an hour later you are stepping on to the platform at Woodend, mere metres from the Keating’s Hotel, home of Holgate.

The hotel is a pleasant place; sprawling would be a good description. There are four or five different rooms where you can choose to drink your beer, including a restaurant with some truly outstanding food – the beef pie made with Temptress porter was a corker, and dessert was a step up again.

The tank on the right had something called Pearl Harbour Pils fermenting in it

And just to prove that this is a working brewery you can go have a look at it, placed as it is behind glass on the way to the toilets, there are the usual array of stainless steel tanks.  Unfortunately I was there on a Sunday so there was no activity behind the glass, but I do like the idea of watching the brewers work like they are zoo exhibits (I assume that like most zoo animals they would spend most of their time sleeping).
But the star of the show is the beer and the Holgate guys know how to present it too, for a very reasonable cost (I feel it might have been $15) you can get a tasting paddle of 8 brews (and these are not one sip tastes either, they are more like a third of a pot). There are a few other beers available by the bottle only, here are my (very brief) thoughts on some of the beers we tried: 
The Pilsener (if you are following along with the pic above the pilsener is on the top right, and we are working through the paddle clockwise): This had a thin body, a grassy nose and a hint of honey in the taste. It finished dry and was refreshing but not all that interesting – Schooner 
 

Another angle of the brewhouse

Mt Macedon Ale: A pale ale, but actually not what I was expecting. It has almost no aroma and the flavour was outdoorsy, with maybe a hint of pine, very sessionable – Pint
White Ale: If the pale ale had no aroma, this one made up for it. It was a flowery brew, Holgate claims this appeals to the non-drinker, perhaps that’s why I was left unmoved by it. – Schooner
Big Reg: Marzen is a style I love and this didn’t let me down. It had some great biscuity, caramel flavours coming through. It was perhaps a little light on the carbonation and it runs the risk of getting a little cloyingly sweet, but hey I’d be happy to take that risk – Pint
ESB: which stands for English Special Bitter. Again I thought it a little under carbonated, even for an English style beer. It started sweet, but then the hops came through to create a well rounded beer – Pint
UXB:  Just like the ESB but bigger and stronger, it is not sessionable at all, rather it is a beer suited to contemplation, and cheese – Pint
Road Trip:  The stand-out on the paddle. This is the type of beer you taste before you drink it and that’s all in the aroma, great big American hop tones. This is really an outstanding beer, it has all of the depth of flavour that hops can impart on beer, but not in an overly aggressive manner – Jug
Double Trouble:  Now the really smart amongst you might think that the eighth beer on that paddle doesn’t look like a Dubbel Abbey ale, and that’s because the eighth beer on there is Temptress, which is a beer I love and have reviewed before, so I shant discuss it here except to say this example was hand pumped, which I actually though made is less enjoyable than usual. But back to the Double Trouble, the overwhelming thought on this was that it is very sweet, it was like a Christmas pudding in a glass. I found it a little too sweet for my liking though – Schooner.
So if you are looking for an awesome afternoon out I’d suggest heading to Holgate, it’s easy to get to, they have amazing food and the beer is pretty darn good as well. Oh and they do growler fills, so you can go home with 2 litres of your favourite beer, like I did with the Roadtrip.

Brewery Visit – Steam Exchange

If you are anything like me you have probably never heard of the town of Goolwa. The important bits to know is that it is close to the coast about 50 odd kays south of Adelaide, down by the mouth of the Murray and it has a very good micro brewery.

Those people who read this blog carefully may have worked out that I was in South Australia with my brother, his wife and my lovely girlfriend Jordan.  You may have also worked out that we were there to visit my Mum and her husband who live in Murray Bridge.

Now if you have ever been to SA you will be aware that there is exactly two fifths of fuck all to do in Murray Bridge, so my Mum had thoughtfully organised a bit of a day out where we toured towns with household names like Tailem Bend, Milang and Strathalbyn.  If I sound harsh I’m not intending to, all these areas are actually quite lovely, quiet sure, but very pretty.

We had a lovely day which included a strange cable ferry ride across the Murray at Wellington, a picnic in a winery and a trip to a community-run craft shop that was conveniently placed in an abandoned train carriage in, you guessed it, the middle of nowhere. They did however sell us an excellent banana and rhubarb pie.

But the beery highlight of the day was a trip to the Steam Exchange brewery which we spotted as we were driven over the Hindmarsh Island bridge, famous for secret women’s business and bringing down some property developers and a couple of state politicians. The brewery is tucked under it, right on the wharf, in an old railway goods shed.

The brewery itself is what a good working microbrewery should look like. In a big glass room at one end is the brewing kettle, mash Tun and alike. At the other end of the room is a small bar, the space in between is spilt in three. On one side are the fermenting/conditioning tanks, a coolroom and a smallish bottling line. In the middle are tables and chairs for the obvious drinking/lounging purposes, and then the other side is taken up by two huge glass doors opening onto an outdoor deck and strangely, a model train set.

Andre & Cat drinking, bottling line in the background

 

It’s an interesting place to poke around and examine the equipment, stand at the bar and discuss brews if you are that way inclined (as myself and my brother are) or simply to sit, drink and chat as the rest the party were. 

There were five beers on tap and then one extra bottle only product, and across the board they were pretty darn good. Here are my thoughts:

Oscar Summer Ale: It was an unusual light golden colour with a wispy white head. It had quite an unusual aftertaste which wasn’t any hop character I was familiar with. The weakest beer of the lot. Schooner.

Steam Ale: I’m not a steam ale fan in any way, shape or form, but this beer almost converted me. It had a creamy head, a clear fruity (tropical and citrus) nose and lingering flavour. Complex for what is normally a boring style.  Pint.

IPA: More at the gentle end of the scale of IPAs. Again it had a nice creamy head sitting atop a golden amber coloured body. It was wonderfully balanced with sweet malts balancing the hops meaning it wasn’t too aggressive. Pint.

Southerly Buster (Dark Ale):  This was the absolute standout of the bunch for me (although I found out later it was more complex on tap than in bottled form). It had toffee and banana smells on the nose and they reappear again in the taste. It had a wonderful body and mouthfeel, perhaps too sweet for many, but not for me. Jug.

Fermenting Tanks, random kegs and a place to sit

Stout:  Again a well balanced beer. Powered chocolate tones abound throughout the brew but particularly in the aftertaste.  An easy drinking stout. Pint.

There was only one beer of theirs that I’d heard of before I visited and that was Truffles, which is a bourbon infused porter.  Unfortunately it wasn’t on tap but we did buy a four pack to take away to have with our dessert, the aforementioned banana and rhubarb pie.  As an accompaniment to dessert it was perfect.  You could smell the bourbon in the beer, along with some plums and brown sugar. It was exactly what it claimed, a very sweet, almost syrup-like dessert beer. You are not going to enjoy one of these whilst watching the footy on TV, but give me a thoughtful moment in front of a fire and this will work. Pint.

Distribution of Steam Exchange is very locally based. If you are reading this in South Australia you may be able to find some (and apologies for making jokes about your state all week), otherwise you might have to find a really good bottleshop or better still get a houseboat and head down the mighty Murray and moor it at Goolwa.