East Coast Cruisin' Pt I

November 3, 2010, by Crafty Pint

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East Coast Cruisin' Pt I

There’s a scene in Steve Martin’s 1970s big screen debut, The Jerk, in which his character Navin R Johnson lies in bed next to his new love recounting their fledgling romance. “I know we’ve only known each other four weeks and three days,” he tells the sleeping woman next to him, “but to me it seems like nine weeks and five days. The first day seemed like a week and the second day seemed like five days and the third day seemed like a week again and the fourth day seemed like eight days…”

It was a feeling that sprang to mind towards the end of last week’s whistlestop tour of a good stretch of the East Coast, calling in on as many microbreweries, beer bars and bottleshops as time (five nights) and physical distance (three flights, two hire cars, one befuddling GPS system, more walking than a recovering broken leg needed and countless cabs) would allow. By Friday, sentences like “Yeah, on Monday I went to… hang on, was that Tuesday? Err… it seems like a lifetime ago” had become conversation staples.

Still, half a hard drive of photos and a book full of notes were collected en route, new acquaintances made, old friends revisited and many beers tasted. And while there were moments that highlighted what most interstate visitors to Melbourne tell us (namely, when it comes to craft beer, we’re lucky bastards), there were plenty of encouraging signs. There’s much creativity and individuality being shown by brewers, a growing number of bars with good beer lists and a sprinkling of good bottleshops. Above all, those that are leading the way share the passion required for this craft beer revolution to succeed – and I even got to try stout ice cream on fillet steak…

First port of call was Burleigh Brewing, basking in the glory of such recent successes as a gold medal for their excellent coffee lager Black Giraffe at the World Beer Championships in the US and Champion Beer for their Hef in the inaugural Royal Queensland Food & Wine Show beer competition. A production brewery set a few kms back from the coast, Hawaiian head brewer Brennan Fielding was a-whirr at the bottling line so wife Peta handled a tour that included a taste of their Duke lagers. Only sold locally, they are a dry Premium lager and mid-strength helles (Munich style lager) with a malty sweetness, the latter of which in particular was to Crafty’s liking.

“We started talking about this in the late 1990s as we figured it [Australia] had to go in the direction of the US,” says Peta. And despite having a 45 hectolitre brew length – big for a micro in Australia – she says they’d still “love to sell all our beer within five kilometres.”

If you’re thinking of heading there, be aware it is a production brewery and generally only open to the public one Friday a month for its brewer’s bash and one Saturday for tours.

 

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The Buddha Bar and Byron Bay Premium Brewery

 

A short – and at times spectacular – drive south is Byron Bay and its two breweries: Byron Bay Premium Brewery and Stone & Wood. The former has been brewing for 15 months, using a rather swanky Newlands system tucked inside the popular Buddha Bar at the Arts Factory, where you’ll also find a backpackers, restaurant, cinema and artsy crafty stuff. You might know the name from the bottled Byron Bay Premium Ale produced under license for the brewery; now you can sample a version made in house, alongside a handful of other beers, including a surprisingly rewarding low carb beer, a peachy Pale and – soon at least – a new mid-strength based on a British bitter that, if the straight-from-tank version is any guide, could easily be quaffed in an English pub garden on one of the few days the sun shines over there.

The neon lighting and large buddha sculptures are more in keeping with its backpacker venue status than a brewery, yet the combination of the two means you’ll find some of the cheapest prices in the country for microbrewed beer in a venue that can go through 100 kegs a week in the summer and packs a crowd most nights.

“The plan is to get the venue up to capacity and then build a small regional brewery with a bottling line,” says head brewer Stefan Walker.

Day one ended at Stone & Wood, the second production brewery of the tour, although one that Crafty discovered has been as successful finding a home in pubs in the Byron Bay region as it has been in most parts of Australia. Set up by a three-man splinter team from Matilda Bay, with Brad Rogers heading up the brewing side, it was a joy to see how such an outwardly slick machine shares much in common with plenty of smaller micros: a simple corrugated iron warehouse; a homemade hoses-and-sticky-tape means of cleaning bottles as they come off the bottling line; a farmer who helps with bottling in return for spent grain for his cattle (they go nuts for it, apparently, like junkies to their fix).

 

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Assessing hop “tea” before dry-hopping the kellerbier

 

Masters of the drinkable beer, whether you go for their all malt, gently hopped Pale Lager, the passionfruity, “This is what the Galaxy hop can do” Draught Ale or the annual Stone Beer, their story is one of mates who’ve done well from “major league” brewing then taken a sidestep to appreciate a different lifestyle – and are savouring every moment. It comes across in their beers, their approach and the Stone & Wood personality, perhaps why Crafty was feeling a little worse for wear when mounting a ladder to dry hop their kellerbier on the Tuesday morning.

Another brewery that’s not technically open to the public, they’re worth contacting if you’re going to be in the area to see if you can pop in. Best of all, if it is a closed shop when you’re in town, it’s hardly the worst part of the world in which to console yourself, is it?

And now, before this article starts to seem like three articles, a pause. Back soon with talk of dreamcatchers, mountaintops and inadvertent journeys over the Story Bridge…

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