I moved back to North Melbourne so I could be a ten-minute walk away from work. A ten-minute walk away from the city. I knew I’d done the right thing, however, when I received an email stating that I was a ten-minute walk away from a beer-tasting panel. On a Tuesday night.
Tuesday-night-sessions were once a regular occurrence, especially between 2004 and 2008 in London, although in saying that, every-night-sessions were pretty common back then.
These days, Tuesdays are generally reserved for backing dishlickers at Horsham and watching re-runs of Cops. Well it’s not quite that bad, but things have definitely changed in the past five years…
Held at the offices of design company, Bluebottle (who are creating the Festival Hub) the night kicked off with punters being offered either an Alpha Queen or a Smash!, showcasing a couple of Boatrocker’s regular line up (the Hop Bomb being their other standard offering).
Even though it was predominantly a room full of strangers, conversation flowed [cheese alert] as smoothly as the beer being poured by Matt and Tim, who told us that 50 litre pilot batches of each style had been brewed for the occasion.
Initially there was some indecision as to which beer to vote for, but once told that Boatrocker’s year-round beers will also be available at the festival, many of the panel decided to go with their absolute favourite of the trio, rather than the one they thought would appeal to the masses.
To cap off the night, everyone took away a six-pack of Alpha Queen/Smash! and, naturally, some beer nuts from the catering company supplying the festival.
As to which styles were on offer and which one got the nod on the night, we’ll just have to wait until Melbourne Festival makes an announcement at the end of the week…
I’m not sure why, but Sydney is a place that I’ve never really connected with. I have to admit that I haven’t spent much time there (a couple of work trips before heading away last year and a few days when I was eleven) but at times I’ve felt more foreign there than in many other places that I’ve visited. That being said, I wasn’t going to give up the chance to spend a weekend in Sin City with some friends after a Friday afternoon meeting…
The weekend kicked off at Australia’s oldest pub brewery, the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, where I tried out five of their on tap offerings: Quayle Ale (a Summer Ale), 111 (English IPA), Victory Bitter (British Pale Ale), Anileation (Dry Irish Stout) and Old Admiral (Old Ale). The ‘Taste Crazy’ badge on Untappd hoped that I was just sampling and I was, as long as they class pint glasses as samples.
Bright sun and blue skies the following day prompted a walk from my friends’ place in Surry Hills, taking in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney Opera House and Circular Quay before grabbing a beer at The Glenmore Rooftop in The Rocks. More touristy activity followed with a walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to North Sydney, where we jumped on a bus to head ten minutes further north to the Flat Rock Brew Cafe in Naremburn.
We had just enough time to sneak in a Flat Rock American Pale Ale before meeting up with Karl who, along with his wife, opened the operation late last year. Karl has been home brewing for the past twelve years and prefers the traditional styles that were served up 300 years ago.
They have a 200 litre brewing system set up on the bottom level of what used to be a greengrocer and have a licence to brew three times a week. All of their beers are naturally conditioned in casks for roughly two weeks before being dispensed from the hand pumps upstairs.
In addition to the APA, Karl has offered many styles, including an English Bitter, English IPA, Oatmeal Porter and Juniper Pale Ale. We also tried the Flat Rock Sweet Stout later in the evening.
In addition to their own brews, they cycle other Australian craft beer through their four standard taps. We went with the Golden Ace from Feral Brewing Company and Scotch Ale from Red Hill Brewery. Beers from Riverside Brewing Company and Endeavour were also available when we were there, as were twenty regular and fifty specialty bottles.
We left after a decent feed, before a brief stop at the Local Taphouse in Darlinghurst. It may have been the 7.7% Intravenous Elixir by Doctor’s Orders Brewing talking, but I ended the night thinking that perhaps Sydney isn’t such a bad place after all…
The last of our US-based articles takes us a lazy 900km from Ukiah to Redondo Beach in Los Angeles. First up was San Francisco, where we stayed in a dive of a motel, complete with a mulleted and moustached freak who spent much of his time peering into peoples’ rooms and carrying a circular saw around. We didn’t let this deter us however, venturing out of our room to check out what the city has to offer, including the view from Corona Heights Park and of course, The Golden Gate Bridge.
We drove on to Santa Barbara, calling in at The Brewhouse on our first night for an Elephant Seal XX IPA, which seemed more than appropriate after copping our first sighting of the creatures earlier in the day. The next night we hit up another brewpub, the Santa Barbara Brewing Company for a couple of beers with dinner. It ended up being a home-wrecker of a night, but if my memory serves me correctly, the Double IPA went down the best.
Our time in Los Angeles couldn’t have started any better – our friends Laura and Matt meeting us at Hermosa Beach and taking us for our first beer in LA at the Hermosa Beach Yacht Club, which is the only bar that I’ve come across that advertises its staff’s working hours to punters… Later it was on to Naja’s Place, where they have 88 beers on tap. We sampled nearby Strand Brewing Company’s Atticus IPA, before finally getting hold of the much sought-after Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing Company.
The next day saw a 50km round-trip on bicycle from Redondo Beach to Santa Monica Pier, a journey that made us question the bad rap that LA generally gets from other travellers. We also went to West Hollywood to visit some famous rock bars, including the Rainbow Bar and Grill, Viper Room and Whisky a Go Go. The Doors had been the house band at The Whisky in 1966 and the evening was made even more poignant with a minute’s silence for keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who had sadly passed away that day.
Luckily, there was still time for more craft beer after all of this and we caught up with Sarah Bennett on our last night in the US. Sarah writes about beer, music, art and local culture for various publications, such as the Long Beach Post and more recently, Beer Paper LA, co-founded by her boyfriend earlier this year.
Sarah picked us up in Redondo Beach and we drove to The Bruery Tasting Room in Orange County – a classy set up where you can try their wide variety of beers by the glass or by pre-set and custom flight sheets. We went with the Hop-Forward Flight, consisting of: Grant is Pale, Mischief, Loakal Red, Imperial Loakal Red and Humulus Lager. The Bruery offers three levels of membership, each of which give punters access to limited edition beers, discounts, merchandise and invitations to various events.
Next up was Sarah’s hometown of Long Beach and a trip to Beachwood Brewing & BBQ. Along with the tremendous pulled-pork sandwiches, we tried their Hops of Brixton ESB and The Falcon West Coast India Pale Ale. Sarah went with Noble Ale Works’ Naughty Sauce – a blonde coffee milk stout served on nitro-draught. I knew there were blonde stouts out there, but this was the first time I’d ever seen or tasted one.
The night was a great way to end our month in the US and Sarah’s willingness to drive two complete strangers well over 100km for the sake of craft beer was just another demonstration of how close-knit the community is. The fact that I saw this collaborative approach demonstrated in every country that I visited over the (almost) twelve month trip makes the lure of joining the craft beer industry even more attractive…
We severely underestimated how long it was going to take to drive from Seattle to Los Angeles and therefore decided to do the 450km stretch from Arcata to San Francisco without making any stops apart from coffee and lunch. Things were going to plan, until I spotted a sign on the side of Highway 101 for the Ukiah Brewing Company…
My mate held the driving responsibilities, but he agreed to call in for a look, even if it meant we’d lose a bit of time and he wouldn’t be able to consume as many beers as he would like to.
UBC was established in 2000 and holds the distinction of being the first certified organic brewpub and the second certified organic restaurant in the USA. We caught up with Head Brewer, and fellow metalhead, Scott Jones who told us that he learned his craft from the former Brew Master, who was with UBC until 2009. The brewpub is located in the Marks Building in the centre of Ukiah and footage of Scott’s band, Autonomist playing at the historic venue can be found here.
Scott also spent some time under the tutelage of Hubert Germain-Robin from nearby Germain-Robin Brandy and it’s easy to spot this influence when he talks about his preference for brewing traditional 1800s styles of beer. Scott also mentioned that he likes to challenge the palate of the loyal locals by making minor adjustments to each batch and is more than impressed by their ability to pick these changes up.
Scott mentioned that he has brewed eighteen styles at UBC and we were lucky enough to sample two of those while we were there – the Willits Wit, a wheat/ale hybrid brewed with orange peel and coriander, and the Lunar Harvest Ale.
All of UBC’s beers are bottled by hand, or hand-canned in an old 1980s single seamer. We took a six-pack of their Pilsner Ukiah away with us and Scott assured us that it is the only hand-canned organic beer in the USA.
UBC may not be distributing outside of Ukiah at the moment, but two full cans have made their way back to Australia with us. Collectors’ items in the future, no doubt…
We spent a couple of days in Vancouver, checking out the city and chilling out at Kitsilano Beach, literally a stone’s throw from our mate’s place. We also caught up with my mate Jay, another Taswegian that I went to high school with. We met at Steamworks Brew Pub and tried their Empress IPA, Nut Brown Ale and Mocha Porter, not to mention a cracking salmon burger…
Our very knowledgeable waiter told us that Steamworks was established in 1995 and is the only steam-generated brewery in Canada. They have recently started bottling their Pilsner and Pale Ale and these should be available throughout British Columbia shortly. They also have a range of 650mL seasonals, including a Saison, Hefeweizen, Oatmeal Stout and Wheat Ale.
The next day we took a bus to Seattle, finding out on the way that the fifth Seattle Beer Week was just kicking off. We went to the final venue for opening day, The Pine Box and got stuck into a couple of Breakaway Nitro IPAs by the American Brewing Company, who are based in Edmonds. We followed up with another local beer, this time Fremont Brewing’s Northwest Barley Wine, before heading off into the night.
Other highlights from Seattle included having our first pickleback (a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle brine) and the EMP Museum, which houses brilliant Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana exhibitions, a 55-strong guitar gallery and a huge sculpture containing over 500 instruments. We also experienced the best atmosphere in the MLS, with the Seattle Sounders beating the San Jose Earthquakes 4-0.
We hired a car after the match and commenced our drive south to Portland, calling in at the Jimi Hendrix memorial on the way. I never imagined that I would visit the site, so it was great to get the chance to pay my respects to the great man.
Our arrival into Portland ended up being quite late, but luckily we walked into the Portland Hawthorne Hostel about thirty seconds before the phone rang and therefore managed to jag the last bed (and a mattress on the floor).
A short walk from the hostel placed us on SE Stark Street with a handful of bars to choose from. The pick of the night was Bonfire Lounge and the Sweet Heat from local Burnside Brewing Company. This Wheat Ale contains apricot puree and Jamaican Scotch Bonnet peppers, giving it a nice kick.
We set off reasonably early the next morning, calling in at Voodoo Doughnut as we left Portland. Almost everyone we met had insisted that we go there, so we had to see what all the fuss was about. I have to admit that I’m not usually a fan of these sickly creations and the Bacon Maple Bar doughnut was pretty hard to stomach at that time of day, but the Diablos Rex (complete with vanilla pentagram) and the Old Dirty Bastard were pretty handy!
Crater Lake was our next stop and even though it took a lot longer to get there than we expected, it was well worth the wait. We spent a good hour and a half there before driving another 40km to a campsite near Union Creek Resort. We stopped at the resort to grab dinner before setting up our tent and thought we’d walked onto a movie set – the ambulances and inconsolable people rushing about didn’t exactly set our minds at ease before a night camping in the woods…
The next morning started off on a much brighter note – scoring a couple of free coffees from Dutch Bros. Coffee, just metres from where the company had started in Grants Pass, due to having weird accents. Buoyed by this stroke of luck, we continued south into California, before finally hitting Highway 101 just outside Crecent City. Naturally, we had Social Distortion’s song of the same name blaring at the time.
The rest of the day consisted of checking out the biggest trees we’ve ever come across in the various Redwood State and National Parks of northern California, scoping out some wild elk and driving along some great coastal roads. We also drove through a tree around eight times to make the $5 entrance fee worthwhile, although we did get to see some emus for free, which must count for something…
We decided to stay just outside Arcata for the night and our now refined craft beer research methods uncovered the Redwood Curtain Brewing Company not far from the centre of town. It would have been rude to not head there for an after-dinner beer and we made it just in time to sample their Cascadian Dark Ale before last call. Unfortunately, our accents didn’t work this time and we had to pay for the beers – still, it was a pretty good way to finish off a decent day…
From Medellin we took the 16-hour bus to Santa Marta – my last overnight journey in South America. A quick cab ride transferred us to Taganga, where we stayed for close to a week, including spending a night in a hammock at Cabo San Juan in Parque Tayrona – definitely worth visiting if you’re ever in the area.
Another (shorter) bus ride took us to Cartagena and similarly, our six nights there included a night in a hammock – this time on Playa Blanca. This popular beach on Isla Baru can be reached by boat, but we took the cheaper option of local bus > ferry > motorbike. It probably took twice as long, but was around a quarter of the cost and the local bus passes through a market in quite a poor part of Cartagena that you wouldn’t normally see.
I’d travelled 24,000km in South America by road, train and boat, so taking my first flight in 6 months was quite a strange experience. I flew from Cartagena to Fort Lauderdale and then onto Dallas/Fort Worth, spending a night in nearby Irving before taking a $1 Megabus to Austin the next day. If taking the plane was weird enough, being surrounded by freeways and fast food joints definitely took a few days to get used to.
We spent a couple of days checking out the city’s nightlife before hitting up Austin Psych Fest. We spent three days camping at the Carson Creek Ranch and met people from all walks of life who love psychedelic rock, some who’d travelled three days to be there.
We managed to get hold of some great craft beer either side of the festival, generally heading to the bars to the east of Interstate 35 to get away from the (mostly) trashy bars downtown. Included in the local brews we sampled were beers from Austin Beerworks (served in a can), Hops & Grain Brewing and Live Oak Brewing Company. We also tried three year round beers from Real Ale Brewing Company out of Blanco, Texas and a Black IPA by the Alaskan Brewing Company, who are based in Juneau.
Next up was our first trip to New York and plenty of decisions to be made on what to see over six days. Highlights include the High Line in the lower west side of Manhattan, the Top of the Rock Observation Deck (for great views of Central Park and the Empire State Building) and the (free) Staten Island Ferry. I also caught the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club gig at Terminal 5 on the Saturday night. They’d played at Psych Fest a week earlier, but my memory was a little hazy.
From a craft beer perspective, I can’t go past the Blind Tiger Ale House in the West Village, where they have approximately 30 different beers on tap and (according to their website) over 50 bottled beers – to be honest, I didn’t even consider any of these due to the options available on draught. Standout brews were the Founders Brewing Porter (well-needed after aimlessly wandering the streets at 2am) and the Anderson Valley Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout.
From NYC, it was on to Vancouver to catch up with another mate from Tasmania. Our first full day started off with grand plans of checking out the main sights around the city, however as is so often the case, these plans were scratched around 40 minutes later when we walked on to Granville Island and saw Granville Island Brewing. We promptly signed up for the next tour, where we found out that the brewery opened in 1984 and that their regular beers can be found across Canada.
We were also told that whilst the company was bought out around three years ago, they still brew 1,000L batches of their limited releases on site. These small batches can only be found in British Columbia and we were lucky enough to try the Cloak & Dagger Cascadian Dark Ale at the end of the tour. We also sampled two of their seasonals – the False Creek Raspberry Ale and the Ginja Ninja Ginger Beer. Not a bad way to start a day of sightseeing…
It was a busy month after leaving La Paz, an impending flight from Cartagena to the US on the 22nd of April for Austin Psych Fest forcing me to travel a lot quicker than usual. First up were a couple of days on Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca – a place that I can’t recommend enough. Other highlights include (the very obvious) Machu Picchu and Huacachina, an oasis in the middle of some huge sand dunes. My sand boarding left a lot to be desired, but the mental dune buggy ride was worth the $16.50 AUD alone.
Lima also surprised after some less than promising reviews, although an early morning email to cancel a microbrewery visit was pretty disappointing after two weeks without a craft beer (please disregard the fact that I’d been sick for a few days and really didn’t need a beer at 8am).
A short stop in Mancora en route to Ecuador was followed by a couple of pretty ordinary bus trips before chilling out for a few days on the coast in Canoa. Quito was the next capital to surprise, as I’d heard that the only thing to do there was get robbed of your belongings. Some decent nightlife, a trip on the teleferico and the views from the basilica proved this to be simply hearsay.
We were lucky enough to be in Medellin on the first Friday of the month, when 3 Cordilleras holds a rock concert at their brewery, along with a tour of their premises. They also stage regular concerts on the third Friday and last Thursday of each month, as well as tours every Thursday evening from 17:30-21:00. There is an entrance fee for each event, but it works out to be pretty good value as it includes a few beers.
We met with Isaac on arrival, who is now the Marketing Manager, but has held many roles at the brewery, including bottle-cleaner and translator for the first Brew Master, who was from the US. He told us that 3 Cordilleras is available in six different cities in Colombia and the brewery is currently producing around 32,000 litres per month, operating at around 50% capacity.
Isaac also mentioned that their marketing strategy is based around face-to-face interaction and social media, rather than through traditional media such as TV and radio. We spotted 3 Cordilleras in many places around Medellin during our five days there, including hostels, supermarkets and convenience stores, so it looks like it has been a pretty successful approach!
The brewery produces five regular beers and a seasonal, which goes by the name of 6.47 Especial, regardless of the style of beer – the colour of the label changes however, in an inventive way of getting around the registration fee for each new product. Each of the seasonal beers are characterised by an alcohol level of 6.47% and a Dark Strong Ale was on offer when we were in town. Past styles have included an IPA, English Sweet Stout and Belgian Saison.
Four out of their five regular beers are named after various ethnic groups in Colombia – Blanca (American Wheat Ale), Mulata (Amber Ale), Mestiza (APA) and Negra (Stout). The fifth beer is the Rosé, which includes strawberries, blueberries and cranberries in the brewing process.
This was the first time I had been to a gig at a microbrewery and the 3 Cordilleras Band were more than impressive, bashing out tunes like Nine Inch Nails’ Closer, Blur’s Song 2 and Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana. The performance was definitely capped off though, with a face melting solo during a cover of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb. A great way to start to a weekend of debauchery in Medellin…
…but this cuy was in no fit state to complain.
Before I begin this post, I need to say that the couple of afternoons we spent with Remo, founder of Saya Beer, is easily the longest time I have spent with a brewer and there is no way I will be able to do the topics we covered, beer-related or otherwise, justice.
I would never have guessed that one of the pioneers of craft beer in South America would be from Bolivia, but Saya Beer was founded fifteen years ago when Remo set up a microbrewery in his father’s hostel in La Paz. The brewery took up half the building and six years ago the hostel changed its name to The Adventure Brew Hostel. Since then, a nearby building has been purchased to assist with demand for beds and the brewery has moved to Achocalla, 30 minutes from La Paz, to assist with demand for beer.
The name Saya comes from a form of Afro-Bolivian music and dance and the Saya Negra was the first regular beer that they produced. The Saya Dorada and Saya Ambar are their other two standard beers and Remo mentioned at least four seasonals that they have brewed in the past, including a Bock, IPA, Hefeweizen and Oktoberfest. The Dorada is actually a Kölsch with a high range of hops and is the Saya beer of choice for Bolivians, accounting for 60% of total sales.
- Saya Dorada: Tierra de Ensueño (Dreamland)
- Saya Ambar: Diosa del Fuego (Goddess of Fire)
- Saya Negra: Vientos Sagrados (Sacred Winds)
Saya Beer also seeks to bottle the energy of the elements during the brewing process by talking to the hops, malt, water and yeast in order to ask permission and give thanks for their use.
This is the first time that I have ever encountered anything like this and have to admit that it was refreshing to hear beer being talked about in such a way.
The expansion to the new brewery site has seen an increase to 12,000 litres per month and Remo hopes that production will grow to 30,000 litres per month over the next year and a half. Saya Beer can currently be found in fifty places around La Paz (bars, restaurants and supermarkets) and five venues in both Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. A sanitary permit will be required should Saya Beer look to export to other South American countries in the future.
The specially made bottles took close to two years to complete from initial designs to production and there have been various interpretations of the meaning behind the angled stripes down the side of the bottle, including a stairway to heaven and to enhance your grip on the bottle. The real reason is to enable the drinker to play the bottle like a cuancha, an instrument similar to the güiro, and which is paramount to the music performed during Saya.
We initially met Remo at the hostel bar, where we sampled all three of Saya’s standard beers, as well as the Wee Heavy from Bodebrown that I’d been carrying for over 3 months. A couple of days later Remo took us to the brewery for a tour and some more tastings. This time we were able to try the Saya Negra straight from the fermentation tank – unfiltered and without gas. It’s easy to see why the punters prefer this over the filtered version, but you’ll have to head to the brewery or hostel in order to try it yourself.
The brewery is supplied by two wells approximately 1km away. The water is treated with O3 (ozone) and sits in the tank for a day before first passing through sand and then charcoal. Three different sized filters are then used before the water is exposed to UV light, in what is the final step prior to brewing. Similarly, the liquid waste from the brewing process is treated with O3 and UV light before being used for watering gardens and the solid malt waste is fed to local cows and pigs.
Between these ecological steps and getting in touch with the elements, it’s fair to say that Saya Beer is more than just a brewery…