Tasmania Alcohol Tourism

After 2 weeks Under Down Under, our third trip there, what did we learn?

1) Alcohol Tourism works great!

Alcohol Tourism - Wilmot & Susan

Susan @ Wilmot Hills 2013

Alcohol Tourism - Wilmot & Susan 2007

Susan @ Wilmot Hills 2007

We knew we could follow wineries, but they aren’t everywhere on the island, and there’s only so much wine you can buy.  We found breweries and distilleries to round out the experience, and learned a lot about Tasmanian beer and whiskey in the process.

2) Craft Tasmanian whiskey is freaking expensive.

We knew Australia taxes on the percentage of alcohol in spirits, but that still didn’t prepare us for the sticker-shock.  Hellyers Road, Nant, Lark, and Redlands distilleries all offer fine whiskeys.  It’s possible we are not sufficiently discerning whiskey drinkers to appreciate the subtlety, but to our palates, the Tasmanians whiskeys (starting at $70 for a bottle) were not particularly remarkable.  Delicious, yes.  Superior to Jameson?  No.  We’re just as happy to wait until we get back to the States to make our whiskey purchases. Alcohol Tourism - Hellyers Road

3) Beer can be posh.Alcohol Tourism - Seven Sheds Brewing

Moo Brew at MONA and Iron House both had large, glass-encased, modern facilities to highlight their beer.  Seven Sheds was more our style – hidden away in a retrofitted barn on a side road in a small town.  While we know craft beer can be trendy, we haven’t encountered many posh craft beer establishments in the U. S.  Perhaps Destihl in Champagne, IL, comes closest.  Most craft beer in the U. S. is brewed by iconoclasts: rugged, bearded guys and rugged, unbearded but nevertheless anti-establishment gals.  It seems like the beermakers in Tassie are striving for what the distilleries and some of the wineries show: posh.  Which is fine, but not our thing.

4) Revisited wineries confirm our preferences.

Alcohol Tourism - Tassie WineriesWe have visited many Tasmanian wineries in the past.  We visited most of them again on this trip, as well as some new ones like Nandroya, and confirmed that we just like them.  Panorama, Freycinet, and Wilmot Hills consistently produce wines we have enjoyed for years.  The owner of Wilmot Hills remembered us from our last visit, introduced us to his wife, and spoke with us about our repeat trips to the island.  This is a great element of nostalgia tourism – going back to places you have been before, because they are known and comfortable, and give you warm fuzzies.

5) You can have a different experience going to the same tiny island for the 3rd time.Alcohol Tourism - Waterfall

Our lodging choices this trip were almost identical to those we have made in the past.  The owner’s father at the hotel in Triabunna admonished us, when asking for a twin bed room, “Don’t be sneaking over to the other bed,” similar to the off-color remark we got from him last time:  “Would you like a shagging room or a non-shagging room?”.  We have learned that distances are not so far, so we could backtrack from the Weldborough Hotel to hit a hike we fancied, and we could comfortably schedule 4 hour hikes on many days.  And we learned that there are still waterfalls to see, and paths to explore, and new wineries and breweries to discover, after so many visits.

-Erik & Susan

You Keep Using That Word

Alcohol Tourism - Cascade Tasting

I do not think it means what you think it means.  The immortal words of Inigo Montoya spring to mind after we taste our third American Pale Ale in Tasmania.  The APA is an official style of the Beer Judge Certification Program, which summarizes an APA as “Refreshing and hoppy, yet with sufficient supporting malt”.  MONA, Cascade, and James Squire all had APAs on draft, and we looked askance after tasting each.  The hop aroma and flavour were certainly not as strong as an APA, and most had a peculiar flavour on the finish it took us a while to figure out…

Alcohol Tourism - Iron House  Iron House Brewery is set in the White Sand Estate, and was the first brewpub we found in Tassie.  Their lineup of a summer pale ale, blond, APA, porter, wit, and leatherwood honey porter was colorful, but would it taste good?  The wit would be more properly termed a hefeweizen, and both porters had too strong of a dark caramel character for us to really enjoy.  Their APA, though, caused both of us to be perplexed.  We had found an APA brewed to style in Tasmania.  So they obviously could get it right.  The question was- why hadn’t all the others?

On the way from the east coast of Tasmania to Launceston is a tiny hamlet, with not much more than a gas station, a few homes, and a pub.  The pub is the Weldborough Hotel, and it claims to have beer from every microbrewery in the state.  We stayed overnight to allow us an opportunity Alcohol Tourism - Weldborough Hotelto taste Van Dieman Brewing, Morrison Brewing, Pagan Cider, Willie Smith Cider, and Dickens Rose Cider.  Van Dieman’s Land was the original name for Tasmania, named after Anthony van Dieman, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies who had dispatched Abel Tasman to explore Terra Australis in 1642.  The Van Dieman Brewing company had a TPA on tap which the proprietor, Mark, said was a “Tasmanian Pale Ale”.  After sampling, we shared an expression of wonder with each other.  THIS was the flavour the “APA”s had, and we finally pegged it as a slight farmhouse character.  But why would the Tasmanians brew such a beer preferentially, and still call it an APA?  Might they not know any better?  Or had something altered their palate in a global way?

            Boag’s Brewing is the rival to Cascade Brewing.  What Cascade is in the south of Tassie- centered in Hobart- Boag’s is to the north- centered in Launceston (pronounced lawn-sest-uhn).  The last time we had visited, we decided that Cascade was our preference.  Since then, Boag’s had made major inroads into the south, and we were surprised to find it on tap at nearly every pub in the state.  On a visit to Boag’s “Centre for Beer Lovers”, we tried the light lager, XXX gold, draught, and Wizard’s.  With the Draught and Wizard’s, the same slight farmhouse character was appreciated.  It reminded us of cask ales that have gone a bit off, even slightly oxidized.  We had found what we believe to be the explanation for the pale ale conundrum: Boag’s had a slight cask character, reminiscent of ‘real ales’, and Tasmanians had perceived that to be a component of pale ales.  It explained the “APA”s we had sampled and the appropriately-labeled TPA.Alcohol Tourism - Boags

            The craft brew renaissance is still new to Tasmania, and the brewers are still trying to get their feet under them.  This is similar to the US 20-30 years ago, when the first few craft brewers were trying to brew interesting beer that also appealed to the then-unrefined American palate, dulled by decades of light lagers.  The pale ale in Tasmania seems to imitate a dominant beer style of the region (Boag’s Draught) in the same way American Pale Ale started by imitating the flavor of Miller/Budweiser/Coors lagers.

Alcohol Tourism - Tas Drink Local

Huon Valley Wineries

Alcohol Tourism - Clouds

Clouds race across the cerulean sky as we make our way through goblets of crimson and sunshine purity.  In wine, there is truth.  Tasmania’s southeast region, centered on the Huon Valley, where apples once reigned and helped give the state its appellation of the Apple Isle, lends credence to this saying.

A deserted, modern building with sharp angles and glass perched at the end of the driveway.  After taking in the views, we ventured to honk the car horn, and thus summon the proprietor of Nandroya Winery.  En route to a grueling 3 hour hike at Pelverata falls, we had decided to stop in this new, boutique winery.  The owner told us this was his retirement plan, and they grow only two varietals: pinot noir and sauvignon blanc.  As we have come to expect, the pinot noir was high in tannins, but the sav blanc was enjoyable, with pear and lemon acidity creating a surprisingly mellow flavour.

Alcohol Tourism - VineyardsPanorama and Hatrzview Wineries have been on our itinerary twice before, and we entered those wineries as we would the houses of old but distant friends.  We left Panorama with four bottles and Hartzview with a mead and numerous gifts for friends back home.  Both are well-established but welcoming vineyards, in contrast to the southeast’s most popular winery, Home Hill.  A Jaguar XJ, the first luxury car we had seen in Tassie, brooded in the packed lot at Home Hill.  All of the patrons were in the restaurant rather than the tasting room, a restaurant where mains cost far more than we would imagine paying for dinner, much less lunch.

The southeast wineries are not as frequented or trendy as the Coal River Valley wineries around Richmond, which is why we prefer them.  The southeast wineries do not charge tasting fees (as long as you make a purchase, which we find reasonable).  They’re quiet, and pleasant, and friendly, and that’s just the way we like them: reflecting the characteristics that bring us back to Tasmania after years away.

Alcohol Tourism - Susan Wine

Holy Trinity of Grog

Susan’s the religious one.  (Erik grumbles about how the Holy Trinity doesn’t really make sense; Susan Alcohol Tourism - Lark Distillerysays because it’s not supposed to.)  In cooking, the combination of onions, bell peppers, and celery is often called the Holy Trinity.  It’s a kind of shorthand for three things that go together, but are still inherently different. What would the Holy Trinity of alcohol tourism be?  Beer, wine, and….

Wood softened our footsteps as we made our way into the quiet atmosphere of Lark Distillery, located adjacent to Hobart’s main tourist information center.  The golden colour of four whiskeys and two liquers graced our tasting glass.  The whiskeys range from a 43% single malt to an incredible 58% cask strength, as well as one kept in rum barrels.  The cask strength version had a hot alcohol flavour throughout, and the rum barrel-aged version had a hint of molasses in the finish.  Their Bush liquer is made from Tasmanian pepperberries and is reminiscent of gin.  A whiskey liquer tasted of candy cane, with an attendant sweetness like Drambuie.  Like New Zealand spirits, the whiskeys on list at Lark were shockingly expensive, starting at $33 for 100mL bottle.  Any would make a fine gift for friends, but would not replace our whiskey selection at home.Alcohol Tourism - MONA

A champagne flute stood in the foreground, contrasting a row of beer glasses behind.  We have never had a simultaneous beer and wine tasting before, so the Museum of Old an New Art (MONA) was a pleasant experience.  A microbrewery and winery both showcase at the tasting bar.  The stout was Alcohol Tourism - Cascade Brewerydelightful- chocolate on the nose and a robust finish without any burnt or bitter character.  The wine lineup was pricey and not distinguished.  Starting with the beer, moving to wine, and back to beer had an interesting effect on our palate and we recommend you try it at home.  MooBrew’s hefeweizen and stout and the Moorila Estate Winery’s pinot gris made it into the car with us, which brought our tasting bill to zero!

In pursuit of nostalgia tourism, we visited Cascade Brewery, where homebrewing started for us 4 years ago.  The facade of the brewery, looming at the base of Mount Wellington, is alone enough to inspire respect and admiration.  The beers themselves are suited to an average palate, and thus are quaffable without being remarkable.  We’re pleased that the beer isn’t like crappy American beer- at least we were inspired by well-crafted, if unchallenging, brews!

Gordon Biersch: The Airport Brewery Redeemer

There was no hope.  LA, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, London.  En route to San Francisco, all faith was lost.  Anchor and 21st Amendment Brewery deliver, but the city is not notorious for its beer culture.

Alcohol Tourism - Gordon Biersch Plane

Three weeks ago, Boston and London greeted me through their airports.  Boston is home to the Sam Adams Brewing Company, one of the largest ‘craft’ brewers in the US.  The tap room in the airport serves some of their beers- the most interesting of which was their Irish Red- and Budweiser.  People packed the bar from end-to-end, leaving no space for a nice, quiet pint.  Heathrow was a wasteland for good drink.  These airports primed me for disappointment.

Hartsfield-Jackson houses Sweetwater and the Atlanta Chophouse and Brewery.  As the first stop on our journey, we hoped to start with some decent beer.  The crowds overwhelmed at Sweetwater and the beer underwhelmed.  Atlanta Chophouse and Brewery carried none of their own brews.Alcohol Tourism - Matilda

Onwards to Chicago, where Goose Island pours their 312, Honker Ale, Green Line, 312 (again), Matilda, and, yes, Budweiser.  “It’s a Belgian” was the bartender’s response to a query about Matilda.  Susan’s remark on Matilda, “If someone doesn’t know how Belgian beer should taste, this will teach them.”  Light on the palate while retaining a malt forward character and dominated by the Belgian character, this was the first good offering we had encountered.  There was still no sign of a stout, porter, or even a Scottish ale yet.

Bounce through San Francisco, with the Gordan Biersch chain representing craft beer at the airport.  Doubt filled us.  Aside from two sisters playing rock-paper-scissors to decide on who should order first, the restaurant was as empty and eerie as a Kansas truck stop at four in the morning.  No Budweiser on tap here- just four of their own ales, three of which we ordered.  We were deemed suitable to have only two beers at a time, so two enormous glasses packed with beer appeared.  Finally, a great lineup!  Marzen is a style which many breweries do, in the form of Oktoberfest beers, but is hard to get just right.  Gordan Biersch succeeded, with a light malt character with little sweetness in the mid palate and a clean finish.  Banana aroma and flavor oozed from the hefeweizen, sending Susan straight to heaven.  We miss our stouts, but Gordan Biersch had delivered.

Our hope and faith in airport brewpubs restored, we were fortified for the balance of our journey to Melbourne.  As long as this blog remains small, and therefore the secrets of Gordan Biersch undiscovered, we look forward to Gordan Biersch continuing to be a quiet and delicious stop when heading through San Francisco airport.

Alcohol Tourism - Gordon Biersch Draft