Travel Back In Time

Twenty years ago, the American beer scene was in chaos.  A handful of people who had been homebrewing with suboptimal ingredients were going commercial, and growing the idea of craft beer in the United States.  Nowadays, we benefit from their legacy with incredible craft beer, and more breweries and brewpubs than anywhere else in the world.  If you want to relive that spirit of innovation, go to Tasmania.

As we have already noted, the Tasmanians don’t go in for the traditional Beer Judge Certification Program styles.  “Dark ales” are close to porters, “wheat beers” could mean Belgian wit styles, hefeweizen, or American blonde ales.  A few “honey” ales attempting to be braggots, and an “apple ale” attempting to be an apple-flavoured brown ale round out the spectrum.

Tasmanian brewers are trying, and they are brave and adventurous, but they do not seem to be leaning on or using the massive brewing knowledge available in the United States.  As a small island state sometimes referred to as “Under Down Under,” it is possible Tasmanians feel disconnected from the greater beer community.  In comparison, a handful of mainland (or “big island”, as some Tasmanians call the rest of Oz) stouts compare quite favourably to American craft stouts.  Bellarine Brewing, 4 Pines, and Prickly Moses all produce excellent stouts, which makes one wonder: are the Tasmanians consciously rebelling against beer trends, and trying to start something even more extraordinary, or are they merely misled and disconnected from the craft brew community?

Cascade, HobartAlcoholTourismCascadeFlight

We have so much love in our hearts for Cascade, it’s impossible to separate our nostalgia from reality.  It’s what got us in to beer, the visitor center is so amazing we wanted to fly everyone there for our wedding, and we go back again and again.  The beer is good, they have a nice lineup, and they know their craft.  Even after our palates evolved, we still enjoy Cascade Draught.

Moorilla, BarriedaleAlcoholTourismMoorillaFlight

Winery and brewery and art house all in one!  The tasting room is amazing, with gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside.  We preferred their dark, and even bought a few to bring home.  Not a large lineup, but well crafted.  The wine we found to be fine, but overpriced for the taste.

James Squires Pub, Hobart

This was a new addition since our last visit, and quite nice.  Quiet when we got there, but with the potential to be rambunctious.  The lineup was aimed to please a more popularist consumer than we are.  Fine beer, just nothing too flavorful.

Iron House Brewery, Four Mile CreekAlcoholTourismIronHouseView

One of the first upscale breweries we have seen anywhere.  I believe there was a golf course.  Beautiful views, surprisingly comfortable space.  Their beer lineup was fine, but not remarkable.

Boag Brewing, Launceston

A tiny tasting area is set aside for dedicated tasters.  We got to build our own flight, and their beer leans decidedly towards the light lager range.  In comparison with Cascade, we found Boags to be just a bit more bitter and breadier.

Seven Sheds Brewery, Railton

Tucked away in a tiny little town, this brewery has the potential to have lots of character.  The lineup was just four beers, and their flagship Kentish Ale was odd.  Nothing struck us enough to buy for the road.
Tasmania’s beer scene has a ways to go before they’ve come up to the same level we experience in the US.  Their wine, however, is absolutely amazing.  When we visit Tassie, wineries definitely top the list.  Breweries are more a curiosity than a destination for us on Under Down Under.

The Beer That Started It All

Susan and I had relatively little experience with alcohol when we met eachother.  She turned me on to making cocktails, since it was a way to show affection and that I was interested in her.  We both enjoyed wine of all kinds and Guinness, but didn’t enjoy many beers or spirits.  We certainly had no experience with cider or mead.

On our first trip to Oz, we did our Waterfalls and Wineries tour,Alcohol Tourism Cascade Building the start of Alcohol Tourism.  On that same trip, we tried all the local beer offerings and found one quite to our liking- Cascade.  Cascade was made locally in Hobart, from water coming from Mount Wellington.  It was a clear, light-ish lager, but with much more flavour and depth than one experiences in American light lager (Bud, Coors, etc.).  We drank a lot of Cascade on that trip.  When we visited the Cascade visitors center, they offered beer brewing kits.  They didn’t even sell Cascade off the island, much less overseas.  I thought, “Aha!  A way to enjoy awesome Cascade back home?!  Sold!”  I bought the beer making kit and brought it home.

The local brewing store, Blockader Homebrew, had all the equipment I needed ready to go.  The proprietor suggested I try another kit before the Cascade kit, just to get the process down a bit.  I took his suggestion and brewed my first batch, splattering bleach all over the kitchen in my process of sanitation.  The beer turned out pretty well, all told, so I fired up the Cascade.

This turned out less well.  I suspect that the can was quite old, and I’m sure shipping it hadn’t helped its temperament.  I dumped most of the batch as undrinkable, but by now I was hooked.  The process was fun.  I got to clean stuff.  I like cleaning.  For the next few years I did a lot of homebrewing and Susan and I did a lot of beer tasting.  Our evolving knowledge encouraged us to do our first real Alcohol Tour- a trip to Colorado where we hit dozens of brewpubs and tried more than 130 different beers!  Since then we’ve continued to expand our palate and explore more types of alcohol and visit more locales than ever before.

Gross Guinness?

Our gateway beer wasn’t Coors Light, or Budweiser, or Natty Light, or even <shiver> Milwaukee’s Best.  Our gateway beer- beer that got both of us to accept that beer is a reasonable thing to drink- was Guinness.Alcohol Tourism - Belgium Pub

It took a long time for me to get around to Guinness.  My friends told me it was like drinking a whole meal, was dense, and was far too intense to have as a starter beer.  Instead, I was plied with light American lagers, which, even then, I realized were unacceptable.  It took my first trip to Ireland, where you drink Guinness or get looked at askance, to experience and enjoy it.  Susan’s first experience with Guinness was as a completely alcohol-naive 19 year old on a college trip to Ireland.  She found it enjoyable, but had no real basis for comparison.  After these first Irish experiences, Guinness in America tasted funny to us both.  Maybe it was the psychological component- it MUST taste better in its homeland, even though it’s the same beer.Alcohol Tourism - Gate

Guinness is not near to a full meal.  It is in fact low cal, at 125 calories- less than Budweiser or Coors.  A stout, by definition, includes roasted barley, which provides a pleasant ‘burnt’ or ‘roasted’ flavour.  Guinness has a characteristic tang on the finish, originally from mixing some of the previous batch with the next batch.  Guinness is brewed in 50 locations around the world, although Guinness Draught enjoyed in the US is brewed in Ireland.  Guinness in Australia is not.

Perched comfortably at the bar of the Grosvenor Hotel in Perth in 2004, I eyed my first pint of Guinness in Oz.  It was black and had a perfect head on it.  The bartender jauntily added an impression of a clover into the head.  The Guinness website claims that experts have blind tasted Guinness from around the world and found it to be indistinguishable.  Maybe that’s true.  I expected Guinness in Oz to taste like Guinness back home.  I was destined to be disappointed.Alcohol Tourism - Guinness and Bulmers

Guinness in Australia is brewed in Australia, purportedly using the same process and ingredients as that brewed in Ireland.  We are here to tell you, it is not.  The light acidity is absent, and there’s a flat, oxidized quality to it.  The body is not as light in mouthfeel and the finish is more burnt.  It all adds up to a disappointing pint of a beer for a beer which we both fondly recall as our gateway beer, and still have a keg of in our house for ‘regular’ beer enjoyment.  Try it for yourself, and share your experiences with us!

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

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

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

Divine Australia

I don’t have spiritual experiences often.  As a fellow without a religion and not much spirituality (in contrast to my devout Catholic wife- and no, we’ve never quarrelled about faith), this comes as no surprise.  So imagine my shock when my tour bus rounds the corner, and there is a massive rock sitting in the middle of nowhere, and I feel this definite stirring.  Profound is closest I can come to describing it, and people who are religious with whom I have discussed the experience agree it sounds like a spiritual one.  OK, fine.  My first trip to Australia.

Alcohol Tourism - Uluru

Since then, I have returned three times- twice with my now-wife.  The word pilgrimage comes to mind to describe my journeys to Oz, as they do hold a significant meaning in my heart, but my trips are not exactly spiritual in nature (are they?  Maybe one of you with more spirit can help me on this one).  Once Susan and I had been dating for a while, and I thought she was pretty cool, I decided she needed to see the big rock in the middle of the desert (Uluru, which means gathering place in a local Aboriginal dialect) before I could propose to her.  When we came back from our first trip together- most of which was spent in Tasmania- I felt like this.

Of course everyone wants to know “Why Australia?”  I could list all its qualities, but it doesn’t capture the essence of why, and fundamentally many places in the Alcohol Tourism - Cascade Breweryworld (like New Zealand) offer similar qualities without all native fauna wanting to kill you.  Imagine the first car you loved (not the crappy one you had to drive when you were a teenager)- how fun it was to zip around in, how many memories you had in it, how many great trips you took with it.  But of course you put miles on it, and eventually had to sell it (or maybe you crashed it).  So you get your next car, which is pretty sweet, but it’s not like the first one.  Now imagine if I told you you could have your first car, again and again.  That’s what going back to Australia is like for me.

We will be leaving for Tasmania and the Great Ocean Road this week.  This trip will be our first one back to Oz since we discovered alcohol tourism, and I expect the experience to be even better.  The craft beer revolution has happened relatively recently in Australia, and there are wineries in Tassie which we love, most of which we hope to see again (mmmm, elderflower wine).  We’re both excited, looking forward to revisiting some of our old haunts, discovering new ones, and trying out many delicious drinks along the way.  I hope you join us as we post from Oz!
-Erik & Susan

Alcohol Tourism - Tassie