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.

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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.

Loot Woes

We had grown complacent.  Possibly arrogant.  We’d done this before.  What could go wrong?  In the end, we found out, and what a mess we had.

Alcohol Tourism - Oz 13 Loot

All wineries we visited in Tasmania had a reasonable policy: tastings are free if you buy a bottle.  Most wines we enjoyed in country, but there were many we wanted to bring home.  We had beers and ciders to truck back.  This all made for heavy baggage- we incurred a steep weight charge flying from Hobart to Melbourne before beginning our Great Ocean Road journey.  Now we know: pay for excess weight before you get to the terminal.  All was well flying in to Melbourne.  Our real test would be the return flight home.

No small winery in Tasmania will ship to the US, Cascade doesn’t sell off the island, and shipping is far too expensive, so the only way any of our spoils were getting to the US was in our checked bags.  We finagled a way to avoid paying any checked bag fees so we acquired a box, padded it with clothes, carefully wrapped each bottle in clothes, and checked it.  These 12 bottles were in addition to 10 bottles in each of our checked bags.  This was per our standard procedure on trips, and we have lost only one bottle in the past.

Alcohol Tourism - Broken Bottle

Shonburger lost!

Our bags became more lost than they ever have before (lesson learned: check your bag tag and make sure the agent puts the correct tag on your bag!).  They were magically found, the damage was done.  Two bottles lost in the box and two in my bag, never to be enjoyed at home!  Tiny glass shards all through my duffel bag meant it had to be tossed.  Wine soaked most of our clothes (which washed out easily, except a shirt of Susan’s which acquired a cool tie-dye effect).

Alcohol Tourism - Shipping Box

After, we found several excellent discussions on checking bags, and have resolved to use a dedicated shipping container, ideally contained within one of our bags for flying out and then checked for flying home.  In the end, our loot is still exciting, but now we have learned our lesson- use a purpose-built wine bottle check bag.

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!