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.

6 Steps to Become an Alcohol Tourist!

So you want to be an alcohol tourist?  Who wouldn’t!  Built-in travel destinations en route, convenient distances between ‘attractions’, a cultural and flavor experience unparalleled except in expensive guided tours!  Becoming an alcohol tourist is fairly simple, but here are helpful guidelines to success:

1) Be Flexible

In our opinion, this is a good rule for travel in general.  Some of our best finds have been when we couldn’t get into the winery we intended to see, so ended up at a wonderful Alcohol Tourism - Swalow Works Ciderlittle local winery.  Maybe you arrived after the brewery tour started (or couldn’t find it in the first place- thanks Highland Brewery).  Maybe you got up too late to hit your original destination.  Don’t worry.  Try to ask yourself, “Okay, so what’s next?”  As much as possible, we follow the homebrewer’s mantra: Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Home Brew (RDWHAHB).

2) Identify a Destination

This is the key to successful alcohol tourism, and Google Maps is there to make it possible!  Pull up a map of where you are now and type in ‘brewpub’, ‘brewery’, ‘winery’, or ‘distillery’.  Pan out or around- you may need to refresh your search if you pan a long distance from where you started.  We usually start with ‘brewpub’ and then repeat with other terms.  Click on a balloon and see if it’s a destination which piques your interest.  NB: This works great in the US, NZ, Oz, Erie, and UK- other countries we haven’t tried.

Our second method to identify a destination is to find local tourism guides or maps relating to beer, wine, and/or spirits.  For example, there’s Tennesse’s Whiskey Trail, NZ Beer Destinations: South Island, and Tasmania’s Breweries and Distilleries.Alcohol Tourism - NZ Whiskey3) Be Responsible

If you are driving yourself to breweries or wineries and imbibing, there is no question you are endangering yourself and others.  We solve this by travelling together- Susan does more sampling and I drive.  When we stop for lunch at a brewpub, we always make sure to get food Alcohol Tourism - Horse Carriagewith a sampling flight (or tasting flight, or sampler platter- so many designations!).  We only get a tasting flight and don’t order pints for consumption- lunch is all about tasting.  At wineries, don’t be afraid to dump it!  Susan and I will often split a single taster at wineries instead of each having our own- it cuts down on consumption and cost and they usually provide plenty of wine for you to appreciate flavors.  If you are driving yourself, take snacks if you are visiting wineries, have small sips, and have a little break- maybe with a nice book and a pleasant winery view- before hitting the road again.

4) Have Interest in the Experience

This usually goes without saying for travel blogs, but it bears repeating here.  Be interested in the experience and savor it- don’t only try to hit as many wineries or breweries as possible in a day.  Try to learn a bit about the product- sample different varietals and compare them with ones back home (Tassie cellar door Pinot Noirs have become distinctly more tannic in recent years).  Try to Alcohol Tourism - North Coast Brewinglearn about more than 300 styles of beer.  Become educated in four regions of Scotland which generate Scotch, and try to taste differences.  Compare how American, Canadian, and Irish whiskey differ from each other at distilleries.  Alcohol tourism gives you a destination, but having an interest in the subject will keep you engaged and learning about local culture.

5) Find a Nearby Place to Stay

Again using Google Maps, once you have identified your brewpub of choice (or winery, if you can afford pricey dinners there), find a nearby place to stay.  We try to stay within walking distance of our final daily brewpub so we can have a few more drinks beyond our typical tasting Alcohol Tourism - Hostel Doorflight.  Center Google Maps on your final alcohol destination and type in “motel”, “hotel”, “hostel”, etc. in the search bar at the top.  You can use the ‘Get Directions’ button and then click the little walking man icon to find out how far you will end up walking.  If you can’t find anything close but want to go to a brewpub, check on getting a growler from the brewpub- we did this regularly in Colorado and simply enjoyed part of a growler back in our hotel room!

6) Wander Around

Susan and I are big fans of walking, and most breweries, brewpubs, and distilleries we have found within the US are located in cool downtown areas worth exploring.  Hit the street and wander in to shops.  This can give you a great sense of place- from cool and hip to rural and laid back.  Most wineries are located away from business areas, but there still can be pleasant walks from the cellar door.

Above all, have fun with your travel experience.  Realize that how you travel differs from anyone else, and it’s OK to do your own thing.  But alcohol tourism really is awesome.

Alcohol Tourism - Susan Walkaround

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.

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