« on: April 01, 2015, 02:58:28 PM »
Well, I'm back from Melbourne, so here's a travelogue. (When reading below, it may be helpful to note my perspective as being from the Pacific Northwest, very comfortable with highly hopped beers and experimental styles.)
Melbourne has an active and apparently growing craft beer scene. In fact, I just missed Good Beer Week in Victoria. Most of the breweries are outside the downtown core, but public transit is pretty good, just grab the Victoria PT, load up your PT card at 7-Eleven, and hop on a tram.
My general impression of craft beer in Australia (at least in Melbourne) is that there's a focus on traditional English styles with balanced flavor. The popularity of lagers does tend to shift the focus towards that style, or smoother-styled pale beers, very few porters, stouts, or dark beers. Belgian styles don't seem to have caught on; in that area I only recall a couple of wits and Belgian pales, no abbey or dubbel or golden. While there was a lot of good, on-style beers I did not find a lot of experimentation, with a couple of exceptions. Gravity tended to be on the low side, low 4's to 6's mostly, not much in the way of Imperial brews.
The most interesting part for me was the use of Australian and New Zealand hops with fruity, tropical aromas. This was used in pale ale by multiple brewerie to great effect.
One thing to note: beer is very expensive here, as is food. I paid about 12$AUS for a pint (about 9.60$US), and a burger or fish and chips will usually cost about 18-20$AUS or more (about 15$US and up).
Here's where I visited and my thoughts:
James Squire at the Portland Hotel - English style pub with excellent food. James Squire is a multi-location brewery owned by a larger company, with locations in other cities. Beer lineup was solid, mostly English pales and IPA. The porter was unremarkable. The 150 Lashes pale was a standout for me, great hop nose and smooth body. They also carry a cider and a perry, both sweet, that my wife enjoyed.
Rusty Water Brewing - Bistro across from the koala reserve on Phillip Island, about 90 minutes south of Melbourne. Food was good, but I wasn't impressed by the beer. The amber was undrinkable to me; tasted like far too much of a kilned malt, like honey or biscuit.
Thunder Road - I wandered in around 2pm in the middle of a active, working brew day. The bar is literally in the middle of the production floor, surrounded by fermenters and kegs and the brew house. Still, one of the brewers took the time to pour me a sample from each of their taps and explain the beer to me, in-between tending to his regular tasks. Friendly folks and an awesome space. The IPA here was more aggressively hopped than I'd had yet in Melbourne, but not quite a true West-coast IPA. I also sampled a freshly-kegged experimental Baltic porter which was tasty, but needed a bit more time to age and smooth out.
Temple Brewing - Near Thunder Road, Temple has a stylish pub and kitchen set across a glass wall from the brewery. The food was fantastic. The beers tend to be lighter and sessionable, all tasty enough, though I found the American stout a bit disappointing. The rye IPA paired well with the pork and chicken sliders.
Two Birds - I came in late here, as Two Birds is a bit outside of the city, but it was worth the trip. They've made some waves with their Taco Beer, spiced with coriander and lime, and though it was a tasty enough concoction that would've gone well with some tacos de lengua, it didn't taste particularly taco-ish by itself.
Moon Dog - This is the brewery I would return to first. Very down home and closer to the style I'm used to. All the breweries before this had polished, well-designed tap rooms or restaurants, but Moon Dog looks like all of their furniture was picked up off the curb, or at least at a charity shop. But the real reason I like them is their willingness to experiment, such as God's Own Prototype Imperial Gose. IMPERIAL GOSE, people. They don't offer taster trays here, but I had a good long chat with the woman behind the bar and she happily gave me sips of their entire lineup. I settled down with their dark session ale (think pale ale crossed with a black IPA) and then the India brown ale, both very tasty.
Mountain Goat - Very, very busy on a Friday afternoon, with a pop-up burger stand in the large tap room. I had their steam ale earlier in the week and enjoyed it; very close to it's San Francisco predecessor, but much hoppier. Lots of seasonal and one-off beers available, and something in the Randall, and I can't remember now what I drank but I recall it all being tasty. This is probably the second brewery I'd return to, after Moon Dog (and luckily they're close together).
Little Creatures and White Rabbit - Both of these breweries are owned by the same parent company. We tried to visit the Little Creatures brewery in Geelong, but they closed early the day we were there. Instead we went to the Little Creatures Dining Hall in Fitzroy on our last day, where they have both LC and WR beers on tap. It's a nice space, feels like a modern, hipster version of a German beer hall, and the food was (almost predictably for Melbourne now) very good. I had the Rogers bitter off the Randall filled with wheat malt and hops, and the White Rabbit dark and white beers, both somewhat in the Belgian vein.