Sydney – Drinking Beer – Part 1 – The pros and “craft” cons

I don’t quite know how to start this blog off, hence the title.

In fact this sentence I’ve added at the end of the piece as I’ve decided this is a Part 1 as I can’t really focus on much of the actual beer. What I have to say on this part of the subject probably won’t come as news to most people, but it holds a mirror up to the dishonesty of advertising, which you sometimes have to admire for its audacity.

There were many facets of beer drinking I encountered in Sydney which I’ve tried getting right in my head.

I see Australia a country new to the ‘modern’ ways of brewing. And I don’t mean that as slight.

Growing up in England (the North and the Manchester area to be specific) Australian beer was prevalent in my formative years spent drinking in parks before becoming of legal drinking age.

As mine and my mates tastes evolved away from the need to drink ‘super-strength’ beers (Kestrel) & ciders or fortified wines, we could move on to cheap deals at the local offy for bulk buy cans of Fosters or Castlemaine XXXX.

Aussie beers advertised on the sense of fun; Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan fronting the campaign for Fosters and Castlemaine adverts that as far as I’m concerned that have had phrases enter into English parlance (I’m thinking “I can see the pub from here” and “looks like we overdid it with the sherry” – said in an Aussie accent).

But taking UK pubs as a point of reference, Sydney pubs follow all the give-away signs.

There are certain styles of English pub that now scream Pub-Co and inside you’ll find the usual, insipid range of keg lagers, Guinness and smooth flow bitters with sometimes the occasional mild. Usually outside it will say “fine ales” (sometimes even ‘real ales’ which is pushing the CAMRA description off a cliff).

In Sydney, “craft” is the big thing.

They don’t do cask beers over there – I think I counted 2 pubs that had one ‘hand pump’ as they would describe it.

So, following on from the boom in the US and now UK markets, “craft” is the way forward for advertising beer and drawing in the more discerning punter.

I don’t wish this to descend into a “craft” verses “real” ale argument, but there is a movement to register “craft” as a product much like CAMRA has done so with “real”.

It is all marketing, but merely walking around Sydney and knowing the ‘truth’ about the beers you drink can galvanise the argument for a “craft” definition.

Why is that?

Remember those pubs I just mentioned. They are emblazoned with logos for ‘Carlton Draught Lager and Tooheys, much the way UK pubs boast about Carlsberg, Carling and Stella.

You know what to expect inside the pub and either you are too snobby an arse to go in and get a cheap drink or you go in because all your mates are and if you are really honest with yourself you don’t really mind the odd pint of mass-produced nonsense now and again, plus your future “artisan/boutique/craft” beers will taste that much nicer for this experience.

But in Australia the ‘fine ales’ in these pubs are “craft” beers.

Or should I ridiculously write “”craft”” beers?

You walk in and are greeted, more or less in every pub, with at least 6 kegs, the silvery metal dispensers cold and dripping with perspiration, with “craft” names like ‘Kangaroo Piss IPA’ and ‘Wombat Shit Stout’.

Actually they are called; “150 lashes Pale Ale” or “Hop Thief “by the James Squire Brewery or Little Creatures and their “Pale Ale”. Or maybe it is “Minimum Chips” by the Matilda Bay Brewing Co or possibly on the rare occasion its a “Dark Ale” by White Rabbit Brewing.

But these apparent independent “craft” brews are actually wholly owned by Lion or SABMiller.

Look no further that this link.

Now, given the history you could say that some have a claim to be called “craft” brewers, even if they aren’t independent any more.

Of course what it does end up doing is then make every other brewer suspect.

4 Pines Beer in Manly and Bacchus Brewing appear to be legitimate small brewers.

As do Red Tape Brewing Co in their brew pub, along with the Lord Nelson Brew Pub and Hotel.

Coopers are still independent, I think, despite take-over attempts.

I’m unsure about Balmain Brewery and the Stone & Wood Brewing Company.

But should we even care?

In the end it comes down to the actual beers and how they taste.

And I’ll discuss these and the Sydney drinking culture (which is highly comparable to the UK’s) in Part 2.

But as mentioned above, as a bit of sneak preview/spoiler – its 99% keg and the beers are almost always too cold.


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