Beers I've Read and Books I've Drunk

Currently showing posts tagged Tasmania

  • VAN DIEMAN, Enigma Hop Harvest IPA

    VAN DIEMAN, Enigma Hop Harvest IPA

    Pale Ale. ABV: 5.1%

    Easter was originally a pagan festival in celebration of the spring equinox. Eggs, bunnies and even resurrection are all springtime themes: the miserable wintrous earth coming to life again, giving bloom to colourful flowers and supporting reproducing creatures. But of course, that was in Europe; for those of us at the other extremity, it’s not spring. It’s autumn. Summer is disappearing before our eyes. The days are getting shorter. The miserable wintrous earth is smothering everything.

    The harvest of our favourite crop, humulus lupulus – the humble hop, which has given us such joy throughout the ages – is the last of our high points for that half of the year in which living things thrive.

    So, although Easter is been and gone, there is one more agricultural festival left to enjoy – if you’re in Tasmania at least.

    I’ll be helping Saint John Craft Beer celebrate the hop harvest at their inaugural Hop Harvest Festival on April 18 and 19.

    We’re having a stack of local brewers bring in their harvest-time concoctions, and then I’m going to have a yak with a few of them, squeezing a few good stories out of them about the fun of making beer.

    One of my favourite local breweries is Van Dieman, just down the road from my hometown of Launceston in the pastoral lands of White Hills. The good folks a Van Dieman have a full-on agricultural operation and as well as growing barley and other ingredients for their beers, they grow their own hops. In fact, the Van Dieman hop-picking day is one of the great family events in town.

    Their first hop harvest release is this 5.1% pale ale fresh-hopped with the new varietal Enigma, and it does a great job of showcasing the hop. It’s got a pungent aroma, and this resinous character ripples across the palate. It doesn’t have as much of the pineapple flavour that Enigma hops are often known for – instead, the fresh-hopping has made for a danker and crunchier flavour profile.

    It’s definitely worth coming into Saint John over the April 18-19 weekend if you’re in Tassie – the folks at Saint John know how to have a good time, and with Tassie brewers letting hops come to the fore, there are going to be some bloody tasty beverages on offer.

  • EDGE, Basil and Thyme Saison

    EDGE, Basil and Thyme Saison

    Saison. ABV: 5.5%

    Making a herb beer may seem like an act from the extreme end of craft beer experimentalism, but it’s actually about as old as beer itself. If you had found yourself in a tavern in continental Europe during the Middle Ages, you would most likely have been drinking gruit beers. These gruits were flavoured primarily with a combination of three herbs: sweet gale, yarrow, and marsh rosemary. But everything from juniper berries, ginger, aniseed and cinnamon was used. (Eat your heart out, post-modern brewers!)

    While gruit was mostly replaced by hops in the 18th century, it’s interesting to note that many of these herbs have mildly narcotic, psychotropic, inebriating and aphrodisiacal qualities when prepared in certain ways and consumed in sufficient quality. The famous botanist Carolus Linnaeus described yarrow, when used as a gruit, as galentara – ‘causing madness’. Apparently he went to a pretty interesting wedding in Sweden one time.

    So when Edge Brewing put together ‘Polly’s Native Saison’ for a North Melbourne wine bar, it wasn’t exactly pioneering.

    It was pretty bold though. Hops have given gruits the boot for nearly two centuries, and although tastes are certainly changing, herbaceousness is not necessarily a quality sought-after in today’s brews. And the Basil and Thyme Saison is definitely herby.

    Thyme, in fact, is the dominant aroma – a little spicy and a little sweet, and very green. While thyme is definitely on the tongue from the first sip, it tends to cling to the back of the palate; lemon and bread notes sneak in at the front. The flavour is wrapped in a lovely golden saison body, with a buoyant head.

    It’s not at all a bad beer – but you really want to like thyme. For me, it was not what I wanted to drink after work. It’s a well-structured brew, but the herb flavours are unescapable. I'd be more inclined to drink it if I was in the mood for a tea that was also beery. Which is a mood that can come upon me, truth be told.

    Still, I support the exploration of gruit beers by modern craft brewers. If only because I want to go to one of these galentara parties that Linnaeus talked about…

  • BRIDGE ROAD BREWING, Chevalier Elderflower Saison

    BRIDGE ROAD BREWING, Chevalier Elderflower Saison

    Saison. ABV: 6%

    The hop harvest is on, and down in Tasmania’s premier hop grounds, Bushy Park, a friend of mine is working in the laboratory. So I headed down south to visit him last week, among the vines of Ella, Galaxy, Enigma, Summer and more, being pulled down and processed as I write these words.

    If you’re in Launceston in the next few weeks, I’ll be involved in a ‘hop harvest’ event at Saint John Craft Beer. There’ll be more stories about life at Bushy Park then. But for now, let me speak of one of the various beers we sampled that night.

    Bridge Road, of course, is one of Australia’s finest breweries – willing to experiment, but more focused on making tasty beers than pushing envelopes. The Chevalier Elderflower Saison is a great example of this. Elderflower bushes have a lovely cream-coloured bloom that have a subtle, summery taste; makers of cocktails and syrups have been using them for a little while now, but they’re not too common in a beer, although they’re becoming more and more in vogue across the board.

    Gently added into a saison body, though, they’re lovely – contributing a touch of floral bitterness, lychee sweetness, and even something of a nose of juniper.

    The Chevalier has long been a great saison, and it remains that way: robust, with a magnificent fluffy head, it bears notes of sourdough and clove. The brewers from Beechworth in country Victoria rein in some of the rural elements in their Chevaliers: you can almost hear the horses clomping by.

    And there we were, sitting among the hop vines and some heritage buildings on the old estate, next to a pond populated by ducks and platypus, with the long light going down beyond the rim of the world. Poor old us, I thought, it’s a tough life.

    Stay tuned to ‘Beers I’ve Read’ for more hop harvest stories in the coming weeks!

  • TASSIE TIGER BAR

    TASSIE TIGER BAR

    90 Pioneer Drive, Mole Creek, Tasmania.

    I could happily live in Mole Creek. About as close as you can get to a fully-fledged town (of about 600 souls) near to Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area, it has caves, local honey, an information centre, and a good pub. All you really need.

    The pub is the Mole Creek Hotel/Tassie Tiger Bar, and we stopped in their on the way back from a few days of bushwalking. After tackling the rutty pot-holed Mersey Forest Rd., my car was starting to exhibit symptoms of needing a break (i.e., a sparkplug had come loose), so we paused in Mole Creek and decided to have dinner before making the final leg home.

    Dinner, and a beer. We ordered pints of “Tassie Tiger Ale”, which is actually the Kentish Ale from local brewer Seven Sheds (see below). It’s a solid beer to have on tap at a country pub – and why not rebrand it after an animal hunted to (probable) extinction during a century of colonisation?

    The whole bar, in fact, is decked out with memorabilia and folklore about the thylacine. And the ‘Tassie Tiger pie’ is locally famous. There’s also plenty of history to the pub – although initially built as a hotel, for over thirty years it was unable to be licensed for the sale of liquor. Instead, it served as a guest house, grocery and hardware store, before getting the clause in the contract overturned and obtaining the right to serve booze.

    The Mole Creek Hotel is definitely on a short-list of Tasmania’s best country pubs.

  • SEVEN SHEDS, Sour Razzamatazz

    Sour. ABV: 5.5%.

    Even though I was sitting next to a gentleman who once had a career at the Seven Sheds brewery in Railton, Tasmania – known as the ‘Town of Topiary’, if you’re looking for a hedge-based holiday – I couldn’t find out much of the back story behind the Sour Razzamatazz, on tap at the craft beer bar in Launceston a couple weeks ago.

    'Razzamatazz' - the non-sour variety - is the brewery’s wheat ale fermented on fresh raspberries from a local grower of the lovely red fruit, which has often been pulled out at parties by a good mate. Generally, it’s a little sweet for my taste. But the prospect of a soured-up version of it seemed promising.

    And indeed, coming off the tap, it was set to fulfil its potential. The Sour Razza is almost grapefruit coloured, with a misty visage and a neat fluffy head. There was some raspberry on the nose, but also that tremendous grapey scent that comes from a good sour.

    The sourness was definitely there, and my word, I love me a sour beer at the minute. My best guess is the sourness comes from lactobacillus, bacteria which is also present in the production of yoghurt and cheese. It also adds a creamy mouthfeel, along with the good full body of fruity and farmyard flavours.

    I don’t know if the Sour Razza is a once-off, or whether you can get it in bottles, or what. Life is uncertain: I ordered a second schooner right away. It was worth it.

  • TEN BOOKS: For a Tasmanian Library

    TEN BOOKS: For a Tasmanian Library

    Folks who follow my other online serial Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania will be well aware that I do a fair bit of rooting around for stories about Tasmanian places and characters. These researches have taken me to all sorts of places I never dreamed of going – ancestry websites, digitised newspapers, certain dingy small-town pubs – as well as a pretty weird array of books in the genres of history, biography, geography, architecture, and so on.

    I occasionally get asked for recommendations on books about this strange place of my nativity, and since I am (in theory at least) a book reviewer, I thought it might be appropriate to write a list of nine books for a library on Tasmanian folklore. It’s certainly not meant to be definitive – there’s still plenty out there that I haven’t gotten around to yet. But I think you’ll find it’s a broad, multifarious look at life down here.

    HENRY REYNOLDS, A History of Tasmania (2011)
    In the end, I had to go with Henry. While there are many very good historians who belong in a Tasmanian library – from the dignified Rev. John West to contemporary writer James Boyce – in the end, Henry Reynolds is truly the Tasmanian historian par excellence. This book gives a concise framework to his ideas, which have been hugely influential in Tasmania and Australia throughout his career. Equally recommendable is his Fate of a Free People, but if you’re looking for a rigorous but readable overview of the island at the bottom of the world, this is hard to go past.

    NICHOLAS SHAKESPEARE, In Tasmania (2004)
    Nicholas Shakespeare moved to Tasmania’s east coast in the middle of his successful writing career, and his In Tasmania is the narrative of his discoveries of the quirks and quandaries of his new home. Shakespeare introduces us to some of the more picaresque characters of Tassie folklore, including ‘notorious bully’ Anthony Fenn Kemp and the great Jorgen Jorgenson. For Shakespeare, Tasmania’s population is made heterogeneous through its distance: “Distance is great aid to a rascal,” is the maxim that underpins his accounts of life here.

    SARAH BAKEWELL, The English Dane (2005) 
    While the title doesn’t necessarily hint at Tasmaniana, Sarah Bakewell’s biography of the Danish-born adventurer Jorgen Jorgenson do give us plenty of information about life in Van Diemen’s Land. Jorgenson’s involvement with Aboriginal Tasmanians, politicians, bushrangers, explorers and much more (including bouts of alcoholism) point to some of the highlights and lowlights of the heady early days of the British colony here. Jorgenson’s own erratic personality gives the book plenty of humour and incident on top of that.

    C.J. BINKS, Explorers of Western Tasmania (1980)
    Jorgenson features again here, in C.J. Binks’ expansive account of the expeditions to the region that was for decades known on European maps as ‘TRANSYLVANIA’ – the western highlands of Tasmania. Jorgenson is but one of the tragicomic figures who found it their job to open up these forbidding areas. Binks’ personal knowledge of the region adds great texture (and weather) to this detailed academic text.

    SIMON CUBIT/DES MURRAY, Tasmanian High Country Huts (2013)
    Tasmania’s mountainous regions have long been some of the most sparsely-populated places in the world, but since early colonial times there have been an array of hunters, miners, stockmen and even pioneering tourism operators in the hostile highlands. Historian Simon Cubit has long collected research on the people who have lived there, as well as their accommodation; compiled with sketch artist Des Murray, Tasmanian High Country Huts is a tremendous and attractive publication giving a account of extant huts, their architecture, and the stories from them. Also highly recommended is the 2014 release, Historical Tasmanian Mountain Huts, based on photographs of old huts, with Tasmanian photographic historian Nic Haygarth.

    BERNARD CRONIN, The Coastlanders (1918)
    Bernard Cronin is our only representative for fiction here. Why not Richard Flanagan, winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize? Simply because Flanagan’s probably already on your shelf. Tasmania has an interesting oeuvre of fiction: it’s often charmingly cartoonish, all Hobartian tea-rooms and gruff heart-of-gold pioneers. Cronin’s writing is a bit tacky in some ways – kind of cowboy novels set in Tasmania’s farming country – but there’s something about his descriptions of shadowy tea-tree forests, moonlit west coast beaches and drawling country loners that gives his plots some verve. Also worth looking for Deep South, a collection of Tasmanian fiction from across the decades, edited by Danielle Wood; Lenny Bartulin’s Infamy is a more sophisticated version of a Cronin novel; and let’s go with Sound of One Hand Clapping for Fin Flanagan’s best, most Tasmanian book.

    NATASHA CICA, Pedder Dreaming (2011)
    Lake Pedder’s back in the news this week, and truth be told, it’s rarely been very far from it ever since the infamous proposal to flood it as part of a Hydro-Electric scheme was first hinted at. Tasmanians are all connected to this lake in one way or another, and essayist Natasha Cica has collated the fascinating story of the lake, and the first true lover, Lithuanian migrant and photographer Olegas Truchanas. Including a number of Truchanas’ photographs, Cica has insightfully described how and why Pedder’s history reveals so much about the Tasmanian imagination.

    ANNA KRIEN, Into the Woods (2012)
    Melburnian journalist Anna Krien looks at a different field of Tasmania’s conservation battles: the forests. With timber one of Tasmania’s most obvious primary resources, it’s no surprise that logging has been a big back of the island’s economy, but the urge to protect the island’s unique ecology is just as old. Krien particularly focuses on the issues of the last decade or so, when the politics of the forests reached fever pitch – and international attention – through a combination of violent demonstrations and government corruption. The issues Krien explores are still happening; more of her insightful and incisive journalism is sorely needed in Tasmania still.

    NICHOLAS CLEMENTS, The Black War (2014)
    The new kid on the block, Nick Clements’ debut release The Black War is the latest contribution to the captivating parry-and-thrust of Tasmania’s robust historical arena. Clements’ ability to seek out the truth of a history that has become seriously political without bowing to any pressure is admirable, and the result is a rigorous, sensitive, and honest account of the Black War. Clements pulls no punches, but describes the unique battle between two groups of people whose superstitions and misunderstandings of each other contributed to a huge level of frontier violence as British convicts and settlers arrived on Tasmanian land at the beginning of the 19th century.

    N.J.B. PLOMLEY, The Friendly Mission (1971)
    George Augustus Robinson remains a controversial figure in Tasmanian history, but there is no doubting that the journals of the missionary-diplomat are the crux of the Tasmanian story as it is today. However, it took more than a century for Robinson’s accounts of his stubborn expeditions to bring conciliation between white and Aboriginal populations in Van Diemen’s Land nearly 200 years ago to be published. It took the efforts of Brian Plomley to edit these diaries; their publication changed our understanding of history in this country, and the ramifications continue today. It’s a weighty tome and not always riveting – you’ve never read the phrase ‘mizzling rain’ so often in your life – but if you want to understand Tasmania, you really must read the island as it was seen by Robinson at a crucial point in its history.

  • SAINT JOHN CRAFT BEER Annual Charity Cricket Match

    SAINT JOHN CRAFT BEER Annual Charity Cricket Match

    February 15, 2015; East Launceston Oval.

    It was surely one of the greatest days of my life.

    Everything started with some standard shit-stirring in the bar one night. A challenge was laid down; a date was set. All of a sudden we had a cricket match on our hands.

    Training sessions occurred at a local oval, and more and more starry-eyed amateurs arrived with dreams of glory. February 15 was drawing closer and closer. The teams were picked: one group chosen by owners and bar staff at our local watering hole Saint John Craft Beer, and another chosen by a selection of its punters. It would be “Patrons” versus “Saints”.

    Finally, the big day arrived. Our team was at the ground early, warming up in the nets. There was James, straight off the hop farm, in his Akubra. Fly-fisherman Dan and local coffee roaster Stu were starting to land their spinners in all the right places. Our enigma, “the Houn”, was solid with both bat and ball; Jimmy-chan was getting some lovely shape from his left-armers. We were looking good.

    Our skipper won the toss, and in humid conditions, elected to bowl. It was the right call. The ball was swinging all over the place. Their danger men fell cheaply. There were some stunning catches, a run out – intense pressure in the field. In the end, the Saints were rolled for 126.

    It seemed a defendable total: but then the Poynter brothers strolled to the wicket. It was all over in quick time.

    Of course, plenty of good beers were consumed in the stands (perhaps another advantage to bowling first), and more importantly, we raised plenty of money for a good cause. It was a great feeling to hold the trophy aloft – a contribution from Mr. Poynter – and an even better one to return to the bar and drink an IPA from the ceremonial schooner glass. But probably it’s even better to know that each of us helped to kickstart what will become an annual tradition. Plus, we got to spend the day hanging out with some good folks, wear terry-towelling hats, and stretch our triceps and latissimus dorsis.

    Go Patrons! And here’s to another win next time...

  • THE HAKUSHU, 2013 Sherry Cask

    Whisky is not necessarily my field of expertise. Maybe if I could afford to buy it more often, it would be, but as it stands I know whisky only from relatively occasional experiences. Even so, here I am to tell you about this lovely drop from Japan's Hakushu distillery.

    Supping on this slowly with a friend as late light limned the mountains of the DuCane Range was the fruition of a long wait. I had been given this bottle in Japan's Yamanashi Prefecture, amidst the mountains that Hakushu uses for its water supply. I was separated from the gift, however, until Christmas, at which point I decided I would find the right moment to taste the wondrous contents it contained.

    So I found myself nestled amongst Tasmanian mountains, which also provide the rivers from which our burgeoning whisky industry has been born.

    We took our drams from wine glasses - never mind what they were doing in the mountains - and let the alpine light settle in the still copper liquid. The nose gave away lots of goodies: a kind of sweet rum aroma mingling with maple syrup, burnt wood, spiced apple and clove. We were excited.

    And the taste was not disappointing. At 48%, the Hakushu has produced a whisky with plenty of kick, and the alcohol warmth is strong and gives your oesophagus something to think about. But it blends well with the sweet, woody and spicy notes, giving a tremendous well-balanced but fiery experience for the palate.

    Ah, there's plenty to complain about in life, but there's plenty of pure bliss too.

  • ESK BEERFEST 2015

    ESK BEERFEST 2015

    January 16-17, 2015, Launceston.

    Between the Daft Punk cover acts and the 18-and-a-half-year-olds sucking down free Coronas, there is good beer at Launceston’s Esk Beerfest – although it may seem like a lot of work to find it at times. With Red Duck’s Scott Wilson-Brown bringing down from Ballarat a dozen of his unique brews, several local craft beer and cider suppliers serving from their stocks, and around half a dozen local craft breweries – not to mention the internationally-regarded home-brew competition – there was every opportunity to sample a few delicious creations, if you were up for the task.

    Most excitingly for this correspondent was the quality of some of the brand-new breweries on the island. (Although another highlight was pretending to a drunken youngster that I was the brewer-in-chief at Red Duck.)

    Kick Snare Brewing’s STOMPBOX IPA was the first delight of the evening – and in a rare moment of professionalism, I should say that I consider brewmaster Mr. Swift a mate of mine, and that he was nice enough to let me taste his beverages gratis. Swifty has been busy building a brewery out of old farm equipment, and in the meantime he has managed to gypsy-brew a few litres of a couple of his beers. Pouring from microphones-as-taps, Kick Snare is all about the live and local music scene, with homage being paid to its crucial elements. The Stompbox IPA is loaded with three vibrant hop varieties and has the lush dank smell of a jungle, with fresh, ripe qualities from Citra and Amarillo hops, with Ella hops used for bittering. A stronger malt structure would have added something – and the exciting news is that Kick Snare is beginning a collaboration with a local maltster, so the brews are likely to develop over the coming months.

    With a marketing motif of “sexy Catholicism”, Last Rites Brewing has been spreading the good word of their lively New World hop-driven beers in Hobart for a couple of months, and it was great to catch them up north for the ’fest. Their stall was exciting, offering styles that have not been much seen in Tassie or even in Australia. Their SMELTERTOWN BLACK IPA has a glory of roasted malts and hops, with notes of coffee, oak and toffee in a body that poured as dark as a confession booth into my plastic commemorative Beerfest cup. With the blokes behind the beer seeming like good fellas to boot, keep an eye out for Last Rites Brewing, considered by many the most exciting stall at the Beerfest this year.

    If I was forced to, I could claim relationship with T-Bone Brewing Co.’s Tom Bignell – he’s my dad’s cousin’s brother-in-law’s son (or something) – which may not surprise folks with ideas about the intricacies of Tasmanian genealogy. More pertinent is the relationship between Tom and his father, Pete, who is the mad ag-scientist behind Belgrove Rye Whiskey. Tom has squatted his upstart brewery on the Belgrove farm, and brought out an inaugural trio of beers for the Esk Beerfest. Smooth and sweet, the CHOC-MILK STOUT is a cool 4.7% ABV stout brewed with cacao nibs and vanilla and hopped with Fuggles. It’s the kind of beer that gets people talking about dessert with its rich flavours with a silky mouthfeel. And it was getting to that time of the night by the time I had a cupful of T-Bone’s stout – some patrons were getting a little messy.

    So the final few samples happened back at Saint John Craft Beer after the festival was closing down. Mr. Gilly Horan (a man whose name has appeared in these pages not a few times before) finally attained his lifelong dream of winning the Esk Beerfest Home-Brew Competition. Not only that, but he pulled off the 1st and 2nd prizes – no mean feat. One of his brews will be brewed in autumn by Paul Morrison, of Morrison’s Brewery, who also deserves a pretty big shout-out – a good number of the new breweries in Tassie are using his equipment to get their stuff out and about. Most likely, it’ll be the impressively dark GILLY STOUT that sees the light of day, but Gilly’s DORFER WEISSE was the real treat – a 3% ABV Berlinerweiße-style brew fermented on fresh raspberries. A tremendous tussle between tart and sweet flavours, the Dorfer pours the colour of a sunset over a lake, and has a lactobacillus-based sourness that makes this one you’ll want to drink with lunch every day of the week. Go, Gilly, Go!

  • 2014: A Year in Beer Reviews

    2014: A Year in Beer Reviews

    Any regular reader of the ‘Beers I’ve Read and Books I’ve Drunk’ project will be well aware that what professionalism and studiousness is lacking in my reviews is made up for by sheer vanity. In this note, I present to you my favourite craft beer experiences of the year. These beers were not necessarily released this year, and they are not necessarily my favourite ten beers I drank in 2014. They’re simply good memories to me, which I am self-obsessed enough to believe you might enjoy too.

    It’s kind of like those “Year in Review” montages your foolish friends have been posting on Facebook, only I’ve wasted more time on it.

    1. DRAKES, Denogginizer
    I spent some time at a farmhouse in California this year, and every afternoon I would pour myself a fine beer and cook something delicious. One day I cycled out to a sausage market and picked up some fantastic buffalo snags, and had this West Coast classic as they sizzled in the pan. Exactly what you want from an Imperial IPA, the Denogginizer pours a clear copper colour and is loaded with plenty of dank Simcoe and Amarillo bitterness. So nice I had it again on my last night in the U.S., a gift from a farmer friend named Guerrero.


    2. EVIL TWIN, Even More Jesus
    My town received its first craft beer bar this year back in January, but it wasn’t until April that we christened its counters with sticky ice-cream. The great stout spider affair at Saint John happened with a very eclectic mob of drinkers, a bucket of cheap half-melted ice-cream, and this bottle of gloriously viscous chocolatey stout. The concoction was an absolute success, with even hard-working barman Ryan having to wipe the sweet stuff out of his ever-growing beard.

    3. STILLWATER ARTISANAL, Existential American Farmhouse Ale
    I work in Tasmania’s highlands, and even though it’s not really practical to carry bottles of beer in my backpack, I usually do. When I was rostered on to man the montane areas with my old drinking buddy Gilly, there was no doubt we’d end up sitting amongst the buttongrass as the moon rose over Cathedral Mountain with a glass of ale in our hands, and indeed, that’s what we did. There’s really nowhere better in the world than my office, and this was a perfect brew for the occasion.

    4. TAMAMURA-HONTEN, Yama-Bushi Saison 1
    I was in Japan for a little bit working on an exhibition comparing mountain cultures in Nagano and Tasmania; on the side, I continued my amateur beer reviewing, and found in the Nagano region a bunch of pretty good breweries. This one stood out for a number of reasons: it’s a delicious style that the Japanese often do quite well, it was a pretty difficult find, and its title is all about the mountains. Japan is a great place for a beer tour, and I feel as though I only just began to scratch its surface.

    5. BACCHUS, Shiraz Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout
    I could have picked any number of beers from a particular night out at Melbourne’s Alehouse Project. They were having a tap-takeover of dark beers in celebration of the winter season, and I was with my old man and a new friend named Gentleman James – who would quickly become a famous drinking companion. Pints of tenebrous ales arrived thick and fast. This one wasn’t necessarily the best, but it was one of the earlier beers I had that night, and it was a really tremendous blend of woody malts, vanilla sweetness and bloody wine flavours. Oh yeah, and it’s also 10.7%.

    6. MONSTER MASH, Hopped Out Red
    Monster Mash is now known as Kaiju!, after stupidly receiving a ‘cease and desist’ letter from the disgraceful beverage manufacturer Monster Energy Drinks. Kaiju is the Japanese word for ‘monster’ and although the point is likely to be lost on the world’s stupid consumers, I like the spirit of intelligent rebellion in Kaiju!’s response. More than that, I like the beer. The brainchild of two Melbourne brothers, Kaiju! has quickly become one of Australia’s best breweries. My dad shouted me a schooner of Hopped Out Red early in the year, and I enjoyed the complexity of this high-malt, heavily-hopped amber ale. Dad’s not big on the hops, but he liked it too – although he admitted one glass was enough for him. Kaiju! has a small but wonderful roster of big, bold, monstrous brews and let’s hope for more hops in 2015.

    7. DAINTON, Red Eye Rye
    This seems to be one that follows me around. A bottle of it in the upstairs bedroom at my old house when I was living with an animated Mediterranean from whose enthusiasm I had to retreat sometimes; a couple of glasses shared with Danny, before he moved away to the Orient; a schooner with two Melburnian friends I ran into by surprise in the street one evening. A caramelly rye amber ale, the Red Eye has a big floral nose and a full body of pine and rye spice. It’s a great beer for any number of occasions and I don’t mind if it stalks me into the new year.

    8. MOON DOG, Jumping the Shark 2014
    The “Jumping the Shark” concept beers are basically all about trying to make the ridiculous-sounding brews in the world. $7000 worth of saffron dumped into an imperial red ale, weighing in at 14%? Why not. I first drank this expensive rose-hued elixir on a camping trip, out of an aluminium pot. When I met the folks from the brewery a few days later and told them this, they thought it was ‘fucking awesome’, and gave me a bunch of free drinks. Then the brewer from another brewery was left behind the Moon Dog stall, and he decided to give me a bottle of “Jumping the Shark”. Then it was 1a.m. and I was watching a boxing match on the mobile phone of a bouncer who wasn’t going to let me into the bar…(He did.)

    9. IRON SPRINGS, Casey Jones Imperial IPA
    Back to California. I woke up in San Francisco, walked to City Beer, put about 15 litres of beer in my pack, and took the bus south to a strawberry farming town called Watsonville. I was there to research and write, to wander around farmers’ markets and practise my Spanish with the local Mexicans, to cycle to the beach and wander through redwood groves. And to drink beer. This was the first of many local IPAs, and it was a bloody good one, hoppy and clear and wonderful. What made it extra-special was that it had been bottled about three days before. And it was a long-neck that cost me $6. The freshness and ubiquity of craft beer in California can sometimes feel a long way away.

    10. SEVEN SHEDS, Summer Saison
    Then again, there’s nowhere better to drink than wherever is home. Seven Sheds is a brewery in Railton, a small town en route to my office in the mountains. The guy who used to be the brewer’s assistant is often in a stool at the same bar. On Christmas Eve I drank a couple of schooners of this with old friends with whom I’d spent the day bushwalking. The summer ale is brewed with spelt and oats, loaded with lemongrass and raw ginger, as well as Ella and Motueka hops, making for a fresh and flavoursome beer with a delicious aroma. It’s not perfect, but it set me off on a night of laughter, flirtation, and strife. Next thing I knew, it was Christmas Day. Next thing after that, 2015.

  • MOO BREW, Macquarie Enigma

    MOO BREW, Macquarie Enigma

    American Pale Ale. Limited Release. Free!

    On Saturday arvo, I rolled up to Prince’s Wharf No. 1 in Hobart for the 10th annual Tasmanian International Beerfest – “Australia’s largest beer festival”.

    Inside the old warehouse were representatives from stacks of brewers from all around Australia (and even a couple of foreign ring-ins), as well as live music and a noisy stack of punters. While some of the more well-known breweries didn’t have much on offer, folks like Red Duck and Moon Dog had brought a good array of their exciting and exotic styles. NZ upstarts Panhead and Melbourne’s Temple and Cavalier were also visitors worth a mention, while almost all of Tassie’s brewers had their taps pumping all throughout the day.

    For some of my party entering the Beerfest, ten “tasting tokens” for a $35 entry fee seemed a little daunting. So it was nice to be given a bonus cup of ale, Moo Brew’s super-limited release Macquarie Enigma – only available at the festival entrance.

    The Macquarie Enigma is described using a fairly nasty-on-the-eye acronym, SMaSH – standing for “single malt, single hop”. In this case, it’s Macquarie barley and the newly-developed Enigma hop strain, and these fully Tasmanian ingredients come together in a murky pale ale body with a light body with a nice dryness. It’s a style that flatteringly showcases the quality of the new hop and the local barley – the latter of which has plenty of street credit, thanks to Tasmanian-grown barley’s role in our newly-famous whiskies.

    I also managed to catch up with Moo Brew’s head brewer Dave Macgill over a plastic pint cup of the brewery’s new seasonal saison, this year brewed with rye and soft red wheat, as well combining two Belgian yeasts. The result is a smooth, creamy version of the farmhouse style, ready for summer consumption.

    And if you happen to be in Tassie, you can check out Dave and I in conversation at Saint John Craft Beer this weekend! The new saison will be on tap, the stories will be flowing, and it will be a pretty happy Sunday afternoon in general.

    Anyway, the ten tasting token went a lot further than I had anticipated…But the events of late Saturday night are best left unspoken.

  • MOON DOG, Jumping the Shark 2014

    Strong Ale. ABV: 14.1%

    The Moon Dog stall at the Beerfest was, of course, outlandish. Brewers lip-synced to ’90s pop, and a bare-chested Danish guy in a cape and a pig-tailed wig pulled the ales. The brewery’s garish aesthetics are only a manifestation of something more important though – the fun and daring with which they pursue

    Earlier in the week, I’d been in the mountains and my walking mate James had pulled out this year’s “Jumping the Shark” beer. Now in its fourth year, the concept of the Sharks seem to be a plot to run Moon Dog into bankruptcy. Last year, it was truffles in a porter; the 2014 edition required the purchase of $7000 of saffron, dumped into an Imperial Red Ale recipe that goes on to be aged in Hungarian oak. (Apparently Hungarian oak coopery is free of contaminants from which other countries’ oak suffers?)

    At about $25 for a 375ml bottle, it’s a big ask. But James is a university research assistant in the field of the Classics, so he has a stack of money to spare; I wasn’t surprised to see him pull out this big number. He wasn’t too pleased that I had neglected to bring a cup. Yes, in the end, I first drank this idiosyncratic concoction out of a cooking pot, in the dark, in a hut in the mountains.

    Sitting in the pot, with a torchlight on it, this year’s Shark seemed to glow the colour of uranium (or some kind of toxified amber) with a funny spread of yellowish head. On the nose, there are sultanas and woodwork, but the liquid is sweet, sweet, sweet…Fruity flavours mix with marshmallow sweetness and an alcohol warmth akin to cognac or brandy.  As for the saffron, it may be wasted on me. The most expensive spice in the world, the hand-picked stigma of the crocus flower, it is said to have a pungent spicy flavour profile. I once had a little boy in India tell me it was good for putting in coffee; he was trying to sell it to me.  He did not mention brewing with it. I did not buy it.

    “This is a beer liqueur,” I said as I lifted the pot to my lips, and after having it again at the Beerfest, I stand by the statement. Smooth, sweet, expensive and high on alcohol content without too much of the seedy boozy flavour. A saffron-infused, exotically-aged malt liqueur.

    It sure ain’t a beer for everyone. Their Beerfest tap beers – the solid Jukebox Hero IPA and  the surprisingly enjoyable “Bjorn to Boogie” Watermelon Weizen – are more accessible places to begin. But it remains the case with Moon Dog, it’s hard to say whether it’s genius or lunacy that drives them. For example, the whole concept of Jumping the Shark; or, even more obviously, the decision to let a Danish man in a cape and wig man the bar…

    Whatever the case, Australian brewing sure ought to be grateful to have the Mad Dog madmen amongst our ranks.

  • AMAGER, Wookiee IPA

    AMAGER, Wookiee IPA

    India Pale Ale. ABV: 7.2%

    The Friday night before the Beerfest, I met with James and Patrick for a home-cooked dinner. And of course, throughout our Friday afternoons, we had each picked up a beverage or two to share, so that by the time the food was prepared, we also had seven bottles in the fridge.

    The spread was magnificent – rye flatbreads with mustards, olives, tomatoes, jalapeños, avocado, potatoes and lentils – and the range of beers was expansive too, including an Italian chestnut ale and a Scottish heather ale, as well as representations from some of our favourite breweries. By popular vote, the Wookiee IPA brewed by Amager Bryghus in Denmark was declared the best brew of the evening.

    Put together in collaboration with some of the brewers from California’s Port Brewing, this is a fantastic example of the West Coast IPA. With a slim orange body and creamy white head, it carries all the classic hoppy aromas of citrus, resin and cut grass. It’s lovely and smooth, with plenty of flavour. Everything is in order here.

    Why it is dubbed ‘the Wookiee’, I do not know. The collaboration between Dane and Californian must have been an interesting one, though – could it be that the film-savvy West Coasters thought the Danish tongue sounded like “Shyriiwook”, the language that Wikipedia tells me Wookiees speak?

    Whatever the case, it’s probably high-time that Danish brewers made a visit to Tasmania for some collaborating. After all, Denmark and Tasmania share plenty already. One of our local lasses became their bloody Princess, while a Copenhagen-born sailor, explorer and spy became without a doubt our greatest historical figure – plus he heavy drinker!

    Perhaps my Beerfest mate Mathias can get a Dansk-Tasmanian brew going for us? A 'Jorgen Jorgenson IPA' would be a bevvy I'd like to get my hands on...

  • BOATROCKER, Hop Bomb

    BOATROCKER, Hop Bomb

    India Pale Ale. ABV: 6.5%

    We had some guests from Israel over. After breakfast-table coffees, we set out aiming for Cradle Mountain, a spectacular edifice of Jurassic dolerite in the north of Tasmania’s World Heritage Wilderness Area.

    Almost, we didn’t make it. A fuel truck coming down the steepest hairpin bend almost crushed us. Then, as the road flattened out, the wind knocked down a big bastard of a blackwood tree right in front of us, right across the road.

    But we got through in the end. The weather had been changing all morning – if the sun glowed in Chudleigh, the weather was positively gloomy in Mole Creek. Conditions at the mountain were predictably nasty though. Lacy snow turned into nasty sleet. My dreadlocked housemate carried lumps of hail in his nest; my bare knees went pink, with pain, from the ice arrows being shot from the heavens. The Israelis wished they were dead.

    Later that night, I took my guests down to the bar for a beer and a yarn. Our illustrious barman, however, seemed harried. It turned out that a keg had exploded shortly before we arrived – and not just any keg, but a keg of great expense and of such delicious liquid that I don’t like to think about how it’s been wasted. “I have about $40 worth of beer in my hair,” the barman said with a brave grin.

    With all of these things considered – not to mention the situation with Israel and Palestine – perhaps my choice of a beer named “Hop Bomb” was insensitive.

    But to hell with political correctness! I wanted hops, glorious hops, and Melbourne alemongerers Boatrocker were able to provide the goods. The Hop Bomb is a classic West-Coast style IPA, with shiploads of Chinook, Centennial, Amarillo, Simcoe and Cascade lobbed into the brew. There’s even a bit of dry-hopping going on. Unlike our Tasmanian weather, it’s pretty predictable: a big whiff of citrus and stone fruit at the get-go, a glorious ruddy hue, flavours of tangelo and pine with a hit of bitterness and some biscuity malts too.

    L’chaim, to Yaron and Neta, my guests for a couple of days; “to life”, with which we have managed to scrape by for another day, despite dangerous roads, wild weather, global politics, and the many perils of fermented beverages.

  • LITTLE RIVERS, European Dark Lager

    Dark Lager. ABV: 4.5%

    The blokes behind the bar at Saint John, where I occasionally find myself for a beer in my hometown, have a raffle every Tuesday for a meat tray. For those not in the Antipodes, this might seem a bit strange, but it is something of a tradition down here. I have a feeling that the Saint John meat tray is probably of a noticeably higher standard than most – the fellas know their grub – but I can’t be sure, because I’m still yet to win.

    I was convinced that I would win the other night, but I didn’t; I think Wombat (a barman, not an item on the tray) has the thing rigged against me. On the positive side, the whole raffle ruse had been a good excuse to revisit a few pots of Little Rivers’ European Dark Lager.

    With me were Wilkesy and Willsy, two lively characters who were fresh from a contemporary dance class down the road and had worked up quite a thirst. The conversation begun on carnivorous themes. Wilkesy is a vego, whose dad hunts deer; Willsy eats meat, but not the wallaby her brothers hunt. I don’t have any hunters in my family, but I do have a good recipe for venison in blueberry brandy, given to me my second-cousin Wendy over in Japan.

    The Dark Lager was unanimously declared a success, even though my choreodramatic companions had originally stated that they didn’t normally like dark beers. I’m not sure if Little Rivers – who are based in Tasmania’s north-east – has tinkered a little with the recipe or if it was different for coming off tap, but I enjoyed this more than when I first tasted it back in autumn. It ripples with rich malts, giving good chocolate vibes while still remaining well-balanced and fresh in the tradition of lager brewing.

    Ticket D26 may not have been the lucky winner this week, but I am still pretty sure I came out on the positive end of the scale. And I’m confident I’ll win next week. If I don’t, it might be time to throw our illustrious barman into a hot-pot and have some “wombat stew”.

  • SEVEN SHEDS, Black Inca

    SEVEN SHEDS, Black Inca

    Dark Ale. ABV: 5.3%.

    The hard climb up Marion’s Lookout. Cold wind sweeping across the cirque. Slushy snow in my boots. Currawongs clacking above, circling silhouettes against a grey sky, looking for pockets to pick. Fury Gorge, full to the brim with mist. Cradle Mountain blotted out by saggy clouds. Pencil pines and fishbone ferns, and a nice hut to recline in at the end of the day.

    I must be back at work.

    Kind of, anyway. Last week, I went up onto the Overland Track for the first time in five months, ready to resume a season of bushwalking guiding. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s a bloody nice office. I don’t suppose my picture will do it justice, but the Overland Track is widely considered one of the most beautiful multi-day walks in the world. For some reason, I get paid to go there.

    I was with fellow guides, for a few days of training and camaraderie. Of course, wrestling matches broke out in the hut after dinner; and of course, one or two of us enjoyed an adult beverage after that. One of our number – a gentleman who has recently been renamed ‘Jugs’, for reasons best left unsaid – had brought a few bottles of Seven Sheds beers in his pack. It was a reasonable proposition: Railton, the small town where Seven Sheds is brewed, isn’t too far from the mountains after all.

    I hadn’t come across the Black Inca (or Seven Sheds’ fancy new labelling) yet, so I was pleased to get a dash of it in a mug for a quick sample. Released in June, the Black Inca is a dark ale brewed with a rare Peruvian cacao bean, sourced by a local chocolatier. Fortunato No. 4 (the bean’s grandiloquent title) is joined by Tasmanian-grown quinoa and oats to provide supplementary tasting notes of nuttiness, as well as a full but creamy texture.

    Revisiting the beer back in town, I found it a pretty interesting and pleasing brew. Head brewer Willie Simpson “wanted to create a beer that was every bit as complex, delicate and mysterious as the cacao itself” and although these are lofty ambitions, he has at least created a nice blend of floral, fruity, nutty and toasty flavours, keeping the cacao bitterness surprisingly light.

    Walking in, the weather was atrocious; walking out, the skies were as blue as a fairy-wren’s chest, and the snow glistened beneath the bright sun. We climbed up a mountain of Jurassic dolerite and were surrounded by an expanse of landscape fit for dinosaurs, as far as the eye could see. Have I mentioned it’s a great office?

  • VAN DIEMAN, Hedgerow 2014

    VAN DIEMAN, Hedgerow 2014

    Barrel-Aged Sour. ABV: 6.6%

    It feels like forever ago that I picked up a four-pack of local crafties to celebrate the first game of the footy season. That night, my old friend John came over; Fremantle thrashed Collingwood; and my housemate had invited a bunch of couchsurfers around, so I ended up giving palm-readings to an Argentinian girl in the kitchen.

    This past weekend, John and I were kindly welcomed to the house of Aaron, another old mate of ours, for the Grand Final. It was a pretty disappointing grannie, but the company was good. Aaron had put on a spread of meat pies and burgers, and we had a hearty kick of the Sherrin at half-time. She’s all done and dusted for another year, the footy. A lot has happened between that first game and the season and now, but maybe not much has changed as well.

    I’m not expert on pairing beers with foods, but I’d like to think of myself a pretty good judge of beer-and-activity pairings. And so it was with great enthusiasm I took a bottle of Van Dieman’s latest Hedgerow offering to the Grand Final soiree.

    The Hedgerow beers are annual releases using ingredients from head brewer Will Tatchell’s farm in northern Tasmania. This year’s version is particularly fancy: sloe berries, hawthorn berries and rose hips are added to the brew, and then the whole concoction has been aged in oak barrels for 18 months. The result is fruity, winey, and funky. It pours a gorgeous murky baby-vomit colour, and has a great bucolic aroma about it.

    Although it is a sour, it doesn’t give away too much of that effect and kind of works more like a fruit beer. That being said, it may well be a brew that matures over time; and either way, it’s definitely worth getting your hands on if you can.

    Vale, Aussie Rules, for another season. By the time there are blokes in colourful stripes and short shorts running across a pub-wall telly again, I’ll have another summer of adventures under my belt; it’ll feel like a lifetime ago that the 2014 Premiership was won.

  • TIM WINTON, Eyrie

    Penguin, 2013.

    If you read Tim Winton in a public place, people will chat to you. Perhaps there is no more loved author in Australia.

    Not even Richard Flanagan, who has just been announced as a possible winner of the Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. This book, and Eyrie, were released at about the same time towards the end of last year. Flanagan’s I got my hands almost immediately, thanks to a mate who’d bought it; Winton’s I put on hold at the library, but found myself at the end of a long queue (despite the library holding nearly 50 copies). When it finally came through, I was out of the country. (Nice to get an e-mail from the local library, though. I miss the library nearly as much as I miss my mates when I’m away.)

    “Novels are traditionally an education in empathy and commiseration,” writes Peter Conrad in a highly-recommended piece from The Monthly, comparing and contrasting Winton’s and Flanagan’s careers, and their most recent additions to it. Both authors rightfully belong to that tradition. And Eyrie is full of characters in desperate situations, for whom empathy goes a long way.

    Perhaps what I like most about Tim Winton is his ability to point out the world’s ugliness and beauty at the same time. Winton’s dizzyingly hot descriptions of Fremantle and Perth make them seem like hellholes, full of vain ‘cashed-up bogans’ who behave as though they invented the minerals that have given Western Australia its wealth. Eyrie’s protagonist is a former environmental activist whose life has gone to shit; the story begins in the throes of his dreadful hangover. Another grim character, a rough-and-tumble neighbour who is has become a grandmother in her early 40s, is central to the plot. All sorts of dark and maudlin personae make their appearances, all throughout Freo’s suburbs, which are described as either sterile and charmless, or grubby and falling apart.

    And yet, Winton’s love for the world is almost pantheistic. “As writers with a national constituency, Flanagan and Winton have a responsibility, almost a political duty, to tell their readers good news,” Peter Conrad writes. Perhaps it would be more to correct to say that the Australian public has come to love both authors because of their sincere hope for the world, despite their insight into life’s multifarious miseries. The statements of hope are not cheesy or forced. Eyrie has, perhaps, the least bright cheerful ending possible: the bloody protagonist, having fallen to the pavement, is asked if he’s okay. “Thank you. I am well,” he says. Under the auspice of another author, it mightn’t be convincing. With Winton, we can believe that he will endure.

    Eyrie, in fact, follows after the equally brilliant Breath in its dark mood. But if nothing else, with Winton, the sea still sparkles.

  • VAN DIEMAN, Enigma Pale Ale

    VAN DIEMAN, Enigma Pale Ale

    Pale Ale. ABV: 5%

    The hop plant – humulus lupulus – is one of the world’s great crops. The female flowers of the plant give beer that tangy, bitter flavour; before hops were introduced to the recipe, bitter herbs were used, such as dandelion, marigold and horehound. But these crops don’t give beer the stability that hops do. An unhopped ale might start going off within a couple weeks; hopped beer can stay good for years.

    The first known hop cultivation was in the year 736, in Hallertau, Germany. The father of Charlemagne (Pépin the Short) left a bequest of hop gardens to the Cloister of Saint-Denis. In 822, a Benedictine monk in Northern France included hop-collecting, for brewing, in the statures of his monastery.

    On the other hand, the mystic Abbess Hildegard of Bingen wrote, in Chapter 61 of her Physica Sacra – titled ‘De Hoppho’, or, ‘About the hop’, that it the plant “is not very useful in benefiting man, because it makes melancholy grow in man and makes the soul of man sad…” And the English condemned hops as “a wicked and pernicious weed”.

    Anyway, all this is to say that the history of the hop is very long and illustrious. The various European cultivars of the plant were brought to the New World, and today we have American and New Zealand and Tasmanian hops (to name a few) that each have their own characteristics and make the soul of man sad in their own ways. It continues to this day, and in 2014, Hop Products Australia has released a new cultivar, the Enigma hop, which has been first used by the Tasmanian brewery Van Dieman.

    The Enigma has been growing down in the south of Tassie, in fact, and it falls pretty close to the island’s famous Galaxy hop in some respects. It’s gives off strong fruity flavours, although the Enigma has more of a white wine dryness, and is a little sour, like a redcurrant.

    Van Dieman has produced a great Pale Ale body to showcase ‘the new girl’ (this is how hop cultivators talk about their product). Cloudy, with a nice structure of pale malts, the Enigma Pale Ale is all about the hop. And why not? It’s a sensual plant, and has contributed a lot to our lives since the days of Charlemagne’s dad. Not bad for a wicked weed.

    This beer came out over the winter, and so did an Enigma-driven Pilsner by Victorian brewers Bridge Road Brewery. Tasmania’s Moo Brew will be showcasing another Enigma-hopped brew at BeerFest next month.

  • MOO BREW, Velvet Sledgehammer

    Stout: ABV: 7.9%

    The Moo Brew brewery opened at Moorilla Estate in 2005. Tasmanian readers will recognise that this is now the site of the Museum of Old and New Art, the unique labyrinth of sex-and-death-centred art that has become internationally renowned in its few years of operation. Beer, wine, accommodation, tennis, festivals – MONA hosts a lot of stuff.

    Nowadays, Moo Brew has moved across the river to Bridgewater; with the growing market of craft beer, they needed more space to create more beer. But they have retained their brewery next to the MONA gallery for their more experimental, small-batch beers, of which there are plenty worth sampling.

    The Velvet Sledgehammer is Moo Brew’s seasonal stout, and it suits a tenebrous winter’s evening at the bottom of the world perfectly. Unfortunately, it’s September now, and sunny. But as the evening closed in, as my companions struggled to decide on what they were going to choose, the stout seemed like a mighty fine option. Maybe I simply felt it beckoning me; or maybe I’m just not very good at what a good mate of mine calls “beer foreplay”.

    Velvet Sledgehammer is a ridiculous name for a beer (even worse for a pet or a child), but in a way it’s kind of fitting. This stout has a deceptively smooth body, bearing within it richness and complexity, and serious heavy roast characteristics. The smoothness also hides a considerable alcohol content. Dark in the glass and with a nice tan head, it’s a great stout. But it’s something I have to come to terms with: stout season is ending, just as it began.

  • SEVEN SHEDS, Elephant's Trunk

    Belgian Strong Ale. ABV: 7%

    The Seven Sheds operation is a charming one. Situated at the back of a brick home in a small Tassie town called Railton, you can get brewmaster Willie Simpson to take you around his brewing facilities. The highlight is the backyard, where the bright green hops race up to an often dreary sky. A humble bar offers the variety of Seven Sheds beers, including limited release brews, and some of Willie’s meads.

    Running into my old photography teacher at the bottle-o as I hoisted this 750ml vessel of ale to the counter last week, he mused on how you can’t help but trust the Belgians. “All they did was pray and brew,” he said. “And they were probably praying for what they brewed.”

    The same dedication is true of Willie Simpson as well. Once Australia’s only beer writer (imagine that), Willie then shifted to Tasmania and with Catherine Stark, started Seven Sheds. With use of local ingredients (malts, honey, fruits and hops) Seven Sheds brings together a quality array of beers, with plenty of interesting experiments as well as some solid Old World styles.

    The Elephant’s Trunk is a great beer for someone trying to get into local craft beer in Tassie. A strong variety of a popular but interesting style, it’s got plenty of flavour without being too bitter. The ale pours a lovely golden amber colour, with a bubbly head; the aroma has caramel malts and a little spicy yeast notes. Dry fruity hop and sweet malty flavours make the beer full, well-balanced, and delicious.

    If you’re Tasmanian and reading this without much experience with craft beers, get a few mates around, crack this open, and see what you think. Or go on down to Railton, and have a yarn with Willie and Catherine. And if you’re not from here, why not visit?

  • BEER HERE, Jule IPA

    India Pale Ale, ABV: 7%

    Ryan’s beard is significantly longer; Luke’s may have acquired a few more greys. Jesse has cultivated a mullet hairdo. Wombat, of course, has a timeless look – nothing’s changed with him.

    I have waltzed back into Saint John Craft Beer on a Wednesday afternoon, four months after I shuffled out with a quiet nod to all and sundry, ready to leave my hometown for the winter months yet again.

    There are plenty of yarns to spin – I can tell the boys how much hospitalisation costs in the USA! And what about those Japanese love hotels? – but I’d rather start off being the one to ask the questions. How’s business? What’s been brewed in Tassie this winter? And what’s good on tap today?

    The number of taps at Saint John has increased to eight; choosing will get trickier, and I expect to get acquainted with beer envy. That, or I will drink more. It’s a bright sunny September day in Launceston, so I’m in the mood for an IPA – even if it is a Danish, Christmas-inspired variety. It has a little of the spice that you’d expect from a winter beer, but it’s more smooth than spicy, with orange-peel and pine notes filling out the body. There’s a touch of something herbal there. It’s a little different for an IPA, but I like it a lot.

    Pretty soon I’m on the local stuff – Little Rivers, from the north-east of the island, have released their first seasonal, an India Brown Ale. I hear rumours of another concoction, something that sounds ambitious and exciting, which is exactly what I want to hear from our Tasmanian craft breweries.

    I have been in bars from San Francisco to Tokyo since the first Saturday afternoon in May, when I gathered an eclectic group of mates to share an ale or five, and to say hasta luego. There have been bars that sold beer only from the local county. Bars with 70 taps. Famous bars, known the world over. Bars with beautiful women behind the counter instead of less-attractive bearded, mulleted blokes. So how does the only craft beer bar in my benign hometown of less than 100,000 souls stack up? How does it rate compared to Melbourne’s Alehouse or Santa Cruz’s Lupulo, the Baird Beer taphouse in Harajuku or the Mikkeller Bar in San Francisco?

    The answer, I suppose, is that Saint John's is probably the best of the lot.

    After all, in what other bar can I discuss our homeland’s colourful history with whatever bloke I end up sitting next to? Who else sells beer made using water from a river I can swim in, or barley grown by a farmer I know? Where else does the barman buy me a slice of pizza? Where else can I run into Simmy and Sav, talk footy with my old photography teacher, and catch up on gossip with the reporters of the award-winning local paper?

    Curiosity will take me to some exotic drinking establishment somewhere else in the world before too long, but as long as Saint John is standing, I’ll be making my way there again and again.

  • TWO ROW

    TWO ROW

    351 Smith St., Fitzroy, VIC

    I haven’t been home for three months. And sure, when it comes to Tassie, I miss certain trees and birds as much as I miss my friends or family, but there is something likeable about Tasmanians. There’s a certain picaresque humour, an irreverence, an adventurous spirit, and a simplicity of soul that I associate with the Tasmanians I know.

    So it was with some happiness that I looked around and realised that the eclectic group that had gathered over beers at this Melbourne bar one recent evening was mostly comprised of Tasmanians.

    There was Cindy, newly moved to Melbourne in search of work and in evasion of something else. Bug begrudgingly studies his botanical passions at a Melbourne university. Felix was looking for artistic projects. Pat and Andy were returning from a tour of rural New South Wales; and Will and Sylvia were departing for an indefinite sojourn to the Netherlands.

    The bar we’d converged on was Two Row, a Fitzroy bar that has made the more extreme end of craft brewing its niche. A rollickingly sweet kriek, an hibiscus ale, a big skunky IPA and a sugary-sweet porter were four of the five items on the evening’s roster. I sought after the BOMB (Imperial Stout, ABV: 14%), from Prairie Artisanal Ales, an outfit based in Oklahoma previously reviewed on this site. An ambitious project, the Bomb has been aged with coffee, cacao, vanilla and chilli. It’s a wild concoction. The stout pours as black as tar, with a nice smooth texture. It has an odd aroma, with hints of ash and grass. But the first sip is good – and it gets better with each taste, and especially as it warms up. The chilli heat is present but minimal, and mostly serves to evoke the rich dark tones of coffee and liquorice and bitter cacao.

    All in all, Two Row left most of us winners – pleased with our selections – but there were a couple of drinkers disappointed with their options. With only five taps of extreme brews (although there is a decent selection of bottled beer), it’s probably a normal ratio. However, with Melbourne’s craft beer options proliferating across the city, there is room for a bar like Two Row – something for those willing to take a gamble on a handful of dollars to try something unlike what they’ve tried before.

    As for the Vandemonians I met with in Melbourne: I eagerly await the day that we each meet again for a drink somewhere.

     

  • CARLTON & UNITED BREWERIES, Sheaf Stout

    Stout. ABV: 5.7%.

    I was walking to the township of Corralitos to see what their farmers ' market looked like. Three vendors: I could either buy unripe avocados, pickled green beans, or chili plant seedlings. I awkwardly shuffled away, around the corner, to burn my money at the local deli - a middle-of-nowhere place with sausages famous all around the Bay Area. Of course, I checked their beer fridge, pulled out a few good IPAs, and was about to walk away when I noticed the fine print on a garish yellow label:

    BREWED AND BOTTLED
    SOUTH HOBART, TASMANIA,
    AUSTRALIA

    What the shit! I'm from Tasmania, of course, and Corralitos is a pinprick of a town 10,000 miles away from the brewery where this bad-boy went from mash to stout. The Cascade Brewery in Hobart - beneath the stern aspect of Mt. Wellington - is a tenebrous sandstone edifice, and is Australia's oldest brewery. Tasmanians have long argued over whether Cascade's beer is better or worse than the island's other long-standing brewery, Boags. The question is largely geographical - which town do you come from? - and therefore, it's a moot point these days, as both breweries are owned well-and-truly by large international corporations.

    So although this is not a Cascade beer, it's brewed by C&UB in Hobart. I've probably smelled it as I strolled past, but I've never heard of it. The recipe originally belonged to a New South Wales brewery named Tooth's, which is fairly lovely. Obviously, I bought it. I figured I'd have a sup of it one day when I got homesick.

    In the end, it was a cold day and the fog hadn't burnt off and I thought now or never. I wasn't exactly homesick, but I was wearing my bushwalking t-shirt and a down jacket, and writing a letter to my mum - close enough. Of course, it was pretty average. Nice and dark, though. With an aroma of, I don't know, manfern and dolerite. And tasting notes of sandstone.

  • NICK CLEMENTS, The Black War

    St. Lucia: University of Queensland, 2014.

    The Black War
    is one of the most important books to come out in my lifetime. The frontier conflict between Aborigines and Europeans in the early days of the settlement of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) is little known by average Australians, but is also at the centre one of the most heated conversations in academia today. Marrying rigorous research with an enjoyable writing style, Tasmanian historian Nick Clements has pierced through the controversy and emotion with his Black War, and created a vivid account of the ‘fear, sex and resistance’ of the conflict.

    Clements is not your average historian. Now in his early thirties, Clements was born in Beaconsfield, in rural northern Tasmania, and from all reports was an uninterested student. As he grew older, he took up extreme sports; about ten years ago, he broke his back cliff-diving, and while he was in traction, his mother enrolled him into the University of Tasmania. Studying history and philosophy, Clements discovered he wasn’t ‘dumb as dog shit’ after all, as he puts it. His skills as an historian have been widely recognised, but it’s a different kind of historian who tattoos a sentence-long summary of each year of his life on his leg.

    Addressing the often-spiteful debate over Tasmanian history in his introduction, Clements states that “objectivity and empathy are both indispensable to the historian’s craft.” The Black War manages to draw these two crucial elements together. It is doggedly unsentimental, but the effort that Clements has gone to in attempting to view the conflict from a ‘ground-zero’ perspective – rather than relying on ‘top-down’ official, government sources – helps us understand the story on a human level. Without justifying any actions, The Black War is also free from blame. It is simply an attempt to understand, and to tell the story truly.

    Nick Clements argues that this chapter of history “is a story about two peoples who just wanted to be free of each other” and were unable to recognise each other as human beings. The level of violence described reminds us that this was an awful time. Yet, perhaps for the first time in Tasmanian literature, we are able to recognise the protagonists as people driven by emotions and intentions similar to our own. The British settlers were either migrants risking everything, underpaid soldiers, or exiled convicts. They were driven by an understandable fear of the skilful and ill-understood people who had lived on the island for millennia – and by loneliness. Likewise, The Black War brings together more research on Aboriginal motivations than I’ve ever seen before, relating the emotions and fears of the original Tasmanians, as well as their formidable tactics of guerrilla warfare.

    There are no good guys and bad guys in this book, and we are all the better off for it. Nick Clements’ The Black War is the pinnacle of our understanding of a crucial part of colonial history.

    The Black War by Nicholas Clements has just been released. For more information, see the UQP website.

  • BELGROVE DISTILLERY, Rye Whisky

    BELGROVE DISTILLERY, Rye Whisky

    This weekend, my old man and I went down to the quaint Tasmanian town of Bothwell. It was a trip with two purposes: to visit family who have a property down there, and to sample whisky. Funnily enough, the two ended up melding into one. John – the husband of my dad’s cousin – had a bottle of Belgrove Rye Whisky on the shelf. I’d been eyeing off this label for a few weeks now. It turns out John’s brother is the distiller.

    So after visiting Nant (a world-renowned distillery in Bothwell), we headed down the highway to Belgrove, the home of Peter Bignell, who for three years has been using the excess crops from his ryecorn farm to create whisky. Stone buildings more than a century old greet you as you come down the driveway; out the back are an array of typical farming sheds, cluttered with equipment, and behind them, acres of golden paddocks.

    Belgrove is not your typical distillery. The ingredients all come from the farm, and the grain is malted on site. Peter built the copper still from scratch, and heats it using cooking oil from the nearby roadhouse (‘Mood Food’, it’s called). The leftover mash is fed to the pigs.

    It’s a unique process, and Peter is an interesting bloke. A natural experimenter, the farmer/distiller is also keen on sand sculpture and has entered competitions around the world for it. His product is also full of experimentation. While his rye whisky and white rye spirit are standards, Peter has barrels and barrels of other interesting concoctions: distilled cider, oat whisky, grappa. My favourite experiment is ‘Ginger Hammer’ – ginger beer distilled into a spirit. It has a long flavour that metamorphoses on the tongue, a rainbow of sharp and sweet flavours.

    But the rye whiskey is what I came for. It’s been highly regarded by some serious reviewers: it’s got a great mouth-feel, a glittering golden appearance, and a range of ripe, spicy, complex flavours. With a curious story and a likeable product, Belgrove’s Rye Whisky is well worth a sample. I’m not sure how you get it outside of Tasmania, but if you’re a Taswegian reader, check out all the good places (Saint John, Cool Wines and Lark Distillery to name a few) and have a taste.

    Apparently both the Rye Whisky and the White Rye are great for cocktails too, if you’re feeling as innovative as Peter Bignell. For more info, check out the Belgrove website.

  • MARTIN FLANAGAN, The Last Quarter: A Trilogy

    2008, Camberwell East, Vic.: One Day Hill.

    I admit it from the outset: Martin Flanagan writes about Aussie Rules footy. Before this turns off 90% of the readership, let me say that he doesn’t write about footy the way your average sports columnist does. Recently, Flanagan wrote: “I want the footy to be fun or what’s the point?” He’s a different kind of footy fan. He doesn’t even have a team of his own.

    Martin is the brother of the exceptional Tasmanian novelist Richard, and there is a shared something in their work. I think it’s empathy. Far from bloodthirsty or rabid, Martin Flanagan follows sports because it is a distinctly human pursuit. He hangs around the peripheries of the game, more likely to write about conversations amongst supporters on the trains to and from the game as the scoreline.

    ‘The Last Quarter’ is a collation of three short, readable books on the uniquely Australian game. 1970 accounts for the famous Grand Final of that year between Carlton and Collingwood; mostly, it’s the story of life before and after football. “Such is the power of the 1970 grand final that men who were young when it was played find the event pursuing them like a shadow through their middle age,” he writes. He speaks of sport as acts of drama.

    It is just play, after all. And yet Southern Sky, Western Oval, first published in 1994, documents the fate of the Footscray Football Club across one season. Based in the neglected western suburbs of Melbourne, Footscray is the heartbeat of its town – yet glory has distinctly eluded it, barring one premiership win in nearly a century, in 1954. Flanagan watches from close quarters as the team struggles and fails to shine yet again. Everyone from the club’s larrikin captain Doug Hawkins to the volunteer chaplain is observed in a narrative that turns out being an affirmation of the value of the ‘distinctly ordinary’, and the importance of sharing such ordinariness together.

    Finally, 2003’s The Game in the Time of War is the work of a man who is tired, politically worn-out by the invasion of Iraq and life under conservative Prime Minister John Howard. Flanagan seems like he’s ready to pack it in for most of this book, footy and all. But in the end, football turns out to be full of the cracks where light gets in – a Muslim team mascot, for example, or a champion of the game who chooses to protest the status quo.

    I like Martin Flanagan because he understands what’s important: having people to laugh with, and trying to understand the strange events that shape our lives from afar. Sure, ‘The Last Quarter’ is for footy fans. But through the lens of a game with a funny-shaped ball, it’s a comment on what Australia – and Australians, more importantly – are like. “I am obliged to take people as I find them,” Flanagan says in a kind of journalist’s creed. And so he does.


  • EVIL TWIN, Even More Jesus

    EVIL TWIN, Even More Jesus

    Imperial Stout. ABV: 12%.

    We made a mess at Saint John Craft Beer last night.

    There was a great roster of beers on tap. I stormed in late and demanded the last schooner of Moo Brew’s 2014 Harvest Rye IPA. Wet hopped with Ella and Galaxy, the use of rye (from Tasmania’s curious Belgrove Distillery) creates a platform for the hops to shine. Dryness and spiciness give way to glorious fruits flavours: at 7%, the Hobart brewers have created a magnificent beverage. I was grateful that I made it just in time to try it.

    Next up, I had another local beer – this time, from my hometown. Morrison Brewery had opened up its doors to Stuart Grant, a local bon vivant who won the home-brew competition at Launceston’s BeerFest this summer, allowing him to use his recipe for a commercial-scale brew. The Imperial Wit is a strong Belgian-style witbier, with vibrant aromatics, a delightful colour and mouth-feel, and a hearty flavour that combines notes of herbs and spices, a good dose of yeastiness, and some hop and malt characteristics too. A job well done; a beer I’d like to have again, and a collaboration I’d be happy to see more of too.

    Finally, it came time for the much-anticipated ‘stout spider’. A cast of rogues leaned on the bar, giddy with excitement. Gilly was there, and his eldest brother Pat; Fizzer, a visitor from Brisbane, joined the line-up as well; Gracie had signed up for the depraved drink too; and Ryan, our barman, had certainly earned one. A couple of vegans opted out, and my mate Lizzy ate the left-over ice-cream. Anyway, there was melted ice-cream everywhere. The ‘Even More Jesus’ imperial stout from Evil Twin Brewing – an enigmatic brewery I must tell you about sometime – ended up being the chosen beer, after some debate.

    A mammoth of a beer, the Even More Jesus is intensely dark in colour, and bears all sorts of sweetness and smoothness in its body. It’s almost a milkshake to start with – let alone when we poured it over pints of sloppy vanilla ice-cream and attacked it with our biodegradable spoons.

    It was too much for Fizzer to handle. The rest of us, however, were reduced to the consistency of the dessert, liquefying with glee. It was absolute decadence. A big, bold, boozy sugar hit – the stout spider is a must-try treat, and ice-cream aside, the Even More Jesus is an imperial stout worth having a crack at.

    And cheers to the christening of stout spiders at Saint John!

  • ANNA KRIEN, Into the Woods

    Melbourne: Black Inc., 2012. First published 2010.

    “That’s a lot of fucking trees,” the former Premier of Tasmania, Paul Lennon, once said about the island. And it’s true – large parts of the island of Tasmania is covered with forests of all sorts. There is sclerophyll and there is rainforest. The world’s tallest flowering tree is here, and Australia’s only winter deciduous tree, nothofagus gunnii. There are certainly more trees than any other resource, if that’s how you want to look at it. More trees than minerals, animals, or people.

    So maybe it’s not surprising that trees, and what to do with them, have been at the centre of most of the Tasmania’s controversies in recent history. What must be surprising, at least to the outsider who hasn’t lived a lifetime of political struggles over the forests, is just how complicated and bizarre these issues can be. Journalist Anna Krien’s 2010 study of Tassie’s tree troubles is a precise, clear and thorough exploration of just what has gone on here. Krien intimately describes her journey to Tasmania, as she finds herself with ‘ratbags’ and ‘ferals’ in coupe-blocking tree-sits, or chatting with loggers in dodgy small-town pubs, or having coffee with former government officials and prominent businessmen in Hobart. In between all the policy and money, she discovers a lot about Tasmania – strange island at the bottom of the world that it is.

    The Tasmanian wilderness first came to national attention through the failed protests against the drowning of Lake Pedder in the late 1960s, and again through the successful protests against the damming of the Franklin River in the early 1980s. The world’s first environmental political party sprung to life, along with its unassuming hero, a gay small-town doctor named Bob Brown, who was bashed, shot at, and vilified. These developments are only a small part of Krien’s study, though. From the forests themselves, and the people who work or live in and around them, her attention slowly turns to the powermongers, and the infuriating back-room deals between political mates who time and time again flout the democratic process and get away with it. Blatant lying, bribery and ‘baseball-bat diplomacy’ all depict Tasmanian leaders as disgracefully selfish, spineless ambassadors for greed.

    As one journalist noted, seeing the whole story of Tasmanian forestry in one book can be devastating. The detailed journalism ends up painting an incredibly frustrating picture. Of course, it continues. Since the release of the book, in fact – in less than three years – a whole new raft of problems for democracy in Tasmania has reared its ugly head, including a new State government attempting to come down hard on the freedom to protest, among other things. “There is so much memory on this island,” Anna Krien writes. “It seems to sustain people, even when communities don’t.” We can only hope she’s right – the unique island on which I live is threatened by the disgusting small-mindedness of manipulative political players otherwise.

  • GREG FRENCH, Artificial

    New Holland Press, 2008.

    Artificial is a book about fly-fishing. There is a picture of a fly on the cover; it begins with a glossary of fly-fishing vernacular; every few pages, someone is wading out across a lakes, casting a line, hoping to get a trout to bite.

    But Artificial is a book about fly-fishing in the same way that Beers I’ve Read and Books I’ve Drunk is about beers or books. For every paragraph of technical information, there is another ten full of stories about strange people or reflections on a strange life.

    In this hard-to-classify book, Greg French uses his passion for fly-fishing as a vehicle to explain the way he lives his life, who he lives it with, and why. We are introduced to the places special to him: Tasmania’s west coast and highland lakes, as well as wildernesses as far-flung as Canada or Chile. We meet his mad mates: the amateur pyrotechnic Calvin, the dreamy red-haired hippie Magenta, Budgie the cynical philosopher, just to name a few. And more than that, the reader encounters French’s deepest thoughts, the meditations of a man who has spent much of his life in the bush, in the wonderful but futile pursuit of fish.

    French can be opinionated and rebellious, but he usually does so with a likeable humility and whimsy. Plenty of humour is depicted, but they all seem to lead to an existential aim, as French balances the sorrow of meaninglessness with the sheer joy of sharing it with good friends. Death is often close at hand, and so too a kind of political abjectness, but more than any other theme between the covers of Artificial, there is love.

    Perhaps I like this book simply because it’s a catalogue of the kind of stories I tell. Between beers, books and bushwalking, I want to talk about the people I share Tasmania with – the autistic scholars, the illiterate poets, the believers in the existence of the thylacine, the friends and family I wish I secretly name the features of the landscape after, tarns and peaks the lot of them. I hope someday to bind their stories into a series of meditations too, and so I’m pleased for Greg French. Which in turn made it a pleasure to read Artificial.

  • VAN DIEMAN - Harvest White IPA

    India Pale Ale. ABV: 7.1%

    I went out to Evandale today. It’s a quaint little village right near the Launceston Airport, about ten minutes from my house by car. Evandale is popular for an eclectic array of things: colonial painting, penny-farthing races, and a Sunday market, which is as eclectic as anything else about the town.

    My cousin Dogcatcher plays footy for the Evandale Eagles, so we went out to watch his mob beat the team from the next town over. Country football is a strange thing: there are a lot of blokes with big guts and skinny legs, and a handful of the players have a fag at half-time. Little kids chow down lolly frogs as their silver-mulleted mothers shout abuse at the opposition, the umpires, and anyone else who’ll listen. Usually there’s a bit of biff. Magpies, galahs, rosellas and black cockatoos circle the ground. It’s a fun day out.

    There are others reasons to go to Evandale, though. In the rolling meadows surrounding the town, there’s a bloody good craft brewery named Van Dieman Brewing. Run by a fella named Will Tatchell, who proudly proclaims they don’t do much other than make real craft beer, Van Dieman are mastering their art more and more with each release. The gentlemen at my local craft beer bar, Saint John, provided me with a pot of their latest release on Friday night: a White IPA, of which only ten kegs exist in the world.

    In fact, a couple of the blokes who work at Saint John helped pick the hops a few weeks back, grown at the brewery itself. The fresh scent of the Cascade specimen involved has been floating about the bar since then, and the beer itself has a full dose of wet-hopped fruity flavour and aroma, melding well with herbaceous hints of coriander and mint, a touch of white pepper, rockmelon, and orange. The Harvest White IPA has a wonderful mouth-feel, and the flavour spreads across the palate generously.

    Van Dieman have produced one of their finest beers, and in a style that I can’t get enough of. No doubt they have drawn inspiration from the white-hilled setting where they work; the beer suits the location perfectly. Then again, watching fat farmers chase a pigskin around a park fits Evandale too, somehow.

  • LITTLE RIVERS, Kolsch and European Dark Lager

    LITTLE RIVERS, Kolsch and European Dark Lager

    Dark Lager, ABV: 4.5%. Kolsch, ABV: 4.4%.

    The north-east of Tasmania is a great place. Rainforest mountain-biking, delicious cheese, great waterfalls, giant white gums, platypuses, a lavender farm, and one of the best pubs I’ve ever been to – the Weldborough Hotel. It’s also a part of Tassie that’s struggling at the moment: the transition of our economy means that people are moving out of north-east towns in droves. Life in the north-east is interesting these days.

    The town of Scottsdale is the heart of this part of the island, and I am pleased to say that a boutique brewery has opened up on its main street. Little Rivers has released their first catalogue of brews, and I sampled two of them this weekend. There were good reasons to walk home from the bottle shop with a six-pack on Friday night. The Aussie Rules footy season has just begun. There was also an eclectic international dinner party happening in my house concurrently. So why not enjoy some local craft beer to celebrate all that?

    It was an enjoyable night and the beers helped, although to be fair, neither the European Dark Lager nor the Kolsch rocked my world. Both are safe beers, fitting, on the flavour spectrum, neatly between mainstream beers and the ballsy flavours of the world’s great craft breweries.

    The Kolsch is moderate in all respects: hops, yeast and bitterness all register lightly on the palate. It has a pleasant amber colour, a little opaque, but carbonating nicely. The European Dark Lager showed some promise as well, but failed to deliver fully. It pours a temptingly rich shade of mahogany, and all the lovely notes of chocolate and malt (for which I am such a sweet-toothed sucker) are present – but I wanted more, damn it!

    Both styles are happily sessionable beers, and worked well for a Friday night in front of the footy/earnestly discussing architecture with an Argentinian beauty. I have heard good feedback about both the Hefeweizen and the Pale Ale, the other styles Little Rivers have launched. However, I encourage the upstart brewery to have a red hot go at something more ambitious. There is a certain daring that belongs to the people of the north-east – be they piners, tin-miners, brewers or footy players.

    (The Mathinna team, I’m told, used to be nicknamed the ‘Kill-Em Burn-Ems’. Long live the north-east of Tasmania!)

  • LENNY BARTULIN, Infamy

    LENNY BARTULIN, Infamy

    I used to think the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) was the most interesting period in world history, but lately I’ve changed my tune. It turns out that history in my own homeland of Tasmania is more fascinating. Like the Mexican Revolution (and much of history), it’s bloody and brutal, but the intricacy is incredible. All sorts of ideas cross paths in Tasmania. So do all sorts of complicated souls.

    In the first decades of the colony, beginning with Hobart’s settlement in 1803, Tasmania (Van Diemen’s Land as it was then known) was the stage for bushranging exploits, political intrigues, convict labour and torture, exploration expeditions, and the tragic conflict between settlers and Aborigines. Lenny Bartulin’s 2013 novel Infamy sees all of this as perfect fodder for a lively tale, full of sex and gold and musket shot.

    Of course, Infamy is not strictly historical. Instead, it is something of a western set in Van Diemen’s Land in 1830, drawing upon the historical narrative and placing into a fast-paced plot that moves with cinematic sequence. A faithful representation of the cranky authoritarian George Arthur (Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land from 1823-1837) looms over a cast of fictionalised characters based on the eclectic protagonists of the era.

    At the centre of Infamy’s plot, though, is the bushranger with the bad dreams, Brown George Coyne, an amplified amalgamation of various real-life villains (Mike Howe, Matthew Brady, Alexander Pearce) along with his Aboriginal lover Black Betty. Coyne, in the process of trying to form a revolutionary movement to overthrow Arthur (in the true history, Howe did indeed call himself ‘the Lieutenant Governor of the Woods’), is being followed by William Burr, a pirate-hunter from South America brought to Van Diemen’s Land to help restore order to the struggling, fledgling colony. Ducking between the shipmen’s pubs of Hobart Town and the myrtle forests of the island’s interior, Infamy drags in an array of other ruffians, spies and prostitutes and entrepreneurs, some of whom are recognisable as dinky-di Tasmanian personalities, and others completely made up.

    Bartulin is brazen with how he uses history, but not careless – Hobart-born, the author refers to several important historical texts, and many of the details are correct (although there are errors: Brown George, for example, has made great wealth from gold, an unlikely scenario in Tasmania). The narrative is exuberant – a little too much so for my liking, but the idea is interesting, and the story is as rambunctious as the Ship Inn on a Saturday night. Bartulin’s style fits the story he is trying to tell, too: it glitters darkly, crackling like embers, cynical and bitter but not without some tenderness.

    Infamy paints early Van Diemen’s Land as a morbid place, full of terror and misery – as indeed it was. However, Bartulin, like the convict settlers of the island, has managed to extract some joy from the bleak scenes of those days. Even if it is, in this case, purely aesthetic.

  • MORRISON BREWERY, Angus

    Scotch Ale. 500mL. ABV: 11.8%

    Another Scotch Ale on another hot day. This time, it was a beer read in celebration of the first official day of autumn – although it was another warm day, and a swim almost immediately followed the beer.  The afternoon tipple was to be shared with my sottish mate Daniel; knowing this bearded bugger’s tastes, I perused the fridge at the bottle-o carefully, looking for something opaque and opulent. Something depraved. Something boozy.

    I couldn’t go past Angus. You read it correctly: the alcohol content in this 500ml bottle is 11.8%. This comes about due to the ale being aged for four months in the casks of a Tasmanian whisky distiller, Lark. (Tasmania, by the way, creates some of the best whisky in the world.) The alcohol flavour is ever-present. It doesn’t nullify the more mellow notes in the beer, but it does leave you, as Daniel said, feeling like you can’t drive for a few hours.

    Morrison Brewery is a local mob who are so bon vivant in their attitude they suggest food pairings on the label. Game meats and smoked cheeses are on the menu for the Angus – appropriate couplings for such a sweet and malty beer. Daniel and I enjoyed it with olives, feta and beetroot dip instead. Not out of any gourmand demands; that was just what was in the house at the time.

  • SARAH BAKEWELL, The English Dane

    2005, London: Chatto & Windus.

    Jorgen Jorgenson is my main man. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark (I can give you the exact address if you ever want to go there), Jorgenson lived an extraordinary life, alternating between careers as a sailor, whaler, merchant, spy, author, convict, and, for a brief time, the King of Iceland.

    I am lucky enough to live on the island where Jorgenson ended his days. Tasmania is an odd place with a tendency to produce odd characters, but maybe there are none more bizarre than Jorgen, whose completely factual adventures are comparable to those of fictional personae Don Quixote or Till Eulenspiegel. I can’t get enough of stories about the guy. Even the driest of biographies glistens when Jorgenson’s antics are involved.

    Sarah Bakewell’s The English Dane is the best of them all, though. Calmly and precisely, but not without a sense of humour, Bakewell shakes the details loose from countless sources, giving us not only great accounts of Jorgenson’s most outrageous stunts (did I mention that he became the King of Iceland for a while?), but also smaller incidents, such as his tour of Europe, in which he drunkenly gambled away all of his money and had to walk across France and Germany – only to be saved by the remarkable coincidence of meeting a man who sold watches crafted by Jorgenson’s father – only to do his dash again by spurning the love of this man’s daughter!

    If you ever find me over a beer and ask me an innocuous question about Jorgen Jorgenson, you won’t need to read this book. I’ll spin his yarns for hours. Otherwise, you might want to pick up this book and read the stories at your own leisure, in Bakewell’s careful, readable style. Either way, you absolutely must become acquainted with this remarkable figure, the great Jorgen Jorgenson.

  • IRON HOUSE, Hell Beer

    IRON HOUSE, Hell Beer

    Kölsch. ABV: 5.2%.

    Really, it’s been a great week for great beers. Some good company, a few sly arvos to myself, and a selection of fine brews all around me.

    I was at the bar when the Iron House truck rolled up from its home on the east coast of Tasmania. A keg of this ‘Hell Brew’ was trundled in, a small batch, single-hop Kölsch, using the Kiwi Nelson Sauvin hops. Luke, the bearded bloke behind the bar, hadn’t sampled it yet; it was a tantalising wait for it to get its turn on the taps in that particular drinking establishment.

    My housemate Tim and I decided to head down to the pub last night and the Iron House selection was on Tap One. We both ordered a schooner of it, and received a deliciously-coloured, thick-bodied beer. The hops are prominent, of course – and Nelson Sauvin hops are delicious. The Hell Beer is hardly hellish: it has a pleasant mouth-feel, a moderate lingering bitterness, and it loosened the tongue for free-flowing conversation. Tim bought us a second schooner each. Another housemate arrived, post-dinner date; our Greek guest arrived; a wobbly young man arrived, just turned eighteen; I saw a girl I had a crush on when I was even younger than that. Next thing I knew, it was close to 2a.m., and time to wander home.

  • RICHARD FLANAGAN, Narrow Road to the Deep North

    Random House, 2013.

    I admire Richard Flanagan hugely. Born in the small town of Longford in Tasmania, Flanagan manages to combine his incredible compassion with an appreciation for the bush, booze, women, and footy. Flanagan’s latest book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, released only a couple months ago, is a tremendous achievement of breath-taking storytelling, by the keeper of the dark side of Australia's conscience.

    The story is centred around Dorrigo Evans, a World War II doctor who finds himself as a P.O.W. on the harrowing Thai-Burma Railway, along with a cast of larrikins, superbly named by Flanagan – Sheephead Morton, Lizard Brancussi, Gallipoli von Kessler. On ‘the Line’, Flanagan uses Aussie vernacular with spectacular command, accentuating humorous situations in the middle of those scenes of unbelievable horror. But the narrative spills a long way over the edges of the jungle P.O.W. camp. Flanagan follows Dorrigo’s love interests, his post-war adulation, and the fates of various returning servicemen. A scene in which a group of former P.O.Ws enter a fish-and-chip store owned by a Greek is particularly moving.

    Even further than that, though, Flanagan takes the time to address the humanity of the Japanese and Korean guards that so brutalised the Australians in World War II. The title of this book comes from the travel-narrative-in-haiku by the famous Japanese poet Bashō, and indeed Flanagan says he tried to write this book, originally, in a similar way. The guards in this book are modelled on the men that beat Flanagan’s own father, who was a prisoner on the Line, and for whom this book is dedicated. Flanagan went so far as to fly to Japan to meet one of these guards, asking him to slap him as the guard had slapped his father seventy years earlier.

    And that’s the thing about Richard Flanagan. The man puts such great care into the writing of his stories, and his characters glisten with that care. They are not perfect; nor are they evil. They are simply men and women, with competing desires, uncertain of themselves until the moment comes where they must make a split-second decision that reveals who they truly are. And each of them, through whatever horrors of violence and loss, ‘charge the windmill’, determinedly push through darkness toward hope.

    This is Flanagan’s finest book; that is to say, he has put the most of himself into it.

  • SAINT JOHN CRAFT BEER, Launceston

    SAINT JOHN CRAFT BEER, Launceston

    A craft beer bar opened up in my hometown, Launceston. It is called Saint John Craft Beer. Whether it is named after John the Evangelist or St. John the Theologian is yet to be confirmed. (It is conveniently located on St. John Street, though.) It's now a week old, and the honeymoon period is sheer bliss.

    I shuffled in for the first time on Wednesday afternoon, and it's bloody marvellous. The space itself is simple and welcoming. It's the right size for both a casual bev in the afternoon and for the busier weekend nights. There are also lots and lots of beers. Saint John has six taps, and although one is usually wasted on cider (I’m joking, I’m joking), the quality of the beer available has been high thus far.

    Tasmania has always done well with quality food and drink, and craft beer is no different. So it was nice to see two Tassie brews represented when I went in the other day: Evandale’s Van Diemen, and Falmouth’s Ironhouse. I started off with the Ironhouse Dunkelweizen, which was a lovely drink. It had that charming wheat beer manner in which the flavour hits the roof of your mouth first and then spreads its warm taste across the palate slowly. It was a well-done version of the Dunkelweizen, nicely balanced, full of life.

    Scanning through the other taps, I decided to have a pot of Moylans Saison, with a mind to compare the Californian mob’s efforts with the local Morrison’s drop I had last week. Moylans’ is less sweet, more tart, with notes of ginger and pepper sizzling through the brew. The flavours are a little neater than Morrison’s, the sharpness of the spices giving way slowly to a long fruity flavour. A good farmhouse brew, and a lovely beer to linger over on an empty afternoon with a book in hand.

    Check out Saint John Craft Beer on Facebook, if that's your thing. And if you're in Launnie, let's have a beer!

    Post-script: I attended Saint John on Friday night as well. Seven Sheds had their 200th keg on tap, a bold brown ale loaded with cocoa powder and ginseng and all sorts of other goodies. I was very pleased and impressed. I also tried the Citra Pale from Liberty Brewing (NZ), and the Prickly Moses (Aus) Blueberry Hefe. Both were outrageously fruity. The bar was very busy: the blokes behind it are working hard, but they must be thrilled by how well-received their endeavour is.

  • MORRISON BREWERY, Saison

    Saison. ABV: 6.2%.

    There was a lot of buzz around this beer when it came out in December, but it definitely lives up to the hype. Saison beers belong to the genus of Belgian farmhouse ales brewed and stored in winter and served in summer on the farms of Wallonia. Saison is French for ‘season’, and the seasonal workers (les saisonniers) would drink litres of the stuff each day to keep themselves hydrated and having fun.

    Morrison, of course, is not a Belgian brewing mob, but are based in a working-class suburb of Launceston called Invermay. Their 2013-release Saison available for a limited time, and is well worth having a taste of. It’s a full-bodied beer, replete with spicy fruitiness, put together in a fine balancing act of peppery notes and sweet flavours. It has that musty, yeasty smell of a farmyard, which a Saison ought to. You might have to look hard for it if you’re not in Launceston, but if you are, seek it out!

  • STEN NADOLNY, The Discovery of Slowness

    Canongate Books, 2010, trans. Ralph Freedman. First edition: Viking Penguin, 1983.

    One of my favourite hobbies in life (and there are many) is the pursuit of strange facets of Tasmanian history. The names of personae like Jorgen Jorgenson, Anthony Fenn Kemp, Matthew Brady, Mad Tom Davey and Gustav Weindorfer – to name a few – gets my heart racing. So I was overjoyed when a Swiss friend of mine recommended to me Die Entdeckung der Langsamheit, or ‘The Discovery of Slowness’ as the translation I would read had it, a fictionalised history of Sir John Franklin.

    John Franklin was the fourth Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, from 1837 until 1843. He was regarded as one of the more liberal, less tyrannic men who held that position, and along with his wife, Lady Jane, Franklin made some attempt to make life easier for convicts, although his reforms failed to be passed.

    However, the rest of Franklin’s life was centred around a dream to discover the North-West Passage through Arctic Canada. Franklin went on this expedition again and again, both before and after Van Diemen’s Land, in spite of the incredible sufferings he went through each time – including his own near-starvation, forced, famously, to eat the leather of his shoes, as well sickening lichens and probably the corpses of lost companions.

    Sten Nadolny is a German historian who has crafted a fictional narrative around an unsurprisingly well-researched biography of John Franklin. The narrative’s theme is slowness, a characteristic of Nadolny’s fictional John, from youth until his death in Canada in 1847. It is a charmingly crafted story, and it bears all the positive qualities of slowness that the author attributes to his protagonist: attention to detail, thoroughness, the necessity to do things well.

    Although Tasmania is dismissed within a chapter, this book offers a great opportunity to get to know a figure of the island’s history with some intimacy; and even without any interest in the man of John Franklin, the story is well-told, the character well-rounded, and the book well worth a read.