Even though I’ve now been in Germany for nearly a month, I do not believe that sufficient research has been undertaken yet to warrant an entry on the fine beer based beverages of this country. I know that kolsch is the local beer from Cologne, and that beer is exceptionally cheap, but perhaps the fact of the latter has restricted serious scientific research into the substance itself. So instead I will witter at you about something I did learn about on my trip around Australia, that being Australian beer.
In the UK, if you talk about Australian beer, probably only two beers will come to mind. First, Fosters, and second, Castlemaine XXXX.
The four X is a well known beer over in Oz, particularly in Queensland, although it is mostly drunk in the XXXX Gold variety, which is a mid strength lower carb beer. Fosters, on the other hand, as it is sold in the UK, is nigh on impossible to find. The company, Fosters, are responsible for brewing a large number of Australian beers, but the actual Fosters Lager as enjoyed (well, drunk at least) worldwide isn’t a common drink in it’s native land.
Some Australian beer trivia for you before the actual beer itself. Beer, when sold by the 24 pack of cans, or small glass bottles known as stubbies, is referred to as a slab. When enjoying your beverage, most people would employ a stubby holder, a sort of neoprene wetsuit for your beer that stops your hand from warming your beer unnecessarily, and your beer from cooling your hand in a vexing manner. Low carb beer is increasingly popular in Australia, with all the major beers available in a low carb option.
Enough with the beer trivia already. What beer does one actually drink in Australia? Naturally, this depends on the state you are in. The most popular (and depending on where you are, looked down upon) beer is Victoria Bitter. This is brewed by Fosters, and there are some definite similarities in the logo. It is estimated that a slab a second of this product is sold in Australia. Some people swear by it, to others it is the equivalent of Carling (an upstanding British lager to some… to others.. you get the point).
The various states therefore have their own foibles. In Western Australia a brand of beer known as Emu is popular. We couldn’t find Emu anywhere else in Australia, and to be fair, most Western Australian inhabitants looked at us a bit strangely when we cracked open the tins of Emu Export. Still, it was drinkable. If it’s not Emu then it is Swan. Both are brewed at the same brewery.
Queenslanders are big fans of the aforementioned XXXX Gold, which is usually just referred to as Gold. New South Wales is the home of Tooheys, who make the antlered beer known as Tooheys New (first brewed in 1930, but renamed to New in the eighties.) Victoria is obviously the home of that fine beverage, Victoria Bitter, one of the only beers to achieve wide spread Australian penetration. Victorians also enjoy a tipple or two of Carlton Draught.
South Australia is the home of my favourite Australian brewery, Coopers, maker of a variety of fine bottle matured beers, and the only family owned brewery left in Australia, the rest now being owned by either Fosters or Lion Nathan. The most intriguing, and almost guaranteed to give you a hangover, of the Coopers bottled beer, is the Coopers Sparkling Ale, which has to be one of my all time favourite beers. Coming with a spangly red top and red label, and an exciting sediment due to the bottle maturing process, this fine beer weighs in at a brain melting 5.8%. Not to be taken lightly.
The Northern Territory doesn’t appear to have too much of a preference for one beer over another, often VB is the beer of choice. Instead they are famous for the Northern Territory stubby, a beer bottle that hold two litres of beer. After all, who cares about the beer in the bottle when the bottle has two litres of beer in it. Right? I thought so.
Finally, in terms of beer drunk where, perhaps the most interesting beer divide occurs on the island of Tasmania. In the North of the state one drinks Boags, brewed in the town of Launceston at the North of the island. In the South, you drink Cascade, brewed in Hobart, at the South end of the island. Cascade Brewery is the oldest brewery in Australia, although the company is now owned by, you guessed it, Fosters. There is a line at which point one stops drinking the beer from the other end of the island. Across this line you shall not tread.
That was a brief tour of what beer you could expect to find where in Australia. But the story doesn’t end there. Now you need to be able to order the beer, and it’s not as simple as just meandering into a pub and asking for a pint (well, ok, it is. But there is more to it.)
Most beer in Australia is not drunk by the pint. When you’re in the outback at a roadhouse (think service station filled with cowboys) you’re more likely than not to be presented with either a stubby or a can. You would be wise to take along your own stubby holder. In pubs, and depending on where you are, beer comes in either half pint, two third pint, or pint glasses. Naturally, these are not referred to as halves and two thirds, that would be much too easy. In the majority of Australia, a half pint is called either a middy or a pot. Except in South Australia, where it’s called a schooner. And two thirds of a pint is referred to mostly everywhere as a schooner, except in South Australia, where confusingly it’s called a pint. Luckily, a pint is pretty much a pint everywhere, although you could try and confuse South Australian bar tenders by ordering an imperial pint. At your own risk, I hasten to add.
The schooner is actually a pretty clever idea for a beer glass. You don’t end up with that annoying last few mouthfuls of warm beer from the pint sitting around (unless you drink quickly that is). And you can drink more of them, making larger rounds a more feasible idea. Cheers all round.
So, Australian beer, a brief study, a years worth of adventure wrapped up in a nice cold refreshing blog entry. Oh, one last thing. Nearly every bottled beer in Australia comes with a twist cap. No more fiddling around trying to find a bottle opener or trying to work out how to open a beer with a lighter. Excellent work my Antipodean friends, any innovation that gets me to my beer faster is a winner..