I like beer. Beer is good. And I mean real beer, not crap beer. My favorite beer is Eye of the Hawk by Mendocino Brewing Company – it has a hearty but not overpowering flavor, isn’t overly hoppy, and it has a nice relaxing 8% alcohol content. As far as cheap beer goes – there are a couple times it’s OK to drink Budweiser, Coors, and the like, and those time usually have to do with A. Desperation or B. Physical exertion. So, stealing a swig of Coors from your buddy on a ski lift, or pounding a cup of Natty Lite at first and third bases are totally permissible. But actually buying it, putting it in your refrigerator, and drinking it for fun? No. Not so much.
Enter Australia. You might think from all the clever Aussie-accented marketing that everyone over here drinks Fosters. Well prepare yourself for this bombshell – Fosters isn’t even sold over here. It’s an amazingly effective and completely bogus advertising campaign strictly for Americans who want to pretend they’re Australian-tough and don’t know any better. Too funny. What they do have is a whole host of regionally-named beers – Melbourne Bitter, Victoria Bitter, Carlton Draught. Dan says that the guys at work are very territorial about their beer – they drink the one made closest to where they live because it’s “better.” Interesting, this would be the equivalent of being pro-Coors and anti-Budweiser because you live near Colorado.
Dan somehow got tricked into thinking that all the above-mentioned everyday beer here is good. Since beer is freakin’ expensive here, I was happy at first to hear that the “cheap” beers were decent. Then I tried one. My first was Melbourne Bitter, and it really was bitter. I know, I am overly sensitive to bitterness (I can’t eat a lot of lettuces), but this was really nasty. It wasn’t even hoppy, it was just gross. I drank a second swig, thinking that maybe it was just the first sip that you had to get over. Nope. Still nasty. Third sip and I gave up and poured it. I know, alcohol abuse, but it just wasn’t worth the suffering.
Next beer – Victoria Bitter. This one comes in “stubbies”, slang for bottles here. Evidently all bottles are stubbies, even if they’re long-necks and not particularly stubby in appearance. Anyway, Victoria Bitter was at least non-offensive in its dismalness, it was just like drinking a Coors or Budweiser. No flavor, vaguely stale aftertaste. Ok, well at least I could pour a few of these down my throat, but not with any real joy.
So I ventured out and bought my first 6-pack for a whopping $15. It’s hard to get used to paying that much and not feel like you’ve been stabbed in the gut. But I was starting to get seriously cranky about the whole beer issue, so I handed over my colorful money. It was Cooper’s Pale Ale – I had heard good things about Cooper’s brewery in general and this was one of their staple beers.
It tasted like a hoppy Budweiser and was only 4.5%. Now I was super-cranky about the beer issue, not only had I still yet to find a good beer, but I just paid twice as much for the Australian version of Sierra Nevada, and it was less than half as good as Sierra Nevada. Great. Ok, one more try.
I went shopping in the bustling metropolis of Mildura yesterday, mostly because it was getting pretty cold at night and we needed more blankets. I’m not even sure anyplace sells bedding in Robinvale, and it would definitely be way overpriced. I had a few other things on my list, like a bright floor light for the living room so I could see my knitting, so I went to K-Mart. It reminded me of living on St. John, and how you’d have to travel an hour to St. Thomas to get household stuff at K-Mart or Cost-You-Less. Except I never had to drive through a half hour of solid locusts to do that. The front grill on the Ute is solid yellow with bug guts. :)
Anyway, after a successful trip to K-Mart, I stopped into Woolworth’s (seriously, does this not remind you of old-time St. Thomas, or what?! Remember Woolworth’s?!) for some groceries and beer. The liquor has to be in a completely separate section of the store here, with its own checkout stand. So after buying groceries, I headed in to the vice room. I stared at the beer coolers for a while. Usually I’d just buy 2 or 3 6-packs of whatever struck my fancy, just to try out some new beer. At home I’m rarely disappointed in the quality of a beer – I may not like a random 6-pack but it usually just comes down to personal preference. Here, it’s all so expensive that I really didn’t want to shell out major bucks again and be really disappointed again. I was staring at the labels, trying to figure out which might be mass-produced and which might be microbrews, when the liquor store clerk asked if I needed any help.
“Yeah, I need some good beer.”
“Hell, no! That stuff sucks.”
After we clarify that I am indeed American and not Canadian, we talk about beer. I try explaining in general terms the type of beer that I like – beer from small breweries, that has a lot of flavor and is higher in alcohol content.
“Oh, you like boutique beer.”
Ah, now at least I know what to call it! He pointed out several, we talked about sweet beer, strong beer, “creamy” beer – I’m still not really sure what that is, establish that Guinness is more like a meal and I can get that at home anyway. He leaves me to ponder with several Australian recommendations. I see that the beer is priced individually as well as for 6-packs, perfect! So I got a selection:
Little Creatures Pale Ale, Beez Neez Honey Wheat Beer, James Squire Golden Ale, James Squire Pilsener (not pictured), and a 6-pack of James Squire Amber Ale which I paid $20 for. Punch in the gut plus a stab in the ribs, I tell you. I drove back to Robinvale, hoping that $36 for 10 beers was going to be worth it. Which first? How about the Pilsener (yes, 2 e’s, they randomly add letters to things here), it’s a hot day. Bottle opener…..bottle opener…..dammit! The house doesn’t have one because all the dudes drink the canned crap or the crap with twist-offs. Good thing I brought my trusty flip-flops with beer opener bottoms.
Crack-pchhh! Smells good……OH MY GOD, IT’S REAL BEER!!!!!! YAY!!!!!!!! It has flavor!!! Very nicely floral hops, refreshing taste, oh it’s so good!!! It’s still only 5.0% but I’m not complaining. It’s beer, sweet, sweet, tasty beer. At this point Dan’s alarm goes off, and I shove a beer in his face first thing in his morning, and say, “Try this! It’s real beer!” He takes a small sip and I see a light go off in his eyes – like “oh yeah, THIS is what beer is supposed to taste like!” I see him making sneaky eyes at my beer and I quickly steal it back. And have another! This time the Little Creatures Pale Ale. It’s definitley hoppy like a pale ale, so it’s not my favorite type of beer, but it’s still good. It has a little hint of fruitiness to it too. The alcohol content is still only 5.2%, but it’s the strongest of the beers above. I guess 6% is considered a really strong beer here. I call it good for the night, I want to savor my expensive beer and appreciate every moment.
This post was brought to you by the Beez Neez. This is a really great beer. Malty, which I really like, and don’t expect out of a wheat beer! Even though it’s made with honey, it doesn’t have the slightest bit of sweetness. It’s inspiring me to try making a braggot when I get home – a type of mead you make with malt. Again, Beez Neez is only 4.7% alcohol, but I’m trying to get over that. I think there must be some law or tax that discourages making stronger beers. Guess I’ll just have to drink more….and try to not go broke!
What I really think this all means is that it’s time to find some good wine.