I must confess I don’t know much about Australian Beer. The closest I’ve got is the occasional Coopers, some Matilda Bay and the usual collection of Ozzy Lager. But this week I set out to rectify this with a cheeky three day mission to Sydney. Like a lot of Kiwis I’ve traveled to Sydney occasionally for business, but don’t know the right spots for the best brews.
I arrived on Tuesday night and followed my online research to Harts Pub. Located in the centre of town just off George street, it looked promising. The outside of the pub looked like a cross between a castle and one of those concrete block toilets they built in the 50s. Despite it’s exterior girth the inside was small and colonial, made up of several small rooms with worn wood floors and historical photos. Despite the historical ambiance the small bar had 12 taps of contemporary Australian craft beer, the object of my desire.
Now I’m a big fan of all types of beer, but when I’ve travelled 2000kms sucking my knees in pacific class, then walked down George street in the rain I’m looking for something big and impressive. I had my expectations set on starting with a massive IPA or something highly alcoholic and dark. You know, the sort of hero beers we Kiwis seem to produce so readily.
On that front I was bitterly disappointed. The 12 taps were full of craft beers sure, but lagers, golden ales and a wheat beer. They had run out of the one dark and had nothing particularly hoppy. If this was representative of Australian craft beer us Kiwis are a few steps more extreme that our Ozzy neighbours. We seem to be all about the extremes, the IPA is our flat white and every range has a dark.
With the winds knocked out of my sails, I wrapped up the session a little disappointed and headed out for a steak.
The next night some colleagues recommended we go to the Lord Nelson in The Rocks. The Lord Nelson is Australia's oldest licenced hotel. It’s a beautiful square building made with large sandstone blocks and has a real sense of history to it. Inside was as you might expect, wooden floors, block walls and a large bar. Although most of this was impossible to see because the place was packed to the rafters with thirsty punters. If this was Wednesday at 7:00 I wouldn’t like your chances of getting through the door on a Friday or Sat night.
We found the last patch of standing room and ordered a round. I was encouraged to see a dark beer on the menu but apparently that had sold out. I settled for a Lord Nelson 3 Sheets Pale Ale and was instantly impressed. Slightly hazy, here was a very drinkable and hoppy pale ale, thick with good grapefruit tang and a perfect afterward pint. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to taste their whole range because we had a dinner booking but I would definitely recommend dropping into the Nelson if you’re in town.
I was starting to feel a little closer to the Oz beer experience but the next day I was determined to see more. Following the advice of some twitter friends I haled a cab and headed for the Local Taphouse in Darlinghurst. This old and slightly seedy looking neighbourhood is located 10 minutes from Sydney centre but well worth the $11 cab fair.
Like the other pubs the Taphouse presents itself as a woody colonial watering hole, lots of warn wooden floors and faded red leather chairs. What sets it apart is a bar literally bristling with craft beer taps pumping the sort of beer you would travel for.
A real craft brew pub, they have 20 taps and 70+ bottled beers. Cameron the manager was kind enough to take me on the grand tour. What, from the first floor seemed quite small is in fact a very large multi-floored establishment. There are three floors in total, each with several beautifully themed rooms, half colonial and half Chicago speakeasy. There is also a tasting room for groups, who are treated to a night of tasting the full 20 beers matched with food. The roof top is as beautifully appointed, containing more seating and a third bar. Each floor has a separate bar equipped with the full set of taps.
Cameron told me they spend time with the local brewers, talking about the finer points of new releases. He trains the staff personally, to make sure they know their brew. You can tell these guys take it pretty seriously.
I ordered the Alpha Pale Ale, a classic IPA style with good citrus bite, a bit stronger but reminiscent of the Tuatara IPA. Not a bad start, I thought as I made a selection of beers for my tasting platter. I went with the Trumer Pils, a Two Hills Malbock, a True South Cherry Bomb, Murray’s Imperious and a Holgate “The Empress”.
Picking my favourites, the Murray's Imperious was sweet, super smooth and slightly medicinal tasting but totally brilliant. The Holgate was a massive 10% monster. When other beers have a hint of this and that, the Holgate has big time coffee, vanilla and chocolate all washed down with a big alcohol smoothness and punch. In my book a real winner.
So to summarise my Sydney craft beer experience, I would say weary travellers wanting a skin-full of the good stuff should go straight to the Taphouse. I would plan a big night to enjoy the massive amount of beer on offer and the fine ambiance. If you have a few days in Sydney check out Harts Pub and the Lord Nelson, both are good pubs with some interesting beer.
If anyone has discovered anything I missed please let me know. I’m keen to hear how other Kiwis navigated the Sydney craft beer scene.
Taphouse Menu - Click to Zoom