A Beer Pilgrimage

Everyone has their own story to tell about their journey to better beer drinking. Here is mine…

I remember the first time I drank the nectar of the Gods. My parents were having a dinner party at home and while they were talking and drinking, I snuck into the laundry, and plucked a bottle of VB from a sink filled with ice. After forcing down a few gulps, I tipped the rest down the drain, and wondered what the fuss was about.

Nevertheless, I persisted with beer, mainly because I had to, it was a rite of passage. I forced down warm cans of Melbourne Bitter in the park, pitchers of Carlton Draught at suburban pool halls, and pints of VB at the local pub. I learned to drink beer if not enjoy it.

And then I had that first Eureka! beer moment when I stumbled across a beer called Little Creatures at a hip bar in the city. Its taste was unlike anything I’d ever had before, it exploded on my tongue, bursting with flavour. Without yet even realising it, I had discovered the beauty of aromatic hops.

From then on I began to appreciate beer more, savouring it more thoughtfully (if not for longer) and forking out an extra dollar or two if I could for a beer that wasn’t a commercial lager (even if I was a poorly student at the time). My curiousity and my preference for quality beer over getting drunk as cheaply as possible, setting me on a path to better beer drinking.

After graduating, I travelled abroad, trying new beers in every place I went. “Australian beer is rubbish”, I was told by people around the world and I found it hard to disagree with them when I considered the standard of the mass-produced lagers they were likely to find at that time.

But when I returned to Australia, I noticed something was changing in the beer scene, and I soon found myself ensconced in the heart of a burgeoning craft beer movement. I hit the jackpot when the first 100% beer only retail shop, Slowbeer, opened up only a hundred metres from my work. My mouth agape, I studied beers from all over the world and also right around the corner (literally in the case of the Mountain Goat brewery). Every beer I tried was something new, challenging and delightful, and my beer palate expanded dramatically.

As the seasons changed, so did my beer drinking habits, and the fruity pale ales that I had first been so attracted to were put on ice for the winter in favour of seasonal releases of porters, stouts, and dark ales.

I moved into an apartment just down the road from the Local Taphouse, “the best beer bar in the land”, according to Willie Simpson, and I wandered down there regularly to sample their 20 rotating taps of quality beer.

I started to sniff my beer before drinking, only drink from a glass, and drink beer at warmer temperatures. I was doing all the things that I had once thought I wasn’t supposed to do as a beer drinker; I was enjoying it and savouring it.

I began to make trips to breweries. It wasn’t necessarily the purpose of the trip (at least I didn’t tell my partner it was) but trips away suddenly weren’t complete without stopping off at a local brewery. Whether it was stopping off in Woodend for a Holgate ESB on hand-pump or going for a tour of the Murrays brewery on a trip to Port Stephens, getting up close to the heart of a brewery provided further inspiration.

It seemed like beer events were popping up everywhere and, even though all were welcome, it somehow felt like the craft beer scene was some kind of secret handshake club. We were the chosen ones, lucky enough to sample this nectar of the Gods, while the masses were stuck in lager-drinking hell. And there were more and more converts to our cult of craft beer. Craft beer events became more crowded, more beer retailers opened up, more breweries and beers were being produced.

Craft beer resources like The Beer Lovers Guide to Australia book and The Crafty Pint and Brews News websites, increased the attention to craft beer and showed more people ‘the light’. They educated and informed, while guiding us to all that was happening in the craft bar scene – the events, the venues, the beers, that were multiplying rapidly.

And I too became passionate about ‘spreading the word’ of good beer to whoever I could. Whenever I was out, I would gently push others towards more daring and bold tasting beers, and watch on as they started out on their own beer journeys, drinking their way toward better beer, one beer at a time.

When I reflect on my beer journey, it is filled with great memories. Each beer tells a story and is attached with my personal experiences. The journey of beer in Australia also continues, we are at the frontiers of an exciting time for beer in Australia. More craft brewers are starting up, more venues are stocking craft beer, and more great beer writing is being shared.

There is still a long way to go for craft beer in Australia but there is no journey as exciting the one that is ahead of us.


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