Monday, May 21, 2012

Vale Geoff Scharer

Today's Good Living (Fairfax press) reports the passing of Geoff Scharer, at the age of 72 after a short illness.

Along with the late Mark Shield, Geoff Scharer was a major influence in my passion for good beer. His single-mindedness about brewing beer of uncompromising quality was a significant factor in driving the Aussie craft brewing industry to where it is today.

His eponymous brewery in Picton was a 80's/90's haven for beer nuts, travellers, and bikies alike. And his particular ethic about not serving anything else but his own product was, if not unwise, admirable.

"Brave", Sir Humphrey might have said. What made it braver was his attempt to replicate this business model in the Rocks.

I recall an evening with my old friend Julian, at the Australian Hotel, which became Scharer's outlet of choice in Sydney city. As Julian and I sipped on Burragorang Bock, a group of nursing students fronted the bar (Geoff was behind it), and asked for half a dozen Carlton Colds and as many Toohey's News.  Our host leant over the bar, said something to the effect of "we don't sell that shit here", and summarily dispatched them to the nearby Glenmore Hotel.

My first ever taste of Burragorang Bock was an epiphany. A rich, complex, chocolatey drink with a hidden kick. We would buy champagne bottles of the stuff at Picton, with instructions to "treat like milk". Unpasteurised, and meant for immediate consumption. So too the Scharer's lager, an unfiltered, apricoty old world lager that would these days go head to head with the ubiquitous American Pale Ale.

I'm not even sure the brewery exists anymore..... so these beers may be consigned to history. But I won't forget the irascible Mr Scharer, nor his contribution to the Australian beer scene as it stands today.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Baxter Inn

My mate Rowan and I caught up in town last night. Via Beeradvocate I'd learnt of a new place in Clarence St, The Baxter Inn, so suggested we take a look.

Last week, I took a tentative stroll to see if I could locate it, but to no avail. Scott Morgan of Hart's Pub later advised me to head down the alleyway opposite Redoak, and turn right at the garbage bin. Not quite the directions one expects for a new venue.

Arriving ahead of Rowan, I followed a couple of young suits down the dark alley (there was no bin.... is this the right alley?), and turned right into a deadend. All inner-city grime and grunge..... no signs of an establishment here.

Except for the black-shirted security guard, and a fancy rope, indicating where the queue is to form. But to where ? A darkened doorway leading into an even darker stairwell. Down I went, and opened a door.

A blast of music and laughter hit me, and I quickly learnt that I was not one of the first to discover this place. Like a speak-easy of 1920's Chicago, this converted cellar is all brick & wood, with a distinctly American jazz bar look and feel, minus the smoke. There must have been a hundred people already there, and no available seating.

But the bar.... oh the bar... hundreds of whisky bottles from bench to ceiling, and a large board listing them and their prices. And four taps of good beer, including Coopers Lager, Mountain Goat Steam Ale, and 2 Brothers Growler Brown Ale. A small but impressive bottle beer range includes Moylan's Hopsickle Imperial IPA, a bottle of which we shared upon our return.

Yes, we returned later. As I waited for Rowan, the bar got more and more crowded, and I wondered if the door queue was now in operation. A quick SMS exchange confirmed this, so I left, collected him from the queue, and popped over to Redoak for a couple of good beers.

At 8pm we returned to Baxter, assuming that a lot of the post-work crowd had left, It had, so we found a booth, and ordered the Moylan's. This is a mouth-ripping beer, outstanding hop and malt profile, almost heading into American Barleywine territory. At $25 a long-neck, this is a very, very reasonably priced beer. I reckon you'd pay the same at Platinum Liquor. Dirt cheap liquor licensing  allows for smaller markups, and lots of these back-alley establishments opening up all over Sydney (and elsewhere).

Did I mention the complimentary pretzels ? They just kept coming and threatened to curtail our dinner plans.

According to the proto-website, The Baxter Inn is open Monday to Saturday, 4pm-1am. I recommend timing your run, though, otherwise you're in for a long wait.

Basement, 152-156 Clarence Street, Sydney

Thursday, January 26, 2012

IMAX ? or Pumphouse

Well, it's not often that Libby (my wife) suggests that I should spend some time in a pub. Not much of a beer drinker herself, she tends to view my proclivities with disdain.

Today, however, we escorted our offspring through the wonders of Sydney's Darling Harbour ("no you can't go on that", "keep away from the edge", "don't talk to that man".....) with the end-goal of catching a movie at the big IMAX cinema. Libby suggested that they would take the movie, and I should go to the Pumphouse... At times I do have selective hearing, but on this occasion she didn't need repeat herself.

The Pumphouse was an old stomping ground.... with on-site beers such as Federation Ale, Thunderbolt, and Brewers, it was quite ahead of the pack in the 80s/90s. After an hiatus, it has returned with an internal wash of post-industrialism, and a beer selection of outstanding merit.

The thing about this place is that every barman I've met here has known his stuff, loved his stuff, and happy to share his stuff (today, at least..read on).

Today's visit started with Weiss City, the house wheat from St Peters Brewery. This is a decent hefe, with some additional IBU angst, which makes it a bit meaner than your average Bavarian.... 13/20

Holgate's Road Trip is, according to mein host Ash, a response to the brewers' trip to West Coast USA. So, yeah, it's a big IPA, but for mine, quite caramelly and richly bodied. It's an ongoing debate in some forums (fora ?) about the difference in IPA from one side of America to the other. West Coast is all about hops, East Coast about malt & body. This beer seems more East than West, to me at least. But so what.

Regardless, the Road Trip is a see-saw of hops and malt. A flavoursome ale, and good on tap. 14/20.

After the draught beers, time to look in the fridge. I noticed a somewhat discretely labelled bottle that shared the names of the much lauded Norwegian Nøgne Ø, and our own Bridge Road Brewers. In a trans-continental collaboration, the beer is India Saison.... This is a fine, fine beer. Expensive yes (cost me $15 a 330ml stubby), but a wonderful use of Aussie hops (Galaxy, Stella) atop a fine saison profile of spice, dank, and funk. A rare find, and a rare treat. 17/20.

Ash (my host and new friend) felt that at this stage he could offer me something else. The keg remnant of Mikkeller's It's Alive! was sitting idly in a growler bottle... for his later enjoyment. But, much to his credit, he offered me a glass (on him), for which I will be eternally grateful. A tribute to the classic Trappist beer Orval, this goes a step further. Full of Brett & funk & barnyard, it's also overlaid with cara malts, bringing with it some more body and sweetness than one would expect with Orval. 18/20

Funnily enough, some young poseur from Canberra fronted up to the bar and started to bemoan that he missed the keg. Ash said "shake my hand and I may have some for you". It took the goose a couple of seconds to realise he was onto a good thing, but even still, his attitude cost him $10.50...... So folks, it pays to give the barman respect, introduce yourself, and listen well to his opinions.

I finished with another Mikkeller.... Monks Elixir. Styled as a Belgian Quad/Abt, this is a significantly good ale..... it's like a Pecan Pie with a dram of Speyside malt. A great beer. 16/20.

At the end of it all, my young family swung by and carted me away. Probably a good thing.

The Pumphouse is a strange venue. Strangely located & strangely decorated. But it is committed to beer.



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