These holidays, as with most school holidays, I will be spending some time in Melbourne. I like the place and my partner likes spending time with her mum. Winning all around. In addition, I will be tweeting up with some good people I have met through twitter. We are planning to meet up for a Wednesday night of drinking and general gasbaggery. The arrangement was for the Provincial Hotel on Brunswick Street. But then I asked the awkward question – what about the beer?
This is an important question to me. As I grew up with taste buds, I quickly realised as an adult that VB tastes like it has been fermented from the disgusting offcuts from a rancid barrel, and the other usual offerings for drinkers of western Sydney – Toohey’s New and Carlton Draught are as bland as Wayne Swan (come to think of it, so was Swan Lager). There is a good reason Carlton Draught is advertised as being “made from beer”, because that’s all that can be said of it. Same for VB being “real” and “the drinking beer”. That’s tell us that it’s wet and can be consumed. Tremendous. And then there is XXXX. I drank XXXX as an act of solidarity with Queenslanders after the floods. It came from a tap that told me how cold it was coming out. I’m glad it was that cold – that way it masked just how godawful the drink is. As a result, for most of my adult life I have only ever consumed Toohey’s Old – the only ale available on a lot of taps (to this day) – and usually then only consumed by old blokes.
Sydney’s pub taps have developed a little bit of variety over the past 10 years, with some adding overseas brands made here, like Stella and Beck’s, others the major Australian brands’ attempt at craft brewing, Toohey’s James Squire and Carlton’s Matilda Bay. While these beers are reasonable (though I am not a fan of Squire’s Golden Ale or IPA), I still have some issue with the fact that these beers are produced by cynical beer corporations and for every schooner that passes my lips, gone is a possibility for me to support small craft brewers who produce superior tasting beer. The reason virtually all of Sydney’s pubs don’t offer a revolving tap for these beers is because they are owned by Toohey’s or Carlton, or at least have some arrangement with the two major brewers.
What bothers me even more is that the people around me seem not to care – they often think I’m nuts that I think TED stands for Totally Execrable Dishwater and Crown is just VB in a different bottle. Most people I know think a pub is fancy if they serve Stella. They think I’m even more insane that I like black beer, even room temperature beer. To them, beer is there to get them drunk or quench thirst – not to be savoured or appreciated. It is those people’s lack of interest in the alternative as well as the lockdown of Sydney’s pubs by the major brewers that have forced brewers to make it a part of their pub – places like the Lord Nelson Hotel and the Rocks Brewers in the Rocks, the bizarrely located Paddy’s next to Paddy’s Markets in Flemington, the brilliant 5 Islands in Wollongong (again, bizarrely next to the WIN Entertainment Centre), Four Pines and Murray’s in Manly. Little wonder that we are often seen there as well as the Melbourne import, the Local Taphouse.
But then there is Melbourne. My beloved partner has introduced me to a world of taste and variety in beer – exploring the infinitely different varieties of pale ale, IPAs, pilsners, porters, stouts, wheat beers and the rest that are sold in bars throughout the inner city suburbs of Melbourne. On tap. A city that supports an increasing array of excellent craft brewers, putting maximum effort into their brews, so they can be appreciated. And brewers who don’t need to manage pubs in order to gain a market share. This is one reason why I enjoy going to Melbourne. I know that I am supporting a local business whilst enjoying the taste. Winning all around.
That takes me back to the original point, the pub in Melbourne being lined up for the meeting. The Provincial. Like a number of new, funky pubs, they have a Twitter account and they proudly tweeted that “they serve James Squire”. And then later, tweeted that they have different beers in bottles. Yes, a Tooheys pub. A Sydney style pub. That is not what I go to Melbourne to experience. If I wanted a beer in a bottle, I’d buy one from Purvis’ or Slowbeer and drink it at home. I might as well be in Newtown, a town with no decent beer on tap. As a result, I had a little rant and said I wouldn’t be happy in going there. I know this would be annoying to most people, though the people organising the shindig are two of the loveliest, nicest tweeps one could possibly know.
I enjoy people’s company and beer isn’t the only thing I enjoy about social interaction. However, to me, the beer is important, both in terms of taste and of supporting small business. And if I like the beer, I will consume a goodly amount of it. Problem is, though, that the result might be my Peter Garrett impersonation. Or my Tony Abbott. So, maybe restricting me to James Bloody Squire might be the best outcome after all.