Rob Walters describes the challenges facing the real ale lover in Australia/New Zealand
I very much enjoy Tony’s Travels in the Oxford Drinker so I am very wary of treading on Tony Goulding’s delicate toes by having the gall to write a Rob’s Travels. However, I am writing from far enough away from the UK to not challenge our peripatetic chairman. In fact I am on a bit of a world tour having in the past few months visited the USA (Texas), Tasmania, South Australia, New Zealand and now Taiwan.
My tour is mostly to do with family and music, not beer, but I can without hesitation report that the beer in most of those places is, for me, too cold (Teeth Shatteringly Cold according to one Australian advert), too gassy and not to my taste. How I long for what the Australians would dub a pint of warm, flat beer.
A partial solution which sometimes works for me is to ask the barkeeper for a bottle or can that’s not yet been frozen, perhaps from the room temperature store, and mix it with the teeth shattering stuff from the tap. It’s still far too gassy, but I find it drinkable. Some servers can’t understand what I am asking for, others look at me in disbelief and some are happy to indulge a crazy Englishman.
In the Cornwall hotel in Moonta — an up-country, ex-copper mining town in South Australia — the barman was happy with this arrangement and kept some warm beer ready for me behind the bar. That hotel had no food so we went to dine at the nearby motel which had no beds! There they just could not deal with my request for a warm/cold beer cocktail so we ate our food and returned to the Cornwall where they had learned to deal with the eruption when opening fizzy Australian beers at room temperature.
I cannot understand why real ale served at cellar temperature is almost impossible to find in two countries whose modern populations are predominantly descended from British immigrants, but I never gave up hope in my search for a decent pint. I hit lucky in Hobart, Tasmania after reading that the New Sydney Hotel, a craft beer place of some antiquity, had a hand pump. I doubted it, but went along to see for myself.
In fact a multitude of craft keg taps littered the bar and to my delight I spied just one lonely hand pump in the far corner. I made straight for it, licking my lips in anticipation of a decent pint of bitter after a month of denial. Unfortunately, I was devastated to find that it just delivered imperial stout. I had one, of course, but stout is not one of my favourite tipples and it was rather strong for me (8.5%). A good pub though, and well worth a call if you ever come to Tasmania’s capital city.
Moving on, I had visited New Zealand ten years before and knew that a real ale pub existed there just then, possibly the only one in the country. On that visit we stayed at the Shakespeare Hotel in Auckland and I recalled it as a scruffy place in need of a facelift, so this time we stayed elsewhere. However, I revisited the place finding that the facelift had occurred and that it now had its own brewery.
Pride of place in the revamped bar was a glass panel through which the glittering metal tanks of the little brewery could be seen and, though it was served through the usual keg taps, the stuff wasn’t bad. I had the “Bastard” which was cold, but not too cold, and gassy, but not too gassy. I enjoyed it together with the excellent fish and chips.
However, our evening was somewhat marred by a customer who, unhappy with his bill, began throwing anything that he could find at the bar staff and at the bottles behind the bar. Glass shards were flying everywhere and one hit my wife on the shoulder. Fortunately, she was shocked rather than injured and we made our escape from what could have been a teeth shattering incident.
On the following evening we caught a bus from the centre to the south of Auckland to visit a pub called Galbraith’s. Said to be the only pub in the country with real ale sold at cellar temperature, I had discovered the place on my previous visit. I was amazed to find that it was still there given the surprising low demand for the real stuff in New Zealand, but it was and it was great.
It’s an interesting building with the large brewery on full display on the right as you enter and the thrilling sight (to a real ale starved traveller from Oxford) of four decorative and working hand pumps. The barmaid was not so enthusiastic. She was English and in later conversation said that she really liked the beer and the pub, but hospitality was not her thing. She was soon leaving to become a personal training instructor. I did not ask if pulling pints had helped to get her that job. The beer was excellent though I only got to try two since one ran out before a got to it, and the other was a stout. If you ever have the urge to see what an oasis looks like then do visit Galbraith’s in Auckland.
And so to Taiwan where I am writing this and where it is possible to buy some cold, canned British beers in the nearest supermarket, but I think I’ll wait until I return and relish a pint of the real stuff.