Two beers from NZ today. Boundary Road Brewery in Auckland has recently been bought out by Asahi and makes a weird combination of macros, beers under licence for giants like Kingfisher and Tuborg and some interesting looking craft beers. Unfortunately, BotF’s first experience of a Boundary Road Beer, was a bottle of NZ Pure. It looked underwhelming, but if I see something in a bottlo that I haven’t tried, then I’ll get it. Fortunately, I only bought one. The website description gives you an indication – “subdued malt backbone overlaid with a subtle hop character” – a copywriter’s best attempt to say we’ve stripped all flavour out of this one. Purely forgettable.
It’s a shame, because it looks like Boundary Road has a sense of humour, which can go well with beer. Their craft beer range looks distinct and amusingly named (Bouncing Czech for a Pilsner). They’ve also amusingly taken aim at Monteiths, who have tried to trademark Radler. This move by Monteiths has caused a degree of controversy in the beer world. Some argue it is like trademarking the word lager, but apparently the trademark only applies in New Zealand. It seems like heaps of trouble to go to for what is effectively a shandy.
Speaking of Montheiths, they’ve named their latest beer – Sparkling Ale. This is kind of ironic, because there is an Australian beer that is quite iconic with a similar name – Cooper’s Sparkling Ale. Fellow BotF correspondent, illiards has heard the view expressed that Cooper’s Sparkling Ale is so unique that it deserves its own style. Beer Advocate, which is a reasonable authority on these matters, doesn’t have it separately listed. @Untappd, which is rapidly developing a massive database, also doesn’t feature Sparkling Ale as a style. If Cooper’s Sparkling Ale is the benchmark of a style – then Monteiths is so far removed it is misappropriating the name “Sparkling Ale”. Yeah – it is an ale, it has bubbles – but that is where the similarity ends. It’s novelty begins and ends with its 500ml bottle – but that is it. It is a macro and not a distinctive beer – unlike its namesake.
Daylight Savings means summer is approaching which means that the tourists will start to pack the ferry again. BotF has no problem with that – every should enjoy the delights of Sydney Harbour on the ferry. A couple of evenings ago, we were joined out the back by a couple of backpackers getting in early – like the first cicadas of the season. These backpackers had little interest in the delights of Sydney Harbour and proceeded to put on a show of agility and contortionistic variety. The Back of the Ferry is not large and often one didn’t know where to look as our companions played a game of Twister without a mat. Aah well – that’ll probably bring in more tourists. This couple would have struggled to walk the next morning however, as their denim rash would have been quite acute.
As well as celebrating Daylights Savings Eve, we were able to mark the consumption of BotF’s 400th unique beer since joining @Untappd. @Untappd is 4Square for boozehounds. It is a clever iPhone app and awards badges for various beer drinking feats – like 5 Irish Beers or Drinking a Beer on Ferry (not hard). There’s no badge for 400 (1, 25, 50, 100, 200 and 500) – but there bloody well should be.
We marked the 400th with one of the finest beers that Australia has produced. I’ve loved this beer for ever. Coopers Extra Best Stout is aptly named. It is as meaty as a T-Bone and simply does not muck around with a 6.3% alc/vol. There’s a burnt bitterness, which might sound unpleasant, but in an Australian stout it is damn fine. Australia produces plenty of good stout, and this is one of the benchmarks – can’t believe it took 400 beers to get to it on the Back of the Ferry.
We stayed at a wonderful place called Franks Breakaway Farmstay. Two roomy farmhouses (we stayed in one) are surrounded by 180 degrees of impressive rocky escarpments and sit on a farm of about 600 acres that backs onto the Wollemi National Park near Dunn’s Swamp. As soon as I set eyes on these wonderful stone outcrops from which gum trees seem to sprout, I knew we had to climb them. So two adults and three kids (11, 10 and 7) set out on Sunday morning to get to the top – how we didn’t know. We worked our way up a slope of gumtrees, banksias and
boulders before reaching a series of cliffs. By scrambling through some gaps, we were able to get up and behind some of the outcrops and eventually get to top.
Now in the interests of good beerporn, I’d smuggled a bottle of Coopers Extra Strong Vintage Ale (2010) in my bag and as I set up the shot my daughter said – “Hey, Dad – you could be Beer Grills”. Not a bad little sideline for Back of the Ferry. Climb something and drink a beer on the summit – Beer Grills. This little adventure was not as tough as the original Beer Grills trip – Mount Gower on Lord Howe – where I thought I was going to die, but there were some hairy moments. We followed a ridge upwards for quite some way and were rewarded with amazing views of Nullo Mountain and a series of Pagoda/Beehive rock formations that look pretty cool.
So, to Beer Grills rules. Some part of the ascent or must be done by walking. There’s got to be an end or summit of the walk that has panoramic views. Photograph a beer (unique to BotF) and if you like a photo of yourself consuming that beer. There are marks for ruggedness, but I’m sure we’ll fluidly determine more criteria as time goes by. Knowing BotF contributors – I expect Beer Grills to be a very occasional category.
Well, was it worth carrying a stubbie of Coopers Extra Stong Vintage Ale (2010) on this trek? Absolutely. I love the fact that Australia’s largest brewery can take the time and trouble to produce annually such a fine beer. This a rich and rewarding sipper. There’s a warming spirit like texture to this beer. Malty and fruity and not one for sculling. On one hand, a fizzy lager that you rip the top off and pour half of it down your front might be the appropriate bevvy to celebrate an ascent. On the other hand, it had started to get a little nippy on the exposed stone, so the warming qualities of the Coopers were quite welcome. Looking well forward to my next one.
Daylight savings has ended and and that means a whole different experience on the Back of the Ferry. The 6pm journey is now a magical journey as you watch the cityscape light up as the sun sets. It would almost be romantic if I wasn’t travelling with fellow BotFers, but that didn’t stop the vast numbers of tourists taking the opportunity to get one of the iconic shots of Sydney – the Bridge in sunset.
Fortunately we had 10 minutes up our sleeve and we were able to indulge in a new beer experience. Customs House has Coopers Extra Strong Vintage Ale on tap, which I have never seen before. In fact, it was one of the best on tap line-ups I’ve seen for some time – Coopers Green, Big Helga and Coopers Extra Strong. Spoilt for choice. I’ve only ever tried the Coopers Vintage once or twice – it isn’t commonly stocked. Out the of the tap – it is an absolute belter. At 7.5% alcohol, it isn’t for the faint-hearted – but it is el supremo. The Coopers website describes it thus – “Only the most devoted and discerning imbibers who have easy access to public transport.” Lucky we were proceeding to the ferry immediately afterwards. Not only is the Vintage strong in alcohol, it is has a powerful taste. Not a beer for sculling, and would be great in winter.