There’s three days left to go in the third edition of Vivid Sydney. a light, music and ideas extravaganza held in and around the Sydney CBD. The website and associated app gives you plenty of information – but probably not from this perspective. In the horseshoe between Walsh Bay and the Sydney Opera House, there are 60 light installations. It’s a terrific walk and you also get to see parts of Sydney that aren’t on tourist maps. The installations are numbered 1 to 60, and the BotF suggestion is to start at installation number 60 (The Dalgety Line) in Walsh Bay AFTER you’ve enjoyed one of the great pubs in the Rocks. The lights turn on at 6pm – so the best bet is to get a feed in early and then head down to the water’s edge.
I took the bladdamasta clan to the Australian Hotel for a pre-Vivid feed, but the Glenmore, with its rooftop bar, or the Lord Nelson, with its great beer range would do the trick equally as well. The mid-week go was to duck into Harts Pub where you can rip into a pint of VPA or Vivid Pale Ale. Made by the Rocks Brewing Co – this is a one-off available at a number of bars in the Rocks including the Orient and the Paragon. I actually had my first VPA at the ‘Goon – but honestly think they’d replaced the taphead with the VPA symbol, but hadn’t changed the tap line from Pure Blonde. Very underwhelming. I gave it another go at the source (aka Harts) and found it to be much better. There’s a pleasant tang to the VPA (lime and Hop) without being too challenging. Sessionable for sure.
For mine the star of Vivid remains the Sydney Opera House. The installation at Customs House has also had rave reviews, but you just can’t beat what they’ve been able to create on it. Naturally the best place to be and the best place to get photos is from the Back of the Ferry. You also get the best view of the installation on Fort Denison, which is I think meant to be some underwater foliage – gone large. Whatever – looks good. From a beer lover’s perspective, having an @Untappd unique out the back of the ferry watching the light show is just the best. 6.30 ferry is best to get – because you get on with 10 minutes to spare and get a good 15 minute trip. The Australian Hotel sells takeaway and a I snaffled a rarity from Tassie called Hazards Ale. The only output from the exotically named Wineglass Bay Brewing Pty Ltd, this is a meaty, hearty ale. It possesses a rugged but not unpleasant edge. One to savour and is real malt treat. Perfect for the crisp autumn voyage. So if you haven’t done Vivid – then hop to it.
On 9th November 2009, the Back of the Ferry blog came into being. To celebrate still going after 3 years a number of members spent the evening doing a few of our favourite things. A fore runner to Back of the Ferry was a bar review map that tried to keep a record of bars between the place of work of a couple of BotF founders and Circular Quay. The map has not been maintained for some time, but where possible it is still good to slip in a quick pint before the voyage. Whilst some of our membership prefer the Occidental or the Concourse, this correspondent’s go-to-bar is Hart’s Pub. It has been a mighty contributor to our Untappd uniques tally over the last year. They didn’t disappoint and we enjoyed a fine pint of Hop Vintage Growers Ale (2012) from Endeavour True Vintage Ale. Fresh, hoppy and sessionable. Our first Melbourne inductee – Cam – popped in to join the first leg of the celebration before heading back to Mexico.
A Back of the Ferry birthday cannot be celebrated without a voyage on the Harbour. Joining correspondents illiards, oompaloompa and I were members Jeroen and Don. The weather was cracking and there was action aplenty on the Harbour with plenty of army and police vessels out and about to protect Charles and Camilla. Twilight yacht racing had begun in earnest and the Friday night security guards did the right thing and stayed indoors (probably forgot their suncream). illiards brought another unique onboard and we enjoyed a bottle of Skull Splitter from the Orkney Brewery. This wouldn’t be the first choice for a warm spring afternoon – but we were on a uniques mission and it was all Mick could find at the bottlo. Skull Splitter is a wincingly strong 8.5% with a rich, fruity taste. A meal more than a drink – one for another time.
Back of the Ferry has enjoyed many a 4 Pines beer and so the third leg of the celebration was to be had at the home of 4 Pines opposite the Manly Wharf. No uniques on offer so I went for the always superb 4 Pines Hefeweizen. We were joined by a very early member – Kieran and his lovely beer drinking wife, Natalie. With the sun shining on the 4 Pines balcony, the celebration could have ended there – but we had one final stage to complete.
My cantina has been the scene of much Back of the Ferry discussion and along with the Back of the Ferry has been the scene of the consumption of the most Untappd uniques. As we entered the cantina, our tally stood at 997 uniques and in my fridge were more than enough to reach our goal, but our 1000th was going to be special. After ripping into a Bernard Celebration Lager (not sure what it was celebrating) we opened a bottle of Ballast Point Black Marlin Porter. This was a terrific porter and a great accompaniment to the Halloumi that was flying off my barbecue. Ballast Point will get a fulsome review later. By now another of our earliest members, Josh, had joined us along with our technology correspondent, Cyril Dickthorpe.
It needed to be a special beer for the 1000th. I’ve had a bottle of Murray’s 6th Anniversary Ale for awhile now. Murray’s has been an important part of Back of the Ferry. We’ve been to the opening and re-opening of the Manly Murray’s and enjoyed plenty of new and wonderful beers there and on the ferry. The 6th Anniversary Ale is a Belgian style Barleywine and comes in at a massive 15%. It is simply massive. Amazingly the alcohol content didn’t dominate. Yes, it was boozy, but it was hops that stood out for me. If I get my hands on another, I will. We toasted the 1000 and the 3 years and agreed that there couldn’t have been a better beer to mark both occasions.
Back of the Ferry has now been going for a sufficient amount of time that it now can safely say that it has annual traditions. To qualify as an annual tradition, a event must be re-visited or repeated at least three times. Traditions include celebrating the first day of daylight saving, the last day of daylight saving, the winter solstice, the darts team’s GF appearance and, in the latest event to become a tradition, 4 Pines Canada celebrations. This correspondent and our latest member got to partake in the 4 Pines Canada celebration, but not before we had visited Harts Pub to celebrate (a little early) 4th of July.
Harts Pub‘s celebration of 4th July will become a tradition if we get along there again next year. Like last year’s celebration a special menu of US culinary classics is put on for the day. Chili cheese fries, chili cheese dogs, pulled pork rolls are the go. The bucket of 20 buffalo wings for $12 is a particularly good deal. Last year, Rocks Brewing did a Red, white and blueberry Ale for the day. This year the beer choice was quite different. Seven top line US beers from 3 of the best craft brewers (Sierra Nevada, Green Flash and Bear Republic) were available in bottles.
Having sampled a Sierra Nevada and a Bear Republic in the past, I opted to open proceedings with a stubbie of Green Flash West Coast IPA. This beer is simply packaged and is distinguished by a complete lack of beer label hyperbole – with the exception of the words “Extravagantly Hopped”. That really is an understatement. This beer is as sharp as a Chinese chef’s cleaver. Just breathing in the aroma gives you head spins. An amalgagum of pine forest and lemon zest – it is full, full tasting beer, and an absolute pleasure to drink. Let it linger to really enjoy it. Not that you need a reason to get to San Diego – but these guys will get a visit.
We’ve already talked about Bear Republic on these pages, and it was the flagship Racer 5 that we tried. The Red Rocket Ale is self proclaimed as a “bastardized Scottish style red ale…and breaks all style molds”. It is another ripper. Better suited to the cold weather we are tolerating here in Sydney, it is less hoppy than the West Coast IPA – but there is still plenty of conical action. The colour is beautiful and indicates plenty of malts that also provide the toffee like flavours. An outstanding bevvy.
We could have stayed at Harts all arvo, but the kids were getting antsy, so it was back onto the ferry for the traditional Canada Day fare at 4 Pines – pancakes, bacon, maple syrup and the one-off Canadian Ale. This year, the brewer (who is apparently of Canadian heritage) has changed the recipe markedly. Whereas the 2010 and 2011 Canadian Ales was quite red in hue, this year’s version was as dark as a dark ale can get without being black. This was a fine winter ale and one with which I’d love to fill my growler. Described as “malty and sweet”, it isn’t cloying, but rather warming and rich. Unfortunately I’ll miss the annual 4th of July celebrations, but hopefully there’ll be plenty left of the 4 new varieties for weeks to come.
From what I can gather, the Manly Ferry has, in one form or another, been going since 1855 or for 156 years. This correspondent’s been availing himself of its delights for about 10 years and Back of the Ferry has been going since November 2009. The last couple of days has seen the commencement of a new tradition on the Back of the Ferry, but sadly, the conclusion of another tradition which has been going for 30 years.
So to the new tradition first. Christmas is supposed to be about the spirit of giving, but we’ve all endured those embarassing work moments where the social co-ordinator organises the Kris Kringle. Some smart alec buys lingerie for the 55 year old PA, some do-gooder buys a world vision card for the boss or you’ve participated in the Office version of Kris Kringle and seen real meanness as people trade up from a foot spa bath. Well, BotF came up with a fool-proof plan. Each member of BotF buys each-other a six pack. There was going to be some random allocation method worked out, but in the end we all put them in the centre and started drinking from them. The highlight was the Prickly Moses gift pack and the lowlight was the Carter Premium six-pack – but fun was had by all. We proceeded to the Cantina to demolish what was left and 6 of our 8 correspondents were in attendance. Thanks for the hand in getting the bike onto the roof of the Cantina, fellas.
On this BotF Kris Bringle voyage, we inducted Phil and he told us about a Back of the Ferry tradition that would be coming to an end after 30 years. A Northern Beaches business (name never revealed apparently) has done the last Friday before Christmas, dressed as Santa on the 8am Manly to CQ ferry. He roams the ferry singing songs and handing out gifts. Phil was our man on the spot and captured the last voyage and in particular his stop on the back (which is actually the front on the way to CQ). The Manly Daily tells the story here. That’s a long gig and a mighty fine tradition. If BotF Kris Kringle lasts 2 years – I’ll be happy.
Another aspect of the BotF Kris Kringle tradition will be the pre-voyage visit to Hart’s Pub for a warm up. Hart’s Pub has had a great year and they never fail to have a unique on tap. For our last visit for 2011, they again delivered and we got to shake hands with Scott Morgan, the head brewer at the Rock’s Brewing Co whose beers feature prominently on the Hart’s tap list. Today’s offering was Schwarz Hefe – a very fruity concoction. The aromas craft brewers are creating are simply mind-blowing – a full-frontal nasal assault. Tastes pretty good too – very repeatable.
So that’s it from BotF before Christmas. Enjoy the big day – and may the presents be plenty and in liquid form.
About a week ago, two BotF correspondents wedged in a quick beer at Harts Pub before the 6pm ferry. We had a pint of Two Birds Brewing Golden Ale. We checked in the beer through @untappd and we promptly asked our views by @twobirdsbrewing. A couple of tweets later and @backoftheferry has locked in the 4th of November as the date of the Sydney launch for Two Birds Brewing Golden Ale. Aaah, the interweb.
Sydney turned on a glorious day for the launch and bladdamasta and one of our most faithful female members, who is still determining her BotF sobriquet, fronted at 4.30pm for kick-off. It was a flying visit as the 5.30pm ferry beckoned. A subsequent viewing of twitter and Untappd, indicated that like the Melbourne launch (which was covered with rapidity by our Melbourne confrere) the Sydney Beer mafia showed up. The Two Birds – Danielle Allen and Jayne Lewis (former Mountain Goat brewer) attended and pulled a couple of schooners for the paparazzi (which included BotF’s unsobriqueted representative).
Cheers ladies. This is a really refreshing beer and one that would be a fine accompaniment to a scorcher on the Back of the Ferry. Hopefully you can convince Mr Liquor at Circular Quay or Vintage Cellars at Carrington Street to carry your 6 packs. It could be a sculler (and it was), but there’s enough taste to linger over if you don’t have to bolt for a ferry.
Lucky we caught the 5.30pm. The Harbour is starting to teem with life and pommy_ch noted the presence of plenty of fish. No sooner had he made that observation that a school of dolphins came in for a pretty easy feed. Gotta love Sydney Harbour.
Hart’s Pub has rapidly embedded itself into the list of BotF’s favourite pubs in Sydney. The 4 Pines and Murray’s at Manly are wonderful spots to continue a robust discussion that occurs on the Back of the Ferry, but there’s nothing wrong with getting the conversation going early. With its relatively close proximity to Circular Quay and its constantly changing line-up of outstanding tap beer – Hart’s is the chosen place for pre ferry libations. This month it has also introduced us to a new brewer on the Sydney scene and I am happy to be an enthusiastic early adopter.
In the past month, two offerings from a new brewery have been available. The new brewery would appear to be very new (website is less than a month old, twitter account is small and single figure Untappd check-ins), but based on what I’ve tasted they deserve to become popular and well-established. I write of Pinchgut Brewing Co, which has been founded by a bloke who has quite a resume brewing for other people, but is now going it alone. Gerard Meares has recently returned from the Czech Republic at the Pilsner Urquell brewery and has clearly been inspired by what goes on there. He really is starting from scratch – pumping out his initial brews and then trying to seek stockists.
Pinchgut’s Black Pilzner is a wonderful, wonderful beer. It has a wonderful black hue and a great combination of malt and saaz hops. There’s some big vegemite hints in this, but the aftertaste is quite long and softly bitter. For what I believe is only the 2nd batch brewed – this is a bloody good start. I also tried the Pilzner, but will reserve complete judgment until I try it without having a Feral Brewing Hop Hog first (it was #IPADay). So far, Pinchgut can be tried at Hart’s Pub and the Riverview Hotel, Balmain. The name Pinchgut is a nickname for a Sydney landmark – Fort Denison. Pinchgut is either a narrowing of a harbour or the effect of starving convicts on Fort Denison, which happened in the early days of Sydney’s existence. Wikipedia says the latter – so I’ll go with the former.
Who would have believed that celebrating Independence Day or July 4 would involve drinking US Beer? Chilli Dogs, Beef Brisket Sandwiches, Pulled Pork, Chilli Cheese Fries – yes – American beer, no. In the ’90s all I knew about American beer was bud lite or miller lite. Trips to the US in the ’90s, which involved bar vists meant endless glasses of gassy, watery beer which involved marathon drinking sessions that rarely meant getting pissed, but always meant going to the can. The baseball was no better, as you endured horrible beer at USD$6 a glass at an exchange rate of 50 cents.
How times have changed. The US is now such an amazing place for good beer and magazines like Beer Advocate articulate well the amazing variety. BotF’s mate well travelled mate Grimesy slipped in a couple examples of wonderful craft beer, and I took the opportunity to knock ‘em off over the Independence Day weekend. Australian brewers are also being inspired by the extreme use of hops favoured by US brewers and are releasing one-offs to celebrate July 4.
Blue Frog Grog & Grill is a brew pub and restaurant in Fairfield, California. Red Frog Ale is one of 5 beers they now sell and they come in particularly attractive pint sized bottles. At 6.5%, a pint of the Red Frog does the trick. It is a particularly attractive deep red, with a long lazy bitey hoppy feel at the end. Very sessionable.
Bear Republic Brewing Co. very boldly state that they make the Best IPA in the USA. Their Racer 5 India Pale Ale is one of their flagship ales, and is widely available throughout the US. Their website boasts a list of draught beers a mile long. They have a brew-pub in the middle of Sonoma, and is probably where I would set up camp, if I was dragged on a winery tour. I was actually expecting this to be a real squinter, but whilst very hoppy, it wasn’t that intense. A pleasant experience nonetheless. Another fine bottle as well.
The hoppiest beer I had on the weekend was a Red, White and Blueberry Ale especially made by the Rocks Brewing Co for Hart Pub’s Independence Day celebration. This was a very creative beer, and the second time it’s been made. The purple colour is pretty impressive, the aromas are dominated by blueberry (not sweetly so) and the taste is almost sour (but not bad). I could only stay for one, but could’ve knocked this off all afternoon. Harts had a good day going with a very impressive Brisket Roll heading the food list.
So, not all American beer is like sex in a canoe.
Hart’s Pub has rocketed to the top of BotF’s affections in more ways than one. It is rare that BotF can turn up to a pub within a two KM radius of Circular Quay and find a beer that BotF hasn’t tried before. Tonight a visit to @HartsPub presented us with an opportuity to try a beer that Guinness is trying to launch worldwide and a cracker from a US craft beer pioneer. It gets better. Hart’s Pub offers a membership deal which now means BotF will make Harts a very regular pre-ferry libation venue.
No matter how hard I look the only place I can find info about Guinness Black Lager is on Wikipedia (there is no Guinness site). It turns out that Guinness Black Lager is a trial that Diageo – the conglomerate owner of @GuinnessIreland – is running in a couple of locations around the world. Apparently, young chaps are turning to bottled lagers rather than pints. These young chaps would rather a 330ml bottle than a Pint. All I can say is “The youth of today – tut, tut, tut”. GBL (laziness) isn’t shite, but it’s fruity and not at all like the original Guinness. Potable, but give me a pint of the original at the same price.
Hart’s Tap Rack is one of the best racks around, and its bottle fridge turns over new varieties. Tonight they had a trio of Sierra Nevada bottles. I had a crack at the Porter, which is seriously one of the best beers, let alone best porters, I’ve ever tried. It is the closest thing I’ve had to drinking silk. Wonderfully chocolate and caramel. This is an awesome beer. Ta @SierraNevada
The bottled beer range is good, but if you become a member of Harts Pub, then you get half-price Pints between 5 and 7pm. This is significant. This isn’t a crappy happy hour where you get $2 off Hahn Super Dry. This is 2 hours where you get a flat 50% off the regular pint price of 12 awesome tap beers from Australia’s emerging craft brewers. pommy_ch and I signed up on the spot and we look forward to a first return visit. All of this before a trip home on the BotF with a crisp evening and wonderful skyline views.
In the early days of BotF we discovered a beer brewed by the Silly Brasserie that was called “Silly Pils“. At the time we lamented the Australian distributors lack of a sense of humour because they renamed the beer “Real Belgian Pils”. Research of the Silly site revealed that they made a range of beers including a pink grapefruit flavoured beer called Pink Killer.
This BotF correspondent had the misfortune to attend an industry snoozefest at the Shangri-La in the Rocks where rubber chicken and warm lager was the fare. To revive the palate, I slipped into Harts Pub on Essex Street for a half and was amazed to see the Pink Kller available in the beer fridge. I had to give it a go, and I can now say I’ve had a pink grapefruit flavoured beer. That was the high point.
I don’t how many pink grapefruit flavoured beers there are, and there cannot objectively say whether the Pink Killer is a fine example of pink grapefruit flavoured beer or not. What I can categorically say is that I don’t like pink grapefruit flavoured beer. Once I stayed with my grandparents and they bought me a pink lollypop the size of my head from Darryl Lea. I ate it speedily and threw most of it up that evening. The aroma of Pink Killer brought back memories of that night – sickly, overpowering sweetness with a rancid edge. I should have stopped at the whiff, but I then had a sip – and recoiled in horror. Sort of a soft drink with an off cheap white wine overtone. No beer factor at all. The upside was that it was a 250ml bottle.
Fortunately, Harts Pub has one of the best and varied ranges of beers in the Sydney CBD and I was able to erase all memory of the Pink Killer pretty quickly and effectively. Of the four beers brewed by the Rocks Brewing Co, I tried the Butcher Porter. Big fan. Chunky, roasted flavours. Just a great dark beer, with plenty of malty goodness. BotF will be back to do the lap of the taps one afternoon.
The ferry trip that evening was marred by the discovery of some newly installed benches out the Back of the Ferry. One can still secure prime position out the very back, but if there’s more than a quorum then you are standing single file across the back. Still plenty of room along the starboard.