As the “new-be” Back-of-the-Ferry intrepid beer enthusiast, I have just returned to Sydney after a jaunt to Melbourne, which included a couple or three Back-of-the-Plane beers (obviously not otherwise worth mentioning except for the potential for a spin-off blog).  No sooner than the plane touches down in Sydney, and I find they’ve put on a VIVID light show in honour of my return – how kind.

So what’s the news from Melbourne?

Well, the world’s third largest Greek city was playing host to the world’s twenty-second largest Geek beer festival last weekend: the Great Australian Beer Spectapular (don’t you just love how our wittyl friends take a word like “Spectacular” and turn it into a clever beer-related pun “Spectapular”).  Steve Jeffares, the organiser, deserves a mention if only because he obviously did the right thing and granted free admission to your roving reporter, to which everyone is somewhat grateful (not least yours truly).

So the auspiciously named “GABS” turned out to be a serendipitous sort of event.

Firstly, GABS is so inadequately advertised that nobody – not even the concierge of the back-packers ‘hotel’ where I was staying – had advised of its notoriety… I was advised on arrival that they don’t advertise “in order to limit the number of punters”!  What?!  How on earth is the Beer Revolution going to happen when the very folk at the forefront are too timid to shout about their heroism?  In the UK, CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale, for the uninitiated) would be turning in its grave on notification of such drastic news.  The Back-of-the-Ferry crowd are equally appalled and are calling on all supporters to immediately up their daily intake of beer by one schooner in protest, as well as tweet their global network with an equally appropriate sense of urgency.

Anyway, I digress – I was explaining the serendipity of the occasion… there I was, nursing a hangover the morning after the night before at Chapel off Chapel (sadly for such an artisan joint, somewhat lacking in exciting craft ales) celebrating the launch of Monique DiMattina’s “In New Orleans – Nola’s Ark” CD with a cool concert (, wandering aimlessly in the general direction of Ftitzroy, Brunswick Street – the informed amongst you will otherwise recognise this as “student pretentious ‘arty-fart’ Street” – when I happened upon a fountain in Crystal Park outside what turns out to be a World Heritage Site (on account of it being the largest wooden structure in the Southern Hemisphere – no, I don’t make these things up), the Royal Exhibition Building; obviously I took a selfie portrait before meandering around to the front of the building, only to be confronted by a civilised crowd of bearded folk in a queue.  “How zany,” thought I, “perhaps this is some computer convention,” and I ventured in for a closer look, having no back-up or other arranged security.  Well, yes, you already know (that’s called “dramatic irony”) what I discovered – I had stumbled across a beer extravaganza… now, what’s the chances of a CAMRA member, a reporter, a Back-of-the-Ferry beer officienado on a global tour in Australia happening upon an un-marketed beer party?  Yep, serendipity.

Secondly, on the topic of serendipity, on arrival at the event, I was ushered upstairs to the Seminar Room (CAMRA, do take note!), whereupon I was exposed to a plethora (that’s old Cumbrian celtic language for “5”, ie “many”, to make it easier for the shepherds to count their sheep – NB this is not a fact verified by Wikipedia, but I did do a degree in Linguistics, if that helps) of free samples, the brewers of each forming a panel on stage to share the Good News.   As a Back-of-the-Ferry gent, imagine my surprise (serendipity numero deux) when not only one but TWO of my local Manly ale-houses showed up on the stage!!  it’s only a country of 20 million people FFS – in the UK (the only other reference point I have for beer), it’s like turning up to the GBBF (Great British Beer Festival) where 6 pubs in your village are centre stage.  What a delight serendipity is.

Anyway, down to the beer.  What were the highlights for me?

A Belgian smoked beer, “the Caveman” from Newcastle’s Murray brewery, served also in Manly.  Awesome!  Any parallels drawn with ‘the cave’ (aka the Concourse bar at Wynyard station) and it’s smokin’ atmosphere on “Tradies’ Day” is purely coincidental (says the naïve Brit just arrived in town)… “what are you talking about? Inquires an innocent voice.

Then there was the Mountain Goat brewery – everyone’s heard the story about that, right?   You know… how the artisan craft ale industry in Australia was founded by some bearded geezer 15 years ago (history is a relatively recent affair if you fair from this neck of the woods)?   Nope, I didn’t recognise it either.  And for my public admission. The panel chairman saw fit to give me punishment of today’s equivalent of 50 Lashes (“branding” Mr Squire, “branding!”), that is to say, ‘the Australian Cider Guide”n an otherwise informative encyclopaedia on all sorts of cidre trivia, none of which I requested, and  as far as Mountain Goat beer went I was singularly unimpressed, and had I paid to get in, I would have been requesting a lifetime membership to whatever society I had enrolled to.  I took the cider guide for a walk to the Cider House in Brunswick Street afterwards, and found it to be an informative, sober companion.

Colonial brewery presented a beer Ian Bersten would surely write an extra chapter about in his great epic “Coffee Floats, Tea Sinks” – the unofficial guide to what has made Australia the global centre of coffee (and a tremendously fitting tribute to Melbourne where it all started in 1968) – yes, it was, of course, an expresso flavoured beer!  I love the idea – you get pissed on the alcohol, but stay away on the caffeine.

However, my first prize goes to Young Henry’s brewery who have brought to the attention of the world: “Divine Manchu”.  Oh, yes – not only a clever mild sour Belgian beer (have you ever tasted how foul a sour Belgiam beer is?), this is only 1.5 percent alcohol; so you can drink a fair amount of an amazing tasty beer then still drive home.

The equivalent of the GBBF that now occurs annually in August in Earls Court (moved out of the smaller huge Olympia venue 10 years ago if you haven’t travelled back to the UK recently) in London, this slightly smaller Australian but less important event is missing a few key ingredients – pub games: they should have a two-up stall as a mandatory fixture on the corner of every bar; or they could go the whole hog and have a trivia quiz about why Scots only recognise the current queen as plain Elizabeth (not Elizabeth the Second).  Melbourne being the fourth most expensive city in the world, they could probably also reduce the price of their beer tokens – another great idea from CAMRA to get around stupid old English laws re licencing… idiots.

Anyway, I’m home now, and that means I’m approaching Manly from the Back-of-the-Ferry.  There’s a beer calling out for me – I chose 4 Pines this evening (Murrays tomorrow) – and dive into their Ranga, a splendid hand-pull number, with no gass, grown-up ginger nuances, and a citrus finish.  I meet up with the boss, complained bitterly (ed.) about there being no “Dunkel Monkey” during the panel session, and am advised we need to come in on Saturday night when it will have its first public exposure.  I just remember when Mosaic was on – it lasted a few short hours before it was sold out… so as a Back-of-the-Ferry reader, if you’re in the know, you’re in the know!

God bless and don’t drink less!