Our journey through the South East coast of Australia continued into the coast and the snow. Gerringong is a town of fewer than 4000 people on the coast of New South Wales but has six wineries and two breweries within about 25 kilometres of it.
One of the breweries, Hopdog, has a tap room attached to it and turns out excellent beers, one of which my brother and sister-in-law had helped to brew. The beer paddle is king in Australian tap rooms (or cellar doors as they sometimes call them) and the affable head brewer Tim Thomas was keen for us to try a bit of everything. Baconator is a collab with a local metal band which is made with smoked malts and tastes like Frazzles. (That’s a compliment). Battlephruit Galactica was the single batch Vermont IPA which our kid and his wife brewed up, but my favourite was the limited edition milk stout Pandapoppinfairyturkishfloss which was made for the 2017 Great Australian Beer Show and contains candyfloss and rose water amongst other ingredients. It was great to find a brewery not afraid to come up with recipes which on paper look a bit mental but actually make the craft beer landscape much more interesting.
One of the big issues for Australian craft brewers at the moment is the duty they pay on beer. There’s an article here, with a bonus picture of a very frowny brewer, which explains fully. Basically beer in Australia is taxed on how much pure alcohol it contains, which means that selling beer in smaller quantities is uneconomical, ie a 30l keg which many small breweries prefer, attracts roughly the same amount of tax as a 50l. Brewers also want some of the sweet, sweet tax breaks afforded to wine producers, for example the Wine Equalisation Tax which allows wineries to claim back up to $500,000 AUS per year where breweries are capped at $30,000.
This issue was brought up at every brewery I visited, and these breweries are not benefiting at all from the export market as you can see from sites like Beer Hawk which hold over 170 American beers, but only 4 from Australia. It’s frustrating to experience such a thriving, innovative, and exciting craft beer industry knowing that there’s no chance of ever getting those beers in Europe. Even to buy Hopdog’s beers within Australia, with the flat rate shipping you’re looking at the equivalent of £10 per 330ml bottle. They don’t even offer shipping overseas and you can see why.
After we had bought all remaining bottles of Pandapoppinfairyturkishfloss from Hopdog we went to a good old fashioned Australian pub, which looked just like Wetherspoons. The use of the title ‘hotel’ is much more prevalent here than in the UK where it tends to get left off the end of pub names and appears only in the etched glass of the windows. The Great Southern Hotel was packed with high tables where no-one sat, and everyone was huddled around a small, square bar leaving 80% of the room empty. The vibe was curiously muted, as it was in many of the standard pubs we went to, as if the place was too big to build up any kind of atmosphere.
Back in the little coastal town of Gerringong where we were staying I committed my first atrocity. We went to the local bowling club and signed in as guests, stopping on the way in to appreciate the superb names of some of the members – Allagonda Derks, Attracta McKeveney, and my personal favourite, Chippy Le Carpentier. The club had two large rooms, one of them with about a dozen slot machines or ‘pokies’, and right in the middle of them was a tall, glass fronted fridge which contained various packages of chilled meats. I was about to take part in a traditional Australian meat raffle. The regular punters were all quite amused when I won one of the smaller prizes, a chicken, but when the draw came for the grand prize and I won that too I sensed that they weren’t 100% happy for me. “Bloody poms, coming over here, winning our meat raffles”.
Our next stop would be in Jindabyne, near the Snowy Mountains. We were staying in a cabin which was reached via a long, bumpy track beset by kangaroos who were either belligerent or dumb, and it was such an ordeal to get to that once we were settled in for the night it was bottles from the fridge rather than a drive to the local. While there we visited Wild Brumby, a schnapps distillery where I was served a half litre of Franziskaner Weissbeer which nearly knocked me senseless after two weeks of schooners. I tried a number of flavoured schnapps at their free tasting but settled for a suggestively named Hot Whipped Cowboy which was a hot chocolate with a shot of Baked Apple schnapps.
Jindabyne also had its own members club. Just like the others it was huge, with six pool tables and a large lounge with a TV screen the size of a billboard. The beer was fine, but what sold it was the fantastic view over the lake which they enjoy from their beer garden. It was freezing, but we were about to warm up with a trip to the Gold Coast.
Join me next time for giant spiders, two more breweries, and the most bizarre British Pub you have ever seen.