Beer, glorious beer … it’s hard to imagine a world without it, so let’s not. Especially considering all the varieties that have now found a place in our hearts. By Ben Canaider
Over the last two decades a fundamental change has occurred in Australian beer drinking. We drink less beer but we drink better beer, or so it superficially seems. We still drink a lot of beer, however, and thank goodness for that. Indeed, about half of Australia’s alcohol consumption has the word ‘beer’ written on it. Around 90 litres per capita is today’s consumption—nearly four times the amount of wine consumed. And whilst we might not be in the top 10 international beer consuming countries anymore, at least our beer is now of higher quality. Beer drinkers—and this may come as a shock to many of you—are starting to learn a thing or two about what they drink.
Back in the 1970s when Australia was the third biggest consumer of beer in the world, we had just three beers: draught, bitter and lager. We drank parochially, on a state-by-state basis. Beer criticism and assessment was also run along state lines: a Victorian in Queensland would be told his beer was crap. The only thing you had to know about beer was how to get it in the fridge.
All of this has changed. With growing interest in food and eating out—and in wine—beer has had to get with the program. Australian beer has had a makeover; it’s leant a few foreign language phrases to help it become a world citizen; its sense of the sartorial has gone beyond thongs and shorts. Names like draught and bitter now have as much social cachet of Daryl or Brian.
Lager is no longer just lager: it can be a pilsner, or it might be late-hopped. Ale has made a stunning return to the mainstream—in part, no doubt, to the now more successful and profitable boutique beer market. Stouts are being drunk in winter; imported beer is consumed at the snow fields; premium beers are segmenting the entire category, helping people understand new things about beer’s myriad styles and tastes.
This is where you come into the picture. Anyone selling beer on-premise now has a fantastic opportunity to turn this new and still emerging boutique and specialty beer trend to their business advantage. Indeed, why is it that only food and wine can be posh? If you have a wine list, why not a beer list, too?
Boutique and specialty beers range from obscure, batch or seasonally brewed products through to more consistent and widely distributed and marketed jobs. (That some of the big brewing and liquor companies have bought into outfits like Matilda Bay and Little Creatures explains this last part.)
Certainly stick to the tried-and-tested tap beers, but don’t be afraid to run a few tap specials or packaged beers each and every month. Think seasonally, too.
Come winter go long on ales and their sub-species, stout. India pale ales, pale ales, brown ales and the darker stouts are like the evening equivalent to the morning’s bowl of porridge. They are sustaining, healthful and enjoyable beverages. In spring and into summer look more to some locally brewed, fresh wheat beers with their characteristic citrus zing and their clean, clear, long flavours.
Look out for more interesting styles of lager, under the generic stylistic title of Pilsner. Made in the manner of the best Czechoslovakian beers, these lagers have more hop bitterness and more savoury flavours—they are not just dumb and sweet malty brews designed to paralyse the mind.
Mountain Goat, Red Hill, Knappstein Reserve Lager, Holgate, Pikes … there’s an ever-increasing band of colourful beer troubadours ready for you to call your own.