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Australia's 5 wackiest beers
Space beer, million-year-old beer, pink stuff, strong stuff and stone and wood beer
The first Australian brewery, Boston, opened in Sydney in 1796, using maize and tomato leaves to create a beer that sold for one shilling and six pence a bottle.
Australia’s beer market is now worth $8 billion annually, but the craft beer segment forged from Boston’s legacy remains strong, and with it the tradition of novelty lagers.
While breweries have a few beers as best-sellers, they also produce special batch beers as an experimental talking point.
From Space Beer to Stone Beer, here's the lowdown.
1. Space Beer
When the guys at 4 Pines Brewery in Manly saw a disheveled looking guy rock up to bar at 10 a.m. every morning to sink a couple of beers, they thought he had a problem.
Little did they know it was Dr. Jason Held, director of space engineering company, Saber Astronautics Australia. Held’s work requires him to stay up all night solving problems with space geeks in the United States, meaning what looked like a liquid diet was Held’s knock-off drink.
“We started buying him beers and one day he asked us ‘What do you think about putting a beer in space?’ and we said it would be a great idea,” says Richard Sweet, head of sales. “It started off as just a bit of fun but has turned out to be quite an important bit of scientific research."
The primary difference between Earth beer and Space Beer is lower carbonation. When you burp on Earth, the gas and liquid separate. But if you burp in a zero gravity environment, the liquid and gas bond to make a wet burp, with liquid beer floating midair.
While it sounds like something you'd do after too many, the U.S. space community has taken to it.
4 Pines’ first batch of Space Beer was successfully tested in a zero-gravity environment in February. The company hopes to have the product ready to market when Virgin Galactic launches the world’s first commercial space flights next year.
“If you’re going to spend $350,000 to fly into space,” says Sweet, “Then you’re going to want the right beer to mark the occasion.”
4 Pines Brewing, www.4pinesbeer.com.au, 43-25 East Esplanade, Manly, Monday-Sunday, 11 a.m.– midnight, +61 (0)2 9976 2300.
2. Antarctic Nail Ale
Perth’s Nail Brewing at Edith Cowan University made international headlines last year when it released the most expensive beer ever made -– a 30-bottle batch called Antarctic Nail Ale.
One bottle sold at a Sydney auction $1,850, with others fetching up to $1200 on eBay.
“It was done to raise money for the Sea Sheppard that goes and hassles the Japanese whaling boats in Antarctica,” Stallwood says. “My brother-in-law was on the Sea Sheppard and he brought back 30 liters of ice to Hobart where it was melted down and shipped to Perth. That was put in the kettle to make 30 one-liter bottles.
“Basically it was a marketing gimmick to raise funds for the ship but it was also unique as the water could’ve been millions of years old,” Stallwood says. “I still have a few bottles left. I can sell you one for $800 or so.”
Nail Brewering, www.nailbrewing.com.au, PO Box 610 Applecross, Western Australia 6153, +61 (0)4 1387 2337.
3. Barley Wine (that’s a beer)
Set in Sydney’s hectic CBD, Red Oak specializes in matching craft beers to Aussie gourmet dishes like organic lamb sausages and 15-hour slow-roasted Tasmanian Scotch fillet.
“We brew about 40 different styles of high-quality beers here and each one of them is different,” says beer sommelier Simon Beveridge.
Red Oak’s weirdest beer has such a high alcohol content (12 percent) that it can’t legally be sold as a beer. A special reserve that takes about three years to produce, their Barley Wine undergoes three levels of fermentation and is matured in various kinds of oak to give it dimension and complexity.
“The high alcohol content is not for the purposes of intoxication, but to make a beer like a desert wine or digestive with very bold flavor characteristics,” Beveridge says.
“Ideally it would be shared by five or so patrons who’d sip it like a fine brandy or cognac. That is the way we try to treat it because it offers so much flavor and perspective at the end of a good meal.
“It’s one of the most amazing beers you’ll ever encounter.”
Red Oak Brewery, www.redoak.com.au, 201 Clarence St., Sydney, Monday–Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight, +61 (0)2 9262 3303.
4. Stone and wood beer
The Stone & Wood Brewery of Byron Bay began in 2008, when Jamie Cook and two other locals quit their jobs at commercial breweries to start a business of their own.
“Byron Bay is a place where people come on holidays, but it’s also a place where locals celebrate creativity and diversity,” says Cook. “So we brew beers that are complex enough to interest beer connoisseurs but that are also approachable for everyday drinkers.”
Once every year, Stone & Wood brews a 5,000-liter batch of Stone Beer that harks back to the medieval process of using hot stones to boil wort –- the liquid produced in the brewing process before it ferments into beer.
“Back in the days before brewing vessels were made out of copper, they used wooden vats,” says Cook. “Obviously they could not put wooden vats over a fire, so some medieval genius figured out if you put stones on a fire and then throw them into the vat, it boils the wort without burning the pot.
"The process caramelizes the sugar and you get this rich toffee, nut-like flavor -- a bit like when you overcook bacon in a fry pan.”
Stone & Wood Brewery, www.stoneandwood.com.au, 4 Boronia Place, Byron Bay, Monday–Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., +61 (2) 6685 5173.
5. Pinky Framboise
Set in the town of Bright at the base of Mount Hotham in Victoria, Bright Brewery is a retail brewery that borrows its inspiration from northern European brewing techniques. Their raspberry beer, Pinky Framboise, personifies this: based on a Lambic, Belgian-style of flavored beer.
“Our raspberry beer is technically not a Lambic because a Lambic is when they allow
bacterial fermentation to occur in addition to the yeast fermentation,” says chief brewer Scott Brandon.
“What we’ve done is use a special yeast strain that’s got small amounts of the bacteria within it."
"We also add fresh raspberries that have their own natural bacteria.”
Targeted at drinkers who aren’t fans of the bitterness of everyday beers, the Pinky Framboise has a light and refreshing flavor when freshly brewed. But it develops sour notes known as ‘tartness’ over time, making it more like the traditional Belgian variant.
“Each batch is only 1,200 liters but we managed to put away some of the last batch,” Brandon says. “The ones we have now are approaching seven months old and will be approaching a delicious sour flavor."
"Next year we’re going to try making a batch using blueberries, which should add quite a different character,” he says.
Bright Brewery, www.brightbrewery.com.au, 121 Great Alpine Road, Bright, Monday–Sunday, noon till night, +61 (0)3 5755 1301.