Friday, December 12

New $1m Brew House Opens in Clare

South Australia’s Clare Valley is hoping to leap onto the global craft beer map with the opening of a $1m state-of-the-art brew house at Pikes Winery. Brewing is due to begin today, with the new tasting room opening in January.  
“We’re getting geared up right now,” says Andrew Pike, the winery’s director. “We’ll probably start off with a pilsner and then follow up with a sparkling ale. It’s all happening here at the moment.”
The new facility, which includes a 2000-litre brewing system imported from Italy and a modern bottling plant, is under the direction of Brad Nolen (subs: correct), a respected brewer who was previously team leader at the Gage Roads Brewing Company in Western Australia.
“Brad is chomping on the bit to get started,” says Pike, whose family have been making wine in the Polish Hill River Estate sub region since 1984.
Although the hop and the vine are often seen as rivals, Pike’s English forbears ran the Oakbank Brewery in the Adelaide Hills for almost 90 years. The family resumed beer making in 1996 with the release of a small range of traditional pilsners, ales and stouts, but felt that there was sufficient consumer demand to justify building its own microbrewery – a process which was aided by a substantial grant from the South Australian government.
Pike believes that wine-making and brewing, if correctly managed, are highly complimentary activities and hopes the new brew house will attract more visitors to the Clare, a region which known internationally for its Rieslings.
“I think the two things go hand in glove,” he says. “Knappstein [another Clare Valley winery which has branched into craft beer] set the scene many years ago, but there aren’t too many others doing this in South Australia.” Apart from broadening the consumer experience at the winery, Pike says the new brew house will give the company more quality control, lift production and potentially allow Nolen to widen its current range of craft beers and ales. “First and foremost we want to hone our existing products, but then we’ll look at doing some regular seasonal offerings,” he says. “It’s early days.”
From January 2015 Pikes Wines will be open for beer and wine tastings, seven days a week. For more information visit

Thursday, December 4

For The Traveller Who Has Everything

It’s not possible. Incroyable! Those cunning French types have created the must-have accessory for 2015 – a portable and very elegant espresso machine. Ever craved for a short black on that long haul flight? Or found yourself facing an ancient sachet of instant coffee in a hotel room? Then the Handpresso Wild Hybrid is the answer to your prayers. The robust thermos flask means that you can now make coffee just about anywhere – from a remote camp site to your railway carriage. All you need is some hot water to fill the thermos and even the laziest cabin crew can manage that. The ingenious pump action system means that you can quickly achieve  16 bar-pressure – and the perfect espresso. The supa dupa leather travel bag contains a manual espresso machine, four unbreakable cups, a single hand thermos-insulated flask (to keep hot water even longer) and one small napkin. The machine takes normal ground coffee or E.S.E. pods. The shoulder bag weighs just 1590g or 3.5lbs. This wonderful little travel mate cost €179 and it does work beautifully. I tested the unit during a road trip to Port Lincoln. My score: a perfect 10. Bravo. Smaller units for the car are also available. For more information visit

Tuesday, November 25

My Mum’s Favourite Pub

Earlier this year my 82-year-old mother, Peggy, took us for lunch at her favourite country pub. The place is called The Bush Inn and I suspect it’s the most perfect pub in Hampshire, and possibly the whole of Southern England. Dating from the 17th Century The Bush is a charming, lived-in sort of place with a compact bar, quirky little nooks and crannies and a shady beer garden. Dogs and children are welcome. More importantly it serves Henry’s IPA, one of my favourite English beers. We walked along the tow path next to the River Itchen before lunch. The water meadows looked ethereal, with impossibly white swans floating serenely across the glass-like water. By the time we got back, the dining room was bustling with locals and tourists alike – we bumped into a group of Aussies who’d motored up from Southampton to have lunch here. It was a wise choice. The kitchen serves pub classics like honey-roasted gammon ham, rump of Hampshire beef and free-range pork and leek sausages. Prices are reasonable, the service cheerful and, dear lord, I want to be back there now. So next time you’re travelling in England, take my advice and make a small detour to the village of Ovington – just a 20-minute drive from the cathedral city of Winchester. The pub serves lunch and dinner seven days a week. The bar rarely closes. We visited on a glorious sunny day in late June, but The Bush Inn is delightful at any time of the year. Any chance of squeezing me in for Christmas lunch?

Monday, November 17

English Lager – Simply The Best

After 100 years of being defiled by Australia’s commercial brewers lager looked to most observers (until now) like a beer category on its last legs. Why would today’s generation of inked-up hipsters bother with something as insipid when they could get their hands on wonderful IPAs, APAs, Hefeweizens, Pilsners, Porters, Saisons, Sours and Stouts?

Lager, the backbone of the Australian beer trade, has become a byword for mediocrity. Lovers of craft beer (any many brewers) look in abhorrence at lager – the way wine buffs pooh-pooh sauvignon blanc or spumante. Australian lager is not a serious beer, just something wet in a glass.

But not any more. A small London outfit called Camden Town Brewery has created a lager which even committed lager-phobes will love. Called Camden Hells Lager (4.6%ABV), this blonde beauty is as pale as an English summer morning, but is packed with manly flavour, fuelled by Perle and Hallertauer Tradition hops.

Fresh, clean tasting and with a pleasingly bitter finish, Hells Lager has set the benchmark for lager brilliance around the world. Indeed, I can safely declare that Australia’s best lager is now being made in London NW1. And since it’s being shipped (in 330ml cans) to Australia every fortnight you’ll be able to enjoy this award-winning English lager (yep, get your head around that) at its most pristine.

And if you’re worried about being unpatriotic, don’t be. Camden Town Brewery is owned by an Australian expat called Jasper Cuppaidge who bought a pub in London and began brewing beer in the cellar. I’m glad he did. Thanks to Jasper, it’s going to be a great summer Down Under.

PS Camden Brewery has also released Gentleman’s Wit, brewed with lemon and bergamot, in Australia. Another winner from NW1. To learn more visit

Wednesday, October 29

Crafty Urban Ale

Adelaide beer lovers have been given a practical lesson in modern agronomy. A new strain of barley grown in the heart of the city has been used to create a truly original craft beer called Botanic Ale. The one-off brew is a collaborative effort involving SA brewer Coopers, Lobethal Bierhaus and Joe White Maltings. Alistair Turnbull, head brewer at Lobethal Bierhaus describes Botanic Ale (5.6%ABV) as a mid-strength beer in the tradition of modern American Pale Ales. “It’s a full character typical craft pale ale,” he says. “Not too bitter and little bit floral.” Alongside the special Botanic Gardens barley, Alistair has used two types of Australian hops and a special French hop, recommended by the team at Coopers. The beer has a dark coppery hue and a pleasant frothy head. But punters who are keen to get their hands on a bottle need to be quick – only 12,000 litres have been made. Botanic Ale is only available at the Lobethal Bierhaus, in the Adelaide Hills, or the Botanic Gardens Restaurant in the city. The new beer was officially launched last night by Stephen Forbes, the director of the Botanic Gardens of South Australia, who came up with the idea in 2013. A plot of land within the gardens, The City Crop, was planted with Navigator barley, a variety developed by the University of South Australia – the special crop was sown and harvested by the South Australian Research and Development Institute. “Barley is the second largest crop in Australia,” he says. “Botanic Ale illuminates the technology in cultivating a crop and processing it into food, or in this case beer.” The special barley crop was sponsored by Coopers, Australia’s last major brewery still in local hands. Dr Tim Cooper, the company’s managing director, says Botanic Ale is a great way to connect the community with plants, agriculture and food. “Using the barley to create a special one-off craft beer seemed a good way to complete the project,” he says. Judging by the enthusiastic reception at the launch, Stephen and his colleagues at the botanic gardens should begin planting another crop of Navigator – and soon. For more information visit:

Thursday, October 23

At Home With The Fuzz

Is there anything better than a mid-week tour around the Clare, surely Australia’s prettiest wine region? Even better when you get to spend a few minutes holding up the bar at Hop & Vine, a delightful shabby chic shrine to craft beer and boutique SA wines in the main street of Auburn. Kym Deckart, brand ambassador for Clare Valley Brewing Co, introduced me the brewery’s new mid-strength offering called The Fuzz, a crisp coppery drop created specially for the Queensland market. “It’s just hit the ground in Queensland and the signs are promising,” Kym says. “It’s a good tasting beer.” This new offering joins the brewery’s established portfolio of ales and ciders, including King Kong Stout, Bulls Eye APA, Monkey’s Uncle Red Ale and Miss Molly Malone Grape Cider. Kym tells me the initial 15,000 litres of Mills Molly (released in October 2013) sold out in four weeks. “We’ve just enjoyed really good times,” he says modestly. Already a fan of the ballsy King Kong I was keen to taste the limited release Bring Out The Gimp—a wicked mocha stout. Now that’s what I call a beer. Clare Valley Brewing Co is great South Australian success story. Since the release of its first beer in August 2013 the company has established a strong niche in the domestic market and is already making forays into the eastern states. Its cellar door, Hop & Vine is a really cool place to hang out – apart from the full range of CVBC beers it also showcases some of Clare’s more boutique wines, including Good Catholic Girl and Jeanneret Wines. Visitors will enjoy the eccentric mix of Victorian furniture, industrial design and theatrical props, such as the painted bulls horns and chandeliers. But Hop & Vine is not the only good news story. Just up the road the highly respected Pikes winery is putting the finishing touches to a new state-of-the-art brewery, which should be coming on line in early 2015. There are similar expansion plans at Knappstein winery, where brewer Melissa Fettke is looking towards a bright future for regional players like themselves. “The craft beer world is an exceedingly exciting place to be,” she says. For more visit:

Wednesday, September 24

World's Greatest Bar Fridge (hotel not bad, neither)

Surely I can't be the only traveller who despairs at the state of the modern bar fridge? I have noticed an increasing trend among the more affordable 'otels to provide empty fridges, which is like leaving an empty packet of crisps in the room. The one above (at the magnificent Ham Yard Hotel in London) is so good I had to photograph it for posterity. Tiny in proportion, the dinky icebox contained a half bottle of Krug, some decent NZ Sauvignon Blanc, Sipsmith dry gin and a couple of bottles of Asahi. Everything a thirsty guest may need, in fact. Hats off to the person responsible -- the selection is even more remarkable because Ham Yard has one of the most elegant and well-stocked bars in the capital. An astonishing hotel.

Saturday, June 28

My Goodness, It's A Guinness



Lucky me. Last night Diageo threw open the doors of its soon –to-open €168m brew house at St James Gate in Dublin. Once up and running the new facility, which looks more like a futuristic space station than a brewery, will produce something like a billion pints of Guinness a year. Sadly, the company would not allow me to take pictures inside the building but believe me it’s HUGE. Guinness plans to centralize its countrywide production of beer into a single facility – allowing the company to close four antiquated breweries. The high tech brew house will also produce Diageo’s other beer brands such as Harp Lager, Kilkenny and Smithwick’s – the first time pale and dark beers have been produced in the same Dublin facility. Diageo also produces massive quantities of Budweiser and Carlsberg under long standing license arrangements. Guinness master brewer Fergal Murray says that this is only the fourth brew house in the history of the company which was founded in 1759. “I’ve worked in the last two,” he explained. “But naturally I wasn’t around when the first one closed.” The Guinness site covers 50 acres and is so enormous that a special tunnel (pictured) had to be constructed so that employees could walk from one side of the plant to the other. Despite the high tech nature of the new plant, Fergal still describes Guinness as a craft brewer. “For the first 100 years we brewed under candlelight,” he said. “That was simply because we didn’t have access to electricity.” Maintaining this sense of heritage is important to Guinness and evident everywhere – not least at the famous visitor centre which last year attracted 1.1m people, making it Ireland’s top tourist attraction. Our visit to St James Gate finished with a hosted dinner in the Gravity Bar. This is without doubt one of the world’s great beer experiences. If you’ve never been, book your flight to Ireland now.

Beer & Blogging in Dublin



Ireland: Are we paying too much for craft beer? Should aluminum cans replace bottles? Could microbrewers do more to create local employment? These were just some of the ideas canvassed on the first day of the Beer Bloggers Conference in Dublin. About 120 brewers, marketers and citizen bloggers (mostly from the US, UK and Europe) flew into the Irish capital for the two-day event which is being hosted by the Independent Brewers of Ireland, with generous support by Molson Coors and Guinness. Apart from drinking fantastic craft beers, including Galway Hooker and Rye Beer from N17, we’ve been given an overview of the independent Irish scene which is still tiny (less than 1 per cent of the total beer market in Ireland) – one presenter reckons this country is at least 10 years behind the United States. Estimates vary but there are roughly 50 craft breweries in Ireland (both Southern and Northern Ireland), with at least another 12 about to come on stream. Despite their proximity to the UK and Europe most Irish brewers here say they do not have the capacity to export their wares. Aussie brewers will be pleased to know that their Irish counterparts share most of the same concerns: punitive government excise, small profit margins, unfair competition from the big players, lack of retail outlets and indifference from publicans about serving craft beer. A big thanks to the guys at McLaren Beer Company which has sponsored my trip to Ireland and to The Marker Hotel for providing luxurious accommodation in the ritzy Docklands area of this great, great city. Happy days!