Category Archives: Real Ale

Real Ale in Sydney

I thought I should summarise the list of pubs with handpumps in Sydney. Remember they might not always meet the Campaign for Real Ale’s definitions of Real Ale but they all pump some splendid beers.

If you are only heading there because of the handpumps you should double check before going to ANY of them.

A fuller version of this can be found here

Harts Pub, the Rocks – two handpumps usually both running, sometimes one with cider, Rocks beers plus regular guests

Union Hotel, Newtown – two handpumps usually both running, Young Henrys and Murrays beers plus others

Royal Albert, Surry Hills – two handpumps usually both running, Young Henrys and Murrays beers plus others

4 Pines, Manly – one handpump, pretty regular but check ahead, officially real ale

Rubber Duckie Taphouse, Manly (previously Murrays at Manly) – two handpumps usually both running, Murrays beers

Flat Rock Beer Cafe, Naremburn – two handpumps, usully at least one running, beers brewed on premise

Young Henrys Brewery, Newtown – two handpumps, beers brewed on premises

Local Taphouse, Darlinghurst – one handpump, rotating guest beers (Australian Brewery, Riverside Brewery so far)

The Duck Inn, Chippendale – one handpump, Rocks beer, sometimes cider

Quarrymans, Pyrmont – two handpumps, one in use most of the time, Young Henrys beer so far

Petersham Bowling Club – one handpump, Young Henrys beer so far

Lord Dudley, Woolhara – one handpump, beers from the Badlands Brewery

Mojo Record Bar, City – one handpump, Young Henrys beer, only available Friday night and sometimes Saturday, check ahead

Redoak, City – one handpump, only occassionaly used, check before heading there although the other beers are worth a visit anyway

Bellvue Hotel, Paddington – real ale night every last Friday of the month with St Peters beer

Outside Sydney

Wig and Pen, Canberra – 6 handpumps with all beers brewed on premise

Albion Hotel, Newcastle – 2 handpumps, constantly changing beers

Grain Store, Newxastle – one handpump, Young Henrys and Murrays beers so far

Hunter Beer Co at Potters Hotel, Nalbuka, Hunter Valley – one handpump, only at weekends, beers brewed on premise

Let me know if you spot more handpumps in action in NSW (@wilsonscec on twitter or

Fistpumps for Handpumps

This is real and it’s happening now…

Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way first. Real Ale is the name given to beer which undergoes secondary fermentation in a cask. The carbonation produced is lower and more fine than for more commercial beers. They are served using a traditional handpump instead of under pressure from a bottle of carbon dioxide. The beers are usually flavourful and benefit from being served at slightly warmer temperatures than mainstream beers.  

Real Ale was once the only way that you could drink decent beer in pubs in Britain. Inclusion in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide was the pinnacle of success for beer bars. CAMRA is rightly credited with saving good beer in Britain in the 1970s and was the catalyst for the beer renaissance across the rest of the world. Importantly the beer is left open to oxygen which makes the beer go sour if it does not turn over quickly enough, it takes hard work to get right.

I’ve been in Australia for 20 years without sighting much real ale. There was no CAMRA to save tasty beer here from the big brewers. Visits to the Wig and Pen in Canberra and the Sail and Anchor in Perth were my only tastes of what I considered proper beer for many years. When the Redoak Beer Cafe opened in Sydney they occasionally served a real ale version of their bitter. For a while Matt Donelan from the St Peters Brewery would open a couple of casks at the Nags Head in Glebe on the last Friday of every month. And that was that.


Handpumps in action at the Wig and Pen, Canberra in 2006

In the last 12 months things have changed around here. Handpumps are beginning to pop up across the city and over the rest of the country. Beer lovers want flavourful beers and don’t want them to be freezing cold. Many good beers are well suited to to the style.

A word of warning though. Some of the beers served by handpump in Australia would not qualify as Real Ales under CAMRA’s standards. These beers do not undergo secondary fermentation in the cask. They are often simply the same keg of beer that you normally get but left to de-gas for a while and served through the handpump instead of through refrigerated beer lines. This will always be the case if you see an international beer served this way. I’ll refer to beers as “handpumped” if I’m not sure of what is happening in the cellar. Of course great tasting beer is still great tasting beer and if the dispense method brings out more flavour I’m all for it.

I decided to spend the weekend checking out the bars with handpumps across Sydney. Any excuse for a pub crawl.

My starting point was the Union Hotel in Newtown, where two handpumps have been pouring pints mainly from the local Young Henry’s brewery for the last 6 months. They had the Young Henrys / Mountain Goat collaboration beer “The Kid” along with Murray’s Punch and Judys. Both beers are English styles and both seem to benefit from the handpump. The aroma of the Murray’s is much more intense and The Kid’s chocolatey character becomes smoother.

I headed to the Duck Inn in Chippendale next but was disappointed to see the handpump used for cider. The Duck has been recently renovated and has turned most of their taps over to independent beers. The handpump was installed by Rocks Brewing but they currently don’t turn over the beer quickly enough to keep it well. The cider sells much faster but doesn’t really suit the handpump – I was offered ice for it. The Duck will get more of a name for it’s beers and will start using the handpump for beer, it’s just a matter of time.

Handpump 4

Pumps at the Pumphouse

The  Pumphouse in Darling Harbour doesn’t usually have handpumps but were having a special tap takeover by the St Peters Brewery. Matt Donelan’s handpumps were on the bar, attached to a couple of casks (see photo above.) No denying these were real ales. The flavours of the Cinnamon Girl spiced ale were more intense than usual. The second beer was an English Pale Ale brewed specially for the event called Harvest Moon. It was very earthy, possibly from fresh hops and I’m not sure if the handpump helped the flavour. Matt had brewed a further 4 beers specially for the event which would have been rude for me to miss.

More disappointment followed, a pint glass over the handpump at Redoak and a “sorry we just ran out” at Mojo Records. Redoak doesn’t have the real ale often and usually only at the start of a week. Mojo Records on York Street puts on a cask of Young Henrys every Friday. Perhaps they should try a bigger cask, or have two. Both bars are worth a visit for their beers so I stayed and sampled a few more beers before moving on to the Harts Pub.

Handpump 1

Liam from Harts Pub mans the pumps

Harts Pub has had more success with the handpumps and there are almost always two beers available. The bar is owned by the same people as Rocks Brewing but they usually have beers from other brewers including Red Hill Best Bitter, which they had gone through three casks of in a week. I was a bit excited to see the HopDog BeerWorks Children of Darkness on handpump. It is a superb, strong India Black Ale and it was interesting to try such a different style on the handpump. Again the flavour is more intense though I thought this made the hops a bit more astringent than normal. Harts also has a great range of beers so I stayed and sampled a few more.

The last pub of the night was the Royal Albert in Surry Hills. It’s a small pub but worth checking out. Young Henrys supply two beers, the English style “Real Ale” is on all the time and the second beer was their Vertigo, a wheat beer. The Real Ale is quite a big Best Bitter style and obviously suits the handpump. I wish they called it Best Bitter instead of Real Ale as that just makes things more confusing. The fruity aroma of the Vertigo is much more distinct on handpump, I’m not sure if this is really a good thing. No idea why my tasting notes were a bit brief at this stage.

After a hearty breakfast the next day I headed across the Bridge to Manly where two bars have handpumped beers most of time. Murray’s at Manly is the Sydney outlet for Murray’s from Port Stephens. It’s a great bar overlooking the ocean. They have most of their extensive range of beers along with a few good guests and two handpumps. Today they had the great Punch and Judys and their Dark Knight Porter. Again the smoothness of the porter style was enhanced by the dispense method and the Punch and Judys was my favourite beer of the weekend.

Handpump 5

Real ale stillage unit at 4 Pines

4 Pines is always worth visiting despite the fact that they had run out of their real ale earlier in the week. As the secondary fermentation (conditioning) takes longer than force carbonation they don’t always have any real ale available so phone ahead to avoid disappointment. Running out is actually a sure sign that the beer really is real. The brew bar has a stillage unit where you can see the casks. Come to think of it that’s really just teasing me. The beer would pass CAMRA’s standards and tastes bloody good as well when it’s on.

What did I learn? Murray’s, Harts Pub, the Union and the Royal Albert have handpumped beers all the time. The others are all worth visiting without real ale but phone ahead if that’s all you want. English Bitter is unsurprisingly the most common style of beer available and benefits from the dispense method. If you need two days to tick of all of the handpumps in Sydney we have made a good start. Young Henrys and Rocks Brewing are making great beers and supporting the bars who are interested in using handpumps.

It’s great to see a few bars offering this style of beer and with the beer revolution showing no signs of slowing I’m sure we’ll se a lot more. Enjoy the beers!

Update – 21 May 2013 – we have an addition to the handpump bars – the Flat Rock Beer Cafe, north of the Harbour in Willoughby has installed a couple of pumps and a small brewery. Since opening the brewhouse they have rotated the ales served through the handpumps, usually just one at a time with an IPA, Porter and English Bitter. Four other beers are available on tap at the small bar along with an extensive bottle list. The handpump beer crawl just got a little bit more difficult… In a good way.

Update – 7 July 2013 – The Local Taphouse in Darlinghurst has finally put some beer on their handpump. The boys from the Taphouse bought a bunch of proper casks from the UK last year and Scott and Ozzy went out to the Australian Hotel and Brewery to make a special beer to fill some of them with head brewer Neal Cameron. The beer was launched at the British & Irish Lions Spectapular held in mid June and is called Dead Witch Bitter. Mrs Thatcher would be proud as it’s a light and fresh tasting English bitter. It seems to be a regular fixture on the bar.

Murray’s at Manly has inexplicably been re-named the Rubber Duckie Taphouse but still pours beers from their two handpumps and Rocks beer (not cider) has been pouring from the Duck Inn’s pump. More power to them….

Update 28 July 2013 – The Lord Dudley in Woolhara has installed a handpump featuring beers from the Badlands Brewery from Orange and believe it or not the Petersham Bowling Club has a handpump along with 11 other craft beers. So far Young Henry’s has been the main beer on tap although they do stock a number of Rocks beers.

If you want to head further afield Corey Crooks of the Grain Store in Newcastle has just installed a handpump, expect Young Henrys and Murray’s beers. One of the first handpumps in NSW was put in by Corey when he ran the Albion Hotel in Newcastle which still has two pumps operating all the time. The Hunter Beer Co at Potters Hotel on the outskirts of the Hunter Valley has also put in a handpump, officially it’s only used at weekends so again if you are heading there specifically for the handpump call in advance!

Update 31August 2013 – the Young Henrys Brewery itself has two handpumps with their own beers. It’s open to the public Monday to Saturday from 10am until 7pm.

Update 6 September 2013 – the Quarrymans in Pyrmont has opened with 22 normal taps and two handpumps. Only one handpump has been in use, serving Young Henrys so far. The Bellvue in Paddington (almost Woolhara) has also been holding real ale nights on the last Friday of each month. The set up is the same as the Nags Head in Glebe used to offer with St Peters beers and the cask just sitting right on the bar. Nice.

I’ve put up a summary of all the handpumps in Sydney here

Introduction to Decent Beer

My boss asked me to write a page about my favourite craft beers for the work intranet page, I thought it was worth sharing here. I don’t like the term craft beer much so all of the beers that I talked about are independant (i.e. not owned by international brewing companies or supermarkets.) As the page was supposed to be an introduction to craft beer the beers aren’t necessarily my favourites but they are all extremely drinkable and available in decent beer bars and bottle shops.

Click here to read the page Introduction to Craft Beer February 2013

Where to Drink (Part 2)

Fix St James
111 Elizabeth Street, Sydney, 2000 – (02) 9232 2767

I try not to drink in the city but seem to find myself in Fix St James more than the rest of Sydney’s wine bars combined.  There are some great sommeliers in Sydney and owner Stuart Knox with his signature red shoes is easily the most fun to be around.   Fix is a bar and restaurant with some great food and a reputation for “natural” wines.  Stu has become the go-to man for this style of minimal intervention wine, although I get the feeling that a large number of these wines hit his list simply because they taste interesting and exciting, rather than conforming to any particular philosophy.  Most of the front of house team have been with Stu for a long time and share his passion for great “juice.”  They ask what you are looking for and are able to recommend the perfect wine after just a couple of descriptors.  There are a lot of wine events held at Fix during the year, the wine dinners are always great value.  If you love interesting wines, great food and great service and are in the city, I’d recommend Fix St James.

417 Crown St, Surry Hills, 2010 – (02) 9319 6609

As small bars go, Yulli’s in Surry Hills is one of the most comfortable.  It’s quite a surprise that a vegetarian restaurant has such a great line up of independent NSW beers but it’s great to see. They recently added an upstairs area which makes it much easier if you just want to sit and have a beer. In an interesting green initiative none of the products upstairs are bottled – there are 8 local draft beers along with draft NSW wine and local post mix soft drinks. It’s a great idea though I’m not too sure about the draft wine. Watch out as upstairs isn’t open every night which means that only four draft beers (along with lots of bottles) are available most weeknights and the more exciting (lower selling) beers don’t turnover as quickly as you would like. I’m not a vegetarian by a long shot but the food is also well worth searching out.

The Union Hotel
576 King Street, Newtown, 2042 – (02) 9557 2989

The Union is a rare beast in Sydney, a pub that has given almost all of it’s taps over to independent beers. I’ve been heading there for years now, it’s not too far from home and I’ve always enjoyed the food. They have been constantly but slowly improving the pub, first with a full refurb of the back bar into a very comfortable bistro area with a small beer garden, then introducing more and more good beers and recently new carpet in the front bar. I’ll always remember the week when smoking was banned in Sydney’s pubs. I walked into the front bar of the Union and all I could small was stale beer in the carpet instead of having smoke hiding the stench. They also installed a couple of English style handpumps for beer to serve real ales, mainly from the very local Young Henrys brewery. The bistro offers great value meals and the specials are restaurant quality, all washed down with great beer. Well worth visiting

from pints to pinots

The following post has previously appeared on my friend Lyndey Milan’s site. I think it will give you an idea of how I got here…

My road to wine started with a beer, quite a few of them actually.

Guests constantly ask me how I became a sommelier.  Perhaps they are surprised that a Scotsman would be so passionate about New South Welsh wine.  I’m sure they expect me to talk about scotch and how to save money.  They are usually surprised when I tell them my story.

I started my career in hospitality in one of Edinburgh’s many specialist real ale pubs.  Eight beer engines pumped out a constantly changing line up of guest beers. I took my job seriously, sampling every new beer as they went on line.  The beers intrigued me, different styles and breweries from different regions with histories going back centuries.  Most of all I was excited by the different aromas and flavours.  I’d make tasting notes in order to explain the subtle differences between the beers to our customers.

The writer (left) as a young man

When I arrived in Australia the beer scene was bleak.  Bland, over carbonated beer was everywhere and premium beer tasted exactly the same as regular but had a gold label on the bottle.  Competitive advantage was gained by serving the same beer even colder than the hotel on the next corner.  If I was to stay in Australia, I would have to find a new passion.

My ‘Road to Damascus’ moment occured on the road to Broke, almost twenty years ago.

My new employer organised a trip to the Hunter Valley. I’d visited breweries all over the world but Tyrrell’s was my first winery. Being able to stand in the vineyard and see grapes being picked and walk 20 yards into the winery to watch the winemakers at work was a revelation, so different from brewing. It was the people that really made me understane wine. Murray Tyrrell stood in front of us and told us why he wouldn’t sell out to the big boys despite the huge amounts of money that he had just been offered for the winery. Perhaps Murray’s presence made the wines taste better that day; he did tell us that every wine we tasted was from the vintage of the century. I was hooked.

Murray Tyrrell, legend

Instead of choosing places to visit according to the number of breweries, wine regions were now top of my list. Friends questioned why I would go to Adelaide when they were heading to Bali. Visiting wineries and hearing stories from the people who made the wines became my education in wine. When winemakers talked of vintages spent in the Northern Hemisphere I would seek out those wines and see how they compared. Great Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from the Yarra Valley and Tasmania were tasted beside whichever Burgundies I could afford.

A trip to the Barossa uncovered some incredible wines. Chateau Tanunda was certainly lot more salubrious than the ironbark slab hut at Tyrrell’s. I tasted some of Grant Burge’s wines at Tanunda Cellars and again left with more wine than I could carry. A bottle of 1994 Meshach is all that remains of my early wine trips.

More recently I’ve stuck to places closer to home. Winemakers from cooler climate regions of New South Wales are making some fantastic wines. In the Canberra District I discovered incredible Riesling at Lark Hill, great Shiraz all over the region and some of the best Pinot Noir that I have tasted at Lake George. I also discovered that Australia has lakes that don’t have any water in them.

Philip Shaw in Orange was another inspirational visit. The cellar door is really the front room of his house and you are treated like real guests. The bloke who brings the wines over to you was the International Winemaker of the Year twice. I was even lucky enough to taste some of his wines from the barrel. His No. 11 Chardonnay and No. 8 Pinot Noir were my picks and his Idiot Shiraz is a bargain.

Philip Shaw’s Koomooloo Vineyard – cold climate wines

When Fine Wine Partners brought over the Court of Master Sommeliers to test the skills and knowledge of Australia’s top wine staff, I really didn’t think I would know enough to pass. My wine list is very focussed on New South Wales and the Court exams are mainly about old world wines. Despite never really selling many wines from outside Australia, I managed to become one of the first Certified Sommeliers in the country, simply having listening to as many winemakers as possible over the last 20 years.

Of course things have a habit of turning full circle. Over the last few years the number of interesting beers in Australia has skyrocketed. Wine lists in Australia are beginning to list a wide range of beers, not just the same beer with a different label but all sorts of different styles and matched up with different menu items. Beer is no longer just as a pre dinner drink and the best sommeliers know this.

I always come across tiny craft breweries every time I visit a wine region these days. The craft brewing renaissance actually started in the Sonoma Valley in California. Perhaps the craft brewers know how much winemakers love a cleansing ale. Even winemakers like Lark Hill in Canberra and Moorilla in Tasmania are making beer. In fact they are making great beer.
The beauty of both wine and beer is that my education will never end. There will always be new people to meet and learn from and to share my own knowledge with. I’m glad I found my new passion and never lost the old one.