Category Archives: Sydney

When to use the #spitbucket

Those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I attend a number of regular events; Alestars at the Local Taphouse, any tasting by Sommeliers Australia and one that I talk about the most – #spitbucket.

cloudy bucket

#spitbuckets are regular wine dinners with ever changing subjects, fantastic guest hosts, some great wine, great food and great people which are live shared across social media, especially Twitter. They are the brain-child of Poppy Gresson (@poppygresson,) starting in 2011 as a promotion for Darling Harbour’s Coast Restaurant where she was General Manager. Poppy left Coast last year and set up her own event management company, Pop Events and reinvented #spitbucket.

Themes over the last nine months have included New South Wales wines, biodynamic wines, natural wine, sparkling wines and the Hunter Valley Wine Show trophy winners along with an incredible #whiskybucket. Around ten wines are supplied by social media savvy wineries each night and are always high quality and interesting. Wines are served in brackets of two or three usually similar styles or different vintages of the same wine.

champagne bucket

A number of venues are used with MuMu Grill in Crows Nest the most regular. Craig Macindoe at MuMu is certainly generous when it comes to food and expertly matches the courses with each brackets of wine. Fix St James is another regular venue and it goes without saying that the matches are spot on (oddly enough Stuart Knox from Fix has hosted a few #spitbuckets but never at Fix itself.) Great wines and food make #spitbucket excellent value for around $70.

It’s never a room full of people staring at their phones, the nights become pretty rowdy with plenty of interaction. The guest hosts are always knowledgable but have a lot of fun with it. Patrick Haddock recently hosted for an entire night in his Beer Spills, Wine Survivalist character. Winemakers who are not in the room interact with the attendees across social media, which adds a great twist to the event, answering question and often pushing to find out how their wine fared against the others.   

christmas bucket

Spectacular wines at the #christmasbucket sparkling wine event hosted by @poppygresson and @beerspills.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Bowell @jezzster

Poppy has a lot of events planned for 2014 including Summer of Riesling at Fix St James next week and #chardonnaybucket in early February. I’ve heard rumours of a #rumbucket which sounds a little dangerous. The dinners are limited to 24 guests and always sell out. Follow @pop_events on Twitter so that you don’t miss out.

#spitbuckets are a great example of how both drinking wine and social media are supposed to be fun. I’d heartily recommend them to anyone.

2013 The Year in Beer

The start of 2014 means that it’s time to look back on 2013 in order to vote for my favourite beers of the year for the Local Taphouse’s Hottest 100 Beers competition. Looking at the hundreds of beers available to vote for and how difficult it is to narrow down a top five it’s clear that 2013 was very simply the best year in beer ever.

Hottest 100

Vote here

Sure there were a few beers and brewers that disappointed but that’s been the case every year that I can remember. For every brewer that made a whole bunch of uninspiring beers there was another pushing the envelope.  While more and more exciting imports hit our shores, I doubt that I would change my top five if imports were allowed.

Judging by my choices, it seems that envelope pushing sits well with me when I score beers. My criteria was pretty simple. Look back at the highest rated beers that I checked in last year on the Untappd app and decide which ones I would go out of my way to try again. This perhaps gave an unfair advantage to difficult to find beers and pushed “my go” to session beer, Stone and Wood Pacific out of the running. I don’t think they’ll miss my vote.

I didn’t deliberately try to only have one beer from any single brewer although I could easily have had multiple entries from any of these brewers, and a few others.

5. Dennis Beer Co. Rocket Science Mad Hatter IPA.

There are a lot of new local brewers that have kept me happy this year. Every beer from Riverside has been superb. HopDog has a whole bunch of exciting beers. Wayward, Grifter and Dennis have proven that you don’t need to own a brewery to make great beers. I’ve enjoyed all of the Dennis beers and this was my favourite, fruity and easy to drink with tea leaves adding extra lift and freshness that hides a reasonably high alcohol content. New Zealand’s Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta was the original tea-leaf IPA and is spectacular, the Mad Hatter sits happily beside it.

mad hatter

4. BrewCult Supa Fly Rye IPA

I seem to like the addition of a bit of rye in beers, it seems to help balance beers with plenty of hops and gives a little bit of a toasty aftertaste. Mountain Goat Rare Breed Rye and HopDog Horns Up were a couple of my highest rating beers of the year but this one pips them. BrewCult’s Steve “Hendo” Henderson has made four beers so far and each one could make anyone’s top 5.

3. Bridge Road Chevalier Saison.

The only beer to appear in my top five that was there last year this is simply a superb beer and still the best Australian saison. It is the pinnacle of beers to match with food. There are plenty of other 5 star Bridge Road beers that I had this year that could have been on the list including the India Saison, Bling Bling Double IPA, Dark Harvest, B2 Bomber and the spectacular Aurora Borealis.

2. Two Metre Tall Original Soured Ale


There is no doubt that Two Metre Tall’s Ashley Huntington is a passionate man. The former winemaker and full time farmer makes some serious beers in the Derwent Valley, Tasmania. I tasted the Original Soured and Sour Cherry Ales on the first day of Sydney Craft Beer week and they remained the best beers I had over the 8 days (I had a lot of beers that week.) The Soured Ale is barrel aged for three years and is easily the best lambic style beer that I’ve had outside Belgium.

1. Doctor’s Orders Cephalopod.


This was the one beer that I went back to every time I heard that it had been tapped. The concept was a black Berliner Weisse using squid ink to colour it. Of course it was a different colour every time, ranging from grey to turquoise and every shade in between (I did try it a lot.) The taste was superb, a bit of lemon tartness and a rich texture. It surprised and delighted. Doc is currently brewing another take on the Berliner Weisse style although it’s hard to imagine that it would be better than this. I will go out of my way to drink it of course.

Brewery of the Year – Riverside Brewing Company

Special mention has to go to Parramatta’s Riverside Brewing Company which in its short history has never put a foot wrong. Every one of their beers has been superb and the 44 Amber is the best amber ale that I have tasted. Brewer Dave Padden will go down in Australian brewing history as a man who perfectly understands hops and isn’t afraid to include as many as possible in his beers.

riversideDave Padden enjoying pouring us his beers

One thing is for sure though, 2014 will be an even better year for beer. New brewers will appear, the number of craft beer outlets will continue to expand and the envelope pushers will push even harder.

Bring it on.

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

Super Beeronomics

I have some bad news to share. Drinking decent beer is an expensive hobby.

I was joking about my Scottish heritage with the owner of my favourite beer bar recently and then to prove that I wasn’t actually tight with money I pointed out that I’d bought a glass of Chimay Blanche and hadn’t even looked at the price. I then looked at the beer list above the bar and said “Faark, $15 for a half pint.”

I usually ignore craft beer drinkers who complain about how expensive good beer is. They need to get a new hobby. Apparently Brewdog Punk IPA costs two and a half times as much as VB in Dan Murphy’s and some people object to this. Utter insanity. Brewdog will happily tell you that they use ten times as much ingredients in their beer than normal lagers. They don’t have the economies of scale that Fosters has. It’s shipped from the North of Scotland to the other side of the world. It should cost 20 times as much as VB.

Drinking decent beer is an expensive hobby but you know what, we’re actually getting a bargain deal, even at $15 for a half pint (actually 310ml.) Wine prices vary from a few bucks for plonk in a box to thousands of dollars. Why doesn’t a beer that is worth 20 times as much as VB cost twenty times as much.

The thing is though, prices of decent beers are on the way up and you better prepare your wallet.

Taphouse Taps

Local Taphouse Taps – spectapular

Simple economics drive beer prices and as more and as more and more people drink craft beer we are likely to see prices rise, especially for the rare stuff. The last time I had Chimay on tap just a couple of years ago it was less than $10.  Supply is limited (one 20ltr keg was all the Taphouse had) and demand far greater than it was a few years ago so the price has corrected itself. If it was a wine with the same reputation, heritage and quality you would pay hundreds of dollars for a bottle.

Input costs are huge for small brewers. Paying more for ingredients, investment in equipment and a massive whack to the taxman before they actually sell their beer means that their profit is far smaller than the big boys. This continues into bars where owners can buy faux craft beers for less and sell them for same as independent beers.

Until we see a huge number of new beer bars opening we won’t see prices going down from competition between bars. While more and more small breweries are opening the craft beer market is expanding at a similar rate. No small brewer would dream of competing on price, they just can’t afford to. Larger independent brewers who just spent a fortune building large breweries are toying with discounting as part of market entry strategy but have to be careful that they don’t permanently damage the product. Discounting to large supermarket chains has ruined many breweries worldwide.    


Sierra Nevada & Russian River Brux – beer nerd dreaming

Lovers of rare and special release beers will feel the brunt of a supply and demand economy. The Russian River Brewery in Sonoma, California has an incredible reputation for its beers and doesn’t send them to Australia. When their collaboration with Sierra Nevada hit the shelves here it sold out in a couple of days at $40 a bottle. Just wait for the next time their beer makes it over here.  

Foster’s Crown Ambassador at an RRP of $99.99 is pretty much the most expensive beer you will see in Australia. It was launched while they also owned Penfold’s Grange so it makes sense. Could they release a beer with no reputation, on the coattails of a beer that most beer snobs think is Foster’s Lager in a fancy bottle and charge $100 a bottle. Limit it to just a few thousand bottles, put it in a fancy box and release just before Christmas. It sells out almost immediately, though probably not to craft beer drinkers.

Crown Ambassador

Crown Ambassador – fancy box

The craft beer market is young and small and growing quickly. Pricing will be inconsistant as the market matures so make the most out of low prices while they are still out there. For great value good beer head to the Union in Newtown or you can pick up a magnum of Mikkeller Red/White Christmas at Frankies in the city for $30. It’s best if you bring a friend to share it with.

And there is still plenty of value at the Local Taphouse. All of those beers are worth the asking price and there are plenty of places in town that charge way more. The weeknight food and beer specials are some of the best I’ve seen. Their tasting paddle at $15 offers 5 x 90ml tasting glasses, great stuff if you want to try the rare beers without breaking the bank. You’ll get a funny look if you ask for five glasses of the same beer though.

Happy drinking!

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

WCA Sydney Royal Wine Show Trophy Winners’ Lunch

I’ve just written a post on my friend Rebecca Varidel’s site InsideCuisine. We attended the Wine Communicator’s lunch showcasing the trophy winning wines from the Sydney Royal Wine Show.

You can read the post here