“Pot of heavy, thanks.”
That request used to get you exactly what you wanted: a pot of cold, full-strength beer from a tap (and it probably cost you $1.50 once upon a time too).
In recent years, the mainstream lager quaffing pub goer has had to continually learn to refine their order. As a hospitality worker, what was initially just a brand loyalty battle has grown into real process of elimination – style, size, strength, colour, price – and I think we’re better for it.
Now, Australians clearly love beer. In 2013, while our population was 23.13 million, we produced 1,730,091,000 litres of beer. That’s one billion, seven hundred and thirty million, ninety one thousand litres of beer. Just to put that into manageable figures, that’s just under 9.5 cases of beer for every single Australian (Don’t believe me? The Australian Bureau of Statistics lists the figures for beer by volume available for consumption.) The craziest part to me though, is that in 2013, 24.1% of all Australian beer sales were split almost evenly between Victoria Bitter (12.2%) and XXXX Gold (11.9%). I’m sure this figure has slightly dropped in the intervening few years, but it’s still a telling statistic of our beer drinking culture.
The veil was lifted for me about 6 years ago when I first set foot into Melbourne’s Mrs Parma’s. I had recently discovered the James Squire Golden Ale, and thought I was at the forefront of everything non-mainstream beer. Not to say that ‘The Chancer’ isn’t a delicious beer, it’s just not quite as obscure as I probably would’ve had you believe at the time. My first ‘real’ craft beer experience was the Gippsland Gold Pale Ale produced by the Grand Ridge Brewery in Mirboo North, Victoria. The flavour, the colour, the strength – it all sucked me in. That night was a turning point in my beer drinking life, and the Gippy Gold remains one of my all-time favourites.
Shortly after my revelation, this wonderful beer was added to the Wharf Shed Cafe beer list. It’s still there today. We’ve all fallen in love with it. So much so, that a couple of years ago we embarked on a Wharf Shed ‘product research trip’ to Mirboo North, where we stayed at the Grand Ridge brewery, drank all their beer and ate all their food. Upon our return, we knew the direction The Shed should shoot for.
At that time, it seemed like Geelong was a little apprehensive of this looming wave of beer that tasted good and didn’t appear on any AFL promotional material. The waterfront hadn’t yet undergone the facelift that we see today. Smorgy’s had closed down, Edge had only just opened, and Carlton Draught & VB flowed like an amber river through Geelong’s bars. If you were lucky, you’d have Toohey’s Extra Dry or Pure Blonde as an option, but even then, if that was your beer of choice, you’d have probably copped a homophobic wisecrack from your mate who classes Crown Lager as ‘fancy’.
Ever since those early days, we’ve made a point of showcasing Victorian Craft Beer. Every time we change our menu, we alter the beer list a little. We keep the ones that have kept us coming back, and work in a few of our new discoveries. We do our best to describe them, and have even developed a beer intensity rating for the uninitiated.
Today, the Wharf Shed is just one of many Geelong venues that have jumped right into the Craft Beer realm. This February, we’re about to see the fourth annual Great Australian Beer Festival. Fourth! If that’s not a sign of an emerging trend that’s gaining momentum, I don’t know what is.
If you’re a mainstream beer fanatic, I encourage you to just give it a go. You never know, you could be about to jump through that portal into a world you never knew existed. A world with fruity sweetness, green hops and burnt toffee flavours.
Or worst case, it’ll cost you ~$10 to drink a dodgy beer. Right?
Matt Cleary – Wharf Shed Cafe Floor Manager