Featured

Heavy Plant

Walk past a "Heavy Plant" warning and wonder vaguely if the trees thought it was for them; if whoever put it up had enough imag...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

beer

To the outsider beer would seem to enjoy almost mythic status in Australia: national drink, passtime and major export. You would have thought that quality would be the major selling point in a crowded marketplace. Sadly this does not seem to be the case. Whilst the fizzy pish loaded with colouring and sweetners that haunts the UK lager market is broadly absent, so is flavour. Don't get me wrong, Aussie beer is in no regard as bad as American "beer" but it still doesn't taste of anything much.


As with a lot of things in Australia that are unexpectedly a problem, the reason behind the phenomenon is that Australia is a very long way from just about everywhere, is quite stupifyingly large and is the driest continent on earth. This means that in its' developing years Australia has had to try and grow critical beer ingredients and attempt the brewing process in conditions far from suitable for either. The resulting product, whilst it probably resembled beer, was actually nothing of the sort.

The beer problem is also a matter of cultural heritage in that the beer early colonials were trying to make would have been a British style ale with light hops and quite a depth of malt, a fact still present in that many Aussie beers are still called "Bitter". Bitter does not drink too well in hot climates, crisp pale ales and lagers are far better in the blazing sun than your average pint of heavy. Unfortunately to make lager you need to use a strain of yeast that ferments most effectively between 10 and 5°C, (5°C is roughly the same temperature as your fridge)*. This kind of temperature is readily available in a Czech or German cellar but a little difficult to find in early colonial Australia. What the colonials would have brewed is something called California Common: lager type ingredients with not quite enough hops fermented with an ale yeast. This produces a fizzier than normal ale with a dry-ish flavour that needs to be served very cold to be palateable. This has had an effect on national tastes and so Aussie beer remains pretty crap, particularly to fussy bugger like me.

As the informed reader will already know and has hopefully been made clear the "Australian" beers available in Britain bear very little relation to the beers actually served in Australia. They are attempts to break into an undiscerning and tasteless British market by Australian brewers who have an insipid and uninspiring product ready to go. Fosters for example is nowhere to be found in Sydney but the biggest selling beer in Australia is brewed by Fosters, this is VB (Victoria Bitter).


VB
is flatter than lager, it is served at lager temperatures and tastes of ...er... well, not very much. It also gives you demon grade hangovers. Unpleasant.

Other brands, many brewed by Fosters, include:


Tooheys New
- this is a fizzy lager-style drink with not enough hops, but tolerable enough.


Carlton Cold
- also a fizzy lager-style drink with not enough hops, unfortunately you can't taste the malt as much as you can with Tooheys.


Carlton Draught
- This is the pick of the beers available on draught. This is much closer to a European lager, nicely balanced hops a good grain flavour, easy to drink. Hangovers still a bit of an issue. You may have seen the ad for this beer kicking round the internet.


Cascade
- Slightly more crisp than Tooheys but not much.


Hahn
- A better effort this one, more hops, a decent grain flavour but still it doesn't have the finish of the European lager it is emulating.


Coopers Pale
- Pretty good, has the advantage of having no artificial colours etc. in it. A very Aussie beer.


Crown Lager
- This is a good crsip clean lager and extremely drinkable. Very similar to Carlton Draft it is available only in bottles. Probably the pick of the litter.

Imported beers do make it to Australia but they are often a bit overpriced because of the distance they have to travel. Lowenbrau actually have a bar in Sydney to lure punters in with the promise of beer that tastes of something. The Aussies seem to like this but the beer is still too expensive so a trip to the Lowenbrau Keller is not an everyday occurence.

Not being the world's greatest lager devotee I have also been trying some of the independant breweries proper beers. Thus far my favourites have come from: The Malt Shovel Brewery, which produces very high quality full-flavoured beers, and on micro-brewery level The Lord Nelson which is a pub/hotel/brewery which has some stunning beers which they serve far too cold (review).

Beer over here comes in some rather strange measures and protocol for ordering varies from state to state. Being your average pom I haven't fully got to grips with it yet but have found this guide to be of some use. To make life even more complicated the Australian Government doesn't use a simple method of measuring drinks either. They have a system of "Standard Drinks" which is annoyingly confusing. A bottle of beer that appears to contain a single serving of beer will often have "Contains 1.5 standard drinks" printed on the label in clear contradiction of the facts, surely they can't be suggesting that you share your beer?*

Among "interesting" beery things to do in Australia, other than drinking it alone, are the Darwin Beercan Regatta, which you've probably heard about and an outback pub crawl, by aeroplane. The latter sounds interesting until you think about: a) what happens when you need a pee and you're only a third of the way to the next pub? b) motion sickness? c) the huge amount of money it costs.

There is good beer to be had here, but you do have to look for it a bit harder than you would expect or would have hoped. I think it may be time to kick off the homebrew over here. Then all I have to do is convince Aussies to drink warm flat beer. Oh well, I needed a challenge...

Click related link for an Australian guide to Australian beer - don't trust the beer reviews but everything else is straight up fact

*Water chemistry comes into this as well but I haven't included anything about this, I wouldn't want to sound obsessive or anything.

**Not that the units of alchohol system used in Britain is particularly clear but at least the units of alchohol are easily worked out: amount of drink in litres multiplied by strength of drink ABV% = units of alchohol. Ergo a pint of beer (0.575l) at 5% is a little under 3 units.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Lollies


I haven't eaten a mars bar in years, not a full-size one anyway. There's something not quite right about trying to eat a piece of confectionary that represents about half your daily energy requirements. People give these to children and wonder why "little Darryl is such a handful". Mars bars are an adult dose of sugar. Giving one to a child is tantamount to attempted poisoning*.




Mars bars have been removed from the shelves in New South Wales since early July and have only just made it back in to the shops this week. This was triggered by an extortion racket that seems to be very shady and very short on detail. The strangest part of it is that Masterfoods, who make the mars bar, have been putting a senior member of staff on TV with updates. This tubby bespectacled man has the charisma of a more boring than average theologian. He looks like he could use a little sugar injection to get him through the day and will be very glad when this issue is put to bed and he can work, rest and play as normal.

To celebrate the return of the Mars bar - its' absence was clearly an issue for the women in the office - a family pack of "fun size"** mars bars was handed out. Australian chocolate has more preservatives in it compared to European chocolate and is tempered very differently to deal with the heat. The result is that Mars and Snickers bars taste even less like chocolate than I'd expected. Thank heaven the liquorice here is pretty good and much more prevalent than in the UK. I shall, in addition to switching my default filthy food from pastie to pie, be changing my default confectionary back to liquorice.

Personally I couldn't care less about Mars bars, and I had already heard from other poms that the chocolate here was shite. What I hadn't expected is that the Aussies call sweets "Lollies". This is just plain backward and the bread-stealing recedivists need to be corrected. A lolly is a type of sweet and entirely unrepresentative of sweets as a whole. Even Americans haven't debased sweets so badly. The word "candy", whilst not necessarily accurate is at least descriptive. Lollies?! Horrid.

Oh well I guess it's the little differences that make Australian culture*** different.

*For those wishing to cause trouble giving a child a can of Coke to wash their full size Mars bar down with is an ideal way to send them absolutely sky high. In additon to the caffeine Coke contains another 17 teaspoons of sugar. I recommend dosing the child approximately 10 minutes before their parents come and collect them, the child's blood sugar levels will reach their peak around ten minutes after collection. You will never have to babysit again.

**Tolerably small

***[insert yoghurt joke here]

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A moment of clarity

Idly dreaming as sauntered home last night, lost in my usual comfortable childish fantasies (Jedi/James Bond/Batman/Free Ice-Cream – delete as appropriate), I was struck by an awkward moment of clarity:


I had just been playing tennis at the club and was walking along the seafront to go back to the apartment to sleep and to prepare for another day at my job working for a huge financial corporation, in Australia. That doesn’t sound like me, how the bloody hell did this happen?

Thankfully this moment was a particularly momentary one, interrupted as it was by a pair of flying foxes doing a quick circuit of the park. These things are bloody enourmous and make a quite incredible sound as they take off (a bit like a wet sheet being shaken). Normally I get to the spot where I had this awkward feeling, deep in infantile reverie, and startle one of the bats. Naturally when it's dark a bat with a wingspan nearly the size of my armspan taking off and swooping low over my head can interupt my train of thought. It's uasually about this time of the night that I realise I need the toilet quite badly and that I should run home up the hill as quickly as possible to avoid an embarassing accident. The shrill scream of "AAAaaarrrgggH! A fucking vampire!" is completely incidental.

I was pleased to see the bats this time. Firstly because for once I saw them before they saw me and secondly it brought me back in to focus. I came to Australia to see things like this every day.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Contracting

I have, as I hoped would happen, got a new job. I have left the Supreme Court of NSW and am now working for AMP which is a large financial organisation that does just about anything you can think of with money. My job title seems to be Operations Consultant which suits me just fine, I can make up any amount of bullshit to go with that! It may even be good enough for me to claim that I am helping them out with a bit of Change Management, which is a half-truth but it might open a few doors.


I am doing the same kind of thing I did in the UK but for a commercial organisation, dealing with Financial Planners as learners, with a bit more client facing stuff and a fair bit more process re-design. On my CV it will sound a lot more impressive than that. I will be squeezing in as many business catchphrases as I can and still make sense. Which is only fair as that seems to be a favourite passtime here. For example I didn't have an induction but "gained exposure to team activities", to me this sounds like walking in on a rugby team in the showers but here it just means being shown what people do on a daily basis. As far as I can tell they don't do very much. The pace of work seems unreasonably slow, sorry that should be measured, and the sense of urgency almost non-existent, a low-pressure environment. The office I work in is right on the front by Circular Quay and from the front of the building there is the most amazing view out over the harbour towards the bridge, naturally I work at the back where there is the most fabulous view of a few stories of the even taller AMP building behind that holds AMP Capital.

There is so much space in this office, the desks are probably 3m long, there are about 6 meeting rooms of various capacities shared between around 70 staff on this floor, there is a large staff kitchen with seating and sandwich makers and...well it's all a bit much really. The environment is so different from anywhere I have worked before I am beginning to wonder what the catch is, other than having to start the job on my birthday, no doubt I will find out in due course. It is so nice to work amongst humans again after the freakshow that was the Supreme Court that I have completely ignored the fact that they aren't giving me enough to do and that I could probably do most of the jobs in the team without too much effort, possibly doing a few of them at once. For the moment I am content to relax and earn my cash doing very little, this will all change next week.