One for the road

1 02 2011

I took a break from my usual Australia Day activities of bellowing moronic chants and muttering obscenities about immigrants taking over our way of life – besides, my “LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT” t-shirt was in the wash – and went on a road trip to the town of Daylesford. Foregoing the usual enticement of the region’s mineral spas (as much as I like a soak, it’s not easy to be excited about these things once you’ve experienced the glory of a Japanese onsen), a small group of us checked out a handful of the town’s attractions.

Lunch – in my case, a brilliant but ever-so-slightly inadequate serving of pan-fried gnocchi – was summarily devoured at Breakfast and Beer. If you have a look at the website you’ll see that the beer list is extensive and impressive, although in actuality the fridge (which appeared to also serve as the beer menu) appeared to contain a far smaller variety. Nevertheless, to my surprise they stocked a variety of the excellent Hitachino Nest Beers from the Kiuchi Brewery in Japan. Whilst living in Japan I rarely had the opportunity to try local beers beyond the hodgepodge of Asahi/Sapporo/Kirin/etc., as the Japanese palate generally steers towards brews that are as clear, clean, crisp, and generally inoffensive as possible. There are a respectable number of craft breweries out there in all corners of Japan producing a wide variety of beers, often unique, although for a lack of a large market willing to diversify their beer-swilling habits (and perhaps due to a handful of microbrewers’ desires to keep their products as fresh as possible at the time of consumption) they’re not easily available – at least not in Kumamoto or Tokushima, the two Japanese cities in which I’ve lived. So, imagine my surprise when, at this little restaurant and beer garden in Daylesford, I come across a bottle of Rising Sun Pale Ale from Baird Beer in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Rising Sun Pale Ale

How many Japanese cliches can you (mis)appropriate into a single beer label?

Not a bad drop at all. A great reddish-coppery colour, decent head, with some citric/tarty fruit and a sensible amount of hops on the palate. The finish had a satisfying touch of bitterness, although not quite as bitter as being walloped with a $14 charge for the drink. I suppose this is what you get for ordering straight out of the fridge, but to me it seems a little unscrupulous for an establishment such as this to not have a booze menu with prices. The alternative is to lay siege to the poor waitress with a dozen queries over the prices of drinks that take your fancy, and subsequently wasting everyone’s time and prolonging the unbearable wait until the moment when beer meets mouth.

Anyway, our day continued on with a visit to the Daylesford Cider Company, despite the waitress at the previous establishment mumbling something about their ciders being a “bit shit”. In the parking lot was a battered ute (“pickup truck” in Americanese) bearing the Victorian license plate “CIDER”, so I figured they must take their cider rather seriously. Traditionalists they were, as none of the ciders were carbonated. It was the first time I’d ever tried a still cider (drinking previously-bubbly cider left to go flat doesn’t count… or does it?), and whilst it was certainly interesting, I still prefer my ciders slightly sparkling. Out of the sweet, standard and dry varieties, I preferred the acidic and astringent feel of the dry cider, and picked up two bottles to take home. After the cidery we hit up a local chocolate factory, the name of which I’ve forgotten because I’ve already thrown out the packaging after gobbling down everything I bought within the space of 24 hours.

To bring things back full-circle (when I do this it inevitably leads to alcohol and/or Japan) there seems to be a Japanese pastime of hauling the family or your friends into the car and driving off to some remote part of the prefecture in order to try a bit of the local produce. It’s definitely something I could get used to doing here in Australia.

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