Quick, when you think Australian drinks, what do you think of? Perhaps the first thing that comes to your mind is, “Foster’s, it’s Australian for beer.” (It’s not actually.) But in seriousness, when you think of Australia’s drink contributions to the world, hopefully you think South Australia and its wine production, which dates back nearly 200 years, producing more than half of Australia’s annual wine volume. And few wine regions in Australia are older and more renowned then many of the vineyards around Adelaide, most notably the Barossa Valley. But as I found out on my recent trip to Adelaide, South Australia (hosted by Tourism Australia and South Australia), wine isn’t the only juice they are making in and around Adelaide, but also craft beer. And spoiler alert: It’s good craft beer. So naturally, a craft beer tour of Adelaide had to happen.
Craft Beer Tour of Adelaide
My craft beer tour of Adelaide first began in the Adelaide Hills at the Prancing Pony. Yes, I am dead serious, that there is an actual brewery in the world called the Prancing Pony. Furthermore, head brewer, Frank Samson, has a ‘stache that’d give Barliman Butterbur a run for his money. Samson was a home brewer for 30 years, starting as a mere hobbyist (not to be confused with hobbit) with beer kits before refining his brewing into an exact science.
What has resulted is the Prancing Pony, opening three years ago, and growing so fast that they moved into a much bigger building last year, dubbed the Prancing Pony Brewshed, featuring a dining area (with a menu of burgers and cheese and meat plates), brewery tours, and guided tastings. It seems only appropriate that the amber is one of the flagships, since “amber fluid,” in actuality really is Australian for beer. Some of their newer beers are the crowd favorites, such as the Hopworks Orange, which is a nice drinking citrus pale ale.
From the Prancing Pony, my craft beer tour of Adelaide continued to Pirate Life (best brewery name ever?), which may be Adelaide’s most popular beer, evident by it selling out in less than an hour at a food truck and beer festival I had gone to a couple nights prior, called Fork On The Road. Furthermore, at the time I visited, Pirate Life was only 8 months old and had recently had to increase its capacity by 135% to match the demand.
But Pirate Life isn’t doing anything that unusual, just making good beer, which at the moment consists of a pale ale, IPA, and double IPA. Of all of the beers I sampled across Australia, Pirate Life’s beers were hands down the best. I’ll go a step further by saying that all of their beers, but especially their double IPA and pale ale, can compete with some of the best IPAs and pale ales I’ve had in California. They have a lot of flavor and they have a lot of hop, yet are balanced and easy drinking. Like all of Australia’s craft beers, you won’t find them on American grocery store shelves like you’ll find some Australian wine, but this is one beer you’ll want to seek out when you visit Australia, and all the more reason to travel Down Under.
After Pirate Life, my craft beer tour of Adelaide headed to Wheatsheaf Hotel, affectionately called the “Wheaty” by locals. “This is it?,” I asked my local guide, journalist David Sly, as we pulled up. I was simply taken aback, as I felt like I had just pulled up to a New Orleans French Quarter hotel, and not an urban Australian hotel that doubled as a boutique brewery.
But I felt at home when I walked in and introduced myself to brewer Laura Mirsch, who actually hails from Southern California, and was formerly a brewer at renowned San Diego brewery, Stone Brewing. Her and Jade Flavell brew a long list of craft beers, many of which rotate out for new beers they are constantly testing. You’ll typically find more then a dozen beers on the menu, but there’s much more turnover then your token brewery, so that you could come in frequently and find new beers on the menu every time. It was here that I had some of the most unique beers I’ve ever had, such as their black pilsner. Being the lover of California IPAs that I am, I gravitated to their IPA beers, including the Non-Corps Promise, a rye IPA, which is also a favorite among locals.
So many things stood out to me about Wheatsheaf, including the ambiance, hospitality, and Jimi Hendrix street art across the way. However, what I loved most from a consumer point of view, were the detailed tasting notes for each beer. Alright, so the beer was good, too! However, to get your hands on the Wheaty’s beer, you’ll have to go straight to the source. But I don’t think that’s twisting your arm.
I’d be remiss, however, not to mention Lady Burra Brewhouse, which is Adelaide’s first inner city microbrewery, opening just last year. Part restaurant, part bar, and part brewery, Lady Burra was going off on the weekend evening I went. Among their craft beers is a pale ale, dark ale, pilsner, and my personal favorite, the Irish red. True to traditional Irish red ales, it’s malty, it’s caramelly, it’s delicious. Unique to Lady Burra are its “brewtails,” which are just as they sound, custom cocktails made with their in-house beers. Lady Burra’s food menu is both locally- and internationally-inspired, with a Portuguese emphasis, such as the Portuguese Custard Tart, since the owners themselves are Portuguese. I dare you to leave Lady Burra hungry or thirsty.
While this officially concluded my craft beer tour of Adelaide, I got to try a number of other Adelaide beers, many of which I sampled at Fork On The Road, a recurring food truck event in Adelaide that featured a number of local breweries on the evening I attended. Some of the beers I sampled included Vale Brewing, located in the nearby wine region of McLaren Vale, and including a number of my favorite beer styles, such as IPAs, but also a couple different ciders. Also in McLaren Vale is Goodieson Brewery, which largely focuses on British and European-style ales, but also has a spiced Christmas brown ale that’s popular around the holidays.