When I arrived in Melbourne for the first time in 2009, I struggled so hard to get my hands on a decent beer, I almost turned on my heels and went back home. I think my Australian mates were a little defensive that I preferred the 'warm, weak pommy piss' (their words not mine) of my homeland and hadn't fallen for the meagre offerings at the local Melbourne pubs. However, when I return to England this year, I'll certainly be singing the praises of Melbourne and Australian beer, which will probably offend my Pommy mates loyal to the Real Ale. Here are five reasons why Melbourne is now competing to be one of the great beer cities in the world.
1. Melbourne has great beer venues
When it comes to variety and choice of venues to drink quality beer, Melburnians are spoilt for choice. The inner city teems with options from Federation Square to dark and dank venues hidden in the bin-lined laneways. It is impossible to name them all but every month venues seem to appear each armed with a strong repertoire of beers that have been carefully selected and matched to foods, whisky or gin. The beauty of the city venues is the adaptability to stoke up the open fires in the winter, serving beautiful stouts and roast dinners, and transform in the summer to sun-soaked beer gardens and jugs of pale ale.
2. Melbourne brewers rock the suburbs
Again the list is just too long when it comes to listing the plethora of quality breweries bringing good beer to suburban Melbourne. Warehouse venues, purpose built brewpubs and barrel rooms have popped up with shutter doors allowing patrons within stroking distance of polished stainless steel. Although the locals may come in asking for 'something that tastes like Draught' they are soon turned onto to the great beers that have been passionately nurtured often served by the brewer themselves. These dedicated brewers have been bringing good beer to people who didn't know they needed it and the result is packed venues, increasingly educated consumers and a beer culture that is less bruising and more musing.
3. Melbourne has great beer occasions
Melbourne has a growing amount of quality beer festivals and even a whole week dedicated to 'Good Beer' which celebrates the creativity in both beer and food across the city. In addition, Melbourne just happens to be the sporting capital of Australia. The Australian Open, The Grand Prix, The AFL Grand Final and The Melbourne Cup are the envy of the world whilst thriving soccer, rugby and Football leagues run throughout the year. All of these events present a great opportunity to get together with mates and share a few good beers whilst watching your favourite team snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Although most of Melbourne's sporting venues have their taps locked up by the big boys, good beer drinkers can be encouraged that Cooper's have snagged The Australian Open from Heineken so we can support our South Australian mates whilst sinking a bottle conditioned ale in the Melbourne sun. The booming arts scene in Melbourne has also jumped on to good beer with many of the music and arts venues around the city now offering a choice of quality local beers.
4. Melbourne loves coffee
Melburnians like to boast that their city has the best coffee in the world. The coffee scene is so well developed that cafes in the outer suburbs manage to keep pace with their inner city rivals in terms of coffee output and ingenuity. Regular latte sippers are proud of their 'coffee snob' label and know their way around the vast array of coffee varieties but also the things that make a great coffee or the things that ruin it. This helps the Melbourne beer scene greatly as the shift from coffee knowledge to beer knowledge doesn't seem so great particularly when you see a growing number of collaboration between local coffee roasters and Melbourne brewers. Mountain Goat's Seedy Goat Coffee Porter was a 2015 collaboration with Melbourne roaster Seven Seeds and, more recently, nano brewers Henry Street teamed up with Kensington's roasters Rumble Coffee Roasters, to create Rumble on Henry St Porter. Whether it's coffee in the morning or a good beer at night, Melbourne delivers consistency and creativity.
5. If you don't ask...
Melburnians are connoisseurs. They pride themselves on the breath of art, music and cultural events that occur every week. Melbourne has more hatted restaurants than Sydney and they pride themselves on knowing the best place to get breakfast, burgers and brunch and are never adverse to spending time queuing around the block for an opportunity to sample the latest new thing. This means they are demanding. Very demanding. Despite their generally laid back demeanour, Melburnians are ruthless if their food doesn't match up to expectations. More and more they are feeling the same about beer. There has been a definite increase in patrons demanding better beers in their local. This might explain the fact that my local RSL had a choice of five craft beers in bottles on my last visit there. How wonderful!