Finding Australia’s Best Stout
Before I get into Australia’s Best Stout, I’ll give you Non-Aussies a little skinny on the beer culture we experienced in Australia. I’m probably going to break a lot of hearts with this…Foster’s is not Australian for beer. That’s what the mega beer conglomerate AB InBev wants you to believe. Sadly, outside of Australia, this belief is all too common. When we arrived down under, I was ready for watered down lagers and big Foster’s style cans.
Luckily beer is alive and well in Australia. In fact, you’ll have a tough time finding a Foster’s or an Aussie who’s ever had one. Australia’s beer culture is regional, with most Aussies aligning with a macro from their state. In New South Whales, it’s Tooheys. In Victoria, VB is #1. South Australia loves their Cooper’s and up in Cairns they’re drinking XXXX to beat the heat.
So, Aussie’s like their beer. The craft brew scene is on the rise in Australia. Craft brews like James Squire have come on the scene the way Sam Adams did in the US. There are a few other established and iconic craft breweries in Australia which give the country a strong base to stand on and grow from. We’ll get into some of those iconic breweries in later posts…But, this should give you a snapshot of what the beer scene is like in Australia.
On to Australia’s Best Stout…
This whole challenge came about after visiting the Museum of New and Old in Hobart, Tasmania. More than a museum, there’s also an onsite winery and brewery. It’s great spot to check out if you’re in Hobart.
Moo Brew is the name of the brewery and their beer is as challenging as the art on the cans. In 2012-13, they were producing an Imperial Stout in a 330ml bottle (roughly 12 oz) that retailed for $28 US Dollars. Which is insane for a single bottle of beer. Of course this got us thinking, “Is this brew worth $28?” We had to know.
We traveled around Tassie a bit more stopping off at the two macro producers on the island, Cascade and James Boag’s. But, the idea of this $28 Moo Brew Imperial Stout was gnawing at us. It seemed ridiculous, but after a payday from our grape-picking jobs, we couldn’t help ourselves. We set out to buy ourselves a bottle.
Taking the Test…
We got to thinking, if we were going to drop that king of cash on a single beer, we needed something to compare it to. So began the idea of a side-by-side blind taste test. Who would we pit against this “bourgeois beer” to find Australia’s best stout?
So, on our way out of town to camp for the weekend, we stopped at the 9/11 Bottleshop on the Hobart waterfront – a beer lovers dream. Here, we scooped up 5 Australian stouts and just for fun, a New Zealand born stout because they had it. Admittedly, the Moo Brew was the single most expensive beer we’d ever bought and, at the time, we were living in a ’95 Mitsubishi Magna station wagon at a boat launch, so this was quite a treat.
We threw our stout bounty in our esky (Australian for ice chest) and headed for the Tasman Peninsula. With stunning white sand and crystal blue water abound, we couldn’t help but head to the beach for our blind taste test. Our criteria for the best stout would simply be based around flavor and we’d try not to factor in the price point here, because a $25 Aussie Dollars stout would have to taste pretty fucking amazing to stay in the running.
Here’s the list of the competitors:
Cascade Stout (Tasmania)
Cascade Export Stout (Tasmania)
Moo Brew Imperial Stout (Tasmania)
Cooper’s Best Extra Stout (South Australia)
4 Pines Stout (New South Wales)
Moa Imperial Stout (Marlborough, New Zealand)
We took turns tasting straight from the bottle, masked by a stubby holder of course (Australian for koozie). With the sand between our toes and the waves lapping at the shore, we blindly sipped away. It was pretty easy to tell the imperial stouts from the others. We soldiered through our lineup though, talking out what we were tasting and how we were feeling with each sip. 3 sips from each bottle was the sample size. Kari made note of my pick and I made note of hers.
When we divulged what the other had picked as Australia’s Best Stout…we were both shocked. Not only had we arrived at the same decision, but it was one the second cheapest option. It’s funny, you feel sort of cheated when you spend a pretty penny on something only to find out that something fractions of the cost is actually more enjoyable. Then, you realize this is actually a good thing since you can buy a 12 pack for the same cost as 1 bottle of the fine stuff.
The Cascade Export Stout ended up being our favorite. It had all the right flavors and notes a stout should have with roasted malts, coffee and chocolate notes. Admittedly, it was a simple stout, but it was on point. We found it more balanced and better executed than higher end brews in the lineup, 4 Pines, Moa and Moo Brew Imperial. However, it appears that the export stout in no longer part of the Cascade beer line. So, what do we know.
What should be noted about Moa and Moo is that they are both high end brews. Delicious in their own unique way. The Moa Imperial Stout comes from Moa’s Reserve line of beers. The brew ages in French Oak similar to the wine coming from the Marlborough region in New Zealand. The Moo Brew Imperial spends time in oak, both French and American. I believe this brew is also exposed to open air during fermentation to mellow some of the roasted flavors. Both imperial stouts were rock stars, but perhaps from a different class than the others.
All in all, Australia has a respectable stout game. All of these breweries produce a solid line of beer at the scale of which they operate. So, whilst in Australia don’t shy away from the stouts. Maybe go on your own hunt for Australia’s best stout.
Be sure to seek out some of the craft beers and breweries that are found throughout Australia. One of the best beers I’ve ever tasted comes from the backyard of a guy named Willie who brews in rural Tasmania. We’ll talk about some of these great spots in later posts. Until then….Cheers!