Confession: Prior to our recent trip, I’ve never been to Australia. Sure, I’ve written articles and have fallen hopelessly in love with their wines, but I’ve never set foot in the country… The timing just has never been right on my end.
So when my husband had a business trip to Sydney, I jumped at the chance to join him and take a little vacation. Here’s what I discovered about the place:
- The people are some of the friendliest and warmest in the world
- The koalas are as cuddly in person as they are in photos (it’s just difficult to find one that is awake)
- They have an amazing coffee culture which they are incredibly proud of (rightfully so)
- They are also pretty big with alcohol (wine and beer and spirits, oh my!)
Much as I would like to gush about their adorable creatures (I highly recommend seeing Mr. Hobbs in the Taronga Zoo for a little education on the importance of wildlife preservation), this is a drink blog, so I’m going to share my beverage discoveries from the land down under.
I had a couple of awesome beer stops in and around Sydney… My favorite has got to be Brewhouse in Hunter Valley. They serve beer on a paddle with shot glasses for first timers who are willing to try tasting portions of their boutique beers, with a free pint (not for the faint of heart). I couldn’t figure out a favorite, but it was a triple tie between their Stout (one of the richest, sweetest, chocolatiest beers I’ve ever tried), the Ginger Beer (with beautifully infused ginger flavors that they make “onsite”), and the Redback (because I’m going through a wheat beer phase).
We also managed to grab a couple of pints of Tooheys (brewed from Lidcombe in Sydney) from Fortune of War, Sydney’s oldest pub (operating since 1828!). To really immerse ourselves in history, we decided to have the dark ale, which was supposedly the closest in existence to the Toohey brothers’ original 1869 brew.
I was told before we left Manila that one of the best things about Sydney is their thriving coffee scene, which they take great pride in (in fact, several of our best local baristas actually received training in the city), and for good reason: Sydney baristas have won many global competitions over the years, and their blenders are famous for having a fantastic palate for coffee.
This is why, I admit… I’ve traveled to so many regions in the world, but I’ve never had coffee as good as the ones I had in Sydney. Every corner café (and there are TONS) in the city knows how to make a proper brew. In fact, hardcore coffee lovers can even join a coffee tour and learn everything from the process of planting to objectively tasting blends (using a process called “cupping”).
To sample how Australians do coffee here in Manila, one can go to Toby’s Estate (trivia: Apparently my favorite Toby’s Estate coffee, the Gibraltar, is solely a Southeast Asian recipe and is no longer made in Sydney).
Speaking of things exclusively found inside the country, a number of my Australian friends in Manila swore to me that some of their best wines aren’t found outside their Australia. They simply do not have the volume to be able to export them. These small wineries fall under the “boutique” category.
As always, however, it’s not in the size. In fact, there are many studies that show smaller wineries can afford to pay attention to the smallest minutiae in their winemaking, guaranteeing certain levels of quality in each bottle they produce.
My first discovery is Lucy’s Run, a gorgeous boutique winery a little over an hour away from the city (in Hunter Valley, a region famous for producing a gentler version of normally robust Australian wines). The charming proprietor, Brad Wright, gave us a showcase of his winery, the origin of his brand (Lucy was apparently their beloved family dog), and of course his wines. My favorite (and I had to get myself a bottle because, due to volume issues, they don’t include it in the tour anymore) has got to be the appropriately multi-awarded Lucy’s Run 2014 Shiraz. Fruit forward with soft tannins and grounded by earthy undertones, it’s such a reflection of the Wrights: A lot of heart, a grounded sense of family, and with such a tremendous attention to detail that can only come from a point of passion.
I also discovered something from another winery I visited, Leogate Estate Wines. Because Australia is one of the warmer wine producing regions on earth, it can get pretty uncomfortable consuming their legendary Shiraz wine during their scorching hot summers (they apparently hit 45°C the week before we arrived). Their ingenious solution involved the creation of the Sparkling Shiraz. The best ones start off from a relatively sweeter interpretation of the grape because the bubbles in a sparkling wine take away the nauseating saccharine sweetness of drinks (as evidenced in flat sodas). I had to get myself a bottle of the Frizzante* blend to try for myself when we got home**.
I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Hunter Distillery (also in Hunter Valley) and sample some amazing flavored vodka. They make vodka in every flavor imaginable. I wanted to terribly to take home a bottle of the caramel vodka, but alas, there was the weight limit on our luggage to think of.
Speaking of attention to detail, what I found amazing about the way Hunter Distillery makes their spirits is the subtlety. The infusion is intricate but distinctive… Drinkers will definitely be able to tell what flavor it is, without getting slapped in the face with flavor.
Honestly, Australia is such a vast place that I feel I barely scratched the surface of all beverage related things the country has to offer (a feat that I don’t think anyone could accomplish in the span of a week), so I’m looking forward to a different drink adventure when we go back. Here’s to more Australian drink adventures. Cheers!
*Frizzante – There are two “levels” of effervescence in sparkling wine: The more common Spumante, which is the more sparkling between the two and is normally how a Champagne’s bubbles would look like; and the less common Frizzante, which is loosely defined as “slightly sparkling”
**It’s quite enjoyable in hot humid Manila!