Finally, a beer review

Good art is evocative. It jumps on the individual and transports them elsewhere. Gee, even bad art can have you skipping across the planet.

 

Can beer be art too? Of course. It functions like a frothy time machine. Or something like this.

 

One afternoon I went on a little holiday, while sitting on our modest patio, the winter sun bending across the pavers. Here’s my travel diary courtesy of the following fun refreshments.

 

Chang

 

On Boxing Day 2005 we arrived in Bangkok from London. Having survived part or whole of three shadowy English winters meant the Thai heat was monstrous. Like the black monolith in Kubrick’s 2001, it governs the landscape (and the moonscape). My eyeballs were sweating.

 

Late morning, we took a boat along the Chao Phraya river, pausing at various Buddhist sites, and marvelling at the coconuts, bobbling in the brown water. When thirst conquered tourism we moored at a floating restaurant for a drink, and such was the hotness and absurd humidity that we demolished a squadron of large Chang bottles.

 

It’s a pale lager with a straw hue, and while it’s not bursting with personality and stories, it’s crisp and refreshing in a functional way, like an old Casio calculator. It’ll never MC your best mate’s wedding.

 

Our session was brisk and energetic, and soon there was a phalanx of green bottles on the table, in silent evidence of our stern tropical application. De-camping to Singapore a few years later I learnt that a handful of tinkling ice cubes in a frosty beer glass is no gastronomic crime, in fact it’s medically necessary.

 

With the sun slipping into the Andaman Sea and your green chicken curry steaming on the Ko Lanta table, a Chang is gorgeously contextualised. Don’t forget. Chang means elephant.

 

Tsingtao Beer

 

Gee, we’re all now situated within an Asian century and like Roy and HG, I find it tremendously exciting. This pilsner was originally brewed under the mythical German Purity Laws in a joint Chinese/ Bavarian operation. These enigmatic ideals are now abandoned and rice is an ingredient, but it works in a happy, meaningless pre-season fixture fashion.

 

Like an episode of Have You Been Paying Attention? it’s fun and compelling at the time, but in the morning, you’ll recollect little of it. However, this is fine. Live a little and ignore the cultural import.

 

Tsingtao attends to its easy drinking brief with a casual nod to the grandstand as the chestnut conveyance strides past the post in an early spring Group 3 race over, say, 1600 metres. It’s pale, golden in the glass and unlikely to inspire a revolution, cultural or military. While I enjoyed it, at no stage did I hear Communism barking in my ear as I supped. I should’ve listened to Little Feat’s “A Apolitical Blues” to allow beer and art to mingle in that deathless, exotic exchange-

 

Well my telephone was ringing

 

And they told me it was chairman Mao

 

Well my telephone was ringing

 

And they told me it was chairman Mao

 

Coopers Sparkling Ale

 

At the end of a holiday, even a lager-themed trip, it’s good to come home. And so, we look at the mighty CSA, as I’m confident it’s not known in the trade. In my coterie, it’s a Sparko although this familiar, friendly nomenclature disguises a dark truth.

 

Kids: this is not a session beer. The graveyard is clunking with the skeletons of those who fought it, and lost.

 

Sparkling ale speaks with preternatural eloquence. I tell you, every bottle bursts with Jack Nicholson, the Velvet Underground and ultimately, Hemingway from his tiny Spanish bar. As an aspirational product, it’s looking down fondly upon us all from its Nepalese retreat.

 

It presents with citrus, cereal, ferment, danger, sex, death. It can be eaten with a fork. Avoid it at breakfast, especially if you’ve booked a duel with a mortal enemy. But taken moderately, in the late autumnal sun, it’s invigorating and celebratory.

 

After three circumspect sips, you’ll possess the wit of former Australian PM, Paul Keating who once described the performance of a parliamentary foe as “like being flogged with a warm lettuce.”

 

Coopers Sparkling Ale is huge like Merv Hughes in his twilight, but under the hum and roar of a party, it leans in and whispers conspiratorially, “Can you believe our good fortune to live where we do?”

 

And you smile in that reflective way while sort of staring into the middle distance and think yep, that’s certainly true.

 

About Mickey Randall

Late afternoon beer, Exile on Main St playing. Sport like cricket, most types of football, golf, squash, horse racing. Travel, with Vancouver my favourite city, but there’s nowhere I’ve not happily been. Except Luton. Reading. Writing about family, sport, music, the stuff that amuses me. Conversation. Wit. Irony. McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon, Barossa shiraz, Coopers Sparkling Ale. Jazz and especially Miles Davis. Lots and lots of music. I live in Adelaide with my wife Kerry-ann and our boys Alex and Max.

Comments

  1. Peter_B says:

    Not much of a beer drinker these days Mickey (sparkling shiraz and chardonnay have won the day) but I can thoroughly recommend the recuperative powers of Coopers Sparkling Ale (red bottle) as a “hair of the dog”. Front bar of the Angaston Hotel on a Saturday lunchtime. Either the 9 September 1978 or the 13 September 1980. Have enjoyed a very, very long Friday evening at Maggie Beer’s original Landhaus Restaurant in Bethany with Mrs B Mk 1 and assorted work colleagues. A date booked months before and my West Torrens have (unexpectedly) made an Elimination Final on the Saturday (there are only 2 possible dates in SANFL records – thanks to Gigs’ amazing Australian Football website for helping with the sleuthing). I have been rendered incapable of travelling to Football Park and my metabolism needs soothing.
    A large bowl of hearty soup with crusty bread and 2 longnecks of CSA. All is right with the world. No direct telecast in those days. Torrens are thumped (predictable) and preserve their no winning finals in my life time record. 35 years between drinks – 1954 GF to the Woodville merger in 91. That’s winning any finals MATCH – not just premiership droughts. And the Saints reckon they do it tough.
    Still I found a companion for life, though I try not to need its malty, yeasty embrace too often these days. Cheers.

  2. I came late to Coopers, only happening upon it late one evening in Kapunda’s Prince of Wales Hotel under the tutelage of the iconic mine host Peter “Puffa” Jansen. Life then was under the horrible monoculture of West End, when at Christmas a mate said, “Here, try one of these. They go alright.” It was an awakening, and I was moved.

    Walking through the dark streets one afternoon, years later, in our adopted home in Hertfordshire I saw a beacon in the dimly lit window of a grim little “off- license”. It was a sole Coopers Sparkling Ale. Hurting with homesickness I rushed in and bought a couple. They were surprisingly affordable. This happy episode sustained me for the next eighteen months, until we returned to Australia.

    Thirty-five years without a finals win? Ouch. Your Eagles are again going nicely. Glenelg are third.

    Thanks PB>

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Not much of a drinker these days (if I ever was), but my grandfather always drank Coopers Ale on ice, which seemed a real throwback in the 70s. He told me that when he was stationed at Pt Lincoln in the 30s, Coopers was the only beer that didn’t go off during the boat trip from Adelaide. I eventually came around to his way of thinking.

    I discovered that it wasn’t a session beer at my first and only Hahndorf Schutzenfest.

  4. rabid dog says:

    WHAT? No Southwark?

  5. Rulebook says:

    Mickey while no longer a drinker a few of us attempted a session at Payneham one Sunday arvo re
    Coopers sparking ale we were all talking right arm Japanese and dribbling long before the cricket had finished and I do remember being v v crook the next day ( all of us exspressed similar sentiments)

  6. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    Could this be a weekly column, please Mickey?

    My ancestral lands in France are adjacent to the fields of Stella Artois.
    I teenaged, in Sydney, on long necks of Melbourne Bitter.
    And then there were …
    A Singha and diary writing on a Pushkar rooftop at sunset, with the monkeys screaming and the dropping sun reflecting the whole perfect, white city and ghats into its movie-beautiful lake.
    A ‘blonde’ or two, in the spring-dry square of my favourite French aunty’s Alpen village. The groceries were done and lunch for 17 needed cooking, so we stopped a while together.
    An unidentified bottle shared with my Cob at a plastic table somewhere in the middle of Wadi Rum, Jordan … in the belly of the valley where Laurence of Arabia was filmed.
    I’m happily promiscuous on lovely lager travels …

    Thanks, Mickey.

  7. Swish- the Hahndorf Schutzenfest survives to this day, but I confess to not having attended. I’ve always found the German Arms met my faux- Bavarian needs! Along with cockroaches the preservatives in Coopers could probably withstand a nuclear attack, especially from North Korea.

    rabid dog- a mate and I were only recently mourning the largely unacknowledged passing of Southwark Premium, an excellent dinner ale, especially with Asian food. See above nuclear attack comment for common or garden Southwark or “Green Death.”

    Rulebook – Sunday stupidity (aka fun at the time!) and Coopers Sparkling Ale are synonymous. Many have fallen victim to this ill-conceived idea!

    Mathilde- I’m with you in that beer (and footy and music etc) only really exists within a personal context, and this context is wedded to place and time and relationships. And these things only become enchanted if we can locate meaning within them.

    There’s plenty of lovely evocations in your reply. Another of my favourite moments was sitting in the restaurant car of our train, hurtling from Munich to Paris a few years’ ago, nestling a Carlsberg and talking footy, of all things. with my boys. The beautiful, strange setting connected nicely with our very Australian conversation. I was hugely happy.

    Thanks to everyone for your thoughts.

  8. I loved this, Mickey. Thanks.

    In recent years I have been turning more and more to “craft” (for want of a better word) beer. The quality can vary from superb to shite, but it is a game of trial and error and finding what suits one best. But there is a care which the large-scale producers do not possess.

    From a major brewery point of view, to my taste-buds, Coopers Sparkling Ale is Australia’s best beer. Bar none. It is a wonderful drop.

  9. Mickey i much prefer a cider to a beer, but the beer i like,though it’s Victorian in origin, seems as rare as hens teeth: Carlton Black.

    I first encountered it in Ardlethan back in 2013. As a Melburnian i’d not tried it prior to then, but was instantly won over. However can i find it in Melbourne ?!? Dan Murphy’s don’t seem to stock it, the local bottle shops don’t have it, one of the few places i found it was at Peter German’s pub in Victoria Street, Footscray: Harts, but they no longer sell it! The Cheese’n’Kisses and i ventured forth to Caulfield RSL last Saturday and i was blessed to find it on tap.

    It’s my favourite beer, but if i was picking a drink to partake in James Squire Orchard Crush cider,or one of the Batlow Ciders, would be my call.

    Slainte,

    Glen!

  10. Smokie- I understand you when it comes to craft beer and seeking out alternates. The rise of the boutique brewery is great.

    A final word on Coopers: easily the best beer of the year, of any year, is a crisp Coopers in a decent pub following a robust afternoon of wine tasting. Calling into somewhere like the Greenock Creek Tavern after four or five Barossa wineries, I always find that first beer is the best thing I’ve had all day (and I do like wine, too!).

    Glen!- I’m pleased you’ve located your favourite beer- always a treat. It always intrigues me how England and Europe regard (or used to regard) Fosters as being the Australian slurp, yet until very recently I reckon I could drive around all day and not happen upon a single, sad bottle of the stuff.

  11. Living in England a highlight was always the annual St Albans Beer Festival. A happy combination of beer, people and place. Here’s my thoughts on it from a decade ago-

    You pace into the St Albans Arena, gripping your commemorative pint glass and colour programme. Dozens of wooden casks stretch up and across the auditorium walls and the stage. A hops and barley bouquet climbs into your nostrils. You excitedly survey the ale list and reaching the bar, announce your order. ‘A Trembling Rabbit, a half of Kiss Me in the Cowshed and an Old Hooky.’ Once again, you salute the British affection for metaphor and try to think of terrific Australian beer names. Draught? Swan? Tooths? Yes, you are at the annual St Albans Beer Festival and it is colossal. You are one of the few men present not sporting both a Cat Weazel beard and a psychedelic woolly jumper (think Daryl Somers circa 1986). You have also never tried Morris dancing. You hear the covers band burst into Sweet Home Alabama. The sound quality and set list puts you in mind of a Goldstar tape recorder playing Ripper ‘77 at the bottom of a swimming pool. It is perfect. You take a look at the Beer-Analia auction and are disappointed to miss out on the pre-loved beer mats and mint-condition beer coasters.

    You then spot two crazy German guys, Thomas and Henrik, trying to chat up two local girls. You are reminded of the line in Don’s Party- ‘Trying to organise some extra-curricula sex with all the charm of a couple of old bush-wackers.’ Of course you strike up a conversation with some other Australians. They’ve been at the Festival since morning and their wives have just phoned to declare that their dinners are on the table. They decide to slip in a farewell pint. Again. As you stand there amidst the beer, the beards and the Beatles covers you are reminded that this is all provided by The Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA), a national lobby group based in St Albans. You remember a year ago approaching their office by bus expecting a modest shed run amateurishly by a couple of retirees named Ernie and Stan. You then heheld the CAMRA headquarters, a three-story glass and steel complex towering over about twenty employee cars. Beer is a sober business in this country.

    Cheers

  12. G’day Mickey,

    As a man who enjoys a beer or two, this was a fun read. Of the three mentioned, Tsingtao is the one I have had the most. It takes to me back to my early 20s and eating lots of dumplings in Chinatown. Many fun nights started (and some ended) with a bottle or two of Tsingtao.

    These days, I love Little Creatures Pale Ale. The WA brewery sure know how to make a quality beer. The IPA and Rogers are also top drops that make any celebration better. Although a Coopers Pale Ale is a great Sunday arvo beer.

    Smokie, couldn’t agree more. Craft beer is very much where I am at with my beer tastes. Moon Dog do some of my favourite work, the flavours and combinations they experiment with always make for a good time.

  13. Dave Brown says:

    Beaut, Mickey. Of course, it is the secondary bottle fermentation which means Coopers Sparkling has a best after than best before date on the bottle. It’ll keep on slowly maturing in the bottle in perpetuity. Have also made the mistake of sessioning on it once (at 1.7 standard drinks in a stubby it packs a hefty punch. My favourite though is the sparkling on tap. Under the right circumstances a tap-poured sparkling wafts bananas through the air. Delightful! And if you get the chance to try one of the aged sparklings on tap, pounce – ultra smooth!

  14. Earl O'Neill says:

    Ah, beer…
    I know what it’s like to go hard on the Sparkling, tho I was much younger then. I like a Rabbitoh these days.
    (scans thru decades of international championship beer drinking…)
    Prague, September ’94, we dined at a restaurant that brewed it’s own beer, I tasted Prazdroj and decided to homebrew so I could explore the flavours. Seven months later, Robert, who had longer hair than me, supped homebrew at our house while we warched the Anzac Day draw.

  15. Matthew- Little Creatures does go well, and comes in a 568ml bottle which I believe is an imperial pint. My Dad enjoys one at Christmas. Despite a high Chinese population and heritage in Singapore, Tsingtao was surprisingly uncommon- at least where I frequented.

    Dave- a couple times, and from memory with my mad cousin, we were enjoying sparkling ale in a pub as the keg ran out, meaning all the yummy, chewy stuff was in the glass. It made pea soup appear as an alpine stream. I’ve not had a aged sparko- it’s now on the list. I’m meeting two old friends for our annual dinner tomorrow at the Cumby- hoping it’s on tap!

    Earl- Prague. Now here’s a city that’s a Group 1 performer in the beer stakes. Your homebrew experience is better than most of mine. I often find the proud brewer hands me a glass and declares, “And it only costs 75c a bottle.” I take a cautious sip, choke the drink down and think- if it cost a dollar it’d be seriously over-valued. “Yeah, pretty good!” I then remark.

  16. Luke Reynolds says:

    Mickey, Coopers Sparkling is magnificent. Alongside Coopers Pale, Cascade Stout and Cascade Pale, it put me on a more interesting beer journey in my early 20’s than I was getting from the VB I started out on. Now working and totally immersed in the craft beer industry. So many wonderful brews, so much choice. Pretty much just sticking to Aussie and Kiwi beers at the moment. Lots of quality out there from our corner of the world.

  17. Thanks Luke. A sign of the rude health currently enjoyed by the craft beer brewers is that there’s at least two- I must check- operating in the Barossa, next door to where I’m from, including one run by a bloke I grew up with!

    Am a very good chance to sneak in a couple Prickly Moses next weekend in Melbourne!

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