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BEER DETOUR

It was meant to be a day of highland fling viewing at the Brigadoon At Bundanoon Scottish festival, but instead a "rain bomb" forced BILL WATT into "tap dancing" at a beer wonderland. Such is life.

Our weekend away in the Southern Highlands was mapped out months before with the star of the show to be the famous Brigadoon At Bundanoon Scottish festival.

Accommodation ... check. Festival tickets ... check. Pleasant company ... check. Weather ... d'oh!!! Who would have thought wet weather would cancel a Scottish event? I mean it is never dry in Scotland, is it? But, real life can be stranger than fiction, and so it proved when we saw the Facebook message from the Brigadoon organisers ... "CANCELLED".

So, what to do in a damp but still pretty Southern Highlands when your event is called off? Easy, drop into a venue renowned for good food and, most importantly, great beer.

Southern Highlands Brewing's Taphouse on the main street of the lovely little town of Moss Vale is something of a phenomenon. When we lobbed on that dour Saturday around lunchtime, the place was buzzing. A hen's party at one end, and a toddler's family birthday celebration at the other.

We grabbed a seat near the window, ordered some grub (which was bloody tasty, I can tell you), and perused the beer menu. Well, for accuracy's sake, the two blokes perused the beer menu, while the two women ordered "bubbles".

And the beer didn't let us down. We opted for a tasting "paddle" each, consisting of a selection of four beers, all made by Southern Highlands Brewing. I followed up with a second tasting paddle, but my fellow beer test pilot decided to further indulge in the dark art of porter consumption. Here are my observations.

NAKED HARVEST Australian Blonde Ale

The Aussie Blonde was a really nice, but very light in "texture" wheat beer. It has a slightly citrus nose (aroma) which is followed up with an oh-so-slight lemonade-ish taste. Like a really beery shandy, I imagine it is a great summer/picnic drink. The brewers say it is their visitors' favourite session beer. Alcohol content 4.2%

BONG BONG PICNIC ALE

American Pale Ale

Second cab off the rank for me was a mid strength (3.5% alcohol) American pale ale brewed specifically for the region's famous Bong Bong Picnic Races. The event's operators insisted on a mid-strength beer, which is understandable if you know the history of the Bong Bong races. By the mid 1980s the event, first run in 1886, attracted huge and sometimes unruly crowds. The poor behaviour by some resulted in its closure for a good few years, before its rebirth as a more genteel affair. I have a mate who was the ground announcer/commentator at these races, and became a target of the drunken race day rogues. Funny ... but not funny, really. Anyway, back to the beer. With a nose dripping of honey, the first taste was hoppy, sweet and, actually, quite complex for a mid-strengther. My verdict: Bloody excellent.

CELTIC RED ALE

So, onto the third beer of the afternoon. Delivered by hand pump in the traditional British fashion this beer is low on carbonation but big on flavour. Think Kilkenny, that favourite Irish ale that they serve in the big cans with the widgets! Funnily enough, the aroma of the beer is negligible, but the rich, smooth taste with a hint of spicy notes leaves a delicious aftertaste at the back of the throat. Yep, I like! 4.2% alcohol.

GOODFATHER PORTER

Next up, was a traditional winter favourite (for me anyway) ... a porter. The Goodfather porter was my fellow beer test pilot's favourite of the afternoon, so much so that he followed up immediately with another pint of the brew. It is a "very black" beer, strong but not overpowering in the alcohol stakes (5.5%). It comes with a great coffee aroma, something I love about quality stouts and porters in general. I can't argue with the manufacturer's description which describes the beer as "leading you into a forest of dark chocolate and burnt toffee". The bonus here is that by drinking this porter you are also helping medical research with $1 per every litre sold being donated to the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation.

RUBY ROOS GIN BOTANICAL IPA

Now, this was an interesting beer. A gin-infused collaboration between Southern Highlands Brewing and Cronulla's Ruby Wednesday Distillery. And, you can certainly taste the gin through it. With some ripe pineapple elements to the nose and definite mango notes in the taste it was a fruity delight. However, the sneaky 7% alcohol (only discovered post event), could explain a hint of the "wobbly boots" as the afternoon wore on.

JOADJA HAZY IPA

The brewers used malt from the local Joadja distillery to create this fruity but hoppy IPA. In my rather "hazy" iPhone notes documenting the afternoon I commented: "Very hoppy and fruity" with "hints of passionfruit". "Just lovely", was my final comment on this particular brew. Another strong one - 6%, which I again realised retrospectively. Yep, things were getting "hazy" indeed.

GRAINFED IPA

I believe this was a guest IPA from Newcastle (Australia) brewers Grainfed. Another tasty drop which had a stone fruit nose followed by a plummy/hoppy rush of tasty IPA. Sorry, but I have no idea what the alcohol content was. This was probably a good thing at the time!

NOMAD SUPERSONIC PASSIONFRUIT & LIME DIPA

Which brings me to the end of our Southern Highlands Brewing Taphouse extravaganza ... and what a away to finish up. For me, this last treat was the most interesting of the test-driven beers, though maybe not my absolute favourite (probs the porter). Created by Nomad brewery in Sydney's Northern Beaches, it packed a punch in nearly all areas. Almost like a beer cocktail, it dazzled with it's passionfruit pizzaz and citrussy elements but maintaining a "beery" character that some experimental craft brews forget. At a powerful 7.8% (which I actually noted in-situ) it was just as well this was my last drink of the afternoon. Not a bad way to go out, though!












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