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Beer Review: Coopers Sparkling Ale- It’s just a shot away

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When I think of Coopers Sparkling Ale (and this probably happens way too often) many metaphors present themselves concerning kings and empires and black and white cricket footage, and the launch of exquisite super-yachts, but the Rolling Stones feature prominently in my vivid imaginings, and more particularly the opening track of their heralded 1969 release Let It Bleed.

I speak of “Gimme Shelter” which opens with Keef’s ominous, storm clouds-a-gathering, open-tuned guitar, and one of the most iconic, menacing riffs recorded.

Sparking Ale and “Gimme Shelter” are both instantly recognisable, demanding of your attention and have rightly earnt a place in popular culture. If I drew a Venn diagram of these two joys, I’d colour the overlap with a thick, red 4B pencil.

There’s a story that Keef played an Australian-built guitar while recording the song and so vigorous had the sessions been that on the final note, the entire neck fell off, onto the studio floor.

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This brings me nicely to Coopers Sparkling Ale long necks. For this correspondent, it’s the finest way to enjoy this fruity, zesty ale, and one of the few beers that isn’t superior out of a keg. A frosty 750ml bottle and a large glass and if you peer into the middle distance you can hear God. Or maybe Keef: mountain craggy and skinny and puffing endlessly on a dart, conjuring the devil with his rhythm axe.

Iconoclastic Kapunda publican Peter “Puffa” Jansen was a single-minded advocate for beer in cans as he reckoned, “they travel better” particularly on his spontaneous and legendary lunch trips, which could stretch over half a week. But I’m unconvinced and with all of this pretext and subtext in mind bought a six pack of these newly launched, hipster-friendly red cans earlier in the week.

So, what is my considered and probing view?

I’ve enjoyed Sparkling Ale in London, Edinburgh, Singapore and New York, and despite the often eye-watering frequent flier points these beers may have earnt jetting about our blue-green planet, I found these to always be a treat. Along with my twangy accent, I saw them as a foamy badge of Croweater honour.

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I resisted all urges to tip the can into a trusty Southward mug, not because of the seemingly warlike combination (like wearing a Crows scarf and Power beanie at the same time), but as I imagine this is how these will generally be consumed. I slurped away at my metal tube.

I found the trademark Sparkling Ale aroma and bold, arresting citrus notes were largely absent, as though they’d been shut down by the can, like a curmudgeonly deputy principal. Like a Boggo Road inmate who’d been in solitary for a month there was blinking uncertainty and confusion at its place in the world. It seemed muffled, as though I was hearing “Gimme Shelter” on a Goldstar tape player through an uncooperative bedroom wall.

It was a big Coopers beer, but I mourned the lack of visual delight: the rich, soupy hue in a front bar pint or backyard cup. Instead, a dullish, bashful red tin, which was apologetic rather than assertive, unlike a Andy Warhol long neck on a laminated kitchen table.

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Doubtless, our bearded craft beer cousins will love ’em, but I’m unlikely to buy more tins. In this highly competitive market of targeted demographics and business plans, where boutique brewers have sprung up like boy bands, I’m sure these will be a commercial success, and they’ll march out the door of your local boozer.

However, I’ll be the old bull at the counter with a couple long necks in paper bags, heading home to my back patio, a large glass and with Keef in majestic, gnarly delight, Let It Bleed, snarling at volume.

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Pub Review: The Duke of York

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It was the most Antarctic of days and the first song played was that most summery number, Paul Kelly’s “How to Make Gravy”. But this is no seasonal jingle, only tolerated on high rotation, for a brief window, before being shelved for another twelve months. It’s an exquisite, year-round Christmas narrative, and the guitarist in Adelaide’s Duke of York pub lends it his kind, engaging voice although he drifts occasionally into nasally Kath ‘n’ Kim suburbia.

As Billy Joel didn’t quite note, it’s a pretty quiet crowd for a Thursday, and a regular crowd hasn’t shuffled in. However, the bar bloke is charismatic and helpful, talking us through the drinks and food offerings in a way that’s more barbeque banter than sales pitch.

Accommodatingly, for those of us who remain numerically, if not monetarily bewildered, all main menu items are $12.90 (or 12.9 as modern minimalism has it) and this egalitarianism is excellent. My dining partner has the Angel Hair Pasta w Roast Pumpkin, Broccoli & Eggplant in an Argentinian Pesto.

While I find Eggplant, or indeed, eggplant, like a Morrison government cabinet member, entirely devoid of charisma and indigestible, it’s met with approval although the pesto, while inspired by Buenos Aires, is more rumour than admissible evidence.

There are countless culinary crimes in our cosy first world lives, but burying chips beneath a schnitzel, like a careless mobster in a shallow grave, is inexcusable. I’m happy to be a vigilante and even a mercenary, but should not have to rescue my own fried potato chunks. Won’t somebody think of the chips?

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In the Duke’s defence (the pub, not John Wayne) tonight this is a minor offence and my meal is otherwise terrific. In the happy manner of a mum serving at a country footy canteen the bar keep even asks me if I’d like some gravy to accompany my chips. This alone guarantees the sentence is only a good behaviour bond.

As we dine and the rain lashes the city we note on the wall a patchwork print of a bespectacled cat. This, of course, is fiction and nonsense, for cats are entirely self-absorbed and take no interest in others or the world, and so have no need for improved vision. I say this in full knowledge of August 8 being International Cat Day, and August 7 being International Cats Eating Bananas Day. Only last week one of the boys said he’d like a cat for Christmas. I was planning to do a turkey, but if it keeps ‘em happy…

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With a nirvana of happy hours spread across the week, the Duke is eager to placate here too. Some ridicule Carlsberg for being European VB, but I fancy a glass of it when opportunity arrives. So I do, and a tenner for an imperial pint (as opposed to our decidedly un-regal standard pint) is crisp value, while Claire selects a red wine and finds it generous and warming (personally, if not globally).

The guitarist (is it illegal for those playing inner-city pubs to not sport a beanie?) moves onto English wunderkind George Ezra and his catchy toon, “Budapest” and it’s a cordial track for a bleak night. He then tackles Paul Kelly’s omnipresent, “To Her Door” which, according to the lyricist, could very well star the protagonist from, “How to Make Gravy.”

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I love some early August intertextuality, as we nod our thanks to the strumming soul and head to the Festival Theatre for the Book of Mormon, and critiques of cultural colonialism and healthy doses of hysterical dysentery.

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Glenelg v Crows v Carlton v Crows

 

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The combined and cowardly bullying of the AFL and Channel 7 is such that SANFL games don’t clash with Crows or Power fixtures. These are shunted about the weekend, even if it means avoiding the traditional Saturday afternoon timeslot. July 27 was an exception, and in an odd symmetry, the Crows were playing at the same time as the Crows.

The spluttering-like-a-wheezy-Grandpa-AFL Crows were having a rare MCG outing against the newly confident Carlton, while down at our sun-dappled bay the top of the table Glenelg Tigers were clashing with the SANFL Crows.

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Like a minor gangster in Goodfellas I had some temporary confusion regarding my loyalty. But, of course, I wanted the MCG Crows to win and for Glenelg Oval to witness a Tigers’ victory.

Glenelg has a salary cap of about $360,000 while a conservative estimate would value the Crows’ livestock warming up at the Bay at somewhere around four million. While I admire much of the Crows talent fronting for their Magoos such as Gibbs, Betts, Douglas, Jacobs and Greenwood (why on earth is he not in the AFL side?) my inner socialist (and Glenelg membership) means I want the locals to win.

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But, as I said from the safety of my sports psychologist’s couch, “It’s complicated.”

The bright afternoon and happy crowd on the grassy eastern mound invested the atmosphere with both privilege and picnic. By the southern goals a young girl waved a, “Go, Eddie, go” sign. There were kids and footies and beanies and sausages in bread. With the preternatural sun dangling over the gulf it was a marvellous place to be.

The skilled, fast game was enhanced by the exemplary ground condition. As both sides traded first-half goals I thought of the AFL and wondered at its similarity to the Catholic Church: neither pay taxes, or possess a whiff of social responsibility and while Jolimont and the Vatican have so many riches that their accountants can scarcely tally the gold; the distant parishioners question their faith, and increasingly don’t count their blessings.

Early in these simultaneous matches I remarked to my mate Bob that, “Wouldn’t it be a horrid afternoon if the Crows lost at the MCG but won here at Glenelg?” A glance at his phone showed Carlton skipping away and jubilant that instead of only being a feeder team for Adelaide they’d likely experience some matchday joy.

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Swinging by the beer caravan (is this model available from Noel’s?) there’s cheery banter from the past players serving the cups. The kind of rapport that embeds from playing lots of footy together, lots of years ago. I like that a spoon is used to flip open the cans.

Glenelg sets up their game and late season with a seven-goal third term. Despite none of the Tigers being alive for their club’s last flag in 1986, there’s a buzz and emerging belief in 5045 that the next two months might be special.

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And then I wonder about the Crows jagging a SANFL premiership. What, exactly would such a triumph represent? Who would celebrate it? After the season`s final siren would three octogenarians pull up in their Corolla outside the Checkside Tavern at West Lakes? Would they then ask security if they could please take in their thermos and fruit cake? Would anybody turn up at the West End chimney? Would they bring any paint?

It would be the most hollow of wins.

For Glenelg, Liam McBean continues his great form with four excellent goals and along with Hugh McCluggage from the Brisbane Lions, has one of football’s best names. If only Cool McCool had played as a dashing winger (doubtless standing Hurricane Harry).

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With the Tigers up by two points veteran Crow Richard Douglas accepts a pass from Greenwood but is outside the fifty arc. He uses a Michael Holding run-up, strikes it well, but his kick is short and the Burley is consumed by the mauling pack. The siren sounds.

Strolling towards Anzac Highway and home, “Oh, we’re from Tigerland” drifts happily across our seaside hamlet. And again. And again.

I hope the AFL Crows can self-apply the defibrillator, and quickly, but think the extension cord likely too short for them.

Meanwhile, down at Glenelg they’re showing enormous heart and there’s electricity in the air.

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Wednesday in Fitzroy

 

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Rainbow Hotel, 27 St David St, Fitzroy

Another mild afternoon and I’m pleased to arrive before sunset to enjoy the interplay between light and shade and architecture and the human form. And also to enjoy the beer. It’s steak night, but despite the eager salespitch it’s too early for me.

There’s two rooms in the beer garden, and as I’m training myself or maybe the pubs of Fitzroy are training me to look up, I see upturned umbrellas and an old, stylish bicycle. Bicycles are everywhere in this suburb. There are a rich symbol of all that’s good here.

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I suspect it divides the punters but I like a Chesterfield in a pub. There are no candles but instead bedside table lamps throughout the front bar. A former employee swings by with his new born girl and the bar staff are excited. It’s great to see.

Having necessarily ignored the Bridge Road stout given its 12% punch I finish my Four Pines Pale Ale and depart, both garden and bar now bursting with cheery folk. I’d happily return.

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Napier Hotel, 210 Napier St, Fitzroy

Approaching this pub it’s white and bright and lit up like a Madrid square. Stepping through the front door it’s darker than a Thai cave but boasts beautiful stained glass windows.

Sitting in an ante room the Doobie Brothers are playing and a family is eating in the dark. I’ve been in brighter ghost trains. Throughout the pub are large, satirical Phantom artworks that explore gender politics.

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I sip my Moo Brew Pale Ale and John Fogerty finishes “Green River” and we move to an early Miles Davis number. Next to me (I think) I overhear another ubiquitous footy conversation, this time about the Sydney Swans and the possibility of yet another late run at the finals.  Back in the front bar two women are talking of travel and trees- “It was beautiful and under it was just like a room.”

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The Standard Hotel, 293 Fitzroy St, Fitzroy

The first thing I see is mightily impressive. It’s the take away drinks fridge in the front bar. Standing beside two women who are eating steak I order a Beechworth Pale Ale. One has a guitar case next to her.

On my way to the huge beer garden- again with many separate spaces I note that there’s much Fitzroy footy club memorabilia. It speaks to me of pride in the past and a certain defiance, but I also suspect that this is a suburb still in mourning for the loss of its team. I wonder how many locals now support Brisbane? How many in this close, vibrant community connect with a team thousands of miles away in the muggy, ambivalent north?

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Out in the beer garden it’s dark. I’m almost the only punter not wearing black. In a function room there’s a clot of attractive, smiling, young suits who’ll soon inherit our catastrophe.

Boonie, Elvis and Keef photos are above the bar, all brilliant in their excess and singularity. What to make of the visual overload? Is it pollution? Is it competing for the narrative or there as comic relief? Or just stuff to look at while waiting for your drink or friend?

Labour in Vain, 197A Brunswick St, Fitzroy

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I enter to Dire Straits working their laconic way through “Sultans of Swing” and take an inner gasp as I consider that this song is now in its fifth decade.

Some young lads are playing pool and of course, like all contests there’s thrills and disappointments, equally. Wandering about, I see a bloke ascending the stairs. One of life’s eternal mysteries is what lies at the top of the stairs. I’m always intrigued. Before he disappears I yell out to him, “What’s up there?” He replies, “The smoking area.” I stay on the ground floor.

With Newtowner Ale as brewed by Young Henry in mit I find a spot by the window. The world moves by. These are big windows letting folks look in. Most other Fitzroy pubs I’ve seen are secretive, daring you to wander in. It’s breezy out.

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Like others in the suburb, Labour in Vain displays a concerted dedication to the past. There’s nothing contemporary on the walls or in the space. Why? Maybe pubs are places of escape, a refuge from our saturated lives. And the past is always a distraction, good or bad.

Billy Corgan’s whiney voice suddenly fills the bar with a Smashing Pumpkins’ song that like most of them, I find overrated. In the 1990’s they did nothing for me. And now they do double that.

Union Club Hotel, 164 Gore St, Fitzroy

To employ a cricketing metaphor, DNB.

For two pubs earlier I got a message from David Wilson offering to meet for a beer. I’ve heard the term disruption used recently in various learning contexts, and guess that my plan now enjoyed a happy disruption for I returned to the Napier and found David in the front bar and we chatted about cricket and footy and family and work and writing. It was great and I thank him for this.

I’d had myself an evening.

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Tuesday in Fitzroy

 

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Tramway Hotel, 165 Rae St, Fitzroy North

Underground music. Likely a Melbournian band from the 1980’s. One punter inside, one outside at the row of three tables on Church Street near the roundabout. The young fella out at a table appears from my spot by the fireplace to have an Andalusian dancing horse tattooed on his skull. Opposite me is a macramé wall hanging, and I feel as if I’ve been taken hostage by the horrific 70’s. At the centre of the Tramway is its triangular bar.

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I order a Young Henry’s Pale Ale which I find safe if unspectacular. It’s a mild afternoon so I move outside into darkening street. The Andalusian dancing horse has galloped off into his evening. Bikes outnumber cars on Rae Street and I find this reassuring. Most folk sport beanies. The upcoming gigs blackboard announces Acid Country broadcasting live this Thursday on PBS 106.7FM. Their website promises “an intimate afternoon of music, radio and community”.

Royal Oak Hotel, 442 Nicholson St, Fitzroy North

In the world of pub names is this the equivalent of John or Mary?

Here’s another fire and candles. There seems to be a distinctive inner-city intimacy at work in Fitzroy North. I can’t recall going into an Adelaide pub and finding lit candles. I like it. The Beatles are playing. My Hargreaves Hill Pale Ale is curious.

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Apart from me (obviously) there are three blokes in the front bar talking footy. They speak of the Scott brothers. One chap is theorising that the Geelong coach, Chris Scott, might be lucky to keep his job. It seems unlikely given that his team is top by some distance.

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I see an Escher print on the wall, murky books above my head and a tram zings past. A bowls scoreboard sits nearby. It’s quiz night and a staff member asks me if I’m here with a team. I shake my head. Scotland’s finest, The Proclaimers come on and I smile to myself. Indeed, Adelaide is 500 miles away. Having run The Tan earlier today (for the first time) which is a lap of Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens I think these lyrics true-

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

I look up and there’s an upturned wooden surf boat over pool table. I leave.

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Suddenly, suburban floodlights. WT Peterson oval. Footy training over by the grandstand. Naked trees watching silently by me. Just in front on the forward flank: man, dog, tennis ball.

Lord Newry, 543 Brunswick St, Fitzroy North

First port of call in this boozer is the gents. There are astonishing quantities of graffiti on every surface. I rush. Don’t dry my hands.
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I order a Four Pines Pale Ale. Some Glaswegians in the back bar are talking football. In the front bar’s a muted glow, like grandma’s lounge room if she loved orange light shades and early disco music.

I detect a nautical theme because of the turgid and, I suspect, ironic prints of British ships. I think of the postcolonial perspective and associated ideas about imperialism, but only briefly.

I look up at the ceiling which has been stained yelpy yellow by a million Ardath and Black and White darts. And then I think about Sir Walter Raleigh who introduced smoking to Britain and I’m back to postcolonialism, but only briefly.

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I note that there’s only five items on the Specials menu board. I think this the maximum allowable number because any more and I’d question just how special those dishes might be. Wouldn’t you?

Royal Derby, 446 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

In the men’s the exhaust fan is whirling like the propeller of the Indianapolis but without Quint’s sharks. It’s so noisy I fear the whole building might take off.

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The Kings of Leon are playing and I find them restorative at this point if not generally. I keep with my broad ale theme and buy a Stone and Wood Pacific Ale. There’s a table tennis table in a dedicated room although no-one’s using it, and it would be difficult for me to play by myself.

Over in the betting corner a man is having trouble with his eyes and these go from menacing and mean to glazed and then incapable of focus. He leaves. It’s the only pub in which I hear no footy talk.

The Rose, 406 Napier St, Fitzroy

Happily, I walk in and hear blokes talking footy around a central rectangular bar. There’s a big dog by a table. Warm chat everywhere. Exotic beers abound, but also Coopers.

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With exposed bricks and beautiful and enveloping light this is suburban joy. It’s the standout on my brief tour. India and New Zealand begin the World Cup semi-final and I speak with an Englishman about this fixture and our upcoming clash. We agree that the bowlers might dictate the result and Mitchell Stark could be the difference.

I order a burger. It’s a treat. Some young lads near me talk of commercial airline seat configurations on flights into and out of the Western Australian mines. They appear knowledgeable. As I leave, they’ve turned to the bright prospects of the Brisbane Lions who, of course, used to be Fitzroy.

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Pub Review: The Three Brothers Arms, Macclesfield

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Becalmed by the fireplace a smiling chap said, “It’s great isn’t it?”

I agreed.

“It’s just like your living room. That’s how the owners want you to treat it.”

“Tell the Truth” by Derek and the Dominoes made its earthy, laconic way from the speakers to the ears of the punters. It had that warm, enveloping feel to it because it wasn’t coming from a juke box, CD player or streaming service.

Audiophiles agree that it remains the finest way to enjoy an album, and over by the pool table was that most uncommon yet esteemed of front bar furniture: an antique turntable and speakers.

Brilliant.

“This is a very English idea,” I nodded. “Publicans over there want you to treat the pub like your own home. It’s rare here.”

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Living on a West Coast farm I bought a second-hand turntable that had somehow lost its legs, so I used split squash balls to absorb the bumps and rumbles because as is established fact there’s nothing worse than the stylus bouncing across your most prized vinyl which of course is Ripper ’76.

With the volume screaming past eleven it kept the sheep away from the house. Digital music is omnipresent but real records provide us with the physical and the kinaesthetic. It’s a richer sensory experience.

Eric Clapton and Duane Allman were undertaking some acceptable fret work on this most perfect of Saturday afternoon pub soundtracks. Along the pub wall rest half a dozen rows of LPs. Blues masters, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, sixties and seventies gems. Pinned nearby is a brief set of rules for busy times- one side only per person etc.

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With regular live gigs in the Heritage Bar and beer garden (Kasey Chambers’ dad Bill playing soon) it’s a musical nirvana and complements impeccably the pub across the road, The Macclesfield, which offers standard services like big screen footy, TAB, happy hours, pokies.

Is there a better balanced two-pub town?

Earlier we took in the Mary MacKillop Way which with paintings and text documents the saint’s local work. One station highlights the sisters’ efforts during a bushfire when Mary offered the volunteers, “drinks and light food.” Light food?

Happily, I’ve no experience in this but imagine after elongated hours of hot and dangerous labour battling a blaze, I’d be a little disappointed to be only given a cup of tea and a scone, and to hear the dreaded words, “Sorry love but we’re out of jam and cream.”

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Originally known as the Goats Head Inn it’s visually engaging with memorabilia and photos, and curios like an upturned umbrella and wooden toy train dangling from the ceiling. There’s historic Guinness and stout signage too.

By the window we find a spot on a ruby Chesterfield couch, and in our nook’s an upright piano and a Hendrix (I’m claiming this as a collective noun) of acoustic and electric guitars.

The resident kelpie Ranger wanders about saying hello. I love dogs in pubs. In England this is routine and they’re welcomed with water bowls and spaces to stretch out. Hounds are so central to our way of life here yet rarely spotted in public buildings. Why? I’ve seldom seen an unkempt, drunk dog wobbling about picking fights in a pub, and know who I’d rather sit next to. One of the bar staff tells me that Ranger loves playdates and often has canine callers.

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Well done, Three Brothers Arms.

With the fire crackling away, I attempt another beer. “I might try the Goats Head Lager. Who makes it?”

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you,” insists the young barkeep with a wink. Maybe it’s difficult following a Coopers Sparkling Ale, but although I get that it’s a tribute to the pub’s original name and neighbouring brewery, I find it somewhat bland.

Convivial knots of chaps are at the low tables and many of them sport tweed jackets. They look like minor characters in an Ian McEwen novel. With its uncomplicated sense of purpose and refined atmospherics it does feel decidedly English in here, and I reckon the pub would sit sympathetically in the Lakes District or by a brook in the Cotswolds.

Meanwhile, someone drops Bob Dylan onto the turntable and his endearing whine mingles warmly with the patrons’ wine. Underscoring the music is the staccato percussion from the pool table. It’s a jovial place.

Claire and I have dinner plans, but vow to return. The beer garden stretches down to the Angas River and is a summery must. We pat Ranger goodbye and head out into the afternoon’s fresh coolness.

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Pub Review: The Macclesfield Hotel- Man v Megalodon Hamburger

 

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It was the size of an adult human head.

This, of course, is neither alarming or humorous if you’re expecting a fully-grown person in which case it warrants no observation.

Plonked down on our table and despite its silence, inactive state and general amicability it was instantly startling. I was in for the fight of my culinary life. I was about to die in an episode of Man v Food. It was a hamburger.

A megalodon hamburger.

6pm on a Friday is the textbook time to gust into a country pub, and this is true for the Macclesfield Hotel in the Adelaide Hills. It’s the sanctified end of the working week, the festive start of the weekend, and a chance to see a community skipping and jabbering, busy and recalibrating.

A full, spectral moon floodlit the countryside, and a toasty glow encased the front bar. There was cheery commotion for the (possibly over-capitalised) Friday Night Weekly ‘Pick-a-Pint’ Jackpot Draw was on. Chocolate-smeared kids dashed about, and leather and patch jackets, and work shirts, and bushy beards coloured our canvas.

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We secured a stretch of timber and towel and coasters. I opted for a Coopers Pale Ale while Claire had a house white, and both were atomically accurate. To our left with a clattering plastic bucket, Bic biro and little paper books was that most principal of pub peoples, the meat tray ticket seller.

Despite there being no visible meat tray, we fished out our coin, and prayed to the patron saint of Free Sausages, but as it was later revealed, all those canonised in the name of chops had enjoyed a rostered day off. Even local saint, Mary MacKillop was working on subsidiary projects.

An enlivening din swirled throughout and I wondered at the chat: recent rainfall; tomorrow’s home footy fixture in which the local Blood ‘n’ Tars would take on the Gumeracha Magpies; Sunday’s celebrity cricket match at Davenport Square starring former Australian cricketer Wayne Phillips (whose wife has a Kapunda connection); houses and farms bought and sold; kids’ sport, kids’ achieving, kids’ causing concern.

The dining room was also ministered by a wood fire. Large tables crafted from tree trunks had been coaxed in and like the bar, the tone was both industrious and intimate.

Claire ordered sliders, and next morning two of these remained so we evoked Pulp Fiction:

Jules: It looks like me and Vincent caught you boys at breakfast. Sorry about that. What ‘cha having?
Brett: Hamburgers.
Jules: Hamburgers! The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast.

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Meanwhile my meal was intimidating, and I felt like the skinny teenager who learns that tomorrow he’ll be on Plugger Lockett. It loomed on the plate like an aircraft carrier (surely the USS Ronald Reagan) and the chips clung to the cliff all cowering and awed. If the hamburger had eyes it would’ve stared me down like Ali at the weigh-in.

Anxious for a food coach my challenge was how to accost the behemoth. Right, I’ll pick it up and tackle it whole. I blinked. Nup, maybe if I had a gob like a hippo, then just maybe. OK, I’ll cut it in half. Peering now at the knife, my cutlery seemed impossibly tiny, like a toy you’d get from a kids’ lucky dip at a particularly dismal country show.

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With gallows acceptance I murmured to Claire, “I have no choice.” She whispered, “God’s speed,” before nodding, “and please, take care.”

Deconstruction.

And so, my colossal hamburger became a creaking plate of two beef patties, bacon, eggs (yes, two bum nuts), cheese, lettuce, onions, tomato, relish and bread rolls: a medically-necessary mixed grill.

Like a (considerably) less menacing version of a middle-career Robert De Niro I tightened my teeth, and worked methodically through it while eventually the Friday night footy match wound up; the pub cleaner later dragged her mop and bucket about me wheezing, “You’re alright darlin’, take your time”; and the last of the front bar faithful wobbled off into the moonlit midnight.

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My hamburger was magnificent.

The subsequent surgery a success I drove into town Saturday morning to buy the paper and accidently found myself in the Maccy cup-house administering a punt. At the bar was a solitary woman, and as I fed my betting slips to the machine, she asked in her throaty way, “Gotta tip, love?” Such is the agreeable nature of this boozer that she and Yorky laughed at my reply, “Yep, keep your cash in your pocket.”

Minutes later the car radio crackled my horse saluting (Sandown, race 2, number 8, Shrouded in Mist, 6/1) and with this happy coda I thought, gee, I really like this pub.

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