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Beer Review: Coopers XPA (spoiler: boiled shite)

costaAn iconic Australian brewer, Coopers have launched a new beer. This is of considerable excitement to me, and here’s a quick list of launches that are far, far worse.

The launch of a P!nk album
The launch of the Costa Concordia
The launch of Paris Hilton’s eponymous perfume
The launch of an Exocet missile
The launch of AFLX
The launch of Shane Warne’s new wig
The launch of an all you can eat tofu diner.

That’ll do for now.

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I’m in a suburban Adelaide pub. It’s called the Highway, and is stylised as HWY. Some would argue that for the HWY, this is where style ends. It’s actually pronounced “Hur- wah- yee” and emits exactly the sound you’ll make when paying for a drink here.

It’s one of those maddening pubs that insists on using those ridiculous glasses that are well short of being pints, yet they charge you as if they’re Jeroboams of lager.

Maybe it’s called the Highway because in the Lounge Bar and accompanying deck, highway robbery is the business plan. I often feel in there as if I’ve been personally served by Ned Kelly masquerading as a twenty-something arts/law drop out called Charlotte whose boyfriend plays footy for an Old Collegians club.

You know the one.nedWith all these crimes temporarily excused I’m in the Sports Bar seeking a Coopers XPA, largely as there’s nowhere closer to home with this on tap. As sports bars go this one is fine with screens showing golf, cricket replays and the thoroughbreds from Hawkesbury and Quirindi. On the other side there’s a mega-wall of betting screens and some burly high-vis blokes.

As is law in this country there’s that one cove in the bar, sans hygiene and base-level socialisation who, despite the early hour, has already been here too long. Wandering about aimlessly he invariably glances and blinks at me, and wobbles over as in his fuddled head it’s time for a chat. Oh, here he comes.

No use putting my head down and avoiding eye-contact. It must be my deodorant. Well, at least his fly is up and on his upper thigh he’s not sporting a dinner-plate sized pee mark.

He belongs to another era, particularly the one before the Highway was renovated when, even around 5 bells on a Friday, the front bar was as dark as a Thai cave and a grizzled and aproned butcher squatted at a table, sold cubes of cheese and slices of mettwurst and handed over your happy hour tucker on actual butchers’ paper. This was before butchers’ paper was hijacked by every clueless conference convenor and it became a toxic weed along with housekeeping, plenaries and parking lots.

pub front

The Coopers XPA?

Colossally disappointing. Taking a spot adjacent to the bar with my undersized, overpriced glass, I took a sip. Nothing on the front palate. Pause. Nothing on the middle palate. Another awkward pause. Expecting a late rush of taste and flavour and Coopers yum from the back palate I still found nothing.

I acknowledge that at 5.2% it is more Ali than featherweight, but the XPA seems to have pipe-cleaners for arms, and not guns.

Old mate Puggy then joined me, and instantly confirmed my dismal analysis. We had been promised a lumpy V8, like a Brock Commodore, all throaty and snarling up a country straight, but instead were piloting an insipid sedan. With bald tyres.

Highway2016

The previous Coopers release was Session Ale, and it was sun and joy and tropics. A golden splash of fun, and reggae straight in ya gob. It has proved to be a hit, like a Beatles’ tune from their Rubber Soul era.

Coopers XPA is the song that came 17th in Eurovision 1987, but without the charm, longevity and ridiculous applause from the irradiated Ukrainians.

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Pub Review: the Magpie and Stump, Clare Valley

 

front of pub
Geometrically, I think the lawn’s a trapezium but I might be wrong.

Either way, it’s a Clare Valley garden, which just happens to come with its own pub!

There’s slate tables on the grass; umbrellas on bases- although the spring breeze means these are tethered lest they launch toward an unsuspecting vineyard or throbbing Harley; and two fire buckets embedded in imposing circular structures as if they’ve come from a 1970’s playground, or a Texan mechanic’s barbeque.

fire bucket

We’re at one of my favourite places on the planet: the Magpie and Stump.

Last year we sulked pub-ward suffering afresh from the Crows’ grand final defeat, hoping schnitzel might sooth our spirits. Spooked, Mozz uttered, “It’s quiet. Too quiet.”

The pub was shut.

And had been for some months.

But in 2018 new owners have flung open the doors- this sudden change in fortune is called peripeteia by the Greeks- and I’m thrilled. Shaking mine host Paul’s hand, he explains he’s expecting seventy for lunch. He adds that, “We did 700 meals over the June long weekend.” I peek in the kitchen en route to the bar and see four chefs: all busier than a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition.

Our entourage takes up residence at a generous garden table. Having consulted the pub’s website, I know $15 jugs of Coopers Session Ale are waiting. At my urgings Bazz and Mozz enlist. “Go on,” I say, “it’ll be funny.”

lawn

The bar-keep seems unimpressed by my digital espionage but honours the offer. There’s wine and cider for the others and raspberry for the young fellas so we sit in the sun and speak of many people and places.

It’s perfect.

Most opt for the Stump burger, a challenging treat with meaty patties the size of small, beefy UFOs. The chips are crisp and tasty- this isn’t always a given- and come in those miniature wire baskets that could’ve been hocked from a Lilliputian fish shop.

Kath has salt ‘n’ pepper squid but it needs additional NaCl dusting. Flopping about with their iPods and assorted devices our male progeny orders nuggets. These are breathed in, instantly.

table 2

Post-lunch, the entertainment’s on under the veranda: a guitar and keyboard duo. Looking like an older Jack White the vocalist announces, “I’m Paul and this is Andy. Together, we’re known as Paul and Andy.”

They provide an afternoon of agreeable covers including our request for “Sweet Caroline.” Given the comprehensive demographic of the audience they ignore our plea for Frank Zappa and his 25-minute magnus opus, “Billy the Mountain.”

The pub staff are also congenial, even when one of our crew, Bazz attempting to assist, drops five glasses onto the table’s unforgiving slate. Disappointingly, only four break but the employee with upturned trouser cuffs laughs throughout his dustpan deed.

table 1

As the sun dips in the western sky we each get out three coins to engage in a few rounds of spoofy- known by my old mate Whitey as, “the free beer game.” Your correspondent enjoys complimentary cups.

We leave with some newly-minted stubby holders. However, these look better on display behind the bar as rolling them about in our mits, they’re, as Ian Chappell used to say, a bit thin. The cover of an old National Geographic would provide similar beverage insulation.

But it’d been a terrific Sunday on this fetching lawn and despite intermittent outages over the decades, the Magpie and Stump again powers on.

I urge you to enjoy its lawn soon.

stubby holder

 

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Like music? Like beer? Read this!

hay plains

Hay Plain – Julia Jacklin

It’s a rite of passage for many of us. Going from South Australia to Sydney and driving across the Hay Plains.

In the summer of 1989 old Kapunda mates Bobby, Swanny, Puggy, Pinny (not actually his nickname but it seems a shame to exclude him) and I drove it in a hire car.

It was a Commodore wagon with a radar detector we’d borrowed from local publican and iconoclast Puffa. It went, as your Uncle would say, like the clappers.

I’m sure we had other cassettes but I remember the B52’s Cosmic Thing featuring, of course, “Love Shack.” It was a fun album, but twice a day for three weeks became, for me, audio water-boarding.

cosmic thing

Around Coffs Harbour the tape somehow ended up buried in my suitcase. Someone, I suspect it was Swanny, solved the mystery of the Missing Cassette and rescued the tragic tape. On it went! Yippee. “If you see a painted sign…”

Every night all five of us slept in the same big room. At least one would sleep in his clothes. I can only guess at the olfactory horror of those murky, blokish spaces.

I’m pretty sure we ate KFC every day for about three weeks. It was like that alarmist documentary Super Size Me. I blew up like an inflatable raft.

KFC

Julia Jacklin is a great alt-country singer songwriter and her debut album Don’t Let The Kids Win features beautifully-crafted songs. “Hay Plain” is an atmospheric, plaintive number in which she uses her charismatic voice to engaging affect.

In it she makes reference to that iconic Sydney road, the Western Distributor. In 1985 on my first trip to Sydney with Trev, Chrisso and Woodsy in his Datsun 180B we stayed with a mate in Drummonye and used this road daily.

Right by the exit was a huge billboard with a giant image of a funnel web spider baring its metre-long fangs, warning people to avoid these horrific fuckers.

One night we got home and our old school mate Brendan, now peeling prolifically because of Bondi sunburn, yelled out, “No! We’ve been robbed. Someone’s stolen my cup of skin.”

Julia Jacklin’s on my list of acts to see and this clip from a show in Melbourne’s Northcote Social Club captures her warmth and talent-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gf6YdmKIChU

Pleader- alt J

British indie darlings alt-J toured Australia late last year and old mate Brett and I went along to the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on a Tuesday. Tuesday being the convenient and traditional night for major touring artists to play in our little city.

Having avoided incapacitation by a Coopers Clear – surely the Trevor Chappell of this distinguished beer family – we ventured into the barn-like room and I was delighted by the crisp and punchy sound quality. The band were amazing unlike their set at Singapore’s Laneway Festival in 2014 when, dogged by technical problems, they sulked off stage mid-song.

singapore laneway

I texted Brett the day after the Adelaide concert and shared that I thought the final song of their most recent album was the highlight of our night. “Pleader” is a moody six minutes’ voyage with the opening three a foreboding instrumental before the last half of the track has a stunning choral outchorus, complete with agrarian imagery and biblical textures.

The accompanying video is inspired by the Welsh mining classic novel How Green Was My Valley? Among the unforgettable scenes is one with a landslide caused by the detonation of a WW2 German V2 bomb.

The vocals are distinctive and rarefied and the lush orchestration builds the sense of doom. Hugely impressive.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrhSJzM8NLE

Coopers Session Ale

Released mere weeks after the apocalyptic 1993 preliminary final in which the Crows choked after half time, Coopers Black Crow came into the market. This marked a spectacularly dismal month for crows, everywhere.

black crow

A mid-strength lager, it was massively disappointing, especially for an enthusiast such as me. It was named by public competition among significant fanfare. A more accurate name would have been Dead Cat Piss.

Bursting into the world last October was Coopers Session Ale. It is everything its feathery, deceased predecessor was not.

Tropical, fruity, and with citrus complexity beyond big brother the celebrated Pale Ale, it speaks of a lazy afternoon on a Pacific island. Marrying Galaxy and Melba hop varieties with secondary fermentation, it’s animated in the glass, a triumph of golden straw colour and fetching aroma.

Each and every Friday around 4.27pm I pay wave $12 at Gavin, mine host at the Broady and receive two crisp pints in return as the murmuring and the post-working week shuffling builds in his front bar.

I must mention that the packaged version is inferior, and humbly submit that the colossal Sparkling Ale is the only Coopers beer which is better out of a bottle, a bloody big bottle.

Still the Session Ale is a ripper. Perfect.