Scott Ellis and Shane Maguire, drinking their way through the year of 2012. Photo: Tamara Dean
HERE'S a plan: I'm going to see if I can drink a different beer every day this year. Unlike most brilliant ideas involving alcohol, this one — when it came from a mate late last year — wasn't the last thought of a long night out.
He says that last year, a couple of American beer lovers attempted to drink 365 beers in 365 days. They failed. Surely in Australia, where beer drinking is part of our DNA, we could do it? There must be hundreds of beers out there. It's a matter of national pride!
Fair enough, I say. And so with very little thought beyond, "Beer! Good!", six months ago fellow beer-lover Shane Maguire and I set out on our "Yeer in Beer".
We set some basic rules — no ginger beer, no home brews, and the different beer must be drunk on the day, no building up a bank in a bender. We also discover we would need 366 beers for the year — it's a leap year after all.
On day one we open a Facebook page and try the first bottles.
I drink a Coopers Pale Ale, Shane has a Little Creatures Bright Ale, and the list starts.
For a while it's as easy as we imagine. Australian pubs and bottle shops are, at first glance, filled with a multitude of brews. A quick call to a helpful executive at Lion Nathan provides us with a list of more than 500 mainstream and craft beers that should, theoretically, be available.
No problem! Go to the pub, drink a schooner of New, write it on the list. Head to the bottle shop, lash out on a Grolsch, add that to the list and so on. Less than two months later, I realise I have drunk everything in every pub and bottle shop within five kilometres of my house. Despite the alleged hundreds of beers out there, less than 40 make up almost everything you can find without making a major effort. And let's face it, "major effort" and "beer drinkers" don't mix.
The hotel closest to where I'm writing this, for example, boasts "19 beers on tap". But three are ciders and most of what's left are pretty much available anywhere (Carlton, VB etc). The only "exotic" on the list is Sapporo, and it isn't really rare.
To find a new beer every day fast becomes a real challenge and one that changes the way I look at the most basic aspects of life.
A friend asks me over for a beer, I ask what sort. My parents fly in for my son's birthday, I ask them to bring me cans of Southwark, West End and Dr Tim's (the elusive Coopers only available in Adelaide).Even booking a trip to the US involves checking which airline had a beer not yet on my list to avoid the complications of crossing a dateline in midair. For the record, it's Virgin. They rotate through a range of craft beers that got me out of trouble in both directions. The drinks list is the first thing we read at a restaurant.
The importer addresses on the back of beer labels? We know them all. Which breweries offer which beers exclusively to which bars? We're on it. And we get better as it goes on.
After 182 beers — one for every day of the year so far and with surprisingly little overlap in our two lists — Shane now sources Scottish beers even the Scots haven't heard of (Brewdog's Punk IPA?), and I find Green Star Lager, a vegan-friendly blonde beer delivered to a limited number of pubs.
Friends and family join in — one colleague generously donates a bottle of Oakham Ales Jeffrey Hudson Bitter he brought from England. Another raided his German dad's stash of Hacker-Pschorr Munchner Kellerbier.
The downside is every person you meet is sure they've got the beer you've never tried (they're usually wrong) or suggests something that only comes in a case or from 15 hours' drive away, or is astounded you didn't like their favourite brew.
We're in constant battle with the drink snobs as we try to explain what we like and don't like without resorting to the meaningless phrases wine and beer aficionados often use.
"Promising yet diminishing lacing", "fills the nose with over-hopping" and "stifling on the top palate" are fine for some, but we prefer speaking English.
Shane (now known as El Presidente to the "100 Yeer in Beer" Facebook members) and I start with "tastes good" or "rubbish!" as our two main descriptors and haven't really strayed too far.Sierra Nevada's insanely bitter Torpedo IPA, for example, is "like chewing two Panadols while drinking", said El Presidente on day 35.
Carlsberg Elephant Lager has an aftertaste "like sniffing Tarzan's Grip glue", I wrote on day 146. If something smells like wet leather or the head foams like cheap shaving cream, we're writing it. And this is how we have realised why so few beers make up the bulk of what Australians drink.
It's not that we're parochial or simple folk, it's just that Australians have a bullshit detector when it comes to most things, beer included. Compared with some of the overpriced, overhyped imports out there, a schooner of Coopers Sparkling Ale (for example) is in every way superior to some cloudy dross with a picture of a grimacing German on the label and a ceramic stopper.
Mountain Goat's Crossbreed — a brilliant project between a Melbourne brewery and Danish brewer Mikkeller — is as good as anything in the world. So too is the limited-edition Little Creatures Quiet American from Perth, or its regular Pale Ale. These are three examples of why our beers win so many prizes overseas as opposed to the myriad imports nobody in their home countries has ever heard of. It's not local pride, it's just a fact.
Which brings us to day 182, six months down.
I've got a case of assorted brews still in the fridge — at least half from various Australian breweries — and about a dozen friends and family keeping an eye out for anything new. I also have new respect for the beers I once threw down with no thought past, "Is there another?"
Shane and I are planning a road trip to a Newcastle bottle shop that boasts 1000 beers — which in reality means there should be about a couple of dozen we haven't tried.
Will we make it through the "Yeer"? Who knows? At the halfway point we're starting to worry, but there are still a few importers left to try, bier cafes to plunder and favours to call in. We're far from last drinks.The enthusiasm of those who found us online has been staggering.
"Yeer in Beer is the most successful idea I have ever had in my life," an emotional El Presidente commented recently when I posted a picture of the 35 new beers I'd sourced after a particularly fruitful shopping expedition, and another Yeer in Beer member living in Italy drove to Germany to source more than 20 none of us had heard of.
"This is like looking at a newborn child and saying, 'I did that'," he says. That's not just the beer talking.
See the updated Year in Beer drink list at theage.com.au or follow them on Facebook