Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Beer - Blue Sky Brewery, Cairns

At the start of August, my fiancee and I flew up to Far North Queensland for our elopement wedding and honeymoon. On arrival at Cairns Airport, the day prior to our wedding, we parted ways as I headed to a motel in Cairns city for one night, whilst she went on to the resort where we would wed and honeymoon.

Therefore, my final night before starting married life was spent on my lonesome in a place I had never been before. It was also my first time visiting a location in Australia further north an Noosa, hence it was a new experience in "thirsty weather". Thankfully, I was well prepared with a plan for a solid night of craft beer exploration at the Blue Sky Brewery in central Cairns.

My first exposure to Blue Sky beers occurred during the 2010 Beer and Brewer Expo back in March, where I tried and enjoyed their Pilsner (which won Silver medal for a bottled Pilsner at the 2010 AIBA).

Arriving at the brewery for dinner, I found it quiet (not surprising for a Monday night) yet lively. The big open entry, with a hanging emblem of hops and barley, leads you to the great sight of a roof-high wall of barrels displaying the brewery's beer labels and the various AIBA medals won, with their taps funkily hanging over the bar.

The venue is dimly lit and very typical of what I classify as a "Queensland bar" - designed for watching sports, drinking and commercial Top40 music in a mostly open space (due to the heat), catering for all ages, with "hip party nights" aimed at the 18-30somethings (...not normally my scene).

The beers are also clearly brewed for the north Queensland climate - reasonably light, soft and sessionable - and therefore fairly different to the often rich and heavy craft beers that I am used to in my native cooler-climate Victoria.

Arriving from a wet 12 degree Melbourne morning, I had enjoyed a sunny 30 degree afternoon in Cairns and was very ready to quench my thirst. Therefore, I began with a pint of FNQ Lager, which was a very straightforward lager, yet cleaner and clearly a step above the lagers of macro-brewerys thanks to its smoothness. Definitely I had 2 pints. This is the XXXX replacement for the locals...and a valuable replacement it is!

A pint of FNQ Lager went down very easily.

Blue Sky Brewery also serve a mid-strength beer (Cairns Gold), which I did not try, but is essentially a reduced-alcohol version of the FNQ Lager...a common concept in the warmer parts of the country.

Most Victorians, such as myself, have generally been unaware of mid-strength beers until recent years when it became the unfortunate standard at major sporting events (primarily Carlton Mid-Strength) to try and quell alcohol induced bad-behavior at such events. Also, VB released a mid-strength variety (VB Gold) to compete with XXXX Gold when it started to gain visible distribution in Victoria a few years back. I'm still not sure if any Victorians drinks these mid-strength beers, we just don't have the weather and culture for it!

Back to Blue Sky Brewery...I thought their German Wheat was the best brew on offer. The Hefeweizen is a style that I have warmed to considerably over the last year and Blue Sky's was quite agreeable. Golden in colour, the aroma was rich with the classic Hefeweizen punch of banana and cloves. The banana flavour was maybe a little too strong and it was possibly lacking a little spiciness in the taste. Nonetheless, the German Wheat was most enjoyable following my meal.

Blue Sky Brewery German Wheat.

The food for fairly standard pub grub, but good beer food. After a bit of a hassel with the barman trying to find and process my order of the menu-listed "fungi burger" (he was unfamiliar with the particular item and it had a different name in their register system to what was on the menu), I eventually received my meal whilst drinking a pint of Reef Blonde, which was very crisp and had a good hop flavour for a low-carb beer, thanks to the Nelson Sauvin, but was a little too dry for me.

I enjoyed my mushroom burger, which was full of taste but the bun was a little sad.

Dinner - the fungi burger, chips and the Reef Blonde (low-carb beer which uses NZ's Nelson Sauvin hops)

I ended the my night out at Blue Sky with the True Blue Stout was just plain...confusing! In appearance it resembled...a Coke - very light brown and high in carbonation. The small brown head reduced very quickly to a bare few millimeters. In the mouth it was too light, with a texture that seemed watery and quite lager-ish. There were some mocha notes in the flavour, but the rest of the mix seemed too weak and off-balance.

This may well be a stout designed for easy drinking in the heat of Far North Queensland...but I really struggled to drink it.

And yes, I must admit that I have been spoiled during the recent Winter months in Melbourne by drinking many amazing dark, full bodied stouts from around Victoria and across the world. Therefore, after enjoying deliciously rich and well balanced stouts from the likes of Mountain Goat, Prickly Moses, BrewBoys (plus then all the crazy beautiful Imperial Stouts from brewers such as Moo Brew, Red Hill Brewery, Nøgne Ø, BrewDog, Dieu Du Ciel...) and more...I was left more than wanting after this brew. Maybe it needs special new style for it...a "Summer stout", maybe?

Is this a stout?

The beer menu and tasting notes. (Only 5 of the 9 listed were actually available on the night I was there.)

As with several other microbreweries around the country, the brewery itself is on display (through windows), which also includes a viewing window from inside the guys' you can stare into the brewery whilst peeing! Nifty...(?)!

Looking into the brewery (...this is not the view from inside the toilets!).

Considering the tourist nature of the region, it is a shame Blue Sky Brewery were not selling any merchandise. I would have loved a stubby holder to add to the collection of 8 other stubby holders I acquired during the honeymoon.

Whilst I felt that the Blue Sky beers were not quite yet in the class of the really excellent craft beers from down south, all in all, I enjoyed the beers and my time at Blue Sky Brewery, leaving fully satisfied.

If you are up in the Cairns region, I definitely recommend that you check it out...for something a little different. I will especially be highly recommending Blue Sky beers to any XXXX-drinking Queenslanders that I come across!

Oh...and the Blue Sky experience did not end there...

During my pre-wedding night in Cairns, I received a message from my bride informing me that the location of our wedding and honeymoon, the sensational Kewarra Beach Resort, also had the Blue Sky Brewery beers available on tap (the Blonde and Carins Gold) and in bottle (Pilsner and FNQ Lager). Brilliant! Being able to enjoy good beer throughout our delightful honeymoon, without having to leave the fairly isolated resort, was an unexpected bonus. Thanks Kewarra and Blue Sky!

Enjoying a late-afternoon Blue Sky Brewery Pilsner on the beach at the incredibly beautiful and romantic Kewarra Beach Resort.

The Pilsner made for very good beach drinking as the sun set behind the beautiful hills, towering just north of Kewarra Beach.

Finally, the consumption of Blue Sky beers even continued right to the point of boarding our return flight.

Yes, you will also find a Blue Sky Brewery bar in the Arrivals and Departures Lounge at the Cairns Airport, which is a wonderful way to wait for your flight...just don't drink too much, else you may not be allowed to board your flight! Cheers!

The Blue Sky Brewery bar at Cairns Airport.

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