Dublin Day 4

We didn’t skip day three, we just spent it cheering the Yellow Jackets to victory over Boston College. More on that in the last post. Today was spent largely at the Guinness Storehouse and then around Dublin. We decided to do a hop-on hop-off bus which turned out to be a mixed bag. The first leg got us to Guinness in plenty of time to start our tour. This isn’t a typical brewery tour which made both of us happy. Beer is made largely the same way anywhere in the world (barely, hops, wort, yeast, yadda yadda yadda). This tour was a celebration of Guinness as an institution. The tour started out with a brief introduction about brewing but quickly shifted to the history of Guinness and some interesting vignettes abut the family.

At the end of the brewing section, there was a tasting room that looked like something from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  All white with scented vapor points in each corner. The whole room smelled of roasted grains (and all of the caramel and chocolate notes they bring). From there, we learned the proper way to taste Guinness (as if there was a wrong way!) and a bit more history of the family.

The rest of the tour was spent on advertising. Guinness’ more modern ads had an incredibly polished, almost avant garde feel to them that reminded Drew of these James Boag ads. Arresting, interesting, and on message, but they felt a bit soulless compared to the toucans and “Guinness for Strength” campaigns of the early 20th Century.

All tour tickets include a pint in the Gravity bar, which has stunning views of the city. The day had gone from rainy to sunny, so we had a great vantage point. It’s strange that there aren’t any tall buildings in the city. The bar might have been the highest point outside of a church steeple. After we finished, we hoped back on the bus and promptly got lost. Well, we didn’t get lost, but the driver seemed to have been confused about the route he was supposed to take or maybe he was trying to get to the hurling finals early.  Either way, we randomly drove through the north side of the city and then had to find lunch (Farm, delicious), which didn’t leave much time for anything else, although we did watch the final few minutes of the hurling. We’re out of the city tomorrow and into the western part of the island. The last of our Dublin pictures are here.


Barossa Valley

We’ve slipped out of Alice for a nice long weekend in Adelaide and the surrounding region.  Our first day was spent driving through the Barossa Valley, which is known for its red wines.  The valley is close enough to Adelaide to make an easy day trip, which allowed us to spend a relaxing morning in our favorite spot in the city: Adelaide Central Market.  Once again we were overwhelmed by the fresh produce, delicious meats and cheeses, and felt a desire never to return to Alice.  We ate a delicious breakfast and picked up some snacks for the road before heading out in search of delicious wines.

The drive into the valley was lovely. It’s fall here, so all of the grape leaves were turning yellow and red. Our first stop was at Schild winery.  We have several bottles of a delicious Grenache, Mourverde, Shiraz blend at home and wanted to see if there was anything else we liked.  Both sparkling wines were good, but as Ashley seemed to be coming down with a cold (and things weren’t tasting right) and Drew was playing Sober Bob, we didn’t spend a lot of time there.

It's a quince!

For lunch we stopped at Maggie Beer’s farm shop.  Maggie Beer is the Australian version of Julia Child or Ina Garten.  She is a proponent of eating locally grown/farmed ingredients. The farm is host to a large number of pheasants which are game birds, for display, and ingredients in the pate which the farm is known for.  We decided to skip the pate and instead had some lovely bread and locally produced olive oil. Oh, and peach crumble for dessert. Everything was excellent, and it was probably the quickest and friendliest service we’ve had in Australia.

We finished off our time by visiting a sculpture garden which had a great view of the valley, and then doing a tasting at the Barossa Brewing Company.  The beers ranged from an overly smoky red ale to a delicious Christmas porter.  While we were tasting, the brew house dog came over and demanded we play fetch. Naturally we agreed.

Our next few days will be spent in the city doing some much needed shopping and probably driving to the Adelaide Hills to drink more beer and eat more delicious food. Extra pictures are here.


NZ Day 9: Into the Grey

It rained and it rained and rained and rained
The average fall was well maintained
And when the tracks were simply bogs
It started raining cats and dogs

After a drought of half an hour
We had a most refreshing shower
And then the most curious thing of all
A gentle rain began to fall

Next day was also fairly dry
Save for the deluge from the sky
Which wetted the party to the skin
And after that the rain set in

– Anonymous NZ tramper

It rained a lot today. It was hard to find any place to stop that wasn’t soaked through. As a result, we ended up skipping most of the scenic attractions ( no Cesspool of Arahura!) in favor of staying relaxed and dry.

We drove through glacier country and along the coast until we reached Hokitika. The seaside town is known for it’s greenstone (jade) jewelry so Ashley decided to stop. We found a local aquarium where we got to feed giant eels, watch a kiwi hunt for grubs, and try to catch crayfish from the bottom of a clear lake using a baited line.

On the beach, the town was hosting an art competition. The only rule seemed to be that you could only use items found on the beach. The sculptures were really impressive and creative.

We finished the drive to Greymouth, which included a one lane bridge shared by both cars and trains, and settled in for the night. We hit up the Monteith’s brewery which we think is our favorite over Speight’s. We’ll take the train to Christchurch tomorrow before jetting off to the North Island. A few extra pictures here.

NZ Day 2: Dunedin

When we arrived in Dunedin, the first thing we noticed was that it was bright. Despite it being 7:45, the sun was still shining. After a very long day we were exhausted but had a hard time crawling in bed since sunset wasn’t until after 9pm.

The next morning (sunrise at roughly 0620), we set out to explore the town. We found a delightful Chinese Garden and spent a good hour walking around and enjoying the peace and quiet.

The main train station (top pic) is an impressive site and the interior is filled with ornate widows and mosaics. There was also an art gallery and sports museum inside, in addition to still being a working train station.

From there we went to The Octagon, which is as close to a town square as Dunedin has. We visited the First Church of Otago, which is a lovely Presbyterian church overlooking the city. Lunch (Japanese, including real ramen) was delicious. Afterwards, we picked up some postcards and souvenirs and took a quick break to rest our feet.

To end the day, we made our way to the Speight’s Brewery for a tour. The tour was an odd mix of historical facts and brewing technique. It was interesting to hear about how the Christchurch earthquake four years ago affected the entire island and not just the city. As a result, Speight’s had to close down it’s old school brew house and build a new one to take on extra brewing work. The old equipment was much more interesting than the new (we may have been on one or two brewery tours before…). The tastings at the bar were excellent though – visitors are encouraged to pour their own and sample anything on tap. We enjoyed it enough to stop by the Ale House right down the street for a second round and some dinner. We’ll spend tomorrow driving along the coast before heading into the mountains.

More pictures here.

Margaret River

Pierce, Ashley, & Gary

Sorry for the radio silence folks. We’ve been busy crossing a continent and trying as many wines as we could. We left Tasmania and flew to Perth to meet up with our friends Pierce and Gary. We immediately grabbed a rental car and made the long drive out to Margaret River to begin the next leg of our adventure. The food was quite good – we’d definitely recommend The Bakery, and there is also a lot of surprisingly good Tex Mex.

We started our wine adventure at House of Cards. We’d recommend stopping there, but not for the wine, which was good but not our favorite. Instead, next door is an amazing chocolatier – Gabriel Chocolate. We all enjoyed the tasting and grabbed some chocolate to go. The sales clerk turned out to be from Vancouver, and she gave us a lot of advice on where to stop. (We found this a reoccurring theme for the trip – North American west coasters all flock to Margaret River. The climate and culture are similar to San Diego. I think the hometown furthest east of anyone we met was was Arizona.)

Next we checked out two more wineries and a brewery. The first winery (Windows) was very good, and a few bottles are heading our way. The brewery (Bush Shack) was somewhat disappointing. The brewery did have a wide selection of alcoholic sodas that were sneaky good, but the beer was nothing spectacular.

We finished our first day with a delectable meat/olives/bread plate before visiting our last vineyard (Happs). The wines were excellent (a few more bottles are destined for our wine rack), and they had over 30 to taste. They also had a potter in residence, and we picked up some bowls in a lovely blue.

The next morning we went for a run along the beach. There were some great warning signs about helicopter sharks and feral bicycles along the way. There was also a major surfing competition going on, so a good chunk of the beach was closed.

Olive tree

After another delicious brekkie, we found an olive grove and tasted some fresh olive oil. We hit up one final brewery/winery where the wines outshone the beer. If it seems like most of the trip is about food and booze, it is. Where Tasmania is known for its pristine wilderness, MR is known for the food. It’s been nice to eat food we can’t get in Alice. It surprises us how used we get to the selection in Alice and how much we miss certain things.

After three great days, we left MR and drove back to Perth. Our activity for the day was the Little Creatures brewery. The brewery tour was surprisingly interesting. Before founding the brewery, the brewmaster had worked in Oregon and styled these beers after the ales he had brewed with there. The food was excellent and we had a relaxing day in Perth. We didn’t get much of a choice in that regard since everything closes early in Perth on Saturday and isn’t open at all on Sunday. Apparently this is designed to encourage Perhers (Perthians? Perthites?) to spend more time with their families but it makes going out to eat on a Saturday night difficult.

Wineries and tasty meals make for happy travelers but not for epic pictures. Our photos are here. We’re off to the beach for a couple of days. It’s an island off the coast of Perth so we may not get a good internet signal. If not, we’ll see you all when we return to the mainland.

Yarra Valley, VIC

Q: Where does a pirate get his wine? A: From the YARRRRRRRRRRA valley!

All joking aside, the Yarra Valley is a great place to spend a day; it’s one of the more famous wine regions in Australia, and chock full of great wine, food, and sights. The day started out on a high note as we stopped by the Domaine Chandon vineyards and tasted a variety of sparkling and still wines. This vineyard was founded by the Moet & Chandon winery to play with cool climate grapes.
Ashley particularly liked these bottles dressed up in their summer suits. Since it was conveniently 30 Dec, the group picked up a couple bottles of bubbly to ring in the new year. We enjoyed both the sparkling and still wines enough to ship half a case back as well!
From there we went to a blueberry farm. We didn’t get to pick our own, but did buy some for a New Years breakfast.  Lunch brought more tasty pizza at the Innocent Bystander restaurant.  We split a prosciutto and parmesan thin crust pizza that was amazing. We were seated in front of the open kitchen, so we had great views of the pizzas going in and out of the wood fired oven. We skipped the wine tasting there and walked across the parking lot to the White Rabbit Brewery to finish our meal. They didn’t do tastings, but we split a glass of the dark ale, which was delicious! Dark beers are a rare find in Alice, so it’s nice to enjoy them while we’re out.
We decided to go back to wine and stopped at Boat O’Craigo after lunch. The winery came highly recommended by friends in Alice, and we enjoyed several of the reds enough to bring a bottle home. The smaller wineries like Boat O’Craigo were a lot of fun to visit because the staff felt less like tour guides and more like people who enjoyed wine and working with folks.
As we began working our way back into town, we decided to stop by the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie.  The chocolate was pretty good, but the place was absolutely packed. Being one of the few places around with kid friendly food drew families in from across the valley. Everyone decided that more beer would be a better idea than waiting 30 min for ice cream, so we shuffled off to the Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company for another flight of craft ales.
It was a lovely day and we had the patio to ourselves. The beers were decent, with only one or two we’d like to have again. We laughed when we noticed the patio had some grape vines climbing the fence – even at a brewery, you can’t escape the wine culture in the Yarra. We finished the day by stopping at the local dairy to taste cookies (Drew) and cheese (everyone else). The cheeses were delightful and it fortified the group for a long drive back into the CBD.
More pictures from the Yarra are here. Stay tuned for one more post of our adventures New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day!

Mornington Peninsula, VIC

Hey all! We’ve hoped a quick flight to Melbourne to ring in the New Year with some friends.  We spent our first day in touring around wine country on the Mornington Peninsula. The drive out there took us through some small little beach towns, like St. Kilda (which we hit on our last trip here) and Frankston.

Our first stop of the day was the Mornington Peninsula Brewery.  It’s a tiny little brewery that produces some amazing beers.  We had a flight that ranged from a tasty witbier to rich stout.  The brewery also made some really good pizza to go with their beers.  We finished off the stop with a Sorachi made with Japanese hops. It had some wonderful floral notes and tasted amazing. We’re hoping to get some shipped to Alice.

From there we climbed into the  hills to take in some beautiful scenery and some wonderful wines.  The scenery is an interesting mix of rolling hills and over-hanging trees. Nestled amongst the wineries were berry farms that were offering to let you pick your own. Our first stop was Ten Minutes by Tractor.  Of all the wineries, this was the one we liked the least. All of the wines were good, but nothing really jumped out at us.

In fact, the most interesting part of the visit was the awesome herb planter out front.

From there we shuttled up the road to Port Phillip Estate. It was a very modern building – quite different from most of the other relaxed wineries (and breweries/distilleries) we visited during the trip. The rolling scenery was beautiful though, and it was a lovely break.

From there, we made our way to the best stop of the day: Bass & Flinders Distillery.  This tiny business makes several of varieties of gin using wine as the initial base before triple distilling.  Rather than stick just to the standard juniper berry mix, they work with other botanicals like ginger, lemon, coriander, cardamom, and lemon grass.  One of the owners was on hand to show around the small operation and let us taste his wares. We grabbed a couple of bottles and headed down the road for to the last winery of the day – Crittenden Estate was a nice vineyard with some good reds, but none memorable enough to bring home.

On the way home, we stopped to grab a quick snack and then look at some epic sand sculptures.  The theme was children’s books, so most of the characters were instantly familiar. By then, we were all exhausted and decided to have a relaxing dinner and call it an early night.  Pictures are here and we’ll post about the Yarra Valley wineries in a day or so.