We’d take any road trip any day.
Even if it wasn’t sort of forced upon us.
Towards the end of last year, our COVID mandated lockdown prevented us from stepping on a plane or indeed crossing any borders.
We had to remain in our State.
But when that State is a fair chunk of the world’s largest island nation with hundreds of kilometres of the best Beaches, Sunshine and Seafood we were not much offended.
We drove at a measured pace up the coast from Sydney stopping to extract the maximum pleasure from the aforementioned Big Three.
Port Macquarie oysters, yes please! Yamba prawns, yum!
Our destination: the Mantra Hotel on Salt Beach near Kingscliff, almost on the Queensland border, which we’re not allowed to cross. Craft beer
A great place to flop the body down, catch up on many books, rising only when necessary to test the terrific chefs of the area. Including Steve Snow at Fins about whom we have written earlier.
The many fresh flavours of the sea abundantly paired with cascades of Aussie whites. Semillon from the Hunter. Riesling from the Clare. Chardonnay from the Yarra and Margaret River.
OK, and an occasional Pinot Noir from Tassie when a sturdier-sauced fish called for it.
The beer beckons
But some readers may remember that the author is also a passionate beer drinker. Especially on holidays in the sun.
Australia, like America, is now plentifully dotted with craft breweries. Bright-eyed young teams, mostly small in scale, but some already grown large enough to be bought out by the big breweries.
We admire their energy and their creativity but we have to say we don’t like all their beers. Fanciful fruit and flower flavours are not our style.
We are traditionalists in our love of brew.
If you are calling it beer, you’ll find us over there standing steadfastly with Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria who in 1516 enacted a Law known as Reinheitsgebot… the Purity Law, stating that beer should be made with nothing other than barley, hops and water. Yeast was there as well but not named at the time.
To this day that’s still quite enough for us to get our lips around.
Following the Hoppy Trail
So what were we doing on a cloudy day not quite up to our standards for the beach heading inland a little towards a craft brewery?
The Wandana Brewing at Mullumbimby … Mullum to the locals.
The brewery opened in the middle of the year in the generous spaces of a previous timber mill just out of town. Directed by Rupert Brown and wife Kristine, who had returned home from working in the big smoke of Sydney, de-stressing and looking for a change.
Wandana in the indigenous language means ‘to see far’ and you certainly can from the tables in the grassy beer garden. All the way to the sharp dark peaks of My Warning and Mt Chincogan.
Music to our beers
In a crowded market, here’s a point (pint) of difference for this enterprise.
Apparently, the University of Wellington has done experiments playing music to beer as it brews. It actually improves the performance of the yeast. We find that totally reasonable.
So the Wandana team play music quietly muffled into each tank as it ferments. Composition choice is targeted. An American Pale might dance to reggae, an Irish porter to some jolly jig, a pilsner perhaps a Dvorak Concerto. A riff of sitar for an Indian Pale Ale. (I made that last bit up).
Their beers are found only here in the Wandana Brewing Tap Room and in a few local cafes and businesses.
But it‘s a beaut day (and night) out. They have a roster of local food trucks rolling in to keep you nourished, (a good wine list too).
They know that good beer is more than refreshment, it is a frothy component of fun! There is Open Mic on Thursdays. Happy Hour followed by DJs and bands on Fridays.
Here’s the lineup
In the cool of the Hall, under the slow swirl of a massive ceiling fan, surrounded by the gleam of all the shapes of stainless steel tanks and pipes so necessary in brewing, we ordered a tasting paddle.
We sampled in order of seriousness as proposed by the chap at the counter.
(The Wandana Brewing menu has a small symbol beside each beer showing the music that helped it fill its potential as a brew.)
Roadie (4.5% ABV)
‘A flavourful pale ale brewed with Aussie Vic secret hops…’
To our taste, it was light almost delicate, pale gold, but a true beer gently hopped for instant refreshment.
Pacific Pils (4.7% ABV)
‘Pure and simple. A South Pacific take on a classic pilsener…’
A slight maltiness, not a bad thing, medium-bodied, classy clean and fresh.
AMP XPA (5.5% ABV)
‘An American style pale ale …’
This did have tropical and floral notes (floral not flowery), a decent length with just enough citrusy bitterness to tweak the end.
Mullum Madness (6.2% ABV)
‘A juicy hazy IPA …’
This is right up our alley. A serious beer, higher in alcohol but beautifully balanced with tangy hops. A generous mouthful.
After a walk around to check the layout, take in the view of the mountains, click a few pics and chat with the food lads we breasted the bar to try one more.
The Coaster (4.5% ABV)
‘A refreshing Summer Ale with a light malt body …’
On the lighter side, designed for sessioning. A good gulpy refresher with just enough hops to keep it real.
We ordered a few four-packs to take away including the intriguing Dark Side ‘a well balanced and easy drinking porter…’
which we took on recommendation, not being able to taste it on the day. Back home we confirmed it was a cheerful nutty brew, malty, roasty and dark but not gloomy.
A shining ray of light in an otherwise dark year. A good beer fixes many things.
If the chaps who publish the Michelin Guide were passionate beer drinkers I’m sure they would give Wandana Brewing their coveted three stars signifying the establishment is “worth a detour”.