Melbourne is generally recognised as the standard bearer for the craft beer movement in Australia, with an ever increasing range of venues becoming available for the beer nerd in all of us ranging from small bars dedicated to craft beer, to microbreweries serving their own beers, bottle shops with a few taps and large pubs with a strong tap list. However, this does not mean that our brethren from the other states have been standing still, and in fact a side benefit of the proliferation of craft beer venues in Melbourne, combined with our already strong small bar culture, has been its clear influence on the evolution of the scene in the other major cities.
Whilst the list of microbreweries hailing from Tasmania is relatively short, the level of quality has always been good, with Moo Brew having some of my personal favourite beers in all of the categories that they brew in (their seasonal imperial stout is particularly special) and less well-known breweries such as Morrisons and Seven Sheds also producing some tasty brews. However, it has often been lamented that the quality of establishments serving craft beer in the Apple Isle has not been at a commensurate level. In order to challenge this perception I took the opportunity on a recent work trip to Launceston to fire up the Now Tapped app and see what the city had to offer which showed up one venue just south of the main drag, the Saint John Craft Beer Bar.
My first impression was of a very “Melbourne” craft beer bar – the closest comparative would be the recently opened Beer Mash, with beer taps on the wall and a very impressive selection of bottled beers available for consumption in the venue or for takeaway.
Being 12:30pm on a Thursday the bar was empty besides my colleague and myself so I struck up a conversation with the bartender (Luke Dempsey, co-owner) and on explaining to him by initial impression of the place he took it as a compliment! It turns out that they have taken a lot of their inspiration from the Melbourne scene, having made trips across the strait to Good Beer Week for events at venues such as Atticus Finch and the The Alehouse Project. On this front I would take my hat off to Luke, Ryan and Tim for a job well done – the bar has an excellent vibe with the pipe construction of both the bar and the high benches giving a hip-industrial feel and the set up with beer taps on the other side of the wall from the beer cool room ensuring that the drafts are served fresh from the keg with minimum chance of being affected by travelling through the lines.
A “cool” space is all well and good, but what really matters is the beer right? Well on this front Saint John Craft Beer bar did not disappoint either with the tap list when I was there comprising a solid selection covering a range of styles and nationalities – when the Stone & Wood Pacific Ale is the “stock” beer it is going to be a good day.
No review of a craft beer bar would be complete without a short review of the craft beers themselves – I didn’t have a lot of time to kill before I had to get back to the airport but I did manage to have two beers (having not swotted up on by Taswegian beer terminology I had to sheepishly order a “small” when getting my first beer). It was a somewhat miserable day outside so dark beers seemed called for.
Beer #1 – Dark Hops, by Beer Here
At 8.5% ABV and 85 IBUs this was probably not the right beer to start with having not eaten anything since the night before, but when there is a dark beer by the Danish legends Beer Here on tap it is hard to say no. A black IPA that pours with a light brown head, it had a lovely malty/chocolaty taste that offsets the bitterness quite nicely (as opposed to the very smoky taste of other black IPAs, e.g. the Kooinda Black IPA) resulting in an easy drinking beer that could fool you into thinking it is sessionable – which would probably have been dangerous if I had time to drink a few more of them. Have had before and will definitely have again – 4/5
Beer #2 – Irish Stout, by Morrison Brewery
Morrisons is a local brewery, located just 3km north of Launceston. Their Irish stout was very true to style, dark with a light coloured head, some malt notes and a bitter finish. I must say that I’m not a massive fan of this category of beer (my palate much prefers the American style stouts that have coffee and/or chocolate flavours) so I wasn’t overly impressed. I found this one a bit watery and oddly more bitter than the Dark Hops. Wouldn’t go rushing back – 2.5/5
There is no a kitchen however a local food truck called Eats with Beats turns up on Tuesday to Saturday evenings to provide both food and tunes. They also have a private room called the Barrel Room which can be hired for private functions and also plays host to the regular special events that are held at the bar such as whisky tastings and mini-beer festivals.
The bar has been open a bit over a year now and Luke tells me that the locals have been very supportive of the new venture which gives much hope for the development of the scene in Launceston and Tasmania more generally. If you are either a resident of or visiting Launceston I would definitely recommend giving Saint John Craft Beer Bar a visit, sampling some of their beers on side, and grabbing a few takeaways to enjoy at home.
Saint John Craft Beer Bar
133 St John Street
Mon – Sat: 12:00pm to late
Sun: 2pm to late