5 Aussie Craft Beers that rocked my 2016

You know what’s brilliant? Using a day that’s already recognised and celebrated, and piggybacking on it for your own thing.

The Triple J Hottest 100 has done this perfectly, and now people all over the world tune in on Australia Day to hear which songs made it to the top.

And the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers has done it too… on the same day. Double piggyback! (Which, if you’ve never tried it, is ridiculously difficult to do.)

Thousands of beer lovers around Australia vote for the beers they’ve adored over the past year, and then on the big day we see how the numbers panned out.

Now, I’m not going to talk about who should or shouldn’t win, or which breweries should or shouldn’t be allowed on the list. Plenty of people have that conversation already, and to be quite frank—I don’t care enough.

What I do care about is sharing the beers I drank and enjoyed. And with a captive audience of more than ten readers, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Yoga feet and yoga beer

Beer Yoga – stretch, sip, and somersault

“Bring your gaze to the bottle. Focus on how it looks.

Now feel the bottle. Feel how cool it is. The coolness of the condensation; the squishiness of the beer cozy; maybe you can even feel the label under your fingers.

Now bring the beer to your ear, and listen. You might hear the bubbling away of the carbonation; or maybe you hear the hollow sound that you might hear from a seashell. “Bringing the beer now to your nose, inhale the scent. You might be able to smell the hops or wheat; or perhaps even a fruity smell.

And finally, we take a sip, noticing how cool it is on the tongue, feeling it trickle down the throat, how the taste changes from the front of the tongue to the back.

…and it’s always a good idea to take a second sip, just to make sure you got all that.”

The attention to detail, the deep appreciation… sounds like a craft beer tasting, right? Right? Right?


It’s the opening meditation of Beer Yoga.

(Okay so it didn’t sound that much like a beer tasting.)

A big ol' pint of Pirate Life Stout

Summer in Hobart means winter beers.

I just came back from ten days in Hobart. Hobart is a strange place.

It’s summer… but it’s cold.

The sun is out until 9pm (it’s like that Insomnia movie with Robin Williams as a psycho)… but it’s cold.

For a Brisbanite, it felt like the middle of winter. Which is confusing… but it also means one very special thing. While everyone was telling me how it wasn’t like our summer and I couldn’t just wear t-shirts and I’d need to take a coat, all I was thinking was: DARK BEER.

Brisbane weather has been over 30 degrees since about September. And while that hasn’t completely stopped me from drinking dark beers, it certainly hasn’t been the ideal temperature for it. For me, dark beer and jeans are the same—I’d like to drink/wear them all year long, but in Brisbane, that’s really difficult to do. So I drink/wear them for as long as I can, until I feel I absolutely must switch to non-dark beers/shorts. Then I endure the white-hot heart of summer until I can drink/wear my favourites again.

All this to say: leaving Brisbane in late November (35+ degrees) to visit Hobart (3-23 degrees) was a balm for my dark-beer-craving soul.

In the weeks leading up to our trip, we’d asked a bunch of friends where we should go for a good beer in Hobart. And every single one of them said, “Preachers. Go to Preachers.” So we took their collective advice, and headed to Preachers on our first night in town. (It helped that our accommodation was only 400m away.)


Preachers Bar, Hobart
Preachers Bar, Hobart.

I can see why everyone liked it so much. It’s set out like a house… except a house that revolves around the drinking of good beer. That’s my kind of house.

They have an astroturf beer garden (and plenty of people were sitting out there freezing, even though there was room inside… you Tasmanians are crazy). They even have a bus. A full-size, bona fide, wheels-on-the-bus-go-round-and-round council bus,  decked out with seating and tables for all your beer-drinking needs. (Although I’m fairly certain the wheels no longer go round and round.) And they play bingo in it once a week. Why wouldn’t you?

A big ol' pint of Pirate Life Stout
A big ol’ pint of Pirate Life Stout.

But I’m a simple man. I like Preachers because they provided me with a big ol’ mug of Pirate Life Stout. And then because they upped their game further with Captain Bligh’s Wee Heavy, aged in Lark Whisky barrels. That bad boy tasted eerily close to Founders Dirty Bastard, which is one my favourite beers. As it warmed my chest and warmed my heart, I leaned back with a dopey smile on my face. That’s all it really takes to make me happy. (And maybe the burgers and chips helped.)

So. Preachers. Go there. We did. Twice.

The next time we went a-hunting for a watering hole, it was along the waterfront at Salamanca. And while there were several venues with decent beer options, we couldn’t go past Watermans Beer Market. The name says it all.

Watermans Beer Market - Beer is the Hero
Watermans Beer Market – Beer is the Hero.

So we headed in. The walls are all those different-sized-stone-brick type things, and there’s plenty of beaten wood, so it’s gives the feeling of being in the wine cellar of a castle. We kept exploring out the back, and found a smallish astroturf beer garden (ah Hobart, you seem to be having a grass-growing problem) with a secondary bar. A quick peek at the impressive bottle stock in the fridges there revealed a bottle of La Sirène Praline for $20. Score. What a way to start! Before we could do anything about it, the bartender from inside came out and brusquely informed us that the beer garden was closed, and held the door open for us like he was waiting for the dog to come back inside.

“Sorry, we’re just looking at the bottle stock,” we said.

Raising his eyebrows, he said, “We have all the same bottles inside.”

Fair enough. We headed back in and up to the bar.

“So… what sort of thing are you after?” he asked.

“La Siréne Praline.”

At this, he hesitated a second, his mouth opening and closing like a goldfish. “We only have one bottle of that. … it’s out the back. I’ll go get it.”

Call me a douche, but I got a perverse pleasure out of seeing the slow spread of embarrassment creep across his face. Bet you feel a little bit like a dingus, doncha?

Anyway, after all the back-and-forthing, that last bottle of Praline turned out to be a frother, so we had a good chat with the guy about the taps and ended up going straight to the tasting paddle. And of course, any paddle is amazing when it includes Modus Operandi Former Tenant and Sierra Nevada Bigfoot. I say, Tasmania, summer may not make it across the strait to your shores, but I’m certainly glad Former Tenant does.

Mrs Schoonerversity is mucho happy with our tasting paddle
Mrs Schoonerversity is mucho happy with our tasting paddle.

Before we left, I saw a sign that said, ‘Want discounted beer for life? Ask us how.’

That is definitely something that interests me. So I asked, “Oh barkeep! How would I go about getting discounted beer for life?”

“You register, then once you’ve drank your way through a keg’s worth of beer, you get discounted beer for life.”

“Hmmm. I reckon there might be a few bars back home where I’ve drank a keg’s worth… but it might be difficult here. We’re only here for ten days.”

To which the guy replied: “It’s been done. Record’s eight days.”

Wow. Someone had a very good week… followed by a very bad week.

Towards the end of our holiday, we’d been to some good bars, but were yet to check out a Tassie brewery. Which is completely unacceptable. With a little bit of research, I decided Shambles Brewery was the best looking place in walking distance of our accommodation (I may or may not have made that decision based solely on the fact that their bowls of hot chips were only $4). It’s nestled on one of the main streets of town beneath a huge red sign that says ‘MEATS & MORE’. We might have missed it if it weren’t for the astroturf out front (seriously Hobart, I think we need to talk).

A Brisbane beer blogger in a Hobart brewery reading a Melbourne beer magazine.
A Brisbane beer blogger in a Hobart brewery reading a Melbourne beer magazine.
Shambles coasters - collect them all!
Shambles coasters – collect them all! (by Atomic Blender)

Unfortunately the kitchen wasn’t open yet, which brought tears to my chip-loving soul, so I began the grieving process with a tasting paddle. We picked all of the 6%+ beers (of course), and were not disappointed.

Hand crafted copper tap handles, by Atomic Blender.
Pretty sweet hand-crafted copper tap handles. (by Atomic Blender)
Ah, look at those beautiful colours...
Ah, look at those beautiful colours…
  • The Pheasant Plucker (I assume they enjoy hearing drunk people order that) was a saison but with some boozy backbone, which suited me just fine.
  • The Marvin the Marzen introduced me to a new style, which is always fun. I didn’t know what the crazy a ‘Marzen’ was before this, but apparently it’s a seriously sweet malty German lager. Would do again.
  • Dances with Hops was a solid American IPA—always a good sign when a brewery’s core IPA isn’t boring.
  • The Barry White Robust Porter drank like a stout—deep, rich, and toasty, with a crema-like chocolatey head.

For a brewery that only opened at the beginning of the year, they’re certainly pumping out some quality stuff.

Shambles Brewery, Hobart
Shambles Brewery, Hobart

Also they have pictures of a bear/deer crossbreed. (It’s a Beer! Get it????????!?!?!!?!?!???). Which looks awesome but raises a few questions.

  • Do they know Anderson Valley already has that?
  • Did they come up with it separately, or just figure we can have one brewery per hemisphere with a Beer in the branding?
  • Why is an Aussie brewery using a mythical creature that’s an amalgamation of animals we don’t have in Australia? (Wait… do we have deer in Australia? I feel like we probably have deer somewhere.)

This is where my brain goes when it’s not given chips.

Hobart, your weather and your sunlight confuse me. (As does your inexplicable abundance of astroturf. And ice cream stores! WHY ARE YOU EATING SO MUCH ICE CREAM WHEN IT’S COLD?!).

But you made this dark beer lover happy. Cheers, Hobart (Hobeert?).

Did I miss some amazing beer places in Hobart that I should have checked out? Let me know in the comments.

Ballistic Beer Co - Malt & Hops

Super Cellar Door: Ballistic, Sexy and Ferocious

Lock and load, Brisbane Southsiders—there may finally be a reason for people to come over to your side of the river. (I can just feel all the angry Southsiders blowing up at me as they read this.) You’ve been gunning for a solid craft beer brewery on your side of town for a while. Until now, you’ve had to shoot over to West End for Catchment and Brisbane Brewing, or across to Newstead and Green Beacon. Or of course, you could head out to Bacchus, with their amazing barrel program. If you’re really keen, you could always go long range and hit up Beard & Brau or Fortitude. But the fact is, you’ve missed having a craft beer brewery to call your own.

Well, as of next year, you’ll have a real brick-and-mortar brewery in Salisbury—Ballistic Beer Co.

I’ve had them in my crosshairs for a while—I’ve been scoping them out on social media, as I do. And when I saw on their blog that they were aiming to open up in the coming months, it triggered something in me, and I went for a visit.

The unassuming front door
The unassuming front door.

Now, I’ll admit: Salisbury isn’t often a target destination for me. Northsiders generally assume the South Side is just a wasteland of rubble, so when I found the industrial area that Ballistic calls home, I wasn’t surprised. I knocked on the door of what appeared to be an empty shell of a warehouse, and was met by something that gave hope to my semi-craft-beer-hipster heart—combed hair, a flowing beard, and a beer t-shirt.

(I think I’m up to 15 armament related puns. I can’t help it—a name like Ballistic gives me so much ammunition. But I think I’m done now.)

Meet Lachy.

Lachy Crothers, Head Brewer and Beer Grower of Ballistic Beer Co
Lachy Crothers, Head Brewer and Beer Grower of Ballistic Beer Co.

Lachy’s the head brewer of Ballistic. But of course, as the only full-time employee of a start-up company who spends much of his time alone inside a giant warehouse, he’s a jack-of-all-trades at the moment—he does most of Ballistic’s administration, planning, gardening, cleaning, blogging, and if he’s anything like me, he probably shoots around the warehouse on a swivel chair sometimes.

On this particular day, however, he left the swivel chair in the office, and gave me a tour of the brewery space on foot. I say ‘brewery space’, because the place is still in its infancy.

Brewery in process
Brewery in process.

The cellar door area, with core range and seasonal beers on 8-12 taps, where they’ll be selling their beer and merchandise… is an empty 100marea, with the boundary marked out with kegs, and the ’bar’ marked out with bags of malt.

Bags of malt marking where the bar will go in the cellar door.
Bags of malt marking where the bar will go in the cellar door.

In the brewhouse area, where the 25HL three vessel brewhouse, and the two 25HL fermenters and four 50HL fermenters will all sit… is the 200L pilot brewing kit, where Lachy slaves away to produce about 3 kegs at a time of beer. (The proper brewhouse is currently on a ship coming from China, and if it can avoid all pirates, icebergs, and krakens, should arrive in Australia in a couple of weeks.)

Lachy, David, and their baby brew kit. Can't wait to see it grow up.
Lachy, David, and their baby brew kit. Can’t wait to see it grow up. (Photo from ballisticbeer.com.au)

The canning area, where a mobile canning line will wrap Ballistic’s precious beer in aluminium for takeaway brews until a permanent canning line is commissioned… is currently just an expanse of concrete and steel girders. An empty corner of the warehouse. Not that cool yet.

But the next part of the tour I found very cool. The coldroom… is a monster. It’s 11m x 7m. That’s 77m2. You could fit 30 Twister mats in there. (That’s right—I did the maths.) That is a potential 80 people playing Twister in the coldroom. (The official Twister website seems to think it’s a game for 2-3 players. I’ve always played it with 4. WAY more fun.) That is more very cold Twister than you’ve ever seen.

Giant coldroom. No Twister mat in sight.
Giant coldroom. No Twister mat in sight.

However, Lachy claims that instead of using the coldroom for maxi-freezi-Twister, they’re going to store their beer in it—it’s big enough to fit everything they can brew, which means all of their beer can be kept at the optimal temperature and remain at the optimal quality. That’s a privilege not all breweries can afford, so it’s nice that Ballistic will be able to pull it off in their giant warehouse space.

(For the record, as well as checking how many Twister mats would fit in the coldroom, I tried the maths with Kombi vans. A lot of them would have to be cut in half. It’s less pretty than Twister mats.)

After we’d wandered around the brewery for a while, we stood around with a fresh IPA (and when I say fresh, I mean fresh—as in an hour before I arrived!) to shoot the breeze. 

Lachy told me how he got his first job in brewing in 2010—he liked beer, so he searched on Seek.com for ‘beer’ and saw that Gage Roads was looking for an assistant brewer. He got the job, and while it initially involved a lot of drudge work, the high turnover of staff meant that by simply sticking around, he was trained up quickly. Within a year he was running a shift, and within 5 years, he was training team leaders, and ready to move on. He travelled Europe with his fiancé, work for 6 months at Camden Town Brewery in London, and it was from there that he returned to Australia to take the job with Ballistic Beer Co.

It was only after seeing the logo an embarrassingly large number of times before I realised the bomb is a keg.
It was only after seeing the logo an embarrassingly large number of times before I realised the bomb is a keg.

I asked if he still enjoys making beer. He thought about it for a moment, and said, “I don’t get excited making wort anymore. I’ll be happy when I can hire someone to do that for me. But fermentation… that’s where it’s at.”

“You can make average beer out of great wort. You can make great beer out of average wort. Fermentation. That’s where you need the skill—to do good things with the yeast.”

As the conversation went on, it became clear that Lachy is particularly passionate about making consistent beers. About paying careful attention to each step of the process, and continuing to treat the beer well after it’s finished. When I asked him what his favourite style was, he ummed and ahhed and eventually said, “I know it sounds lame, but… I just like good beer. Beer that’s been made well, and treated well… It doesn’t even have to be ‘full of flavour’, as such. Just good.” He even got a little poetic about it:

“You need to be gentle with beer,” he said at one point. “You can tell when a beer’s been smashed around.”

It was to taste the fruits of the Beer Poet’s labours that a number of industry people—bloggers, beerstagrammers, bartenders, etc—showed up to Ballistic a few days later for a VIP tasting evening.

They tried to get a candid shot. But I photobombed the candid shot of me.
They tried to get a candid shot. But I photobombed the candid shot of me. (Photo from Ballistic Beer Co’s Facebook page)

Of course, a number of us beerstagrammers and bloggers spent the first fifteen minutes wandering around like dogs exploring a new house, lining up the glasses of hops and malt that had been placed on each of the tables, and forcing our friends to help us take photos of kegs from funny angles.

Malt, hops, and fire. Great combo.
Malt, hops, and fire. Great combo.

In time, we sat our restless selves down to listen to the spiels. It was here that we met David, the father of Ballistic. David owns and runs Brewers Choice (chain of homebrew stores), and brings a whole lot of business experience to the table. 

David Kitchen, Founder and Chief Beer Taster
David Kitchen, Founder and Chief Beer Taster.

After living in Salisbury for over a decade, he decided that if he wanted a place to get great beer in his suburb, it was up to him to make it happen. So he found a warehouse in an industrial area that was used during World War II to develop armaments (the origin of Ballistic’s name), found Lachy, and got cracking on the behemoth.

But David has no intention for Ballistic to be a faceless beer-producing factory. He wants to connect with the Salisbury community, and become a centre for people to gather together—an important part of the neighbourhood. He and Lachy have already talked to a number of locals, invited them to a tasting, and opened up the conversation to discuss any potential issues that people may be worried about. Lachy said, “Some people have showed support. Some have shared concerns. But most people just want a place where they can get a good beer.”

After David’s and Lachy’s patter, we went straight to the beers.

They said, "Put whatever you want on the feedback form." I put a beer on it.
They said, “Put whatever you want on the feedback form.” I put a beer on it.

(Note: One of the reasons for this tasting, and a previous one, was for the Ballistic crew to get feedback on their beers. They’re still refining their recipes, still using the pilot brewing kit at present, and have all kinds of ideas for evolution and improvement before they open. Worth keeping in mind in regards to any of the beers’ perceived shortcomings.)

Pilot Light Table Beer – 3.5% ABV, 25 IBU

Pilot Light Table Beer
Pilot Light Table Beer.

What they say: A Table Beer is a traditional European style that was low alcohol and intended to be shared and enjoyed with food. We took this idea and ran with it, creating a new world light beer that tastes like a full strength. Although lower in alcohol, this beer has the malt and body of a full strength and is balanced by pineapple and grapefruit aroma.

What I say: Costa from La Sirène was the one who introduced me to the concept of a table beer. Belgian workers coming in from the field, ripping into their lunch and jugs of shared beer before they get back to their sweaty work. Very cool idea. Although I’m not generally one for lower alcohol beers (that is, anything under 7% ABV), I enjoyed Costa’s Belle French Ale more than I expected to, and I enjoyed Pilot Light more than I expected to as well. While I wouldn’t say it tasted like a full strength beer, it had more flavour than many mid-strength—a mouthful of breadiness and hops, and some decent aftertaste. Not a beer I’d drink on its own, but when I think about lying on the grass with a growler of this, a rustic loaf of bread, and some olives, my mouth begins to water.

Dirty Word Craft Lager – 5% ABV, 30 IBU

Dirty Word Craft Lager
Dirty Word Craft Lager.

What they say: Lager has long been a dirty word in craft beer circles, but we’ve challenged that idea by creating a clean, crisp, contemporary craft lager to prove the lager haters wrong. An aroma of lemon sorbet and gooseberry with a delicate bitterness and dry finish.

What I say: ‘Clean and crisp’ just aren’t what I’m looking for in a beer. I get that lagers aren’t supposed to be big and boozy, but the fact is, that’s what I enjoy. As I knocked back this insanely bright yellow brew (it looks like Mountain Dew!), I thought it was pretty good compared to most other lagers. It had flavour; it wasn’t boring and tasteless; it didn’t taste fake or cheap… but it was still a lager. Unless they make a 12% imperial version, it won’t be my drink of choice. (If you like lagers, though: get into it!)

Australian Psycho IPA – 6.5% ABV, 70 IBU

Australian Psycho IPA
Australian Psycho IPA.

What they say: With a 100% Australian hop bill, this beer was unleashed to showcase the world class hops we grow here in Australia. A well-balanced but aggressively bitter fruit bowl of apricot, passionfruit, and pine.

What I say: Now we’re getting to the good stuff! This was deep hazy orange, like looking through a dried apricot. It’s packed full of Topaz, Summer, Victoria Secret, and Ella hops, and mighty tasty. I know it’s been described as ‘aggressively bitter’, but I found it quite easy drinking. Some people think might say this is pushing into ‘heavy’ territory, but 6.5% ABV is juuuust starting to register on the Schoonervers-o-meter. We began with the table beer… well, I’d call this a great table IPA. Best consumed from a jug. Hope to see some seasonal variations of this bad boy in the future!

Old Ale Strong Oaked Old Ale – 7% ABV, 50 IBU

Strong Oaked Old Ale
Strong Oaked Old Ale.

What they say: Inspired by our Head Brewer’s time brewing in the UK, this big English Style Old Ale uses 6 different malts and is aged on oak to enhance its rich complexity. Complex caramel, biscuit, and vanilla flavours are balanced by a warming alcohol and firm bitterness.

What I say: There was a very limited amount of this one, so we only got a small glass of it, but it was so good. I expected it to be my favourite of the night, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s aged on American oak, but gazes into your eyes like deep mahogany. Other people said they picked up a lot of coconut, but not me. I got sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce, and then a little bourbon as it warmed up.

Once we’d tried the 4 beers, a million pizzas were cooked and served out like machine gun fire. Jugs of Australia Psycho were poured freely (I may have asked for a sneaky second glass of the old ale), and we chatted the rest of the evening away, as well as more happy snaps and exploring. ’Twas a good night.

Pizza, beer, and @beergirlworld
Pizza, beer, and @beergirlworld.

The coming months will show Ballistic installing their brewhouse, finalising the details, and opening up early next year. I’m confident Ballistic Beer Co will spark a love of craft beer in Salisbury, and I for one am looking forward to when they launch. (Aaaaaand that’s the last pun, I promise.)

Birthday Cheer and a Year of Beer.

It’s my birthday today. And since I missed Schoonerversity’s birthday (it was sometime in June, I think), I figured I’d do a little post on my actual birthday. A glance back at beer over the last year.

Like that time I went with a mate to bravely drink all those sour beers even though I’m not a sour drinker and we all described one of the beers as ‘wet dog/sock’. (And for some reason, from some of the people there, that was a good thing.)

Or that time I first wore the Captain’s hat as Schoonerversity, and watched people riding kegs in the water at the BrewsVegas Pool Party.

That time we went to the Founders takeover at Newstead Brewing, and we all got tasting paddles, and we all got double Dirty Bastard.

(Or the time Nick introduced me to Dirty Bastard in the first place!)

That time I finally got to try Red Bellied Black (by Bacchus Brewing), after my friend Stu has been telling me about it for years, just waiting for it to be available again. Spoiler: It’s a freaking incredible beer.

What about that time we won beer trivia at Mr Edwards?

…which ended up giving us the starter kit for the inaugural Beerunch.

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Beerunch is an excellent idea.

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That time we went on a city-wide bar crawl with Brews and Bacon, and EVERY OTHER beer blogger in Brisbane.

That time we hung out with Dennis and Grant from Modus Operandi. Twice. (They knew I was only using them for their delicious Former Tenant, but they couldn’t help it.)

That time we had Black Dog Coffee Brown Ale, coffee, and hash browns for breakfast.

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Coffee brown ale. Coffee. Hash browns. Breakfast at its best.

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That time I ‘helped’ with some brewing at Newstead Brewing Co while wearing thongs (if you’re some kind of government person reading this, I am lying—Newstead always holds to safe and responsible practices when they let ring-ins touch their big shiny equipment).

That time I finally found a Rogue beer that I was happy with—the Double Chocolate Stout, which I sampled at The Scratch’s Weekend of Darkness. A group of us were all drinking it at the same time, while sitting out in the rain. Happy.

That time Costa’s infectious passion won me over on farmhouse ales.

That time Christian shared his Barrel-Aged Narwhal with us. We discovered that Dave hasn’t seen any of the Indiana Jones movies, or The Lion King. What a wasted childhood.

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The legend is real. Thanks for sharing, @christiancyril!

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That time we were Backseat Bandits with none other than the Beer Tragic himself, en route to Brewski for some Mismatch Negroni IPA.

That time we hung out with Jimmy and Dave from the up-and-coming Aether Brewing and accidentally stayed in the half-built brewery until midnight and accidentally drank all of their beer.

Or of course, the time I got a lovely haul of beers from friends and family… for last year’s birthday.

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A bounty of beers bestowed upon me.

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I was actually halfway through writing another blog post when I decided to put together this little scrapbook (oops). But I couldn’t help it. Once I started remembering some of these times, more and more kept flooding in. Because the truth is, the memories of the beers are lovely, but the memories of the people linger with an aftertaste that beats out hoppy bitterness any time.

Cheers for the year, friends of Schoonerversity. I love you all (except one—you know who you are).