Who would have thought that saving a tree frog from a hot cup of tea would lead to a life as a brewer? Well it was a bit more round-about than that for Cameron McPherson, co-owner and brewer at the new Cairns brewery, Barrier Reef Brewing Co.
Cameron left for the UK at the age of 26, with a freshly minted Veterinary Degree in his back pocket, planning on making a living working in marine mammal medicine. While there he met Caroline, a veterinary nurse, and passed the time living in their little shack on the Scottish coastline, working in a vet practice to pay the bills, and volunteering as much time as they could to marine and wildlife charities.
During this time Cameron caught the brewing bug, call it a by-product of having access to all those freshly brewed Scottish beers, which were so different to the Australian beers of the time. Scottish Ale is slightly akin to the now commonly found amber ales, but it has some serious malt work in them, it’s dense and shows a lot more of those caramels, and packs a serious amount of alcohol in them (generally 6% to 10%). Beers that are meant more for the Scottish/European climate and are a struggle to be consumed here in our 38degree summers.
Cameron went back to study and find out everything that he could about the brewing process, how was it made, what differences does the strain of yeast make, does where the malt was grown make a difference? He spent time working in microbreweries, working with and meeting some of the great craft brewers that have popped up in the UK, a mate of a mate runs the incredibly good, and incredibly awarded BrewDog in Scotland, pumping everyone he could for their knowledge and the finer points of brewing.
Eventually the pair decided the lure of the sun and warmth was too much and they headed off to Australia armed with a well-worn passport, some hilarious stories about being in the freezing North Sea during winter saving mammals and driving seals around in their VW, and a now near encyclopaedic knowledge about brewing.
The pair ended up back in Cairns and decided, along with Cameron’s parents, to set up Barrier Reef Brewing Co with the intention of knocking out some seriously well-made beers. Using pure water, great quality malts, late hopping, dry hopping, using science as a kind of alchemy to produce quality drops.
The team knock out three beers at the minute; Arlington Amber Ale, Two Turtles Pale Ale and the Barrier Reef Kolsch and a new yet to be named brew, that was tasted straight from the fermenting tank and has the potential to be one heck of a beer. Cameron has created beers that aren’t meant to be had as “weapons of mass consumption”, as they start to lose their way somewhere between six and ten beers in.
But that’s not what these beers are meant for, these beers have been created to be appreciated with good food and good company. And with that in mind you won’t find Barrier Reef Brewing Co.’s beers in the fridge at your local bottleo. Instead these can only be found exclusively in restaurants, cafes and bars where they can be matched with food and appreciated, or direct from the brewery where the beer can be “treated like milk”, kept cold and transported straight home to be enjoyed with a monster bucket of prawns.
We blind tasted these around the table, against a few well known macro brewed beers, and the results were surprising. We noticed that the hop profiles have been dialled back to suit the Australian palate, but you can taste the quality of the products that are used. What was especially impressive is that there is none of that metallic, homebrew tang that you find in some of the other small micro-brewery beers, no extracts here, it’s the real thing.
It’s also worth noting that for every beer that is sold, a portion is donated to the Turtle Rehabilitation Program, drinking beer and doing good in the world. I like that.
Barrier Reef Brewing Co. Two Turtles Pale Ale – not a huge American style pale here, it’s more of the Australian style that has evolved over the last ten years, where the fruity notes are to the fore and the hoppy resin notes take a back seat. Its got passionfruit, fresh grassy/straw notes, there’s some nice malt work in there with touches of caramels and toffee. This needs food to hit its straps, think roast pork, pizza or Thai. We blind tasted it against the James Squire Pale Ale and the Two Turtles came out on top, but the Squire would work with a greater range of foods.
Barrier Reef Brewing Co. Arlington Amber – I like amber ales, there’s a nuttiness and a strong malt backbone that you don’t find in a lot of other beers, but that also puts people off. This shows that nuttiness as more of a toasted peanut flavour, with a good lick of malty biscuity-ness to it, with light toffee and caramels. We blind tasted this against the Sail and Anchor Amber which unfortunately didn’t put up much of a show. It was kind of like watching the Cowboys V Newcastle game again, with the Arlington absolutely thrashing the Sail and Anchor.
Barrier Reef Brewing Co. Barrier Reef Kolsch – kolsch can be a misunderstood beer, I think it’s the name that scares people, but kolsch is the German version of an English pale ale, if you think of line with ales at one end and lager at the other, just left of the middle will be kolsch, and just right will be pilsner. Which is why some people think that a macro-brewed Kolsch tastes like a lager. This version has the addition of some wheat, which brings out some interesting spicy and fruity/floral notes, light dry, biscuity finish from the malts. It was the pick over the 4 Pines Kolsch and the White Rabbit Belgian Pale Ale. What it really needs to come alive is seafood, fresh fish off the barbeque or a bottomless bucket of fresh prawns.