The Lord Nelson pub is possibly Australia’s oldest hotel, and is definitely the oldest continually licensed hotel, still trading on its original site. On 29th June 1831 Richard Phillips obtained a liquor licence for the Shipwright Arms on the corner of Kent and Argyle Streets, changing the name to the Sailor’s Return the next year after the continual trade from seafarers and dock workers. The pub has gone through a series of names and owners throughout the years until its purchase in 1986 by current owner Blair Hayden, who restored the ailing pub to its former grandeur – think massive, thick sandstone walls and wooden tables.
He also undertook, what was then a very unusual venture, he created a brewery inside the pub to create their own beers. At the time the beer landscape was dominated by the two major breweries, and lager was the dominate beer, there was very little else to try if you wanted something different. However, right from the beginning the team concentrated on brewing ales on premises, that doesn’t seem particularly trend setting now with the rise of craft beer, but back then brewing on premises was something of a stand out move. Add to that the fact that beers were sold on site, they didn’t need to be filtered or pasteurised, two things that kill taste in a beer, but necessary for storage or transport, and you start to understand why it was such a game changer. The brewery itself is woven throughout the frame of the building and its rabbit warren cellars. The brewing process first begins in the hotel’s cellar where the malt is mashed. The ale is then fermented in the brewery at the rear of the bar before being pumped downstairs into the cellar to be matured and conditioned. Finally, it’s sent through the taps to the bar on the first floor and into your empty schooner. The beers have gone onto have such a following, and such a demand, that the micro-brewery wasn’t able to keep up nor have space for bottling equipment, so they opted to contract out the brewing and bottling of their packaged beers.
In a market that has seen labels come and go, the Lord Nelson must be doing something right. The four original beers that brewery created over 30 years ago- Nelson’s Blood, a porter; Trafalgar Pale Ale, an English styled Pale Ale; Victory Ale, an English Bitter and Old Admiral, a massive, chest hair producing 6.1% alcohol English Strong Ale – are still produced. They aren’t exactly the same beer, changes in supplies change the results from the micro-brewery, however the beers are all approachable and certainly drinkable. Those four main pillars have been joined by another two ales, the Quayle Ale, a Summer Ale and Three Sheets, an Australian Pale Ale which has gone on to be the brewery’s flagship beer, with those six mainstays usually joined by a seasonal beer, anything from rye ale to big, chewy stouts.
Late last year they released the Lord Nelson Brewery Dead Ahead in celebration of the 175th anniversary of the Lord Nelson hotel and the 30th anniversary of the Lord Nelson Brewery. It’s an old school Golden Ale, with no whizzbangery, happening here, no dry hopping, late hopping, barrel aging or a concoction of alchemist styled mix of malt and spices/fruit peel/oils. Pleasant aromas of biscuit, hay and a touch of lemony citrus, on the tongue the malts shine through with toffee and caramel, some dried date notes and spice, very reminiscent of a sticky date pudding. The finish is interesting with some late bitter notes showing up in the back of your throat, and just enough length to make it a quaffable beer.
Another few easy to find Lord Nelson’s:
Lord Nelson Backburner IPA – here’s something different, a Belgian Witbier styled IPA. Aromas of toasted light rye bread, dried fruit and caramels, its more malt driven on the tongue than hop driven, those same rye bread notes showing through, spices and orange peel. The dry finish shows up some bitterness and spice. It’s an odd beer, I like it, but its more amber ale than IPA.
Lord Nelson Three Sheets Pale Ale – not the hop driven US style, nor the malt driven English style, its more of a balance between the two, with the hops taking the lead on the nose and the malts on the tongue. Light and crisp on the tongue, low bitterness, and a short, almost lager like finish. Quaffable beer that would be more at home in our warmer months.
Lord Nelson Old Admiral Dark Ale – I’m a fan of the big, bold malt driven flavours that come with strong ales, this isn’t a beer you will like if you regularly drink Great Northern or Summer Bright. Sweet caramel malty notes on the nose, with spiced fruit cake. Those roasted, toasty malt notes show through on the tongue, with toffee and caramels followed through with sweet dark chocolate, there’s a slightly creamy mouthfeel, with a long and bitter finish. Enjoyable beer, but at 6.1% alcohol not a sessionable one, more of a “have with a cheese board” or “last cleansing ale”.