The humble beer garden becomes holy when that sweet summer sunshine breaks. You kick back with your sunnies on, feet bare and that frosty Stone & Wood Pacific Ale glistening in the sun just like your pearly whites. It’s summer and you’re in a beer garden and you have a beer in your hand. Life cannot get any better. At that moment, your mortgage doesn’t need repaying and it doesn’t matter that you still don’t have your driver’s license at age 34. Finding out what that weird rash on your arm is can wait until March. You are in beer garden nirvana.
The sometimes-factual information bible Wikipedia helpfully states “Australia has many beer gardens, typically as part of a pub, or often next to sports fields.” Helpful, Wikipedia, helpful. We are blessed with an abundance of beer gardens, and their sexy cousins the rooftop bar. Many are hidden away, in places you’d least suspect.
So how do you choose just one?
Much like deciding on a particular god (or not) to worship, this choice can be difficult. Often it’s not as simple as your venue having a beer and also having a garden.
Arriving home after a full day at the tennis where you hung out in the massive onsite beer garden all day, dying of sunburn because you forgot to reapply sunscreen and you didn’t alternate water with those $36 schooners you were drinking – that’s not fun. You also probably have no idea who won any of the actual tennis matches. If you were desperate to experience Death from Above, you could have just purchased one from Garage Project and sat in your dad’s cool air-conditioned garage, watching the tennis on the small screen instead of getting burnt to death because there was not enough shade for the amount of patrons inside the beer garden.
The garden you decide upon may have the perfect sun to shade ratio. But you may also have been tempted by that delicious apple cider they have on offer; a sweet summery treat best served with ice. Mm-mm! When the sun is at it’s highest, these nectars of the gods can go down quite easily. Just as easily, like Adam and Eve, you may be banished from the garden earlier than expected due to your inebriation on forbidden fruit, and wake up with a mouth that feels like it’s been soaking in a bag of sugar.
There is also nothing worse than having a delightful bushwalk with friends and stumbling upon what looks like beer garden heaven, when in actual fact it’s hellish as you discover the stern sign ordering you to “keep off the grass”. Their kitchen is closed for the summer and the trembling 13-year-old girl behind the bar has to “wait until someone legal gets back from their break to sell beer.” Poor Little Dove. Time to hit the (Gage) road to find another garden where you can frolic on the grass to your heart’s content. A garden where you can actually purchase beer.
One Melbourne venue I know of has old garden tools featured on a brick wall. Pretty to look at, and interesting to observe their use if patrons get into an argument about religion or football. I like gardens that have novelties like garden rakes, little lending libraries, or a toilet that has an integrated hand sink. (Am I washing my hands with toilet water?! Am I?!!) They make for great conversation topics with your beer garden companions. My local, where I consume 89.2% of my craft beer, has a retractable roof. Once you’ve cooled off by dancing in the summer rain for a bit, the roof will helpfully close and the area suddenly becomes an intimate little indoor beer garden, dry from the rain but certainly not dry in the craft beer selection.
I worship beer gardens that offer summertime essentials such as free sunscreen and hats, as well as games to help while away a perfect afternoon. Hot tip: if you’re planning on stealing the plastic cricket kit from children it is advisable to seek forgiveness by offering their parents a couple of Bad Shepherd The Almighty IIPAs. It is also an idea to shepherd the kids to the trunkful of board games so they don’t throw a tantrum – much like the tantrum your mate Sarah will throw once you get her out first ball. Back to the nets, Sarah, but first - buy me another beer.
Your beer garden must have snacks. This is a non-negotiable commandment. Nuts, pickles, sliders, fried chicken, (Adam’s) spareribs; think food that gets you licking your fingers afterwards. This will fuel you and line your stomach for twilight when the pretty garden fairy lights come on and the drinking gets serious. As God told Adam & Eve “eat freely from the entire beer garden menu except the forbidden broccoli tree – you can eat vegetables when you die and float into the Big Sky (Scape Goat Pale Ale).”
I believe in gardens that have ample space. How annoying is it when you get to your venue too late and have to stand, squashed up against a tiny section of wall between the strange flushing toilets and the bin full of oyster shells? Watching smug looking patrons faces as they sprawl out on comfy banana lounges, sipping their Hawkers Saison while you’re eyes dart over to those high tables - that couple looks like they are leaving - quick John run, oh wait shit old mate got there before us! – it feels like purgatory. My secret is to rock up at a venue early in the afternoon and sit at a table that’s reserved for much later, say, “Nigel, 6pm.” That gives hours of comfy smug sitting action, and also affords time in which to come up with a plausible story about how you know Nigel so you can sit there all afternoon and into the summery night. Just don’t make eye contact with Nigel, as he might expect a birthday beverage.
When seeking out the perfect venue on your beer garden pilgrimage, it pays to research a bit of venue theology before you sell your soul to a garden for a summery session. According to my bible, the venue needs craft beer. It needs a frolic-y looking garden. It needs snacks and plenty of sun versus shade options. If you find that a certain beer garden just doesn’t feel right, don’t worry, as there are plenty on offer. Australia has many beer gardens, typically as part of a pub, or often next to sports fields.
Your perfect summer beer garden prayers will be answered.
The lovely people at Froth have published some of my pieces, some of which you can read here. You can find the latest Froth in all good craft beer establishments.