I had been drinking beer for fifty years, when I thought what was needed was a little light relief. No wait…that sounds wrong.
I’ll start again.
My name is Paul Tonkin, and I really have been drinking beer for fifty years.
I grew up in the county of Kent, in England, and on weekly shopping trips to Canterbury, we drove past the hop fields for which Kent was famous. I remember the oast houses at the corner of every hop field. Hot air from a wood-fired kiln rose up these tower to dry out the hops on a raised floor. I didn’t know at that time, that I was in the Middle Earth of Beer, where the magic hop flowers were being grown.
I first started making homebrew beer in Sydney in 1969. Later, a team of us started making slightly serious beer in Canberra in 1970.
In those days, there were few brewing kits as such, so we acquired tinned malt, dried hops and any suitable yeast that we could find. We found a mate’s garage, where we could brew our beer in several large plastic dustbins. These were new, unused dustbins, I hasten to add.
The result was the glorious ”Barton Bitter”, named after a Canberra suburb. Each had a neatly hammered on crown cap, and a “BB” stencilled onto the bottle in bright yellow paint.
On a Saturday night, our brewing consortium would crack open the “Barton Bitter” and somehow get amazingly drunk after only a few bottles. The beer was, in fact, very good.
“Barton Bitter” came to a sticky end, where as novice brewmaster, I started a beer in the Canberra garage headquarters, during the bitterly cold winter month of July. The yeast failed to start the fermentation process, the dustbins remained silent, the malty liquor remained a malty liquor.
We waited for week after week for something to happen. The weeks turned into months, the months came and went. Eventually, we all went our separate ways and got on with our lives.
As far as I know, the dustbins are still in the garage. Maybe the mixture started fermenting when summer finally arrived and it became “Barton Bitter Le Grand Cru”. Maybe not.
I went on to get a degree in chemistry at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, where, after studying organic chemistry for three years, I knew the formula for ethanol and how sugars break down to make this wonderful drinkable alcohol.
My degree covered both chemistry and geology, leaving me perfectly placed to enjoy a career that enabled me to travel the world, try beers and make fairly informed comments about them (earthy, minerals, and so on).
After a long time drinking beer in England, Europe and Asia, I returned to Australia in 2001 looking for The Great Australian Beer.
And that’s where the story really begins.