You know, being in the travel industry in any shape or form really isn’t a lot of fun at the moment.
Of course, being in Sydney is a better place to be (for now) than many other places in the world with regards to Covid outbreaks, closed borders, travel bans and outright lockdown, but it still sucks.
But this is all obvious stuff, isn’t it?
Stuff we’ve all been going through for months now. What has made things easier is the wealth of companies that have taken the experiential side of their business and put it online.
Apart from being able to travel back to Port Stephens – our home from home – this past week, we’ve been enjoying some online masterclasses… and even running a few of our own.
We hope you enjoy this latest Edition and that you’re staying safe and well.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
Because you follow us on Instagram (you do, right?), you’ll have seen our unboxing of a new masterclass by the amazing Nip of Courage team, who are champions of all things distilled in Australia.
If you missed it, you can still watch our IGTV vid here.
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The masterclass – celebrating Rye July – featured four of Belgrave Distillery’s rye whiskies crafted by distiller, farmer and recycling oddball genius Peter Bignell.
Keep an eye open for more exciting online masterclasses from Nip of Courage over the next few months. They’re incredibly well put together, entertaining and informative, and the spirits they showcase are truly superb.
Tonight, I’ve ventured out into the wide world for a few beers and dinner with a couple of mates. Socially distancing of course!
Our first stop is to an old favourite – Young Henrys Brewery in Newtown. Their beer is iconic and their ‘cellar door’ is a lot of fun, and the best part about the Covid-safe rules (if there is a best part) is the hand sanitiser here is made with the botanicals Young Henrys use in their Noble Cut gin!
After a couple of brews, we head to dinner up the road – a Turkish place called Stanbuli. The food here is great, with delicious dips, flatbreads and kebab chicken, gozleme, and even a Turkish take on a cheese burger, which isn’t half bad.
We also give the Turkish beer a go here, but it’s not great unfortunately. In spite of a cool label and lovely colour, the Eikkimm IPA doesn’t win me over.
Otherwise, I highly recommend Stanbuli. Great service and interesting, delicious food.
Today, we’re making the most of still being allowed to travel a bit, Christina and I are heading north back to Port Stephens. Christina’s sister has a little holiday house there that we’re putting to good use.
We were only there last month, but it’s so pretty on the coast we can’t get enough!
As is tradition, as soon as we arrive, we head to the beach. This is Bagnalls Beach in Corlette not far from Nelson Bay. It’s rarely crowded – even in the summer. And during winter, it’s mostly dog-walkers we see here.
The only ones to keep us company this evening though are a couple of pelicans and a little pod of dolphins. It’s amazing that somewhere like this is only two hours from Sydney.
It’s cold out though, so once we take in the scenery for a while, we hurry back inside and get the fire started.
For more stories on Port Stephens, check out our library on this beautiful part of New South Wales here.
We’ve also written an essential guide to Port Stephens to show you some of the best bits.
Our little house in Port Stephens is the perfect spot to cosy-up and enjoy a glass or two of good red wine. And while we’re here, we’ve decided to do a quick online wine tasting.
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It would be rude not to put these excellent wines to good use after our tasting, so Christina has put together one of her legendary platters.
I don’t know how she makes things that are already delicious enough on their own look and taste even better on a flat board!
This afternoon, we’ve driven out to Newcastle, the nearest big town/city to Port Stephens. Newcastle is underrated as a destination, more known for its port and coal refining plants.
But there are stunning coastal walks around here (the Great North Walk actually starts (or ends) here) and the Mereweather Ocean Pool is an interesting historic part of this striking scenery.
The tides are riding high today, and after some hectic weather, the pool – in a giddy irony – is somehow too full of water.
Not that it matters much to us. If you think I’m even putting a toe in that chilly water, you’ve got some disappointments ahead of you. There are some still ‘enjoying’ a dip today. And they’re doing it on purpose, which confounds me.
Instead, we opt for a warmer, indoor option.
FogHorn Brewhouse on King Street was the first craft brewery for Newcastle. Their beers go straight from the tanks to the taps, and their west coast IPA is a new favourite of mine.
As for their food, FogHorn’s burgers are right up there with the best of them. Christina’s cheeseburger is tender, juicy and packed with flavour.
My Nashville chicken burger – brushed with butter – is excellent too, though the promise of spice never really eventuates.
Either way, we waddle out of the FogHorn feeling very satisfied.
Today, we’re exploring a part of Port Stephens we’ve never been to before, which is surprising. Christina and I have been coming here since about 2005 – even longer for her family.
But the Tilligerry Habitat at Lemon Tree Passage is wholly new to us.
This beautifully decked walkway leads you through some impressive landscapes, and in spite of its size (it’s only about 22 acres) Tilligerry has everything from gum forests and heath to beaches, mangroves and wetlands.
Birdlife here is the main focus, with an amazing range of species to spot, but there are also koalas in the area. Not that we see any!
The boardwalk is beautifully maintained and perfect for less able-bodied people or wheelchair users. We’re still astonished that we haven’t been here before.
We make our way to the water’s edge and once again marvel at the clearness of the sea here. This is Billys Beach (I think) or maybe Secret Beach, but either way it’s beautiful.
After our stroll, we feel the need for food, and make our way to the Lemon Tree Cafe in Lemon Tree Passage proper. We were expecting a sandwich or something like that, but instead it seems savoury crepes are the go here.
Christina’s chicken, mushroom and cheese crepe is excellent, as is my cheese, chicken and avocado one. Delicious!
The owners at the Lemon Tree Cafe are clearly animal lovers (check out the dog gallery on their Facebook page) and make sure there’s plenty to eat for the local bird population too.
This cute little Willie Wagtail is having a ball in the pot of mealworms that’s here for him.
From the cafe, there’s a little walk you can take along the beachside too, that’s well worth it. Views out across the water at Bulls Island and the rest of the peninsula are stunning.
But sadly and all too soon, our time in Port Stephens is coming to an end.
Before we head back to the city, we have one more stop to make in the Hunter Valley.
You may remember we recently visited the Sydney Brewery in Surry Hills – a fascinating story of a brewery that really epitomises the brewing industry in the city.
While we were in Surry Hills, we met the head cidermaster of the brewery – Nathan Hervey, who has invited us too check out Sydney Brewery’s ‘HQ’ in Lovedale.
Our first stop is at the distillery. That’s right, Sydney Brewery is also making whisky. It’s not available yet, but it’s not far off.
Head distiller Aaron is good enough to let us try a little from Barrel 50 and I tell you what, if the rest is as good as this cask strength (around 65%), the world is in for a treat!
As you can see, Sydney Brewery – or should I say Spirit of Sydney – has been making spirits since 2013, but they’re still perfecting and ageing their whisky.
I’m really looking forward to seeing the final product.
From the distillery, which you can actually see from the restaurant here at Lovedale, we head to the brewery, where Nathan shows us where and how they make all the beer.
It’s an impressive setup – perhaps the most impressive craft brewery I’ve seen.
And finally, Nathan takes us to his corner of the world, his nirvana, his home.
This cluster of five steel tanks is where Sydney Brewery’s cider gets going.
Nathan taps a little of the fresh apple juice for us to taste and it explains a lot of why his ciders are so good.
But Nathan is truly a master of his trade and shows it with the remarkable flavours and blends he has created. Even if you’re not much of a cider drinker, you’ll love what he’s making.
From the traditional cider – aka Sydney Cider – that’s clean, dry and balanced to the Oaked Organic Cider that’s complex, floral and moreish, and the intelligent, dry and well-balanced Manly Perry, which is made from 100% pear juice, there’s a drink here for you.
Alternatively, Nathan has also created a set of other flavours that compliment and ride the apple and pear bases he makes. The Agave Ginger Cider is a rare concoction indeed, but not as sweet as it sounds. It’s subtle, refreshing and beautifully balanced.
Nathan’s mango and pineapple ciders are also ones to look out for, and the limited-edition collaboration with Oscar.697 bianco vermouth produces a cider that’s quite exceptional.
Gone are the days of sneaky underage ciders in the park that leave you feeling sugared out and rotten. These are true craft entities to be savoured, cherished and enjoyed.
We leave you this week with a picture that brings me great joy. I hope you’ll indulge me for a moment.
I’ve recently stocked up my stash – with Christina’s blessing – with some superb cigars.
The new additions are some Partagas D4s (top right), Partagas Mille Fleurs (bottom right), Montecristo Edmundo Minis (bottom left) and Vagueros Mañanitas, which I’ve never had before but am very impressed with.
You can also see the remnants of the old guard in the centre – two Montecristo No4s and a Tubos, which featured in my recent story about cigar labels and their history, and under them is a Montecristo Double Edmundo.
The two monsters on the right are Partagas Lusitanias – one of the longest vitolas at over 19cm and truly superb cigars…
To paraphrase the immortal words of Roy Schneider – we’re gonna need a bigger box.