At number 100 Cumberland Street, in the heart of Sydney's historic Rocks precinct, you'll find The Australian Hotel. It shouldn't really be a surprise to find it there because that's exactly where it's been since 1913, its Edwardian architecture having seen it through 100 years of Sydney's history. It happens to be one of the most well-preserved pubs in the city, enough to earn a place on the NSW State Heritage register in fact. That invariably adds up to a place oozing character and charm that's difficult to describe: it's not a model of modern perfection, but rather a place where the stories of generations of drinkers cling to the walls. And it's all the better for it.
The hotel has its share of beer history too, with pioneering Australian brewer Geoff Scharer formerly managing the hotel and using it as a flagbearer for his and therefore independent beer in Australia. To this day, Scharer's Lager still flows from the taps while his portrait oversees the bar.
These days the tap beer range at The Australian Hotel tends to favour everyday quaffers, supplemented with the occasional experimental or limited release. Regulars will know that it's always worth checking out the featured brewery of the week or month or, better still, getting along to beer launches which normally involve a casual tasting with the brewer.
While the taps will do a fine job of keeping your thirst at bay, it's the substantial bottled selection that'll keep you coming back. This bottled range heavily favours Australian craft beer, with up to a hundred different options available. To help solve the drinker's conundrum of not being able to decide what to choose, fridges are helpfully sorted and labelled by style, from light lagers through to heavier stouts.
If you head to The Australian Hotel looking for something to eat, you can be content knowing you've made a good decision. In general the menu leans towards classic pub fare, but the real stars are the pizzas. The chefs have made somewhat of a specialty of pizzas featuring local wildlife, including the likes of 'Pepper Kangaroo', 'Saltwater Crocodile' and the half-emu, half kangaroo 'Coat of Arms'. Thought has been put into the beer and food pairings too, with each item on the menu recommended to a specific beer or beer style. It's a nice touch to help people new to the food and beer matching experience, as well as a good Aussie beer introduction for the flocks of overseas tourists who find the hotel as they wander through the Rocks precinct.
Adding to the hotel's craft beer credentials is the Australian Beer Festival, run annually since 2005. Taking place in October each year, the street outside the hotel gets closed to traffic and becomes a beer tent city with some of the best breweries in the country turning up to pour their wares. With upwards of ten thousand people attending over the two and a half days, the festival can make a good case as being Sydney's largest beer-focused event.
If you're planning to head to the festival (or perhaps just had a few too many at the bar) and are looking for a convenient place to rest your head, up the stairs you'll find the Bed & Breakfast accommodation. All the rooms are well maintained (with a little more swagger and polish than the bar) and stay neatly in tune with the building's Edwardian decor.