Peter Lalor is chief cricket writer and beer editor at The Australian newspaper and has been a reporter for over 30 years.
In recent weeks, The Australian published Peter’s Top 20 Beers for 2020 (subscriber-only content).
It’s the 17th consecutive year that he’s had this honour, so I invited him onto the Drinks Adventures podcast for a chat about this impressive knock, and some of the beers that made this year’s list.
I couldn’t talk to Peter with mentioning the somewhat unusual item on his CV: Purchaser of the most expensive beer in history.
And we also touch on his podcasting debut as co-host of the Cricket, Et Cetera program with fellow cricket scribe, Gideon Haigh, and get his thoughts on Australia’s upcoming test series against India.
Peter Lalor, journalist: Full transcript
JAMES ATKINSON: Peter Lalor, thanks so much for joining me on the Drinks Adventures podcast.
PETER LALOR: Oh it’s a pleasure to share the space with you.
JAMES ATKINSON: You must just about be you know, the longest serving beer writer in Australia. Considering you’re still doing this, you know, the occasional musings on beer for The Australian and you’ve been around since the very early days of beer writing in Australia.
PETER LALOR: You make me sound old James. Old and clearly… and clearly very limited in my talents. I’m doing the same thing 25-30 years later. But yeah, I’ve been doing it a long time. A very long time. I don’t know if you know, but I actually started in the Daily Telegraph I think, back in the 90s by accident. But I don’t really consider myself a beer writer now. I think that beer editor title is kind of a bit of a joke.
JAMES ATKINSON: How did the beer writing start? Because actually I went on Google to try and see how far back I could read about your career as a beer writer and when you Google Peter Lalor and beer, all you get is a lot of articles about the $100,000 beer.
JAMES ATKINSON: In September 2019, Peter was in Manchester during the Ashes test series when he bought a bottle of Deuchars IPA at a hotel bar. He subsequently discovered he’d been mistakenly charged 55,000 pounds for the beer, rather than five pounds 50. The incident made headlines globally.
PETER LALOR: It was $101,000 but thanks for bringing that up. I think they’ll probably put that on my grave one day. I don’t want to know what year it was, but it certainly pre-dates Google mate. The… I was then a feature writer on The Daily Telegraph. They started a food and wine section and they needed a… and they wanted a story about beer in the food and wine section. And the said can you write a story about beer? And I said what do I know, I drink VB. And I’m serious. And they said well, write about VB and I said okay, beaut. You know, so I did some nonsense about you know, how it was ironic and cool to drink VB. I was well ahead of my time. And then they said gee we really like that, you have to do it every week. And I’ve gone oh my God, I can’t write about VB every week. What are other beers? And to that point in my life I’d never had any money and I’d lived by… somebody had warned me never to get serious about wine or beer because it just costs you a lot of money in the end, particularly wine. So, I started home brewing. I did beer tasting courses. I read everything I possibly could. But it was great fun, really good fun. There was no beer around to write about, that was the only difficulty. There was hardly any craft beer in Australia. I reckon there would have been seven to ten craft breweries, you know. And three of them were making stuff that was undrinkable and it was just a folly. Thank God for Chuck Hahn, you know. When Chuck Hahn would bring out a new beer, I’d do a three part series just to drag it out almost, you know. You would cross the continent for a good beer in those days.
JAMES ATKINSON: We’re obviously talking 90s here, you know, before Little Creatures. Maybe Matilda Bay had a bit of a go by that time?
PETER LALOR: Yeah, Matilda Bay had a go and sorry I’m a bit vague on the dates. I should have done my research. But you can sort of date it back to just around the time that Chuck moved into that malt shovel brewery. Although they’ve changed the name, James Squire. Whatever it is now and got that running again. I do recall the first Little Creatures coming out and I do recall my excitement at tasting that kind of beer. Because that was very radical in Australia, that beer at the time you know. I think I announced it an angel had landed on my tongue and they used it in a marketing campaign from there on.
JAMES ATKINSON: Had you had much exposure to the American craft beers by that stage?
PETER LALOR: Well, only stale ones. You know, you really… because I had never travelled to the States at that point. As part of my learning curve, I did avail myself of journeys to sort of Belgium and Ireland and those sorts of places, to have a little bit of a look around as the years rolled on. But no, you didn’t really have much exposure or maybe on internet… you know, I remember I’d always try and fly BA because you could get cans of London Pride on BA. And my excitement at a stop-over at Hawaii once on a plane, because there was Sam Adams on tap and I’d never had a fresh one in my life. Yeah, so you really had to put in the hard yards to get a good beer in Australian in the ’90’s.
JAMES ATKINSON: Contrast that with now, I’m imagining that putting together this Top 20 list would be you know, an embarrassment of riches that you’re working with and much more complicated than it would have been back then?
PETER LALOR: I almost yearn for simpler days, you know.
JAMES ATKINSON: Well I think a lot of people probably… consumers when they go into a bottle shop, you’re probably not alone there.
PETER LALOR: Oh look, this is ironic. But one of the reasons I kind of gave up writing because I was doing like a monthly thing in The Australian there, until a couple of years ago and a weekly thing on the internet. Was there’s just so much good beer. I mean, I don’t think anyone needed my help to find a good beer anymore. There’s nothing I need to tell anybody anymore about beer. Most drinkers now are as sort of well versed in it as I was back in those days. And they’re not looking to me for guidance.
JAMES ATKINSON: Now, it looks like there’s a really nice cross-section of styles in this Top 20. I think these days you know, hops rule the world and so it’s good to see that you’ve obviously chosen a fairly broad gamut of styles.
PETER LALOR: Yeah look, I’ve got to be a bit defensive talking to you about this list, because I mean there’s all sorts of manners, shapes and forms a beer list could take, but this is my Top 20 beers. It’s very subjective. Not everyone will agree with it. Not everyone will agree with every beer that’s in there. You know, I’m guided by things. I look at what gets judged and I look at what’s popular. But a lot of it just comes down to what I like, but I try to be broad about it. And you’re right, I’ve actually reckon I’m suffering hop fatigue and I reckon I’ve been suffering hop fatigue for four or five years now. Some of those IPA’s that were coming out and pale ales a few years ago, it just felt to me like everybody was shouting. You know, everybody was so keen for attention they had you know, they had to make beers that would punch you in the head. And the hop thing hasn’t gone away and good luck to it. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it at all but you know, I’ve got my eye out for a bit more subtlety I think, in some ways.
JAMES ATKINSON: The other comment I’d make is it looks like they’re 100% independently owned. Was that a conscious decision or has it just evolved that way?
PETER LALOR: Is it? Yeah, oh look it’s my nature to lean towards the independently owned beers. But I think in other years there has probably been stuff from the bigger breweries in there. I walk into a bottle shop… in the last couple of months I’ve been drinking a lot of beer to get this list together. And they say what do you want? And I start with nothing with fruit in it. But I end up loving beers that have got fruit in it. And when the sours came out, I liked sours but I kind of thought everyone was jumping up and down about them too much. But two years running now sours have turned out to be my favourite beers in a way. The French couple down in Tasmania, they’ve been doing it for some time now haven’t they? And they’re really interesting.
JAMES ATKINSON: Two Metre Tall?
PETER LALOR: Two Metre Tall yeah, really interesting brewery. And I love the stuff that they do. And we’re just talking about Topher at Wildflower before. I mean he… the care he puts into the production of his beers and the quality of his beers is just next world in my opinion.
JAMES ATKINSON: No one can accuse you of being too parochial. Because I know that like myself, you’re a resident of the inner west of Sydney and I think there’s two beers in the list from that general area. Do you frequent breweries in Sydney much?
PETER LALOR: Yeah, well hey no many of us have strayed that far from home lately have we James? It’s been that kind of year where we’re all back in the village and thank God brewing has retreated to the village. And we’re both blessed to live… it’s probably the craft brewing capital of the world. What do you reckon, we’ve got about 11 breweries within about walking distance?
JAMES ATKINSON: But I think in terms of concentration of breweries in a small space. I don’t know that I could think of another suburb in Australia that would quite match it.
PETER LALOR: No, but yeah I’m conscious of trying to be broader than that. It’s a national newspaper that I write for. And I’m blessed, because in my day job I travel around Australia as a rule. Even though I haven’t done a lot of it in the last couple of months. So I basically visit every state, every year and I keep my eyes open, ear to the ground and drink as much as possible because that’s the kind of professional I am.
JAMES ATKINSON: You talked about your hop fatigue. Nevertheless you did put in the Juice Train by Quiet Deeds in there which… I haven’t actually tried that one but I’m assuming that’s a pretty seriously hoppy beer?
PETER LALOR: Yeah, yeah well in that sort of modern way. So yep, yep it’s in there. And it’s a really good example of that sort of beer. Don’t get me wrong, I really like that NEIPA-style of beer. I was quite excited when it came along and I hope it hangs around for a while.
JAMES ATKINSON: The one beer that would have been a consistent throughout your career would be Coopers Vintage Ales and I can certainly confirm that this year’s an absolutely cracking vintage, as a winemaker would say. Is that a beer that you’ve followed fairly closely over the years?
PETER LALOR: Well it is a beer that I follow closely over the years. Coopers have a place holder in my beer list, because I think we should all genuflect before Coopers. It is the great-grandfather of Australian craft brewing. You know, and I’ll flip the pale in some years and I flip the sparkling in other years and sometimes I flip the stout in. But I do think that this year’s vintage was probably one of my favourite ones that I’ve had for some time. Strangely enough, I like it fresh.
JAMES ATKINSON: I’m with you. The more I’ve got to know about beer, the more I’ve thought it’s a bit of an odd one this idea of cellaring a beer. Where the whole characters going to be lost within a matter of months, if not a year or something like that. Now tell me about the Slow Lane Old Russet, because Slow Lane’s a recent start-up in Sydney. I think they’re based in Botany and I haven’t tried any of their beers yet, I don’t know too much about them.
PETER LALOR: Yeah, I just came across that one in a little bottleshop. It’s very much in that sort of Belgian style, with the candi syrup in it and the abbey yeast, those sort of… I guess they’re fig type flavours. You know, the dried fruit flavours. The raisins perhaps. Got a touch of sour to it and that’s a lovely beer. And I look forward to getting your feedback on it.
JAMES ATKINSON: A brewery I’m familiar with, but I haven’t actually tried this particular beer is Badlands out of Orange. That sounds like it’s a bloody good Pilsner.
PETER LALOR: Yeah, yeah. To brew a Pilsner, it takes great skill to brew a really good Pilsner and not many people do it properly. But this one, while it was calling itself a New World Pilsner has a lot of old world notes to it. I was really impressed by it. I don’t think they’re a very big brewery so I only came across it in a sort of three week period, so I haven’t tried it across a few months. But I think it’s absolutely beautiful beer.
JAMES ATKINSON: And maybe a couple of beers that people might like to enjoy while they’re watching the test this summer. What would be your selections there?
PETER LALOR: While you’re watching cricket, well yeah. Because I’m getting long in the tooth, I’m looking at things that are a bit lower alcohol and the Prancing Pony Stage Roadie, Prancing Pony out of Adelaide. Or just outside of Adelaide, aren’t they? Fantastic little brewery, I think this one comes in at about 3.4% so it’s a mid strength. I like that craft brewers are starting to look in that range. I like most of the things that come out of that brewery.
New podcast with Gideon Haigh
JAMES ATKINSON: Good stuff, I’ll look out for it. And now while I’ve got you here, you and your cricket writing colleague Gideon Haigh have done something that’s extremely unusual in 2020. Which is start a podcast. Maybe you could just tell us about this new venture?
PETER LALOR: Oh dear, yes, yes. We were in England last year and we’re forever on other people’s podcasts and you know, we just wander around the world talking about beer and music and books. Because Gideon and I are like brothers. And so I said to him look mate, we may as well just join this podcast phenomenon – everyone else is. And it came up at work and we said yeah, yeah we just want to do this humble Indy, Gideon and I talking about cricket and talking about obscure music and you know. And it’s going to be a total indulgence and if people like it, they like it. But of course now its become… it’s box office because work are marketing it to sell their new app or something. The Australian app. Which is great, they’ve thrown all their sort of energy behind it but there’s all this pressure now on Gideon and I to be sparkling and wonderful and popular. So if you’re listening to this, can you go over there and subscribe or something, or I’m going to lose my job I think or miss out on my Christmas bonus again. But no, it’s great because I mean I’m blessed to work with Gideon Haigh. I suppose most of your listeners might know who he is, but he’s not just a cricket writer. I mean, this guy’s written nearly 40 books on almost every subject under the sun from mining, to the office space, to abortion and true crime. One of the smartest guys I know. I sort of say, writing cricket alongside Gideon is kind of like batting with Bradman. You know your place, you just know the bloke up the other end’s five times better than you. Hopefully some people will listen to the podcast and keep my boss happy.
JAMES ATKINSON: Well I’ve just subscribed and hopefully some more of my listeners will do as well. How does this summer look like for you two guys as cricket writers? Because there’s been I imagine, a lot of uncertainty about where you’ll be and when, and what kind of summer of cricket we’re going to have in Australia?
PETER LALOR: Yeah look, I’m feeling pretty optimistic about it. I haven’t been too concerned about how it would play out. I’m pretty confident that we will be travelling around the country with the test team so you know, we’ll be over in Adelaide early next month. I’m just booking my tickets now to go to Adelaide and watch that one. And it’s going to be a great series. Australia are really coming together well and India are at the top of their form. They’re really peaking. Virat Kohli will really want to come out here and win against a full strength Australian side this time. They’re also going to be very tired and very grumpy, because they’ve just finished the IPL. There could be a lot of fireworks, but hopefully there’ll be a lot of great cricket too.
JAMES ATKINSON: Because they did roll us two years ago when they came out here. But to say that we were weakened is probably a bit of an understatement.
PETER LALOR: Yeah, we didn’t have Warner, we didn’t have Smith and that bloke Labuschagne wasn’t quite the batsman he is now. And the great thing at the moment is, we’ve got Will Pucovski just wheeled off a 200 and he’s well on his way to another one as we speak in the Sheffield Shield. Cameron Green, who scored 197 the other day and has been anointed as the next Jesus by Greg Chappell. Australian cricket’s looking really strong at the moment, so we should see a very entertaining series.
JAMES ATKINSON: Well Peter, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today about beer and cricket and best of luck for a great summer of cricket.
PETER LALOR: Thank for indulging me.
JAMES ATKINSON: A quick postscript to this interview, which was recorded a few weeks ago. India has since announced Captain Virat Kohli will face Australia in only one test this summer, before he returns home for the birth of his first child. And Peter tweeted in response to this news that he was, ‘suddenly not so excited about the summer. Virat is doing the right thing, but it’s a body blow to the Border Gavaskar series’. You can find the list of Peter Lalor’s top 20 beers in the show notes and online at the Drinks Adventures website.