Special July Brew – The Former Mosman Rowing Club

Special July Brew – The Former Mosman Rowing Club

The Whisky… It’s not whisky

Country of Origin… Made in Japan

The Location: A forgotten drug den

Sitting on what must be one of the most desirable ‘unoccupied’ pieces of land in Sydney lies the former Mosman Rowing Club. The building, or what remains of it, sprawls across a level grassy area jutting out into the upper end of Middle Harbor in Sydney, surrounded by lush National Park on one side and placid waterways on the other. These separate the site from suburbia and give it a secluded, forgotten atmosphere.

Accessed by steep steps cut into the side of a cliff, or via a meandering bushwalk, this is a place mostly hidden from view, although boats that cruise past will get a glimpse of the structure and it is possible to make it out from nearby Roseville bridge – if you look in exactly the right direction.

The area has a long history of public use for recreation: As far back as 1898 a picnic ground was established, and later a dance hall was erected on the site (in 1906 then replaced in 1922 and 1928). The sandstone piers upon which the current structure rests likely date back to this period.

In the 1950s the land was sold to the Mosman Rowing Club who relocated here temporarily before selling the land in 2006. It was during this period that the current structure was built.

The site has a history of failed applications for development, additions and improvements to access – at times leading to stand offs between land owners, the local council and the National Parks (the later two are responsible for land surrounding the site).

Eventually the building fell into disuse until it was reoccupied for purposes of making methamphetamines (more commonly known as the drug ‘Ice’).

The year after the building was raided by police (2015) a minor fire broke out on April 1st  2016. Around a week later a more substantial fire consumed the building, causing significant damage.

What remains is a decaying mass of twisted metal and burnt timber, coated in shattered glass and detritus.

It’s a melancholic location that seems to be aware of how decrepit and out of place it is in such pretty surroundings. It’s as if it shrinks back into the landscape, covering itself as much as possible in weeds as a shroud, pulling down its own rafters and roof to be less noticeable.

The floor is mostly intact although there are gaping holes where floorboards have burnt or fallen away. Some walls remain but most are missing and the roof is only suggested by skeletal twisted metal that droops sadly.

I spend a happy hour or so wandering around, poking my nose into each room, taking care not to touch anything due to the amount of broken glass and the risk of residue from the drug manufacturing (although time and plenty of rain has probably made the latter risk not worth worrying about).

Another couple appear, also to explore the ruins and we trade greetings and have a chat. I tell them what I misremember about the history of the building and we agree that it’s a cool place for a look, but a shame that a functional building doesn’t occupy this slice of luxury waterfrontage.

It’s probably about time I let you know what I’m drinking…..

For those of you hoping for a grand reveal of a rare whisky, or maybe the contents of my infinity bottle you’re in for a disappointment. In recognition that July is a month where many choose to go alcohol free (‘Dry July’) I’ve chosen a non alcoholic option with links to whisky. Barley Tea.

Barley tea is made from roasted barley immersed in water to create an infusion. Served hot or cold (I prefer mine cold), usually with a healthy addition of sugar or honey. It makes for a refreshing caffeine free beverage.

We first discovered barley tea during a sweltering summer in Japan, when after multiple cups of cold drip coffee and cold green tea we were over caffeinated but still wanted something to soothe the summer heat. A little café in Takayama, deep in the hills of japan had a pitcher of sweet barley tea that hit the spot and we’ve been fans ever since.

The barley tea I’m drinking was obtained from my local Japanese corner store in Sydney and comes in individual bags making it easy to drop a bag into a sealed bottle, add some sugar, add some water and in about half an hour you have cold barley tea. Remove the bag when it’s as strong as you want it.

For full value today I’m omitting the sugar and have made a relatively strong batch.

The nose is….. virtually non existent, although you do get faint roast cereal notes. But if you’re nosing this beverage you’re taking things way too seriously. Chill out.

On the palate there are hints of the flavours we find in whisky – some caramel, dry grass, cereal, tea like tannins and a natural sweetness, although the tannic astringency overrides pretty much everything other than a roasted, sweet cereal note.

The finish isn’t worth speaking of except to say that you’re left with a pleasant tannic sweetness and a mildly bitter cereal aftertaste (although I won’t guarantee that everyone will find this pleasant).

What does it remind me of?

Green tea I suppose, especially chilled green tea with a similar astringency and mouthfeel. Or overly strong peppermint tea that’s been chilled. If you’ve ever had a barley sugar lolly then you have an idea of what to expect with this, although this is much more bitter. Sort of like if you had a bowl of cornflakes or malt flakes that had been toasted in the oven to the point of burning. Something like that

What do I think?

Barley tea is much better suited to a hot summer’s afternoon than a chilly winter’s day but it was a pleasant way to hydrate after scurrying around the running of the rowing club. It’s low calorie (until you dump sugar in) and seems to take the edge off a hot day better than a soft drink, plain water or a cordial. Even without the sugar it’s a nice alternative to plain water, especially if you’re drinking over chlorinated water or bore water with a mineral or chemical aftertaste. It feels like maybe there’s something in the barley that’s doing my good but I don’t know about that. This is definitely not a non-alcoholic substitute for whisky.

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