Tuesday, 22 May 2012

GABS 2012

When future generations come to write the history of good beer in this country, I foresee 2012 as being remembered as the year everything really kicked off.  Everything else has been but a prelude to this, a mere opening act.  You could say that 2012 is the year that Australian craft beer crossed the Rubicon...

With movement finally on the excise tax front, new breweries, bottle shops and beer-centric bars making inroads into formerly unconquered lands, major international figures of the ilk of Mikkeller, Ken Grossman and Kjetil Jikiun being drawn to these shores and the resounding success of Good Beer Week, the future appears brighter than a hundred megaton nuclear weapon.  Or so the crowds at the Saturday session of the Great Australasian Beer Spectapular would seem to attest.

This is what I pondered as I sat amidst the Victorian grandeur of the Melbourne Exhibition Hall, a flight of 10 samples before me.  One could bitch about the forty minute wait in line to be served but the fact there was a forty minute long wait at all speaks volumes about the public interest in the event.  My only real gripe was the entry cost, $39 seems a bit steep when no tokens are included.  Rather than the commemorative glass received on entry, I would have much preferred more tasting tokens or at least a bratwurst...

A week later though and the lines and cost are but a memory, overshadowed by the sheer range and quality of beer on offer.  I got through roughly forty of the sixty on the board and many of these were a mere sip, akin to stepping off the train and momentarily locking eyes with a beautiful girl getting on, leaving you with a lifetime of wondering.  Many of these brews demanded a full glass to get your head around their awesomeness and I really should have gone back for another session but with GBW just beginning I think another visit would have bankrupted me...
There was a menagerie of styles on display, including some truly weird shit.  What amazed me was how well some of the stranger examples held together.  The Sweet Potato Porter from The Monk Brewery was a good case in point, what seems like just a novelty turned out to a cracking beer with the sweet potato adding a lot of body and depth to the usual porter characters.  There were a few misfires, but on the whole the quality and innovation on display was inspiring and a good gauge of where the industry is at.

I tried many, many excellent beers but the five which really blew me away are listed below.
5/ 8 Wired C4 – Coffee, brown ale and Soren Eriksen, could one think of a more divine combination?  I’ll drink anything this man offers and it was the first beer I tried once I finally returned to my table with a tasting paddle.  If the modern workplace wasn’t so full of fascist rules I’d drink this en-route to my job.

4/ Harrington’s Bit of Kiwi Wit – The soft yet discernible characters of kiwi fruit work so well in the context of a witbier I’m surprised no one has tried it before.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before someone tries it again.

3/ Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta – Yeastie Boys never known to let a beat drop!!!  Ahh, RIP Adam Yauch.  The people’s choice and for good reason, Earl Grey is the king of teas and matching the bergamot flavours inherent to this variety with the citric hoppiness of an IPA was a stroke of genius, creating a perfect melody.  I reckon even my grandma would have enjoyed this. 

2/ Bright Resistance Red Ale – I’ve raved about the hop orgasm that is the MIA and this bold, hoppy India Red Ale is this brewer’s Empire Strikes Back.  Utterly stunning, if para-glider mishaps lead to beers of this kind of quality then I’m investing in a shoulder mounted missile launcher and headed to Victoria’s Alpine regions...

1/ 2 Brothers/Diamond Knot Bloody Oak – There is nothing I enjoy more than a goog barley wine and this is one of the best I’ve had, comparable only to Anchor Brewing’s Old Foghorn.  Stunning in every respect, from the oaky, slightly citrus aroma to the caramel, vanilla characters of the flavour to the liquid silk mouthfeel, this one had it all.  I would murder a puppy to have another glass of this, although luckily I may not have to as I hear it may be on tap at the brewery for a strictly limited time so I’m off to Moorabbin.  I may be a while...                 

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Bridge Road Pride of Ringwood IPA

Single Hop IPA 4.8%

Single Hop IPAs are a recent phenomena, championed by the likes of Scotland’s Brewdog and Denmark’s evil beer sorcerer Mikkeller.  The idea is simple, to brew an ale using only a single type of hop, from which the characteristics of that hop variety, it’s distinctive aroma and flavours, can sing forth a glorious solo, instead of being part of a choir of several varieties (or death metal band as in the case of many Imperial IPAs).

Bridge Road in Victoria recently started their own series of Singe Hop beers with the release of the Galaxy IPA, a showcase for the popular Australian hop of the same name, it is full of tropical fruit characters and has become so popular it is now part of their ongoing range.  Since then we’ve seen Stella, Galaxy’s more cultured Europhile sister and the Summer, which smells and tastes uncannily like a pine/lime flavoured Frosty Fruit.  Their fourth single hop beer is a bit of an oddity...
While Galaxy is the supermodel of Australian hops, Pride of Ringwood is more the slutty reality TV contestant.  It is the bastard child of Pride of Kent and an unnamed wild Tasmanian hop which presumably sneaked out of the bed the next morning and disappeared back into the wilderness, never to call again.  This hop seems to want to punish us for its broken home by conspiring to include itself in nearly every bland commercial lager available in this country.  Maligned by home brewers, few in the craft world have given it a second look.  Until now.

This IPA presents itself as a golden amber brew with a small white head and decent presence of lacing.  Surprisingly it has a full aroma of grass, citrus and even passionfruit, which is odd as POR is generally only used as a bittering hop, but here it comes across as quite fragrant.  Things begin to fall apart in the mouth though, soft citrus and vegetative flavours give way to a hard, almost metallic bitterness with an earthy, slightly acrid aftertaste.  The beer is light bodied and has a chalky mouthfeel in the finish which is also very dry.

Although I generally review beers that I like, this was too interesting an experiment to pass up and although I dislike this IPA and still admire the spirit in which it was created.  This in no way reflects badly on Bridge Rd, it is more hampered by the limitations of the Pride of Ringwood Hop.  It’s is still worth trying if only to get an idea of what a CUB badged IPA would no doubt taste like.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Bright MIA IPA

American IPA 6.9%

As beer lovers, we have a tendency to try something new and interesting and, in the endorphin induced rush of new discovery, to declare it to be the Greatest Thing Ever.  I’m as guilty of this as anyone so please understand, before I make this next statement, that after first trying this beer, I went back and tried it again.  And again.  And again.  Then once more.  Then I went home and took pictures of the cat dressed as Hitler.  I then tried it again before finally getting a few other beery types to try it. And then I had it one last time for good measure.  So I say, without hyperbole or hesitation, that this is the greatest Australian IPA ever.  Now, allow me to elaborate...

Hyperbole starts here.  Bright are not as well known as some Victorian breweries like Mountain Goat or Red Hill but that is not for lack of quality, their alpine brewery crafts some really fine ales and a pretty decent lager.  Every year Bright hosts a hot rod show and over the course of several days, over a thousand hot rods descent upon the town, it’s a bit like Mad Max only more colourful and with more mullets and beards.  Watching thirsty hot rodders whose usual prey is a crate of Beam and Cola, completely obliterate themselves on pints of Bright’s Fainters Dubbel is a heart warming sight.

Back to the MIA, named for a misadventure one of the brewers had while paragliding, it first debuted at the Microbreweries showcase back in October, strange as I don’t remember trying it but by the time I got to the Bright stand I was pretty far gone...  The beer pours with a lively white head which clings to the glass like a curtain before receding to a substantial lace atop an orange body.  Hop aromas explode from the glass, a tropical punch in every sense of the word with mango, passionfruit, pineapple, melon and even pungent durian, but with a sticky sweet character, as if honey had been poured over the lot.  

A slick bodied beer, fruity hop flavours storm the palate like troops at Normandy with a big dose of sticky sweet citrus followed by bold tropical fruit notes of sweet mango and passionfruit mingled with tart pineapple and grapefruit, before the supporting artillery brings the rain with an intense blast of pine which leaves the mouth feeling numb and the palate refreshed and scrubbed clean.  The freshness and intensity of the hoppy flavours are exhilarating and the mouthfeel is spot on.  I simply cannot get enough of this beer and remain upright.

This beer is the equal of anything brewed on the US West Coast and is reminiscent of some of my favourite US IPAs such as Green Flash W.C and Racer 5. A truly expert balance between intense cloying sweetness and mouth-numbing bitterness, this beer takes it right up to the threshold, straddling the border between IPA and Imperial.  Bright would be insane to not include this in their regular bottled line-up.  Sorry Feral, the Hop Hog has just been dethroned... 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Temple Midnight IPA

American Black Ale - 7%, 77 IBU, Colombus, Centennial, Simcoe Hops

The return of Temple Brewing with their brand new facility in Brunswick in Melbourne’s inner north is a reason for all whom share a passion for good beer to rejoice.  Pilgrims to this fair city should not hesitate to head to Temple and pay homage before the altar of the brewing gods, sing your praises to the Saison, anoint yourself with the coppery liquids of the Special Bitter and receive benediction from the Soba Ale before finally prostrating yourself before the High Priest, the Midnight IPA.    

The Midnight IPA belongs to a style of beer upon which no-one has quite come to consensus as to what it should be called.  Many go with Black IPA, as the beers are quite hoppy but this designation is an oxymoron and therefore stupid.  A number of American brewers want this dark, yet intensely hoppy style to be christened Cascadian Dark Ale after the Cascade Ranges in the Pacific Northwest where a number of American Hop styles were developed.  I’m really not a fan of this name either as it is too much of a mouthful and difficult to say when drunk.  The Brewers Association uses the term American Black Ale which I find to be as good a descriptor as any but at the end of the day the brewer whom crafts the beer gets final say and when a beer is as good as this he can call it what he wants...

Tried on tap, the Midnight is blacker than all NWA combined and twice as aggressive, only with more hops than glocks.  It pours from the tap with a modest creamy head of similar colour which leaves a small ring of lace around the glass.  A really delicious aroma, a sniff reveals hop notes of sweet mandarin and passionfruit with a tinge of lemon while the new style of wheat malt from which this beer derives its name announces itself as fresh cut grass with a dry ryvita like character.
The Midnight is a medium bodied, smooth drop which slides over the tongue like velvet.  There is great depth of flavour in this beer  with a rich earthy character with toasty malt notes laying the foundation upon which sit the hops with a pronounced mandarin flavour on the approach which transitions to passionfruit and a touch of rockmelon in the mid-palate before a deep, roasty finish with a long aftertaste of rye.
A few beers of this style have been released over the last year or so and all have been worthy with the likes of Feral’s Karma Citra, The Thorny Goat, Kooinda Full Nelson and Prickly Moses’ Black Panther but I have to say, the Midnight trumps them all.  Somebody offer this on growler now dammit!!!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

MONA Saison Du Moo

Style: Saison 5.5%

Saison, what a sexy word for a sexy beer.  I’ve only recently discovered its delights, having cracked the cork on my first bottle of Saison Dupont a few short months ago.  This was a joyous experience, and although my tasting notes become quite incomprehensible about halfway through the bottle, allusions to Sofia Vergara’s chest do appear several times.  Dry and crisp as an autumn’s morning, these are refreshing ales, perfect for the warmer months.  Australian examples of this style are a bit thin on the ground, Bridge Rd’s Chevalier Saison and Temple Brewing’s Saison are two of the most notable examples, as well as the exceptional example recently released by Victorian gypsy brewers, La Sirene.    
Sofia Vergara's Chest
On a recent trip to Tasmania, after experiencing the subterranean horrors of the Museum of Old and New Art, I stumbled blinking into the sunlight with an acute case of post traumatic stress disorder.  Things once seen can never be unseen.  Desperately in need of a drink to restore my frayed sanity, my figurative chopper out of the jungle came in the form of the Moo Brew brewery, located within the museum/winery complex.  I took a seat at the wine bar and promptly downed a pint of Moo Brew’s Imperial Stout, for only the 8% goodness of the Velvet Sledgehammer could possibly erase the memory of the last few hours.  I was about to order another when I noticed the seasonal on offer, the MONA Saison du Moo.

I’ve noticed Saison’s tend to go one of two ways, leaning towards the sweet or edging more towards the sour.  Moo Brew’s falls in the latter category.   This Saison pours with a lovely large head of purest white, gifted of excellent retention, atop a body of pale gold.  The nose is classic Saison, a medley of spicy yeast, with banana, bubblegum and citrus characters, backed by a hint of sour apple and cherries.  True to style this is a light bodied and spritzy beer with a water cracker like dryness, flavours of bread and banana transition to green apple tartness followed by a peppery finish and a lingering sour aftertaste.  

This is likely my favourite Australian Saison, sadly it is only available in limited venues on tap.  As a style, Saison is an exciting proposition, being quite removed from what the average person thinks constitutes a beer and matching exceedingly well to grilled fish or chicken.  With its delicate flavours and crisp mouthfeel, Saison is the sort of thing you could introduce to the palate which would usually prefer a white wine over a beer.   

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Black Heart Brewey

Hmmm, been a while.  I ran off to Belgium with dreams of becoming a Trappist Monk, everything was going well until I discovered the whole celibacy thing.  Suck it Melbourne, you’re stuck with me.  Without further ado...

Sometimes you meet people whom make you really question what you’ve done with your life, for example, I have immense difficulty maintaining a more than mediocre level of engagement with my balls-numbingly tedious service industry job while updating this blog more than once every few weeks.  I am wearing socks that have not been washed in a month and my kitchen looks like the aftermath of a suicide bomber's spaghetti eating contest...
Then you have the guys whom run Black Heart Brewery, a new operation based in the rather imaginatively named sea-side suburb of Brighton.  How a surgeon and perfusionist (go have cardiac surgery if you wish to find out what this involves, if you come out of it not dead then you know he’s done his job well) have the time to run a microbrewery and craft ales of such quality is beyond my understanding.  I can’t imagine their output is very high so if you see any of these attractively bottled beers on offer then don’t hesitate.

There are five beers on offer, three of which I’ll detail here.  The first is the Belgian blonde ale, which in taste, aroma and appearance is quite similar to an example of a Belgian strong golden ale, although at 6.8% it is not quite as fearsome as some of its forebears such as Duvel.  Cracking the bottle is like wandering into the witch’s house from Hansel and Gretel, your nose is immediately welcomed by sweet aromas of candied banana and marshmallow with just a hint of gingerbread and strawberry.  The head quickly vanishes like sea foam leaving a perfectly clear light golden body.  The taste is spot on, although a little more subdued than a strong golden ale, sweet candied banana is to the fore, followed by some spicy notes of cinnamon and coriander before a dry and peppery finish.

Next up to the plate is the American Pale Ale, which I had from a newly tapped keg at the Local.  Very different from the legion of garden variety APA’s out there, for starters it poured looking a bit like an iced coffee with a dense, almost milky body.  The hops come through as fresh cut grass and crushed, wet vegetation on the nose, accompanied by a yeasty, fresh bread aroma and just a hint of varnished wood.  Far more malt driven than many of its brethren, the flavour begins an almost slatey, chalky mineral character, faint hints of ginger and caramel on the mid palate and finishing with a touch of aniseed.  This is a very thick and creamy beer with very little carbonation which finishes with a slight, although not unpleasant burning sensation.  This may not be to everyone’s tastes but I welcome the change from the norm...

Finally, I’ve just polished off a bottle of the Dunkelweizen, a style not many micros in this country seem to want to tackle, which is a shame as a well made Dunkelweizen is a thing of joy and yes, Black Heart’s version is very well made and is my favourite amongst their line up.  An attractive ruddy caramel body with a smallish, off white head the aroma is typical wheat beer estery and phenolic notes of banana, clove and vanilla, as the beer warms the dark malts shine through with a distinct caramel and toffee character.  The flavour holds a single note for nearly the duration of the swallow, banana and toffee with a short bready flavour on the finish.  The mouth-feel is excellent, I don’t wish to sound like a twat but this beer’s light body dances across the tongue.  

The common theme throughout all these beers is just how well they are put together, nothing seems to be out of place, drinking one of these is akin to driving a German built car, created with a cold, calculating efficiency with not a thing out of place, truly they are crafted with a surgical skill.  Beers of this calibre should not be thoughtlessly chugged down, but need to be reserved for the dinner table, slowly enjoyed with a well matched dish.  The classy bottles would not look out of place on even the most anally retentive of table settings and are of a good size to heft if things turn ugly with the wine fascists...  

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Prickly Moses Tailpipe Big Ass Brown Ale

American Brown Ale 7.1%

Ok, so the label is emblazoned with a large American car of 1950’s vintage.  In my books that’s a good start, say what you will about America, they’ve given us some fine looking cars.  Another good thing that America has is given us is the American brown ale, currently one of my favourite styles.  Much hoppier than their English counterparts, the American Brown is more of an after-dinner sipper.  The Brooklyn Brown is a good example of the style and, thanks to Palais imports, should hopefully be available here soon.

The beer describes itself as a “big ass” brown ale and marketing bullshit aside, that descriptor isn’t far off the mark.  The Tailpipe is big in every way, we’re talking big ass like Matt Preston.  You’ll want to savour the pour, it slides from the bottle like a velvet snake, creating a thick, rich looking chocolaty head.  The body is very dark brown, indeed almost porterish in appearance, and lace is abundant, a solid frothy cap lasting all the way to the bottom of the glass.  This is one seriously good looking beer, although the streaks of white sediment that collect near the bottom of the glass are a bit odd.

Things only improve on the nose, which is really sweet with candy and sherbet characters mixed with plum and a dry, roasty coffee aroma.

The promises made by the appearance and aroma are affirmed once you take the first sip.  An initial, solid hit of roasted malt is backed by a wet, organic earthy character spiced with tobacco leaves.  The espresso bitterness of the mid palate is balanced by a dry, port-like sweetness which carries onto the finish.
I hope no one takes this out of context but the Tailpipe feels pretty damn good in the mouth, very dense and tongue-coating with little in the way of carbonation.

To say I’m impressed would be an understatement; this beer delivers on all fronts.  Perfect on its own, it matched really well to a plate of barbeque spare ribs.  There are lots of good American brown ales crafted in this country at the moment, the Cavalier Brown and 2 Brothers Growler being notable examples but the Tailpipe really takes the cake, it is glorious in every way.  We’ll have to see how it stacks up next to the Feral King Brown...