Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Festive Beers

Now that the festive season is over it is a good opportunity to review our celebratory engagements and assess the success of our efforts to make the time memorable.

As alluded to in a comment from Mrs Lager, the annual get together on the last Sunday before Christmas was again an enjoyable occasion for all. The food was piled high and the beer flowed freely – as well as more that one bottle of very nice bubbles, if you like that sort of thing – and by the end of the day, the kids had all shared their pressies (excluding the one I assumed came with batteries), the food was all gone and a very pleasing collection of empties was left to put out for collection.

As is our new found custom, Dr Lager provided the six pack of tasters for the day to go with the extensive collection of ‘goes well with food’ beers chosen and chilled by me. Peroni Natsro Azzurro was the Docs’ choice and, given the weather – unseasonably wet and windy for the previous three days and then hot and sticky for the day itself – these Italians were more than welcome. A light but hoppy pilsner, the ‘Blue Ribbon’ went down well and held its own up against the barbequed meat and the big, juicy prawns. Like Heineken, drink them very cold.

This is also one of those beers whose ‘handle’ is subject to a bit of debate. Peroni is the Rome based brewing company that makes the beer and Nastro Azzurro is the beers descriptor. Most people in the restaurants that I have been associated with have asked for ‘a Peroni’, but to me, this is like asking for ‘a CUB’ or a ‘Toohey’s’ when you want a Carlton Draught or a New. In a noisy night club type environment I have also seen punters mistakenly served a Peroni when they had asked for a ‘Corona’. Peroni also makes a Gran Riserva Premium Nastro Azzurro and a brown bottled, red labelled ‘Original’ although this is less readily available. In some markets it also sells the Nastro Azzurro as ‘Peroni’ further adding to the confusion. I guess we should just drink the beer and be happy. But a message to the marketing department at Peroni; sort yourselves out.

Beck’s was also given a run on the day and it, too, was more than welcome with its floral hop notes ably befitting the food match criteria. As far as ‘international lagers’ go, there are worse around. Beck’s was formed in the northern German town of Bremen in 1873 and was sold to the brewing giant Interbrew (now InBev) in 2002 for – are you sitting down? – 3.5 billion DM or $2.1 billion US. That should give some hope to struggling craft brewers everywhere. The Beck’s worked particularly well with the steak marinated in French mustard, rosemary and Bundaberg Rum. Who’da thunk it?!

Christmas eve with Mrs Pilsners’ side of the family was a beer-stravaganza with brother-in-law and loyal Beer Bloke, Chris paying a quick visit to Melbourne’s world famous Queen Victoria Market to secure some interesting beers from a very competent outlet by the name of Swords Select. If you are ever at the market, pop in and grab some great hard-to-get craft beers and tell them you were recommended by the Beer Blokes.

A Czech premium lager in the mould of a Pilsner Urquell or a Budvar, Krušovice has a terrific earthy floral hop flavour and a nice tight bitterness which went off well with the turkey and ham. The label told me (no, I don’t hear beer voices) that the brewery making this Imperial Premium Lager was purchased in 1583 by the Emperor Rudolf II on behalf of the Czech crown. If that’s not a suitable enough link to Christmas, then I don’t know what is.

The aptly named Cleansing Ale from the Two Metre Tall brewery in Tasmania was a great way to finish the occasion and prepare to slip into relax mode. Mild but crisply bitter, the strength of this real ale is its well balanced malt/hop combination. The winery/brewery responsible for this and a few other as yet untried ales is currently importing some real hand pump engines through which to serve the cask conditioned stuff in the authentic manner. Bring it on, I says.

Christmas Day down the Peninsula with the Professors’ clan saw us sitting outside in the warm summer sun sipping James Boag’s Premium, Boag’s Strongarm and none other than Samuel Adams Boston Lager. A high end flavour based feast circulating around giant fresh king prawns, Moroccan chicken and red wine marinaded beef was just the foil for the big bold flavours of the tall dark Yankee.

New Year at Bob’s was a bit of a beer ad for Crown Lager with around half the lads there downing the golden premium lager from Foster’s. Which has a similar recipe to foster’s Lager, as well. But a longer maturation. And the gold trimmings on the label lets them charge a fat premium for the privilege of necking a brew reserved for diplomats and the upper class up until the early 50’s. Alternating between these and light beers, the boys were showing good responsible drinking behaviour despite the fact that the temperature was still a very warm 35 Celsius as the clock struck 2008.

I finished off the year with a couple of Boag’s Draught and then made the New Year memorable for all the wrong reasons. No, not like that. This didn’t involve nudie runs or ‘beer yodels’ but an unfortunate addition to the Beer Blokes Hall of Shame. I never knock a beer until I’ve tasted it and I always try to taste any new beers in the offering. The newest ‘Idea Beer’ from Foster’s is Carlton Cold Ultra Chill and I’ll cut to the chase right here, right now. Carlton Crap. Bottled Bullshit. Complete and utter waste of brewing resources. Where is the Reinheitgesbot* when you need it?

A completely baffling concept brew, the mystery is made no clearer by reading the marketing blurbs accompanying this new addition to a beer market already overcrowded with pissy, cheap looking, gimmicky brands;
“Ultra Chill is the first beer in Australia to use the special ultra chill ingredients. Ultra Chill is a special combination of ingredients added at cold filtration to deliver extra cold refreshment. The cold sensation is subtle at first and then builds gradually.”

What the..!!?? Or this from beerguide.com.au contributor SSAR;

Not bad. Not as good as I expected, however. Attractive from the start – the bottle looks pretty good, the labelling does look a tad cheesy, but still OK. An attractive & somewhat alluring aroma, followed by a taste dominated by an unexpected sharpness that detracts from the experience slightly, for mine. Seems to come through with the underlying great taste of Carlton Cold beer, but falls short in overall results.

The underlying great taste of Carlton Cold!?! He loves it but he doesn’t and it’s “not bad” but he gives it a glowingly low 1.6 out of ten. At 6.8% ABV maybe he had drunk a whole stubby. That’s more than I can say I did. A mouthful of this over processed, under flavoured and Britney Spears-unbalanced high alcohol shite that makes cat’s piss seem flavoursome was all I could manage. Welcome to the plumbing system, Carlton Cold Ultra Chill. Say hello to O’Brien’s Gluten Free for me.

Swiftly skolling a Boag’s Draught set my beer receptors back to below danger levels and another Krušovice sipped at a more leisurely pace helped to erase the horrible memories of this fleeting departure from my otherwise enjoyable beer experience. Lesson learned. Your turn, Foster’s.

The New Year will hopefully be free of any further embarrassments and lapses of judgement but, as I said, I will still be out there taking bullets for the team should any other new brews surface during 2008. Rest assured that the Blokes will continue to bring you the truth, no matter what the damage to my houses’ pipes.

Happy New Year and beer-st of luck for 2008.

Prof. Pilsner.

*Reinheitgesbot – the German Purity Law of 1516 which decreed that beer may only be made from malt, hops, water and yeast**. It didn’t specifically prohibit anything by name but it must be assumed that the legislators allowed for common sense to prevail. Australian authorities clearly need to state, in no uncertain terms that under no circumstances should brewers be allowed to add cat’s vomit or monkey piss to their beer. It’s the very least we deserve.

**it didn’t actually state yeast as an ingredient when it was penned as the good folk of the time did not understand the pivotal role that yeast played in the brewing process and they presumably didn’t want to include references to ‘Voo Doo’, mystical fairies, magic or ‘The Gods’.

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