Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Quest for the Gr-Ale

Readers of this blog will no doubt be aware of a running theme over the past twelve months. It concerns a beer. No surprise there. It is not a rare beer nor is it of a limited edition or particularly expensive, though it has proven to be particularly elusive. For me anyway. For many other craft beer lovers, it is as common as muck but much better tasting. But I wouldn’t know. Hence this post.

Let me explain. The beer is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and I have been trying to get my hands on some for nearly two years. The reasons are many and varied but in essence I am a huge fan of US style pales and this is one that is always spoken of by those who know it in hushed, reverent yet excited tones. It is the beer that more than one Australian craft brewer has stated was the inspiration for their brewing empires. It is also surprisingly difficult to find out this way.

It has been described to me by beer blog mates from the States as something of a cliché for great craft brews and has had its praises sung by every beer rating and tasting website and forum that I have read. Comments left by me on US based beer blogs have been replied to with equal measure of sympathy, pity and a series of “Hah! Hahs!” of which Nelson Muntz would be proud. Apparently, it is a very good beer.

The last few weeks have been exciting as I had spoken to Chris from Cloudwine at the second Ale Stars meeting at The Local Taphouse and he told me that stock had finally arrived. Excited like a kid promised a treat if he cleans his room, I went straight home and cleaned my room then I told Mum I was going out to play at the beer shop. Mum yelled at me for phoning her at two o’clock in the morning but thanked me for cleaning my room.

With one thing and another, I didn’t get out to Cloudwine until a few days later by which time all the remaining stock of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was no longer remaining. I felt like Homer Simpson the day he went to the mall to see Mr T but by the time he got there Mr T had gone and then he asked the man if he knew when Mr T would be coming back again and the man said he didn’t know.

And so my quest would remain un... un... dis... non... incomplete. But the Beer Gods were not done testing me yet. They really DO want me to have this beer, to achieve my goal, to reach my grail. But not so soon. After Ale Stars Dr Lager, the brother-in-law and me were fronting the bar and chatting beer chat with Shandy and Chris, when I noticed the little pale green label on the unpretentious, almost shy bottle on the display shelf behind the bar.

“Is that ... that bottle up there ... is it ... could it be ...?” It bloody well was!!! Of course!! Why this had not occurred to me before will remain as much a mystery as Paris Hilton’s popularity. Of course a bar like The Local Taphouse would have SNPA!! Dickhead!! So now I knew – for next time. Not right here, right now, I hear you ask? But you’ve waited SO long. No. Just had a Sam Adams Boston Lager, two German Festbiers, a Farmhouse Ale and Rauchbier. There was no way known that I could introduce the Pale Ale into the same room as these characters. It would need to wait. The anticipation would be worth it.

So what do my ‘mates’ do? I turn around after some chat to see a beautifully poured and presented Sierra Nevada Pale Ale! Right in front of me!! Deliberate!!! Those very bastards. Having sympathised with me and led me to believe that they understood my quest and my decision to ‘postpone’ it until my next trip, they wave contempt and temptation in my face like a fiver to a starving bum. Bastards!!!

So what did I do? Did I succumb to this cheap attempt to get me to ‘break the seal’ and grasp the grail?? Did I forsake the opportunity to properly enjoy the pot of golden ale at the end of the beery rainbow?? Shit no. I stood fast and hard and took this evil attempt to make me stray in my stride. I did call them all bastards under the sun for the next twenty minutes and threatened to leave them to catch a tram home – a good trick for Dr Lager to pull off as the tram goes nowhere within twenty kilometres of his joint.

No. Proudly I let it sit there. Then I reluctantly watched as they took turns sipping from ‘my’ grail. Then they began to tell each other just how good this beer was and I just got shitty. But every time they set the glass back down on the bar I snaffled it and took a long, deep-drawn sniff of the aroma and imagined the day – which WILL come – when the prize would be mine. And I don’t think those two will be there when it does.

Prof Pilsner

Two More Words

A while back I retold he tale of two blokes sitting in a pub and looking up at the silent screen of an old flickering TV in the corner. A face appeared and a comment was made. The comment was understood, reciprocated and accepted. The bloke on the telly was a shit bloke and nothing more need be said. This is the story of another.

Last Saturday saw my NRL team, the all conquering Melbourne Storm claim a place in their third consecutive Grand Final. They lost the big one in 06 and then whipped the Sea Eagles last year. This comes on top of their finishing top of the ladder for the third successive year as well. It follows years of building a strong team from young but promising talent coupled with giving second chances to unwanted, discarded and ‘has-been’ players from other clubs. For those who don’t know, the National Rugby League is a primarily northern states based code born in northern England at the turn of the century as a working man’s alternative to the private school, big business sponsored Rugby Union.

In Queensland and New South Wales the game is king – although the ‘fans’ are fickle, the crowds parochial and small and the game run by old men with too much self interest and not nearly enough forethought – and they are very protective of their patch. In Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania the AFL rules. To the point where a parade of the Grand Final teams on the Friday before the game in Melbourne attracted over 100,000 people – that’s something like 5 times the number of fans who turned up to the NRL Preliminary final in Sydney the following night.

To put it simply, the League-Heads hate us. They envy our success, they are embarrassed by the support their own game gets in the enemy territory and they can’t get over the fact that the players of their own game love living and playing down here out of the Sydney media spotlight. In the last few years, as the Storm’s success has grown, so too has the campaign by the Sydney clubs and the Rugby League media to undermine and counteract it. In short it began after we won their precious trophy in just our second year and they accused us of unfairly using the interchange system – unfair in that we kept beating them. The rule was changed and a limited interchange introduced.

Fast forward a few years and with the Storm on the verge of new era of dominance the rival coaches, through their friends in the media, launched a series of attacks on the fact that the Storm were becoming too dominant in the ruck through the use of wrestling tactics. The fact that these were within the rules and nobody else was doing it half as well had nothing to do with their angst. Not. So the ‘Grapple Tackle’ controversy was born and while the league and its judiciary did nothing to stop the trend, the attacks on the team continued.

Last week the coach of the Storms opponent in the Grand Final qualifying game came out after the Storm’s captain and last year’s world’s best player was charged with a grapple tackle and called for him to be rubbed out by the tribunal. How you can pre-empt and influence a judiciary decision before it is handed down is beyond me. How the League’s head honchos and power brokers could allow him to get away with it is beyond any thinking person. Accusing the Melbourne coaching staff and football manager and CEO of being out of touch with the games ‘culture’ was just puerile and embarrassing for him.

Anyway, cutting to the chase, Ricky Stuart got his wish; Cam Smith became the first player to be made an example of and was suspended for two games – including the Grand Final. Stuart’s Sharks were installed as favourites to defeat the battered and judiciary crippled Storm and make it through to the Grand Final. The Melbourne Storm came out and handed the Sharks – and Stuart – their own arses on a platter to the tune of a 28 to nil shellacking. Stuart came out and attacked the Storm for being ‘flips’, ‘wallys’ and other childish names after his opposite number dared to criticise the comments he had made through the week. Stuart’s team, which has waited for all of its 41 years in the comp to win a flag would have to settle for a shit sandwich yet again and the Storm got to travel to Sydney again to battle the Sea Eagles again for the 2008 title.

Beer Karma strikes again. Ricky Stuart; shit bloke, no trophy.

Go Storm. See you all in Sydney on Sunday.

Prof. Pilsner

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Beer to celebrate with

The Hawks got up! The underdog team of young toilers and precocious talent managed to outplay the more highly fancied and near-undefeated Cats to take the 2008 Premiership Cup. While nowhere near the calibre of their last Grand Final meeting in 89 when Hawthorn established a sizeable lead by three quarter time before scraping home by six points at the death in a brutal encounter that saw half a dozen players leave the ground broken and battered and others play on with everything from split webbing to punctured lungs, the game was still a battle until the last stanza when the Hawks knew they had annexed their 10th AFL title.

And still I haven’t toasted my champion team. But as I watched the game and then after as I watched news reports of the teams’ celebrations, I couldn’t help but think how much things have not changed since I first began drinking beer and watching football, and how much they had changed at the same time.

Here were the Hawks of 2008 raising the cup in one hand and a Crownie in the other, just as the Hawks of 91, 88 and 89, 86, 83 and probably 71, 76 and 78 as well had before them. The 1961 team probably drank water or tea as coach John Kennedy snr was something of a fitness fanatic and a hard arsed task master to boot. The faces were different but the beer was the same.

Crown Lager – 'Crownies’ to you, me and everyone else – was Australia’s first premium beer. First brewed in the 1920s it was available only to diplomats and statesmen until 1953 when it was launched to the public to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It has graced the tables of official functions, awards nights, weddings, parties and anythings ever since.

But, without being too unkind to the beer or its fans, the beer is just OK. Rumours abound that it is everything from a super premium special brew, to the top skimmings off the VB tank to longer-matured Fosters. At the end of the day, it’s a premium beer because it has a unique bottle shape, a gold label, the name ‘Crown” and because the marketing men tell us that it is. It is very drinkable but there are plenty of better and more premium beers going around.

When our gang (who still get together five or six times a year some 30 years down the track) first began gathering for Melbourne Cup day, Grand Final, birthdays, Bathurst car racing weekend or the christening of a bar fridge, we drank VBs. Or Melbourne Bitter. Or Carlton Draught. That was about it. Even at a wedding, the same. But for a real treat, when you were feeling really flash – Crownies. They were more a statement than a beer. But they were still just a beer.

Today I don’t even think of Crownies as ‘special’ – certainly not in terms of taste or value for money. But the beer world, or the sporting/entertainment/arts world anyway, seem to still see it as a status beer, a mark of success. A statement of achievement and honour. Did I mention that I don’t think it’s anything special? And yet we still see it in the hands of every award winner and trophy holder and game winner every year. Sponsorship aside, I reckon it is still seen a special.

And to put this into a modern perspective, today Crown Lager retails at around $60 for a slab of 24 375ml bottles. An import lager like Miller, Bud or Stella Artois are usually in the mid fifties. A true standard craft beer, Coopers Sparkling Ale comes in at just over $40. A standard, mainstream, common old garden variety lager like VB, Toohey’s New or XXXX sits at between $36 and $43 and they all take it turns to be on special each week at something like $33. It is debatable that it tastes any better than any of them. Corona retails at about the same as Crown and Crown is infinitely better than that unwashed Mexican swill. But that’s another story.

Tonight after I hand over the pager to the new on-call team and get myself home, I will toast the Mighty Hawks, the 2008 AFL champions. But I will raise a glass of something that is really special and something that tastes really special and which feels really special to me. But it won’t be a Crownie.

Prof. Pilsner

Saturday, September 27, 2008

It’s going to be a big week

As I sit at here right now I am in that place where every sports fan dreams of being. It is Grand Final day – the Premiership, The Big Show, the place where legends are born, heroes are made and where ‘Winners are Grinners and a Shit Sandwich for second’ – the last day of the season in my hometown’s sport of choice, the AFL. And my Hawks are there, challenging for football’s ultimate prize. And that’s all for clichés and catch-phases, I promise. (Well, might sneak one more in later).

The Hawthorn football club is a proud and humble club, admitted to the Victorian Football League in 1925 and starved of success for nearly 40 years before unleashing an era of dominance which realised 9 Premierships between 1961 and 1991. They have failed to reach the big stage since that last flag. Until today.

A young squad boasting equal parts grit and flair, the young Hawks of 08 are poised to write their names in the history books along side those of the players who they watched as kids. Blokes who will play today were not out of nappies when the last champion Hawthorn teams were breaking records for consecutive Grand Final appearances, for record breaking winning margins and for breaking opposition hearts, spirits and bones in the Hawks golden heyday of the late 80’s.

I will watch the boys today and feel proud to be a supporter of the Brown and Gold and know that, win or lose, I can be pleased with the year that they have delivered to their loyal fans. I will watch the game and hope that they win, but not be disappointed if they give their best and fall short. I will still support them in defeat and will graciously give congratulations to the Geelong Cats if they are to walk away as winners.

But what I won’t do is have a beer. Or ten! Can you believe that shit!?! I am ‘on call’ this week for the State Emergency Service and, while on nearly any other week I could get someone to cover for me, Grand Final day is a different beast altogether. It is also a day where, sadly someone somewhere usually decides it’s OK to drive the car home after a skin full of Carlton Draught and wraps themselves around a tree or a pole and we have to cut them out. They are usually considerate enough not to do this during the game, so I hope to be able to watch from start to finish.

Must go, the pre game ‘entertainment’ is winding up and the boys will be running out shortly. With luck and skill the Hawks will prevail and on Monday night after ‘handover’ I can raid the fridge and crack a nice cold ‘something special’. Win, lose or draw.

Then, next week, I will do it all again as my NRL team, the Melbourne Storm last night booked themselves a spot in their third consecutive Grand Final decider in Sydney next Sunday. I will have more tales to tell and more beers to share with mates. Look out!

Prof. Pilsner

P.S I am just taking it one week at a time at the moment.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Beer to make you better

My Beer Blog Brother from across the waves, Stonch, had a bit of a tumble recently and has been laid up with a gimpy foot so I thought I might look into the recuperative powers of beer from a researched and very scientific approach. Then I realised that would be far too much like boring old hard work and I changed my mind and decided on the next best thing. Make stuff up.

We all know just how good for you beer can be. In medieval times and onwards beer was seen as a safe and tasty alternative to the dodgy local water. The British Empire was spread wide in ‘the olden days’ and India, the jewel in the imperial crown, was responsible for the invention of the India Pale Ale style. So hoppy and preserved was it that it could almost be labelled as ‘medicinal’.

So to those who are ailing, unwell, sick or just sick of it, here are my Top Beers to Top Up Your Spirits. Without resorting to spirits. Now, there are two very different types of unwelledness that we need to address from the start because one type can be cured easily with beer while the other will make you worse. The first type is the physical unwelledness – aches, sprains, strains and all manner of brain-drains. Provided that the breaks, fractures and swellings are confined to areas other than the arms and hands, self medicating is a snap.

The second type of unwelledness is not the physical but the physically sick – the dodgy guts, the Delhi Belly, Thai Typhoid and any other ailment of the insides which may enforce the opinion of your mates that you can’t hold your grog. Literally. Do not attempt to redress the liquid imbalance in your bowel by adding more. Go to bed, have one of those iced lollies that taste like Gatorade after it’s been tipped over the sweaty head of the Super bowl winning head coach and rejoin the Beer World when you stop spray painting the porcelain.

So, with that unpleasantness behind us; on to the beers. There is always something therapeutic about porters and stouts and since Stonch is in England I will assume he has access to plenty and better than I could offer and we shall move on.

Any Belgian Abbey ale with enough alcohol by volume to disable a small mule will generally do the trick as far as numbing aches goes and if you are taking that particular course then you may as well seek out one that doesn’t kick like a mule all the way down. Red Hill Temptation has some very warming and comforting notes wrapped in a beautiful looking beer and the 8% alcohol makes you feel like you are getting that mule to kick the pain. In the arse.

Another favourite of mine when I am feeling poorly is a Weihenstephaner. Any of them, really but a Dunkel or a Korbinian would probably have more approval from a doctor because they look more ‘mediciney’ and that might trick your brain into thinking that this stuff in the glass may actually cure you. Unless the thing that needs curing is in fact your brain in which case you might be in a bit more strife than I can help you out of.

Have I pointed out before this point that I am not a real medical professional in any way and I don’t expect anybody to take this as real medical advice? Good. My last suggestion is to try mixing your alcohol with your medication as I seem to remember something about these two elements being taken together. The advice also had something to do with the operation of heavy industrial machinery but since the reason you are mixing beer and codeine is that you are injured, I guess you don’t have to worry too much about work so just go for it.

Stonch, hope you are up and about soon and that this advice has been as helpful as it has been inane. If pain persists, take two Beck’s and call me in the morning. Except that ‘morning’ for you is very late for me, so, on second thoughts just have another instead.

Prof. Pilsner
(Not a real doctor)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Beer and Nuts ... Yeah, Nuts.

To those of a delicate disposition, I suggest you look away now. As if this blog attracts anyone with a delicate disposition. Just n case, I thought I should be forward upfront. You know what I mean. Just in case there are any wimps, nancy-boys, wee jessies or easily offended Poindexters still hanging around;

They gone now? Good.

Bollocks. Nads. Cohones*. Plums. The Boys. Danglers (thanks Shandy). Jibbies. Balls. These are all words used to describe those manly elements that we all hold dear. Men, I mean. We hold them dear. Often in inappropriate social and work situations but that’s not for here. These are those things that never sit right when you want them to and which even the Good Lord felt so awkward looking at that he decided to hide them in some leftover elbow skin he had lying around on the workshop bench. Today we must address some distressing news.

New research suggests that a naturally occurring plant compound found in many foods is lowering men’s sperm count. It actually said men’s sperm. Hmmm. This chemical is some sort of phyto-estrogen and is found in higher levels than previously thought in foods like coffee and nuts and – horrifyingly – beer. BEER!!

Now it doesn’t specify which beer and I am sure that each of you is doing the same thing as I am and inserting your favourite ‘poofter’ beer at this point and saying stuff like; “I told you that shit was a girly drop!” but this is more serious than that. As beer drinkers we need to get proactive on this. Imagine if this report gets out and beer starts getting a bad name around town as a drink which lowers your sperm count!!!

The Medical Research Council in Cambridge did this study and found high levels of this infertility causing chemical in red wine, brazil nuts and peanuts as well as beer, so we can’t even enjoy some of our favourite beer snacks, nor can we think about switching to wine! Not that we would anyway. We need to get on the front foot to tackle this threat to our beer drinking and I think I have some helpful tactics. We can tell our ladies that we need to actually increase our beer intake as we are involved n important scientific research conducted in order to determine if phyto-estrogens really do lower sperm count. We could explain our increased consumption as being the control group involved in disproving the same theory. Or, when the missus asks if you ‘have protection’, tell her; “yes, dear, a six pack full!”

And lastly, the research also found these phyto-thingies occur in high levels in soya. We can just keep drinking our beer and smile knowing that this research explains a lot about that tie-dye t-shirt wearing, whale saving, mung bean farming, tree hugging, unwashed, commune reject bloke who works in the health food shop and swears he isn’t gay.

Go out now and pick up some ‘research materials’ – at the very least we can all get lagered up, father a few offspring each and disprove science. Yay for Beer!!!!

Prof. Pilsner

*I don’t know if I should have spelled this one ‘cohones’ or ‘cojones’ – both might be acceptable (though rarely either in polite, Spanish or papal company) but when I tried spell check it just said ‘don’t ask me’ and when I Googled it the child lock on the laptop kicked in and I couldn’t post for two days.

P.S. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES do I recommend you get together with your mates to 'check each other' for levels as these Spanish football-ticklers are doing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ale Stars scores another hit

Happy Birthday Dr Lager

By way of wishing this blogs co-creator and technical advisor a happy birthday, I hooked an extra ticket for him to The Local Taphouse’s Ale Stars event on Tuesday gone. That was as good an excuse for getting out there mid week as I could think of and, having arranged a late pass for him from Mrs Lager we headed out for a night of German Celebration beers.

The brother-in-law had beaten us there by 20 minutes or so because A; He lives a lot closer than we do, B; Part of the birthday gift involved me picking the Dr up from his place and C; He likes to get in a ‘sneaky’ before we arrive.

As I explained in a previous post, Ale Stars is a very casual social event for beer people to get together and drink beer and talk about beer and then, when it’s finished, you stay around and drink beer. And talk about beer for a bit more. All very simple and civilised. With October approaching, the theme for this session was (loosely) Oktoberfest, Marzen and Vienna beers.

We began the evening with a Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Actually, we began with a ‘disclaimer’ from our affable and very able host, Shandy, who explained that not all our evening’s beers would be necessarily true to the originally advertised theme of ‘German Celebration Beers’. Despite the hitch, the Sam Adams being a Vienna style lager fitted into both the theme and the throat very nicely.

Next up was the Weihenstephaner Festbier. Readers of this blog will know that I am extremely very partial to a Weihenstephaner or three on as many occasions I can talk myself into. The Festbier was a surprise to many there on the night as it poured a very pale ‘Munich Helles’ gold which seemed to belie it’s 5.8% alcohol pitch. The taste also hid the alcohol level well and the slight sweetness balanced the crispness of the hops and our group agreed that this was certainly a beer to celebrate with – even if the celebration was simply the fact that you had a Festbier in your hand. I was a big fan, though not to the same extent as Shandy who, in his wee Scottish brogue declared it ‘the dawg’s dunglers’ (which translated into English is ‘the dog’s danglers, or bollocks and translated into beerspeak is ‘this beer is a good one’) On second thoughts, I agree!

An Erdinger Oktoberfest Weisbier was the next sample and this one presented as a beer that seemed a little darker than a wheat beer would normally be, yet this in no way detracted from its appeal. The classic banana/bubblegum yeast aroma sat nicely on top of a lightly sweet and beautifully balanced tart tanginess which sang out, ‘celebrate’.

To say that the last beer of the session was a ‘smokey’ was to say that Paris Hilton likes a camera or that Collingwood footballers like a drink after a game. To say it was a ‘smokey’ was also vey accurate and for those who had not tried a Rauchbier before, smokey was just what they got. Schlenkerla Marzen is a beer flavoured through the addition of woodchips to the grain malting process which imparts a really intense smoke flavour into the finished brew. And when I say smoke I mean smoke. The brother-in-law likened it thus; “I declare, my fellows, that If I didn’t know better, I would swear upon a stack that someone has put upon my beer a large portion of smoky bacon!”

Just trying to imagine having this beer alongside a dish of chorizo and scallops with braised fennel sent the inner chef into a frenzy of recipe based anticipation. The flavour is undeniably brash but somehow it melds seamlessly with the overall flavour of the beer – which is beery enough to carry it. It is warm and rounded and, in case I forgot to mention it, very smokey.

A quick show of hands revealed that only one in the room could say that they really hadn’t enjoyed it. This beer is one which Shandy expected to polarise the group moreso. I guess this means that either everyone there had a fairly broad beer palate or no one there was game to admit to not liking it bar one! I can say I was really surprised at the extent to which I enjoyed it, and look forward to the ‘correct drinking procedure’ for this beer as outlined by Shady – ‘It gets good around the sixth or seventh pint’. That’s a lot of bacon.

Again a terrific night for beer people of all ages, tastes and beery experiences. The next Ale Stars is October 21 when we will treat ourselves to Farmhouse Ales, the Profs favourite craft brewer, Ben Krauss from Bridge Road Brewers, good food and good company.

Cheers, and Happy Birthday Dr Lager
Prof. Pilsner

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Supermarkets and beer

My beer of choice to celebrate my middle daughter’s birthday was a random one, based on it being the fifth beer in the line in the fridge and her turning five. Logical enough, I reckon. The beer was a Platinum Blonde from the Six Star Breweries and it was odd in a couple of ways.

As I have stated in these pages previously, I understand the whole low carb beer thing but I just don’t get it. I know that lazy marketing men can’t be arsed getting together with the bean counters at the bigger breweries to sort out a compromise between taste and cost but to come up with a constant stream of regurgitated ‘idea beer’ products that are the same as most of the piss weak marketing beers as the others have already pumped out is just disrespecting real beer drinkers. To henceforth cover my own arse, I shall state that I bought this beer in the interests of research. Plus I knew it would be shit but I didn’t feel it fair to bag a beer that I hadn’t tasted.

The reality is that most of the people who drink these gimmicks don’t care as much for the taste and quality of their beer as they do the ‘look’ and the quantity of their beer. Fancy or familiar labels and plenty of it, thanks. They will try a ‘new’ beer even if it’s the same beer with a ‘new & improved’ sticker on it.

This latest in this already overcrowded market place is made for, and by, the Woolworth’s supermarket chain, one of the two giants in the grocery and liquor game in Australia. This beer is the first in a range to be produced under the Six Star Breweries name. And it is just a name. There is not even one, let alone many Six Star Breweries. This is the name of the ‘marketing operation’ as they call it which, in a way, is admitting the gimmicky cheapening nature of this venture. The beer is made (possibly brewed) at Victoria’s Independent Distillers the contract brewer who makes, among others, Kingfisher under license.

This is not a new thing. Worldwide brands like Sol and Hollandia and locals like Tasman and Hammer ‘n Tongs have been made for the supermarkets alone as a price lead or homebrand beer for many years. Oetinger Pils and Maes Belgian Pils are others in this basket. Some of these beers are OK as standard fridge fillers and I have some of them as ‘no-think back ups’ from time to time – something I can just reach in and grab while I decide what I’m going to do next. I can also see that it is not a terrible thing for supermarkets to have a low price beer to get the punters in – I just don’t think we need so many of the same!

The two things that worry me about this situation are the fact that the downturn in pub patronage in the UK is being blamed partly on the upsurge in supermarket liquor sales and I don’t want to see that happen here and the fact that this is a marketing war – and wars have casualties.

Just listen to the battle cry from the head marketing wally from Woolies;
"We have got control over point-of-sale … we have control over floor, shelf and fridge space, and those are powerful things and in many ways equally as powerful as the other tools available to brand marketers." ... "We don't enter these sorts of projects unless we can capture a reasonable share of market, and we are looking at mid to high single digits,"
This is not a bloke with beers best interests at heart, nor the best interests of the beer drinkers. Prominent positioning, floor space advantage and other Marketing 101 catch phrases mean nothing except this – for every beer that these peanuts decide will be ‘beer idea of the month’, another beer or two must make way. And the ones to make way won’t be a similar low carb, low taste, low effort swill-piss, it will be the sweat of a craft brewer or a daring attempt at an odd-ball Belgian dubbell or Munich Helles by an emerging brewer or a worthy effort at something just a little better than the ever increasing line up of copycat lagers with no merit other than that they taste a bit like beer.

There’s my rant. Maybe it won’t happen. Maybe the big guns will keep each other honest and good beer will be readily available and reasonably priced. Maybe the small independent retailers will all survive and move away from competing with the Goliaths and start selling good craft beers and crafty imports. Maybe the circle of beer will continue to turn and real beer drinkers can keep buying real beer and the bogans can keep buying slabs of VB and we all sleep well at night.

Prof. Pilsner

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Drinking, not blogging

Apologies for the lack of regular posts this last week. Mrs Pilsner was condudcting some training at work this wek as she prepares to roll out the project she and her hard working team have been working hard on. She uses the laptop for this and combined with preparations for her birthday and various other celebratory and sporting commitments about this week, I have barely had time to think, let alone post.

I have not been idle, however, and I have managed to get in a little 'research' with regards to all things beery. A very pleasant evening at The Local Taphouse with Dr Lager and the brother-in-law during the week was a welcome distraction from all things normal and I also managed to sample a couple of new and interesting beers.As the warmer weather begins to sneak along, I have been taking the opportunity to sneak away a few winter warmers and cosy ales. Red Hill Temptation and Holgate Double Trouble as well as a Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Pale Ale have found their way ont the dinner table in the last week and I hope to get some detailed posts on the board soon.

I also hope to put the finishing touches to a post loosely labelled, "How to choose the right beers to assist in getting you throught the fun and frivolity of a five year old's birthday party". Once I have recovered from the fun and frivolity of a five year old's birthday party.

Back Soon.

Cheers Prof. Pilsner

Monday, September 15, 2008

Birthday Beers

When I woke up this morning I didn’t feel any different. I felt flat, but that was more a case of being disappointed that my top place finishing Rugby League team had been beaten in the biggest upset of the year by the eighth placed underdogs in the first round of the finals series.

As the system goes, the only difference is that we now play next week instead of having the weeks rest and forego a home preliminary final. A hand full of cold beers took the edge off the disappointment and life goes on. The Melbourne Storm are still more than capable of whipping any of the remaining finalists and in the AFL my Hawks are still a red hot chance of winning their prelim this week and advancing to the Grand Final on the last Saturday in September.

Which brings me back to the original reason for my post. September is something of a celebration month in the Pilsner house with three of the five members having a birthday as well as Father’s Day, Dr Lager’s birthday and a full month of sporting commitments. And, of course, the accompanying beers.

The ‘Week of Candles, Cake & Kegs’ began on Thursday with the middle ‘little’ Pilsner reaching her fifth birthday. I counted off the beers in the fridge and the fifth was a new/old brew Platinum Blonde from Six Star Breweries. Old because it is one of these low-carb beers that want you to think are health tonics of sorts. In reality, they are as low in taste as they are in carbs and I’ll pick this theme back up in a follow up post.

Sunday was prepping the place for the onslaught of a dozen four and five year olds for the party before heading out to Olympic Park to see the Storm outplayed by the New Zealand Warriors. Standing out on the ground to hoist the players’ run-through banner, I had the feeling that this wasn’t going to be our day. The beers I had pre-game were like summer and winter – opposites, not one hot and one cold – one was ‘ice cream’ and the other ‘tide out’. And this despite the fact that it took THREE servers to get it wrong! Sanjeet, Ardip and Sharmi managed to take the order, the money and the pour and because I didn’t speak Urdhu we didn’t chat much. And, to top it off, the Kiwi’s got their national anthem in but then the sound system packed it in before the Aussie shiela could warble ours and the good natured crowd sang it instead – a Capella and out of tune. Badly. Should have seen the omen then.

Sunday was also the good Dr’s birthday and I raised a glass of St Arnou Premium Blond – because it is a nice low carb beer for those pretending to be health conscious and lead a good clean lifestyle. Much as Dr Lager does. Pretend.

And today I manage to put yet another year behind me and the girls made sure I had a lovely breakfast and plenty of presents this morning. A tradition in our house is that the birthday person gets to choose dinner and have it made for them but as I tap away here the forecast nasty weather is just beginning to break. As I am a volunteer with the local State Emergency Service unit I expect that tonight might be interrupted by a few call outs from the public and dinner may have to wait for another day. Plus, I don’t fancy driving in this weather if I don’t absolutely have to and so it might just be left over party pies and ‘little boys’ from the party for us.

I’ll just have to make up for this with a special beer from the ‘beer crisper’ when the storms die down and the pager stops beeping. So, wish me luck, happy birthday to me and cheers!

Prof. Pilsner

Friday, September 12, 2008

Buying more beer – cheap

I watched a special on the telly last week which dealt with the retail duopoly which exists across Australia in the supermarket sector. The two big players, Coles and Woolworths sell us 70% of our dry goods and 50% of our fresh food as well as having a massive stake in petrol stations, pokie clubs and other businesses.

Where a decade or so back these supermarkets were selling just tinned tomatoes, milk, frozen peas and washing powders, they have now expanded and in many places have edged out small local butchers, bakers and probably the odd candlestick maker as well.

The other area of interest for visitors to this blog is that the two mega retailers also control a fair sized slab of the liquor market. With stores dotted everywhere across the city and country making use of massive floor spaces, the buying power that these giants have is unbeatable. Huge volumes and the ability to showcase hundreds of different lines means that the big two can dictate terms and pricing from the various suppliers. If you want to move a shed load of product, here’s how much you will get per unit and here’s when and how you’ll get paid.

For the humble punter this means a few things. First, we get to choose from a range we have not had ever before. Second, we can take advantage of bulk buy discounts and weekly specials on everyday mainstream beers – especially by the slab. Third, we are generally paying a lot less overall for beer because the biggies will always price beat their smaller independent retailers. And fourth, with liquor departments at the supermarkets as well as the huge stand alone booze barns access to liquor is easier than ever before. But is this all a good thing?

Having two players in the market effectively setting the price of beer means that the small independent is pretty much at the mercy of the duopoly when it comes to competing on price alone. The 4 Corners special heard from some retailers who were actually buying their stock from one of the bigg’uns because their cost price from the brewery was more expensive than the giant’s retail sale price! Some may argue that the small retailers offer a better level of service but for the average shmo trollying out his week’s supply of ‘Good Piss Lager’ or a slab of bourbon and cola cans, he could care less about service and range.

For those like myself, I prefer to shop at my friendly small guy (see entries on Cloudwine and Swords Select) because I know I can get a chat as well as a better selection of hard to get beers and special orders are taken care of with pleasure rather than annoyance. Personally, I can also request an odd-ball import or check prices and upcoming new arrivals on the beer retailer’s blogs. These things are more important to me than knowing I can get four ‘torpedoes’ of no-name bourbon flavoured rubbing alcohol mixed with sugar and cola infused lab syrup for around the price of four really nice beers. Plus, I wear shoes when I go shopping for drink and I don’t tip half of my purchase down my neck on the way home. But that’s another story.

Here is the big question; two mega-ginormous retailers controlling the market, keeping the smaller players at arms length from competing and calling the shots to the suppliers – what happens next? If more and more independents fall by the wayside and the big just get bigger, do the leaders go all ‘soup Nazi’ on us and say; “No specials for you!!” or does the fact that there are still two players at the top of ladder ensure that neither wants to shake he ladder or risk cutting some rungs? In the UK the supermarket players are being blamed in part for the decline in patronage at traditional English pubs and while the situation is different in the way that pub drinkers buy their booze, the omens are there.

We have more choice and more variety and more opportunity to easily buy what we want. We are probably paying less overall for many garden variety beers. We are convinced by the marketing that we are getting the best value for our drinking dollar. Should we just enjoy it all while we can or do the signs point to a future where the rules surrounding the business of buying beer is determined by the retailer and not the customer?

I’m off to buy some beer and I will drink some and have a think about it. I’ll get back to you soon.

Prof. Pilsner

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ale Stars at the Local Taphouse

On the middle Tuesday of each month The Local Taphouse has a terrific beer night known by its attendees as ‘Ale Stars’, a celebration of beer, style by style.

For the bargain basement price of just $25 punters can not only sample the finest beer drinking surroundings, music and atmosphere, they can also sample four beers all linked by style or type or region, matched with a delicious selection of expertly prepared finger foods.

The brother-in-law and I made our way out last month for a night devoted to stouts. Beginning with the entry level Guinness in the widget powered can and moving through Export and Imperial style stouts and finishing with a chocolate stout, the night was well paced and hosted capably by Shandy who introduced each beer, gave notes on other like beers as we sipped and chatted and provided good tips and tricks for appreciating beer in general.

A highlight of this second Ale Stars evening was a guest spot by the very talented craft brewer, David Golding from Red Hill Brewery on the Mornington Peninsula. Sharing his brewing knowledge and fielding questions that ranged from the simple to the scientific, he managed to fill the room with a sense of the love and dedication a brewer needs to not just produce a good beer but to stay true to the principles you set for yourself. Sticking to producing beers of a higher standard with smaller margins and growing their own hops, Red Hill is striving to ensure that finer beers are available to those willing to try something a little outside their price comfort zone. Being able to chat to David afterwards and chatting all things beer was a bonus for the professor.

This is a great environment for beer-heads who love their ales and lagers but don’t really want to take it all too seriously. The night is a great opportunity to mix and mingle with others who share your passion and no one is out there trying to ‘one-up’ each other or argue whose favourite beer is best.

The next Ale Stars night is next Tuesday September 16 and coming into their special tap beer extravaganza, ‘Spec-Tap-ular’ which will be an Oktoberfest themed weekend, they will feature an all German line up of interesting beers. For all the good word, check out their link at the right hand side of the Beer Blokes blog.

Prof. Pilsner

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Father’s Day beer

Being something of a beer-enjoyer (you may have picked up the subtle hints reading this rubbish) I relish hearing the question; “What can I get for you?” It’s nice to hear it come from a bartender and even nicer to hear it from a mate who is about to speak to a bartender. It is especially nice to hear it around Christmas and birthday time when I can shrug my shoulders matter of factly and say; “Oh, your love and respect is more than enough but, since you’re asking, a gift pack of Belgian ales, a six-pack of local crafties or a mini keg of Bavarian lager would be lovely.”

Now, when it comes to friends or family, mates or missus, this is easily done. When the first Sunday in September is rolling nigh and it is a two year old and a four year old asking the question, it makes for a different strategy. Can’t really ask them to hop on the push-along and fill up the flowery basket with bottles, can I. Can I? No, no I can’t. Apparently. Nice try though.

So for Father’s Day I must do my fatherly duty and provide for them. For me. I provide on their behalf - can’t be fairer than that!

So what does a dad drink when it comes to Father’s Day beer? Well, when he’s buying for himself and he has a good excuse, and he wants to match the beers with a good reason it goes something like this...

St. Arnou Premium Blonde I chose because Mrs Pilsner is blond and, well, without her I wouldn’t be having a Father’s Day. Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale because during the ‘Cut & Shut’ delivery of our first born, Mrs Pilsner went a lovely shade of pale during the epidural. A Fuller’s Extra Special Bitter because, well without being too much of a suck, being a Dad is pretty extra special. Holgate brewhouse in Woodend have a lovely Abbey beer called ‘Double Trouble’ (it’s Belgian Dubbell Ale) because before I had three kids I had two. Red Hill Temptation, a magnificent golden Belgian Ale chosen because that’s how I ended up with the third kid. And, finally, Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel because if you’ve had a few drinks before this one and you can still pronounce it without tripping over your tongue then you are very possibly capable of producing the kind of performance necessary to produce an offspring.

So when the first Sunday in September rolls around next year, get on your bike and grab six bottles of something you might not have thought about trying before. And if you don’t have any kids, get on your bike and grab six bottles of something you might not have thought about trying before. And if you feel bad that you are cheating the whole Father’s Day concept then get on your bike and grab six bottles of something you might not have thought about trying before and find someone you love and see if you can sort out what you need to do to be a father by this time next year. Go on, it’s fun!

Prof. Pilsner

Thursday, September 4, 2008

APA Invasion

A recent trend in craft beer lately seems to be the American Pale Ale. This style just seems to have popped right out of the woodwork and has gone from the odd one in a brewers’ line up to the ‘must have’ in nearly every range.

And this is NOT a bad thing.

Apart from the fact that the citrusy hop character and floral aroma suits the weather here (is there a beer that doesn’t suit the weather if you really want it to?) the extra personality of a good APA means that these beers are a good style to food match with.

While the Prohibition era virtually saw off the ale as a style in the US, the American Ale, and the APA in particular, were given a new life with the emergence in the 1980s of microbreweries and the craft brewing explosion. The Pale Ales, based on the English Pale Ales are, as you might expect, lighter in colour and lean towards a greater use of aroma and flavour hops than their British forefathers and often achieve their distinctive hoppiness from dry hopping as well as from the ballsy and bitter US hop varieties, in particular the Cascade and Centennial. They can also tend to lean towards the amber end of pale.

Australian craft brewers have jumped on board in a big way over the last few years and where it used to be the sole domain of Little Creatures Pale Ale and one or two token gestures to the brand, we now have an almost unlimited choice when it comes to this type of ale. Many craft brewers have also tipped their hats towards the American Ales and to Sierra Nevada especially as the inspiration for the realisation of their own craft brew dreams. Readers of this blog will be aware that my current beer quest is to get me some SN Pale Ale and quick smart! No joy as yet but my two year quest may soon be at an end as Chris from Cloudwine Cellars has told me has some on order.

Another favourite craft brewer of the Beer Blokes is 3 Ravens who stick doggedly to producing a range of hand made real beers – or ‘live’ beers as they call them. Best drunk fresh and even better from the keg, these guy, led by Marcus Cox have just added a ‘55’ APA to their stable of great ales. Celebrating the brewery’s fifth birthday and packed with 5 hop varieties, this ale is a joy. Think I’ll have another. Back soon.

Murray’s Nirvana Pale Ale is another which has something of permanent residence status in the Prof’s fridge and is (from what I’m told) a great tribute to the Sierra Nevada. Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale is one which sings at the top of its lungs with hop gusto, Bright Blowhard is very serviceable, Moo Brew Pale is growing on me and Sweetwater is a newcomer to the scene and presents admirably.

It’s nice to be spoilt for choice! Support the Coalition of the Willing (Beer Drinkers Division) and grab an American Pale Ale today. If only Osama drank beer.

Prof. Pilsner

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Beer Karma strikes again!

Watching my beloved Hawthorn taking on Carlton in the last of the regular season games on Saturday night and all the attention and interest in the game centred on the Hawks’
magnificent young superstar Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin and his quest to kick the two goals needed for his hundred for the season.

The Hawks were already assured of second spot on the ladder leading into the finals series so the media focus was all about Buddy and his ton. The sub plot to this sporting drama was the fact that, at the opposite end of the ground, Carlton’s enigmatic spearhead, Brendan Fevola was aiming to kick a hefty 8 goals to get his century. I say enigmatic because ‘The Fev’ has seen more than his share of trouble over the last few years.

Seemingly hard wired towards dickheadedness, Fevola has managed to upset fans of the game and fans of normal social behaviour by getting on the drink and then choosing one or more from the following list of ‘Dickhead Things To Do When You Are Pissed’; weeing in public, headlocking barmen in Ireland, conducting an SMS affair with a vacuous model famous for being well known, speeding twenty kilometres an hour over the limit in a school zone, being a pissed idiot – you get the picture?

Anyway, Buddy dobbed the two six pointers that he needed for the ton in the first ten minutes of the game. Mrs Pilsner was commenting on the AFL tradition of fans running on to the ground as the hundredth goal went through the sticks and mobbing their hero when she mused at the prospect of Fevola kicking the eight he needed for his milestone. The commentators had made mention of the fact that, while the ton had been reached by players in the same season and even in the same round before, it had never been achieved in the same game. Could it happen tonight? How would security cope with TWO ground rushes? Would it take some of the gloss off Buddy’s feat if Fev got his as well?

“Won’t happen” I said matter of factly to Mrs Pilsner’s enquiries. “Why not”, she pondered. “Beer Karma”, I replied. “He has a poor track record when it comes to disrespecting the beer and Beer Karma will say to him – shit bloke, no ton.”

She laughed and we watched as Fevola’s Blues were pumped to the tune of 78 points and despite a goalless first half, Fevola (ably assisted by every one of his generous team mates) kicked four third quarter goals and then three in the last to finish the game stranded on 99 goals for the year. You are Beer Karma’s bitch, Brendan.

And, as if to underline the point, this morning’s paper runs the story of an AFL footballer who has again run foul of decency and standards by participating in his team’s end of season celebrations on ‘Mad Monday’ by dressing in a pink nightie, matching hat and accessorised with a sex toy to the bemusement and disgust of several city bar patrons (pun unintended). Wonder what Beer Karma has in mind for her bitch next season?

Warning; if large pink rubber dongers offend, don’t look at the front of Brendan’s pants in the picture below.

Cheers and Thanks, Beer Karma,
Prof. Pilsner

Monday, September 1, 2008

Probably just a coincidence

Radio news in Melbourne this morning led with the story of the Victorian State Premier going on a ride-along with Police patrols in the wee small hours of the morning on Saturday night to view the alcohol related trouble caused by binge drinking.

The purpose of the trip was not, as you might expect, to show support for the ever decreasing and increasingly stressed police force, but to gather evidence before making a decision on the 2am ‘lockout’ legislation. As I have discussed in these pages recently, this lockout, which was designed to stop anti-social booze-fuelled mayhem, was so cock-eyed and poorly planned that not only did it not work, but even had it done so, nearly every ‘at risk’ business which applied for an exemption, got one.

So no one, except maybe the Premier himself, could really understand what he expected to see and how this would alter his thinking. “Hmmm, let’s see. I am looking at how a law that doesn’t do anything, implemented and enforced by no one and punishable by nothing, is working – even though you don’t have to abide by it – and I will observe any changes in the behaviour of pissed idiots as a result of changing nothing in order to determine if I will continue the plan into the future.”

The news reported that Mr Brumby went on a ‘fact finding tour in the early hours ... to determine the future of 2am lockouts” ... (he) “looked on as drunks were arrested, and he revealed serious concerns ... about the price society was paying for policing the intoxicated”. Ahhh!! Now there is a funny little thing! POLICING THE INTOXICATED!! Maybe instead of nanny-ing the many, the Government might think about ENFORCING THE LAW on the few who transgress!!??

But this would be the same mob who recently oversaw the down sizing of the force and its capacity to remove trouble makers from the streets as evidenced by the figures which show that 11 pissed idiots were arrested a couple of weekends ago, and 10 the weekend before. Compare that with 80 pissed idiots that were arrested and removed from the public domain on an average weekend last year!! Add to this that there are now two stations taking in these pissed idiots and around five that are not doing it anymore. Hmmm? Influencing your thinking, Premier?

And on to the newspaper. Let’s see, page three – no boobies, sorry, but a report which headlines; “POLICE QUIT AS MORALE SINKS” It seems that nearly 450 police members have quit or retired in the past 18 months as a result of dissatisfaction with the force. Of these men and women, 299 had been in the job for more than 10 years and 146 had more than 30 years behind the bell. That’s a lot of experience lost through members who are not even near the end of their foreseeable career length. A recent survey saw 3459 members respond and showed that two in three officers had considered quitting in the past year, citing lack of resources, stress and low force morale.

Mr Brumby might rethink his bullshit plan to control the evil grog, or he might just consider giving the streets back to the people who have traditionally provided the deterrent, the defusing and the solution to most of the social issues revolving around drinking irresponsibly.

The Premier goes for a ride to see what anybody could have told him was there while the very people who can solve the problem are being asked to sit back while he develops a plan that they will be asked to control and which will see them stretched to do – even if the plan WOULD work!

As I said, it’s probably just a coincidence.

Oh, just to clarify an error in last weeks bit on the alcopop tax - the figure the Federal Govt is sitting on is not 3 million, but 3 HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS -MOO Ha Ha!!!

Prof. Pilsner