Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dumb-CHK, Dumb-CHK BOOM!

When I first got into this Inter-Webs thingy I took to it well, but I was worried. I knew that this fancy new technology could be used for goodness, but I had a sneaking, not-quite-paranoid, feeling that it might just be used by some for evil purposes.

As a reasonably tech savvy post baby-boomer, I also had some fair idea of what personal privacy was and the importance of protecting it. I also had a fair idea that once you put something out there into the internetesphere it would pretty much stay there. Forever.

Cut forward to the present – or Yesterday’s Future, if you will – and the Beer Bloke Prophesies have come to life in a dark and depressing reality. You see, some people have used this wonderous, toll-free information super highway to not only NOT contribute to the betterment of the world and its many peoples but to actually DECREASE the sum total of humankind’s achievements. We’re goin’ backwards, people!

Exhibit A. This week a young woman previously unknown outside her family and circle of friends and workmates became ‘famous’ for telling porkies. She described in detail the shooting of some random law-dodging oxygen thief by some other random law-dodging oxygen thief in Sydney’s Kings Cross. We’ve all told the odd fib but this was different because she told her whopper to a television camera which then deemed it ‘newsworthy’ enough to broadcast. Despite the fact that most ten year olds could tell that she was bullshitting. For a start, ‘wogs’ don’t call each other “Bro” – that would be the Kiwis, or Brothers, as we call them. The internet then kicked in and she ended up on You Tube where she received about eleventy-eight kabillion hits. Unfortunately none of them were directed at her dumb head.

Maybe that’s a little unfair. She was just being a dickhead. The fact that someone was lazy enough to think that this drivel was even newsworthy should be smacked upside his or her thick head with a rolled up wet newspaper (delicious media-related irony, don’t you think?!) but what’s worse is that this air-head has now been offered a gig with the same channel that was stupid enough to fall for, and then broadcast, her waffle.

The Virtual Media has created yet another person who is Famous For Being Well Known – like we don’t have enough of them already – and now the Real Media is stretching her fifteen minutes of “fame” further than the girl’s lack of credibility and actual talent. I know she didn’t go over to the camera when she saw The Dickhead Lamp go on just so that she could become a celebrity, but she’s certainly milkin’ it for all it’s worth in the aftermath.

And just like the kid at school who wore worms as a wig, stuck crayons up his nose and ate his own boogies, if we all stop looking at him, he goes away.

Prof. Pilsner

In case you’re wondering, the reason I threw this post in is that, while it’s not strictly about beer, there was a suggestion that her TV ‘appearance’ was a marketing ploy by Lion Nathan to promote a beer competition featured on the bus stop behind her. Probably should have mentioned that earlier.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Eye spy an opportunity

I read this morning where scientists have developed the technology to coat contact lenses with stem cells to reverse blindness. I didn’t read the whole article so I don’t know wether you send the lenses away to the Poindexters for treatment or wether they send you an embryo and a set of instructions but the idea seemed a good one.

And it got me thinking about the range of possibilities for this brave new world of stem cell technology. I mean, would it be possible to coat the hats of bald men and then, when they got home and took off their hat and said, “Hi Honey, I’m home!”would he look like high-achieving entrepreneurial go-getter, Homer Simpson in the Dimoxinil episode? Or would his wife stab him with a kitchen knife thinking that he was a homicidal intruder? I don’t think science ever really considers all the possible consequences.

What about coating the seats on wheelchairs or the armpit rests on crutches? And speaking of crutches, what would happen if you wore stem cell impregnated jocks for a week? The possibilities are mind boggling.

So how about this; could the labcoats work out a way to put liver and brain cells in beer? Beer would then become a health tonic which replaces damaged cells AS YOU DESTROY THEM!!?

Just a thought.

Prof. Pilsner

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Never Assume

Karen Golding from Red Hill sent off a keg of their very delicious and very limited seasonal Hop Harvest to The Local Taphouse with a special gift and a bit of a challenge to the beer’s fans. Simply say the word “Hoporific” when ordering a glass of Hop Harvest and The Local would give you the serve for free and Karen would give you a gift pack containing a bottled version of the Hop Harvest and a particularly nice Red Hill goblet style glass. Nice.

Being the Beer Bloke that I am and keen for a beery challenge, I taped away at the comments box and immediately tried to scam the prize by way of a ‘mail order’ – no joy, but then my expectations weren’t high. That was eight days ago.

So last night at Ale Stars I prop at the bar nice and early to get in a quick pre-game loosener – Red Hill Hop Harvest, no less, - and notice that Shandy has just finished one of the same. We complete another successful Ale Stars meeting and hit the bar again some three hours later and grab a quiet ‘finisher’. No prizes for guessing which beer. No, literally, no prizes.

Simon K is at the bar with us. You may recall that Simon is the bloke recently referred to in this blog as “Lucky” due to the fact that he (A) gets there early enough every session to grab the comfy couches and (B) because he is nearly always the only bloke in the company of some of the Local’s nicest and finest-looking ladies. Simon strolls up after we order, looks at our choice, orders same (Red Hill Hop Harvest) and casually enquires; “Who got the free one for being the first to say ... oh, what was it ... ummmm .... Hoppy? Hoopy? Hoppo? ... ahhhhhhh .... “HOPORIFIC”?

“You just did, mate. Well done.”

“You’re fair dinkum shittin’ me” Shandy and I chorus in unison.

When we left an hour later, Simon was still smiling, unable to believe his luck and Guy was still laughing at us.

Prof. Pilsner

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ale Stars - A quiet night out

What a difference a month makes. This time in April I wrote about how the Ale Stars meeting at The Local Taphouse was a noisy, beery vibrant and beery affair due to the venue being as full as a fat lady’s sock with people enjoying fine beers, loud beery banter and the thoughts of legendary guest brewer, Brad Rogers.

If that one was a bit like a cousin’s 21st birthday party, then last nights’ was more of a dinner at Mum’s with the whole family seated around the dining room table. Last month’s meet had a real atmosphere, a buzz about it with even low-level conversations creating a constant low murmur through the room and affable host Shandy struggling to keep the hosting audible. Friends moved between groups to chat and guest brewer Brad had to drink about thirty beers while talking to interested punters after the meeting.

Last night things were at the other end of the scale. The 50 turned into 20 and the mood was mellow, relaxed and intimate. A few new faces complimented the clutch of regulars and we even had an ‘industry insider’ join us for the beer and fun. Tom (hope I spelled that right) has been involved with the Mountain Goat crew for some time and it was good to have his knowledge thrown in to the conversation when things got technical. Any truth to the rumour that he was also heard calling The Goat Guys on his mobile to let them know how good this Ale Stars thing is?! Could he have been teeing-up a guest brewer for the next session featuring a Goat beer?

Also unusual about last night was the fact that the theme was Strong Ales and many of the offerings were new to the gathered Ale Stars. A Greene King Strong Suffolk Ale began proceedings and was a terrific starter for those new to this type. Warm, ruby-red and yet very easy drinking, this is a beer made from a 2 to 5 year oak stored batch which is then blended with new beer to create a traditionally brewed 6% ale.

The Emerson’s Old 95 lifted the alcohol volume up to 7% with a beer made using a complex grain bill and modern methods to replicate the barrel ageing original process. Interestingly, while the GK had an aroma suggestive of a big gutsy taste but a flavour that was more subdued, the Emerson was the reverse with the mellow nose masking a somewhat hop-driven full mouthfeel and slightly ‘sharp’ alcohol edges. And don’t ring the tech-foul bell; I didn’t use words like diacetyl, mono-sacchyrides or ‘Calvados-y’.

Recent award winning West Australian brewery, Feral, provided the next offering in the form of an 11% Barley Wine called, quite appropriately, Razorback. The keg from which we drank had been stored by the Local Taphouse guys for months, kept maturing for this very occasion. Guy also told us how a similar process had been put in place at the Sydney venue with a single Razorback keg being set aside from the rest for some in-house ageing. Apparently everybody knew about this ‘resting keg’ – everybody, that is, except for the beerline technician who hooked it up to test the system before the grand opening. Justin and Guy (as they describe it) were then ‘forced’ to drink it as knock off beers while preparing for the venue launch. Could this solve the mystery of why the venue opened some months later than expected?!? And they blamed council and tradesmen!

The Feral Razorback went down OK but was probably the only beer of the night that divided opinion to any extent. Robust and forthright, the body was certainly full enough to carry the flavours but perhaps the alcohol was more prominent than the previous samples. Simon “Lucky” was the only one who struggled to put his away, but this may have something to do with the fact that he had chosen this beer as his ‘starter’ before the night began! Good choice!

We had begun with a British offering, moved through New Zealand and back to Australia and we were to finish in the U.S. with a Rogue XS Imperial Red. We also dropped back to a 9% beer with this one, but you wouldn’t have guessed by observing the faces of those as they first sipped this big, bold Yank drop. Packed to the hilt with malt and hops and yeast and some secret ingredient which could have been wrung from the sweat towel of a steroid-laden brewer – in a nice way – this was a cracker to finish with. Most of us were already ’finished’ before this point!

The style of beers we dank may also be a contributing factor in the night’s only ‘downside’. Shandy had promised us an easy set of trivia questions (yet another fascist attempt to knobble the favourites!!) promising to bring the competition closer. Well, he did that, and then some. Of the 15 questions answered by the five teams, giving a total of 75 questions, as a group we managed to get less than half correct!! So close was the result that 1team scored just 6 points – and the remaining four teams managed just 7 points each creating a 4-way tie broken by the drawing of straws!! I blame the Strong Ales. And Shandy.

So, while markedly different in style to the previous session, this instalment of Ale Stars was no less enjoyable and certainly more homely. As Guy and Justin and I discussed later (over a beer, funnily enough) the numbers don’t matter as much as the people who make it up. Big is great and small is great and neither is necessarily better than the other. As long as there is beer.

Prof. Pilsner

And, for the wags among our readers, see if you can come up with a caption to the photo of Shandy listening to Guy do the Ale Stars welcome. Neatest funniest entry wins a Beer Blokes admiration pack comprising a 'Virtual Pat-On-The-Back', and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Belt Up for Ale Stars

It is not often that a pleasant beer evening comes with a safety warning but I guess maybe sometimes they should, particularly if you attend them with people like Shandy. Or Dr Lager.

Tomorrow night sees the tenth, or eleventh ... might even be the twelfth (I’m a drinker, not a counter) instalment of Ale Stars. When it is suggested that you leave your car at home, you know you’re in for a treat. When you live a 40 minute drive away from the venue you know you are in for watching while other people have a treat! But that doesn’t mean you should deprive yourself of the opportunity to sample some decent beers and some that you may not have had the chance to try before.

Vintage, Old and Strong ales is the theme for Ale Stars tomorrow and, for the very first time, there is not a beer on the list that I have had the pleasure of sampling before. There is excitement mixed with just a little bit of apprehension at this thought. Looking forward very much to trying a new drop while unsure of the final outcome without knowing the relative strengths of each! I’m happy to see how things go, but being the responsible adult that I pretend to be, I have to take care with responsible consumption when driving. Besides, I can always stay back for a while if need be, but standing at the bar in a place like The Local Taphouse without a beer is a bit like going to a titty bar and then watching the bouncers. On the door.

And for any Ale Star out there who feels just a little pity for my plight and may like to pop over and give me a lift in tomorrow night, drop me a line and I’ll give you directions. Hey! I can hear you sniggering from ere. That’s not nice!

Ale Stars kicks off at The Local Taphouse Tuesday May 19 at 7.30 ish. See you for Sneaky Upstairs Beers at around 7. Depends on when my driver gets me there.

Prof. Pilsner

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Harvest Pale Ale

As you know I don’t really do reviews of beers as such, I’d rather just give the bare ones details and a few opinions ad then the deal is that you go out and buy it and make up your own mind. Simple, really.

Here is a ‘Not A Review’ of Bridge Road Brewers latest offering. Readers and friends of the Beer Blokes will know that I am something of a fan of Ben Kraus and the way in which he approaches his brewing. Hand crafting true-to-style Ales with a real passion and determination to brew beers that will taste sensational every time while still allowing for subtle differences from batch to batch is what he and his team are all about. The fact that Ben is very approachable and willing to share his passion is a bonus.

I got a call from a mate in Beechworth to say that Ben had finished bottling his latest creation for the Beechworth Harvest Festival which was aptly named ‘The Harvest’ (he also has a special seasonal brew for the Celtic Festival called Celtic Red Ale) The Harvest is a pale ale with, as Ben so beautifully put it, ‘shitloads of hops thrown at it’ – but in a very nice way. And not just any hops. In fact, not any hops that anyone else can get at the moment!

The hops come from the Rostrevor hop gardens in Eurobin which is the largest hop gardens on the mainland. Ben was invited to sample some experimental hop varieties in the hope that he would find something interesting for a new brew. This particular variety is a cross bred type which combines a nice high alpha acid level with a load of aromatic strength as well. This means that a single hop flower can be used to give a beer the bitterness it needs as well as the smell. And this thing absolutely goes off!

Ben has ‘built’ The Harvest around the backbone of his Bridge Road Australian Ale and that in itself is a fair base to work from. Aiming, in a way, for that rich strength of flavour and aroma found in many good US and New Zealand craft beers, The Harvest delivers in bucket loads. This may be due to the amount as well as the quality of this new hop. As Ben told me, “Had to keep adding more (hop flowers) and ended up throwing pellets at it as well ... wasn’t getting enough from the whole flowers and was worried about getting them out of the tank.”

Ben says that the hops “do more of the talking” in the tap version than they do in the bottle so I’ll just have to get out to The Local Taphouse, Mrs Parma’s in the city or The Cherry Tree in Richmond to find out just how much the hops say! If it’s what I think they’ll say I’m in for a long session.

Prof. Pilsner

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I just found a minute

Quick note to apologise for my appalling lack of posts in the last two weeks.

To say that things have been hectic would be like saying “I don’t mind the occasional beer” what with Mother’s Day in the restaurant, school and SES commitments, training courses and getting kids from one engagement to the next ... it’s a wonder I’ve found any time to buy or drink beer.

But that’s not to say I haven’t been writing, far from it! Has anyone out there noticed how the ‘paperless society’ hasn’t managed to actually cut down the amount of work required to NOT generate paper and has, in fact made things much worse!! I am organising a community safety program with our local police and the volume of bullshit reports, preparatory forms and Job Safety Audits, Dynamic Risk Assessments and Hazard Identification and Mitigation Matrices you need just to plonk a ‘witches hat’ in a parking space? It’s enough to drive a bloke to drink!

Which I now intend to do. I shall write all about it shortly.

Prof. Pilsner

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ale Stars and Aussie Pale Ales

Ale Stars at The Local Taphouse is a very informal meeting of a diverse group of people. People different in age, in education, in occupation and ‘origination’ but all linked by the social glue that is beer. But better tasting than glue.

Last Tuesday night’s meeting was, again, a cracker and some fine beers were shared, dissected and discussed. But, as I mentioned in the last Ale Stars review, things again are changing. It’s still about the beer but it’s not JUST about the beer. Tuesday’s session threw up some more interesting observations.

First, we were in the presence of Beer Greatness in the person of Brad Rogers, an innovator and front-runner in the Australian craft beer scene along with his ‘marketing and design arm’, Jamie Cook. A job list which includes Kent Brewery Sydney, CUB Fiji, Sail & Anchor in Fremantle (which ‘became’) Matilda Bay brewing Western Australia, Masthead Brewery in Queensland, Cascade Tasmania, and the Matilda Bay ‘garage’ brewery in Melbourne before recently launching his own Stone & Wood in Byron Bay is as much a CV as it is a ‘Guide to Australia’s Craft Beer History’. This bloke knows a little about beer.

And he knows something about drawing a crowd as the fifty who showed up at St Kilda demonstrated. 49 were booked and then a few ‘walk-ins’ showed up, no doubt drawn to the venue by the beery aura of the man once known as the ‘Malt, Hops and Water guy’. One of the late arrivals described The Local Taphouse as the ‘best beer bar in Australia’ and seemed to know a little about beer himself. Also making a return visit to Ale Stars was Neil Whittorn, brewer of Matilda Bay fame and previous guest brewer. By the time we squeezed the staff of the Taphouse in, there was just enough room left over for some beers. Lucky, that.

And here’s the dilemma to which I alluded earlier. Can a get-together of the Ale Stars variety become ‘too big’? At what point do you say that it is no longer what it used to be – and is that even a bad thing? Are too many beer people in one room really TOO MANY? Is it just a case of ‘the more, the beer-ier’? Willie Simpson (revered beer writer and ‘mystery guest referred to above) conducts an Ale Stars-esque gathering at the New Sydney Hotel in Hobart which attracts close to double our best – would that work at St Kilda or Darlinghurst?

Ale Stars is fast becoming a social group, a discussion group, a malt-driven, yeast fermented, hop-flavoured version of a book club or therapy group. But with beer. The beers are great, the guests are educational and inspirational and the banter is always fun and informal, but tasting notes, grain bills and fermentation temperatures are not the reasons that we keep returning. In fact, while the crowd has grown in number, it has also shrunk in anonymity. If that makes sense? The crowd is larger but each week the ‘strangers’ are fewer. Nods of hello have become chats and shared beers and the conversations have become more about shared experience than tasting opinions or beer preferences.

I was talking (over a beer, as you do) to Steve from The Local Taphouse later in the night and we discussed the changing face of Ale Stars. Does the format change to accommodate larger numbers, does the focus shift back to the beer alone, does the night shift to become more of a presentation than a participation, does the kitchen have to order-out for pizza if the crowd gets any bigger?

Steve summed it up; “When it gets to the stage where we need to use a microphone, it’s probably too big.” And I reckon that means we still have room to grow (we’ll need a separate room just for Kelv’s mates if they ever ALL turn up!) we can still maintain the ‘integrity’ of the Ale Stars concept and we’ll still be able to drink great beer in great company and meet great beer people like Brad. But inevitably, some elements will change. But we’ll still be able to share views, ask questions, laugh and ‘take the piss’ – and well ALWAYS need a translator for Shandy.

And for those who have hung on this far hoping to hear all about the beers we sampled, well done for waiting. Cooper’s Sparkling Ale, Bridge Road Australian Ale, Stone & Wood Draught Ale and Pale Lager (separate glasses) and Hargreaves Hill ESB. And, the trivia was won by a team called the Coat Hooks AKA “You can handicap us all you like we’ll still whip ya arses!!”

Brad Rogers demonstrates why God gave us two hands

Prof. Pilsner