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