Saturday, January 30, 2010

The People you Meet

Last night was ‘one of those nights’. A nice warm evening, a full restaurant and fridges full of beer. But it was also the night after the full moon which, for restaurant managers and owners is a bit like ‘Forrest Gump chocolates’ – you never know what you’re gonna git.

As it turned out, not only did we have plenty of lovely guests, pour plenty of lovely beer and make plenty of lovely money, we also got to make some new friendships. Every now and then it happens – you just meet people who not only GET what it is that you’re doing, but they are more than happy to let you know how they feel. For all the hard work it takes to run a good place well, it’s nice to hear it every now and then.

Glenn and Cara are regulars at the restaurant and last night they brought James and Alison (over from England on holidays) for a dining treat. From the extensive beer list, to the revelation that we had another twenty or so beers ‘off-list’ in the cellar to the chef/owner regaling them with his awful English accent and the excellent meals, I think they had a ball.

As the intention was to try as many Australian beers as he could while he was over here, I promised James I would post a bit of a list of ‘must try’ craft beers. They are in Melbourne until Wednesday and then in Sydney for four days until flying home so I will list as many pints and paces as I can think of quickly. I’m sure my readers will use the comments section to fill in any gaps that I leave. Here goes.


You absolutely, positively, beer-a-tastically have to get out to St Kilda East to The Local Taphouse for a quiet ale/lager/wheat beer/specialty brew or four. See the link on the right hand side of the blog for their details. If you have time, a trip out to Coldstream Brewery will cover off your fresh beer, cider and Morris dancing requirements and they serve a decent meal as well. If you find yourself closer to the city, pop into Beer Deluxe and ask for Barney. He’ll hook you up with some really nice craft beers and the atmosphere there is great. Transport (on the other side of Federation Square) is also worth a look for the range alone.


Mountain Goat (Richmond – but probably not in the time-frame) or Bridge Road Brewers (they had the Chestnut Lager last night) will give you a great taste of the Australian take on craft beer while any of the Holgate’s offerings will reveal an Australian take on some English classics. It’s really hard to recommend any without leaving out as many as I can include but judging by what you liked last night, you won’t go wrong with Red Hill (Wheat or Golden ale), Matilda Bay Redback, Fat Yak or Bohemian Pilsner and Hawthorn or Kooinda Pale Ales.

I might leave the list there as, even though James is ex-Navy and showed a fair beer-capacity I don’t want to turn the list into a dare!

Hope this helps.

Prof. Pilsner

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Beer Blokes and Community Service

Over the last four years this blog, while sticking to its original objectives, has changed. In some cases this has been the result of new knowledge or work and family challenges or just because I have matured a bit along the way (?!)
While I have always tried to steer away from doing beer reviews, as such, I have always been a voice for emerging trends, beer culture shifts and a bit of historical highlight and light-hearted entertainment. Beer Blokes now moves to provide a new Community Service.
You see, the ‘other half’, the ‘silent partner’ the ‘mystery man’ – Dr Lager (who? I hear you mutter) has moved on. To Sydney. He and the Lager family have upped stumps and settled into The Emerald City for at least the next few years. We have known each other since under-5s basketball and started home brewing together four years back and our kids have grown up together and all that sort of stuff.
So Beer Blokes is now charged with the responsibility of providing the Lagers – and Mrs Lager in particular – with up to date beer news and family snippets as she adjusts to a new city, new schools and new challenges while Dr Lager swans around the state being a high-powered in-charge-of-lots-of-things kind of bloke.
In return, I’m sure Mrs Lager will keep me informed of beer trends and any pressing issues that need addressing. For example, in her last e-mail, she mentioned the number of backpackers wandering Bondi Beach with long necks of Foster’s Lager. I mean, where the f@#% are they even getting them from?!?
In another piece of news, she also informed me that the family was asked to move from the beach by lifeguards who informed them that they had camped on some broken glass. They removed the towel to find Coronas. So now we know where that crop comes from as well.
More soon. And, Tim, I expect you to come up with some ‘places of interest’ around your home town to share with the Dr and his clan. As a hint, his ‘places of interest’ usually serve beer in some form or another.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

the Country Pub

I got a call from Big Kelv (a St Kilda Ale Star) while he was on holiday up near Albury on the NSW/Victorian border asking for some help.
Mum was cooking up some corned silverside and wanted to ‘up the flavour’ a bit with some beer and, between us we were able to get some James Squire Amber Ale into the mix and, by all reports, it came out OK.

I then got a message that he was off to his ‘old local’ in the mountains, the Koetong Pub. He described it beautifully – “where the beer is still at genuine 1972 prices and the pool table is 20 cents.” I have only been to a handful of country pubs and it’s nice to think that there are still some that maintain those elements of ye olde Pub charm.

The Koetong Pub was built back in 1883 as a coach house and rest-stop along what is now the Snowy Valleys Way – a nice drive comprising a nice lazy arc that runs from Beechworth in North-East Victoria to Gundagai in New South Wales and manages to shoe-horn 45 pubs into a drive that might take no more than a few hours.

The Koetong has been given the title of ‘the highest hotel in Victoria’ but what really caught my eye was Kelv’s description of the pool table rules. “20 cents a game – payable at the bar because the coin mechanism broke about fifteen years ago!”
The only question I have regards the whole Pub Pool general Rules of Play. Just as in the song ‘In A City, Girl’ by weddings, Parties Anything, how can you play pub pool if you can’t;
“Put your money on the table and
Put your name up on the board.”?

Here’s cheers to the best of the best Australian country pubs,
Prof. Pilsner

...and for those interested, the Koetong Pub is up for sale. Pool table included.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Australia’s Favourite Beer

It’s Australia Day and the papers are full of the usual blab about “change the flag”, “the national Anthem stinks”, and “has anybody heard of the bloke they named Australian of the year?”

Here at Beer Blokes I want to talk about much more pressing issues. I’m all very excited to see which Aussie beers score a mention in The Local Taphouse Top 100 craft beer poll this year (announced later today) and even more excited to see if any of my nominations rate in the top 10 and even, even more excited to see if my entry is the one randomly chosen to score a slab of each of the top 5.
But let’s talk about Australia’s favourite beer, VB, for a minute, shall we? What’s that, Prof, I hear you say, ‘have you gone mad or something and forsaken your craft beer roots?’ Well, no, thanks for asking, I’ll explain in a minute.

Up until the last few years (and for about twenty years before that) VB – the artist formerly known as Victoria Bitter – has made up around a quarter of all beer drunk in this wide, brown land. 1 in 4. That’s a fair chunk of a pretty large market and has seen VB become an iconic brand intrinsically linked to the culture through sporting sponsorships and plenty of advertising. When CUB was trying to drive Foster’s Lager back in the early 80’s it made it an international beer while VB became, arguably, Australia’s first truly ‘national brand’.

So, as I wrote late last year, it was amusing to see the furore created by some seemingly minor changes to this much loved brew among its biggest and most loyal fans. ‘Career VB Drinkers’ as they called themselves were falling over each other to have a crack at the Big House for daring to tinker with their cherished amber nectar. Letters to the editor pages were packed with Johnnos, Blueys, Knackers’s and Shags’s willing to renounce their ‘religion’ and threaten to switch brands because CUB had ‘changed the recipe’, ‘watered it down’ and even ‘switched the beer to XXXX’ as one melon-head claimed.

So, with a little research (very, very little) and a quick e-mail to (SOURCE PROTECTED) who was once a major powerbroker for CUB, then its Craft Brewing arm and now a partner in a very nice craft brewing set-up just south of the Queensland border where lots of backpackers and hippies hang out and whose initials are JC and whose name I won’t mention – I got about three full pages of facts and figures and links to the ATO website and tables and graphs and all sorts of shit. So I’m fairly confident that what I write here is accurate and factual and can’t be argued with in any way at all whatsoever so there.

I’ll save some space here and ‘dot-point’ the facts (which (SOURCE PROTECTED) assures me are all in the public domain if you know where to look) relating to VB.
As a quick refresher, ‘Career VB Drinkers’ claimed that VB had changed noticeably due to (a) CUB trying to save money in tax by lowering the ABV of the beer, (b) By brewing it in Queensland and (c) by altering the recipe.

The VB facts.
• VB, along with many national brands are brewed in breweries all around the country and have been since the walls came down on state based brewing in the mid 80’s.

• The law regarding beer brewing states that a beer has a ‘margin’ of +/- .02% so that a VB whose label states an ABV of 4.9% might be as high as 5.1% or as low as 4.7% - allowable by law. When VB changed first to 4.8% and then to 4.6% more recently, the Career VB Drinker could have been drinking anything from 5.0% to 4.4% - and NOT NOTICED. Until he read a paper past the sports section.

• When CUB drops the ABV by just .01%, it saves tens of millions of dollars in tax allowing it to compete in the beery duopoly that is Australian mainstream brewing.

So, in conclusion, a ‘Career VB Drinker could, for the last twenty years have been drinking VB that was;
• Brewed in Abbotsford, Kent (Sydney), Fortitude Valley (Brisbane), Yatala, Matilda Bay or even Cascade. Although today it is only brewed at Abbotsford and Yatala.

• Could have been anything from 5.1% to 4.4% ABV

• May have had any of about ten slightly different labels

I’ll leave it here for now so that you can digest all these facts and figures. I’m off to have a beer (not a VB) and you might want to do the same.
I will post a follow up with the various reasons for the changes that CUB has introduced and also to look at the various theories regarding why they have done it and what the future might hold. Also, as promised, I have some VBs in the fridge waiting for the lab experiment to see if I can detect any difference in taste.

Cheers and happy Australia Day,
Prof. Pilsner

Monday, January 25, 2010

Australia Day 2010

As we emerge unscathed from the festive season and the New Year it’s perhaps a good time to look at our place as a nation in the Beer World.
I’m particularly keen to do a bit of navel gazing at our national drink as it seems that, with one thing and another, I have spent most of January drinking American Pale Ales both imported and locally brewed. I don’t mean that to sound as though I’ve been sitting curled up in a dark room drinking for three and a half weeks, I just mean that most of what I have drunk has been APAs.
Tomorrow is Australia Day and it seems that recently many have developed the habit of using the day as a soapbox to tell anyone who’ll listen what is wrong with the joint rather than grasping the opportunity to celebrate all the good shit we have.
I’m going to stick true and use this opportunity to sing the praises of ‘The Amber Nectar’.
I am hosting another Beer Dinner at the end of February and so have been looking for the theme and the beers to match it. We were going to host the dinner just before Australia Day but with the ‘extended long weekend’ seeing plenty of folk taking the last chance to get away before the weather turns, we put it off. I was thrilled to realise just how many craft beers I can choose from to create a truly Australian theme.
In the last month I have had the pleasure of tasting beers from Sierra Nevada and Anchor Brewing and, while they have finally been crossed off the Prof’s wish list (crossed off – not ticked off) they have also made me focus on just how Australian beers differ from their more widely respected neighbours.
I’ve also recently had the pleasure of meeting with some of Australia’s finest craft brewers and have learned that although many of them were initially inspired by some of the iconic brews from the USA, they have a bold determination to break the mold and create something different without straying from the essence of the style. And, when you think about it, apart from the kangaroo, the emu, the platypus and a few other native species, most of what we call Australian has its origins in nearly every other far flung corner of the globe, so while we may not have our own ‘true-blue’ beer style, we can certainly lay claim to having some of the most dedicated and talented brewers.
So that’s how I’ll spend my Australia Day. Celebrating Australian beer.
Oh, and being thankful to my friend who came back from the new supermarket warehouse thingy with some Vegemite for me.
Prof. Pilsner

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ale Stars and Stripes Pale Ales

What makes a good night great? Well, since you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you’re all thinking ‘beer’ – and you’d be right. But if the good night is a beer night to start with, you’re going to have to dig a bit deeper.

Ale Stars at the Local Taphouse in St Kilda this week saw a ‘holiday’ crowd of around half the regular number gather for some American style pale ales. But the smaller group didn’t affect the atmosphere which was as warm and as pleasant as the Melbourne evening. Why? Well, you’d have to say that the company was very well complemented by the guest brewer – in this case, three of them – who were along to share their experiences and maybe one or two beers.

I have spoken of Kooinda Boutique Brewery in these pages before and their sole brand, Kooinda Pale Ale, has made an appearance at a recent Beer Dinner at The Courthouse Restaurant. Travis, Mick and Fenton propped at the bar to share the night with the Ale Stars and did nothing to dispel the general opinion that brewers are a special breed. Relaxed, unaffected and very down-to-earth, the boys gave us the impression that we were all just sitting around at their place having a bit of a yarn about beer and stuff.

Not that there can be as much room at their place as we had at The Taphouse, what with all the brewing equipment they have working at their place. Kooinda is the only residential commercial brewery operating in Victoria – if not the country. A combination of boxes full of paperwork, red-tape cutting scissors and persistence saw them realise a four year long dream to build and run a brewery from their backyard. They even manage to run a heat exchange system for the beer by using the backyard swimming pool as a water source. As we all said on the night; “Livin’ the dream ... Liv-in’ THE DREAM!!”

Issues of noise, smell and general amenity were dealt with as required and a combination of a Cul-de-Sac location, proximity to a National Park reserve and, to a lesser extent, the fact that the local Council Mayor lived a few doors away has ensured that Kooinda has got itself off the ground without too much opposition. But with an annual output of 60,000 units and a growing customer base due to plenty of hard work and ‘home delivery’ from the boys themselves, the operation is about to move into a 500 square metre site nearby in the hope of doubling production. All the more Kooinda Pale Ale for us, then!

The boys’ only brew at this stage is an American style Pale Ale but it is one which sets a foot in a few different camps. Inspired, in part, by beers like Little Creatures Pale Ale it has a different ‘depth’ to that and some other similar beers of the style. Around 8% Vienna malt and some crystal malt give the beer some nutty notes, plenty of caramel edges and the stack of fruity hops gives it plenty of zip and balance.

It also sat very nicely between the other beers for the night – Little Creatures Pale Ale, Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale and the very much anticipated and equally well received pale ale that started them all, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I had heard and read quite a bit about this beer ;} and so was very much looking forward to sharing the experience with the Ale Stars. It is such an interesting and long awaited experience, though, and I think I should leave it for a post of its own.

As is customary, the Kooinda boys stayed back after the session for a whole new session which involves talking to every Ale Star, drinking with them (particularly those lucky enough to enjoy a complimentary Kooinda Pale Ale for winning the trivia – again) and generally mingling with those who get to drink the fruits of your combined labours. I know the brewers appreciate this opportunity to meet face-to-face with the end consumer after toiling so hard to produce something you HOPE they’ll like. The fact that the Kooinda boys present as so very down-to-earth, boys-next-door kinda blokes and were so generous with their time gave the night an extra dimension.

A great night again and special mention to the staff of The Local Taphouse for all the hard work in feeding, watering and generally cleaning up after all the Ale Stars. The announcement that the next session will see us try some sour beers of the Lambic persuasion was met with a little resistance but I bet they’ll all be back anyway.

Prof. Pilsner

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

At Last

It had to happen sooner or later and it seems as though tonight will be the night.

It was about three years ago now when I first became aware of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and its importance to the Australian craft brewing scene. Through my interest in better beer, I read and researched and delved into any book or article I could find and this beer just seemed to keep popping up in dispatches. I had to know more.

So many Australian craft brewers were nominating this beer as the one which sang to them and made them realise what it was about beer they were chasing. For many it was the impetus for moving forward and actually establishing their own microbrewery while it gave others the courage to create a beer with character and balance and interest.

My quest for this Holy Grail of Beer was complicated and long. Which, while annoying at the time, has made the journey more enjoyable, the challenge more worthy. I had tracked down a place which supplied it to find out they had sold out. I had orders that fell through. I had so-called ‘mates’ who bought one at The Local Taphouse after an Ale Stars night when I was driving and they knew I wouldn’t be able to partake (BASTARDS!!) It was just one coincidence after another.

Friends and beer-mates and fellow bloggers weighed in suggesting that I should/shouldn’t get my hopes up, that the beer was/wasn’t worth chasing and that I just HAD TO/DIDN”T HAVE TO try it for myself. To this point I had READ about it, I had SEEN it. I had SMELLED it and then, early last year I got to TOUCH it. Because I bought some! Then I received some for Christmas, a day or two after I had bought myself a six pack of the Pale Ale, Torpedo IPA and the 2009 Anniversary Ale Double IPA.

And tonight, at Ale Stars at The Local Taphouse where APAs are on show, we will be treated to the mysteries of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – well, a mystery to those of us still waiting to be entranced. Like me.

I’ll let you know how I go!

Prof Pilsner

Ale Stars kicks off at 7ish at The Local Taphouse. $30 gets you four beers and some sensational pizza to soak it all up.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Another one bites the dust

The latest ‘victim’ in this town’s misdirected attempt to combat anti-social behaviour is an iconic Melbourne pub out Collingwood way, The Tote. Once just one of hundreds of venues around the city and suburbs providing a platform for aspiring musos and bands, in recent times The Tote has stood almost alone in its support of emerging talent.

It is being forced out of business because it serves alcohol. Shock. Horror. Think of the children.

The legislators in this town think that, because a massive soul-less concrete bunker that can accommodate five thousand party people at a time can’t seem to control the few mindless idiots who can’t handle their drink (and their drugs) that every single other venue that also serves alcohol should pay the price, too.

We need more police to clean up the mess created by a few. We need money to train and pay them. We will use the venue licence fee to do this. The licence fee is not enough to do this. We will make the licence fee higher and higher until the totals match. Problem solved.

Such a simplistic view would be laughable if it weren’t so real. Changes to the Liquor Licensing laws meant that even the smallest, safest venues with a late liquor license had to do things like;

• Install CCTV equipment
• Hire a minimum of 2 security 30 minutes before and until 30 minutes after live entertainment
• Cop an increase in License Fee of up to 500%

For a venue like The Tote which provided a free night each week to give up-and-coming bands a chance, an increase in running costs is pretty difficult to absorb. You can’t just hope that your patronage magically quadruples and those patrons also pay double for all their drinks – you just have to cop it, or close down. Sadly for the Tote, the latter was the only sound business decision.

I don’t get out to pubs to see bands as much as I did when I was young and untethered but I remember the feel and the vibe and the sense of community that watching a future rock band get their start and in later years saying ‘I knew them before they were big!’ every town needs these places so that we have something other than a TAB/SportsBar/soul-less booze cavern to spend some time and money in.

Hopefully common sense will prevail before the powers-that-be wake up and realise that the solution is in the hands of the venue operators. Don’t let the dickheads in and, if they do sneak in with the humans, cut them off before they cause trouble. But don’t force the good operators to pay for the greed of the others.

Prof. Pilsner

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The ‘Corona Conundrum’

The madness of the festive season as it relates to a fully booked restaurant has left me a bit short of time and inspiration for posts of late, and for this I apologise.

As I reflect on the past month or so I am reminded of some lessons learned long ago which seem to hold true today. In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

We had several occasions over Christmas where a corporate group had booked out the back room, the front room or the whole restaurant for the company staff and their partners. It was fascinating to see how different groups had completely different nights despite all sharing similar ‘conditions’. They all had an ‘open bar tab’ policy while some went for the full 3 course sit-down affair and others chose to ‘let the cattle roam’. Free-range festivity, if you like.

One particular group who have been a regular booking for a few years now had the whole place to themselves again and a limited bar until, at a time decided by the boss, spirits would be available. They have a three course meal and we make sure each year that we feed them up early before they are able to put away too many beers. They decide beforehand on our full range of local beers – plus Corona. That means everything from VB to Fat Yak, from Carlton Draught to the James Squire range, Beez Neez and Boag’s Premium. But guess what? Yup, not a single beer leaves the fridge other than Corona.

And each year it’s the same. A few of the lads just have one or ten too many and things can get just a little bit cloudy. And each year when it comes to settling the bill, the reaction is the same; “How many Coronas did they put away?! Is that number RIGHT?!” The number this year, for those playing along at home, was 96. The group was 56 people, roughly half male and half female with a handful of soft-drinkers. So how do we allow so few blokes to drink so much, I hear you ask. Well, the simple answer is; WE DON’T.

And here’s the thing I want to talk about. And no, I’m not going to bag Corona or cast aspersions on those drinking it. This is more than that. Each year when the boss does ‘The Corona Count’ he finds it harder and harder to believe that his boys would drink so many. As I said, they don’t. You see, there are two elements at play here.

First, when a group has a full sit-down dinner they tend to keep their beer close by (most even drink from a glass!) and they drink until they have finished the beer and then move onto the next one. When they are allowed to roam they go outside for a smoke and a chat and put the beer down. Wherever. When they come back inside they just front the bar or a waiter and get another. Why? That’s my second point.

When you put a ‘Zero Value’ on something, most people will, indeed, give it zero value. In other words, when the product is free, there is far less concern for the product. None of these peanuts cared about leaving a half full (or worse) beer on a ledge, on someone else’s table or on the ground outside – because they hadn’t paid for it. We even had one bloke come up to the bar, order four Coronas, nick off to the toilet and return half an hour later and decide the beers were too old and ordered four more. What do you do?

For some it is an opportunity to tell their mates how much they ‘drank’ and for others it’s a case of ‘striking while the iron’s hot’ and drinking as though it’s someone else’s money. Which, afterall, it is.

The fact that Coronas were on the ‘free list’ probably contributes to the wastage – do these blokes just want to be seen as drinking a fancy import? Does the fact that Corona is (he thinks of a nice way of putting it) a mildly flavoured, less beer-like and easy drinking beer contribute to the conundrum? Is it just really a great buzz for me to tip so much of it down the sink at the end of the night?

They might be back again next year and we might play the same ‘game’ all over again. Or maybe things will change as the penny finally drops?

Prof. Pilsner