Monday, March 22, 2010

More Stuff

In my post last week about coming beery events I completely forgot to mention the marvelous folk out at Purvis Cellars who will open their doors after hours on Wednesday night for a tasting spectacular.

Local beers will be showcased and just ten bucks will get you ten tasting tickets to redeem at tables around the shop, each with a series of different beers. These nights are a great way to try a little of a lot of beers to help punters find a craft beer that they can call their own.

For something very special Prof Pilsner will be pouring beers from Moo Brew in Tasmania and Matso's in Broome - continental opposites in more ways than one - and you can catch me live between 6 and 8.30 or whenever the beer runs out. Get in early if you want to try some Mango Beer from Matso's as it will be snapped up pretty quick. It's the beer described by beer writer and original St Kilda Ale Star Graham 'Reeksy' Reeks as "dangerously sessionable".


Click here for Purvis Cellars blog and I'll see you on Wednesday night.

Prof. Pilsner

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ale Stars Rocks Out

When you get out of your car at seven o’clock and the thermometer shows that it’s still 31c, you know it’s a good night to be drinking beer.

When you also happen to be parking outside The Local Taphouse you know it’s a VERY good night to be drinking beer. And then when you see the microphone on the bar and you realise that the joint is going to be as full as a fat lady’s sock, you know it’s going to be a VERY, VERY good night to be drinking beer. Then you realise that you have driven there and you realise – D’Oh!!

Bock Beers were on show this time around and despite the disappointment of the unavailability of a Doppellbock to complete the list, four very nice and very different beers were on offer. Starting with a traditional style Bock from the Hunter Beer Company in NSW with its sweetish, coffee-ish malt and easy finish we moved on to a classic offering from Rogue Ales in the form of their Dead Guy Ale, a Maibock with character, colour and plenty of layers to make you think; “Bock me, that’s good!”

You can always count on an entry from Weihenstephaner for any beer event featuring German styles and their Vitus is no exception. Proving that Bocks can be light and pale and very lively with stacks of flavour from cloves to anise and baked bread this disappointed no one. No wonder the monks used this to live on during times of fasting. We finished with a Schneider Aventinus Weizen Eisbock. If, after the first three beers of the night you could even pronounce that one, you can tell me what it tasted like.

For this is not a beer review, or even an event review. If anything, it is just a way for me to try to convey just how it feels to be in a crowded noisy room with a great bunch of people all enjoying a shared sense of purpose. {Reach for chuck-bucket NOW} But seriously, it’s as much about the occasion, the experience, as it is about trying new beers of getting your beer-buzz on. Seeing new faces every month and recognising faces that just a couple of months ago were new and seeing so many regulars returning is a sign that beer appreciation in this town is in good hands looking forward. With 42 members now in the St Kilda Chapter, you’d have to think that these nights will continue to grow.

How they’ll all fit in I’m not sure.

What I can be sure of is that it will remain a social evening with lots of very nice beer thrown in. And some trivia. Speaking of which, the latest attempt in a long line of attempts to knobble the champions has led to an unexpected sub-competition. You see, points – bonus points – are awarded for the funniest team names created. So, even if you happen to ace the quiz and, let’s just say as an example, that you equal the previous best ever highest score - you can still get beat! Which is a good thing and I’m not at all bitter.

When you have ‘Bock’ as the beer theme, then choosing a funny name using the word Bock is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel but some of the better ones included Show Us Your Bock, Shandy is a Soft Bock and ... another one that was quite funny but which I can’t remember now but was good enough to win ten free beers. But my personal favourite came from the boys and girls on the comfy couches who came up with ‘Rock Out with your Bock Out’. Classic. Can’t wait to see where this trend takes us in coming Ale Stars evenings.

Prof Pilsner

Totally unrelated things in answer to questions and comments I received on the night but which won’t be very interesting reading if you weren’t there.

Bron – No, boys don’t really appreciate it if you phone them up ‘just to say hello’ when you’re hammered and they haven’t been drinking.
Anton – yeah, you can enter yourself twice in the tipping comp but I’ll still whoop ya.
Bron – Just as the eyes are the window to the soul, so is the gut the answering machine for the heart. Check your messages; you’ll know what to do.
Big Kelv – when I don’t have to drive to Ale Stars I WILL definitely let you buy me a beer. My decision to politely decline on Tuesday was justified by the very nice Police Officer who breath-tested me on the way home and laughed when I answered her ‘Have you been drinking tonight, sir?’ with ‘I’ve been to a beer tasting called Ale Stars, actually’. Hmmm, have a nice night, sir.

I already did, ma’am. I already did.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Subterfuge & Sydney Surprises

You all know how I feel about beer. I never take it too seriously and any personal feelings I have about particular beers I tend to keep to myself.

You also know that I often comment on just how often beer jumps out and surprises me. This weekend, beer threw up a ripper.

Dr Lager and his family emigrated – to Sydney – in January this year and after a few adjustments have settled into the Harbour City quite well. New schools and a new neighbourhood have been sourced and bedded down and a new routine established. Mrs Lager, however, was to turn ... a certain age that women don’t talk about ... you know the one? ... HMM HMM ... more than thirty less than fifty? ... minimum Cougar eligibility age?

Anyway, it was decided by Mrs Pilsner, in concert with Dr Lager that Mrs Pilsner and the middle Pilsner would sneak into Sydney on the weekend and surprise Mrs Lager for birthday. Lovely. Cut to the arrival. Lots of “OH MY GOD!!”s, lots of “I CAN”T BELIEVE MY PILSNERS ARE HERE!!” and lots and lots of tears. So what. What has that got to do with beer, I hear you say. Be quiet for a minute, will ya and just savour the Kodak Moment, ya un-culture-ma-lated bastards.

Cut to the bit where they have had a lovely dinner at the pub, the kids have had a ball and they have all come home to bed. Except for Mrs Pilsner and Mrs Lager who stayed up chatting, giggling like a couple of giddy schoolgirls and drinking bubbles like the city of Champagne had just closed for good. Having run out of bubbles (having bought some more on the way home from dinner, mind) they ventured to the fridge region controlled by the Beer Republic of Dr Lager.

“We ran out of bubbles so we had to drink a beer,” said Mrs Pilsner casually on her return.
“Really?” I replied. “And what beery offerings from Dr Lager’s fridge did you help yourself to?”

“I had a Fat Yak,” she said, as if she drank beer at all. “I actually really liked it!”

So there you go. Make of this what you will. Either Fat Yak is the perfect late night refresher even for people who DON’T drink beer, or Fat Yak is only drinkable by non-beer drinkers after a heavy night on the bubbles and you’re so desperate that ANYTHING WILL DO.

In the interests of protecting beer’s reputation, I’m going with the former.

Prof. Pilsner

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Hopping we will go!

It was like my favourite scene from The Blues Brothers. Sitting outside The Local Taphouse in St Kilda in a 96 Holden Commodore wagon.

We got a brand new windscreen, two folding chairs, a full tank, a bleary-eyed Scotsman, long-sleeved shirts, a deaf guy and his brother. There are hops to be picked, it’s 84.7 kms to Red Hill and we’re wearing sunglasses.

Hit it!

There are very few brewers in this country who are able to grow their own hops. Hops are harvested in March each year and, while the process is fairly straightforward, it is pretty labour intensive. If you have a small crop, you harvest by hand and, if you don’t want it to take a week, you invite friends over for a feed and a beer. The windows of opportunity here are so small that this was an experience to jump at.

We joined twenty other like-minded souls on a crisp Melbourne Autumn morning and prepared ourselves for an intensive and exhausting technical demonstration and instruction before being let loose on the leafy product. David Golding, head brewer and proprietor of Red Hill Brewery spent the next twelve seconds showing us how it’s done and we were on our own.

It’s actually not that difficult and within minutes we were all happily plucking away at the prepared bines and popping the cones into the buckets with ease. An almost eerie silence indicated that we all wanted to get a good handle on this caper before the day became a social event. Cue the beer! Morning tea at a hop harvest is a seriously civilised affair, even if the weather lives up to its reputation for quick changes in these parts.

A brief shower moved morning tea forward and Dave kindly showed us through the brewery and allowed us the special treat of tasting a forthcoming limited release brew straight from the fermenter. The break also heralded the arrival of a couple of luminaries from The Beer World in Beer Matt (Matt Kirkegaard) and The Beer Diva (Kirrily Waldhorn) who, with film crew in tow, were preparing a beer-related TV program which will undoubtedly scoop the Logie for Best Beer Related TV Program if and when it gets off the ground. The Ale Stars certainly provided plenty of ‘promo-worthy’ material – although Shandy’s rambling may be well beyond the skills of even the finest subtitler.

I seem to recall there was a little more hop picking before lunch and as the clouds parted and the weather became more settled, the pickin’ fingers became more nimble and the conversation became louder. The beer barrel, in a totally unconnected way, also became a lot emptier. And they call this ‘work’?

A Ploughman’s Lunch greeted us along with refills of Red Hill Golden Ale topped generously with fresh hop flowers. I tell you, a true hop-head has not lived until he’s had a long cold draught of ridiculously fresh beer with even ridiclious-er fresh hop flowers thrown on top. The more you drink, the further the aroma and flavour intensifies and yet it doesn’t get any more bitter. I know I rattle on about beer being as much as about the occasion as it is about anything else – but this was an occasion and then some!!

Some more beer (with added hops) followed lunch as did a rather small amount of hop picking and then it was time to pack up the Pilsnermobile and head back to ‘civilisation’. As I hit the hay some time around midnight, I could still ‘taste’ the sweet hop aroma i the back of my throat and, as I write this, my car still smells like a brewery. But in a very beery-car air freshner kind of way.

Prof. Pilsner

P.S. Thanks to David and Karen Golding and their team for their generous hospitality and for giving us the opportunity to contribute in a very ‘hands-on’ way to the craft beer industry!

And for those of you who don't have time to read the whole post, here's the summary of the day as I remember it.

The Start

The Middle Bit

The Finish

Monday, March 15, 2010

Some news and stuff

Wow! With all the wild weather and hop-pickin’ and what-not, I have completely overlooked a couple of very significant and very beery events on the calendar.

Tomorrow, Tuesday the 16th is the next instalment of the increasingly popular and people-packed Ale Stars at The Local Taphouse (St Kilda Chapter) and it will be the perfect opportunity to Bock On with Shandy and the crew as we sample and prattle on about 4 different Bock beers and enjoy some very nice pizza from Richard’s Kitchen. Thirty smackas, seven o’clock for a seven thirty start and I’ll see you there.

Wednesday and Thursday the 17th and 18th sees the next edition of the very social Victorian Microbrewery Showcase at Federation Square Atrium (off Flinders Street). This is a great opportunity to support the brewers who are out there providing we who are enlightened with quality, small batch, limited release and quality beers above and beyond the stuff that takes up the first three fridges in most bottle shops and pubs.

You can chat with the brewers and sample up to twenty different ales, lagers, wheat beers and various specialty brews while enjoying the company of thousands of like-minded souls. It’s still only $25 for 20 tasting tickets and a $5 food voucher plus a $2 deposit on your tasting glass.

And coming up is a beery event of such culture, class and theatrical conviviality that I will smack out a separate post to do it proper justice shortly, but here is a teaser.

The Beer Diva, Kirrily Waldhorn has put together a theatrical experience like none seen before to take place at some joint called The Sydney Opera House (Sydney readers and Darlo Ale Stars might like to enlighten us on what this is – some place near the SCG or is where they hold the Mardi Gras, perhaps?)

Titled, Beer is Proof that God Wants us to be Happy, tickets go on sale today and the show runs from Wednesday April 28th to Sunday May 2nd with two shows on the Friday. I will be there and God will make sure that I am very happy.

Prof. Pilsner

Saturday, March 13, 2010

This time last year

Regular readers may recall that it was around this time a year ago that saw Melbourne gripped by the ravages of Mother Nature in the form of our worst fire season in living memory. This year, last week in fact, she paid us a return visit and this time she was wearing a very different outfit.

Now, in forty-odd years in this town and the last ten years with the State Emergency Service, I’ve seen some storms. I’ve seen a few that were all wind and noisy fury and fallen trees and others that were wet and wild thundery and which left the city drenched. I’ve even seen a bit of hail.

But none of them held a candle to the hailstorm we copped last Saturday in our municipality. What started as a ‘bit of weather northwest of the CBD suddenly swelled into a rainstorm over the city and South Melbourne, hung a sharp left and headed east across the suburbs, building into what the weather bureau politely termed a ‘super cell hail event’ which then roared across the outer east in the form of the loudest rumble I’ve ever heard and finished by tipping a galactic bucket of hail stones over everything beneath it.

The hail built in size as it travelled and from your standard pea-sized bits grew into golf balls by Glen Waverley and had graduated to cricket balls by the time it hit Knox, Rowville and Lysterfield. My pager beeped mid afternoon with a call to help out the Police at Rowville Station who were flooded after the hailstones tore through their skylights and the rain followed it in.

The fact that the pager stayed silent for the next hour made us all realise we were in for a big week. We knew there were jobs out there, that people were phoning the damage in to the emergency call takers, that the work would be piling up and the damage area widespread. The only reason we were not getting the jobs had to be volume-related. There were so many calls, the system couldn’t send them quickly enough.

So anyway, 7 days, eight suburbs, 300 extra volunteers from 5 states and 2900 jobs later we cleared the last job from the system at 1849hrs last night. We patched holes, made broken windows safe, covered entire two-storey rooves in plastic, cut up fallen trees, ripped out collapsed ceilings and unblocked drains. We’ve co-ordinated something like sixty vehicles and crews, helped the Red Cross and Salvos dish out a few thousand meals, sorted out media from local, State and National news services and even managed to re-light the hot water service for an elderly woman.

To all the Victorian country and fellow metro units who dropped everything to come out and help us plough through the seemingly endless list of calls for assistance, thank you. To all the new friends we’ve made from State Emergency Services in Western Australia and New South Wales, thank you. To the crews from Tasmania who drove as many trucks and trailers as would fit onto the Spirit of Tasmania and came to help, thank you.

And to the teams from South Australia who landed on Monday to be deployed for two days and who we then couldn’t get rid of due to the planes being full of rev-heads flying to Adelaide for the car racing, a special thank you. I hereby take back everything I’ve ever said about South Australia and Croweaters. I stand by my feelings about your drinking water, though.

To my regular readers, now that the Knox Unit has been officially stood down for the weekend so that we can introduce ourselves to our families and beg to our bosses for our jobs back – I’ll get back to regular posting. Promise.

Prof. Pilsner

Oh, and special thanks to guys at The Battler's Mate windscreens in Boronia who squeezed me in to get the screen replaced on the Pilsnermobile so that I could get the Ale Stars down to red Hill Brewery on Tuesday for the hop harvest!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Big Helga and the Beer Dinner

It was pretty appropriate, really, that the biggest Beer Dinner I have been involved with was also a showcase for Matilda Bay Brewing Co’s newest release, Big Helga. Big on numbers, big on atmosphere, big on service and food and big on guests – we had the lot.

I have hosted Beer Dinners at The Courthouse Restaurant in Berwick for the past five years and we usually manage to attract between 12 and 26 people to each which is more than enough to ensure a fun night that never manages to take itself too seriously. This time around we stopped taking bookings when the numbers breached 60 as we were already committed to a couple of tables who had booked for a ‘normal’ night in the restaurant. To the thirty or so we weren’t able to accommodate – sorry!

Neil Whittorn from Matilda Bay ‘invited’ himself along for the festivities along with an offer to talk about beer and bring with him as much liberated product as he could sneak out of the brewery without Scott noticing. The fact that we had planned to showcase Big Helga probably helped make the decision easier for him.

Our theme for this Beer Dinner was Australian craft beers based on traditional international styles and from European and Munich lagers to English ales, American Pale Ales and Chocolate Porters we had a fair slab of the beer world represented.

A full house provided a solid buzz throughout the night and some masterful food matching and culinary skill meant that everyone was treated to some pretty intense experiences of taste, flavour and texture. From the opening beer, a crisp and palate-prepping Coldstream Pilsner the stage was set for a sensory symphony.

The guest of honour (Big Helga, or maybe Neil) then took centre stage and a Beer & Barley soup made the perfect partner for a dry Munich lager. So rich and full were the soup’s flavours that many are still wondering whether it really was vegetarian.

A beer braised beef cheek followed, along with a pair of beers to demonstrate the amber nectar’s ability to complement or cleanse. A Fat Yak and a Beez Neez are as different in body, flavour and finish as you could get and they showed beautifully just how easily beer adapts to the drinker’s requirements for refreshment and interest on the tongue. The beef was braised in a James Squire porter and the richness was delightfully offset by the citrusy tang of the honey wheat beer and nicely complemented by the boldness and body of the American Pale Ale as well.

Pork belly slow cooked in an Asian master stock was the main course and a James Squire Original Amber Ale was the perfect partner for these flavours. Mellow yet firm with enough middle strength to match the pork and just enough bitterness to clean and prepare the palate for the next instalment, this English amber ale did the job well. It was also a nice way to introduce some of the novice drinkers to something a little different to their usual tipple.

The evening finished with a Holgate Temptress from Holgate Brewhouse in Woodend. A chocolate porter, deep dark and rich with some bright notes hidden within due to the inclusion of Dutch cocoa and whole vanilla beans proved to be a terrific pairing with a rich chocolate mud cake with a dollop of mousse made from Southern Tier’s Raspberry Porter.

A huge thanks to Neil for generously sharing his time and passion with every table and for giving the proceedings an air of technical efficiency without letting it get beer-geeky at all! While the large crowd made for a few service challenges it certainly made it a busy, noisy and very beery evening and. Although we will probably look at capping the numbers next time around, this dinner will go down as a cracker.

Prof. Pilsner