Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cascade First Harvest Ale 2010

On a recent holiday with the family to Tasmania we spent a bit of time at the Cascade Brewery Visitors Centre. Given that our accommodation was a mere ten minute walk down the hill to the brewery and a rather more taxing thirty minute walk back up the hill from the brewery that’s not surprising.

What did surprise me, however, was the unexpected deflation I felt when I asked the young girl looking after us if the Cascade First Harvest Ale was available yet. Her almost apologetic “No, sorry, not until May 3rd I’m afraid” was received with all the boyish disappointment that used to accompany the realisation that the season’s first Scanlen’s Footy Cards had not yet been delivered to the Milk Bar.

So why get all bent out of shape over a beer? I have always maintained that it is just as much a Beer Sin to be a Beer Snob as it is to be a Beer Yob so I can’t really carry on now, can I? It then dawned on me that what Cascade has done for the beer scene is to produce a beer that has all the trademarks of a ‘crafted’ beer but without the hoopla and manufactured expectation that might accompany the release of the latest “extreme beer” in the US. and is also kept accessible to the average drinker locally.

Rather than just throw a gimmick into the marketplace or attempt to generate false anticipation, it merely creates a decent product with all the trademarks of a proper beer and then stamps credibility all over it by dipping it liberally in that magical factor called – provenance. What that means to the discerning punter is that the malt is not just Tasmanian but malted at Cascade, the hops are from the nearby Bushy Park Hop estate and the water runs down the side of Mt Wellington and into the brewery at its feet. That’s provenance.

This year welcomes the ninth version of this single batch, limited release green-hopped brew. As many wet (fresh and undried) hops as are picked are added as quick as the truck can take them and the total quantity of hops determines the batch size. The hops, all as yet unavailable and experimental varieties, were picked on March 3rd and went straight into the kettle.

Last years’ Cascade First Harvest Ale employed hops whose names paid tribute to three pioneers of the Tasmanian hop industry and this year that theme is continued with hops named after the kilns, or oast houses, that those fine folk may just have used. For those out there who may require the answers (should they be attending a trivia night soon) they are;

Text – an aroma hop named for the octagonal kiln which still sits in the grounds of Bushy Park,
Glenlieth – the bittering hop whose weatherboard kiln is situated at the nearby town of Plenty and,
Oakley – for flavour – and named after a small humble family kiln.

The Text kiln was also at one time used as a church for Sunday services which further establishes the quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin that “beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”. Hmm, good name for a show, that.

The malt backbone is a little sterner this year with the inclusion of some dark malts which provide a rich hue and enough sweetness to balance the generous notes provided by the hops. There are three distinct ‘levels’ to this beer with an initial toffee-ish malt starter and a crisp almost clanging bitter finish which stays a good while and leaves politely. In between is a little package of tangy little bangs which I can’t yet identify. Maybe the rest of the six-pack will reveal the secret to me.

I have included a link to last year’s post on Cascade First Harvest Number 8 and, while I enjoyed that one, I think this new installment takes the overall flavour, balance and fullness to a better conclusion. Maybe it’s because I’m drinking this one about as fresh as I can get it – it just feels better.

I’m glad Cascade makes this First Harvest Ale. I like that a brewery that is seen as more ‘mainstream’ than ‘craft’ can produce good quality inexpensive beer for the average punter but can also honour its own heritage with a beer that is well crafted, full of interest and flavour – and is limited in its release so that its arrival is anticipated and welcomed, without causing too much fuss.

It’s like I’ve got my footy cards now.

Prof Pilsner

Cascade First Harvest Ale 2010 will be available from Monday May 3rd. Expect to fork out about $24 for a six pack. Do what I do – buy a couple of tasters and then, if you like it, go back and snag a slab.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Plenty of ‘Green’ for Ale Stars ‘Browns’

It’s a healthy sign for the Australian craft beer scene that events like Ale Stars exist. It is a very healthy sign for the Australian craft beer scene when a ‘quiet night’ for an Ale Stars session at the Local Taphouse in St Kilda draws 53 people. The fact that I could name at least 7 regulars who were missing further strengthens the case.

Each week there seems to be a couple – maybe five – new faces joining the ever growing crowd of regulars and each week a couple of new faces from the last months’ session are returning, making Ale Stars a rather large ‘family’. I can only speak for me, but Ale Stars family functions are considerably more fun than ‘real’ family get-togethers. There’s certainly more and better beer.

Brown Ales may not be the most exciting or beer-sexy style going around, nor are there too many varying interpretations but this didn’t stop a big turn-out which included around nine first-timers. Newkie Brown proved a bit of a hit with both those who had never tried it before and those who had forgotten it while the Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Brown Ale took the flavour level up a notch.

The American craft brewers are beginning to discover beers that haven’t been hopped to within an inch of their lives and the Ellie’s Brown Ale from Avery Brewing Company in Colorado was a nice interpretation of the style with the added joys of some caramel and chocolate notes as well as a hefty dash of hop flavour to boot. A quick shout out to Beer Masons who provided this beer.

To get an even more ‘American’ take on the style we were treated to a Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar. The hops are turned down a bit more in this one but the flavour profile is cranked up with the addition of hazelnut essence which, combined with the big cakey malt backbone, makes a cracking dessert beer of cake-like proportions.

Another session packed with warmth and friendship and ... what’s that big cheesy word? ... mmmm ... oh, I remember – conviviality! But that’s kind of to be expected now as the family grows and yet it becomes smaller at the same time. It has become such an important part of my social calendar that I reckon you could almost run the night and forget to serve the beers and everyone would still have a great time. Almost.

After all, we could always just get more ‘betweenies’.

Prof Pilsner

And another thing;

This month my own position as ‘The Person Who Has To Travel The Furtherest to Get There’ was bettered by a young Beer Belle who not only travelled from GEELONG, but travelled by TRAIN. Chatting to her I felt positively local. She is one of what I will dub ‘Dave’s Crew on The Comfy Couches’ and for those playing along at home they were sitting one-in from ‘The High Table’ which in turn is one-over from ‘The Little High Table’ which is opposite ‘The Fireside Lounge’ next to ‘The Front Window’ which abuts ‘The Side Bar Seats You Have To Sit At If You Come In Late Unless There Is A Guest Brewer Then You Can’t Sit There’ which overlooks ‘The Stage’ and ‘The Other Comfy Couches’ – you know where I mean?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

You can’t always blame the beer

Before I regale you all with a series of wittily written travel stories from my trip to Tassie, I thought I’d begin with something of a cautionary tale.

The House of Pilsner is a fairly low maintenance affair with just a couple of goldfish to be cared for and the daily newspaper and mail to be collected. As we would be away for ten days we were happy a neighbour to look after things for us.

As it happened, the recently Sydney-relocated family of Dr Lager was to be back in Melbourne for the Easter break and a conference for Dr Lager so it was convenient for them to stay here and kill two birds with one stone. We needed a house-sitter and they needed a place to stay. A simple problem simply fixed. Or so you’d think.

Many of my readers may be familiar with the complex and intricate methods employed in order to make a house both secure and, at the same time, accessible to those with a valid purpose for entering. You and I know them as – DOORS – and they are reasonably straightforward in their operation. They very often consist of just TWO primary features. A KEY and a DOOR HANDLE.

We called home to see how the Lagers were settling in on the second day to find that , well, without putting too fine a point on it, they hadn’t ‘got there’ yet. That is to say they HAD ‘got there’ the night before (as planned) but couldn’t GET IN (as planned).

You see – and here’s where the tricky bit comes in – one of the Lagers (promised I wouldn’t identify to protect the guilty – but here’s a subtle clue; Oestrogen) WAS able to get the key into the lock. WAS able to turn key in lock. WAS also able to turn handle. WAS NOT able to perform both activities simultaneously. Remained on wrong side of threshold. Stayed at Mother-in-Laws place for the night instead.

I have since installed large cat-flap type arrangement in case they visit again.

Prof Pilsner

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Courthouse Cross-Tasman Beer Dinner

This Friday your dedicated Professor will be hosting a Beer Dinner which will celebrate the special bond shared between Australia and our friends from 'across the ditch', the Kiwis.

A very special night is promised with 6 beers (3 Australian and 3 New Zealand) to be matched with some very special dishes. I have devised a couple of the courses myself with specific beers in mind and the highlight might just be a Taste-Off with a main course of lamb to be matched with a mystery Aus beer and a mystery NZ beer - the punters will decide on the 'winner'.

There are three or four tables still available - if you are able and keen, call Timo at the restaurant on 9707 4459 (and tell him you heard about it here!) It's just $55 for six beers and four courses. 7 O'clock it gets underway.

Prof. Pilsner

Ale Stars to get Down and Brown

Ale Stars at The Local Taphouse in St Kilda will tomorrow night sample the darkish joys of brown ales and all the deep mysteries that lie within. This is probably a style that many are unfamiliar with - I guess it is seen as something of an English peculiarity. The fact that Australian brewers who have a Brown Ale in their portfolio are happy to promote them as English style probably confirms the view.

As one of the browns on the list is a Rogue, I'm guessing that view may be .... challenged.

$30 PP for four samples and plenty of pizza. 7 for a 7.30 start.

Prof Pilsner

Monday, April 12, 2010

Back in the loop

The Pilsner clan has just returned from a school holiday family adventure to Tasmania and while it is very nice – and necessary – to get away, it’s always nice to come home.

Despite staying in a stilted house among the treetops, the internet reception was even slower than the relaxed Hobart lifestyle although the fact that we were nestled in the shadow of Mt Wellington might also have had a bit of an effect. Needless to say the ability to update the blog was severely handicapped and I didn’t want to spend the whole holiday standing on one leg angling the laptop at various points in each room trying to fire a post at a fleeting sliver of cyber-connectivity.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t do plenty of very beery things, meet plenty of interesting beer people and drink plenty of very nice local product. Perish the thought. I am now taking the opportunity to gather my thoughts and make sense of the hastily scrawled notes to post a few interesting posts over the next week. After the Famine, prepare for the Feast!

Prof Pilsner