Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Matilda Bay percolates a Longshot

I’m one of those blokes fortunate enough to be present at the birth of each of his three children. Actually, it’s not as difficult as some people make out. I don’t have any issues with the inconvenience, the stress and all that pain – as long as it’s not happening to me. But it is an experience I’ll never forget, and one which I thought I’d never repeat.

That was until an invitation arrived from ‘The Garage’, Matilda Bay’s brewing home and source of new and interesting beers and something of a ‘beer birthing suite’ when it comes to the special things in the beer world. From this unassuming building in Melbourne’s outer south east we have seen all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures emerge - from a Barking Duck and Flamingo, a Dogbolter and a Fat Yak to a Redback and a Beez Neez. Couple these with Grayston and Big Helga and you could be forgiven for thinking that that this brewery was, in fact, some sort of mad scientist’s lair.

What I was here to see was the ‘birth’ of Matildas Bay’s latest brew, a coffee-infused dark ale called Longshot. Created from an idea shared over a beer (or maybe two) from the imaginations of Matilda Bay Head Brewer, Scott Vincent and gourmet coffee roaster Toby Smith from Toby’s estate, Longshot is a dark and warm and made for a cold winter’s evening.

The beer itself had already been brewed, keeping strict parameters in mind – this one needed to stand up against the coffee content without masking the subtleties of the roast – and so this day was all about tasting and smelling the coffee blend. An Ethiopian Yirgacheffe was chosen to partner the dark ale with the hope that the lemony aromas would complement the roasty spicy nature of the beer.

We spent the next hour or so ‘cupping’ with Toby and, while this might sound like a new SBS reality show, it actually involves pouring water over the ground coffee in a cup until a crust forms. The crust is gently spooned away and the aroma taken in. I’ve been making coffees in restaurants for a while and just ten minutes with Toby gave me a whole new appreciation for the dark bean. Having tasted the beer from the bright tank earlier, we were now getting a feel for just how the coffee would work alongside it.

Having seen the ‘birth’ of a new beer, I can’t wait to see – and taste – the finished product. Some very nice food pairings are coming to mind and, who knows, it might even be a nice ‘finisher’ for those who don’t drink coffee after dinner!

Prof. Pilsner

Longshot will be Matilda Bay’s winter seasonal and will be confined to a fairly limited run. You will find it only in Dan Murphy’s outlets from July 1. It won’t be for everyone and it certainly won’t be a ‘knock-it-down-fast’ session beer but you’ll probably want to get into it quickly. Maybe a nice cup of coffee to get you going before you hit the bottl’o!

Matilda Bay Brewing Company
Toby's Estate

Monday, May 24, 2010

2010 Beer Awards

Last Thursday saw the announcement of the Australian International Beer Awards and, in keeping with the awards’ status as the world’s second biggest beer competition, eleven of the fifteen major awards went to international breweries.

The total number of entries was up slightly on last years’ and with a grand total of 1170 beers entered you have to feel that the job of the judges is an arduous and difficult job. I raise a glass to each and every one of you.

David and Andrew Ong (2 Brothers) with the award for best Victorian Beer

But what of the results? Does the international success tell us that the locals have dropped their game, or that we are resting on our laurels? Hardly. When you consider the volume of beer presented and the high standard of craft brewing around the world right now, Australia’s modest population should be very proud of our place on the world stage. Couple this with the fact that more and more international brewing heavy-weights are sending beers to our awards and you can see that the overall quality is extremely impressive. Again, for the nerds, I’ll list some facts and figures and results. For now, it’s just about the occasion.

Do the brewers love to score a medal in their category or a trophy for best in class? I suppose so. Do they get upset if they don’t win? Don’t think so. The conversations I’ve had this last week with brewers from Australia and New Zealand leads me to conclude that, while awards are nice recognition for a lot of hard work, it’s not ‘why’ they do it. In fact, they are probably as happy for their colleagues who win as they would be for themselves.

Certainly having people at your stand at the Beer & Brewer Expo take a sip of your beer, shake their head and say, ”WOW!” seems to be the real reward for effort. And with many of them offering special, ‘show-only’ brews, there was plenty of that going on.

The awards are a great opportunity for the beer and brewing community to get together, catch up, tell stories and share beer. Do you really need any more than that? It is an event which makes us realise that beer is becoming more widely talked about in this country – not in quite the same hushed and reverent tones that wine is, mind you –and it is distancing itself culturally from the yobbos and dickheads who try to give it a bad name.

Hopefully some of the overseas brewers, in particular some of the Kiwi boys, can get more of their beers over this way. As our collective palate develops and, dare I say it; matures, there is certainly room for them among the quality selection of local craft offerings around.

On a totally different plane, I went through the results (all fifteen pages!) and listed all the award winners that we have on our beer list at work. The total was thirty-two. That’s 32 beers on our list that have won a gold, silver or bronze this year alone. I’m wondering if there is even a single place in the district that can boast having 32 beers in total! I might try to go through the list with our ‘knock-off’ drinks over the next few months.

Prof. Pilsner


Packaged Section - 739
Draught Section - 373
Packaging Section - 58

Total All Sections - 1170

Award winners
• Champion Lager – Hoss Rye Lager, Great Divide Brewing Company, Colorado, USA
• Champion Ale – The Runt, Feral Brewing Company, Western Australia, Australia
• Champion Porter – Hunter Chocolate Porter, Hunter Beer Company, New South Wales, Australia
• Champion Stout – Beer Geek Brunch Weasel, Mikkeller, Copenhagen, Denmark
• Champion Reduced & Low Alcohol Beer – Redoak Bitter, Redoak Pty Ltd, New South Wales, Australia
• Champion Wheat Beer – Emerson’s Weizenbock, Emerson’s, Dunedin, New Zealand
• Champion Belgian & French Ale – The Sixth Glass, Boulevard Brewing Company, Missouri, USA
• Champion Scotch & Barley Wines – Samual Adams Longshot Barley Wine, The Boston Beer Company, Massachusetts, USA
• Champion Hybrid Beer – Black Butte XXI, Deschutes Brewing, Oregan USA
• Champion Packaging Award – Scotts Pale Ale – 6 Pack Holder, Scotts Brewing Co, Auckland, New Zealand
• NEW Champion Gluten Free Beer – No trophy awarded
• Premier’s Trophy – Voodoo, 2 Brothers Brewery, Victoria, Australia
• Gary Sheppard Memorial Trophy – Big Sky Brewing Company, Montana, USA
• Champion Large Brewery – Weihenstephan Brewery, Friesing, Germany
• Champion Small Brewery — Nøgne Ø — Det Kompromissløse Bryggeri, Grimstad, Norway
• Grand Champion Exhibitor Trophy (awarded to the most successful exhibitor) –Nøgne Ø — Det Kompromissløse Bryggeri, Grimstad, Norway

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ale Star goes a bit Feral

Ale Stars sessions usually focus on a style and four samples of the same kind of beer are compared and contrasted. But now and again, as with Luke Nicholas and his Epic showcase, we get to work through a series of very different styles from a single brewer. And so it was that a record crowd of almost 70 gathered cosily – and maybe a little noisily – into the lounge to be treated to four beers from acclaimed and multi award winning Western Australian outfit, Feral Brewing Company with special guest and head brewer, Brendan Varis.

First off, let me say that Brendan certainly assured the room that he was a poster boy for the “Brewers Are All Really Top Blokes Who Are Passionate About Their Craft But Don’t Take Themselves Too Seriously” Club. Down to earth, engaging and entertaining, he said enough to inform but was keenly aware of when it was time to stop talking and let the beer do some of its own.

We began with the new I Wit 2.0, a beautifully presented Imperial Wit based on the flagship Feral White, but with extra zing, a little more sweetness and a lot more character. It was particularly pleasing to hear Brendan explain that the contracting out of the packaged White that we on the east coast have been getting was not up to scratch and the beer will be ‘quarantined’ at home until their own bottling line is up and running. I know this, for me personally, answered a lot of questions.

Next up was a slap across the chops for anyone who thought Feral could be defined by the above mentioned bottled stuff. If the I Wit didn’t have you thinking; “Hmm, that’s a bit different”, then the Dark Funk sour beer dropped a keg on your toes. A sweetness and a delicate richness was cannoned into the back of the net with a refreshing sour bang before apologising for itself with a smoothing crisp finish. This one had the room wondering what Brendan could possibly do to top that.

The Belgian IPA was the beer that went into the night as ‘John Doe’ and came out the other side with a name that incorporated the arduous sea voyage (through raging seas) and the Belgian people who have given us so many beer styles (the Flemish) to become Raging Flem. I can’t thank Brendan and his team enough for choosing my offering. If you ever get this one into bottles, I’ve designed a label as well. The beer itself was well worthy of carrying such a vivid title as it had everything. Depth and character and enough flavour, aroma and bitterness all tightly bundled and perfectly balanced to thrill even the fussiest Hop Head.

For those yet to be convinced, we finished with the Hop Hog IPA, just to cleanse the palate. Brendan was one of Ale Stars most popular hosts to date, although the fact that the winning trivia team consisted of his wife, business partner, chef and our own Big Kelv might cast a small shadow on his integrity. To be fair, though, I reckon they were good enough with their team name alone to win it. In keeping with the ‘Feral’ theme of the night they went with ‘Frankston, Saturday Night’.

This Ale Stars was anything but Feral, considering the size of the crowd and I reckon it’s a good thing that the Tech Foul Bell is rarely required to keep things from becoming ‘nerdy’. However, with the general buzz and hum that seventy people drinking four full sized beers of around 7% or so can generate, we probably need to keep the bell but rename it the Shut The F&#K Up bell.

The very approachable and affable nature of the brewers who come along and the punters who support it (members now numbering mid 40s) combined with the organisation and flair with which the Taphouse crew keep everything ticking and, of course, the wonderful host, Shandy, means that Ale Stars can probably keep growing and generating a vibrant tempo the night without ending up eating itself.

Although, Steve, Justin and Guy, just an observation – seventy people, four full size beers each, all served from the keg; poor Bec was working like a one-armed Beirut bricklayer pumping out so many beers so efficiently, so quickly and so ... single-handedly! But her something nice, would you?

As the Ale Stars concept continues to grow and word spreads, I hope other venues can look at doing something similar. Either that, or we need to build a few more Taphouses. Any danger of siting one a little closer than an hour away from my place? Just asking.

Prof. Pilsner

Thursday, May 20, 2010

New Zealanders can brew a beer

Anyone with a computer (do ‘the kids’ even call them that anymore) will be familiar with the constant stream of spam, ads and other assorted unsolicited e-mails that seems to sneak past even the best security software these days.

So, when my inbox revealed an invitation from the New Zealand Government Trade and Enterprise department, I was curious if not outright sceptical. I mean, I have trumpeted the virtues of the craft beer coming across the Tasman Sea in these pages at any opportunity and I’ve regularly incorporated a beer into my Beer Dinners - but I’ve also ‘teeken tha puss’ quite a bit. But I reckon that’s forgivable when the Kiwis keep sending shows like Motorway Patrol and Police Tin Sivin over to our tellies.

Not only did the invite prove to be genuine, but the night turned out to be as much fun as I’ve had drinking beer and eating sheep for a long, long time. Assembled in the sumptuous confines of Chloe’s Bar upstairs at Young & Jackson’s were the finest craft brewers from the Shaky Isles along with the glitterati of the Australian beer scene from writers and venue operators to distributors and industry heavy-weights. And there was me.

For those wondering, the Chloe in ‘Chloe’s Bar, refers not to the name of the girl at the bar, but rather to the painting of Chloe, a much-loved Melbourne icon. Or, as one of my now-favourite NZ brewers put it; “She goes all right for a hundred year old nude chick, doesn’t she?” Yes, Carl, she does.

Back in the dining room we were sat at long tables dressed in white linen and treated to eleven of New Zealand’s finest craft beers, matched to eleven different dishes and introduced by the brewer himself. Very few of the brewers did anything to disprove the theory that beer folk are all very down-to-earth people who don’t need to take themselves too seriously and each beer was presented with humility and humour in equal quantities. For the Beer Nerds, I’ll list the beers and their matches at the end of this post.
After the formalities had concluded we moved back into Chloe’s Bar where we were met by a veritable ‘who’s who’ of Australian craft brewers who clearly have a well-tuned radar when it comes to sensing a free feed and bit of good company! The room filled quickly and the camaraderie was evident as friendships were made or renewed. Most of the eleven beers we had tried earlier were on tap and it was interesting to note that there didn’t seem to be a ‘crowd favourite’ and all were being given a second run.

More interesting was the general feeling among many of the brewers that the food and beer matching was nice, but not to given too much weight. I found this both odd and refreshing as we seem to be in the midst of a groundswell of support for the concept over here but I also feel that, at times, we take it a little too far. I liked the fact that New Zealand produce was being showcased along with the beer and really, apart from one or two dishes, they all ‘worked’ pretty well.

I am constantly amazed at just how enjoyable the company of beer people is. Put a beer in the hand of a room full of brewers and before you know it, the problems of the world are ... well ... a world away and the glass is half full. Although, as last night showed, they’re not half full for very long. And many of these blokes I met last night come not from generations of brewing tradition and family run breweries but from ‘normal’ walks of life and regular job histories.

Maurice Bennett provided a Belgian Strong Ale that is the equal of many I’ve had and yet he hails from a background in Supermarkets. Mind you, he’d struggle to stock anything above the second shelf, but what he lacks in stature, he more than covers in passion and pride in his product. ‘Big Carl’ from Harrington’s was one of our table-mates and, if he ever gets out of the brewing caper could easily make a living pretending to be Andrew Symons. Although I reckon I enjoyed a beer more with him last night than I’d ever enjoy with ‘Roy’.

The evening provided a terrific opportunity to sample some of New Zealand’s best craft product available here, and to also get a feel for what the locals are keeping to themselves at home. Hopefully some of these beers can find their way onto a container ship in the future. When I left for the night the crowd was in the process of moving to the rooftop bar to begin the night all over again.

That might have provided some good opportunities to seal a few export arrangements!

Prof. Pilsner

A special “thank you” to John for arranging to get my name onto the guest list!

And, for the nerds;

1. Emerson’s Organic Pilsner (Prawns w mango/mint salsa)
2. Mac’s Hop Rocker (Crumbed soft herb chicken)
3. Bennett’s Belgium Strong (Veal w tuna mayo)
4. Tuatara Hefe (Morton Bay Bug spring rolls w lime sauce)
5. Vicar Vice Wheat (Mussel fritters)
6. Captain Cooker Manuka (Smoked eel)
7. Liquefaction (Lamb cutlets)
8. Epic Pale Ale (Chorizo w quince)
9. Porters Rye Ale (Venison w caramelised onion)
10. Harrington’s Pig & Whistle (Tira Misu)
11. Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black (Bittersweet choc truffle)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Nice, but where’s the beer?

After a late finish on both Friday and Saturday night I was looking forward to a lazy Sunday morning with no real obligations.

All was well with the world, my Melbourne Storm had posted a (pointless) win against the Raiders up in Canberra the night before and my Hawks, though struggling in recent weeks, were drawn to play Richmond later in the day and the game was being shown live. There was reason to believe we wouldn’t break our five game losing streak as the Tigers had shown solidarity with the Storm boys and were committed to playing out the rest of the season for no points. The lawns were mowed and the house was clean and the girls were going out during the day.

I sorted through the papers, plucking out the sport sections, opinion bits and the magazines, chucking out the real estate, cars guide and travel section. I live in a house, I just bought a new car and, therefore, I can’t afford to travel.

I picked up the M magazine and scanned the cover. “Hmm, that poncy-lookin’ bloke wearing the scarf indoors looks a bit of a knob but something seems ... familiar.” And then it hit me. “The poncy knob with the scarf is sitting in my Ale Stars seat! At The Taphouse!! In St Kilda!!!”

I raced around the house for a bit wanting to show everyone the picture until I remembered they were all out so I sat down with my coffee (I don’t drink beer ALL DAY! Ha) and had a better look. Then something else hit me. This bloke and his female company are both drinking red wine! In what might easily be argued is the country’s finest BEER BAR! I forgave this oversight as I figured it was just for the front cover so as not to scare off all those turtle-necked unemployed academics from buying the paper and scooted ahead to page eight.

“Now these bastards are sitting on the comfy couches under the big beer poster, with yet more red wine, still no beer and now they’re LAUGHING! They’re MOCKING US!!” To add insult to injury, the copy is trumpeting the beery virtues of The Local Taphouse as “one of the best beer bars around ... all set off by the perfect winter retreat.” I tell you now, if those freeloaders are still sittin’ in my seat tonight night the wine won’t be the only thing that’s red!

Seriously, though, it was some great exposure and a really nice photo and nice words and the guys at The Local Taphouse must be chuffed at the beautiful depiction of their heart and soul.

But extra seriously – next time put a beer in his hand or I’ll have to come down and ‘tighten his scarf’ for him.

Prof Pilsner

"Why so glum, Darling?" "No Beer, dear."

Monday, May 17, 2010

From the taxi to The Taphouse

A Date with the Diva (Part Three)

The story so far;

Mrs Lager dropped us off at The Lord Nelson where Dr Lager and I found a nice corner table next to the door (the perfect spot for People Watchers) and hooked into a couple of very nice offerings. A Pale and a Quayle (Summer Ale) alongside a nice traditional pub steak sandwich. Note for next time; if you ask for a beer you’ll get a pint. Remember this when ‘pacing’ yourself.

Walked from Lord Nelson in general direction of Sydney Harbour. Found Opera House. Found The Studio. Found Studio Bar. Found two pots of Opera House Organic Pale Ale. Tasted just like Redoak’s Pale. It is.

Found the other bar just inside. Grabbed two Sundown Lagers compliments of The Beer Diva.

Enjoyed Beer Diva show very much. Found Bus Stop. Got into Taxi. Had a lovely time with Bus man and Taxi Girl. Let out in Oxford Street. Walked quickly to Local Taphouse Darlinghurst.

So to our first visit to The Local, Sydney-style. You remember that scene early on in Beverley Hills Cop when Eddie Murphy is walking down Rodeo Drive and doubles over laughing at the passing fashions? That was Dr Lager and I as we approached the Taphouse. As the friendly doorman spotted us, I put on my ‘I am behaving’ face and said G’Day. He spied my Beer Diva showbag which made me remember that I was carrying my Beer Diva showbag. I offered him a look and said, “It’s just full of beer and beer glasses mate”.

I realised that was not the correct thing to say and began to explain that I’d just been to the Opera House drinking lots of different beers – that wasn’t good, either. As we began to make mental plans to continue the night elsewhere I stumbled over the secret password. “Let me explain. We were at the Opera House for the Beer Diva’s ...”

“In you go!” he cut me off, stepping aside and showing us the way. Thank you, Doorman and thank you, Kirrily.

The first sensation as I entered the downstairs bar was that I was ‘at home’. The unmistakeable Taphouse ‘feel’ that comes from a combination of the decor, lighting, flow and its noisy hum, but also from that very palpable but indescribable ‘something’ – the pub version of what the Japanese call ‘Umami’ – a mysterious ‘deliciousness’ that permeates the place. It’s a welcoming warmth that settles on you from the minute you arrive.

I know this sounds like I’m angling for a free drink (which I would never be so rude as to knock back were it offered) but you just know you’re in The Taphouse. Let me explain. We made our way through the crush to the upstairs bar, which was even busier, and settled against a wall with a starting pot of Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale. The bar was packed with punters representing a fairly widespread demographic including plenty of Sydney Swans supporters fresh from their win over Brisbane at the SCG.

Hundreds of others were scattered around the various nooks and crannies peculiar to the Sydney layout and yet others kept coming up and down the stairs beside us while others weaved through the crowd with full pints yet everybody moved to accommodate the other, staff threading effortlessly through the throng as they collected empty glasses, moved chairs and reset tables. And everyone was smiling – even the Brisbane supporters.

It’s the sign of a well managed and skilfully operated pub that the staff and punters are all so obviously enjoying themselves. A Murray’s Punch & Judy had us smiling profusely as one of the barmen told us to help ourselves to a comfy chair in the dining area as he removed the DINING ONLY sign. Nice touch, that. And very comfy chairs we discovered as we lowered ourselves down slowly, becoming aware as we were of the fact that we are getting old and had walked quite a bit further than we have for some years.

We decide on a palate cleanser of Budvar to complete the night and as I sipped, I tried to nail just exactly what it is that makes these places feel so different to so many other pubs. It’s not just the beers, although that’s a ‘gimme’ and it’s not just the decorative touches or the night view of the surrounding suburbs from the windows – it’s something else again.

And it’s also a combination of all the elements which is then sewn together by the ‘feel’ that the staff disseminate as they to-and-fro and pour beers and clean as they go and stop to adjust a table or move a chair in. It’s all the ‘g’days’ and ‘how ya goin’s’ as they pause to pick up an empty glass and the way they make you feel as though they actually enjoy the fact that so many people have chosen to drink in their place.

Even if some of them have taken the long way ‘round via The Lord Nelson, the Opera House, raucous taxi rides and giggling treks down unfamiliar paths with a paper bag full of beer, glasses and discount vouchers.

It just seems that The Local really gets what it is to create a place where people who like good craft beer can get their ‘fix’ but still make it accessible to the average punter who might just be inclined to stay long enough to become one of those others. Hopefully it inspires others to take pubs out of the pokie-mire that many seem to be stuck in, or the brightly lit, stainless steel drink dispenser barns that are always giving beer a bad name.

Prof. Pilsner

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Beer & Cooking

We had a group in the restaurant last night who wasted no time at all in getting straight into our rather extensive beer list. In fact, the guest of honour and his missus had been in for their anniversary a while back and made the decision to return for his birthday because of our amber offerings.

From Tuskers to Leffe Blonds and Estrella Damm to Grozet Gooseberry they were keen to try as many as they could. One bloke had a big game today and so he rationed himself to a single beer which he tipped over on the table-join after the first sip and one bloke who didn't want to drink beer at all had Budweisers all night, so there was really something for everyone.

We got talking about our Beer Dinners and the new menu items making their way onto our regular menu which feature beer as an ingredient. We've got some intensive research going on in the test kitchen and it's quite amazing just how much beer you are forced to sample when getting the delicate balance just right.

We nailed a Beer Damper using Cooper's Sparkling, the residual yeast giving the bush bread a bit more texture and lightness and that might pop up as a starter soon. We have shelved plans for a Chicken A La Bier until we can get the presentation right - after all, we eat with our eyes first. Taste-wise it's deluxe, the look on the plate just needs tweaking.

Our Beer & Barley Soup (from the now-famous Matilda Bay Beer Dinner) may poke its head up as the weather turns colder and the Lamb Stew could certainly get a look-in about the same time.

But it was the Stout Ice Cream that captured the attention and I promised I would post some tips on the blog: here they are. Feel free to use the comments section to add your own beer/food secrets. I have no shame, I'll adopt any and all of them!

For the ice cream, I reduced a 375ml Cascade Stout down to about 150mls on a low heat that barely raised a bubble, leaving it for about 45 minutes. This produces a nice, thinnish syrup that concentrates the sweetness and the coffee and caramel notes of the beer but leaves an unmistakeable beery bitterness. As a result, we used very little stout syrup to ice cream ratio and still got a beautiful stouty middle palate, a tingly bitter hit before the sweetness of the ice cream ran in to settle things down. A good quality vanilla bean ice cream helps a lot.

Now, for a Stout cake, our friends had used Guinness as part of the liquid component of their recipe. I reckon Guinness has a bit too much sharpness and roasty astringency for a cake, although you could balance it out with some extra sugar. I'd prefer a Young's Double Chocolate Stout in place of the Guinness and, rather than adding it 'wet' I'd reduce it down as in the example above.

Hope that makes more sense than it did late alst night!

Prof. Pilsner

Thursday, May 13, 2010

From the Opera House to the Taphouse

A date with The Diva (Part Two)

One of the best things about flying interstate is not having a car. This means you don’t have to even think about how much, or what, you can drink. It doesn’t matter where you want to go or how long you want to stay.

Provided, of course, you happen to have a mate in the city at the other end of your journey to get you around and, more importantly, get you back. Even if that bloke has only been in said town for about a month and hasn’t even really been into the heart of the city much at all. You can’t have everything.

And so it was that we found ourselves on the Sydney Opera House forecourt well rested and very well refreshed after the show. We had already eaten well, having spent the first hour or so of our evening in stately repose at The Lord Nelson (one of approximately seventeen pubs in and around Sydney claiming to be the city’s oldest, it would seem) but this didn’t stop Dr Lager from seeking out something cheap and greasy at Circular Quay. Matt Moran’s Aria restaurant seemed a bit busy so we set off for an all-night kebab stand instead. Besides, we were less interested in three chef hats and more interested in three more pots.

Finding nothing we headed to the bus stop where we proceeded to look like a couple of illiterate foreigners as we attempted to decipher the fifty different timetables. We wanted to finish the night with some good beer. We didn’t want to accidently end up Punchbowl or Parramatta. And while we’re at it, if Sydney has a suburb called ‘Punchbowl’ does it also have six adjoining suburbs all called ‘Cup on a Hook’?

And what’s the best thing for a couple of ‘well refreshed’ blokes lost in a public transport maze? Why, another couple of ‘well refreshed’ people who DO know their way around, of course. He was quick to assist us – which was even more noteworthy as he was simultaneously trying to assist his female companion to stand upright. She was yelling loudly for a taxi and he was insistent on taking the bus.

It’s a funny thing, but sometimes you just connect with strangers and, coupled with a reasonable quantity of ‘good cheer’ in the system, you find yourself striking up conversations that you just wouldn’t have in the cold, hard light of day with people you would normally not even notice. The theatre continued, with the girl further putting her case for jumping into this taxi, while the bloke cleverly countered with well constructed and thoughtful counter-arguments like; “No, that’s a street sweeper, not a taxi.”

We joined in by noting that the bus was roomier, knew where it was going and was less likely to smell like the kebab shop we were unable to locate earlier. She became more adamant that a taxi was the go for speed and efficiency – although those were not the words she used. I don’t think. I pointed out that the taxi was just about the destination, whereas the bus was all about ‘the journey’. Dr Lager pointed out that the bus was a metaphor for community and society’s struggle to seek meaning on a freeway of universal connectivity in order to find an egalitarian solution to the human condition. I couldn’t argue with that as I had absolutely no idea what he meant.

I swear you’ve never seen a funnier sight than this philosophical discourse being played out just a short drunken stagger from Sydney’s premier venue for culture, performance and thought. As we continued giggling and prepared our next wittily constructed argument a taxi pulled up, at which point ‘Busman’ realising that ‘Taxi Girl’ was not about to get any cleverer with her next retort raises one hand, grabs the girl with the other and bundles her into the cab! Well, this was unexpected and Dr Lager and I were not about to let this betrayal slide without comment.

“Busman! You sell-out! You used to be about ‘the journey’, man, the jouuurrney!! Don’t give in to the corporate machine! Don’t let them take your soul! We believed in you, man. Don’t judge your life by the dollars on a meter!! We believed in you!! We’ve never wanted to get on a bus more than we do right now!! What’s to be of us? What do we do?!? Can we not believe in anything ever again?!?”

As the taxi pulled away our spirits fell, our beliefs shattered. The cab stopped at the traffic lights ten metres away and ‘Busman’ opened the taxi door. “Do you blokes want a ride?”

“Shit yeah!!” Couldn’t get us in the cab quick enough!

They were on their way to Bondi Junction and we were on our way to anywhere even close to the local Taphouse in Darlinghurst. The cabbie turned and asked which direction that was, roughly. Four arms held pointed fingers in four different directions and the game was on again! It was at this point that ‘Busman’, having settled his partner down and convincing her of the merits of a good night’s sleep, came to the realisation that she was now up for a continuation of her night out at ‘this locally tappy-house place, thank you driver’.

In yet another instance of Beer Karma, it was revealed that they had started their night in The Lord Nelson as well, although they had left before we had arrived and had also visited one or two other fine establishments serving brewed alcoholic beverages in between that time and when our two paths eventually crossed.

‘Busman’ pointed out that Darlinghurst was a short walk to the right of the next intersection and the taxi obligingly stopped the cab diagonally across the centre of three outbound lanes to let us out. As quickly as the adventure had begun, it was over (although it took the three of us, with some help from the cabbie, to stop ‘Taxi Girl’ from getting out as well) and we lobbed a twenty to ‘Busman’ – as much a ‘thank you for the show’ as it was a contribution to the fare.

We set off in what we hoped was the right direction to the Taphouse. I still have no idea where we were but for those who know Sydney it was in a part of town that seems to discriminate and exclude like nowhere else in Australia I have ever seen. I tell you, in every pub and bar we walked past; there was not a single, solitary woman to be seen? I mean, really, how can you run a place in this day and age and NOT let girls in? What kind of pubs were these? And was this little bottleshop a franchise of St Kilda's Dick Whittington drive thru, The Dick Liquor?
Oxford street, Sydney, Australia
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: Oxford street, Sydney, Australia

We set off down the next road past a funny looking hardware shop called ‘The Tool Shed’, stopping briefly to look at the various fashions displayed in shopfronts and on past ‘The Flesh Pot’ . Dr Lager asked if I could see myself in any of those outfits, to which I replied;

“If I wanted to get around in gear with holes in the arse, I wouldn’t let Mrs Pilsner throw out my old, worn out undies”. We rounded another corner (I think) and saw the glow of the lights coming from The Taphouse doorway.

But that’s another, other story.

Prof. Pilsner

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Beer Diva @ The Sydney Opera House

"Beer is Proof that God wants us to be Happy"

A Date with The Diva

Every now and then the planets align and circumstances combine to provide an opportunity to do something different, something a little crazy and something ... spur of the moment.

So when I received a subscriber e-mail from Kirrily Waldhorn, The Beer Diva, requesting a registration of interest for an upcoming show at The Sydney Opera House, Mrs Pilsner said, “Why don’t you go?” As best mate and co-founding Beer Bloke, Dr Lager had recently moved to Sydney I figured it was as good an excuse as any to pay him and the family a visit so I said; “What the Hey?!” and tapped in my details.

I mean, really, how often do you get an invite to go to the Sydney Opera House and drink beer?

The Beer Diva’s show, ‘Beer is Proof that God wants us to be Happy’ is so much more than just drinking beer. Although, to be fair, it’s a pretty good part of it. Anyone who has attended a Beer Diva beer dinner, beer and cheese experience or beer tasting will be familiar with the basic concept. The audience, seated at floor-level tables in a cabaret style layout is taken on a journey of beery revelation, beginning with a brief and entertaining history of beer, through beer pouring rites and glassware care and even some fun facts and figures segments which beautifully defend beer and seek to bust the myths that surround it.

The show is set out in five acts, each act starring a different beer style. The style is explained from an historical viewpoint and in a cultural context and – now here’s the good bit – fuelled by the thoughtfully arranged beers on each table which the audience enjoys in concert with the host. A Beer Captain is appointed at each table and charged with ensuring the beers are poured well and distributed to the rest of the table.

I won’t go into detail about each style here, I’m assuming you know a little about different beer styles and your imagination can fill in the gaps, but I have to briefly make mention of the opening beer. As we arrived we were seated at our tables which were already set with the night’s supply of beer. A wit, a pilsner, a lambic, an amber ale and a porter sat teasingly in the centre of the round table, beckoning us. I reckon I had the order sussed out fairly immediately but I kept second-guessing myself on the place of the limbic – as a sweet/sour finisher? As a mid session palate cleanser? A curve ball thrown in somewhere else?

We began with the Lindemans Kriek. Genius! Not only did it break the ice by getting everyone at every table talking amongst themselves, but it swiftly crushed any preconceptions about what beer CAN taste like! No mainstream lager, this! No bitter and fizzy session BBQ swill! Is this even beer?!? To select this beer as the opener was a masterstroke that set the scene for the rest of the evening and kept us waiting expectantly for the next surprise.

Our table was made up of two other groups, a pair of couples and another couple and there was plenty of beer to go around. But, as I always say, there is ALWAYS room for improvement. Dr Lager and I had spotted a guy at the table in front of us sitting on his own. After the second beer we decided that he must not have been waiting for friends and offered him a spot at our table. Afterall, you can’t drink beer on your own in this sort of setting. He graciously accepted our hospitality. “Not so fast, mate,” we interrupted as he grabbed his coat and made for our table. “You’d better bring those beers with you, eh?” “You might also want to grab those chockies, beer glasses and showbags as well, Champ” chimed Dr Lager.

And so it was that our night really got going.

Each act revealed the next beer and more engaging live music and cleverly produced animation projected onto the huge screen above the stage gave the audience a humorous take on various beer subjects as well as giving The Beer Diva a chance to take a breath and a change of wardrobe. In fact, it was not until the third act and beer arrived that I reckon the last of the crowd realised that each style was accompanied by a ‘matching’ evening dress – I don’t mean each new dress had a different beer spilled over it, but that the colour of each outfit matched the colour of the beer – and though I don’t know fashion, I know she carried them well. I thought to myself that it was fortunate for Kirrily that she hadn’t chosen to showcase Corona as it’s so flavourless and thin the matching dress would have to be pretty short and see-through.

The Beer Diva’s engaging nature and humble stage presence combine to ensure that the night remained informal and relaxed, a steady yet ambling rhythm keeping the evening moving while neither rushing nor dragging it out. Her ability to paint the picture, while ‘keeping it real’ meant that everyone from novice to know-it-all was entertained and engaged.

She may, however, want to re-think the part where a male member of the audience (“Mr Muscles”) is summoned to the stage to assist with a beer pouring! The chances of this bit going pear-shaped as a result of the consumption of the aforementioned beers is a constant threat and Kirrily may need to ‘plant a stooge’ in future performances. Kirrily, you have my number! (Having said that, we bumped into Saturday nights’ “Mr Muscles” after the show in Circular Quay and he was still ‘livin’ it large’ on his new-found fame!)

It is a credit to Kirrily that she was able to engage the audience – many of whom had little idea what quite to expect – and make history, culture and philosophy live. And all through beer!

For those familiar with the origins of the Beer Diva and, specifically, her ‘beer epiphany’ the night concluded with a porter and chocolate matching. I tell you, you’ve never heard so many oohs! and ahhs! and “that’s not bads!” fill a room at one time.

The night drew together the realms of beer and art, of entertainment and education and music and laughter – plenty of that. A big off-Broadway style musical finale closed the evening and vocalist Leah Thomas’ high notes had us reaching for our Speiglau’s lest she shatter them.

Dr Lager and I set off and found ourselves in a taxi heading to the Darlinghurst Local Taphouse.

But that’s another story!

Prof. Pilsner

A big thanks to Kirrily for an exclusive 'audience' with the star after the show ...and for generously sending me these photos. I was being very good and not taking pics during the show like we were asked!

And, for those curious, Alex, the bloke we dragged off the table for one was in town from Canberra and came to the show because it was "the only show that happened to be starting when I got to the box office!" Gotta love that!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Courthouse Restaurant Cross-Tasman Beer Dinner

A long weekend is either a Godsend or a curse when it comes to running a restaurant. In some regions it is a rare opportunity to fill the dining room once or twice extra or it is an opportunity for the town to pack up and head off for three or four days and leave the town empty.

Berwick, the little village township in the centre of a massive sprawling suburban development wherein sits the restaurant I manage, can easily be one or the other. Some long weekends sees it left a ghost town and the next we are knocking back enough bookings to fill the joint twice. So it was with a fair bit of convincing that I encouraged the boss man to let me host an Australia/New Zealand themed Beer Dinner on the Friday of the ANZAC Day weekend.

And I’m glad we did. We not only filled the dining room with happy punters looking forward to some friendly beer-flavoured rivalry but we were also pleased to receive the feedback from them that it was great to have something nice to do when you’re not going away for the weekend. And something nice - and very beery – is just what we gave them.

The trend towards food and beer matching is gaining momentum and I have seen the general level of interest grow particularly over the last two or so years. At The Courthouse restaurant we have dabbled in various areas of matching and we have often listed recommended beer styles that might pair well with a dish and we have attempted to use beer as an ingredient on special occasions. With this beer dinner we decided it was time to take it up a notch.

We started with a beer damper, using Cooper’s Sparkling Ale, as a starter which went down a treat and we followed this with a dish of Chicken a La Bier using Gosser Dark Ale in place of stock. These dishes were paired with a Mountain Goat Steam Ale and Bridge Road Brewers Australian Ale respectively.

The main course of very Australian and Kiwi Lamb on mash was matched with two mystery beers. The diners knew only that one was a NZ craft offering and the other a similarly styled Australian. Introduced as Left Beer and Right Beer, they were then asked to try each beer against the food and nominate their favourite without the restrictions of nationalistic preference. In a fairly close run thing, NZ’s Epic Pale Ale was pipped by The Flying Horse Brewery’s Whale Ale by a handful of votes. Fortunately for me and the chef, all agreed the beers matched beautifully with the lamb.

The crowning glory, and fitting tribute to the Skippies and the Kiwis both, was a Cascade Stout Ice Cream sandwiched between two ANZAC biscuits and paired with a Dux Brewery Sou’wester Stout. I had tried the ice cream while at the Cascade Brewery last month and was unashamedly happy to rip it right off – with the appropriate acknowledgement of course – and make my own version. So popular was it that you will now find a similar offering on our menu.

It was very pleasing to see plenty of regulars returning but also as many newcomers which gives me a good feeling about the future of craft beer at the grass roots level. If we can keep offering good products in the form of Beer Dinners, tastings and showcases, then slowly but surely we can keep the momentum and grow the industry.

I usually mention, before, during and after these events, that beer never ceases to amaze me and throw up nice surprises at every turn. Imagine my surprise when I was talking up the virtues of Red Hill Brewery and their estate grown and dried hops when one of the guests introduced himself as David and Karen’s next door neighbour and the bloke who, in fact, dries the brewery’s hops in his apple drying kit! And as much as he loved my Stout ice cream, so too am I looking forward to trying his ‘honeycomb-like’ dehydrated ice cream. If we can combine the drying of the ice cream WITH Red Hill’s Imperial Stout ... hmmm?

Prof. Pilsner

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

VB Raise A Glass Appeal 2010

Beer and Peace

A bit of a reference to the length and complexity of this post but it is something very close to my heart and I can’t just skim over it. Grab a beer, sit back and relax, and let me know what you reckon.

I’ve been thinking about the ‘two-sides-to-a-story’ factor surrounding the continuing argument surrounding binge-drinking and advertising’s role in its promotion.

This year’s VB “Raise A Glass” campaign has exceeded the total donated in last year’s inaugural campaign with $1,281,000 already in the kick. The 1.1 million raised last year came from a combination of direct website driven donations and a marketing promotion whereby $1 from specially branded slabs of VB was added to the total by Foster’s.

This year, as a result of some fairly negative publicity and the refusal of the Queensland branch of the RSL to participate last year, Foster’s moved to distance the fundraising from the notion that a commercial business can have a heart and still make a dollar and made a direct lump-sum donation to the appeal. And here is where it gets a little murky.

To give you a bit of background and the chance to make up your own mind here’s the story.

The Foster’s side;

A dollar from every slab of VB donated to RSL charities. (Changed this year to direct donation)

1500 kegs of VB donated to RSL clubs to sell and raise cash at ‘street level’. (Last year)

A series of six ads featuring returned servicemen ‘raising a glass’ to fallen mates.

A website designed to encourage current and ex-servicemen and their families to post stories about
the Australian experience in war over the last century.

A section on the website where donations can be made online.

The Against side; (with associated quotes and published arguments)

The association of a beer brand with the Raise a Glass appeal this year has raised the issue of binge drinking and its place in Australian culture on Anzac Day. (The Australian, April 2009)

"In recent years, Anzac day has morphed into an opportunity for young (and not-so young) people to get shit-faced and soppily nationalistic, which makes it an ideal target for a big beer company.

"VB's Raise a Glass campaign will no doubt find favour with anyone who thinks binge drinking is an appropriate part of remembering Australians who have served in wars, and it will raise plenty of useful funds for Legacy, but that doesn't make it ethical." (Trevor Cooke, Corporate Engagement Blog)

"People drink to excess because of exactly the message you're pushing on us. Loss, hurt, pain? Raise a glass! Raise another one! "We're giving you an excuse to keep going at it as well. And a warm, fuzzy feeling because a couple of bucks went to a charitable and decent organisation." ( Morgwn Shaw, Digital Art Science blog)

Victoria Bitter's latest marketing campaign — a tie-up with Defence Force charities — has come under fire for exploiting the Returned Services League brand to sell more beer. (The Age April 2009)

In shortened form, that’s the guts of the debate with the key elements of both side’s arguments outlined. The “NO” side contends that beer and ANZAC Day are poor bedfellows, that VB is ‘using’ the RSL to sell a product and that binge drinking is bad.

I can’t help thinking that this is another case of shooting the wrong messenger. I contend that we don’t have an alcohol problem as such – we have a dickhead problem. We have a problem with not enough parents prepared to show a good example to their kids nor to pull them into line when they stray from the guidelines of behaviour in a civilised society.

The argument that beer has no place in a commemoration of Australia’s most significant actions on the world stage rides a bit thin with me as well. Digital Art Science blog uses, among others the point that “Do veterans not struggle with alcohol abuse as they come to terms with the aftermath of their involvement in a conflict? Hasn’t anyone at VB/Legacy’s agency ever listened to Khe Sanh?”

Yeah they do, and I’m sure they have. Is it not OK to provide some money that might end up helping more than one or two of them, even if it means that a large chunk of the population (which doesn’t have a drinking problem) has to donate it? And if you’re going to quote classic Chisel, choose lyrics that help your argument – Khe Sahn references “Speed and Novacaine” not VB and more VB. Just sayin’, that’s all.

I reckon Defence Force chief General Peter Cosgrove sums it up pretty well in one of the ads when he says that he reckons Australian soldiers would hate to be thought of as anything but regular men and women despite having done a job for their country that was nothing short of extraordinary. I reckon they might also have appreciated a quiet beer at the appropriate time and that they might just have cut loose on leave at one time or another. Raise A Glass is as much about remembering them and taking the time to ‘share a beer’ with those no longer around. It certainly DOES NOT glorify war, nor does it encourage, promote or condone idiot drunken behaviour.

And some, on ANZAC Day might just down one too many with their remaining mates at a pub or an RSL (I had more than a few with some of them in Canberra last ANZAC Day) but I reckon they’ve earned it. Does the VB Raise a Glass appeal have a direct causal link to drunken dickhead binge-drinking and violent behaviour as some are suggesting? Hardly. That’s not to say we don’t have a problem – far from it – but let’s not try to solve one social problem by banning a totally and unrelated different social activity.

These are just my thoughts. It nice to think that the freedom to criticise something and the technological means to transmit these criticisms and my ability to pose a contrary position are all the result of the actions of people who went before us and gave up plenty to defend the principals of goodness against evilness.

Thank you to you all. I will ‘raise a glass’ in your memory. And not just on ANZAC Day.

Prof Pilsner