Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Beer Ambassadors

Over the past few years as my passion for, and knowledge of beer has grown I have been described as an ambassador for craft beer. I’ve worn that proudly – until June 6 this year when four intrepid beer adventurers took off on a diplomatic mission that puts my efforts in the shade.

Barney Matthews and Miro Bellini of Melbourne beer Meccah, Beer Deluxe and “Road Goat” Tom Delmont from Mountain Goat along with a London based tech expert Jason Duffett are attempting to visit thirty breweries in 30 days and sample 300 beers. And why not!?

Beginning in LA and sipping their merry way across the States from Coast to Coast, they are currently in upstate New York and their adventures are well worth following. I have slipped a link to the Beer Ambassadors site at the right of the blog. Follow the journey and leave a comment for the boys – they might even get interactive and visit places you recommend ... but don’t bet your house on that!

Prof Pilsner

Beer Ambassadors

Thanks to James Smith for the pic of the boys which comes from his very good and soon to be released website, the Crafty Pint.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Courthouse Beer Dinner comes in from the cold

What you really have to love about a traditional cold Melbourne winter is (A) How much it makes you appreciate summer and (B) How good a nice hearty meal served with winter warming beers can be.

The Magistrate’s Chambers in the Courthouse Restaurant in Berwick is the perfect setting for a night where the wind is sending chills up even the hardiest spine. A separate room behind the old Magistrate’s bench it is an ideal place to seat twenty or so guests and treat them to the joys of two open fires, four warming courses and six beers that will challenge the novices’ preconceptions of beer in general.

And so it was on Friday when the back room was filled with anxious punters waiting to see what wonders a nice winter brew can bring. A palate-preparing Gosser Pale Ale bought me some time to introduce the newcomers and welcome back the ten regulars while the first course of sweetish corn fritters and egg croquettes was prepared. This was paired with a Holgate Big Reg Vienna Lager which not only complemented the meal well with its caramel sweetness but also opened a few eyes to lager in its different forms.

A White Rabbit Dark Ale was matched with a beautiful dish of Crispy Pork Wontons and Asian style Pork Belly and the warmth of the ale and its open fermentation flavours worked a treat with the sticky unctuousness of the pork. I decided on a beer that I had only recently discovered as a favourite to go with the main course. A cold night and warm company demands a nice hearty comfort-food kind of meal and a rich Beef and Ale open topped pie was a fitting centrepiece for the dinner.

We coupled it with Timothy Taylor Landlord Strong Pale Ale and the nuttiness, the biscuity sweet malt and the light freshness of the hops just seemed to go hand in hand with the rich and filling elements of the beef.

To finish we popped the top off a Harrington’s Wobbly Boot Porter Ale which we matched with a lovely rich homemade Tira Misu. The coffee and chocolate in each saw a fitting end to the official part of the evening although it took another hour and a half and several beers for the last three tables to make their way gingerly into the chill Melbourne night.

But that’s probably what I like best about these Beer Dinners!

Prof Pilsner

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is Green, Is Good!

The world of beer is a wonderous place and, while it may seem to have remained unchanged in Australia for many years the reality is very different.

It was not so long ago that brewers used around four litres of water to brew one litre of beer. In this day of more critical observation of the way we live that would certainly raise eyebrows – and now many brewers are changing the way they source, use and recycle the resources necessary to brew our golden nectar.

A visit to Mountain Goat brewery is not just highly recommended from a beer-drinking perspective but, if you want to feel that the future of our planet really is in good hands, take the time to look around the brewery as you sip your pint. Note the water tanks harvesting and filtering the good stuff straight off the roof or the company supplied bicycles available to staff for running errands like banking or lunch runs.

A glance skyward before you go in will reveal a solar heating system on the roof ensuring that nature warms the mash water so that less reliance is put upon the more expensive and energy-greedy mains system. A range of other staff incentives and generous community involvement further establishes the Goat’s pre-eminence in the field of ‘looking after the planet’.

As to the beer itself, it was Cascade who, in 2008, released its Cascade Green beer, a brew proudly boasting a 100% carbon neutral footprint. For those who knew that beer had a ‘profile’ or ‘character’ and perhaps even some ‘provenance’ but didn’t realise it had a ‘footprint, here’s the word. Cascade has worked on minimising greenhouse gas emissions and wastage in the brewing process for over a decade and has recently adopted even more efficiencies in waste water recycling, malting water use and waste management to achieve a 30% reduction in water usage per unit of production.

They have now gone a step further with a new innovation – a solar powered pub light installed four months ago at The Fox Hotel in the inner Melbourne suburb of Collingwood. Made from recycled plastic, aluminium and a fancy-arsed plastic called PETG it ticks all the boxes for standards required for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

An LED bulb set up illuminates the light box and the maker reckons it will give about 50,000 hours of service. No wiring means a publican can stick it anywhere without the expense of a sparky and the globes should last around 10 times longer than a fluro tube set up. It’s a little gimmicky and only a small thing, but even ‘the longest journey begins with the smallest step’. Geez, this saving-the-world thing is causing me to channel medieval Chinese philosophers!!

I know I may have been just a little sceptical of the Global Warming Alarmists and the trendy cause-fighters looking for political mileage, but at least this one is genuinely beer-related and seemingly immune from corruption and incompetence.

Maybe if Peter Garrett had jumped on this Cascade bandwagon instead of trying to stuff pink batts into everyone’s ceilings, he’d still have his old job? And Kev could’ve saved a shitload of Carbon Credits by staying at home, drinking Cascade Green or Mountain Goat Hightail Ale at The Fox Hotel and then sold the Solar Pub Light to those other peanuts in Copenhagen?

Prof Pilsner

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ale Stars plays Hop Scotch

Cold weather? Check. Warm fire? Check. Good company? Check.

Melbourne could not have put on a more appropriate winter evening with which to welcome Shandy home from a visit to Scotland and Ireland, his suitcases bulging with Scottish Ale.

And though the crowd was smaller (if 48 can be considered small for a beer appreciation session) the felling was warming and the mood certainly jovial. Maybe all the wisecracks and smart-arsed comments just carry better on a quieter night?

Shandy was freshly returned from his holiday but jet-lag may have made it a little difficult for him to understand some of our questions and comments. In that respect it’s probably a good thing that we were sampling Scottish Ales. Simple in their promise of a nice, easy drinking malt-fronted and moderately hopped beer, Scottish Ales was a style that few knew much about.

Our first beer was a wee treat in the form of a smuggled stainless steel keg of “Highlander” ale. And, yes, due to Customs restrictions, there could be only one. Shandy related the story of the somewhat startled Customs officer who noticed the metal shape on the x-ray and, perhaps wisely, asked Shandy to remove and explain it. “Four litres of real cask ale” was all the explanation she needed, although a closer inspection may have revealed that the cask actually held five litres. Shandy’s partner had nightmare visions of her family appearing in promos for Border Security before, thankfully, they were allowed through.

And it was lucky for us as well because this tin of ale was really pretty good. Enough hop character to appeal to the mature palate and gentle enough in natural carbonation to give us a genuine taste of real ale. The only drawback was that, by the time Justin had very carefully and skilfully decanted enough glasses for everyone and Shandy asked if we all had a glass, all but the last three people served could answer affirmatively as the other 45 had downed theirs in the meantime.

A little slower to tackle was our next beer, the Innes & Gunn Original. In contrast to the light flavours of the first ale, the I&G sang from the rooftops with aromas of vanilla and malt and a dash of Scotch Whisky. A warming alcohol warmth finished the taste profile and it certainly changed opinions on just what a Scottish Ale could be.

A local offering was next in the form of True South’s Wee Jimmy Scotch Ale. A wee heavy style (a name which harks back to the days of naming Scottish beers by the tax paid on them) this beer became better as it went on. Perhaps a bit cold to begin with, patience was rewarded and the flavour and depth became more apparent.

Our next beer was a Brew Dog Paradox Isle of Arran – a barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout and guaranteed to smash any remaining apprehensions about the quality of Scottish beers. Most Ale Stars were familiar with Brew Dog (it’s not like they hide their light under a wee bushel!) but few had tried many of their challenging brews. Plenty of flavour and whisky notes and coffee hints and chocolate and nuttiness and a few other descriptors I can’t recall right now and the room was divided as to whether or not this one was a winner.

A Belgian interpretation of a Scotch Ale to finish? Why not! Brasserie s’Achouffe Mc Chouffe, an 8% wee heavy had the Ale Stars sipping cautiously with most finding it quite agreeable. Most were of the opinion that the two Wee Heavies should probably gone together, leaving the Imperial Stout to finish. A now-weary Shandy didn’t have the energy to argue and the room, as a group, kindly assured him that, yes, he had f*&$’d up and that he should just get over it and move on. If your friends can’t bag you mercilessly then who can?

Trivia had a distinctly Scottish bent with bonus points awarded to the teams with the names ‘Shandy’s Mum, Glasgow Kiss, Scotch Crotch and my personal favourite which summed up the rich and broad traditions of Scottish culture; ‘Hee yoo Jimma ya wee cheap ranga Bastard, yoo wann-ee fight!?!’

A somewhat subdued version of Ale Stars then closed with most staying for a few wee afters while others moved upstairs as, apparently, there is some soccerball tournament being played somewhere or other at the moment.

Prof Pilsner

Monday, June 14, 2010

Which Beer is the Right Beer?

As I write this, I have just got off the phone from the brother-in-Law. Chris was just geeting into a pair of hospital scrubs and was on his way into an operating theatre to be his partner, Jen, as she was being prepped for a Caesarian section to welcome their first-born into the world.

The until-now named "Thor" the Viking Baby decided to arrive a couple of weeks early and, due to a rise in blood pressure, the Docs leaned away from an .. enticement? ... an encouraging? Whats the word? INDUCEMENT!! and went for the Cut & Shut instead.

I rang Chris and told him that there were only a few simple things to remember based on my own experience of my three visits to the Open Her Up And Let's See What Pops Out Room. Chris said he couldn't talk as he was due in the Op Room and I told him to relax; they won't start without you - Jen won't let them. Just remember this;

1) Hold her hand with one of yours and pat her forehead with the other. This keeps her happy and stops the Doctors and theatre staff from handing you any surgical instruments.

2) They hang a little green sheet so that you don't actually see any blood and guts and stuff as the baby is extracted. a) take a quick look over the sheet - when are you ever going to get a chance to do that again? and b) don't let Jen catch you peeking.

3) Don't worry that you haven't chosen a name yet. You get about 7 days to submit the birth certificate. More important is the choice of beer to celebrate the arrival. You don't get a second chance at that. Take your time and choose wisely. (Drinking inside the delivery suite or back in the room while Jen is still drugged to the eyeballs are not the best times to do this, however.)

I'm off now to choose a suitable beer to celebrate the early (and quite unexpected) arrival of the first child of a blond English/Scottish Australian and a dark haired Phiilipino.

There must be a beer out there that ticks all those boxes?! Lend me a hand and let me know if you can think of one.

Prof (Uncle) Pilsner


If it helps you with the beer choice, it's a boy called Joseph.
Born at 1050hrs 3.3kgs.Mum& Bub well. Both sleeping.
One because it's a baby and the other because it's drugged to the eyeballs.

Prof Pilsner

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fancy a Beer Dinner?

I don’t know if it’s the colder weather setting in, or if it’s the ‘flavour of the month’ or if it’s just a reflection of our growing affection for that wonderful amber nectar but it seems that Beer Dinners are all the rage right now.

As something of a ‘pioneer’ in this field I am obviously particularly stoked because I know what a great night they can be and how well they introduce people to beer in a non-threatening and informal way. If nothing else, they are a great opportunity to show folk how beer can be a crafted product, not just a manufactured item.

Here are a few of the offerings that have passed across my desk in the last few weeks and if you know of others on the way, leave a note and I’ll follow it up and post the details.

The Royal Mail on Spencer is having a Mountain Goat Beer Dinner on July 28. I’ve already booked my table. Here is their blurb;
Mountain Goat brewery of Richmond will join us for a fun night of beer & food matching on Wednesday 28th July. We'll create a menu to match a selection of Mountain Goat's beers & cider from Punt Road Wines. This will be a unique opportunity to learn about beer & food matching & enjoy Mountain Goat beers in an informal & fun atmosphere. The folks from Mountain Goat will be joining us & will happily discuss the finer points of beer matching & introduce us to some of their limited release beers. We'll have prizes on offer & look forward to a fun night. Please ensure you reserve your table as this event will sell out. Please phone Anna on 9329 6955 if you require any additional information.
Bookings: 03 9329 6955
Young & Jackson’s is one of Melbourne’s finest venues for a Beer Dinner and is steadily gaining a well deserved reputation as a ‘go-to’ venue for craft beer. Upstairs in Chloe’s Bar and adjoining restaurant you can enjoy a Beer Dinner featuring 6 craft beers from each of Otway Estate, Bridge Road Brewers, Matilda Bay and Mountain Goat between now and December with each brewer having a two month showcase spot.

This month the featured brewery is Grand Ridge and their Beer Degustation Dinner is on either June 15 or June 22 depending on whether you take the SMS or the website as accurate. 6 courses and 6 beers including two special new releases are on offer for $80 per head so if you’re keen it might be worth a phone call to clear up the confusion.

And The Courthouse Restaurant in Berwick is holding a Winter Warmer Beer Dinner, hosted by your very own Prof Pilsner on Friday June 25. Four courses and six beers for $55 per head but there are only a couple of tables left because, well, they are just so gosh-darned good fun.

And, if you haven’t already heard, The Local Taphouse in St Kilda is ramping up the whole food and beer matching thing with some sensational regular menu offerings which really showcase just how versatile and flexible beer can be as an ingredient as well as an accompaniment.

We are certainly becoming spoiled for choice, but it up to us to support these events so that continue into the future.

Prof Pilsner

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

So now I do Wine Dinners, too

I’ve been hosting Beer Dinners in various restaurants for about ten years now. Back when I began we were really just putting together four or five courses and ‘matching’ them with roughly the same number of ‘special’ beers. All lagers, all local and all ‘foreign’ to the punters present.

I’ve also done plenty of wine dinners.

That’s to say that I have arranged for a winemaker/wine rep to supply some wines and assisted with a menu to match. Pinot & Duck, dessert wines and special limited release oak-aged oddities with all manner of food pairings – I’ve seen them all.

But I tend to just host the evening, welcome the diners and introduce the guests. Then I sit back and leave the hard work to the experts. I don’t mind wine, but I don’t love it. Not a passion for me like beer is. I’m happy to deliver meals and pour the juice and leave the details to those who know.

So when I got a phone call on Friday night – fifteen minutes before a $75 a head Wine Dinner was due to commence – saying that ‘we have a small problem’, I got a little antsy.

The guy who was to run the wine dinner was explaining that he had just written off the wine and he wouldn’t be able to make it. “Sorry mate, the wine’s all gone”, he lamented. “How’s Michael (the winemaker)?” I asked. “Oh, he’s pretty badly hurt – the ambulance is on the way.”

Gotta admire the passion for his craft that he was considerably more worried about the wine than his mate but it didn’t help me. I now had a double problem. I had to re-think the wine matchings and provide something special from our own cellar and I had to make sure I had enough of each to water the thirty expectant guests.

But more scary than that, I had to host and run the dinner. That meant talking about the wine, extolling the virtues of the wine and food matches, running a trivia portion and putting each of five wines into an historical context. And what do I know about wine? Well, without down-playing my skills at all – very little. I mean, I can visually identify a white from a red but how far was that going to take me?

Beer to the rescue! Two of the guests were Beer Dinner regulars and I immediately set them a task. “Gillian. iPhone. I need two paragraphs on sangiovese! Andrew, something on alborino and pinot grigio! Get on to it!! And get me some stuff I can turn into trivia questions!!”

I introduced the evening and explained to the guests the changes to the printed program. Fortunately one of the diners had stopped at the accident to assist and most of the others had driven past or seen the flashing lights on their way in so I had them warmed up, so to speak. When Guy had told me they had pranged the car ‘just up the road’, I didn’t realise he meant 100 metres from the restaurant. And, yes, I had walked up to see that they were both OK. But NOT to see if any of the wine was salvageable. I could see it wasn’t, so I didn’t ask.

I won’t bore you with the details but let’s just say that it really is amazing what you can achieve with just a few simple tools. 1) a couple of friends with iPhones and the ability to break into the restaurant’s wi-fi signal, 2) some staff who are able to stay focussed and calm under pressure and 3) an extra generous pour of the first two wines. That, and a couple of gags and funny lines I remembered and a few well-chosen car crash jokes and all went well.

Allowing the staff to finish off the wine as they went made things a bit easier as well.

So, if you need someone to host your Wine Dinner, I now count that skill among my many others. And the beer at the end of the night tasted all the more sweet.

Prof. Pilsner

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ben brews something special

Ben Kraus cradles his previously proudest releases

As one of Australia's youngest brewers and brightest stars in the craft beer scene, Ben Kraus has delighted his drinkers with many special limited releases over the last five years. My own beer cupboard has been filled with Oak Aged Imperial Porter and The Harvest alongside Bridge Road Brewers all-year-round offerings.

But on Monday May 17 Ben began his AIBA Awards Week by welcoming his latest and arguably proudest achievement when partner Maria gave birth to a beautiful little girl, Lillyana.

Congratulations, Ben and Maria. As a father myself, Ben, you'll now find that you either have very little spare time to spend in the brewery or, conversely, you'll look for every single tiny little obscure reason to escape the house and get out to the brewery.

Either way, can we expect to see a commemorative release for the brewery's sixth birthday in the form of a ... oh, I don't know, maybe a Lillyana Lager? Ben's Little Girl Gueze? Maria's Mummy Marzen? I'm on a bit of a roll when it comes to naming beers at the moment, so, you know, let me know!

Prof Pilsner

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lame-bic decision

Further to yesterday’s post regarding the imbecility factor of Victoria’s ‘One Slap Fits All’ liquor licensing policy comes this next one.

I received an e-mail last week which reminded me of a new tax law amendment that came into effect last year. I didn’t write about it then because I really didn’t think it was ‘real’, that is to say that I assumed it was a glitch in the system and one whose folly would soon be spotted and the law changed.

But, alas, no.

First, some background. You’ve probably heard of ‘alcopops’? Cheap and cheerful fizzy alcoholic mixed beverages that are so full of sickly sweet sugary goodness that only an unsophisticated palate would find them enticing. Like, for example, teenagers and the feeble-minded. And those for whom beer is just oh-so, like, you know, like ... umm ... beery?! Yuckky!

Alcopops have been developed with the simple premise of getting alcohol into the system of the drinker without them experiencing any sort of nasty alcohol taste. It’s just some generic alcohol flavoured spirit like vodka or gin or whatever mixed with sugar and water. Sweeten them up and they’ll swig it down. Too easy.

Some of you have probably heard of Lambic beers, a style popularised in particular by the Belgians fermented, at least in part, by wild yeasts and flavoured with fruits such as sour cherry or raspberry and distinctive in their dry, vinous, cidery and slightly sour aftertaste. A good example of a true limbic is a joy for the beer lover.

But they are certainly not for everyone. Like, for example, those described above.

And yet – here we go again, folks – some people seem to think that there is no difference between the two. Because lambics are brewed with an addition of beet or candy sugar to achieve the right mouthfeel, alcohol content and, let’s be honest here, so that they conform to accepted brewing standards to be true-to-style they are classified under the same heading as RTD’s.

These RTD’s (Ready To Drink – See? They even have to dumb down the category description) have been identified as one of the main culprits when it comes to underage and binge drinking as well as anti-social behaviour such as bashings, assaults and other assorted incarnations of late night violence.

But Lambics? Seriously. Made for sipping and quiet contemplation, they could never be mistaken for an RTD. Leif Ryan, founder of Phoenix beers and importer of many of my personal favourites like Weihenstephan is running a petition that will hopefully allow the government to see sense on this issue. That’s despite the fact that this tax definition anomaly has already been brought to their attention. And they’ve ignored the pleas of common sense.

More of the story is here.

Prof Pilsner

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Beer retailer put to the Sword

This blog has always tried to support the retail side of the craft beer scene – afterall, without retailers getting the product out there, it’s all a bit hard, really.
One of Melbourne’s best, and long serving outlets, Sword’s Select, recently had the following message on their website’s homepage;
We have been categorized as a high risk operator and consequently penalized with a risk fee of $4770 per location on top of our normal Liquor License fees purely because we open before 9am. Our packaged Liquor Licence fees have increased as follows;
• South Melbourne Market $1686.20 to $6360
• Queen Victoria Market $1686.20 to $6360
• Clifton Hill $249.90 to $1590
• Prahran Market $500 - $1590
Now, those who have been to The Queen Victoria Market or the South Melbourne Market will know that they are a vibrant and essential commercial and community hub. The ‘feel’, the hustle and bustle, what Darryl Kerrigan would describe as ‘The Vibe’ – it’s what drives the market.

If you have a stall at the market, you need to have the stall open when the market opens because, well, that’s when the people come in because, well, that’s when the produce comes in because, well, that’s when the boats and the tractors and the trucks and whatever else brings the produce come in – early.

And I’m not sure that Swords can really be seen as a threat to law and order and public safety and binge drinking because they open before nine in the a.m. does the Liquor Licensing Commission really think that potential pissed idiots are going to stagger into the market and load up on Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier Dunkel at five bucks an each, or are old winos going to sneak in for an early opener of Beattie 06 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Yarra Valley at $239?!? Spare me!!

Support your local (or, as in my case, not-so-local) good beer retailer and let your local member know that we simply have to stop this habit of dumbing everything down to cater for the lowest common denominator.

Prof. Pilsner