Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ale Stars gets all Dark & Mysterious

A chill wind blew them off the street and into the downstairs bar of The Local Taphouse in St Kilda last night and what greeted them blew them back out onto the street and home to bed very contented some hours later.

What greeted them was an enticing selection of Dark & Mysterious Stouts from around the globe presented in a dark and mysterious accent by loveable Ale Star Czar, Shandy.

We began our evening with ‘sweets’ in the form of an Indian Ocean Brewing Company Vanilla Milk Stout whose gentle sweetness was offset somewhat by 6.2% worth of warmth and firmness. The crisp cool of the Melbourne winter was set to be the ideal backdrop to some fairly hefty alcohol levels. This first up brew was sweet and enticing.

And speaking of sweet and enticing, Shandy then led us through his second favourite beer trivia quiz; “Which Scandinavian Country Does This Next Beer Come From, Again?” Justin was quick to his assistance with the correct answer, Denmark. I think.

HaandBryggeriet might sound like an exotic ailment of the liver or a special treat available in Danish saunas but it is, in fact, a 9% Imperial Wheat Stout which goes by the name of Dark Force. Perhaps if Darth Vader had sat down with The Rebel Alliance over a few pints of this they could have solved their differences amicably.

Murrays Heart of Darkness is as black as a dog’s guts but strangely inviting and welcoming. Raising the bar to 9.6% it was just as well we had ‘warmed up’ with some ‘lower strength’ brews early on. Crowd reaction to this one was good and it was interesting to see that a few were familiar with this from previous Taphouse visits and the consensus seemed to be that this incarnation was a slightly softer, more mellow version. Full and filling, this was just like a nice main course in beery form.

Those who stayed for ‘coffee’ were rewarded with a Peche Mortel from Dieu Du Ciel, a leftover from the Taphouse’s Moose & Mountie SpecTAPular but in no way an afterthought. Black and deep with a crema coloured head of foam it is not for the weak of spirit or for those who don’t like a good coffee. A thick creamy mouthfeel and a dry roasty finish paired nicely to send the satisfied punters back out into the chill evening with a definite warmth – of spirit!

It almost seems cruel and petty to say that numbers were down, but after a blockbuster 2nd birthday with 82 drinkers I guess any less is going to seem a quiet night by comparison. There were around 50 present and that says plenty about the state of the Craft Beer scene in this country at the minute particularly as many of the regulars are in the younger demographic categories. When I think about what was available to me at the same age and the quantities I could put away, I guess I’m glad – had I had access to the kinds of beer I drink NOW I know I’d have an empty wallet and a shredded palate!

Prof Pilsner

P.S. Due to a hectic Home Show preparation week and three different drinking commitments I forgot to bring my camera for the second session in a row! Check out the Taphouse Blog for slideshows of all the dark and mysterious fun.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Beer Blokes – The Stage Show

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. You wander around promoting Craft Beer and enjoying Craft Beer responsibly and ... well, drinking a bit of Craft Beer and eventually someone will tap you on the shoulder and say;

“Would you like to present a one hour stage show about Craft Beer each day at the Herald Sun Home Show & Garden Ideas Expo?”

That’s how I remember it happening, anyway.

But it’s true. Prof Pilsner will present the only beer-related show on the Food & Wine Stage at The Home Show next week. Working with Tim O’Brien, Chef and owner of The Courthouse Restaurant in Berwick, I will showcase three of Melbourne’s best known Craft Beers matched with food along with a bit of beer history, tasting guides and just possibly a little bit of fun.

We are promoting our sessions as “The Man Creche” where frazzled partners can leave their little men safely for an hour while they look at curtains carpets and co-ordinates and we’ll see that they get some TLC – Tons of Lager and Cheer. After all, this is Beer Blokes.

The Home Show runs from Thursday August 19 till Sunday the 22nd and our show, “The Beer Experience”, begins at 4 o’clock on Thursday and Friday and at 3 o’clock on Saturday and Sunday. We also have a stall at the Show just near the stage and with beer tastings available it will be Beer o’clock ALL THE TIME!!

Hope to see you there. For those Ale Stars that I’ll catch up with on Tuesday, come and see me and I might have a couple of free tickets left over for you.

Did I mention I will be handing out FREE BEER?

See you there – and wish me luck.

Prof Pilsner

P.S. If any Craft Brewers have a poster, flyers or any other sort of promotional material that they would like me to use to plug their gig, let me know. Happy to fly the flag for Good Beer!

Crown Ambassador Reserve Lager 2010

I was lucky enough to receive a Crown Ambassador Reserve Lager last week. A personalised gift in appreciation for my support of better beer appreciation. That’s what I reckon, anyway.

Part of me really wants to crack it right here, right now, let’s see what the fuss is all about. That’s the Beer Bloke in me. The Beer Lover, however, is sitting on my other shoulder whispering; “You know, this will improve with age, it will mellow and grow and mature. Put it aside and open it in three years, just like John Cozens told you!”

I’m torn.

I tell you what; I’ll tell you about this beer so as to promote it and get a bit of discussion going in the Blogosphere, as is my want, and I’ll share with you my thoughts on its charms and that way you still have the chance to go out and get one of the few remaining units for commercial sale if you think it’s for you.

Those who have watched this blog grow from some waffle I was writing for the amusement of myself and two others into the same thing but with two hundred hits on a good day will know that I don’t do beer reviews. For me, beer is as much about the occasion as it is about flavour profiles, IBUs and Grain Bills – not to say these things aren’t relevant – it’s just that the same beer can have many different personalities depending on my mood, the moment and the motivation for drinking it.

And anyway, what I smell, feel and taste might not be the same for you and my perception of bitterness or sweetness or beeriness might be totally different to yours. In other words, make up your own mind – it’s never wrong.

I love that we have a Crown Ambassador Reserve Lager. At the end of the day we need a strong beer industry in a country with a ‘rich’ beer culture and tradition and a relatively small population. The fact that we are moving away slowly from a swilling mentality, drinking less beer but drinking better beer means that we need the ‘Big Boys’ to play their part as well as the small artisan brewers. In this respect, The Ambassador has an important place in the beer landscape.

In a more visual way, it is doing for the beer scene what VB Original Ale did some years ago. What Willie Simpson described as the ‘premiumisation’ of VB was a move from “all beer is pale gold and fizzy swill” to “here’s a bit of a nod to the beer traditions of our past” with a beer that was based on what VB may have tasted like when it was an ale of the people. It also gave the opportunity to regular VB drinkers to ‘upscale’ without seeming a beer wanker; “What the F@#k ya drinkin’ there, Shags, some sorta poofter beer?!?” “Naaah!! Just old fashioned VB ya dickhead!”

I welcome Crown Ambassador Reserve Lager because it puts more ‘premium’ into a product than a fancy bottle and two cents worth of foil label ever could and it at least says that The Big House is prepared to brew something that is NOT for everyone but might just be much appreciated by those for whom it is.

After wasting all that wordspace on tangent-thinking, I’ll now prepare two more posts for your viewing pleasure on the actual product itself.

Not that I’ll review the beer, though.

Prof Pilsner

P.S. If you can’t wait a few days to see what I think, here’s a piece by Willie Simpson and one by Matt Kirkegaard.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Courthouse Restaurant overflows

About six years ago a bloke who loved his beer and loved sharing his love for beer sat down (over a beer) with a Chef who loved his beer and loved matching food with beer and discussed the idea of hosting regular Beer Dinners at the restaurant the Chef owned and the beer bloke managed for him.

After a few more beers they took a punt and marked the date in the restaurant’s diary. They put up some posters in the restaurant and started spruiking to anyone who’d sit still long enough to listen. After a few weeks they had heard plenty of people say; “Oh, that sounds ... interesting”, but the bookings book stayed blank. As the day approached they rang mates and regulars and eventually got the thing off the ground. A table of four and a table of two.

Fast forward to last Friday and the dining room of the very same restaurant was as full as fat lady’s sock with 42 people awaiting the commencement of the very same restaurant’s fifteenth regular Beer Dinner. They had beaten another dozen and a half folks who left their booking a little late to secure their tables as well as at least twenty more who had replied that they had other engagements on the same night. I know how THAT feels.

I guess that counts as success borne of persistence, experience and being too stubborn to admit defeat. It also points to a pretty healthy state of affairs in the Australian Craft Beer scene that more and more people are (A) aware of what a Beer Dinner entails and (B) willing to turn up to one and enjoy themselves. That more and more venues are also now taking a chance and hosting Beer Dinners is also a great sign for the future. Just saying, we blazed the trail, OK!

Special guest for the night was Matilda Bay Brewing Company Head Brewer, Scott Vincent, who led the assembled mass through five of the brewery’s finest drops, all matched to some sensational dishes from the Courthouse kitchen.

Beginning with the iconic Redback Original wheat beer and a similarly beer battered prawn with chermoula mayo, Scott told of his passion for brewing beer and, in particular, the joys of being the head brewer and thus brewing beers that you prefer to drink yourself. A short history of the brewery gave the guests an insight into the growth of the craft beer scene – without giving away the answers to the upcoming trivia quiz, planned by yours truly.

The next course, courtesy of one of our local suppliers of fine meats, was a German style Bratwurst matched with a German style Munich Helles, Big Helga. She turned out to be one of the most well received beers of the night as the Bratties were ... how should I put this? ... a little more spicy than the ones we normally get! There was a little trepidation throughout the room at the realisation that a Potato & Cauliflower Curry was listed as the second entree!

Fortunately, the curry was a flavour, rather than temperature-based dish and the Matilda Bay Bohemian Pilsner partnered delightfully with its sweet malt backbone, cleansing mouthfeel and taut bitterness. Just the thing to lead us into the main course, a mouth-wateringly sweet and rich lamb shoulder, slow cooked for six hours and accompanied by my MB personal favourite, Alpha Pale Ale.

I had promised in my introduction to the evening that Beer Dinners at The Courthouse Restaurant are designed to inform and educate – even delight – but also to challenge the drinker. Challenge the perceptions of what beer really IS, to challenge notions that ALL beer is pale gold and fizzy and the challenge palates to accept that FLAVOUR in beer is not a dirty word. Or an optional extra.

Alpha is probably the perfect beer to do all of the above and so it came to pass that many who had never tried it before said they would probably not have thought to seek out such a beer but were glad they had tried it. Others were kicking themselves that they had taken this long to discover it. For others it was a case of “I understand why you came up with Fat Yak”.

I always prefix my Beer Dinners by encouraging discussion. I point out that I don’t brew any of the beers on the menu and therefore I won’t be offended if someone doesn’t like one of the beers. Obviously, there was a need to qualify that statement when you have a brewer of the calibre of Scott present and, as predicted, somewhere between Beer Number Three and Beer Number Four (not counting the two or three ‘earlies’ consumed) plenty of opinion was offered. Fortunately, much was positive and the appreciation for the combinations of beer flavours and food characteristics made up for any lack of love for a particular beer style.

To finish, the now well-warmed crowd was treated to a rich chocolate mud cake with Carla’s dreamy coffee sauce and a homemade tuille with a decorative “MB” piped onto it. It was paired with Matilda Bay’s limited release coffee-infused dark ale, Longshot. The retelling of the meeting between Scott and gourmet coffee roaster Toby Smith from Toby’s Estate had the guests realising that beers can sometimes come from the most unlikely sources and that sometimes a true story can be better than anything a marketing man can up with.

If the previous beers hadn’t challenged perceptions, then this one certainly did.

I’m glad that early setbacks with hosting Beer Dinners didn’t deter us from ‘fighting the good fight’ and persisting with the concept. I’m glad that people like Scott and Neil from Matilda Bay are happy to ‘invite’ themselves over when I call them for some tasting notes. I’m especially glad when I look around a crowded dining room and see so many familiar faces mixed with new faces, all of whom have taken a punt, like we did, to try something different and to allow oneself to enjoy it.

Just kinda makes it all worth the effort, really.

Prof Pilsner

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Tale of Two Sittings

I overheard a comment last week regarding the number of craft beer events on the calendar generally and the fact that there were two sensational Beer Dinners happening on the same night at two separate venues and another just a few days later. The question was along the lines of the following; “Is this the sign of a Craft Beer explosion taking place?”

I think it might be. At the very least, the fuse has been lit.

The obvious problem is the one that arises when you have to choose one event over another. I had this problem last week when The Royal Mail on Spencer and The Local Taphouse in St Kilda hosted Beer Dinners on the same night.

Through the magic of the Wide Wide World of Webs I can provide for you here a review of each night – one drawn from my direct experience and one written by ‘remote control’. See if you can pick which is which.

Royal Mail Hotel on Spencer
Mountain Goat Beer Dinner

A venue fast gaining a name as a craft beer supporter, this was the Royal Mail’s first crack at hosting a Beer Dinner having had no small successes with Wine Dinners in the past. Anna, Peter and the crew had some pretty decent product to work with from both the Brewery and the kitchen and what they managed to present for their first effort was nothing short of sensational.

It’s a very good sign when you’ve only just got in the door, announced that you’re here for the Beer Dinner and they “Well, you’ll be wanting a beer, then?” That’s a welcome you take straight to the pool room. A Mountain Goat Organic Steam Ale was served with a smile and invitation to “just ask if you need another”. It hasn’t even started yet and it’s getting better already.

Some sustenance was soon in view as platters of ‘Holy Goat’ Sutton Grange Farm cheese on croutons were offered and we took our seats. Dave Bonighton and his ‘Road Goat’, Tom Delmont greeted us and promised to say little while the beer spoke for itself. Over-sized wine glasses filled with various malts and Galaxy hop flowers adorned the tables and Dave spoke passionately about the brewery and its place in the Craft Beer scene in Australia.

This Beer Dinner sat on the calendar where the Royal Mail usually has its “Road Kill” dinner featuring game and those sorts of dishes oft’ neglected by the standard establishments. Our second course gave a hint as to what can normally be expected in the form of Bellarine Yabby Salad, enoki mushrooms and lemon oil. Deluxe! Another Steam Ale set this off perfectly.

Roast Bendigo Squab with roast Congo (purple) Potato and Eggplant was next with the Goat’s iconic Hightail Ale complimenting the flavours and sweetness delightfully. Something of a surprise was the way in which the beer sliced through and yet complimented the smokiness of the paprika-laced eggplant. Tom and I nearly ‘did our necks’ we were nodding so furiously in agreement across the table.

The main course was the one I had been anticipating most as James Smith’s call of ‘Goat-on-Goat action’ was made real. Goat meat is not to everyone’s taste – in fact, most I have spoken to who decried it had also never tasted it! – but I couldn’t wait to see it done three ways. A slab of leg, braised and bathed in a Juniper jus, a bullion of herb crusted and lightly cooked loin and a delectable confit rillette absolutely sang itself off the plate. (James, if you’re reading this now, tell those dribblers at Epicure I can push this shit out week-in, week-out if they need a proper food reviewer!)
The co-highlight of the main dish was the long awaited return (for me) of Fancy Pants Amber Ale which, again, ticked all the Beer/Food match boxes.

Dessert took the form of a luscious chocolate brownie with choc sauce and the collaborative brew from Mountain Goat and the Wig & Pens’ Richard Watkins, Richard III Doppellbock. Nothing fancy about the cake, it is what it is and this made it the perfect partner. Simple flavours that the Bock could swing from.

We finished with a Bonta Gorgonzola dolce latte cheese paired with the Surefoot Stout. A fitting finish as it showed that a few quiet beers beforehand with the brewer and chat about what flavours and characteristics dominate the brew and a good chef will come up with a winner everytime. I don’t know exactly how many ales the kitchen crew shared with Dave but my guess would be “just the right number”.

I have been to few dinners where every dish just seemed to do exactly what the beer needed it to do and without fuss, muss or too much fanfare. Each of the elements of each of the dishes showed they deserved their place on the plate and nothing shouted over the top of any of the beers. To capture flavours that worked so well with a beer as light as the Steam Ale and as rich as the Doppellbock or the Stout was either the sign of a chef willing to take a bit of a chance, take some guidance from the brewer and trust his talents or the greatest single piece of dumb luck since Steven Bradbury said, “Are you guys OK?”

I reckon it was the former.

Prof Pilsner

The Royal Mail on Spencer is just 300m north of Expensive Street Station (Southern Cross)
9329 6955 www.theroyalmail.com.au

The Local gets Medieval on yo ass

The Local Taphouse St Kilda Winter Feast

Imagine, now a room adorned with the trimmings and trappings of a Medieval Master’s Lair. Heavily dressed tables with lavish settings, ceramic goblets – Bollacks, if you will – greenery clinging to walls from which the trophy beasts of the Master peer down as you arrive and the ‘noblemen and gentle-women’ gather around in anticipation of the coming feast.

Freshly shucked oysters (3 ways) on arrival were complimented with the relatively simple, yet perfectly matched Trumer Pils. A terrific “welcome” treat as the crowing crowd mingled and admired the mouth watering lamb and pork spits on the terrace, the sounds and smells of gently charring meats wafting forth to tease the senses. A surprisingly large crowd gathered (35+), some new faces interspersed with many familiar friends including Ale Stars, respected brewers, Local regulars - even the proprietors’ wives were not going to miss this one!

After being seated for the main course, Court Jester Justin explained a brief history of the Taphouse and its philosophies as well as the emergence of the “Winter Beer and Food Feast” idea (conjured by Justin and Head Chef Richard Smith over a few amber nectars after work one evening) and welcomed our very esteemed guests: Jayne Lewis (Mountain Goat), Ben Kraus (Bridge Rd Brewers), David & Karen Golding (Red Hill Brewery) and Steve Jurisic (Calendar Cheese).

With little or no further ado, the next amazing course of spit roasted suckling pig (with all the trimmings!!!) arrived accompanied by an Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier AND the Bridge Rd Megachile Pluto Braggott. Absolutely inspired choices: the Rauchbier’s smoked bacon notes developed a depth of flavour in the roasted pork that was mind blowing, whilst the Megachile Pluto provided a sweetening balance to the dish. For those playing at home, Megachile Pluto is, of course, the world’s largest species of honey bee (you already knew that, I suspect) and indicative of the scale of this Ale/Mead hybrid from Medieval times. Made with more than a fair whack of Beechworth Redgum Honey it is one out of the box and nothing less than what we have come to expect from Ben Kraus. Even if this one is down to Nardia Mc Grath, Bridge Roads Brewer in residence.

Refreshing the palate with a sip of water from medieval goblets the guests immediately regretted their over-indulgence on the first two courses with the dawning realisation that they weren’t even half way through the feast! Shaved spit roasted lamb, again with an array of outstanding sides and sauces, was served with a Mountain Goat Fancy Pants Amber Ale which, if you’ve read the first part of this review, managed to be in two places at once. The compelling aromatic hops of the Fancy Pants merged with the lamb’s herb seasoning brilliantly, while the malty undertones helped cut
through the creamy peppercorn sauce. In a word - outstanding.

The guests, by now incapable of any measurable movement, sat transfixed as dessert was served. Rich chocolate pudding with Samuel Smith Chocolate Stout sauce and a berry/saison reduction served with a Bridge Rd Robust Porter. One diner was heard to acclaim that, should he ever find himself on Death Row, this would be his chosen final meal. Samuel Johnson would also need to reincarnate himself in order that he might re-write his dictionary to include several new superlatives.

Finally, it was with a touch of guilt that Steve’s 5 cheese platter was welcomed to conclude the meal - guilt borne of the fact that all had eaten sooo much it seemed impossible that a full appreciation could be summoned to adequately compliment the quality of the selection he had provided. But, as is often the case, there is ALWAYS room for more of the finest things! The enigmatic Alpha Pale Ale matched beautifully, its bitey spiciness able to cut through the creamy textures whilst balanced enough to highlight the cheeses own complexities.

At this point, even had Oliver asked “for some more, please”, he would have had his annoying little face punched in and yet David and Karen Golding were able to get away with offering an extra special treat in the form of some barrel-aged Christmas Ale to truly cap a memorable evening for which all involved must be heartily thanked and cheered with a rousing Medieval “HUZZAHH!!!”

This feast would long be remembered as much for the respect shown to the foods served, the deference to the skills of the brewers and the artfully crafted matches created by Richard and his kitchen crew as it would be for the joy and friendship shared.

Reading back over what I’ve just written I could swear that I was actually THERE in more than just ‘spirit’. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I had some sort of ‘inside man’ taking notes and recording memories for me! At the very least, you’d reckon I had a fly on the wall armed with an I-Phone and a Twitter account.

In all, over little more than four hours and in two venues less than 9 kilometres apart, some dozen courses were created by a handful of chefs who managed beautiful pairings with around ten of Australia’s finest craft brews to the delight of nearly seventy craft beer lovers.

I think that points to the very healthy state of the Craft Beer scene in these-here parts.

Prof. Pilsner

The Local Taphouse St Kilda, 184 Carlisle St East St Kilda
9537 2633 www.thelocal.com.au