Saturday, November 20, 2010
A blend of old and new
I’m a beer drinker. Always have been. Never really into spirits and wine just ain’t my thing. Beer. Good beer and good company and I’m set.
Cocktails? Girly drink. Did have one on my Buck’s Night and can’t remember anything after it and haven’t had one since. You won’t get my attention by offering cocktails.
So when the calendar of events for The Local Taphouse St Kilda Ale Stars came out and I saw that November was listed as “Beer Cocktails and Blending” I had to look - and think – twice. Had we really exhausted all possible and available beer styles that we had to resort to ADULTERATION!?!
The assembled group was pretty much a ‘who’s who’ of the Ale Stars membership indicating that the topic may have scared off some of the crowd but a visiting group of Americans propping up the comfy couches swelled the numbers and gave everyone else a head start on the trivia quiz. Those souls brave enough to take a chance on Beer Cocktails sat eagerly awaiting the beery treats to come.
And what treats there were. Ale Star Czar, Shandy (and was there ever an opportunity to take the piss out of his nickname!?) explained that while Beer Cocktails as such are a relatively modern phenomenon, the practice of blending beers is centuries old. Whether to ensure consistency, to correct an unbalanced brew or simply to create different brands from a single batch, brewers have sought to mix and match beers.
We began with one of modern brewing’s most misunderstood creations, the Radler. A German word meaning ‘cyclist’ it was sold to thirsty lycra lunatics powering up the Alps by cluey bar owners wanting to strike a balance between satisfying the need for refreshment and countering the inability to navigate a bicycle after a few lagers. The original – far removed from today’s sickly sweet mainstream versions – was tart and citrusy and thirst quenching. The Taphouse version was spot-on thanks to a fresh lemon concentrate beforehand. Mixed 40/60 with Trumer Pils it hit the spot.
Having convinced the room that ‘blends’ weren’t all that scary after all and we wouldn’t be sipping shandies, the next concoction landed. You’ve all heard the expression, ‘some assembly required’? This was the beer version. Blend-your-own Faro. A small plate of ‘toffeed’ candi sugar and a glass of Cantillon Gueuze with a straw for mixing was a little daunting to some. The fact that the sugar was perhaps a bit too ‘set’ made it a bit more daunting. Persistence was recommended however, and those who stuck to the task were rewarded with a beautifully balanced drink of cheek-puckering tartness tempered with an underlying sweetness that replicated the original nicely.
The pictures below show Steve dissolving the sugar in his drink. The first picture is time-stamped 7.55pm and the last one 10.15pm. Steve’s sugar still hadn’t completely dissolved as this piece went to air.
Who likes cake? Yeah, we all love a bit of cake. Black Forest cake? Even better! Black Forest Cake in beer form? Where do I sign?!? St Ambroise Oatmeal Stout and Lindeman’s Kriek. Two more complex beer styles you couldn’t hope to find. Put them together in a glass and it’s dessert for sippin’. The tartness of the kriek combined with the richness of the chocolatey stout made for a terrific representation of the original dessert. Inspired.
How do you finish a night like this with a topic like this? With an old standard of course. Everyone asked to name a blended beer drink will eventually come up with a Black & Tan and this was the perfect note on which to finish. But not the time-honoured classic of Guinness and Bass Pale Ale but a very Australian 2010 version featuring the liquid charms of Feral Hop Hog and Moo Brew Imperial Stout. As each Ale Star poured their jug of Moo Brew Stout (and doesn’t that sound decadent enough?) over a spoon and into their Hop Hog the room fell silent before erupting in little explosions of “Look at that!!” and “Oooh!” and “Aaah!!” as glasses were held aloft and the contents examined for perfect settlements. This was beer with theatre.
The Local Taphouse is to be commended for not only creating an environment where beer can be truly appreciated but which also refuses to rest on its laurels. If anyone had dare suggest even a few years ago that forty people would pay forty bucks each to go to a little pub in an out-of-the-way location to drink beers mixed and blended with other beers for them by a dodgy (in a very nice way) unintelligible Scotsman you would have been laughed straight back to the asylum.
The fact that Beer Blending was set aside as a session for some pretty serious – and very-not-so-serious – people is both a credit and a delight. My only hope now is that by the time I write something in a few years time it will be about the fact that there is something like The Local Taphouse in every state. I’m starting to feel a little guilty that we and Sydneysiders have this all to ourselves. And you can blend that any way you like.
The winning trivia team (No Name, Just Rude Pictures) enjoys their prize - The Beer Lovers Guide to Australia. Simon gives it '2 thumbs up'!!