Take an unassuming little country pub in an unassuming little country town and bring in a Bloke from the Big Smoke to select a menu of five different beers of very different styles to be matched by the chef with some local produce cooked up in some very ‘cheffy’ ways and what do you get?
86 very keen locals ready to be impressed.
Prof Pilsner was invited to The Plough Hotel in Myrniong to host a beer and food matching evening this week and a bit of Google-y research gave me little more than the town’s location and access to the Community Noticeboard so expectations were minimal as the Myrniong turn off came into view.
In fact, if I had to be perfectly Francis, there was half an expectation that the pub would come into view and visions of Bob’s Country Bunker would race into my head along with both its types of music. The reality could not have been further from the expectation.
The Plough Hotel is not just a pub in Myrniong – together with the school it IS Myrniong. 80 odd clicks from Melbourne and 30 minutes from Ballarat, Myrniong sits just off the Western Highway nestled snugly into a picturesque series of plains beneath Mt Blackwood. Its community is scattered throughout the rolling hills of the region and concerns itself with little more than the business of producing beef cattle, pigs, sheep and chooks as well as crops of barley, wheat, oats and canola.
Little surprise then that the dining room at The Plough was filled with farmers and teachers and CFA volunteers and rabbit shooters and local tradies and various pub suppliers and the entire production line workforce of Westside Meats (who we shall meet in more detail later). The only question was; How would these honest hard-working ‘folk of the fields’ brought up on that well-known mainstream lager of two simple letters greet a selection of Victoria’s finest small batch brews?
The answer wasn’t long in coming as the True South Kolsch was poured on arrival and drank with some very tasty Thai prawn cakes. Seriously, these boys and girls can get a party started. Some of them had a schooner in one hand as the other hand was still closing the front door behind them! After a few curious stares at the glass and less-than-whispered comments like “Geez. Bit cloudy isn’t it?!” and “Got a fair pong on it, eh?!” the keg tapped out twenty minutes after the doors opened. Can’t get a much better recommendation than that, can you Sam?
Chef Mark Mills who, with partner Jody, revived the run-down (and at the time closed-down) Plough just over twelve months ago wanted to treat his guests to some beer styles that they had never tried before and between us we figured we should give them a few ‘challenging’ beers as well as some more approachable ones. Mark sorted out the food side of things and my task was to showcase what good beer was all about while expanding the beery horizons of the appreciative locals.
A braised rabbit and white bean cassoulet was paired with Bridge Road Brewers Hans Klopek’s Hefeweizen – if we were to scare them, may as well do it early! For most in the room this was their first experience of a wheat beer and, after a brief discussion about the style and what to expect from it, I moved around to gauge the response. While it’s fair to say that some were still to be convinced (many after the second pot, mind you) there were many for whom this beer and the food matching was a pleasant surprise. A couple of non-beer drinkers were even heard to remark; “I like that! That’s not beer!” I’ll assume they meant that it wasn’t macro-swill.
As no-one had stormed out or demanded monies back by this stage we blazed on into the third course of Steak Diane with green beans and a keg of Mountain Goat Hightail Ale. Again, a big flavoured English style Amber Ale described by its creator, Dave Bonighton, as a ‘crazy mongrel’ for its American hop bang is not something many of the crowd would naturally seek out but the third empty keg of the night justified my decision to introduce them to Goat Beer.
Hungarian spiced lamb wrapped in a tasty flaky pastry pillow with roast pumpkin garnish rounded out the main courses and the Arctic Fox American Pale Ale, while a tad hoppy for some, was well received overall. And for those with any room left, the evening was capped with a Tira Misu matched with Holgate’s Temptress Chocolate Porter. While this proved a little dark and foreboding for a few, there was little left over when the tables were cleared.
Just the fact that the guests had worked their way through a Kolsch, a Hefeweizen, and English amber and American pale ale and a porter thus far was reward enough.
The various beers’ back stories and tales of the brewers certainly helped to paint the picture for them and ease the acceptance of these strange brews, but in general, the task was pretty easy. A relaxed atmosphere with plenty of food and more than plenty of beer coupled with a friendly host chatting to each table throughout the night made their initiation into the Good Beer World a relatively painless and enjoyable one. The fact that my hand still hurts today after the volume of vigorous shaking it copped as each guest left indicates that they left having had an experience they wanted to repeat.
As I left the next morning I discovered that it was an experience I would be repeating, too with a generous offer to return in eight weeks to do it all again with another five beers – this time from the expansive portfolio of Lion Nathan, whose regional representative was among those enjoying my light-hearted repartee and very ordinary gags. Goes to show, give ‘em enough beer and they’ll commit to anything!
This is a gig I’ll happily repeat and for some pretty compelling reasons that had not before occurred to me. Firstly, it’s great to get to meet people for whom beer is pretty much cold, wet, fizzy and from Foster’s and introduce them to the flavours and colours and tastes and mouthfeels and the stories of the beers that we who are a way down the track can take for granted. It’s comforting to talk to people who have just tried something for the first time that you now feel is an ’old favourite’ and listen to them tell you how much they like it.
Or to have someone call you over to say they’d never even heard of a Kolsch before tonight – and where can I get some more?! Even to see a hardened old VB stalwart (who only ever buys stubbies and not cans and never anything BUT VB) have even a few sips of Hightail, half a glass of Hefeweizen a mere sniff of an APA made the night worthwhile. To hear that he had three pots of Kolsch had me dancing on the table!
But, for me, the most pleasing feeling came from seeing a pub as it was meant to be – a hub, a meeting point, a gathering place for its community. No pokies, no pubTAB and no piss-heads spoiling the vibe. A vibrant and living place. A destination. In addition to the entire population of Myrniong, they came from Ballarat and Gisborne and Bacchus Marsh and Melton and they promised they’d be back.
Let me know if you want to join me next time – we might have to squeeze onto a table out the back, but it’ll be worth it.