Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Critics’ Choice

When the publishers responsible for the Beer Lovers Guide to Australia asked me if I would be interested in helping out on a new beer book I was happy to oblige. The book, they told me, would be a list of Australia’s best beers as selected by the experts.

To cut a long story short, ‘helping out’ grew into assembling and contacting the Voting Panel, crafting the voting criteria and then editing, contributing, proof reading and writing the introduction, the conclusion, the bits in between and then the Media Releases. That’ll teach me to agree on the fee before sussing out the work required!

Anyway, in the lead up to the launch of The Critics’ Choice this Friday it was decided to count down the Top 12 beers and give away the perfect dozen to some lucky bugger who did nothing more special than to click on a button on a Farcebook page. Two lucky buggers, in fact, each day for twelve days. How good is this craft beer caper, really?!

With one beer of the Top 12 revealed each day the webosphere has been abuzz with conjecture and congratulations, discussion and debate. But no one can really properly argue that beer in this country is all of a sudden in a pretty good place. It doesn’t seem so long ago that apart from one or two publications it was near impossible to find beer books in the mainstream.

It has been an experience to see this book ‘unfold’, as it were, and to hear the debate and the guessing at which beers should/would/could/MUST be in the Top 10. This is the one thing that was hoped above all else when the first tentative steps were made towards publishing the book. Rather than wish for no controversy or argument, it was hoped for. As a wise old man once said, “The only risk is to take no risk” ... or something like that – you know what I mean. If God hadn’t meant us to make mistakes then he wouldn’t have put those little rubbers on the ends of grey-lead pencils, I say.

And so, on Friday, the Critics’ Choice is born. But don’t race out and buy a copy just because you’re a mate of mine – I’m not on commission and, anyway, my pay cheque came through last week and that twelve dollars fifty is already going towards beers. Buy it because it’s one small step towards good beer becoming as popular as mainstream beers and because it is a cracking good book showcasing 100 damn fine Australian beers.

In fact, buy two copies and leave one lying around on the desk of the bloke who buys the office beers on a Friday arvo, or on the coffee table of the mate who always turns up to your parties with a six-pack of Bogan Bitter under his arm. Buy a third one to slip into the birthday present for the old man or for that dodgy uncle who buys his beer in ‘blocks’.

I’ll even happily autograph them for you when I bump into you at any of the many beer related events that I trick Mrs Pilsner into thinking I have to attend ‘for work’. You know? And keep up the good work, all of you. Good beer needs your continued support!


Prof Pilsner

The Critics’ Choice – Australia’s Best Beers is out on April Fool’s Day (no, really, it is) April 1st 2011 and is available from all newsagents and good book stores and even from some of the crappy bookstores as well. You know the ones. It’s only $14.95 so no excuses really.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Brewers & Chewers ... & Beer Blokes

Good Beer Week is shaping up as the biggest thing since ... well, since the biggest thing you can think of and it keeps getting bigger. If you had to be a beer nut then you could do worse than to live in Melbourne during the third week of May let me tell you.

The Local Taphouse St Kilda has opened up and taken a fair old bite of Good Beer Week with a very special Ale Stars on Tuesday May 17th and then on the Thursday 19th they will turn the downstairs area over to a rather lavish spread of ‘champion’ proportions.

Brewers & Chewers is a marvellous concept and one of which any self respecting beer nerd would be proud. A removal truck will pull up outside and clear the decks completely (leaving the bar and its twenty taps, of course) leaving behind a cosy nest of long tables and comfy chairs. Upon these tables will be placed a sumptuous three course feast and some special beers along with some very special guests.

A veritable cavalcade of “Beer Champions” will be presented to the assembled guests, in the form of a quick introduction and chat with your very own Prof Pilsner before they are dispersed to tables around the room to share their time and talents with each group. At the ringing of a ceremonial bell, the Beer Champions will arise and move one table along to continue the festivities until all tables have been visited or the champions have no voice left.

Beer Champions already confirmed for this ambitious first-run project include New Zealand’s Soren Eriksen from 8 Wired Brewery and BrewDog’s James Watt. As I have had extensive practice working as Shandy’s translator for the past three years of Ale Stars, James and I should have no problems communicating.

Local Champions confirmed are Beer Diva Kirrily Waldhorn and brewers Brad Rogers and Brendan Varis from Stone & Wood and Feral Brewing Co respectively. As good friends all of Beer Blokes, a special bell to stop us from chatting away together all night may need to be sourced.

So, for just $75 per head (bodies admitted free of charge – Dad Gags, gotta love ‘em) guests will enjoy Chef Richard Smith’s culinary delights, brews from each of the guest brewers, some lively and entertaining banter and some Q & A from the Prof as well as the exclusive company of some of the WORLD’S most respected Beer Champions! How good’s THAT!?!

If you have read this far and still not secured your booking, get over to The Local Taphouse blog and book a spot. Before the Beer Nerds hook all the good tables. Links to the page as well as to The Crafty Pint’s Events diary for Good Beer Week are popped below.

Look forward to seeing you all there,


Prof Pilsner

@goodbeerweek on Twatter

Friday, March 25, 2011


I've been a little slack lately. Actually, I've been flat out like a lizard drinking, truth be known but I've been slack as well.

I haven't been posting on the blog as much as I would like or need but that is not to say I haven't been giving the keyboard a thourough thrashing either. It seems like I am writing something all the time and then I look at the blog and wonder where it all went.

To keep (or put) you all in the loop here's the short version of what Beer Blokes is up to.

I have been writing pretty frequently for Australian Brews News which is a very fine online publication managed by good beer bloke and friend Matt Kirkegaard (Beer Matt). Matt is a proper journalist with years of real experience and he is certainly taking a huge risk allowing my drivel to pollute the webosphere, but that's the kind of mate he is. We are always talking about our writings and he also kindly provides editing and feedback on my stuff you might even see an improvement in the crap that reaches these pages in the future.

I'll try to be more proactive and run a post here when Matt publishes my pieces on ABN but for now, here is a link to his very good beer site.

Also sharing some of the time-and-written-word activity of the Prof is James Smith over at The Crafty Pint. Another fine friend and proper journalist (what is it me suddenly attracting journo mates? Still, if I had to pick a couple, these Word Merchants would be top of the list!) Crafty is as busy as a Benghazi bricklayer at the minute making sure the site is promoting everything to do with craft beer in Australia. And that's no small job in itself. He is also part of the steering commitee organising Good Beer Week which will take place in Melbourne from May 16 to 22 and centres around the AIBA Awards.

We have been working on a few specific projects together including some Beer Dinners and The Great Beer Debate and a couple of other little projects which should allow us to make an absolute shedload of cash and retire by the end of the week. Or not. I'll let you know.

So, between that and more than a handful of Beer Dinners I've been hosting at various venues and the new venues wanting to get on board and do dinners I've been writing menus and trivia questions and tasting notes and matching suggestions and whatever else. No excuse for not writing heaps here, but there's your reason! I think that's about it. What else ...? Hmmm?

Oh, I remember! The Book!! The Critcs' Choice ... it is a lovely little book which hits the shops on April 1st and attempts to gather together the cream of Australia's finest beer experts to put together Australia's best beers of 2010 and sort them into order from one to one hundred. No mean feat, let me tell you.

I have been fortunate enough to be involved from the start and have been busily assembling the Voting Panel and sorting the Criteria and then sorting it all into some sort of legible format. It's harder than you think to sit down and sort beers into any order and harder still to write comments on some of the beers to express your admiration for them. I'll keep you informed about the various goings on of the book and the controversy it is bound to generate. Keep an eye out for it in newsagents and bookshops from next Friday.

Back to work now.

Prof Pilsner

Friday, March 18, 2011

Some ‘Good Goat’ action

A big beer week for Beer Blokes last week and the highlight was the Mountain Goat Beer Dinner at Beer Deluxe.

Beer Deluxe has already established its credentials as a proper beer venue for many years with the focus on its tap list and an uncanny knack of attracting special, rare and other limited release beers through strong and loyal relationships with Australia’s favourite craft brewers.

Its bottle list has also developed a keen following in recent times and the outdoor area and cider garden have been a ‘go-to’ destination for casual catch ups while the downstairs space has been the podium for beer launches and other special events. But the restaurant/grill upstairs has always been something of an undiscovered gem.

On Thursday that changed when Melbourne’s favourite craft brewery, Mountain Goat, teamed up with the very talented kitchen crew and Prof Pilsner to unofficially ‘cut the ribbon’ on the Beer Deluxe Grill by treating an appreciative crowd to the first of what will be many regular food and beer events.

Mountain Goat co-founder and Executive (I don’t have to clean out the Mash Tun no more) Brewer Dave Bonighton and popular Road Goat, Tom Delmont were on hand to share the Goat Story as well as a representative selection of the fruits of the brewer’s craft. The beers were matched brilliantly with a series of dishes, each attempting to – and succeeding in – outdoing the last.

From smoked trout and fig with the Steam Ale, Skipping Girl Summer ale and Waldorf Salad, through two main courses of spicy Brazilian Chicken and Lebanese marinated Kangaroo with Rare Breed Goats IPA and Double Hightail Ale, every match hit its mark.

Dessert was a tasting plate of three different delights from fresh, tart berries to chilli-laced mousse which was paired with some carefully cellared Surefoot Stout. This alone would have been a finish befitting the tone of the night. But, in a taste of things to come, the expectant guests soon discovered that when you commit to a Beer Dinner at Beer Deluxe hosted by Prof Pilsner, well, expect the unexpected!

As the room hushed and the lights dimmed, Dave produced a carefully sealed carton from the vault and, in an unveiling ceremony of which Steve Jobs or Bill Gates would be proud, withdrew freshly filled bottles of Mountain Goat’s collaborative brew, The Thorny Goat Black IPA. Brewed with Aussie ex-pat and Production Manager at Thornbridge (UK) Caolan Vaughan, The Thorny Goat is not just Australia’s first international collaborative brew – it’s an absolute cracker.

By Dave’s own admission the beer is “only just old enough to be out at night on its own” and the decision to bottle and present it on Thursday night was made at about four o’clock on the same day and so some more time will see it present at its very best. Punters can expect to see it in bottles in about two weeks but the lucky ones at Beer Deluxe were treated to something very special as it really ‘sang’ with the dessert tasting plate.

The chilli-choc mousse provided the perfect foil for the hoppy charms of the Thorny Goat while the hints of roasty bitterness in the end palate gave the mousse some nice complimentary melody. Even the plate garnish of candied acidulated malt grains provided a taste of what might be to come for future beer dinners in the Beer Deluxe Grill.

It’s not for me to say here, but apparently the guests all spoke very highly of the evening as a whole and felt that the night was something just a little bit special. With some witty banter, Q & A with the brewers a little beer trivia and perhaps a couple of well-timed ‘Dad Gags’, it seems that a ripping night is guaranteed for those who book for future events.

The crew at Beer Deluxe, ably led by Barney Matthews and managed adeptly by Siobhan and Sam out front and Quentin in the kitchen have the dedication to their jobs to ensure that these nights are run smoothly and with an effortless efficiency. The food and beer matches are more than mere good luck and with details like Evan’s Goat Art in Hops and Malt (see picture) it would seem that early bookings for coming Beer Dinners would be advisable.

And, with brewers and their staff willing to support these events and the talents of the kitchen harnessed it looks likely that Beer Deluxe will take the next step in its development and establish itself as a Beer & Food destination for Melbourne’s ever growing beer crowd.

The next Beer Deluxe Beer Dinner is High Country in the Big Smoke which is an all-round sensory spectacular featuring Bridge Road Brewers beers for your mouth, Simone’s of Bright menu for your tum and Blank Vault Productions musical treats for your ears as well as the official launch of Ben Kraus’ very special 2011 Hop Harvest Ale. Tables are very limited and, if you haven’t gathered by now, I’d book quickly if I were you. Thursday April 14, $85 per head all inclusive and a 6.30pm start.


Prof Pilsner

PS A big shout-out to the guys and girls from Beer Deluxe who worked so well to make the night a success. To Sam and Siobhan, Evan, James & Gene and to Quentin and his kitchen crew; well done!

PSS An equally large thank you to all those who booked and came along to support this event – from my very own Ale Stars and friends to the secretly booked brewers and the many local beer lovers who took a bit of chance on the unknown.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Crazy Ales

After three years of Ale Star sessions featuring different beer styles, I guess there comes a time when the pickins’ get a little slim. It’s not that you begin running out of styles because a good beer style can always be revisited, and there’s nothing wrong with going over old ground anyway – it just makes it harder to ‘sell’.

And when you promote the latest session as one featuring ‘Crazy Ales’, well, you probably expect to see fewer bums on seats than if you are showcasing a more popular style with a new age Rock Star Brewer as special guest. While the crowd was perhaps a bit smaller than usual The Local Taphouse St Kilda proved once again that “if you build it, they will come” as forty-odd hardy souls sat down to what Ale Czar Shandy prefers to call “Unusual beers”.

Most drinkers of the amber nectar are by now familiar with the basic ingredients of malt, hops and yeast and most regular visitors to Ale Stars are probably familiar with the addition of fruits, spices and other vegetal media to enhance a beer or replace a more common ingredient. Those present were treated to four examples of the flexibility that beer has in carrying flavours and imparting new and unusual aromas.

Beginning with a Grozet Gooseberry & Wheat Ale from Williams Brothers in Scotland the Ale Stars were treated to bready and wheaty aromas mixed beautifully with lime cordial and freshly boiled lollies. A light carbonation and tart berry finish make for a refreshing drink. The “wee hairy grapes” as the Scots colloquially refer to gooseberries give the beer its character without overpowering the palate.

For those familiar with the latest addition to The Taphouse ‘family’ The Funky Brewster was on show for the next beer with the latest offering from resident Darlo Taphouse Ale Czar, Darren ‘Doc’ Robinson’s Zephyr White Ale making its way through some orange peel and native Pepperberries to produce a luxurious mouthfeel and tastes of citrus and spice in just the right measure. Patience was also a requirement as the Taphouse Beer Guru; James Smith struggled to unblock the outlet valve of lodged Pepperberries.

Mikkeller has been at the forefront of the global beer movement which can best be described as; “What can we possibly stick in a beer that hasn’t been tried yet?” After toying with specific yeasts and hop varieties through to barrel aging and adding weasel poo-flavoured coffee beans they have had a red hot go at just about everything. Their Texas Ranger has a fair bit going on in the glass with sweet and sour and spicy and smoky all wrapped up in a black richness with slight astringency in the end. Different? Yup.

We finished with a Beer Here Morke Pumpernickel Porter which you really have to try to fully appreciate the full range of flavours and mouthfeels as it slips effortlessly down. As Shandy put it so well; “not for a session but a real crossover for the liquid bread fans”. Enough said.

For an abbreviated crowd the night had plenty of atmosphere and chatter with the Mikkeller probably just edging out the Zephyr as the night’s favourite. The room at The Local Taphouse showed that whether you call them ‘crazy’ or just ‘unusual’ there is definitely a market for beers that showcase ‘different’ ingredients. And we couldn’t say that just a few years ago, could we?


Prof Pilsner