Monday, April 25, 2011

Seeing something in a new light

Whilst I have never served my country in time of war and have little real family connection to the ANZAC tradition I have a long ‘history’ with the day itself.

As a preschooler I can remember being taken into town to The Shrine of Remembrance on St Kilda Road rugged up in tartan dressing gown and Grosby slippers. As a schoolboy I can recall learning about the birth of the ANZAC legend and the forging of the Nation’s identity in fire on the shores at Gallipoli. I remember learning of my Poppa’s exploits in Papua New Guinea during WWII and how he made a good earn putting his Melbourne City Council skills to good use recycling military leftovers into souvenirs.

In secondary school I felt caught up in the apparent sudden backlash against ANZAC Day and the argument from the Left that the day was less a commemoration and more a glorious celebration of war, white men and the subjugation of women. I know I learned the ‘moratorium’ from driving past anti-war graffiti in the city. This was followed (seemingly overnight but I’m sure the years have dimmed the accuracy of the memory) by a groundswell of fervent devotion as the public came to realise that the last of the original Diggers would soon disappear. It was as if a switch had been flicked and it became something of a pleasant duty to attend a commemorative dawn service on ANZAC Day.

And so it was in this morning’s foggy dawn that my 15 year old and I attended a local RSL service along with some thousand others. No more than ten years ago we would stand three rows from the clock tower with no more than three or four rows of people behind us. We would arrange to meet friends at dawn and have no trouble finding them. Over the years the crowd has grown to the point where the organisers don’t bother asking the crowd to pay their respects after the service so as to estimate the numbers. We took up a spot just off the footpath, two figures in the mist standing in the middle of a ‘people soup’.

Talking to a bloke who must have seen off his 80th birthday a while back got me thinking about many things, not the least of which was the sacrifices made, the friendships born and the mates left behind. But that’s not for here; I also thought about the way in which many of these blokes will spend the day.

They will play two-up and tell tall tales. They will fondly remember the larrikins and the work-dodgers, the leaders and the lost boys. They will proudly wear their company colours and their decorations but they will not ‘talk up’ their own achievements, nor will they whinge about the privations and hardships they survived. They will do all this – and more – as groups, as teams, as companies and battalions but, more importantly, as comrades. And they will more than likely do it over a beer.

And the beer will more than likely be VB or Carlton Draught. Many were already onto their second or third pony of the stuff at the RSL bar by the time we got back to our car. It will be significant to them. It will mean something. And here’s the thing; for all the discussion and debate and sometimes anger over what many see as a glib or opportunistic promotion by CUB to ‘cash in’ on ANZAC Day with their ‘Raise A Glass’ Appeal and the money it donates to Returned and Services Leagues around the country, it means something.

It may not be what I would choose as my everyday beer nowadays (although there was a long time for which it was) but if I had been able to go back for the Gunfire Breakfast at the RSL and the bloke I had met earlier handed me a foaming pot of ice cold VB, I’d be honoured to share one with him. No doubt as many kegs as there are surviving diggers will be emptied in bars and clubs around the country today and I doubt many will be Strong Belgian Ales or Double Imperial Russian Stouts.

But as you down the next glass of your current favourite craft beer, spare a thought for the blokes who felt it their duty to fight against tyranny and injustice, who gave up a fair bit of their youth and beyond and then returned to rebuild a country where today we enjoy the freedoms so often taken for granted.

Have a look at VB for what it is for so many blokes. It’s a brand, not just a beer. It’s a memory and a sign post and it’s quite possibly what gave them the edge in dire times. Today it is inextricably linked to binge-drinking and bad behaviour, to bogans and bar fights, to cheap-and-nasty. It is called ‘macro swill’ and ‘wife beater’ and it is used as currency when describing the bottom of someone’s barrel. And maybe that will never change for some.

Maybe for one day at least we can look at it fondly, for their sakes. Have a beer today just to be thankful. Even if it’s to be thankful that we have plenty of good beers other than VB with which to toast.

But I’m going to have a VB.


Prof Pilsner

Saturday, April 23, 2011

More beery fun at The Plough

You may recall the fun and frivolity that prevailed at the Plough Hotel in Myrniong when Beer Blokes hosted their first formal Beer Dinner back in February. 86 locals – and ‘local’ up Myrniong way means everything between Ballarat and Melton – turned out to enjoy Prof Pilsner’s ‘Introduction to Craft Beer’ with five different styles represented.

The very generous Lion Nathan rep, Paul Mitchem (no relation, slightly different spelling, top bloke, can drink a beer!) allowed Chef and Licensee Mark Mills to turn over the contracted taps to beers from Bridge Road Brewers, True South, Mountain Goat, Holgate Brewhouse and Arctic Fox. To say we challenged the punter’s perceptions of just what beer can be is an understatement.

By way of a reciprocal arrangement I was invited back by Paul to present a selection of Lion Nathan portfolio beers matched again to Mark’s simple but sophisticated country fare. Well, I assumed fairly early on that the last dinner had not dampened the enthusiasm as 102 beer lovers turned out this time around for some more small town hospitality.

And they know how to do hospitality out that way as evidenced by the fact that I was greeting people as they arrived and shaking hands with blokes who had somehow already managed to secure a schooner of the on-arrival beer, Kosciusko Pale Ale (number 52 in The Critics’ Choice) in the preceding seconds. The house rules for Beer Dinners at The Plough are quite clear and once the first keg was emptied the guests were invited to take their seats for their dinner proper.

Spicy fried calamari was paired with Knappstein Reserve Lager (number 5 for those playing at home) and the crisp richness of the beer was a pleasant partner for the bright flavours of the food. The mix of first-timers and returning guests was about fifty-fifty but fortunately the ‘regulars’ had forgotten most of my witty gags and I was able to recycle most of the really good ones as we moved into the second half of the dinner.

Before that, though, we were treated to something a little different and something many (if not most) country pub restaurants would be shocked to find on a menu. Mark had taken eight litres of James Squire Pilsner down to his sorbet/ice cream producer and returned with the most luscious, creamy but sharp pilsner sorbet you could imagine. The sorbet shone well enough as a palate cleanser on its own but then the beer just seemed to appear from nowhere as the sharpness and sweetness began to fade. Just the right level of bitterness then washed over the tongue to cleanse leaving the unmistakable memory of fine malted brew.

The Chef even matched the sorbet with jugs of the aforementioned pilsner. That’s hospitality for you.

These treats were mere precursors to the main event – or, more accurately, events – as the confit duck with braised red cabbage arrived hand-in-hand with Mac’s Sassy Red representing the New Zealand arm of Lion Nathan and therefore NOT featured in The Critics’ Choice but worthy of inclusion if a Kiwi version is commissioned. Yes, I’m available as Editor at Large as required. Contact at the usual outlets.

The MAIN main course featured Beef Bourguinon which had spent the best part of the previous day bathing in two cases of red wine before being drained, char-grilled, rested and re-heated for our dining pleasure. It matched a treat with the Mad Brewers Scribbly Gum Lager whose smoky backnotes and crisp finish mirrored the caramelised edging of the beef and cleansed the palate as well. A masterful match.

Dinner isn’t dinner without dessert and an orange and mandarin parfait (“everybody love parfait!”) sat beside the citrusy sharpness of the Hahn White Belgian styled witbier. The staunch sweetness of the beer managed a respectable partnership with the creamy sweet dessert and many were seen attracting the attention of the serving staff for extra helpings. For those wondering, a quick poll showed that the Scribbly Gum Lager was the pick of the night. Paul and I both breathed rather large sighs of relief as we had earlier pegged that as the ‘stumbling block’ beer of the night. Turns out the beer world is just full of surprises, eh?!

As the night wound down and the town taxi (that’s real, not a euphemism for any particular local) made its third round trip I sat with a handful of regulars and chatted all things beer. As one local identity remarked, “Mate, it’s not a bad effort. You got a f@#*&n’ town with a f#@*&n’ population of about 230 and you manage to get 102 of ‘em in to a pub in Shitsville on a f@#*&n’ Wednesday night for a f#@*&n’ Beer Dinner! That’s pretty f#@*&n’ good!”

His mate turned as he rested his pot on the bar and pulled him up, “Ease up, Shags. Remember, it’s actually OFF the road to Shitsville.”

I’m back again for two Beer Dinners in June, one as a fundraiser for the Myrniong Primary School which is the OTHER building in Myrniong apart from the pub and I can’t wait. Why don’t you join me? They love welcoming folk from the Big Smoke.


Prof Pilsner

Friday, April 8, 2011

Naughty Raspberry Beer

[I first published this 'tale' back in August 2009 when I was setting the menu for a beer dinner at The Courthouse. As we will be unleashing this ale on a hundred or so country folk at The Plough in August this year, I thought I'd do a bit more research and revisit this story of beer, broads and political correctness. Or something.]

Some more Beer Karma. I was sorting out the beer selection for the Beer Dinner at The Courthouse Restaurant featuring Spring Beers and had decided on Jamieson Raspberry Ale for the dessert. It just so happened that I had a couple left in the fridge from my recent visit and I thought to myself, “well, that’s as good an excuse as any to crack one and remember what it tastes like – for research purposes, of course!”

Looking at the label I recalled how Jeff Whyte had changed the look of this one to reflect the line that the beer is ‘Anything But Sweet’. It now has a stylised raspberry shaped hand grenade which suits the beer nicely.

It also made me recall the lasting impression I got as I left the brewery with my takeaways. A large poster frames the exit door and, had I not been in a hurry, I would have unpacked the camera and snapped a memento.

The poster depicts a beautiful and artistic representation of a reasonably well known fairy tale character who lived with seven ... short statured? ... diminutive? ... under-sized? .... oh, for f*&@s sake, they’re DWARVES (I’ll get around to giving you a serve soon, do-gooders!).

Again using the tag line of ‘Anything But Sweet’ ‘Ho White’ is seen blowing Smoke Rings (the mysterious Eighth Dwarf) while snuggled up in the bed with her seven live-in miners. I thought it was one of the funniest pieces of tongue-in-cheek advertising I had seen in a long time.

This morning I read that the Evil Empire, The Disney Corporation, has had a Dumbo-sized hissy fit that THEIR sweet little girl was being used without their permission. By which I’m sure they mean a large hunk of cash. Call me crazy, but I didn’t think anyone owned fairy tales except those that wrote them in the first place. I could be wrong and maybe Disney has bought the cheeky little Woodsman Woo-er and her crew of Dopey, Grumpy and otherwise mal-adjusted mates.

Either way, lighten up. The kids won’t see it and no one else cares.

The beer, by the way, is a cracker.

Prof. Pilsner

Check it out here