Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Australia Day 2008

A beautiful warm day, friends over and little kids running about, a table full of food and a couple of eskies full of beer. if the founding fathers could see us now they’d say; “Good onya, this is exactly what we had in mind when we sent all those convicts, dregs and no-hopers over there to set up a country.”

Well, they probably didn’t think that at all, it was more like; “Orh, Shit. This is not anything like the postcards. How are we supposed to grow English breakfast Tea in this dry barren dirt?” But we are glad that the convicts and the free settlers had the smarts to get it together and create a nation which has been fortunate enough to avoid the upheavals and invasions suffered by so many ancient regions throughout the world. And we have some fair beers, too. Although this was not always the case. More of that in a later post.

For now I will take you through an Australia Day barbecue. First, by way of a cultural history lesson, here are some facts. Australia Day is celebrated on January 26 each year. The day was originally called Anniversary Day then, from the early 19th century, it was called Foundation Day. In 1946 the Governments of the day all agreed on Australia Day, to be celebrated on the same day. We all used to get a Public Holiday on the Monday after Australia Day, then we didn’t and now we do again, I some states at some times. Or something. I don’t think anyone really knows how it works, we all just leave work on the Friday and say to the boss, ‘See you Tuesday.’ Everyone whose boss doesn’t say anything gets the day off.

Around at Prof. Pilsner’s place the gang gathered for a BBQ. The table overflowed with steak marinated in Bundaberg Rum, mustard, fresh rosemary, honey and olive oil, some of the biggest, juiciest Australian prawns I’ve ever had, kangaroo in Cooper’s Special Vintage Ale (2004) and BBQ steamed whole Red Snapper with chilli and fresh herbs. To celebrate the diversity we enjoy in Australia, we also threw on some fried rice, BBQ’d dim sims – you have to try them - and Greek style lamb with chilli, oregano and lemon.

The conversation, as is normally the case, was fairly immature, rude, puerile and too boring overall to bother you with here, but let’s just say we can all be thankful that we have the freedom in this country to take the piss out of just about every aspect of every facet of every persons life, belief system, work status and sporting allegiance and everybody else just takes it in the light hearted manner it deserves. Know what I mean?

The beers were fairly straightforward representatives of the Australian standard lager – VB, Melbourne Bitter, Crown Lager, Cascade Premium, Tasman Bitter and Boag’s Draught. No nonsense beers for a hot day of trash talk and catching up with mates. And plenty of them.

I will leave the story here because the youngest Pilsner had a big day yesterday with everyone around and no daytime kip ad now she’s bugging me for everything from a cuddle to more prawns and a bottle and I will have o tend to her ever changing needs and whims.

Hope you all had a good Australia Day and stopped for a second during the day to reflect on just how God-Dammned-Blessed-and-Lucky we are to live in the great wide brown land. Down Under.

Prof. Pilsner

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Beer and Chinatown and Spamalot

Regular readers will be familiar with the thoughts of my brother-in-law - although he has not yet posted a comment under his own name. He tends, rather, to employ the persona of either North Melbourne AFL footballers from the 1970’s or past Australian cricketers with moustaches. Needless to say, he is a good beer bloke and when we catch up the conversation tends to steer itself around to beer.

One such recent occasion was last week when he and his good lady wife and me and Mrs Pilsner caught the Melbourne version of the current musical comedy, Spamalot. A ‘trip into town’ as my late dear old Nan use to call it, still fills me with a certain childish anticipation and puts me in a nervous ‘silly laughter’ type of mood. Tuesday was no different and a balmy, humid Melbourne evening was just the backdrop for a night of dining, drinking and Monty Pythoning.

We met up at the theatre bar and availed ourselves of the advertised James Squire (Lion Nathan) brews. A quick Amber Ale for me and an Extra Dry for him and we even remembered to buy the ladies some bubbles. Good work. We decided that, as we were so close to Melbourne’s acclaimed Chinatown, we would wander til we found a place that looked good. It also had to pass the Chinese Restaurant Test. No neon lighting at the front, no pictures of food for a menu and it had to have at least one of the following words in its name; Palace, Dragon, Golden, Emperor or Jade.

The Golden Orchids was immediately chosen unanimously and up the rickety stairs and it was straight into the beer list. Now, Melbourne Chinese restaurants, particularly out in the suburbs, are not recognised as being front runners when it comes to extensive or even imaginative beer lists. But what the Orchids had was a list with plenty of local and standard imports as well as three or four Chinese representatives. But the kicker was the fact that the prices seem to have stalled in about 1995! Five fifty for Crownies and imports had us checking for typos. Having discussed the choices and corrected the spelling, we were on the cusp of ordering a Tsing Tao as the default beer when I spied a ‘table talker’- those little tent cards with supplier sponsored specials- and we had discovered Shang Hai. Five bucks. Two, please, China!*

We had only little more than half an hour to get back for the show but our host and waiter – and, I think, at least a part owner of the joint- was right onto it with symbolic Chinese restaurant flair. I bring da beer, you pour it, kinda guy. But quick, friendly and efficient. I actually don’t mind pouring my own beers anytime, any place, but I have always wondered why, in Chinese restaurants, they either provide delivery only or half fill your glass; some assembly required. Maybe it’s a superstition thing. Or maybe they just want to keep us all wondering.

So anyway, half an hour and four Shang Hais later it was off to the theatre and a quick trip down to the 7/11 by the girls for water and Maltesers at only ridiculously marked up prices. The ‘take your seats bell’ had begun to ring and this gave the boys enough time for just one quick lager before the girls got back and before the doorman enforced the Lock Out. The show itself deserves more space than I can dedicate here, but, if you are a Monty Python fan you will enjoy it. Actually, even if you have not even heard of Python, like my sister-in-law, you will still get a good laugh. For the purposes of this blog, my review can confirm that no beer was seen on stage, nor were there any references to beer or brewing. It only had marginal booby exposure - and here is some;

We could have had a Beck’s or a Crown Lager at half time but decided that we had done well to this point, we both had to drive, the second half was about to start and we both prefer a Beck’s only if we know that the things have been chilled to within an inch of its life. We ended the evening with a promise to do something similar again and, if I can find another little ‘hidden gem’ restaurant with good beer, I’ll be more than happy. And, of course, I’ll let you all know.

Prof. Pilsner

*For those unfamiliar with ‘rhyming slang’, China is short for ‘China Plate’ – ‘mate’.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Beer and Work – Part One

I was prompted to commit these musings to virtual paper by a comment posted by Frank Marchesani (not his real name) regarding drinking and employment. Let me ‘hit one to the fence’ off the first ball of the innings by saying that there is really no place for drinking on the job in any instance except when your job description includes the words ‘Beer Taster’. I can’t run the risk of being seen to promote irresponsible beer-haviour.

I don’t, however, have any problems with celebrating at the end of a shift with a number (insert your favourite number here) of refreshing frosties. Several of the jobs that I have enjoyed have only been made so by the inclusion of the local breweries’ finest upon the conclusion of the paid festivities. Indeed some jobs were not rewarding enough for me to return for the next instalment were it not for the provision of ‘knock off drinks’. And when you have spent so much time in jobs dispensing drinks to numerous patrons it is only natural that, come the end of the shift, you would want to see what all the fuss was about.

The relationship between Dr Lager and me began at primary school age – Sunday School, would you believe – and as we matured (?? - aged) we managed to land jobs which were run by people whose hiring policy ran along the lines of taking the good staff aside and saying; “So, you got any mates looking for some work?” as a result of which, at one stage the Doc and I had worked at about ten different jobs which we had procured for each other. And, now that I think about it, most involved having a quiet ale at the final bell. The hospitality jobs were obvious for this activity, but others were just about young blokes having fun, working as hard as needs be and then debriefing afterwards with some liquid downtime.

One such outlet for our merry ways was a horse riding holiday camp for kids aged 4 to 14 which we managed to stay employed at for every holiday period for something like eight years. We had attended a Youth Group at the venue previous to this and the then owner was so impressed by our exemplary behaviour and fine upstandingness that he invited a few of us to return in the summer as camp leaders. And, like in the shampoo ad, ‘they told two friends, who told two friends, and so on and so on and so on!’ until the whole crowd of us had done at least one camp. The Doc and I, along with Stacky who now lives across the Nullarbor, were the mainstays of this warped leadership patrol clocking up around forty camps between us.

And, strange as it may seem, we really were good leaders. The activities were all planned and conducted without major accident or incident, the kids were all fed and looked after well and the only littlies who suffered any serious mental adjustment issues were already like that when we found them and we never had anything proven. Plus, we never lost any, despite the pleading and the bribes from some of the parents upon drop off. But how, you ask, did we run such a tight, well oiled and professional holiday educational program? Why, beer, of course.

Now, we never drank on the job, but one or two nights out of 14 we sat back after the last of the stay-ups had finally dropped off to the Land of Nod and cracked some relaxing tins. We sorted out beforehand who was going to take the early shift next day and who would score the sleep-in and then it was on with the merriment. It was on such occasions that we discovered, shared and passed on the traditions of some of the finest drinking games and launched in to the longest and funniest of shit talking episodes ever launched.

Also on the agenda was attempting to break the previous record for crushing cans stood one on top of the other. Once the tower was complete, the attemptee would take his place up on the table and then try to jump as vertically as possible on to the geographical centre of the top can. For the feminists out there (in case one stumbled across this site – what?! It could happen) I used the term ‘his’ in the last sentence, not at the exclusion of the gentler gender, but because, put simply, none of the female leaders was ever stupid or drunk enough to pull off this stunt. They did, however, join in the froth-fuelled mayhem of a quick round of ‘Dent The Can’ (explained in some detail in the Drinking Games post from November 07) which was always good for a chuckle and some First Aid.

As I stated earlier, the kids were always in very safe hands and painting smiley faces on their sleeping bums and making them punch themselves in the head and memorise the safety instructions on the fire extinguisher were all done while we were sober and besides the Statute of Limitations has well and truly expired and we can’t be touched. And the kid we convinced to fill the shallow end of the pool with water taken from the deep end of the same pool was a bit dim to begin with and he had the most fun he had had all week for that three and a half hours. Plus, at least one of our favourite charges is now a respected journalist and social commentator and, if she’s reading this, I COULD just be making all this crap up. Could be.

More on Beer and Work soon.

Prof. Pilsner

Friday, January 18, 2008

Corey is a Dickhead

The Media, The Beer and The Bullshit – Part Two

Corey, you’re a dickhead.

But, in some ways, it’s not your fault. In many ways it is, too. If those reading this have not yet become familiar with the story yet – here it is. I make no apologies whatsoever for any judgements I make about this story and the people involved in it, because, to break it down into terms that even Corey could understand – “You started it!.”

Corey is a sixteen year old living with his Mum and step Dad in a well kept and comfortable house in an outer eastern suburb of Melbourne. Corey’s parents had organised a Queensland holiday from which Corey pulled out at the last minute because he ‘had to work’. While his guardians were away he did some organising of his own in the form of a party at his home. Rather than a quiet gathering of a few of his closest chums to watch some sport or a Disney movie, he decided instead to ‘invite’ 500 well wishers and freeloaders via a message on My Space and a series of snowballing text messages.

To sum it all up simply, Corey’s event-management skills led to a rather unruly and noisy shit-fight breaking out in the street. 30 police, the Dog Squad and the Air Wing eventually restored order and calm to the proceedings, but not before extensive damage was done to the neighbouring properties, the streetscape, the windscreens of the attending police vehicles and the reputation of his parents within the neighbourhood. And, rather than repent or, at least, show some element of remorse, Corey chose instead to ride the wave of media generated hysteria that seems to be the standard response to outbreaks of dickheadedness today.

I say today because things are vastly different to than they were even a decade ago. You see, we were all a little like Corey at one stage of our lives and we all had elements of his mental make up at our disposal. We all at least thought about throwing a ‘do’ at our place while the ‘olds’ were out and we had probably enjoyed the fruits of forbidden underage drinking. What most of us didn’t have was a world wide technological means of letting every other minimally developed, lone-brain cell dependant operative know what was available.

We also all probably had just a small understanding of the implications of shouting such an open invitation from the mountain tops was likely to have. We also tended to obey directives from our elders, in particular those who towered over us physically and emotionally and particularly those who wore uniforms and carried side arms. So many things today have changed.

So Corey is a dickhead. In fact, he is a Grade ‘A’ certified window-licking, mouse-on-a-treadmill-brained, Eminem worshipping, Big Brother watching, Jackass educated dickhead of the tenth Order. But he is sixteen years old and he lives in the 21st century. His brain, like those of all other sixteen year olds before him, has not yet fully developed. He is a dickhead and does not respect, in order of importance;

Authority in general,
Parents and

And, as a result, he was unable or unwilling to foresee that the following things WOULD, in all probability, occur;

Many, many people would turn up to his party as a direct result of his internet invitation (he boasted that he wanted to get as many as possible to show), that most, if not all of these people would have similar, if not lower, mental responsibility capacity, that 500 people at a suburban house will NOT all be able to use the appropriate receptacles for both glass and bodily waste and that the neighbours and representatives of the local law enforcement agencies would not see ‘the funny side of all of it, and shit’. Corey, you are a dickhead.

He was probably aware, however, that the very same media machine that has created and glorified a whole cultural trend towards uncouth, anti-social, beer abusing and mind numbingly dull dickhead behaviour, would then try to turn him into a modern day Ferris Beuller -without the wit and innocent charm – and give him a minute of fame for each of his tender years. He may not have thought that his antics and his attitude would gain him world wide press coverage, but then, as I said, he is a different kind of 16 year old dickhead.

He lives in a world where young people don’t think too far ahead in terms of their career or future – so did I. He and his mates like to thumb their nose at ‘the man’ – so did I. He likes to see if he can score some grog to kick a party along – so did I. (Sorry, Mum.) He likes to have his mates over for a little shin-dig – so did I. This is probably where the similarities end. Remember, Corey is a dickhead.

I did not have the utter stupidity to light a fire and then say it wasn’t my fault that others let it burn. I did not show contempt, disrespect or indifference to my peers or my elders when I got busted red-handed causing a massive public nuisance. I was not so immature as to spout my mouth of at, in turn, the police who I would have wanted to protect me had one of my ‘close invited friends’ decided to take a whack at me, or the media who, having sniffed a story, ran it constantly for four days. Remember, Corey, don’t talk trash and act the big man and challenge your detractors to ‘take me on if you dare’ when the same media has already published your address. Dickhead.

I’m going to leave Corey here for now as he has had far more attention than any dickhead deserves. Unlike the similarly brain dead current affairs shows who have perpetuated his ‘fame’ and the radio stations supposedly run by grown adults who have thrown cash and contra at this re-tread to mumble the same drivel over and over. We deserve better.

And to the ‘promoters’ who are suggesting Corey can make tens of thousands of dollars ‘organising’ parties for them; don’t forget; this is a sixteen year old dickhead who is still less developed in maturity than most of the sixteen year old dickheads around and has displayed no greater ‘organisational’ skills than being able to turn on and operate a computer. I have a four year old who can do that. Think about it, eh?

By the way, Corey is a dickhead.

Prof. Pilsner

P.S. Corey is a dickhead

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Magic Box

Have you ever gone into a shop to buy a small ticket item and come out the other side having spent hundreds? Of course not, I hear you say – that only happens to girls in clothes shops. Or jewellery shops. Or shops that sell make up and stuff. Or shops that smell like girls in hairdressers shops.

The exception to this rule- a very manly and blokey exception- is when you are in a good homebrew shop and you are a good Beer Bloke. And when the shop owner says something like; “Pop out the back room. I’ve got something new in.” And the new-in is something special. Or even magical. In fact they have even dubbed it ‘The Magic Box’. And I had to buy it.

The Magic Box is a big fridge-sized and shaped box made from sheets of the foam stuff that they use to line the inside of refrigerated trucks with. And it’s very shiny and silvery and it’s the kind of thing that you would imagine an ancient peoples standing in front of and uttering things like; “ Oooh!” and “Aaahh!” and “This must be a gift from the Gods!”. And it’s an easy thing for blokes to use and operate. There is no cord to plug in or knob to adjust or combobulator to set. Because it is just a box. But it is more than just a box, too.

The Magic Box keeps things cold. Or hot. It’s up to you. Think of a giant, upright, walk-in esky. By throwing in a couple of coolie bricks – gel packs for the educated – you can get the interior temperature down to well below 10 degrees Celsius and maintain it for about a day even while the outside temperature is in the mid twenties. How is this a good thing, I hear some ask. Good question, I answer.

Homebrewers know how to brew beer, wether it’s a lager or an ale, a Pilsner or a Porter. But most of what we brew is an ale – or at least a version of an ale in that most standard common garden variety homebrew kits are provided with an ale yeast. This is to keep people homebrewing. It is easier to brew with an ale yeast as it will survive a broader range of temperature. The instructions will tell you to pitch the yeast at between 18 and 26 degrees. Prof. Pilsner will tell you that he has managed to chill his yeast to about 12 and cooked it to about 30 and still produced a very drinkable drop. But we don’t want to push our luck too often now, do we? Control the yeast and nurture it and you will get good beer. Better yeast, better beer.

But if you want to brew a true lager, using a lager yeast for a better lager result you need to use a lager yeast which will not tolerate the sort of abuse that Prof Pilsners’ ale yeast accidentally copped. In fact, unless you have access to something like a chemical engineers laboratory or the Yeast Library at Weihenstephaner brewery in Germany, you will need to use homebrew lager yeast which will work only at temperatures blow 10 degrees. But how can you keep a 30 litre fermenter at below 10 without redesigning your household fridge or borrowing a commercial cooler for two weeks? And don’t forget that a good lager needs to be stored to mature for a couple of months at between 0 and 3 degrees.

Of course I hear you say; “Why, Professor, you could use that there box what you were writn’ about earlier!” Of course I could. And I will. And I will let you all know how it goes. I am hoping that with a bit of timing, a few coolie bricks and some luck, we should have some true lager by the end of next summer. Lovely!


Prof. Pilsner

Friday, January 11, 2008

Cricket and NO Beer

No sooner has the virtual ink dried on my Cricket & Beer post than virtual blood has been spilled all over the pitch separating the Australian and Indian teams mid way through their current tour.

Be warned. I am about to send down a couple of overs of short pitched, express paced and helmet-logo directed deliveries in a Beer Bloke attempt to dispel some misconceptions, correct some untruths and defend the honour of the game and it’s guardians. There will be no sooking to the third umpire. Pad up and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

First, the case details. The Indian cricket team has threatened to suspend its tour of Australia and renege on its responsibilities to the fans of the game by refusing to play scheduled games. They are doing this because one of their players has been found guilty of racial abuse of an opponent and suspended for three matches by an independent third party. In a SEPARATE issue, the quality of the umpiring during the second test match in Sydney was poor. It was probably worse than poor, but, like the players, the umpires are subject to being human and therefore subject to making mistakes.

The racist comment made by the Indian player and heard by three Australian players, was reported to the match referee by Australian captain, Ricky Ponting. He reported the incident after both teams captains were instructed before the match to report any instances of racist sledging. The taunt used was the same one used by Indian crowds during the October 07 one day series against Andrew Symonds, the same player subjected to the abuse on this occasion. The taunt used was ‘Monkey’. Australia won the test match with 7 balls or 8 minutes of play remaining to secure a record equalling 16th consecutive victory. Despite what you may learn from reading the articles written by the Indian press, these facts are not disputable.

Next, I will give you an accurate overview of the responses given by Indian cricket officials, Indian community representatives and Indian and Australian cricket fans. I will attempt to ‘hit each and every one of them for six’ as is what rubbish deserves.

I have played a bit of competitive cricket in my time and I am of the opinion that, if you are given out by the official, you go and if you have hit the ball and it is caught, you walk. I am also of the firm belief that this decision is mine and that if you believe differently then that is your right and I will back you. If an opposition player tells me that he has taken a fair catch, I accept his word. It is therefore NOT the place of the batsmen to decide what is or is not out or if a catch is fairly taken or not. So, to all the letter writers and hand-wringing whiners out there in newspaperland – this is NOT an issue at hand.

If an independent body hears all the available evidence and makes a decision – regardless of how harsh it seems – you either cop it sweet (like Darren Lehmann did when he swore IN THE CHANGEROOMS after being dismissed in a match and copped a five one-day game penalty) or you appeal the decision in the board’s legislated manner. You do not piss and moan and threaten to take your bat and ball and go home, nor do you claim racism and persecution and blame the very authority which you rely on for your bread and butter. You do not demand that an official elected by the sports’ governing body be removed because YOU think he should be. That is not the way a professional outfit behaves.

The Indian who is the president of the BCCI – the sports’ Indian governing body – claimed that “the honour of the Indian team and, for that matter, every Indian was at stake” as a result of the ban on their player. Bullshit, mate. He may have copped an unfair penalty, but the process was as per the regulations and based on the available evidence. Would the ‘honour of the Indian team’ be at stake had any of the twenty players to lose their wicket managed to last eight balls more than they did? If each batsman had stopped to scratch his arse for just less than thirty seconds each the game would have ended in a draw and the Indians would not be able to use the result as a bargaining tool or a posturing weapon.

The president of the United Indian Associations said in the Melbourne Herald Sun that the Australian team was ‘largely responsible for (the) grave state of affairs in Indian-Australian sporting relations’ because the umpires made a ‘dreadful umpiring decision that allowed Andrew Symonds to continue playing after he was clearly caught behind’. How that works, I don’t know, but here’s something to think about, based on this twisted logic. Sachin Tendulkar made more than a few runs after he was given not out LBW when on 36. Most observers agree that the decision was as incorrect as Symonds’. Tendulkar went on to make 154 not out, so if, as a reader suggests he ‘deducted the extra runs Symonds made and believes India won’ when they passed the “real” total then he and his mates need to be reminded that Tendulkar’s extra 118 runs come off as well and then be reminded that Australia CHOSE to declare it’s innings closed based on the ACTUAL REAL SCORE THAT IS IN THE HISTORY BOOKS, dickhead.

I know I’m gettin’ fired up here, but stick with me; it will all make sense in a minute. The spurious claims by Indian captain Anil Kumble that only his side was playing within the spirit of the game is as delusional as it is incorrect. Both sides made errors of judgement in claiming dubious wickets, appealing for others and disputing the umpires’ decisions IN THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT and both sides would probably like to have some of these occasions to replay. Sledging has been a cornerstone of the Australian arsenal, but this is only an effective tool when the team is already well on top of the opposition, so it’s not as if you can call it cheating.

As it is also unfair to say that the term ‘monkey’ should not be deemed offensive by Andrew Symonds who is an Australian with an African background. The Indians who are claiming that they have a Hindu Monkey God and this makes this a compliment rather than a slur need to be informed that the term was used in the context of Africans being only a small step removed from our primate friends and recently descended from the trees. This is the context within which the slur was used and the user knew it based on the publicity the crowd chanting incidents drew back in October. So cross that argument off your list as well.

In addition, you cannot claim that you NEVER said it, then say that you tried to TAKE IT BACK and then claim that you were saying it to SOMEONE ELSE and keep your credibility. Cop it and move on. This issue has been made more complicated than it should be by the many and varied claims of racism that always seem to come up when successful Australian sporting teams are involved. And to all the turn coats and whingers, who have filled the letters pages with crap about being ashamed of the winning culture and the perceived arrogance of the Aussie team, piss off and find a sport that excites a little less passion and controversy in your poor little sensitivities. Lawn bowls are always looking for spectators.

Now, finally, for my take on the reason for the whole shemozzle and the solution to short circuiting future implosions and international incidents. Beer and plenty of it. A quiet couple before the match and a couple after stumps during the game could only serve to foster relations between the teams. You can’t tell me that over the five days of a test match you can’t find an hour or two to clink glasses and talk a bit of bullshit. A few well chosen words over the top of a frosty glass of beer are the difference between a giggle over some dodgy umpiring calls and a full scale Indian –Australian cultural war.

The boys would all get together and talk a bit of trash about their opponents hair do or turban style and the way a bloke wears zinc cream on his mush and there would be room only for beer and cricket banter. Wankers need not apply.

And before I finish up I just want to point out that, before the introduction of the neutral umpire system, the last Indian to be out LBW on Indian soil was Mahatma Ghandi in a back yard game – and he walked. So don’t complain of ‘home town’ umpiring decisions. Play the game and accept the decisions made in the true spirit of the game. We want our kids to continue the traditions created by Bannerman and Grace and cemented by Bradman and Benaud and Worrell and left, today, in the hands of Ponting, Flintoff and Fleming. It’s the least that the game deserves.

Cheers and I hope that all your hooks are sixes,
Prof. Pilsner

Postscript; at the time of posting, the Indian team management has agreed to continue the tour ‘for the present’ but has not discounted the possibility of abandoning the trip should the ICC not kowtow to their churlish and petulant demands.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Vegemite and Beer

In many previous beer bits I have endeavoured to track down some of the many ways in which the world of beer crosses paths with other elements of our lives. You may also have noticed that it doesn’t take much more than a tenuous thread of linkage for me to get onto the research and put together some fun facts and foolish figures.

Upon one of these paths travels a product that is synonymous with Australia and yet strangely is one which is repugnant to many overseas visitors. Its path and the path of the beer world do not merely cross, but run in parallel and are intrinsically enmeshed.


It is both a by product of the brewing process and a complimentary food match in more ways than one. It shares a symbiotic relationship with the amber nectar and it holds a special place in the Australian cultural landscape.

Discovered or developed or created by Australian food technologist Cyril P Callister in 1922 and marketed by Fred Walker, a Melbourne businessman, Vegemite was a thick dark paste scraped from the bottom of the barrel (so to speak) at Carlton & United Breweries. This paste came from the fermenter which housed the cooled wort during the fermenting process. The yeast which brewed the beer settled to the bottom of the fermenter after the wort was chilled. Some of this product was re-used in the next batch and some went off to Fred and his chemist to see what he could make of it. He made Vegemite. A previously discarded waste product of brewing.

Fred pushed his new product as a health food, despite the fact that the early stuff was around 10% salt, as an additive for soups, stocks, sandwiches and gravies. A slow start to the products popularity was countered when infant welfare centres began promoting it as a rich source of Vitamin B1, B2 and Niacin for little folk. A still used radio advertising campaign began in 1954 and a whole generation of ‘happy little Vegemites’ was born and raised on this thick black beery sludge. Walker sold his company to Kraft Foods after WWII and in 1988 Kraft was sold to Phillip Morris. Despite this, Vegemite is still iconically Australian.

But what of this ‘symbiotic relationship’ of which I spoke earlier. If I am going to throw in big words like that then it seems fitting that I follow them up and temper them with real words and explanations. We don’t want people to stumble upon our Secret Men’s Business Site and think that we are a bunch of pretentious private school wankers, do we? Just in case, hold on while I scare them off.

Right. That should do it. Where were we? Oh, yes, symbiotic relationship. Beer and Vegemite. It goes something like this.

Vegemite comes from the reaction of brewer’s yeast on the fermentables in the wort. The yeast creates CO2 and alcohol by eating up the sugars. The brewer makes the beer and Kraft makes the Vegemite. We drink the beer. In metabolizing the alcohol in the beer we use up vitamin B1 and B2 as a result of a reaction with the residual sugars which created the waste which became the Vegemite. We can feel a little ordinary the next day due to a lack of B1 and B2. The very Vitamins that Vegemite is chock-o’-block of. We eat the Vegemite and replace the B1 and B2 that the beer took away using the very stuff that was made from the beer that took it away after giving up the stuff that made the Vegemite! Simple!

So that’s Vegemite and a brief history of its life as, and with, beer. If only all our food choices were as straightforward and as good for you as Vegemite. Then we could drink so much more beer. Followed by Vegemite.

Prof. Pilsner

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Festive Beers

Now that the festive season is over it is a good opportunity to review our celebratory engagements and assess the success of our efforts to make the time memorable.

As alluded to in a comment from Mrs Lager, the annual get together on the last Sunday before Christmas was again an enjoyable occasion for all. The food was piled high and the beer flowed freely – as well as more that one bottle of very nice bubbles, if you like that sort of thing – and by the end of the day, the kids had all shared their pressies (excluding the one I assumed came with batteries), the food was all gone and a very pleasing collection of empties was left to put out for collection.

As is our new found custom, Dr Lager provided the six pack of tasters for the day to go with the extensive collection of ‘goes well with food’ beers chosen and chilled by me. Peroni Natsro Azzurro was the Docs’ choice and, given the weather – unseasonably wet and windy for the previous three days and then hot and sticky for the day itself – these Italians were more than welcome. A light but hoppy pilsner, the ‘Blue Ribbon’ went down well and held its own up against the barbequed meat and the big, juicy prawns. Like Heineken, drink them very cold.

This is also one of those beers whose ‘handle’ is subject to a bit of debate. Peroni is the Rome based brewing company that makes the beer and Nastro Azzurro is the beers descriptor. Most people in the restaurants that I have been associated with have asked for ‘a Peroni’, but to me, this is like asking for ‘a CUB’ or a ‘Toohey’s’ when you want a Carlton Draught or a New. In a noisy night club type environment I have also seen punters mistakenly served a Peroni when they had asked for a ‘Corona’. Peroni also makes a Gran Riserva Premium Nastro Azzurro and a brown bottled, red labelled ‘Original’ although this is less readily available. In some markets it also sells the Nastro Azzurro as ‘Peroni’ further adding to the confusion. I guess we should just drink the beer and be happy. But a message to the marketing department at Peroni; sort yourselves out.

Beck’s was also given a run on the day and it, too, was more than welcome with its floral hop notes ably befitting the food match criteria. As far as ‘international lagers’ go, there are worse around. Beck’s was formed in the northern German town of Bremen in 1873 and was sold to the brewing giant Interbrew (now InBev) in 2002 for – are you sitting down? – 3.5 billion DM or $2.1 billion US. That should give some hope to struggling craft brewers everywhere. The Beck’s worked particularly well with the steak marinated in French mustard, rosemary and Bundaberg Rum. Who’da thunk it?!

Christmas eve with Mrs Pilsners’ side of the family was a beer-stravaganza with brother-in-law and loyal Beer Bloke, Chris paying a quick visit to Melbourne’s world famous Queen Victoria Market to secure some interesting beers from a very competent outlet by the name of Swords Select. If you are ever at the market, pop in and grab some great hard-to-get craft beers and tell them you were recommended by the Beer Blokes.

A Czech premium lager in the mould of a Pilsner Urquell or a Budvar, Krušovice has a terrific earthy floral hop flavour and a nice tight bitterness which went off well with the turkey and ham. The label told me (no, I don’t hear beer voices) that the brewery making this Imperial Premium Lager was purchased in 1583 by the Emperor Rudolf II on behalf of the Czech crown. If that’s not a suitable enough link to Christmas, then I don’t know what is.

The aptly named Cleansing Ale from the Two Metre Tall brewery in Tasmania was a great way to finish the occasion and prepare to slip into relax mode. Mild but crisply bitter, the strength of this real ale is its well balanced malt/hop combination. The winery/brewery responsible for this and a few other as yet untried ales is currently importing some real hand pump engines through which to serve the cask conditioned stuff in the authentic manner. Bring it on, I says.

Christmas Day down the Peninsula with the Professors’ clan saw us sitting outside in the warm summer sun sipping James Boag’s Premium, Boag’s Strongarm and none other than Samuel Adams Boston Lager. A high end flavour based feast circulating around giant fresh king prawns, Moroccan chicken and red wine marinaded beef was just the foil for the big bold flavours of the tall dark Yankee.

New Year at Bob’s was a bit of a beer ad for Crown Lager with around half the lads there downing the golden premium lager from Foster’s. Which has a similar recipe to foster’s Lager, as well. But a longer maturation. And the gold trimmings on the label lets them charge a fat premium for the privilege of necking a brew reserved for diplomats and the upper class up until the early 50’s. Alternating between these and light beers, the boys were showing good responsible drinking behaviour despite the fact that the temperature was still a very warm 35 Celsius as the clock struck 2008.

I finished off the year with a couple of Boag’s Draught and then made the New Year memorable for all the wrong reasons. No, not like that. This didn’t involve nudie runs or ‘beer yodels’ but an unfortunate addition to the Beer Blokes Hall of Shame. I never knock a beer until I’ve tasted it and I always try to taste any new beers in the offering. The newest ‘Idea Beer’ from Foster’s is Carlton Cold Ultra Chill and I’ll cut to the chase right here, right now. Carlton Crap. Bottled Bullshit. Complete and utter waste of brewing resources. Where is the Reinheitgesbot* when you need it?

A completely baffling concept brew, the mystery is made no clearer by reading the marketing blurbs accompanying this new addition to a beer market already overcrowded with pissy, cheap looking, gimmicky brands;
“Ultra Chill is the first beer in Australia to use the special ultra chill ingredients. Ultra Chill is a special combination of ingredients added at cold filtration to deliver extra cold refreshment. The cold sensation is subtle at first and then builds gradually.”

What the..!!?? Or this from beerguide.com.au contributor SSAR;

Not bad. Not as good as I expected, however. Attractive from the start – the bottle looks pretty good, the labelling does look a tad cheesy, but still OK. An attractive & somewhat alluring aroma, followed by a taste dominated by an unexpected sharpness that detracts from the experience slightly, for mine. Seems to come through with the underlying great taste of Carlton Cold beer, but falls short in overall results.

The underlying great taste of Carlton Cold!?! He loves it but he doesn’t and it’s “not bad” but he gives it a glowingly low 1.6 out of ten. At 6.8% ABV maybe he had drunk a whole stubby. That’s more than I can say I did. A mouthful of this over processed, under flavoured and Britney Spears-unbalanced high alcohol shite that makes cat’s piss seem flavoursome was all I could manage. Welcome to the plumbing system, Carlton Cold Ultra Chill. Say hello to O’Brien’s Gluten Free for me.

Swiftly skolling a Boag’s Draught set my beer receptors back to below danger levels and another Krušovice sipped at a more leisurely pace helped to erase the horrible memories of this fleeting departure from my otherwise enjoyable beer experience. Lesson learned. Your turn, Foster’s.

The New Year will hopefully be free of any further embarrassments and lapses of judgement but, as I said, I will still be out there taking bullets for the team should any other new brews surface during 2008. Rest assured that the Blokes will continue to bring you the truth, no matter what the damage to my houses’ pipes.

Happy New Year and beer-st of luck for 2008.

Prof. Pilsner.

*Reinheitgesbot – the German Purity Law of 1516 which decreed that beer may only be made from malt, hops, water and yeast**. It didn’t specifically prohibit anything by name but it must be assumed that the legislators allowed for common sense to prevail. Australian authorities clearly need to state, in no uncertain terms that under no circumstances should brewers be allowed to add cat’s vomit or monkey piss to their beer. It’s the very least we deserve.

**it didn’t actually state yeast as an ingredient when it was penned as the good folk of the time did not understand the pivotal role that yeast played in the brewing process and they presumably didn’t want to include references to ‘Voo Doo’, mystical fairies, magic or ‘The Gods’.