Friday, March 27, 2009

Ale Stars – English Pale Ales and handicapping

People often ask me about beer. It’s not as if they stop me in the street and say; “Hey, aren’t you Prof. Pilsner? Tell me all about beer!” or anything like that, it’s just that if you stand around in the same place for long enough, holding a beer the whole time, people get an impression. I’m fine with that. Passion and beer, hand-in-hand.

So, just because you happen to do OK in a beer trivia quiz, and then you follow that up with another reasonable effort – in a team situation, mind you – and then you just happen to make passing mention of this fact on a little-read beer blog, well, that’s no reason to be singled out and publicly ‘outed’ as a beer-smartarse, is it? No, I didn’t think so either.

Shandy and Steve kicked off the latest instalment of Ale Stars by welcoming the newcomers and telling the assembled crowd that I was too clever and whichever team I happened to be on would be punished by beginning the quiz with a two point handicap. Luckily beer people don’t take themselves too seriously! (Plus, you’ll need more than two points to take me out!! Bastards!!)

Now, I know I usually devote the bulk of this review to describing the beers we tried, the opinions forwarded along with reporting the usually fair and un-tampered-with results of the beer trivia quiz (including any outstanding efforts like if someone has never been on a losing team and has, say for example, only got three questions wrong ever) but this time the review is different. Because Ale Stars is different. Something has changed. The beers themselves are important, but not THAT important. We are no longer a group of strangers who happen to turn up in the same place on the same Tuesday every month and sample beers – friendships have formed and some now meet up beforehand for SUBS and catch up with others and others again stay back afterwards and have a couple of sneaky afters and shit is talked and fun is had and groups have joined up to form larger groups. And isn’t that what beer is all about? Isn’t beer great!?!

For those unable to make the night, here are the details. The very well organised Shandy had arranged the perfect evening to suit the English Pale Ale style. A perfect Melbourne Autumn evening – grey, drizzly and a little gloomy – just like a balmy English summer day, really. In a recent post we looked at Desert Island Beers and the first picked by Shandy was Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. This was our first up beer and I can see why he could have this for the rest of his life. By the way, it's not the Tim Taylor from 'Home Improvement'. There you go.

Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale was next up and with this one feelings were a bit mixed, particularly for those fortunate enough to have had any of these beers on tap or, better still, hand pulled from the cask. A lively debate on Northern vs Southern preferences, sparklers and hand pumps and all things Ale-y followed as we moved to a Fuller’s London Pride and finished with a Worthington’s White Shield. You can find out more about all the nice beers we had by contacting Shandy or visiting your local beer shop!

Veteran Ale Star Ben then led us on a merry Show-And-Tell about his recent international sporting tournament win in Perth recently. It’s not often that you get to share beers with an actual international sporting title holder – and this was no exception. More on Ben’s efforts in more detail in a separate post.

As the beer flowed and the groups chatted the news was announced that the next Ale Stars would be the long awaited ‘Road Trip’ – The Ale Stars take on the Yarra Valley in a bus Tour 09. Coldsteam Brewery for samples, Hargreaves Hill Restaurant & Bar at Yarra Glen for lunch (and beer) and finishing with the new (so new it ain’t even open yet!) White Rabbit Brewery out Healesville way. Nice! I can hear the laughter already.

As is now the case, Ale Stars finished off with a mingling of Ale Stars around the bar and beyond with beer chat a-plenty and plans being made for the road trip. A special mention to the new faces on Tuesday night (about 8 or so) who all seemed keen to return and to the recent-new faces who ween’t scared off too much and came back. And an extra special mention to Chris and Shandy’s new mates (names I’ve forgotten) who are hearing impaired – having to translate Shandy’s Scottish/Aussie into understandable English, then translate that into non-tech laymans language, then translate that into Auslan while drinking at the same time... top effort, boys. Sorry, TOP EFFORT, BOYS!! Just kidding.

A quick final mention and congratulations to the team known as Ready, Set, Drink who won the trivia quiz when the ‘winners’ (Taphouse staff) disqualified themselves for only having two members on their team when Shandy specifically asked everyone to form teams of FOUR OR FIVE!!! Tsk, Tsk. Nevermind, as I’ve stated here before, the results are not important, it’s all about fun. And only missing two answers and then with two more points deducted STILL came second to a team who cheated. Hmmm? Good effort, that.

Prof. Pilsner


Tim said...

English Pale Ale is a difficult one. As you know when the beer served draught from the hand pump it is known as Bitter, but once it is bottled or kegged it becomes Pale Ale.
This simple packaging step really does affect taste and flavour of the beer.
TTLA for example is awesome when fresh from the cask, but mediocre when bottled. I can't comment on the Bottled Sam Smith's, but the draught offering of Old Brewery Bitter is rubbish. All Sam Smiths beers are over rated in my opinion.

Beer Blokes said...


Yeah, it's a problem for us over here with very little cask ale to try. Opinions vary greatly as well - I was talking to an ex-pat Pom last night who was telling me that he and his best mate could never drink together in the same pub back home because each others' local served beers that each thought were crap compared to their own locals' offering!

I'm just sticking with my philosophy that "There is no such thing as a bad beer - just beers you wouldn't get again".

Prof. Pilsner

Damien said...

Good to see both the Timothy Taylors and the London Pride popping up! I've just latched onto the fine work of Timothy recently.
There's definitely something to be said for an ale that is hand pulled too. No technological gimmicks or gadgets involved, it's just a bartender putting in a bit of muscle to coax that beer into a pint glass.

Beer Blokes said...

I'd be interested to hear what people think of the 'variability' of real ale - just how much effect does the skill of the cellarman and the barman have on the pint? Is variation from one cask to the next, or one pub to the next acceptable/expected/annoying?

Prof. Pilsner