Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The people you meet ...

When you’re having a beer.

While enjoying the simple pleasures of Trappist Ales and perhaps a few quiet birthday ales as well, when a new-comer arrived after the official proceedings had concluded. Dr Lager, Chris and I had just been speaking about the kinds of people who turn up to The Local Taphouse after an Ale Stars evening and the kinds of laughs we get, so we were watching this bloke with interest.

He was one of those blokes who ‘kinda-sorta-look-familiar’ but you don’t think you’ve met them before, yet you figure you know them. He was chatting to Guy and Justin next to us when I overheard Guy saying, “Yeah he IS. He’s standing right behind you.”

“G’Day, Prof, I’m Beer Matt,” he says. If only for the fact that I may have been on my fourth birthday drink, you could have knocked me down with beer label. Beer Matt, is Matt Kirkegaard, former editor of Beer & Brewer magazine, beer writer, host of Beer Events extraordinaire and fellow beer blogger – see his feed in my list of ‘Drinking Mates’ on the right hand side of my blog.

We have swapped comments and shared views on each others’ blogs for a while and it was a very nice surprise to meet him as suddenly as I did. Matt was at The Local Taphouse to host a corporate beer dinner upstairs – BEER DINNERS for corporates?? Where were they when I was out in the mud shooting the CEO with paintballs or running the Food & Beverage Manager off the Go-Kart track!?! Nice gig if you can get it! Let me know if you need a ‘sidekick’ next time you’re down in Melbourne, Matt!

There was something very Beer Karma about meeting a fellow beer blogger in person. It just goes to prove that beer really can make the world a smaller place and one in which people with shared interests can connect much more easily than in days of old. Now, settle down, Mrs Lager, that does NOT mean I am about to embrace the evil empire of Twatter. Yet. I just mean it was a strangely warm feeling to have ‘made a friend’ due to the Wide Wide World of Webs and a common passion for good beer. That’s all. Good to meet you, Matt.

Prof. Pilsner

And just to clarify an earlier point, the kind of people who usually slide in to The Local Taphouse (late on a school night, remember) and give us a laugh are the ones like Sean served a couple of Ale Stars back. This scraggy bloke, who looked as though he may have been already reasonably ... refreshed ... straddled the bar and surveyed the blackboard next to us.

After Umming and Aaahing for a minute he says, “Um, I’ll just have a .. orrr ... something simple ... how about a .... a .... a .... number 7??” Number seven was something like an Erdinger Dunkelweizen or similar – certainly it was something a million miles away from his ‘usual tipple’. He hands Sean the cash, takes the glass, strides purposefully away from the bar ... straight out the front door and onto the Number 27 tram to Caulfield. Just like that. Funny, funny shit.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ale Stars – A new year

Tuesday night saw Ale Stars at the Local Taphouse in St Kilda reach something of a turning point. We saw the first instalment of the new Ale Star year. We saw the launch of the very first Ale Stars memberships. We saw the presentation of the first Ale Stars member shirts. And we saw Trappist Ales.

Many saw very little by the end of the night.

I’d like to spend a little time to detail the tasting notes of the four Trappist Ales we tried. I’d like to, but I can’t. I remember we started with Orval that kicked off at 6.2% ABV, moved through Chimay Rouge at 7%, onto Westmalle Tripel at 9.5% and finished with a Gulden Drak dark tripel at 10.5%. It all gets a bit hazy after that.

I do remember that, before the night kicked off our Ale Stars shirts were received. The presentation of the ‘gurnseys’ revived memories of junior footy days when the coach – usually the team captain’s Dad – called each kid up, shook his hand and reminded us all that the jumper carried the club’s history and proud traditions and that, if you were going to go out and get pissed and embarrass yourself, don’t be wearing the jumper. Guy and Justin just threw our shirts at us from the bar. But the sentiment was the same. At least it was FOR THOSE LUCKY ENOUGH TO GET THEIR SHIRT Apparently a couple of us with unique sizing requirements will need to wait a bit longer.
Ale Stars has kicked up another gear yet again. It was as if everyone in the room suddenly ‘knew’ each other. We were all ‘known’ before, but now we ‘knew’ each other. Proudly walking the room wearing a stylish Local Taphouse- badged shirt, individually monogrammed and numbered, the Ale Stars seemed ‘closer’ and it just seemed to make the place a strangely happier one. For those who got their shirt.

I don’t know if it was entirely due to the fact that the long awaited memberships were delivered or the fact that those cheeky Monks hidden within our brews were giving us a little more ‘buzz’, but the night seemed to fly. No sooner had we settled in than we were standing around in groups, holding up the bar, holding up The High Table or holding up Simon-Rob and admiring each others shirts. Those who had them.

I should point out at this point that I was humbled and thrilled, in equal parts, to have been able to celebrate my birthday on the same night. Thanks Shandy in particular, for the special gift of a homeopathic, organic and bio-dynamic hangover cure. To Ben, thanks for the Camra magazine – I have already filled out the form for my Beard-and-Anorak Special Offer.

Thanks also to everyone who wished me well. I should especially thank my mate Col who offered to drive because I must also thank the twelve other Ale Stars who bought me a birthday drink which left me incapable of driving a greasy stick up a dead dog’s arse – so to speak. Kelv, the Rochefort was a particularly memorable drop if for no other reason that I got to share it with you and that it eclipsed the night’s previous holder of most potent brew. 11.2%??? I could have sworn it was no more that 11%!

Maybe because I had my birthday buzz on, but this Ale Stars just stood out as especially memorable. Did the heady Trappist brews have anything to do with the following;

We recorded our FIRST glass-drop-and-smash. Don’t worry Robert, I won’t print who did it.
We almost recorded our first light-smash when Shandy got a bit too enthusiastic with the tech-foul bell.
We definitely recorded our first Prof-Smashed. Luckily, no-one knew it was me because I DIDN’T HAVE MY ALE STARS SHIRT.

And to finish, I have to give a huge shout-out to Jo, Gemma, Bron (Bran) and the rest of their team who aced the trivia Quiz for the first time. And they did it on one of the few nights that ‘Lucky’ Simon was away – coincidence? Or just Lady Luck?!

Prof. Pilsner

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Prof’s Ale Stars Best – the rest

Here are the rest of the Ale Stars Best.

Schlenkerla Marzen Rauchbier. For many reasons other than just the beer, I am including this one in my Top Seven. This was a beer experience and, though I had had this one before it was fun drinking it in the company of those who hadn’t. From Chris’ pronouncement that; “Yay verily I declare that someone hath dunked a hock of smoky bacon into my draught”, to the announcement by Shandy that “It apparently takes 6 or 7 pints to fully appreciate this smoked beer” to the looks on the faces of the ‘first timers’ wondering what they had got themselves into. Classic. But the favourite moment of the night was when Shandy asked the gathered crowd if there was anyone who really didn’t like it. Brian quickly and proudly raised his hand as if to lead the room in revolt to find he had joined a club with him as the only ticket-holder.

Young’s Christmas Pudding Ale. This one had featured, coincidentally, in a Beer Dinner that I hosted on the Friday before Ale Stars and was almost a completely different beer second time around. Served with a rich chocolate brownie, drowned in Kahlua chocolate sauce the beer showed it’s ‘dark’ side with warm malty-coffee, chocolate and rich stone fruit notes. Served with pizza, the other side surfaced – fresher fruit tastes, coconut and (my personal favourite from Simon/Rob) butterscotch popcorn.

Hargreaves Hill ESB. A beer that has become more than just a well crafted and easy drinking American Pale Ale Style English Special Bitter. Beer. Just riht to kick off a session of Ale Stars – enough interest to satisfy the inner beer Nerd, but not too heavy that it spoils the feature beers. The quintessential SUB, I still recall fondly the first time Chris and I were sharing one upstairs when we bumped into Ben and Reeksy and we all recognised each other as ‘Ale Stars’. Not only was a friendship forged there, but so too the concept of Sneaky Upstairs Beers, the knowledge that this Ale Stars thing might be a long-term commitment and the realisation that Ale Stars was about to become more than just a beer sampling night.

And finally, Mountain Goat Rapunzel. The feature beer for the Belgian Blond Ale Ale Stars session, based on the Belgian classic, Duvel, and sharing the spotlight with the very same beer on the night. Coupled with the fact that head brewer and Rapunzel creator, Dave Bonighton was there and that Shandy WASN’T there – just kiddin’ – that he night was hosted by yours truly, made this beer memorable. The fact that it was universally enjoyed and also featured heavily in your comments on this blog as a favourite is testament to the worth of this brew.

That’s it. The Prof’s Top Seven. Special mentions to Bridge Road Brewers Chestnut Lager (cracker), Stone & Wood Draught Ale (almost TOO easy drinking!) and Holgate Nut Brown Ale (nicely surprising) as local offerings that served to please the crowds and highlight the health of the craft brewing scene in this country. Here’s cheers to many more.

Prof. Pilsner

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Prof’s Ale Star best

Time for me to put pen to paper and declare my Best Seven from the 50+ beers experienced by The St Kilda Taphouse Ale Stars.

Thanks to those who responded with their picks – don’t think I waited this long because I wanted to copy yours, rather than think of my own! Much ...

I thought about ranking them in order, but I think that’s probably akin to ranking your children by how much you love them. I had enough trouble getting my list down to just seven without the pointless task of serving up a favourite. So here goes ...

Part One; The First Few

Red Hill Imperial Stout. In the same way that some blokes say, “I only drink VB,” I used to be a bit of a “I don’t really like Stout,” sort of bloke. Until my very first Ale Stars night. The Guinness was the first up beer and made me realise why I don’t like stout – but by the time I got to the Red Hill, I had a bit of a Eureka Moment. I drink stout now.

Weihenstephaner Festbier. I am an unabashed fan of beers from this venerable brewing institution and had tried everything from the Original and all the various Weizens through the Pilsner (personal, all-time favourite) Vitus and Korbinian. But I had never had the Festbier. I remember commenting at the time that this one was ‘dangerously smooth’ for its drinkability which hid beautifully the higher alcohol content.

Timothy Taylor Landlord. Had heard SOOOOO much about this one from Shandy ‘Why don’t you and Timothy just get a fricken’ room’ The Ale Star Czar and remember that he had it as a his number one Pick Without Thinking desert island beer. I had not had a great deal of experience when it comes to English style Pale Ales and was not really expecting a lot of this. I got a lot more than I expected. Welcome to the list, Timmy!

The last one for Part One is Bridge Road Brewers Saison and for similar reasons to that I gave for the Landlord and Stout. A style that I knew of in name and theory only but one which now has some permanent shelf space in the fridge. Being able to share the experience alongside the brewer also made the night a little more special and for this reason alone I could slot this beer into the top seven.

The last three will get an airing tomorrow.

Prof. Pilsner

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Father’s Day Beer Karma

Father’s Day can be a great day, especially if you have kids. If you have three beautiful kids who love you very much then it’s even better.

I guess all this ‘being a good Dad stuff’ is a worthwhile adventure. Every year we’ve had kids at the local Primary School I have looked forward to the Father’s Day breakfast. It’s a great chance to catch up with all the other Dads and see them in the school environment with their kids. We also have a raffle – prizes include a tool box, a tape measure and a couple of six packs of Crownies.

Beer Karma must have been smiling on me this day. I must have been an especially good Dad this year as I just happened to snag the major raffle prize. Not the Crownies, but a beautiful, brand new Sherrin signed by 23 past and present AFL champions on various guest appearances on The Footy Show. Karma even let me collect the prize in front of a hundred other envious Dads while I was wearing my Melbourne Storm Rugby League cap!

Prof. Pilsner

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reeksy in the Outback

Beer Blokes supporter and Ale Stars regular, Reeksy and his partner, Ella, are somewhere very North of here at the moment, driving a big ol’ 4x4 around the top end of Australia.

I received an e-mail from them this week and a link to their very well written travel diary – No Fixed Abode. I have popped the link on the side of the blog. It is a cracking good read for anyone who has travelled, will travel, should travel or wishes they could travel. Have I missed anyone? It is a terrific account of our Wide Brown Land as seen through the eyes of an ale-sipping, Triumph-driving, God-Saving-The-Queen kind of Pom.

Check it out.

Prof. Pilsner