Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Beers 2009

Well, the busiest week of the year has drawn to a close (if you don’t count preparing for a New Years’ Eve full restaurant and a full-house back at home a-waiting) and now I have a minute to reflect and review the season’s beery offerings for you.

Fortunately, with a young family of our own as well the two sets of grandparents to take into account AND the Littlest Pilsner celebrating her birthday just after Christmas, the Pilsner Clan deigns to spread the festive cheer over the course of the whole week. Lest we all just burn out very early and things get very ugly.

After closing up the restaurant late on Wednesday night and hanging back with the Chef/Owner to crack a celebratory ale and review the busiest month we’ve had, my mind was already sorting and ordering the festive beers to come. Christmas Eve is shared with Mrs P’s family and with the Brother-in-law (and fellow Ale Star) in attendance the beers are always varied and festive and interesting. This year we just happened to ‘click’ and bring some of the same beers to the party.

Beginning with a Budvar – a cracking palate-prepper – we helped to get the dinner ready and keep the kids away from the presents under the tree. Moving to the table we launched into a Christmassy-themed Weihenstephaner Pilsner (click on this link if you don’t know why it’s a Christmas beer) which was soon followed by a Red Hill Bohemian Pilsner. A second Weihenstephaner Pilsner served well as a palate cleanser for the ‘treat’ to come.

Earlier in the year some Samiclaus were purchased and put away for Christmas. They were put away for a number of reasons including the fact that, at 14% ABV it is NOT an everyday beer, that it is brewed ONLY on the feast of St Nick each year and then cask-aged for ten months before bottling, making it a vcery ‘festive’ brew and, finally, because Shandy had warned me, in no uncertain terms, against drinking it while it was ‘fresh’ – i.e. in the same year it was bottled. “Hard work” was how I think he described it.

A bloody hard effort, wrapped up in a difficult task and served up on a bed of nails with side dressing of ‘shit-this-is-bloody-hard-work’ would be closer to it. Maybe it had something to do with the beers which had preceded it? Nup. I can’t imagine having the Samiclaus as a starter. The alcohol content does not hide behind the well balanced malt and hops – it stands like a big Kiwi bouncer out the front of the Mouthfeel Nightclub and stares you down as if to to say; “Sorry mate, not in THOSE shoes.”

Warm – to the point of discomfort – with some nice, if subtle, spicy, blackcurranty, fruit-cakey kind of flavours which just can’t quite break through the heavy richness of the overall palate. Thinking that this might be one of those beers that needs a little warming to release its true character we sat back and waited. A sip. And we waited. And we waited. It never got better. Not that it got any worse – it just didn’t get better. If anything the alcohol warmth got a bit ‘petrol-y’. And not in a nice, fuel-your-engine-and power-out-of-the-straight kind of way.

As I packed the car and carefully stowed my Christmas present of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Anchor Steam beer and Meantime Chocolate (what’s Xmas without chocolate?) I realised that not all Christmas beers bring about Christmas cheer. Putting out a nice icy cold Little Creatures Pale Ale for Santa (after giving the car keys to Mrs Pilsner) I realised that the difference between a beer being great and not-so-memorable is about half an hour.

Christmas Day with three young kids in the house is one of life’s most underrated and pleasurable experiences and one which deserves a post of its own – except it is not nearly as beer-related! Needless to say it involves lots of superfluous packaging, English-from-Chinese translated instructions and AA batteries. After which you seriously need a beer.

Prof. Pilsner

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Peace & Joy & Beer

I think I’ve shared these sentiments in this blog in years gone by, but they just keep coming back into my head. Therefore they are either very persistent and shall be repeated here, or they are still very relevant and shall be repeated here. And here goes.

No matter whether you are Christian or Calathumpian, Muslim or Mormon, Buddhist or “It’s All Bullshit” – Christmas is a special time. And that goes double if you have kids. There is just a certain something in the air if you choose to sniff it and if you can divorce your senses from the chaotic swirl of consumerism, confusion and fat Mums stuffing their faces (and those of their fat kids) with donuts and hamburgers in the shopping centres – it’s actually a very joyous and peaceful time.

Working for as long as I have in restaurants, this time of year has a frenetic pulse, a seemingly discordant symphonic pace and yet underlying it is a ‘buzz’ of better things. People coming from all parts to share – company, food, beer, laughs – and we get a ringside seat. Watching guests arrive. Nervously looking for their group, stuttering as they weigh up where to sit (Next to the boss? Not too far away from the boss? My partner doesn’t know anyone) Almost apologetically ordering their first drinks. Introducing the partner to the work people. Personal and public lives start to race towards collision.

And then something funny happens.

Christmas kicks in and everyone begins to relax. Work is forgotten for a few hours, family is forgotten and suddenly that bloke from accounts who you all thought was a bit of a knob-end actually seems – what’s the word for it? Human? And Mrs Frontbottom, the craggy-faced, hard-arsed bitch from the front office is actually smiling. Someone take a photo. As the entrees are cleared and the mains are served, you can almost hear the tensions unbuttoning. Sometimes it’s the boss who is ‘holding court’, enthralling the crew with war stories of Global Financial Crises past and tales of working in the factory in pre OH&S days when a ‘ladder’ was any collection of assembled objects that got you to the top shelf and a missing finger was a mark of honour and good source of a nickname.

Sometimes it’s the quiet bloke from the warehouse who takes centre-stage with a ripping send-up of the boss and his idiosyncrasies. Until now, no one else in the business knew he even spoke English. Everyone is laughing and everyone is equal – especially the boss who is both the target and the bloke who will be footing the tab. But it’s Christmas and everything is Festive-coloured. They can’t help themselves, Christmas is making them relax. Maybe they all ‘Road-Raged’ in the car on the way to the restaurant and maybe they cursed and pissed and moaned and kicked the cat that they had to give up a night to go out with work people – but they can’t help themselves now, the Christmas spirit has them firmly by the festive chestnuts.

And so to my Christmas Wish. To all who have read my blog, to those with whom I have shared a real beer and those with whom our beers have been virtual, to everyone who has listened and shared and commented and criticised – Thank You. I will raise a frothy glass to each and every one of you on Christmas day and genuinely drink to your health and happiness. Because that’s what beer is all about. Making the world a better place.

I hope you can all be like the guests I just described. I hope you can see past the wrapping paper and the 50% Off sale signs, past the dickheads and the doomsdayers, the alarmists and the nay-sayers and just enjoy the moment, even if it’s just for a little while. For what it’s worth, I find that sharing a nice special beer with friends helps the process along.
God Bless and Good Beer,

Prof. Pilsner

P.S. Disrespecting beer makes baby Jesus cry.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Do they know it’s Christmas Ale time?

Ale Stars at The Local Taphouse saw in the festive season last night with a joyous celebration of good company, good cheer and plenty of good beer. Seasonal and Christmas Ales was the theme and the room was filled with the now unmistakable ‘air of Ale Star’ – packed to overflowing with spirit and friendship and chatter and hand-shaking and the sudden need to employ the use of a microphone for the host to be heard.

Christmas is, for most, a special time of year and, while Australia is not as blessed as its northern hemisphere neighbours for Festive Ales from many breweries, it is, nonetheless, well served for those prepared to seek. Limited release specials from some of our own craft brewers as well as the availability of overseas offerings means we don’t have to miss out.

A Meantime High Saison kicked off proceedings with its hints of coriander, orange peel and cumin (is that a beer or a curry-starter?) which was well received. Of the fifty or so attendees most were in the affirmative for this one. Perhaps (he said, trying hard to be nice) the next offering was less enthusiastically received. Redoak, from Sydney, has produced its Xmas Cheer for some years now and each batch seems a little ‘removed’ from its predecessor – seasonal variance, or over-tinkering? Not as many hands shot up for this years’ version and the consensus seemed to be that the body was a little thin for the style with the finish a little spiky.

David Golding from Red Hill Brewery was the next ‘gift’ to emerge from Santa’s sack as he showed just how to entertain the crowd with a short but well chosen series of stories to illustrate the thinking behind both the Red hill story and the Christmas Ale in particular. As is often the case, a trip to Belgium years ago was the catalyst for both the establishment of the brewery on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula as well as the formation of the idea for a seasonal range of beers, of which the Christmas Ale is arguably the star.

The Red Hill Christmas Ale is hopped using the breweries’ own Tettnang and Hallertau hops and the fickle yeast has been ‘tamed’ after four previous attempts made fermentation challenging. A long maturation along with some dry hopping gives this Belgian style seasonal a taut finish after some lovely rich malt and spicy middle bits. Santa wasn’t done yet and we all got to take one home with us to pop under the Christmas tree.

We finished off with a Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve Ale which is based on the amber ale known as St Rogue Red. And that’s about the colour you could expect your nose and cheeks to turn if you emptied too many of these at the Christmas dinner table. A nice finisher after which Dave was kind enough to stay around and chat to the masses. As the first special guest to make a return visit it seemed the Ale Stars still had some questions he didn’t get to answer the first time around.

The festive theme continued with the surprise presentation of a stunningly elegant and beautifully presented pictorial record made to celebrate the Ale Stars first year. A lovely bound first edition that looked very, very professional and didn’t look at all as though Steve and Mark from Cats and myself had cobbled it together from dodgy fuzzy photos, nice clear photos lifted off other peoples’ sites and stuck together with Ale Stars reviews from my blog. Hopefully it will sit proudly on the bar somewhere so that strangers will understand what this whole thing is all about. {Mental note to self – we WILL need to get it laminated}

The night finished with plenty more beery banter around the bar after the announcement of the trivia winners. Some teams did very, very well considering how particularly difficult the questions were but one team did exceptionally well, as it happened. As the team was made up of several previous winners, we, I mean they, were not sure whether to call the team “World Series Super Ultra Team” or “Team – Surely They’ll Disqualify Us Before We Even Start” but it appears that the Christmas spirit won the day and the free beers were duly dispensed. And they were very nice.

Prof. Pilsner

Friday, December 11, 2009

More man time?

You know how I love research, especially when it has anything to do with beer. If it has anything to do with beer AND boobies, I’m there!

According to a recent survey, Australian women believe that it is beneficial for their blokes to go out and have a beer with their mates in order to improve their romantic relationships. I haven’t had the chance to ask Mrs Pilsner if this is true in her particular case, but I’m guessing she hasn’t bought shares in the company conducting this survey. Which just happens to be Cooper’s Brewing Company. The ones who make beer.

The cynic in me might suggest that a brewer conducting a survey concerning the increased consumption of the manufacturer’s own product is, well, a bit, what’s the word ... cynical? To be fair, I think that Cooper’s might just have commissioned, rather than conducted, the survey to promote their new brew but it’s worth pondering just the same.

I’m guessing that Mrs Pilsner was in the 8% who said they thought their bloke spent enough time already drinking beer with their mates, thank you very much rather than the 78% who said they thought their romance would improve if the bloke spent some extra quality Man Time with his mates. The research doesn’t specify if the girls’ romantic improvement would occur with the same bloke she was happily sending off to the pub.

The other figure I found amusing was the one which showed that, while 78% of ladies were all for more Man Time, only 61% of blokes felt they needed more Man Time. Perhaps even more surprising was the 70% of blokes who believe beer is a key ingredient in catching up with their mates. What are the rest of you soft-chops thinkin’?

Cooper’s want to make today (Friday) “National Day of the Man Lunch” reflecting the growing trend for blokes to feel the necessity for catching up with mates for lunch and beer for a bit of good ol’ male bonding away from the women folk. After my second Beer Diva Dinner and plenty of Ale Stars gatherings, can I just suggest that some female beer company (about half of both group is girls) is not the worst thing to happen to a bloke?

Prof. Pilsner

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dinner with The Beer Diva

Christmas is a time for caring and sharing and what better way to show that you care by sharing dinner and a beer - or eight – with The Beer Diva.

The Beer Diva is Kirrily Waldhorn and a more appropriate moniker you could not attach. She just looks like a ‘Kirrily’. And while, in some circles the tag ‘Diva’ might evoke thoughts of stuffiness, petulance or arrogance, in the case of this Diva, the exact opposite is true. Relaxed, unpretentious and generous, she hosts a beer dinner as if you are all guests in her own home. Although she doesn’t run around looking flustered trying to juggle pots, pans and oven mitts, and then rope you into drying the dishes.

She does, however, look very comfortable sharing her passion for beer. A working lunch with head brewer Bill Taylor while working in the marketing department for Lion Nathan was Kirrily’s ‘Eureka’ moment – the event that made her realise her calling! Leaving to pursue a career as a Beer Diva (not sure wether it’s a degree or a diploma course) Kirrily has set out to share the Beer Word with beer novice and expert alike.

The Local Taphouse in St Kilda has been something of a ‘poor cousin’ to the mob in Darlinghurst who have had the pleasure of The Diva’s company on several occasions already. The second Beer Diva Dinner saw an intimate setting for around twenty, complete with Christmas tree and daggy Bon Bons, set alongside a menu of 5 courses matched to eight beers. You do the maths, that’s pretty impressive in anybody’s addition.

A Bridge Road Saison on arrival was followed by a Hoegaarden Wit and a risotto of prawn, lemon and coriander with snow pea tendrils and an introduction by The Beer Diva to the wonders of beer. A Hofbrau Helles with tempura zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and honey on an ajo blanco gazpacho may sound like a combination for which you might seek the advice of a medical specialist but was, in fact, a gastronomic delight.

Head Chef, Richard, emerged from his culinary cave to share his secrets with the dinner guests including the revelation that each meal (apart from the cheese plate) incorporated beer in the recipe. Game On! We decide we had to detect and identify each one.

A 2 Brothers Growler and a Hargreaves Hill Celtic Red were pitted against (or alongside!) each other and a main course of braised ox cheek with red wine jus frisee and glazed shallots and while the descriptions of the aroma of the Celtic Red were, to say the least, varied, all were in agreement on the deliciousness of the food. A Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout and a hazelnut torte served with Chantilly Cream was just the ticket for those needing a sweet fix and the perfect pairing of three distinctly different cheeses with a Leffe Brune was the ideal finish.

At this stage we had all had “an elegant sufficiency” (as Kirrily’s grandmother would say) but there was still one more beer for those clever enough to have scooped the Trivia prize. And what better way to share the festive spirit than by sitting with friends, new and old, and winding down the night talking beer? With the partners of the Taphouse ‘keepers’ on hand (principals sounds too dicky, owners sounds too commercial) the night just had a magical Christmas family dinner kind of feel to it.

An isn’t that what Christmas – and beer – are all about?

Prof. Pilsner