Saturday, November 20, 2010

A blend of old and new

I’m a beer drinker. Always have been. Never really into spirits and wine just ain’t my thing. Beer. Good beer and good company and I’m set.

Cocktails? Girly drink. Did have one on my Buck’s Night and can’t remember anything after it and haven’t had one since. You won’t get my attention by offering cocktails.

So when the calendar of events for The Local Taphouse St Kilda Ale Stars came out and I saw that November was listed as “Beer Cocktails and Blending” I had to look - and think – twice. Had we really exhausted all possible and available beer styles that we had to resort to ADULTERATION!?!

The assembled group was pretty much a ‘who’s who’ of the Ale Stars membership indicating that the topic may have scared off some of the crowd but a visiting group of Americans propping up the comfy couches swelled the numbers and gave everyone else a head start on the trivia quiz. Those souls brave enough to take a chance on Beer Cocktails sat eagerly awaiting the beery treats to come.

And what treats there were. Ale Star Czar, Shandy (and was there ever an opportunity to take the piss out of his nickname!?) explained that while Beer Cocktails as such are a relatively modern phenomenon, the practice of blending beers is centuries old. Whether to ensure consistency, to correct an unbalanced brew or simply to create different brands from a single batch, brewers have sought to mix and match beers.

We began with one of modern brewing’s most misunderstood creations, the Radler. A German word meaning ‘cyclist’ it was sold to thirsty lycra lunatics powering up the Alps by cluey bar owners wanting to strike a balance between satisfying the need for refreshment and countering the inability to navigate a bicycle after a few lagers. The original – far removed from today’s sickly sweet mainstream versions – was tart and citrusy and thirst quenching. The Taphouse version was spot-on thanks to a fresh lemon concentrate beforehand. Mixed 40/60 with Trumer Pils it hit the spot.

Having convinced the room that ‘blends’ weren’t all that scary after all and we wouldn’t be sipping shandies, the next concoction landed. You’ve all heard the expression, ‘some assembly required’? This was the beer version. Blend-your-own Faro. A small plate of ‘toffeed’ candi sugar and a glass of Cantillon Gueuze with a straw for mixing was a little daunting to some. The fact that the sugar was perhaps a bit too ‘set’ made it a bit more daunting. Persistence was recommended however, and those who stuck to the task were rewarded with a beautifully balanced drink of cheek-puckering tartness tempered with an underlying sweetness that replicated the original nicely.

The pictures below show Steve dissolving the sugar in his drink. The first picture is time-stamped 7.55pm and the last one 10.15pm. Steve’s sugar still hadn’t completely dissolved as this piece went to air.

Who likes cake? Yeah, we all love a bit of cake. Black Forest cake? Even better! Black Forest Cake in beer form? Where do I sign?!? St Ambroise Oatmeal Stout and Lindeman’s Kriek. Two more complex beer styles you couldn’t hope to find. Put them together in a glass and it’s dessert for sippin’. The tartness of the kriek combined with the richness of the chocolatey stout made for a terrific representation of the original dessert. Inspired.

How do you finish a night like this with a topic like this? With an old standard of course. Everyone asked to name a blended beer drink will eventually come up with a Black & Tan and this was the perfect note on which to finish. But not the time-honoured classic of Guinness and Bass Pale Ale but a very Australian 2010 version featuring the liquid charms of Feral Hop Hog and Moo Brew Imperial Stout. As each Ale Star poured their jug of Moo Brew Stout (and doesn’t that sound decadent enough?) over a spoon and into their Hop Hog the room fell silent before erupting in little explosions of “Look at that!!” and “Oooh!” and “Aaah!!” as glasses were held aloft and the contents examined for perfect settlements. This was beer with theatre.

The Local Taphouse is to be commended for not only creating an environment where beer can be truly appreciated but which also refuses to rest on its laurels. If anyone had dare suggest even a few years ago that forty people would pay forty bucks each to go to a little pub in an out-of-the-way location to drink beers mixed and blended with other beers for them by a dodgy (in a very nice way) unintelligible Scotsman you would have been laughed straight back to the asylum.

The fact that Beer Blending was set aside as a session for some pretty serious – and very-not-so-serious – people is both a credit and a delight. My only hope now is that by the time I write something in a few years time it will be about the fact that there is something like The Local Taphouse in every state. I’m starting to feel a little guilty that we and Sydneysiders have this all to ourselves. And you can blend that any way you like.

Prof Pilsner

The winning trivia team (No Name, Just Rude Pictures) enjoys their prize - The Beer Lovers Guide to Australia. Simon gives it '2 thumbs up'!!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Time to get MO-ving

Just when you thought October – The Month of Beer – was over, along comes November – The Next Month of Beer – and it all just keeps happening again.

Tuesday night sees Beer Blokes at Young & Jacksons for the Bridge Road Brewers beer degustation after catching up with Chris Mc Beer and The Crafty Pint for pre-dinner refreshers. We’ll be in Chloe’s Bar upstairs if anyone else has the inkling to join the festivities.

Friday will see the curtain drawn on what might possibly be (up till now) Melbourne’s only regularly held Beer Dinners at The Courthouse restaurant in Berwick. After 6 years and goodness knows how many dinners (at least 8 just this year!) the restaurant has been sold and Prof Pilsner will take his Beer Dinner Show on the road in the near future.

In the meantime, if you’re in Berwick this week, pop in cos the new owners don’t want any of our beer stock and I sure as heck can’t drink it all on me own!

And lastly, this month sees the third or fourth year (I don’t know!?) of the very well known and much loved fundraising venture – MovemBEER. That’s right, it’s on again – Beer Bloke s very own shameless rip-off of that other reasonably popular charity event – Movember.

For those new to this site, here’s how it all works. For too long now blokes who look really seriously dodgy when they grow a Mo for Movember (Jeff Kennett, Shane Warne, Aunt Bunny, Ivan Milat, Hitler, Tom Selleck) have made it hard for the movement to gain credibility.

Beer Blokes came up with the concept of MovemBEER for these people. Not Milat, he’s a shit Bloke and not welcome here. For all the others, just buy and drink beers that have the ‘MO’ somewhere in them. Be as adventurous and as tenuous as you like – it’s all about supporting Men’s Health initiatives.

See here and here and maybe even here for previous year’s efforts at Beer Blokes and you’ll see it’s pretty easy.

Whatever you choose to drink, just pledge to donate a similar amount to the official Movember movement or make a direct donation to a Men’s Health service of your choice. The TAB or the Pub do not count.

Drink that they may not Mo.

Prof Pilsner

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Australia’s Hottest 100

Beers, of course.

Walk into any pub in any town of any state in this wide brown land and you’ll have no trouble striking up a conversation about beer. Dig a little deeper and you’ll soon have created a passionate debate about which beer is ‘best’.

As stated in these pages so many times before, beer is so subjective a topic. You’ve seen time and time again that I have stood by the motto that ‘there is no such thing as a bad beer, just one you wouldn’t order again’ and I’m happy to stick by that. But that’s not to say you can’t have fun arguing which brew is ‘better’ than another.

The Local Taphouse is again running its on-line poll to find and rank the top 100 craft beers available in Australia in 2010. This has been hugely successful over the past two years and has grown in popularity each year. This poll is not about the most commercially successful beers but the favourites of the punters – the beer nerds and brew geeks as well as the passionate, the craft beer lovers and those who have just recently discovered craft beer and all its charms. In short, anyone and everyone with an opinion.

"Big Ranga!" "Fat Yak!"

Voters just need to access the poll page through The Local Taphouse website/blog and nominate their personal top 5. From these a Top 100 will be ranked and listed on Australia Day 2011. There are no hard and fast rules except that beers must be chosen from product available this year from any brewer other than the two Big Houses (Fosters and Lion Nathan) in either draught or bottled form. The hard part for most will be choosing only five beers.

You can vote anytime from now until January 16th 2011 and all voters will go into the draw to win a case of the top 5 beers selected.

I’ve already voted. And I’ve already had a re-think on my top 5. That’s just how subjective beer really is, I guess.

To vote, click here

Prof Pilsner

Monday, October 25, 2010

One down and one more to go

Last weeks’ Beer Blokes Beer Dinner at The Courthouse Dinner was a cracker with another full house, plenty of beautiful food, wonderful beer and just a few tears.

You see, during the preceding week an offer to buy the restaurant was made and accepted within the space of three days bringing the curtain down on the six year tenure of Chef and owner Tim O’Brien. It also meant that I was out of both my restaurant manager role and my very successful gig as Beer Dinner host.

It was tough having to look around the crowded dining room at the faces of those who had supported the concept of our Beer Dinners and the handful of new faces who had only recently discovered them – people who, six years ago might have taken a bit more convincing to take a punt. It was a difficult task to tell them of the sale and that this would be the last Beer Dinner at The Courthouse.

And then, a reprieve! Tim decided to throw open the last Friday before handover to one last almighty beer-driven funfest. One last chance to celebrate beer and food and fun and friendship to get really, really loud. Just the way a Beer Dinner should be. But it hasn’t always been like that.

When we first began slotting dinners into the restaurant calendar we had high hopes that the concept would fly but were equally realistic that we were entering unknown waters. Not only was there nowhere in Melbourne holding regular functions, but there also didn’t seem to be an understanding by the general public of what a beer dinner entailed. “You’ve heard of a Wine Dinner, haven’t you?” I’d ask and the reply was always the same; “Yeah, of course but how does a Beer Dinner work?”

In addition to this road block we were the only restaurant for miles around that had more than ten beers on the list meaning that the area wasn’t really considered a haven for beer lovers. But this was to work to our advantage as we kept promoting and pushing and speaking to anyone who showed even a passing interest in our extensive offerings (about 40 beers at the time and now close to 100) and the word began to spread. Plenty of punters showed a real excitement for the prospect of a five course dinner with five matching beers, but turning good intentions into actual bookings proved harder than we thought.

But we kept plugging away. We ran the dinners – seasonally in the first two years and often with just a table of two and a table of four (mostly mates and true believers!) – and we stuck at it. To his credit, Tim allowed me to stick with the formula – it worked with those who DID come along, we just needed more bums on more seats. We decided to maintain the same high standard rather than ‘dumb it down’ in quality or price just to ‘buy’ patronage. Before long we could fill the smaller Magistrate’s Chamber function room at the back of the restaurant and every now and then we’d move to the main dining room.

And so to the present. In the past eighteen months we have filled the front room and rescheduled the dinners to the point where, instead of once every 2 or 3 months we have held them every month and have had to knock back as many bookings as we have taken. Yes, I’m glad we stuck with it. We’ve showcased a hundred different beers from home and abroad and exposed novices to the different tastes and flavours of the beer world. We also now have an e-mail list as long as the bottling line at CUB and I’ll let you all know where the Beer Blokes Beer Dinner turns up in the future.

And so for one last dance. I’d post an open invitation here but that would be teasing as we have already filled every seat and even have a waiting list happening. I guess that means I’ll just have to take the show on the road after November 13th when the Courthouse closes its doors and moves into its next phase under new owners and a new concept. Happy to talk to anyone who might like to see what all the fuss is about!

Thanks to Tim for his faith in me and thanks to all those Berwick beer lovers who have stuck with it and made these dinners not just the only regular beer dinners around, but probably the most fun as well.

Prof Pilsner

Friday, October 22, 2010

Elementary brewing, my dear Watson

I told myself I would staunchly resist the temptation to throw in a lame-arsed ‘Sherlock Holmes’ gag when posting a review of Tuesday night’s Ale Star session at The Local Taphouse in St Kilda featuring brewer Shawn Sherlock from Murray’s Brewing Co but, well, some rules are made to be broken, aren’t they?

In any event, after speaking to Shawn and listening to him address the assembled beer lovers I decided that the literary reference was not quite so lame-arsed. Elementary is not a bad way of describing the philosophy behind the brews which come out of this Port Stephens operation. Murray’s Craft Brewing Company is really all about taking the elements – the yeasts the malts and the hops and the passion and the love – and crafting beers that are big on flavour and aroma and interest. Elementary. There ya go.

Shawn spoke of the ‘less-than-strict’ adherence to style markers that characterise his work. The Murray’s beers that he takes stewardship of are BASED on a style and are unashamedly ‘beers we like to drink’ Shawn explained. I like that.

And so did the fifty or so Ale Stars who greeted Shawn’s introduction with an almost (hate to even mention her name!) Oprah-like round of applause and just a smattering of hootin’ and a hollerin’. If you’d told me a few years back that Australian craft brewers would be welcomed to the stage as Rock Stars I would have laughed and suggested you buy me a beer by way of compensation but such is the marvellous nature of the scene here at the moment.

Shawn spoke of his love of taking ingredients, playing with flavours and brewing a beer that is for drinking rather than judging. “I tell people, drink the beer and then tell me what style you think it is,” Shawn declared, highlighting the advantage of being a still-active homebrewer and also having a good relationship with the bloke who signs the invoices.

The beers we shared further underlined the advantages of true craft brewing with the exceptional Punch & Judy English style bitter getting the crowd started with big fresh hoppiness, nicely balanced against the fruity malt and all wrapped up in a surprising 3.9% ABV. This is the perfect example of what Murray’s are able to achieve; beers with character and interest, true to style or otherwise.

The very tasty Angry Man American Brown Ale followed with plenty of punchy backbone which barely hinted at its 6.4% - very well hidden. This was a good way to prepare the palate for the Grand Cru, a big bold Belgian Strong Pale Ale nudging the 9% mark and packing in plenty of authentic Belgian character despite being a hybrid Golden/Strong ale.

We finished with the Iconic Icon 2IPA described as one of the hoppiest all-year-round beers brewed this side of the Sierra Nevada and who am I to argue with one as knowledgeable as Shandy? A pale ale in the American Imperial genre which essentially means it’s hopped to within an inch of its life (this one holds a full kilogram of hops in every 100 litres) it is full of flavour at both the malt and hop ends and the 7.5% ABV doesn’t intrude on the refreshment or the enjoyment.

I say we finished on this beer but, if Ale Stars and the Taphouse crew have taught us anything over the last two years it’s that it ain’t over till the Fat Lady finishes singing. There was yet more hoppy goodness to come in the form of the last remaining ten litres of Murray’s Spartacus a one-off, limited release Imperial Pale Ale which unleashes a 10% and 100IBU assault on your taste buds. We have to hope that other local craft beers look at this ‘Spartacus’ and likewise declare; “I AM SPARTACUS!!”

As always, The Local Taphouse did the job. Attracting a brewer of Shawn Sherlock’s standing in the Beer Community and getting him to make his way down to Melbourne to share his brews with an appreciative audience was a win all round. As many were heard to comment later in the night (way too much later!) if you’d dared to suggest five years ago that a bloke who brews beer would get a ‘rockstar reception’ from fifty strangers young and old at a pub that serves twenty different craft beers from the tap and another hundred or so from the bottle you would have raised more eyebrows than Tiger Woods’ missus.

And that is a good thing.

Prof Pilsner

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Get Set ...GO!!!

This next week looks like being a rather busy one for Beer Blokes and for those who similarly love their beer.

It is even busier for the fact that it is inter-connected with this current week which is also filled to overflowing with beery goodness-wrapped events.

Last weekend was spent checking out the Matilda Bay Brewer’s Bite which brought beer and food to the market and the masses and was a well run and well received event.

After catching up with mates and fellow beer writers at Biero (long night) on Monday, Tuesday was spent preparing for Wednesday’s 3rd meeting of the newly formed (and soon to be incorporated ABWG*) – and when I say ‘preparing’ I mean drinking three beers for tasting notes, which leads us in to today, Thursday.

Tonight you can come and see Prof Pilsner at the Oktoberfest Beer Tasting at Purvis Cellars in Surrey Hills (not to be confused with Purvis Beer in Richmond) where I will be pouring the De Molen range from Holland and the very lovely Stone & Wood range from Byron Bay. You can have some samples, chat with me about beers and perhaps even stay back to help me choose a special ‘surprise beer’ for Friday night’s Beer Dinner at The Courthouse Restaurant.

This Beer Dinner looks like being an absolute cracker with media attending and everything!! I must be on my best behaviour for that. A full restaurant on Saturday before a pleasant Sunday afternoon of drinking lovely beer around a BBQ with mates round out the weekend before the ‘real’ beer week activities begin.

Monday will probably consist of recover/prepare with Ale Stars at The Local Taphouse St Kilda featuring the very talented Shawn Sherlock from Murray’s Brewing (long night) before the hectic and very beery two days of the Microbrewery Showcase at Federation Square. That takes care of Wednesday and Thursday before we are back at The Courthouse to showcase some more craft beer before doing the same again on Friday night and Saturday night and then collapsing in a heap at the end of the week.

The things we do for better beer!

Prof Pilsner

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Courthouse Beer Dinner, Ja?!

Dust off the Lederhosen, tighten your Drindls and unpack your Oom-Pahs as The Courthouse Restaurant gets set to celebrate beer in October with ... well, an Oktoberfest Beer Dinner, of course.

5 sumptuous courses, including dessert, matched up with 5 beers in either a German traditional style, or a lovely Australian beer brewed in a traditional German style. The beers are chosen and the menu almost finalised (I'm still trying to perfect the Bratwurst Ice Cream) and I may even have a special guest so that the guests don't have to listen to me prattle on all night.

$55 will get you a seat (I'll provide the table) and it's only $50 for Courthouse Restaurant Beer Listers.

Friday October 15, 7 for a 7.30 start with a few 'specials' in stock at special celebratory prices fro those after some nice 'tweenies'. The Courthouse Restaurant, 1 Gloucester Ave, Berwick.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Things that seem funnier ...

... when you’ve had a beer.

For all those footy tragics, and by which in this week in Melbourne I mean Collingwood supporters, I offer the following. This occurred to me as I sat quietly enjoying a beer or two after the AFL Grand Final ended in a draw after the Magpies appeared to have the game in the bag – a ‘cake walk’, if you will.

Here’s your problem as I see it. It starts at the selection table. You had too many players with names that are also rudey bits.

Sidebottom, Johnson, Thomas, Ball, Reid, Jolly.

The solution; either get rid of them OR embrace the concept completely and include the following listed players in the squad for the Grand Final Replay this Saturday.

Wood, Rounds, Barham, Dick (obviously) and, of course, Goldsack.

And when the November draft comes around see if you can sign up Johncock, Tippett, Adcock, Bellchambers, Ruffles, Shammer, Cockie, Cox and Spangher.

... and Fevola. He’s the biggest dick of all.

Prof Pilsner

Friday, September 24, 2010

An Ode - or an Omen - for the Pies

For my good mate, Dr Lager and all those other Pie Tragics hoping for redemption tomorrow against The Saints, here is a specially dedicated post. As a normal person who barracks for neither team, I'm hoping for a nil-all draw, but, in Melbourne at this time of year you just have to have an opinion one way or the other.

Here's mine. I DON'T LIKE St Kilda a bit more than I DON'T LIKE Collingwood. So ... GO PIES!!

But to put a liitle perspective, nay, reality, on the matter here are the lyrics to one of my favourite songs by legendary Melbourne outfit, Weddings, Perties, Anything that sums it all up nicely I think.

By the way, if every Collingwood supporter is going to be watching the Grand Final tomorrow ... who will operate all the rides at The Royal Melbourne Show?


“Well it’s Black or White – it’s lose or win
It’s Collingwood, uh-oh they’ve been done again”

It’s a sad, sad night, down at Vicky Park
I see the crowds roll out, into the cold and dark
And every pub in Johnson Street is full up to the brim
And the fists are clenched, the feet are stampin’
The faces oh so grim
My Dad gets home he just won’t talk ‘Hey Mum, what’s wrong with him?’

“Well you can call it Black, you can call it White
There’ll be a tough time in the old town tonight”

My Dad is dealing out some bitter chips
Us kids we’re eatin’, we’re eatin’ fish & chips
He’s watching telly, is he insane?
It’s the football replay and he goes through it all again

“But you can call it Black, you can call it White
There’ll be a tough time in the old town tonight
There’ll be a tough time in the old town tonight”

Now on Sunday morning, so quiet it seems
Nobody heard our poor Mother’s screams
Nor saw the Police car coming through the night
But Mum just cried and she just said that she would be alright

Now Dad just goes about his business like it’s all the same
The cat’s run off, the chooks won’t lay, the old black dog went lame
And if I open my big mouth he says; “look, it’s just a game!”

“Well you can call it Black, you can call it White
There’ll be a tough time in the old town tonight
There’ll be a tough time in the old town tonight
There’ll be some drinkin’ at the old hotel tonight
There’ll be a tough time down in Carringbush tonight”

... tough time in the old town tonight!
... tough time in the old town tonight!
... drinkin’ at the old hotel tonight!
... tough time down in Carringbush tonight!

“You better not laugh, you better not cry, I’m tellin’ you why!”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ale Stars & The Beer Ambassadors

It was a different Ale Stars session last night as 65 gathered downstairs at The Local Taphouse in St Kilda like the bear that went over the mountain - to see what they could see.

Ale Stars, you see, usually has a theme, be it a beer style a beer type or beers from a particular brewery. But this time things were different. In fact, I bet if you asked a thousand beer lovers if they’d like to pop over for a ‘slide night’ you’d get a thousand answers ranging from “I’m washing my hair” to “piss off you idiot”.

But, as I said, last night was different. The slide night was being presented by The Beer Ambassadors.

The Beer Ambassadors are Barney Matthews and Miro Bellini from Fed Square must-hang-out, Beer Deluxe and Road Goat, Tom Delmont. And their slide nights are well worth attending. Combine it with a big group of interested onlookers and a fist or two full of very nice American Craft Beers and who could say no, really?

Of the 65 who did say yes, few had any real idea what to expect. Most knew of the boys’ recent trip to the States where they set out to visit 25 breweries and bars in 25 days and sample the best of what that burgeoning Craft Beer scene has to offer but there was a little mystery as to how they would make an Ale Stars night out of it. As it turned out, the boys themselves didn’t really know, either.

What we got was a rollicking night filled with tales of travel and friendships, of mountains and medical emergencies and 200kg Mexican bedmates. You just had to be there.

The beers were different to what we were used to as well. Not that were exact replicas of the beers that the Ambassadors sipped in The States, but representative nonetheless. A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale from Lagunitas got things going and for those in the room (most of us) who had not had an American style wheat beer were divided on this one. Love it or leave it seemed to be the two camps.

Ale Stars had been treated to an Avery Beer when we tasted Brown Ales and this time round we had their flagship IPA which kept things ticking at 6.3% and accompanied the Ambassadors tales of foaming fermenters and Ron Jeremy branded production lines. Don’t ask, I’ll tell you when we next catch up for a beer. But let’s just say it had something to do with ‘packing the most boxes’ ... ooops, may have given it away there. [CAN WE EDIT THAT OUT IN POST? Prof. YEP, THINK SO. Ed]

Salvation then appeared in the form of Avery’s Belgian Strong Pale Ale of the same name and, at 9% it would have to be something pretty drastic that you were being saved from. Warm and rich and spicy and coincidentally sharing its name with a Russian River Brewing Company beer. In a sign of where the Craft Beer scene in The States is at, the two breweries have combined rather than collided to make a joint-blended beer called Collaboration – not Litigation.

Shandy is still in two minds
as to who he is siding with

We finished the formal tasting with a Left Hand Milk Stout which was very much a desserty end to the savoury offerings enjoyed to that point. The Beer Ambassadors closed out the evening with a terrific story that seemed to require selected edits from each of the boys in order to fill in all the missing details that each suffered from. Let’s just say that if you ever find yourself lost, looking for a taxi on a strange corner in a state of fairly severe inebriation, you could do worse than to wake up on a sofa next to a rather large Mexican named Purnell who, until that very minute was a complete and utter stranger and who, as it turned out, didn’t violate you in any way. That you can remember.

That’s a trip worth taking.

Prof Pilsner

And just a quick shout-out to our good mate and long time Ale Star, Kelv, who is heading off to conquer Perth and drink a lot more of the WA Craft Beer a lot fresher. A top bloke and a loyal mate and true friend of Craft Beer. His last regular Ale Star event was last night's and I'd like to take the opportunity to wish him all the best and to thank him for his company on the journey so far. Cheers and Good Luck mate.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

And now for something completely different

Ale Stars beer appreciation club/collective/gathering/tribe/mob at The Local Taphouse has been travelling along nicely now for just over two years.

In that time we have been treated to beers from all over the world and across the growing Australian Craft Beer landscape and made plenty of good friends and met plenty of good brewers along the way.

In sessions past we have worked our way through beers in a particular style, beers for a particular season or beers from a particular brewery.

Tonight will meet a peculair trio.

The Beer Ambassadors are Barney Mathews and Miro Bellini from Beer Deluxe and "Road Goat" Tom Delmont who recently travelled the US to ... well, to drink beer, really. Tonight Ale Stars will be regaled by the stories of their trip.

If you haven't booked in already, be quick. This could be something special.
7 for a 7.30 start, beers and pizza and trivia and heaps of fun for $40.

Prof Pilsner

Monday, September 20, 2010

Braggot finds new friends

The Courthouse Restaurant Beer Dinner

I have to admit that I was going to begin this post by telling you how many Beer Dinners I’ve hosted at The Courthouse Restaurant over the last 6 years but I can’t actually remember the total and I can’t find all the menus that I’ve kept which would have given me an idea at least.

Let’s say that I reckon it’s about twenty.

My point was going to be this; each dinner has featured at least five and sometimes six and one time seven beers and I have only used two beers more than once (Schofferhoffer Kristallweizen and Bridge Road Brewers Australian Ale) and rarely use more than one beer that we already have on the Beer List, so it’s fair to say that we have always tried to give value for money.

But, to be fair, I have generally had to cater mostly to a market that, while willing to try something ‘new’ is not one to really embrace anything ‘different’, and so particularly early on we had to use a more mainstream standard of beers to make sure we didn’t scare too many away. After all, you don’t win a Grand Prix on the first lap.

But, as the base of regular supporters has grown (I’ve done Beer Dinners early in the piece with a table of two and a table of four and, more recently for 56 people) I’ve found that I need to ensure that the maturing palates are not disadvantaged. The beer selection has consequently matured to include lesser known styles and unfamiliar brands including a growing emphasis on Australian Craft Beer.

But the last Beer Dinner I took things a step further. Not only were the guests introduced to the mysteries of Dark Lager in the steely form of Matilda Bay Dogbolter, we then crashed their palates with a very hoppy Anchor Liberty Ale and then completely changed their perceptions of what beer CAN be by finishing the night with a Bridge Road Brewers Megachile Pluto Braggot. As you can guess there were so many foreign words in that one that it took us ten minutes just to introduce the beer!

Braggot, that Ale/Mead hybrid so well loved of the Medieval Britons, was recently reintroduced to the craft beer scene by Bridge Road Brewers Nardia McGrath (amazingly and coincidentally at the same time by Red Duck Brewery as ‘Ugly Duckling’ at 14%!). The Bridge Road Braggot uses a rather generous 85kgs of Beechworth Red Stringy Bark honey in its 800litre batch and this gives it warmth and mellowness and a nice big hug with its 10% alcohol level.

And here’s the point of this whole post. The Braggot went down an absolute treat. The response was terrifically positive and, considering the guests had already had at least four beers and four courses by then, there was very little left undrunk. Beer, that is, not people. Although, as I recall, there were very few people left un-wobbly! But happily so.

So from here on in I need to readjust my thinking when I’m standing in the beer aisle choosing the beers to suit the dishes I have in mind. While I still have to make sure that the beers fit into the per-head budget I reckon I can throw in at least one – and maybe even two – beers that are outside the comfort zone for the average drinker.

I might even call it The Braggot Principle. Thanks, Nardia.

Prof Pilsner

Oh, and Ben? I might grab some B2 Bomber for the next Beer Dinner on October 15. I know you guys are still fighting over whose beer has the most positive review! You might even like to invite yourself down and I’ll make it a Bridge Road Beer Dinner...?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

2010 Crown Ambassador Reserve

I suppose that if you manage a restaurant that offers around a hundred different beers it stands to reason that you will frequently come into contact with people who will show an interest in beer. Some of these will become more than just guests or regulars, they will become friends.

One of these rang me (from his holiday in Queensland, no less) and asked if I’d like to come as his guest to a Beer Masterclass at the RACV Club hosted by Fosters Head Brewer John Cozens and featuring tastings of, among others, the Crown Ambassador Reserve Lager – 2010. After a nano-second’s thought, I replied that I would.

The 2010 Crown Ambassador has been in the news of late and sadly not just because of its $90 price tag or because of the niche it is carving for itself in the beer market. Based on the malt/hop platform of its premium lager’s namesake, Crown Ambassador is big (10%ABV), bold (fresh wet Galaxy hop flowers) and brassy (presentation box, hand-capped, limited to 7,000 champagne style bottles.

Unfortunately it also has one unintended added extra. Brettanomyces. Brett, to you and me and any brewer who knows his stuff. Actively sought out by those wanting to brew a sour Lambic style beer but assiduously avoided by those trying to brew, say, a layered, super-premium, limited release specialty brew. As an example.

Brett is a sneaky little wild yeast which imparts a firm sourness and some high-end funky aromas - all of which make a good Lambic but are not necessarily welcome in a beer that doesn’t set out to be Lambic. It’s not the end of a beer, in particular one which has such complexity and depth – if anything, if you’re going to get stung with Brett, this is the kind of beer that just might carry it.

Enough of the back story - for those wanting a comprehensive insight into this issue, I refer you straight to The Crafty Pint – it has pictures and quotes and EVERYTHING!!

This piece is my experience of the 2010 Crown Ambassador Reserve Lager as shared with John Cozens and a Wine Bar full of ‘Everyman’. To set the scene; the RACV Club hosts various events for its members and the Beer Masterclass is a small group (30 at most I think) sat in the upstairs Wine Bar. Six beers are served along with ‘light delicacies’ to match and the evening is hosted by an industry expert/ identity.

We began with a standard Crown Lager (not that any present expected to use this as a reference point for the Ambassador!) followed by a Cascade Green (for the Galaxy hop addition – I know it’s in there somewhere) and then onto a side-by-side tasting of the 2010 and the 2009 Crown Ambassador Reserves. A Duvel and a Hoegaarden were set to finish.

John introduced the night and spoke with a genuine warmth of the purpose and method behind producing a beer like the Ambassador. It is always fascinating for me to hear the reasons behind the beers and John conveyed beautifully the way in which this beer set out to be just a beer, not one that would be confined to a particular style guideline. A ‘layered’ beer based on the core Crown ingredients but built up with levels of malt, hops, yeast flavours and high alcohol to give the drinker a series of little experiences on the way down.

After tasting the 2010 Ambassador John called for comments and the hands shot up. Remembering that most present were not beer industry experts or even craft beer advocates – to be fair, most were rank novices - the response puts into context the problem, as I see it, that Foster’s has created for itself.

The overwhelming reaction was that the beer ‘smelled bad’. “Is it just that it’s a bit young?” asked one “Is that smell supposed to be there?” queried another while others asked if the smell was the hops or the yeast. It was at this point when I felt for john Cozens as he is a brewer but also an employee.

Knowing what I already knew (I had consulted two reliable sources to ensure that the Brett issue had in fact been admitted by Foster’s) I was interested to hear the reply. And it’s not that he tried to say that the Brett WASN’T there but that the ‘youth’ of the beer and the unexpected wetness of the hops WERE suggested as factors in the funky nature of the new flagship brew. I guess I wanted to hear that the beer had in fact contracted an unexpected infection (even if the source is still a mystery) but that this only added to the unique nature of the beer. Perhaps this audience wasn’t the right one for that concept?

And so to the Prof’s conclusions. [Remember, I’m a pretend Prof, no real scientific qualifications. It’s just a name I made up]

From chatting with John Cozens I can appreciate that Foster’s has a marketing dilemma rather than a brewing dilemma on their hands. Yes, the beer has an unexpected and, indeed, unwelcome addition to the flavour profile. Yes, they would prefer that it wasn’t there because even in a ‘Beer with no Style’ you still don’t want to list “infection” on the ingredients panel. But does that warrant a recall or discount or a public flogging in the town square? Probably not. But an admission that sometimes even under the strictest controls and the tightest testing something can go amiss would have been nice.

I reckon the Ambassador will come good in two or three years and that’s probably as much a hope as it is a considered opinion but I’m happy to wait and see. I still think the concept of the Ambassador is a good one because next year’s Vintage will still sell because there are those who need it to ‘complete the set’ and there are those who will want one as a gift or to display in the boardroom. Who knows, they might even have forgotten all about the stink by then.

“Brett? Wasn’t he the bloke from the second series of “The Farmer wants a Root?”

Prof Pilsner
(Proudly NOT a real Professor)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Buses, Beechworth, Bright and a bit of Beer

On paper it all innocent enough. A weekend bus trip to historic Beechworth in Victoria’s North East on Saturday and a casual lunch visit to Bright on the Sunday for lunch.

This trip, however, was not conducted on paper but in the form of three minibuses filled with Ale Stars and Local Taphouse regulars and the destinations included two of Victoria’s finest craft breweries and Beechworth’s oldest hotel so ‘innocent’ was suddenly looking like a forlorn hope.

Add to the mix three 2-way radios, 3 dodgy Op Shop Bus Driver uniforms and a healthy dose of shenanigans and the trip began to take on more of a Footy Trip feel.

In short the trip had everything. From stunning views and limited release brews to bargain hunting and Bogan spotting – we even had real beer tears and lost a couple of our number along the way.

It all began just before our scheduled departure time when Justin rang Guy from Thrifty Rentals in South Melbourne to explain that they had no record of our bus booking. “That’s probably because the bus is booked at Avis Rentals in South Melbourne”, Guy replied. This was a good omen.

With all passengers (and buses) accounted for we set off in convoy for Beechworth some 300 kms away. Trivia questions and a beer version of ‘Spotto’ were on hand to keep ‘the kids’ amused on the 3 & a 1/2 hour journey but it wasn’t long before it became clear that Fun & Frivolity would be the order of the day. An exchange of paperwork at the first set of traffic lights kinda set the standard.

And we hadn’t had a beer yet.

Communication between buses via 2 way radios was arranged so that stops could be co-ordinated, road conditions passed on and, most importantly, so that no-one would get lost. Two outta three ain’t bad. Green Leader (Guy) headed us along the Hume until the first Wangaratta turn off where he took the exit before Amber 2 (Prof) could get on the mike and say “DON’T!!” Silver Fox (Justin) had a big call to make; follow the Prof’s call or head off with the tear-aways.

He chose poorly.

A call was put out quickly (before we lost radio contact) to let the Lost Boys know that we would wait on the Great Alpine Road while they took in the unplanned sights of Wangaratta township. We expected to catch them up in around 10 minutes. That’s ten minutes in normal time, which is actually twenty minutes in “Wangaratta is flooded and we needed to take a bit of a detour time”.

Two important decisions were then made. JJ and GG allowed the Prof to change his call sign to ‘Lone Wolf’ and also that ‘Lone Wolf’ would take the lead from here on in. A relatively relaxing and uneventful jaunt into Beechworth saw us head in convoy down Ford Street and around into the back carpark of Bridge Road Brewers at – you won’t believe this – exactly 1.15pm as per the itinerary. Things could really only go pear-shaped from this point.

While the thirsty travellers availed themselves of several of Ben Kraus’ splendid brews the bus drivers drove the convoy to Latrobe at Beechworth which, despite being no more than 10 minutes walking distance from the brewery, took us half an hour, 2 laps of town and a visit to the Information Centre to locate. I should have led us off. Once the group was checked-in and the luggage dumped en masse in the closest room, the drivers headed back to Bridge road Brewers to begin the Bus Drivers’ favourite game, “Catch Up”.

The afternoon was spent enjoying the local culture while the night was spent enjoying the local wildlife. It’s fair to say that a fair amount of coin was ploughed into the local economy and it wasn’t long before the town knew it had some visitors. The night wore on in various lengths and as the sun came up the last of the crew was getting back to bed as the first were presenting for breakfast.

By the time our scheduled departure drew near we realised we were 2 short of a full tour as some friends of James had yet to surface. A light knock on their door suggested they had wandered into town with half a dozen others but, when leaving time arrived and they were still MIA, a gentle pounding was applied to the door before the decision was made to leave without them. Afterall, a 6.6% attrition rate for a tour of this type is more than acceptable.

We made our way to Bright with a couple of fake indicator manoeuvres, a couple of ‘two-times-round-the-roundabout’ and more than a couple of sore heads. Beautiful sunshine greeted us, along with Scott Brandon from Bright Brewery and after a tour and some more tastings we had lunch and a special dessert – some ‘experimental’ chill distilled Fainter’s Dubbel from Scott’s cellar. A cracking warm and rich sherry-like brew but not one for those with a four hour drive to look forward to.

As we wound up our trip with the obligatory ‘after’ group photo (including two chairs with Bright Mini Kegs to represent our fallen comrades) we bade farewell to Bright and pointed the wagons homeward. Carefully planned piss stops, sorry Pit Stops and pre-arranged drop offs were confirmed and we were away. These plans were all soon discarded as we stopped off at the Milawa Cheese factory and several bladders proved to be less iron-clad than their owners had given them credit for.

The trip concluded with some absolutely text-book sensational co-ordinated passing moves (geez those 2 way radios were worth the effort!) and some very entertaining rounds of Spot The Bogan before we approached the lights of the city. Before we began to shed passengers along the way into St Kilda a straw poll was conducted to see which of the many beers sampled over the preceding 48 hours was the favourite.

The Bridge Road B2 Bomber and the Bright Staircase Porter were well supported but the clear winner was the Bridge Road Bier de Garde on handpump at Tanswell’s commercial Hotel. As too what was the funniest/scariest/most embarrassing moment from the weekend ... well, you know, what happens on tour STAYS on tour!

Needless to say preparations are being made to arrange the next Ale Stars Road Trip with various destinations and durations being considered. I’m all for returning to Beechworth and Bright again and I’ve even offered to drive the big bus.

If nothing else, we owe it to the two we left behind to at least make a half-arsed effort to find them!

Prof Pilsner

P.S. A huge thank you to Big Kelv for his sterling job of Wingman. Shotgun Rider, Navigator and, most importantly, Hanging-Out-The-Window-Photographer on my bus. And a special shout-out to all my passengers for their company and friendship. We really must do it all again. Soon.