Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ale Stars turns 2

There’s just something about beer, isn’t there?

A social lubricant, a new baby head-wetter a toast to the bride and groom or a glass raised in memory – it’s always there. Always has and always will be. Goodness, you can even enjoy a quiet one on your own.

But a beer shared is a real experience.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a small crew of mates who get together regularly and share a beer and shoot the breeze and, if you’re really lucky, you’ll have a place close by in which to do this meeting and drinking. But if you’re really, really, really lucky – you’ll have something like Ale Stars.

Two years ago Ale Stars began with little more than polite applause from eight drinkers who were not really sure what would happen. This week it celebrated its second birthday with a craft beer-fuelled fanfare before 82 people, most of whom knew exactly what to expect. What a difference two years, 50 signed-up members, almost 100 different beers and plenty of Wednesday morning sleep-ins can make!

Ale Stars, in essence, is a beer appreciation ‘session’ where drinkers gather to taste four or five samples of a particular beer style, or the assembled offerings of a craft brewery. They are ‘led’ by a host who describes the characteristics of the style, gives a bit of history and peppers the evening with witty asides, some challenging trivia and the chance to ask questions. A guest brewer may be on hand to introduce his or her beers personally and shed some light on the brewing process or the trials and tribulations of running a small business.

But it is so much more than a simple paragraph can convey.

I usually devote this page each month to describing the sometimes amusing and always entertaining ‘doings’ that transpire on these nights (I’ve attended every session apart from the very first) and I list the beers we tried and the thoughts of the guests and I often attempt to translate Shandy’s hosting, but this time will be different.

Apart from the fact that the room was generously dotted with real, proper beer-writing journalists who will no doubt write more tightly edited and less rambling descriptions of the event than I could manage, I decided late in the piece that I would focus on ‘the vibe’ and ‘the feel’ and the ‘this-is-what-it’s-really-all-about’ kind of thing instead.

I have the distinction of choosing to travel 40 minutes by car to get to Ale Stars each month and, while this can somewhat curtail my ability to fully immerse myself in the experience, it gives me a great insight into how it affects people. In particular, those who are able to enjoy the ‘fringe benefits of Ale Stars. These include SUBS (Sneaky Upstairs Beers before the session), TWEENIES (beers enjoyed in between the listed samples), AFTERS (self explanatory, really) and even SHOULD’NEES (Beers enjoyed after AFTERS when, really you should be heading home, but you stay for just one more – “Oooh, ah SHOULD”NEE, but why nort?”) G’Day Shandy!!

As a result, I often find myself in the midst of conversations that truly illustrate what it is about Ale Stars that is not good just for the craft beer scene in Australia, but also for its people on a more personal and community level. What The Local Taphouse has tried to create is a ‘local’ where anyone can meet and feel at home. It’s like those pubs we have probably all read about or heard about or even dreamt about but assumed were consigned to the pages of Pub History.

Don’t get me wrong, for many it is all about the beer – good beer brewed well by good people – but for many I think it is becoming as much about a sense of commonality and shared experience and community as it is about trying new styles or discussing brewing techniques and ABVs and IBUs and such.

It is in these conversations that I have learned more about what drives beer culture, about why young people are able to move more freely from VB to Russian Imperial Stout than my predecessors ever were and about where this journey is taking us all. Speaking to people who genuinely appreciate what it is about beer that drives their passion and satisfies their curiosities and provides for them real friendships and more than a few laughs. These are what it is all about.

And Ale Stars provides these opportunities – even if it didn’t set out to do it and even if it doesn’t realise that it’s doing it!

That’s more than enough philosophicality for one post. I will write more about the 2nd birthday party later because having the Mountain Goat crew on board en masse as well as the first pouring of the 2nd edition of the Homebrew Champions collaborative effort with the Goat Guys is all worth its own page. For now, I just needed to pull together all the little thoughts and feelings that were buzzing around my head on the drive home.

For the rest, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Prof Pilsner


Steve said...

Beautifully said Prof.

Funnily enough, Ale Stars was actually conceived to be something like you've described but the extent of its success (measured in all the ways you mention) has been a joy to see.

All Hail the Ale..

Shandy said...

Nice write up Prof. I remember vividly the first meetings I had with Steve to discuss the possibility of the club and what we thought it might be and become. Even back then Steve thought we could possibly get 50 people to come along. Wish I'd put some money on that. Two years on and it shows no sign of slowing up. It's such a great place to come each month and so great to see all the same people each time. I love it.


Koops said...

Where's my 'like' button?

Chris said...

"Apart from the fact that the room was generously dotted with real, proper beer-writing journalists..."

I wouldn't say I was a proper beer journalist at all - just a travel writer than falls into the wrong crowd now and then mate.

Didn't realise you were in the room or I would have introduced myself.

Greenman said...

Love your work Prof! Really brings a tear to the eye.

Your influence on the vibe of the "club" is really not to be underestimated either...

You personify what it's all about with your generous spirit, your always-friendly-and-welcoming approach not to mention your ever-present wit and humour!

Great having you as an integral part of it mate.

Chris said...

...oh and love the site. keep it up.

Beer Blokes said...

Steve, Guy and Shandy,
Thanks for the compliments! I think the best part of it all from my perspective is that Ale Stars is kind of 'organic' - it just evolves at it goes, it is what is, which is to say it's who's there and what's happening rather than something that's constructed or planned. I think that makes sense. Great to be a part of, anyway.

I'm one of those 'ludites' that just has a blog but I can assure you that when anyone reads my stuff and appreciates my work, it activates the 'like' button in my soul!

I meant to pop over and introduce myself but saw you were busy holding court on the stage whenever I was free!

Hope you got a feel for the 'vibe' of Ale Stars despite the hectic nature that results from having 82 people enjoying the experience. Steve and I once mused that Ale Stars would be 'too big' if we ever needed to use a microphone ... we might have to re-visit that one.

Had read some of your stuff in the airline mags, dailies and Beer & Brewer - sorry to lump you in with all those beer writers, hope we see you again soon in the wrong crowd, we'll share an ale then!

Prof Pilsner

Beer Blokes said...

By the way Chris, hope you got my pic of Barry pouring the first 2 champs Kolsch. I sent it via Steve at The Local.

Chris said...

yep cheers for the pic. Hope you guys do more stuff in the north soon (fitz, coll, carlton) !!