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