Thursday, March 17, 2011

Crazy Ales

After three years of Ale Star sessions featuring different beer styles, I guess there comes a time when the pickins’ get a little slim. It’s not that you begin running out of styles because a good beer style can always be revisited, and there’s nothing wrong with going over old ground anyway – it just makes it harder to ‘sell’.

And when you promote the latest session as one featuring ‘Crazy Ales’, well, you probably expect to see fewer bums on seats than if you are showcasing a more popular style with a new age Rock Star Brewer as special guest. While the crowd was perhaps a bit smaller than usual The Local Taphouse St Kilda proved once again that “if you build it, they will come” as forty-odd hardy souls sat down to what Ale Czar Shandy prefers to call “Unusual beers”.

Most drinkers of the amber nectar are by now familiar with the basic ingredients of malt, hops and yeast and most regular visitors to Ale Stars are probably familiar with the addition of fruits, spices and other vegetal media to enhance a beer or replace a more common ingredient. Those present were treated to four examples of the flexibility that beer has in carrying flavours and imparting new and unusual aromas.

Beginning with a Grozet Gooseberry & Wheat Ale from Williams Brothers in Scotland the Ale Stars were treated to bready and wheaty aromas mixed beautifully with lime cordial and freshly boiled lollies. A light carbonation and tart berry finish make for a refreshing drink. The “wee hairy grapes” as the Scots colloquially refer to gooseberries give the beer its character without overpowering the palate.

For those familiar with the latest addition to The Taphouse ‘family’ The Funky Brewster was on show for the next beer with the latest offering from resident Darlo Taphouse Ale Czar, Darren ‘Doc’ Robinson’s Zephyr White Ale making its way through some orange peel and native Pepperberries to produce a luxurious mouthfeel and tastes of citrus and spice in just the right measure. Patience was also a requirement as the Taphouse Beer Guru; James Smith struggled to unblock the outlet valve of lodged Pepperberries.

Mikkeller has been at the forefront of the global beer movement which can best be described as; “What can we possibly stick in a beer that hasn’t been tried yet?” After toying with specific yeasts and hop varieties through to barrel aging and adding weasel poo-flavoured coffee beans they have had a red hot go at just about everything. Their Texas Ranger has a fair bit going on in the glass with sweet and sour and spicy and smoky all wrapped up in a black richness with slight astringency in the end. Different? Yup.

We finished with a Beer Here Morke Pumpernickel Porter which you really have to try to fully appreciate the full range of flavours and mouthfeels as it slips effortlessly down. As Shandy put it so well; “not for a session but a real crossover for the liquid bread fans”. Enough said.

For an abbreviated crowd the night had plenty of atmosphere and chatter with the Mikkeller probably just edging out the Zephyr as the night’s favourite. The room at The Local Taphouse showed that whether you call them ‘crazy’ or just ‘unusual’ there is definitely a market for beers that showcase ‘different’ ingredients. And we couldn’t say that just a few years ago, could we?


Prof Pilsner

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