Thursday, June 30, 2011

So, what’s doin’?

“What’s been happening, Prof?”

It’s a question I’ve been getting asked a bit of late in various quarters and the answer is invariably the same; “Yeah, busy. But it’s a good busy.”

I know I’ve been neglecting the blog a bit but I haven’t had an idle pen. Or typing finger. I’ve been busy writing is what I’m saying.

For those who don’t know I have been a regular contributor to Australian Brews News, an online initiative of Matt Kirkegaard, formerly known as Beer Matt and still known as a top beer bloke who is not afraid to speak his mind when it comes to a controversial issue. If there are fences at Matt’s house, he ain’t sittin’ on ‘em.

Aus Brews News has given me the opportunity to have my random (and often rubbish thoughts) heard by a wider audience. A very, very wide audience. I don’t know how these things are measured, nor do I know what a search engine looks like nor how Google spiders rank content. To be perfectly Francis I don’t even really know what that last sentence means but I DO know that lots of people are reading my stuff for entertainment and a bit of edumacation during their journey with beer.

If you haven’t read my contributions to Australia’s most popular and fastest growing web-based on-line internet-only magazine about beer and called Australian Brews News – well what’s wrong with you? It really is a cracking good read and the best place to get all the news, views and reviews about brews in this country since about whenever.

As if that was not enough on its own a new initiative has been launched from this new frontier of beer journalism. Radio Brews News is a series of Podcasts (just learned what those things are) in which a couple of very talented, knowledgeable and easy-to-listen-to blokes get together and chat wittily and interestingly with the finest minds in the brewing world. It’s even on iTunes (had an idea what that was already) and you can download it and listen to it on the train. That’s better than wasting time ‘tweeting’ (learned what that was the hard way) that you are, in fact, on the train.

Don’t panic though. I’m not planning on deserting the blog as I can see by the little counter thingy that plenty of people are still reading it. Either that or it’s back to the old days of 2007 when people accidentally stumbled upon it when mis-typing boobies. I intend to keep it as updated as possible and keep the content relevant and informative while also keeping the humour that so often invades my thoughts on beery issues.

What I hope to be doing in future is posting an ‘alert’ when each of my hotly anticipated releases is published over at Australian Brews News and also when each new episode of Radio Brews News is available on iTunes. You should have a listen, really, as it is the (arguably) greatest thing to happen to radio since the adjustable frequency dial.

After a week in which everything from an Ale Stars session, three Beer Dinner hostings and a tasting for Dads at a kinder along with arranging and recording two episodes of Radio Brews News (see above if you have forgotten how good it is) have been completed, I reckon I need a break. The eldest Pilsner is away on school camp for a couple of weeks it seems a good time to head for warmer climes for a bit. In the meantime I might arrange for some of my favourite pieces to get a second airing so those new to the blog can see what it used to be like.


Prof Pilsner

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Getting the Dads together

Once upon a time there was a bloke. He lived in a green and pleasant land and time marched on slowly as he found his way in the world. The bloke grew up and found a girl. They were soon married. Then they had a couple of kids. Suddenly life began to move at a faster pace. Work hours were longer and quality time shorter. Life’s little simple pleasures were fewer and more fleeting.

I write these words not as a fairly ordinary attempt to write a modern fairy story but as a cautionary tale of taking the time to smell the roses. Or, in this case, the hops, malt and yeast. You see, I learned something the other night about being both a Beer Bloke and being a Dad.

A booking for a beer tasting at a little pre-school in a Bayside suburb was made in the hope that the Dads could get together and get to know each other. For those not yet along the path of the great journey of educating your offspring, I’ll say just this; it is an experience that is the most exciting and at the same time most challenging and frightening of your young lives. And it flies by bloody quick.

So for the dozen Dads and a few of their mates and associates, this beer tasting was meant just to give them an opportunity to meet and perhaps lock away a few faces with whom they will take the journey. This is what I was getting at when I started to write this piece. I can reflect on my own ‘journey’ and realise that your kids’ education is not as simple as handing the little ones off to the teacher at 9 each morning and having them returned at 3.30. It is indeed a journey and a partnership. And it takes a few helpers to make it a rounded and valuable experience.

These blokes got together in the kinder under the assembled artworks of their children and surrounded by big picture books and pots filled with jumbo textas to sample a few nice beers. And here’s where my own beer journey came to realise that it had covered some distance. Standing there, pouring beers and discussing the various relevant back stories or style parameters of each made me acutely aware that many of these blokes knew little about what they usually drank but were very keen to learn. Just like their kids, really. But without the beer. The kids, that is, not the Dads. More of that later.

It wasn’t that they didn’t want to learn about beer or take a discovery tour of different beers it was just that they didn’t really know how to begin the journey. It was easier to drink what you always drank. In many respects, these Dads were like any of the other blokes I have been fortunate enough to share my journey with. Because, like them, I have met hundreds more who, for whatever reason, are more afraid of being disappointed than they are expectant of being pleasantly surprised. “I might not like this new beer so I’ll stick to what I know” is an all too common fallback for many.

Now imagine that the kids in the kinder class took the same attitude. “I’m pretty happy reading picture books, playing in the sand pit and not washing my hands a lot; might just stick at this level”. Luckily for them (and for us) they possess a natural curiousity for the big wide world around them. This thirst for knowledge means that they read increasingly difficult books with bigger and bigger words and they learn to write their names more legibly. They make the leap to the third rung of the monkey bars and they keep getting scraped knees until they can ride a bike or a scooter.

So when do we suddenly stop looking for new challenges and bigger tastes and beers with different labels with foreign writing on them and stop worrying about how bad a beer might taste and instead wonder how good a beer might taste? What makes us sit there and think; “Don’t imagine I’ll ever find a nicer beer than that so I really can’t be arsed looking”?

Just as we want our kids to take the educational journey of discovery and to suck up every piece of wonderous knowledge along the way and to be constantly amazed and delighted at every turn, we should want the same for our adult selves. And, just like the partnership of teachers and friends and family that our kids need, so to should we grab some mates and head out along the beery trail to new horizons – together.


Prof Pilsner

For the record, and for those wondering, yes, I had meant for this piece to be a bit of a review of the beers we shared at this particular Beer Blokes Tasting and something of a plug for the Beer Blokes Tastings but on the night I realised that that there were many parallels between our beer journies and our other more educational ones.

We drank – Boag’s XXX Ale, McLaren Vale Vale Ale, Matilda Bay Fat Yak and finished with Stone & Wood Pacific Ale, to which all the Dad wags referred to as; “That Stone Cold” and which they reckoned was “pretty bloody good”.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bringing a taste of Tasmania to The Plough

The Plough Inn in Myrniong, as discussed here in previous posts, is not just a watering hole in the middle of nowhere. To be fair, it’s actually off the road to the middle of nowhere and that’s part of its charm. It is very much a part of the local community in a way that many of us can only imagine pubs of old were.

It sits on a gently sweeping bend in the road and shares the local landscape with Myrniong Primary School #487. Apart from the sprawling farms and cosy houses nestled into the hills there is not much else in town but the Plough and the school. Serving dinner from Thursday to Saturday with lunch a few days a week it is rarely anything but filled with people enjoying convivial company, a wide range of beer with four taps and plenty more in the fridge and food worth travelling great distances for.

The local primary school was the grateful recipient of the Plough’s generosity and a rather large chunk of cash when it shared the spoils of the most recent Beer Dinner. Beer Blokes was on hand to host the evening of fun, food, frothies and fundraising along with Lion Nathan rep, Paul Mitchem and very special guest, Brew Team Leader Stephen Jensen from Boag’s in Launceston.

Without getting into the pros and cons of Brewery Tap Contracts here, it must be said that owner and Chef Mark Mills is doing all he can to bring a range of good beer to his country clientele. In what can be described as a fruitful partnership with Lion Nathan’s Paul Mitchem, The Plough has a commercial tap arrangement with the big brewer which sees everything from Boag’s Draught and Beck’s to James Squire Pilsner and Hahn White rotating through taps that once saw just two mainstream brands poured.

And, in what can only be described as ‘unusual’ the contract allows for Mark to swing the taps over to anything his heart desires and wallet affords in order to promote beer and food through his regular Beer Blokes-hosted Beer Dinners. How nice is that?! So, in order to present a themed dinner, Mark can tap a variety of local or international beers other than those wrapped in the contract.

On this occasion, though, the theme was ‘A Taste of Tasmania’ with five beers from James Boag’s & Son paired with five delectable courses of Taswegian inspired treats pulled fresh from the sea, plucked from the fields and reared from the pastures of The Apple Isle. As always, the locals showed their support in numbers and the dining room soon filled with eager beer lovers and expectant foodies.

Fresh sumptuous seafood featured prominently in the first few courses, as you might expect, with prawns and salmon bookending one of the most delightful oyster dishes you could imagine. Simple fresh oysters were paired with tempura battered oysters nestled back in their shells on a bed of sweet pumpkin puree. This, when combined with a crisp clean James Boag’s XXX Ale created a rare taste sensation.

For those wondering, no, the Boag’s XXX Ale is not actually available on the mainland. In fact, it is available only in Launceston and this shipment was as difficult to secure as a beer delivery can get. Brewed continuously since James Boag first commenced brewing in the Island State’s northern capital in 1883, XXX Ale is a sample of simpler times when beer was unfettered by constraints of bold bitterness or pretentious flavours.

But if you had the feeling that the logistics department at the brewery struggled with the mechanics of sending those cases across Bass Strait, it was nothing compared to the troubles connected with serving the next beer. Wizard Smith Ale is a cracking interpretation of a flavoursome English style ale named for a loyal Boag’s employee who saved the company draught horse fleet from rising flood waters and received for his efforts a lifetime tenure at the brewery. Again, it is a beer which struggled to find mainstream acceptance and was consigned to the beery scrap heap of history until the locals revolted and the company relented. Like the XXX Ale, it is now available in Launceston only and here is where the trouble begins.

It seems that sales and delivery codes were either non-existent or long forgotten by those charged with ensuring the safe delivery of orders and not once, but twice, was the Plough invoice rejected and the beer returned to the store. Once the powers-that-be were convinced that both The Plough AND the Wizard Smith did, in fact, exist, the kegs were dispatched. In rather large quantities, too, so if you would like to see just how good a local mainstream version of good honest session ale can be, head on off to The Plough in the next few months. Actually, given the vigour with which the locals took to this ale it might be gone in the next few weeks. All 9 kegs.

One of the key people responsible for brewing this and the other Boag’s beers is Stephen Jensen a brewing Team Leader and a genuinely nice bloke. (Are there any other kinds of brewers, really?) Stephen happened to be on holiday (many Tasmanians come to Melbourne during winter chasing warmer days – though not many like Stephen who hails originally from Ipswich) and was more than happy to meet and greet the folks at The Plough and to answer their brewing questions.

A sea voyage on the Spirit Of Tasmania to rival that of the original trips made by India Pale Ales saw Stephen pull up a little dusty and wanting for sleep but, true to his craft, he pushed on and did his employer proud. Having the man who brews the beers presenting the beers makes for a great value experience for the novice and expert alike and it was rather later in the night than planned when Stephen finally left the bar.

All in all, Myrniong Primary School raised enough cash to ensure that all attending the end of year concert will do so for free, several blokes proved that bidding (in some cases against themselves) for Boag’s merchandise and a case of beer is not best done towards the end of a Beer Blokes Beer Dinner, the locals got a great taste of the food and beer of some of Tasmania’s best producers and – most importantly – the role of a proper country pub in its community, was further established.


Prof Pilsner