Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why we do what we do ...or, Beer Dinner at The Plough with Sam and the Sparrows

(Photo Eddie Jim from The Age)

There really is something to be said for the old adage that work is something you do when you’d rather be doing something else. Or something like that. However the saying goes it holds equally true that if you get to ‘work’ at something you really enjoy, you don’t question why it is – you just embrace it.

This version of ‘livin’ the dream’ was displayed by a handful of friends gathered around a table in a corner of an otherwise empty country pub about an hour out of Melbourne in the middle of last week. We had just shared the joys of a Beer Blokes Beer Dinner at The Plough where five very different beers had been craftily paired with five delicious courses, a tie-breaking trivia challenge, more than a little jolly banter and the addition of a very special guest.

Sam Fuss has been in the brewing caper for eleven years now (as those who had listened to her Radio Brews News podcast debut the previous week would already have known) and it seemed that her name had been mentioned more than once during the six previous dinners the Plough and Chef Mark Mills has held. So it was no surprise to see her warmly welcomed and made to feel well at home with a comfy couch by the fire and a chilled glass of amber happiness in hand by the time we were ready to roll.

Perhaps the fact that she came bearing a keg of her Red Truck Marzen explained the depth of the welcome? Sam regaled the 80-odd guests with tales of time spent with Little Creatures and Matilda Bay, of doorless delivery trucks and experimentation with ingredients like mint and cherry and coconut. All I can say is that her hand must have finished sore, so many vigorous handshakes was she subjected to as the guests left.

And here’s the point of the post. Sitting around over the last of the Red Truck – and perhaps a bottle or three of fine Australian red wine – it became apparent to me that doing what you love doing is the name of the game. Plough owner and Chef Mark Mills made the lifestyle decision to leave the hustle n’ bustle and head for the hills and plains of Myrniong, a shift that has been beneficial for his young family and for the locals as well.

Sam is the same. She is someone who is perfectly suited to talking about the passion required to make good beer and to watch her engage with the punters one-on-one is to watch someone doing just exactly what they love doing – and doing it well. There is so much of her own personality and style in her beers and in the way she approaches the challenges of brewing and you can’t help thinking that she moves a fair bit of beer just because she is able to instantly make friends. She will be the first to admit that she often has to stop and pinch herself that she actually gets paid to do all this.

Her travelling companion for the night, True South Events Manager Tanya Harrowell, was there to keep Sam company (but I have to secretly suspect she was there to see just how a beer tasting/food matching event is run by a seasoned professional). Having said that, spending some quality time with Tan made me realise a couple of things. One; True South is a definite ‘Go To’ destination for the whole hospitality and beer experience and has some pretty cluey staff on board and, two; Sam is a pretty darn good person to work with!

As to the title of the post? Let’s just say that “what happens at Beer Dinner, stays at Beer Dinner” and after a couple of late nights in Sydney, a delayed return flight and a peak-hour drive which got me to Myrniong just in time to take the mic and welcome the guests, a 4.30am finish was perhaps not what the doctor ordered.

(Photo from The Weekly Times)

But for people like Tan, Sam and Mark – I’ll always make an exception.


Prof Pilsner

The next Beer Dinner at The Plough Inn in Myrniong is one well worth setting time aside for. In an attempt to do a sort “Best of the Best” guests will be given two things – a scorecard and twenty beers. We will gather together as many of the beers as we have showcased over the last year and serve them one after the other with plenty of delicious finger food in order to find the People’s Choice Top 5 Beers.

Wednesday November 23rd will see beers from around the globe, around the country and around the corner go head-to-head to see what all this beer thing fuss is about. Call Mark at The Plough to book - Phone: 03 5368 7173

Oh and Sam and Tan – can’t wait to do it all again!

Monday, September 26, 2011

An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scot walk into a bar...

While it might sound like the opening line to a politically incorrect joke it came to life in living, breathing, drinking colour recently when The Courthouse Restaurant in Berwick held its first Great British Beer Dinner.

When putting together a wishlist for beers to showcase for the average punter in the outer eastern suburbs it soon became apparent that some of the favourites were representative of the united Kingdom’s combined classics. With a reasonably large population of ex-pats living in and around Berwick it seemed logical to offer a taste of traditional and new world interpretations of regional styles and match them with similarly themed dishes.

As for the post title? I figured it was a logical step to match three traditional beer drinkers to their land of origin and, to this end, I convinced three mates to join me in selecting, presenting and drinking these fine beers. James Smith (The Crafty Pint, The Age and father of Good Beer Week) agreed to represent England even though he was born in Scotland and often secretly curses his father for moving the family from Fife before he had the chance to craft a fine Scottish accent.

Andrew ‘Shandy’ Gargan couldn’t say “YES!” quickly enough when asked to represent the rolling hills and rolling drunks of Scotland and promised to use all his skills as the host of The Local Taphouse’s Ale Stars beer appreciation sessions to regale the assembled diners with tales of beer history and Scottish lore. As a vegetarian, I promised not to make too much fun of him.

Chris McNamara may have an accent as laconic and broad as the Queensland beaches for which he yearns but his surname and his knowledge of beer was passport enough to get him the gig representing The Emerald Isle. Each lad was asked to suggest food matches for beers of their choosing and the stage was set for a night of fun and frivolity.

Kicking off with a Celt Cwrw Lager as a token representation of Wales (Tom Jones wasn’t available) we got straight into the first course of Scotch Pie with Clapshot and the gentle charms of Fraoch Heather Ale. Shandy’s tale of paternal loyalty and recipe protection had the room wondering as to the true nature of the Scotsman and his beer. (Without wishing to give away the ending if you don’t know the story – they all die)

Chris then regaled us with tales of youthful devotion to a cute Irish lass and how he felt a little giddy – not from her Emerald charms but from the near cardiac arrest-inducing qualities of a traditional Irish Fry and Boxty such as was paired with the Kilkenny Irish Ale. It was up to James to provide some semblance of history/culture/context to a night that was fast becoming a series of stories of drinking and misspent youth.

Not to be. James kicked off by reminiscing about the last time he was at The Courthouse and had to endure the double pain of being sat next to Shandy for the night AND having to drive an hour home and therefore unable to savour the joys of our extensive beer list. Tonight he was able to sip plenty of Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale with his beer battered fish supper & mushy peas.

We finished with a dish whose provenance seemed something of a mystery to the guests. Is Sticky Date Pudding an Irish, Scottish or English dish? Is it even originally from those parts? Some figured English merely because it has the word ‘pudding’ in it and that’s just about good enough for me. The beer we matched with it and a serve of homemade banana chip ice cream certainly WAS English – though far from traditional. Wells & Young’s Banana Bread Beer worked a treat with both the pud and the ice cream and of that there was no argument.

A very special ‘Thank You’ has to go to the boys – not the least for the trek of some two hours on public transport from their cosy, craft beer friendly inner suburbs – but for the generosity and compassion shown to those of us ‘East of Glenferrie’ who don’t have the world of good beer on our doorsteps. Their insights and anecdotes were well received, if only because it meant that the regulars didn’t have to listen as much to me.

The next Beer Blokes Beer Dinner at The Courthouse Restaurant Berwick is our famed Oktoberfest dinner and the boys have already revealed that they are at least 1/16th German one and all.


Prof Pilsner

Monday, September 19, 2011

Beards and Braus and goat and pie

Hopefully that heading got your attention. I suppose the fact that you have read this far suggests that it did. Thanks for that. Welcome, if this is your first visit. Welcome back if it’s not.

The reason for the heading is simple. This post is all about the latest Beer Dinner at The Plough Inn in Myrniong and, to put it frankly, I’ve run out of ‘plough puns’ to use. If you can think of some nice ones, pop them in the comments below. Cheers. Now, on with the latest chapter in the story.

That Wednesday night was cold, wet, miserable and foggy in Myrniong but this didn’t stop ‘75 locals’* from braving the elements to sample a selection of beers from Adelaide brewer, Beard & Brau, veteran of the Victorian scene, Jamieson Brewery and, for the first time, a cider. Or, if you’re a West country farmer; a coiderr.

As always, the night is not about looking for subtle flavour nuances in the beer that lap gently at the edges of the high notes in each dish or striving to find the apparent apricot note in the hops and the digestive biscuit sweetness in the malt. It’s all just about finding for yourself that beer and food actually work quite well together without looking for indicated cues.

One of the unsung joys of hosting beer dinners, tastings or ‘Beer 101s’ of any kind is the pleasant surprise you get when a ‘non beer drinker’ admits to you that “That second beer was not that bad. In fact, it was pretty good. I enjoyed it!” there is something magical in having been there when a Beer Epiphany – no matter how small – occurs.

Every dinner at The Plough seems to throw up at least one of these awakenings. On this occasion it was in the form of the Bon Chiens, Beard & Brau’s take on the French Farmhouse style and brimming with big bold flavours and more than just a little ‘funk’. Beers like this are the ones that you secretly think might be the one out of the five that might not quite hit the mark with the hearty honest folk-of-the-field out Myrniong way. This time around – more hit than miss.

The Red Tail and Golden Paw went well as expected with their level of interest for the observant and yet easy drinking and uncomplicated for the novice. As always, the food matches concocted by Chef and Plough owner Mark Mills were spot on. He would never admit it aloud but he really does owe a lot of the food success to my recommendations...

The finishing beer was paired with a rich chocolate dessert and came in the form of Jamieson Brewery Raspberry Ale. Based on Jeff Whyte’s cracking-good APA foundation and featuring something like 40 kilos of fresh Jamieson raspberries per batch, it gives a big berry hit in the aroma and beautifully balanced sweet-and-tart mouthfeel which provides little hits of flavour as it goes down the trap.

It’s fair to say that this beer split the crowd and, to be fair, that is not a situation peculiar to Myrniong. The match with the dessert was close to perfect for me and it seems by the licked clean plates that I was not the only one in that boat.

We’re back at The Plough this Wednesday for more fun and food with the inimitable Sam Fuss from True South Brewery as my very special guest. Fresh from her guest spot on Radio Brews News, Sam will introduce the locals to the Red Truck Marzen and no doubt regale them with tales of her 11 years at the forefront of the Australian brewing scene.

The night kicks off on Wednesday September 21 (Happy Birthday, Matt!) at 7 o’clock and finishes pretty much when the beer does.

I’m not making any plans for Thursday morning, either.


Prof Pilsner

*In this context, ‘locals’ come from Bacchus Marsh and Melton, Ballarat and Gisborne but also from further afield – showing just how highly regarded is the fare laid out by Mark Mills and his crew. Word has certainly spread that the food is worth the trip alone as his his keenness to explore the new ‘craze’ of matching food with the appropriate ales, lagers, wheat beers and less well-known styles brewed by local as well as international and ‘mainstream’ outfits.

Almost forgot ... the refernce in the title to this piece is for the magnificent goat curry which worked so well with Bon Chiens and the pie which paired up a treat with the Red Tail. Mmmmm!

Friday, September 2, 2011

“What did you do during the war?”

As a staunch advocate of Good Beer I often find myself in the company of average folk who love their beer but really don’t know how it’s made, who brews it and where it comes from. The conversation usually comes around to a discussion of the difference between ‘regular beer’ and ‘that boutique stuff’.

I often have to dispel the thinking that the ‘Big House’ and the ‘Little Guys’ make very similar beers but the big brewers can make them cheaper and send them further around the country faster. It just goes to show how the real story can be lost in a blaze of mass-media advertising and brand marketing.

This is one of many themes that arise and are explored in Beer Wars – The Movie. Made a few years ago now but still very relevant, creator Anat Baron set out to follow a few of the players in the US beer scene and see what story emerged. The film ends up shining a light on the system of distributing and selling beer once it leaves the brewery. While the system set out to ensure that evil monopolies would not arise it would appear that it has actually given them a huge free-kick.

Bridge Road Brewers founder, head brewer and chief bottle washer, Ben Kraus, has brought the movie to Australia and will screen it at The Local Taphouse in St Kilda on Tuesday September 6th and The Local Taphouse Darlinghurst on the 20th. Ben will be ably assisted in this venture by the voices of Radio Brews News, Matt Kirkegaard and my own good self. As well as introducing the movie we will also be moderating a brewer’s panel discussion after the movie to discuss the Australian beer scene and we will also be attempting to put a podcast together on the run – so be nice and no rude words.

To listen to the interview with Anat Baron, go here. To see the movie, reach down the back of the couch and find five bucks and turn up at The Taphouse at 7 for a 7.30pm sharp start. To get your opinions on Radio Brews News, say hello and buy me a beer and ill see what I can do.


Prof Pilsner