Wednesday, 11 July 2018

#GBW18: Garage Project & Friends @ Carwyn Cellars (19 May 2018) - Reviewed

The second Saturday of Melbourne’s Good Beer Week 10-day festival is, without question, bigger than Superbowl Sunday, it certainly has better beer than the AFL Grand Final and, unlike the FIFA World Cup, New Zealand and the USA are guaranteed to make an appearance. Tis the day Carwyn Cellars hosts its showpiece #GBW18 event.

In previous years Boatrocker Brewers & Distillers was the Force Majeure, the hosts with the most. The objective of these showpiece events is to pit a selection of the host’s most captivating beers against one more each from breweries of their choosing per round in an intimate tasting. Whether it was the beers that helped inspire them; a complementary, contrasting match-up; or a pairing with the aim of capturing a brewing concept; the end result was always the same: A most wonderful celebration of the world’s finest of beers.

2018’s instalment saw New Zealand’s most creative and experimental brewery: Garage Project, step up to the spot to deliver another epic shoot-out, this time with a bonus round: 12 beers instead of the usual 10. As ever the spoils would be shared among one and all.

Garage Project, based out of Wellington New Zealand, has been brewing trophy winning ales, lagers and sour beers since 2011. Many of the outfit’s beers are of an experimental bent: think IPAs brewed with gun powder; lager infused with habanero, rosewater and watermelon; and sour ales brewed with raspberry, tomato and basil.

Co-founder Pete Gillespie cut his teeth at Malt Shovel Brewing, which may or may not explain his fervour for experimental brewing. His brother Ian and Jos Ruffell started Garage Project with a collective love for eccentric beer. In 2012 the trio set about the daunting task of brewing 24 beers in 24 weeks on a small pilot system. Because, as Hemingway famously said: “Always do what you said you’d do drunk when you’re sober, on the grounds it will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” Some of those beers, including Day of the Dead (chilli and cocoa-infused dark lager) are still produced to this day.

To top it all off, Garage Project has been quietly hard at work with its Wild Workshop. An assortment of barrels, five massive foeders imported from Europe and even a koelschip for spontaneous fermentation make up this theatre of the authentic sour brewing arts, inconspicuously hidden in a nondescript part of suburban Wellington. Doubtless this as yet young endeavour will bear some impressive fruit - and plenty of fruit beer - in years to come.

Following his fruitful career with Boatrocker Brewers & Distillers, brewery representative and all round great guy Adam Holliday joined Garage Project in July 2017, hence he’s no stranger to the co-hosting role. Joined by Jos Ruffell and Carwyn Cellars’ very own bon ve vant Ben Duval on the mic, the stage was set for a World Cup scale showcase of rare beers from Garage Project itself, matched to a selection of air-freighted, never-tapped-in-Australia-before US craft beers.

Round One

Garage Project: Fuzz Box.
The first beer to take the spot could be described as a real “Round the World” IPA in terms of its hop profile, boasting Mosaic, Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin in its arsenal. It certainly proved the ideal beer to ease guests into proceedings, as suffice it to say bigger IPAs were yet to come.

Fuzz Box presented as hop forward, slightly hazy, with plenty of complex honeydew melon and mandarin flavours shining through. There was even a touch of pine resin, a not so extreme measure, so as to not wreck the palate before things had begun. Fuzz Box is just one of many examples of Garage Project’s top draw American-style IPAs.

Tired Hands: Hop Hands.
You gotta love a brewery that describes its operation as a “fermentaria,” and equally when they self-proclaim the products thereof as “strange and beautiful.” Established in 2011 and inspired in equal measure by America’s bold IPAs and Belgium’s complex, dry farmhouse ales, this Pennsylvania-based brewery is lesser known in Australia but highly revered by its followers. And small wonder given its Hop Hands IPA.

Brewed with Amarillo, Centennial and Colombus hops, Hop Hands proved somewhat more assertively bitter than Fuzz Box, with big pithy tangelo and unripe kiwi character coming through on the mid-palate. The assertively bitter finish, mouthfeel and creaminess rounded  out the experience beautifully.

Left: Garage Project - Fuzz Box and Right: Tired Hands - Hop Hands

Round Two

Garage Project: Golden Age.
This barrel-aged golden sour beer, brewed with golden kiwifruit, mango and passionfruit, was concocted to celebrate the Wild Project’s next-door neighbours’ twenty seven names (fashion designers) and their Autumn collection of the same name.

A lusciously complex aroma gave way to gorgeous kiwifruit flavours, which rolled beneath tart and dry Lambic-like character. There was a sharpness to it too, as sharp perhaps as the shoulders of the models showing off twenty seven names’ fashionable wares. And despite going through as many oak barrels, oakiness was restrained, as is true to the blended Lambic style.

Side Project: Raspberry Biere du Pays.
Side Project by name, side project by nature. Few things excite more than the thought of a brewery whose entire operation is exclusively a barrel program. The brewery was established by Cory King as a side project of his involvement with St Louis, Missouri brewery Perennial Ales.

Raspberry Biere du Pays, a barrel-aged raspberry saison, complemented while equally opposing Golden Age at the same time; A wondrous pairing that embodied the very essence of this event and its format. Light on the funk with subtle, gorgeously measured raspberry character; followed by an incredibly delicate, rounded though somehow subtly dry finish. Truly a beer greater than the sum of its parts.

Left: Garage Project - Golden Age and Right: Side Project: Raspberry Biere du Pays

 Round Three

Garage Project: Petite Mort.
Fact: Saison fermented with Brettanomyces is technically a wild ale, at least as far as BJCP guidelines are concerned. But Garage Project never scored goals with beer geeks, instead they score goals among them with treasures like this mixed ferment-blonde ale. Call it what you will, Garage Project calls it “the little death.”

Do beers get any more sumptuous, delicate and divine? The aromatic bouquet that wafted to the nose certainly staked a strong case for the No campaign. A subtle but revealing interplay between honey and lemon sherbet enveloped the palate thereafter. Brett funk rolled gently on the finish for balance, a character that often overwhelms mixed ferment beers, but not so here.

Hill Farmstead: Arthur.
Few breweries globally have amassed the sheer volume of praise as Hill Farmstead. Shaun Hill’s Vermont-based brewing operation, established in 2010, was named “Best Brewery in the World” by Ratebeer users in all but one year from 2012-onwards. (That year was 2013 - in which they came second). Not bad for a brewery whose setting is a remote village some 70 miles from Burlington VT, but Hill’s pedigree speaks for itself. After experimenting with brewing beer for a science fair project in high school, he went on to start a homebrew club during his college years, followed up by stints as a pro brewer at Danish breweries Fanø and Nørrebro.

Arthur, a saison brewed with Hill Farmstead’s own well-drawn water and native yeast strain, is justifiably a sought after gemstone among beer geeks. Its nose proved to be among the most complex and nuanced I have ever encountered.  Ripe apricot? Melon? Passionfruit? Freshly cobbled shoes? There was much to savour in its delicately nuanced beauty. On the palate Arthur presented slightly sour, with measured funk, the beer’s flavour being equally nuanced. Passion fruit and tropical fruit rode on further into the finish like a bike rider heading into the Vermont sunset.

Left: Garage Project - Petite Mort and Right: Hill Farmstead - Arthur

Round Four

Garage Project: Wolfman.
There was an underlying sweetness on this NZ IPA that I have been searching for in among the style for a while now, which may prove even more difficult to find thanks to the recent advent of brut IPAs. The nose was rich with dessert fruit salad: citrus, particularly orange, and lashings of mango. This character transposed to the palate with a battering ram’s worth of pine resin coming in upon the swallow. A big’un that somehow managed to remain evenly balanced and measured throughout.

Not only was the audience provided with the colourful back story of each beer, but Ruffell also regaled stories of the trials and tribulations of his first visit Stateside. During this visit he travelled from Vermont to Montreal, taking with him a severe bout of food poisoning, which manifested itself upon arriving at Montreal’s infamous, larger than life Joe Beef restaurant. The eatery, a favourite of David Chang and the late, great Anthony Bourdain, is best known for holding diners hostage with its epically portioned seafood and foie gras dishes, rather than its loos holding international visitors to ransom. Though the tale had its humorous side, one can only feel for Ruffell as he was then unable to enjoy what for many would be a once in a lifetime experience.

Other Half: Double Mosaic Dream.
Other half is among New York City’s lesser known breweries, however its Double Mosaic Dream New England IPA alone made at least one instant fan among the guests in attendance on this day. Amazingly this small, proudly independent, community-minded brewery has only been around since 2014.

Double Mosaic Dream delighted as much on the eyes as it did the mouth with its hazy appearance and luscious mouthfeel. On the nose plentiful zesty Valencia orange, mango and pine rolled out the welcome mat. A burst of mango, naval orange and bubblegum confirmed the mosaic hop driven character on the palate, before a dollop of resin drove the experience home. Mere words scarcely do justice to what is, to my mind, among the world’s best NEIPAs.

Left: Garage Project - Wolfman and Right: Other Half - Double Mosaic Dream

Round Five

Garage Project: Gyle 500.
And then there were four... The remaining beers turned things up to 11, or should that be 500? Garage Project’s Gyle 500 (“gyle” meaning “batch”) was brewed to celebrate the brewery’s 500th batch of beer (with only three barrels’ worth produced). Such a monumental feat demanded an equally monumental brew, and only a 14 per cent Bourbon barrel-aged strong ale would do.

A captivating aroma of leather gloves, treacle, dusted-and-varnished-an-hour-ago mahogany-wood cabinet and bees’ honeycomb wafted enticingly to the nose and beyond to the palate. Delicious butterscotch (not the beer fault kind, though it may have been present in a complementary capacity), caramel and chocolate delighted the palate thereafter. 500 was indeed a beer of decadence rather than nuance, however this level of decadence proved to be nothing short of extraordinary.

The Lost Abbey: Cuvée de Tomme.
Sunny San Diego boasts no shortage of world class breweries, hence when the likes of The Lost Abbey rises to legend status, one must take heed. All manner of edgy barrel-aged stouts, barleywines, Belgian-inspired wonders and more have emerged from an unassuming SoCal business park since 2006; with a select few bottles and kegs somehow reaching Australian shores.

Cuvée de Tomme, a Bourbon barrel-aged wild cherry ale and named after head brewer Tomme Arthur, was for mine one of the highlights on the day. The aroma was gently jam-like with a touch of molasses making its presence known at first. As it warmed the cherries came in with gusto. It proved to be a delicate though utterly beguiling aroma; with little suggestion of Bourbon or Brettanomyces. This all changes on the palate. Circumnavigating and orbiting a rotund black cherry base flavour were notes of sour cherry; then molasses, treacle; Bourbon and oak. Hints of unsmoked cigar tobacco, leather and even sour coke bottles shone through. The mouthfeel was remarkably rotund as well. A tiny ball smaller than a marble oscillated over the tongue at one point, a bigger sip saw the marble take on the size of a medicine ball. Conversely, in no way was this beer heavy, in spite of its 11 per cent ABV.

Left: Garage Project - 500 and Right: The Lost Abbey - Cuvee de Tomme

Round Six

Garage Project: Rebel County.
The final round saw something of a mismatch, at least in terms of the styles on show, as a contrasting golden ale went head to head with an American Strong Ale aged in freshly emptied brandy casks. The contrasting, though somehow parallel element came in the barrels in which each spent their beauty sleep.

Moreover, it’s not often an Irish whiskey barrel-aged beer is spotted in the wild. Rebel County delighted with its understated complexity, with Jameson’s signature oak character evident straight up on the nose, along with a subtle floral bouquet. On the palate dried apricot jostled for position with honey, while subtle macadamia nut and hazelnut shone through. A touch of boozy warmth provided-ballast following the swallow.

The Lost Abbey: The Angel’s Share.
It is common knowledge the Scots and those from Kentucky regard evaporation from whiskey casks as “The Angel’s Share,” though some may not know the annual figure of evaporation, which in Scotland alone is thought to total 160 million bottles. Though I cannot speak for the figure of bottles or barrels of brandy and Kentucky Bourbon lost to the atmosphere, The Lost Abbey went and created a beer in honour of the cask’s silent exchanges with the heavens above by way of this luscious brandy barrel-aged strong ale.

The Angels’ Share’s aromatics presented profound enough that the palate could pick them up. Intense fruit, apple, blackcurrant wafted in at first; followed by wood, particularly French oak and even freshly finished plasterboard (in a good way); all intertwined with soft stewed prunes; and finally molasses and cocoa. Molasses and chewy toffee started off on the palate. The flavour was as decadent as it was well rounded, and equally as boozy. Fat qualities bounded about while a zing of brandy character danced around on the circumference. The finish was pillowy, almost down-like. Soft and sweet enough to sleep on.

Left: Garage Project - Rebel County and Right: The Lost Abbey - The Angel's Share
Just like any good penalty shoot-out, the experience was over almost as quickly as it began. The long-lasting memories will be of a match-up in which the name of the game was contrast rather than competition; comparison as opposed to conflict. Truly a flawless victory, made all the sweeter thanks to the afterparty in which many more rarities from The Lost Abbey, Other Half, Hill Farmstead and more were showcased.

A special thanks must go out to Carwyn Cellars, Garage Project, Jos Ruffell, Adam Holliday, Ben Duval and everyone involved in staging this incredible event. This immeasurable gratitude must also be extended to all those in the business of logistically bringing these rarities to Australia. The delivery truck arrived with the precious cargo right on the 11th hour - at 3:30PM the previous day - thus avoiding resorting to “Plan B.” (Though I’m sure Plan B would have been fantastic too!) Suffice to say, the sense of relief and adulation was palpably real amongst the Carwyn Cellars staff at the time.

And though Good Beer Week may be over for another year, planning has already begun for next year’s event. How else could they get better, year on year? To that end, if you have never experienced a Good Beer Week festival or any one of its 250-300 events, on the strength of showcases such as this one you should be planning for next year’s festivities as well.

The legends at Carwyn Cellars
 - from left to right: Steve (bar), James (retail manager), Rob (Carwyn Cellars regular), Ben Carwyn (Wolf of High St) and Ben Duval. Cheers lads!

Graham Frizzell was a guest of Garage Project & Friends at Carwyn Cellars.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

#GBW18: Woods of the North @ 3 Ravens Brewery, Sun 13 May 2018

How much wood would six breweries, two cider makers and six distilleries chuck at a Good Beer Week event if they could chuck wood? Answer: Rather a lot, and in a northerly trajectory while they’re at it.

Woods of the North is Good Beer Week’s showpiece event for all things barrel-aged, hosted by Thornbury’s 3 Ravens Brewery.  It is one among a handful of events that showcase the top tier of Australia’s brewing (and burgeoning distilling) industry without the pomp, ceremony and
Campino / strawberry milkshake beers of the big festivals.^

Sailors Grave's showcase beers, drawn from 50L casks.

Down Under, looking up.

In 2018 Australia’s brewing profile is looking hotter than ever, along with the nation’s distilling game; with gin, whiskey and artisanal spirit makers making their mark both home and abroad. Starward whiskey can now be found as far away as the USA, while Australian names such as Adelaide Hills Distillery and Manly Spirits Co joined Starward in picking up Gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in recent years. Clearly there is plenty of proof in Australia’s boozy pudding.

Starward wasn’t the only distiller represented on the day. Craig Westwood’s Cedar Fox gin, meanwhile, is as gritty as it gets, especially his North Coburg distillery itself, which was entirely built from scratch. One could be forgiven for thinking such an artisanal set-up is indicative of limited pedigree, but in fact Westwood’s CV includes an on-going brewing role with Melbourne’s Mountain Goat Brewery.

The Appalachian Mountains of North America might seem half a world away from South Melbourne, but the indigenous, illegally distilled beverage of the home of morose folk music has made its way down under thanks to Melbourne Moonshine.

The cider and brandy folks from Willie Smith’s, sister brandy distillery Charles Oates; and Co-op Pear Cider Brandy were on hand to showcase the leading edge of Australia’s cider making prowess as well.

On the beer front, Australian breweries and drinkers have taken to sour beer in a big way. This can be attributed as much to the country’s warm climate as its broadening collective palate.

Five Cougars, Thanks!
Moreover, though many breweries are happy to, quite rightly, avoid the very real risk of contaminating the brewhouse with Brettanomyces by sticking to “kettle sour” brewing, a handful have opened or are set to open the doors to their own fully-fledged barrel rooms (whether or not spontaneous fermentation is performed). Boatrocker Brewers & Distillers, La Sirène and Feral Brewing were indeed among the originals.

Sydney’s Wildflower Brewing & Blending has gone one step beyond simply brewing and barrel-ageing sour beer by harnessing native yeasts from rural New South Wales for the purposes of fermenting its beers, though as owner/brewer Topher Boehm will tell you, beers at the Marrickville barrel room are not spontaneously fermented due to the facility’s location directly beneath a busy commercial flight path. Nevertheless, Wildflower stood tall as a truly worthy inclusion among the Woods of the North bill. Expect to see more from this innovative pioneer in years to come.

The Legacy.

Every festival deserves an appearance by a pioneer of legendary status. Glastonbury had Metallica and no Ibiza season would be complete without Sven Vath doing his thing at Cocoon. So it was that Goose Island headed up the monumental Woods of the North festival line-up.

Fact is, Woods of The North; along with the complex, relatively new relationship between beer, wood and spirits as a we know it; might not have come about were it not for the creation of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Bourbon barrel-aged stout.

Prior to the first incarnation of “BCS” in 1995, few beers outside Flanders or the Lambeek regions of Belgium were aged in wood. One must look back to the days before stainless steel to find wood used as a storage vessel, and then the wood underwent rigorous treatment so as to impart as little flavour as possible. Not to mention ridding it of bugs like pediococcus (bacteria known to add to aforementioned sour beer’s tart character). Indeed the advent of wood being used to impart flavour into beer is as recent as the Britpop era, though it remains far more relevant today.

3 Ravens, Boatrocker and Hop Nation are but three Australian breweries who have built upon the Bourbon / whiskey barrel-aged tradition as pioneered by Goose Island’s Bourbon County stout. Only the Mona Centre could fit this many trail blazers under the one roof.

A wonder through the woods.

A veritable mecca of barrels greeted guests upon alighting the shuttle bus from Thornbury train station. They were not there for show either, for each 50L cask contained an individual beer, ageing and conditioning in what had previously provided Starward whiskey with its much needed beauty sleep. Guests were provided with a helpful list of the beers on show, which would later become especially useful when checking in as yet unheard of beers into Untappd.

It seemed fitting the beer that started it all should be the first pour for yours truly, and so it was Bourbon County Stout got the day underway. This legendary beer, known for its deep roast, dark fruit and luscious, almost spirituous character first landed in Australia in 2017 - scarcely six months prior. Regardless of who owns who, a chance to sample such a landmark beer should not be passed up, especially when no such opportunity has ever arrived at Australia’s doorstep.

3 Ravens Whiskey Barrel-aged Imperial stout, building on the legacy of Bourbon County Stout.

Also not to be missed, even if it was a revisitation, was Goose Island and Boatrocker’s October Beer collaboration, a Bourbon barrel-aged modern take on a long forgotten historic beer style. With its parallels to barleywine, October beer is so named for being brewed prior to the onset of winter, a specialist brew of historic estates and much lauded for its incredible depth of flavour. Needless to say Boatrocker X Goose Island’s interpretation went down a treat.

Orbost-based sour beer specialists Sailors Grave provided much needed refreshment with their carrot-infused Queen Anne’s Lace, while much needed sustenance came by way of smoked barbecue meat rolls. The collision of aromatics wafting around 3 Ravens’ shed-like abode was enough to send many into a shuddering state of wanderlust.

The wondrous walk through the woods whisked me to Wildflower, whose Table beer I had never previously sampled. Was I being seduced by the Wicked Witch of the West (Sydney suburb of Marrickville)? Best sample an Amber blend, whose nuanced flavour screamed of sub tropical forest terroir, just to be sure.

3 Ravens’ own magical mystical potions were not to be missed either. Australian readers may remember the “Five Cougars, Thanks!” ad campaign (brilliant advertisement, unspeakably horrible drink). The Bourbon and Cola RTD was resurrected, incongruously and deliciously, in beer form as a sour cola ale. A sample of the host’s 12% whisky barrel-aged imperial stout seemed like a good idea too, not least because its bold coffee and whiskey flavours brought proceedings full circle prior to hitting up the distillers’ table.

Admittedly I do not like most wine or sherry cask whiskies but I could not help but warm to Starward’s balanced offering. Solera too was nuanced; the 10th Anniversary an amazing showpiece of just how far Australian spirits have come in a relatively short period of time; and the Old Fashioned bottled cocktail was, predictably, a thing of beauty.

Things get a touch blufry from here. I remember sampling Cedar Fox’s flagship gin, its oaked and navy-strength brethren; and I was assured later these would be mighty fine in a classic G&T. Hippocampus’s The Spirit Soon to be Known as Rum very nearly saw my ship and crew go down in a fiery blaze of glory, before Hop Nation’s superbly well balanced oatmeal brown ale arrived once more to steady proceedings.

Boatrocker's amazing bottled Old Fashioned cocktail

I must confess time did not permit me to sample the wares of Melbourne Moonshine, Charles Oates, Co-Op Cider or Willie Smith’s (the latter whose products for whom I have recently acquired a real taste), but the five hours were well spent enjoying some of the best fermented goodness this great country has to offer. Suffice it to say the company and chatting to the makers was equally great.

A massive thanks must go out to 3 Ravens Brewery; the participating breweries, distilleries and cideries; and Good Beer Week for staging such an epic showcase event. Blind Taste Test is counting down the days until the next one.

3 Ravens X Boatrocker X Hop Nation X Wildflower X Sailors Grave: Woods of the North: The Collaboration Sour Ale.

Who would have thunk it? One of suburban  Melbourne’s oldest craft breweries 3 Ravens was once known for its solid range of European-inspired beers, including Dark (raiuchbier-style lager), White (Belgian wit) and English (ESB) among others, previously brewed solely for nearby pubs. But magic started happening when Brendan O’Sullivan took over as head brewer and WA’s Mash Brewing joined forces to brew its specialty beers for the Melbourne market. In so doing 3 Ravens was saved from financial oblivion.

Though the Mash / 3 Ravens partnership is no more, the pairing helped kick off Australia’s sour beer love affair with Wizz Fizz Berliner-weisse. (Australian readers may already know the playful reference to another lolly-themed sour beer in Feral’s Watermelon Warhead which preceded it). There has been no looking back for O’Sullivan and the 3 Ravens team. The brewery has since launched a well regarded Wild Ravens sour beer series, including a take on the Flanders red style and an Industrial Farmhouse Ale, to name but two.

In the spirit of the occasion and the collaborative creative engine that is beer brewing, attendees took home with them a commemorative bottle of Woods of the North beer. All five Australian brewers who made the Woods of the North event the wonderful event it was all lent a hand in its creation, and my what an amazing concoction it was.

Pouring an attractive (more-so than the photo I took - sorry!) pale orange-amber with an at first firm white head that left behind fine lacing, Woods of the North could be mistaken for an unblended lambic were not for its carbonation. (Certainly its head was too subtle to resemble that of a blended gueuze).

On the nose, perfumed nuance, apricot and springtime garden aromas leapt from the glass. The ensuing flavour one could imagine being equally assertive, however it was anything but. Delicate, complex, floral, beautiful - with more than a touch of apricot and tropical fruit flavours.

One might be forgiven for thinking the yeast used came by way of Wildflower, for there was more than a hint of the brewery’s house character on display here. And although the beer was more than a sum of its parts, each brewery’s own single creative influence within the blend was in there somewhere.

Indeed blending is often an overlooked aspect of brewing. It takes place not only in Belgium’s lambic brewhouses, but in many major commercial breweries too. It is a practice that ensures beer tastes as wonderful and consistent as can be: Edges are smoothed out, imperfections masked and flavour harmonies created. The end result of this five-way collaboration was in the end sensational to say the least.

Watch this space for an updated tasting of the same beer following one year’s worth of ageing!

Woods of the North: The beer!

*Don’t get me wrong, I loe the pomp, ceremony and especially Campino flavoured beers of the big festivals!

The full list of Woods of the North breweries, cideries and distilleries:
3 Ravens
Boatrocker Brewers & Distillers
Goose Island
Hop Nation
Sailors Grave
Willie Smith’s

Melbourne Moonshine
Charles Oates
Cedar Fox
Co-Op Pear Cider Brandy

Graham Frizzell was a guest at Woods of the North 2018.