Friday, 27 April 2018

The BTT's Ultimate Paddle of Good Beer Week Experiences: Round Two!

With so many events to choose from it simply wouldn't be right picking just five... To that end, let us go back to the main bar for a second round of five more! Naturally as the theme for GBW18 is The Ultimate Mix, an at times “tongue so firmly implanted in cheek I can taste my own capillaries” selection of songs has been chosen for each event.*

Disclaimer: Though this is the second round, none of these events are second rate when compared to the five as mentioned in the original Ultimate Paddle post!

That's a paddlin'!

The Cicerone’s Table
Stomping Ground Brewery & Beer Hall
Weds 16 May 2018 (Several sessions).
Transport: Collingwood station is 200m away.
Anything you like, except Tim Hicks’ “Stompin’ Ground”!
Guy Greenstone and Steve Jeffares are two of the most seminal figures in Melbourne’s beer scene. The two are the guys behind one of the city’s finest craft beer bars: The Local Taphouse, and they even spearheaded The Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular. You could be forgiven for thinking that these would be satisfactory accomplishments, but oh no. Certainly not when the world of beer is the ever evolving, ever exciting beast it is. For them, the next logical step was to start their own brewery.

Moreover you don’t rise to the top of your game without the intent of staying there. In order to do that you must capture the now, the new, the cutting edge. To that end Greenstone and Jeffares have embraced the Cicerone Certification Program wholeheartedly.

Stomping Ground Brewery & Beer Hall, located in the inner northern suburb of Collingwood whose boundary once habituated 40 breweries until 1900, is staffed by five Certified Cicerones alone. One Cicerone (who has yet to be announced) will take you on a guided tour of the brewing facility before a sit-down session featuring a selection of Stomping Ground beers. You will have the opportunity to explore beer ingredients (literally at your fingertips) while also learning what being a Certified Cicerone is all about. (Hint: They probably won’t disclose much about the exam I recently took!)

There are several sessions to choose from that day, with each running for 45-50 minutes. When you’re all done why not stop in at the beer hall for a Gipps St pale ale or two? Stomping Ground is a destination in and of itself.

A Certified Cicerone has a strong baseline knowledge of all things malt.

Pint of Origin: USA @ Carwyn Cellars
Transport: Tram route 86 (stop 41) or Thornbury station.
Jakatta: “American Dream.”
In my previous Ultimate #GBW18 Paddle post I featured destination craft beer bar Carwyn Cellars’ Good Beer Week flagship Garage Project event. It could therefore be stated I am a little biased, but the heck with it! Any bias in this case is well deserved. The team at Carwyn Cellars has once again gone above and beyond in bringing the USA to those of us for whom a trip to the States is, for now in my case at least, merely a pipe dream.

The full itinerary of events at Carwyn Cellars’ Good Beer Week Pint of Origin: USA was released on social media on Friday 27 April, and it reads like a who’s who, and refreshingly “who’s that?” of American craft beer royalty. Luminaries including Steve Wagner of Stone Brewing Co (Monday May 14), Weihenstephaner’s Marcus Englet (as part of the Sierra Nevada X Weihenstephaner collab launch - Sat 12 May) the crew from (estranged from Aussie shelves but recently returned again) Sixpoint (Weds 16 May) and Adrian Walker of Firestone Walker (Fri 18 May) head up the list of familiar breweries. Naturally they will be bringing with them a selection of beers you won’t want to miss, with exclusive, elusive beers from Stone’s Liberty Station being a notable highlight.

Less familiar names on the bill include Abnormal Beer Co. (also from San Diego), Anchorage Brewing Co (Alaska), Three Wavers (LA), Against the Grain and Stillwater Artisanal.

Abnormal Beer Co. is best known for its range of hazy IPAs produced at a brewhouse/winery/restaurant situated in an unassuming business park to the north of San Diego. Anchorage is a small operation based in the Alaskan town by the same name. Brewer Gabe Fletcher recently relocated Anchorage across town where his beer undergo oak fermentation. Los Angeles’ Three Weavers has bolstered the city’s young commercial craft beer scene with its range of hop-forward ales. If your curiosity is equal to your thirst you’d do well to visit Carwyn Cellars while these fine producers’ brews are flowing.

Against the Grain by name and against the grain by nature: This Louisville brewery has been pushing brewing boundaries and displaying an unhealthy obsession with Rick Astley and big beer pisstaking (where its beer naming flair is concerned) since 2011. Meanwhile Stillwater Artisanal is a brewery familiar to the most geeky of beer geeks but may be relatively unknown to the casual observer. The Baltimore brewery established in 2010 and backed by founder Brian Strumke’s strong homebrewing background is well regarded for its unconventional, eccentric beers brewed with all manner of herbs, spices and more.

Throughout the week it is likely a great deal of craft beer’s full stylistic spectrum will be covered. Beer writer Michael Jackson once said words to the effect that the range and depth of beer being produced in North America far outweighed his wildest imaginings - and that was quite a few years ago. Things only keep getting better, reaching fever dream proportions, and thanks to this year’s Pint of Origin and Carwyn Cellars, there is a real opportunity to sample a sizeable chunk of the USA’s hefty craft beer output.

Oh, and mustn’t forget the American-style barbecue to help soak up all that beery goodness, courtesy of Bluebonnet BBQ. Franklin’s eat your heart out!

I will be covering appearances by Steve Wagner, Three Weavers, Sixpoint and Adrian Walker as well as the Garage Project masterclass, in later posts.

Firestone Walker's Adrian Walker will be making an appearance at Carwyn Cellars on Friday 18 May.

Good Beer Mates
The Catfish
Transport: Tram routes 86, 96 (stop 12: Melbourne museum).
Lowkey & DJ B Roc: “London” (Key to the Game vol. 1).
It could be said Good Beer Week 2018 has a Trans-Atlantic thing going on. The Catfish is set to host some of the best brewers and names in craft beer from across the pond - London to be exact. The only thing growing faster than Melbourne’s population is London’s beer scene. It has exploded to life in recent years and some of the best brewers from The Capital are headed to Melbourne. And why not when English craft beer is not as omnipresent on Melbourne’s taps and shelves as that from the US, Scandinavia or New Zealand?

On Saturday 12 May the brewers who made The Bermondsey Beer Mile famous will take over the Fish showcasing their wares. The Bermondsey Beer Mile is to London what the Route 86 Tram Crafty Crawl is to Melbourne, although instead of tram tracks there are historic rail arches. The string of brewpubs now spans more than its original mile too. Expect the likes of Wild Card Beer Co, Fourpure Brewing Co and more!

The following Monday sees highly esteemed London beer writer Melissa Cole join Luke Robertson for a recorded episode of Ale of a Time. This one is not to be missed, for Cole has done it all within and beyond the world of beer writing. Her book Let Me Tell You About Beer is an engaging, informative, fun and easy to comprehend introduction to beer styles and food matching; and she has even had a hand in brew days at Fuller’s, Goose Island and Odell. A Certified Cicerone, Melissa Cole has even helped curate the beer list at Fergus Henderson’s St. John restaurant (one Anthony Bourdain’s sentimental favourite). This is an event not to be missed.

Throw in chances to meet the brewers of Fourpure (Sun 13 May), Affinity Brew Co (Tue 15 May) and Wildcard Brewing Co (16 May) plus loads of London beers across The Catfish’s taps and you have yourself a loaded up Oyster Card’s worth of Cockney inflected Good Beer Week goodness. Innit blud...

For Good Beer Week The Catfish might as well temporarily call itself The Perch given the number of beers and breweries it will be showcasing from London.

Mikkeller Pop Up Bar
Dr Morse
Thurs 17 May 2018 (12noon-11pm)
Transport: Victoria Park station. South Morang / Hurstbridge line services will get you there.
ABBA: “When I Kissed the Teacher.”
From London Good Beer Week heads across the North Sea to Denmark, via Abbotsford’s Dr. Morse Bar & Eatery.  For one night only one of the global craft beer scene’s most creative and eccentric brewers comes to town: the one and only Mikkeller.*

Seasoned beer geeks mahy already know Mikkel Borg Bjergsø was a high school maths and physics teacher. His already sound knowledge of all things Plato served him well as he rose from humble homebrewer in 2006 to the craft beer stalwart he is today. Mikkeller has also started brewing out of San Diego in recent years and Mikkeller bars can be found all over the world - even in Singapore.

Dr. Morse is the perfect venue for such a brewer’s showcase, for much like Mikkeller it is eccentric (a café, bar, eatery and pumping night spot all rolled into one) and creative (the Asian-inflected food here is top notch). The program entry promises cult classics and a few limited releases on draught and from tinnies, so you might find any one of the beers in Mikkeller’s Spontan, Beer Geek or Berliner-weisse range. Hopefully I’ve not said too much!

And don’t miss out on getting involved with the Can Art Auction while you’re there.

*Well not quite the only Mikkeller... Mikkel Borg Bjergsø’s brother Jeppe Jarnit Bjergsø is the man behind Evil Twin Brewing. Fun fact: The two are indeed identical twins!

A particular favourite Mikkeller beer of mine: Spontanraspberry.

Bodriggy X The Old Bar Collaboration Release Party
The Old Bar
Fri 18 May 2018 (4pm-late).
Transport: Tram route 11 (stop 16) or tram route 86 (stop 19).
Mike Brady: “Up There, Cazaly.”
What do muddy football boots, unicorns and sticky carpets have in common? Well not a lot frankly, unless a pub famously devoted to original live music has a colourfully characterful footy team playing in a local pub league. When the good folks at The Old Bar aren’t doing what makes this place special, they’re up there like Cazaly on the footy field, playing against other pub squads based in and around inner-suburban Melbourne.

Because the odds of a great grab being captured on video are Shane Buckley’s and none (not due to lack of talent, not even, but because sod’s law dictates the video recorder will die three femtoseconds prior to that Almost Football Legends-submission worthy screamer being taken...), Bodriggy Brewing Co and The Old Bar have teamed up to immortalise every Unicorns speccy ever. In beer form.

Speccy Juice is set to be a tribute to the on-field heroics of the Unicorns, while also being the perfect post-match session refresher hoppy IPA. It’s rather sweet to see a Good Beer Week event co-hosted by a celebrated local iconic music venue and equally characterful local brewery, and in so doing really embracing the flavour and culture of the Fitzroy neighbourhood. Naturally the party will get going good and proper from 8pm when the bands hit The Old Bar’s hallowed stage.

* I should have included a song by The Clash in there somewhere, not for cliché value but because, like any festival in the history of ever, there are clashes - and lots of them!

Friday, 20 April 2018

The Blind Taste Test’s Ultimate Paddle of Good Beer Week 2018 Experiences

First things first, yes things have been a little quiet around here lately. That’s because I had been studying for the Certified Cicerone exam which took place on April 10. I am now awaiting on the results. Wish me luck, although I am hopeful I did everything possible to remove that hopelessly unreliable element out of the equation...

Anyhoo, someone has certainly cut the brake cords from 2018’s wheels because we now find ourselves at Melbourne Good Beer Week’s doorstep once more.

Local readers: Doubtless you have already browsed through this year’s program (in paper, PDF or app form), circling with intent, fervour and excitement your preferred events. Many of you perhaps don’t need any further unsolicited advice from the likes of me. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to highlight five must-do #GBW18 experiences - in case the red pen (real or imaginary) is hovering over the page with the sort of indecision one encounters when ordering at the bar when the choice is delightfully overwhelming. Said indecision can of course be resolved with… a paddle.

International readers meanwhile may be curious as to what Good Beer Week has to offer. Let me tell you the organisers weren’t fibbing with their 2016 tagline: “Bigger than Xmas!”*  With over 300 events and an anticipated 75,000 attendees Good Beer Week 2018 is set to be nothing short of a colossus. Indeed, there are many paddles one could sample during the course of the festival’s 10 day calendar.

So without any further messing about, here is the Blind Taste Test’s Ultimate Paddle of Good Beer Week Experiences for 2018 - in chronological order.

* Good Beer Week 2018’s theme is The Ultimate Mix. To that end I’ll even suggest some accompanying music to amp you up for the highlighted events.

The Good Beer Week Festival Hub @ Beer DeLuxe

1. Pint of Origin
Various venues.
Daft Punk: “One More Time.”
Pint of Origin… Now that’s definitely a paddlin’! Get yourself sorted with membership to The Crafty Cabal and have Untappd as well as Uber at the ready, because you’ll be needing all three to make the most of this weeklong showcase of Australian and international craft beer.

As the name suggests, the breweries from one single region are set to descend upon the hallowed lines of one designated venue. Visitors to Melbourne would do well to head to The Terminus Hotel Fitzroy North for a chance to sample everything Melbourne metro’s breweries hve to offer. Meanwhile over at the Royston Hotel, Richmond, the pub that ignited Melbourne’s craft beer obsession hosts the state that is said to be the birthplace of Australian craft beer: Western Australia. Every state and some regions within Australia are represented across the city and beyond.

International breweries also get a look in. At Melbourne’s late night Forester’s Pub & Dining (open until 4am Fridays and Saturdays) the taps will be dedicated to New Zealand’s finest ales. Just up the road (or a few tram stops) Beermash will be showcasing brews from Scandinavia (did someone say Omnipollo?) And quite a few more tram stops away is Carwyn Cellars, who for the second year running is hosting Pint of Origin USA.

There will be ample chances to meet the faces behind the fermentation tanks at Crafty Pint brewers shouts throughout the week, as well as the opportunity to check out pubs you might not ordinarily visit week to week. In fact, this year event organisers have even made a point of highlighting venues south of the Yarra river. If you really want to sample BrewDog and other British rarities - and lord knows you do - you need no other excuse than to hop on the 96 tram and head for Freddie Wimpoles in St. Kilda.

So gather up your friends, devise a game plan and get those beery Spotify playlists ready to sing along to while annoying your Uber driver. Insert joke about not being stuck up PoO creek without a paddle here...

More info here.

Join the Crafty Cabal here (psst! - it soon pays for itself!)

2. Woods of the North
3 Ravens Brewery
Sunday 13 May 2018
1 Theobold St, Thornbury
Public transport: Train to Thornbury or route 86 tram to stop 40 and walk to station entrance 

where there will be a shuttle service to the brewery.
John Lee Hooker: “One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer.”
What happens when six of Australia’s most creative breweries go head to head with six Australian pioneering artisanal distilleries, with a cider producer or two thrown in for good measure? Woods of the North, that’s what happens.

The lineup reads like a boutique metal or techno festival. 3 Ravens and Boatrocker have already garnered repute for their respective barrel-aged ales, while Sailors Grave and Hop Nation are up and coming new bloods in the field. Wildflower has meanwhile taken the scene by storm with its masterful creations using yeast sourced from NSW native plants. The list of breweries is headed up by the mighty Goose Island, the brewery that it could be said started it all (in modern craft beer aged on second-use wood terms) with its Bourbon County bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. For those who missed the bottle release late in 2017 this may be incentive enough to buy tickets alone, but let it not be forgotten our local breweries have built upon this legacy in a very big way. In so doing they have created marvellous concoctions including The Druid (3 Ravens), Roger Ramjet (Boatrocker) and St. Florence (Wildflower) to name but a few.

Each of these breweries will be pouring a beer each from their own cellar, and another fermented in, poured from an ex-Starward whiskey cask. And as if that’s not enough, Melbourne Moonshine, Starward, Hippocampus, Charles Oates, Cedar Fox and Co-op Pear Cider Brandy will also be in the house to showcase their wares for the perfect boilermaker.

Boilermakers have in recent years taken off in a big way in Melbourne. When the right whiskey is paired with the right beer hidden elements within each are revealed or certain elements are harmonised. For example, a saison matched to a rye whiskey is a spice-on-spice delight, with rye’s natural spicy character playing off the peppery phenols of saison in blissful harmony. Indeed, dark beers and dark spirits aren’t the only partners one could explore. At Woods of the North you are likely to encounter sour beers featured in any number of equations.

With a chance to meet and greet the craftsmen behind these wonderfully woody beverages, wood-fired barbecued delights and take home goodies, what more could you want?


Boatrocker's Ramjet Srarward BA imperial stout is perhaps Australia's most famous barrel-aged beer. Will it be among 3 Ravens' and Woods of the North's featured beers?

3. Garage Project & Friends Masterclass “Afterparty”
Carwyn Cellars

Saturday 19 May 2018
877 High St, Thornbury
Public transport: Route 86 tram: Stop 41, or take the train to Thornbury station.
Nina Simone: “Lilac Wine.”
Okay, the masterclass is sold out but the Carwyn Cellars’ Backroom Bar will reopen for 3:30pm for the remainder of the day.

“Afterparty” is my word, not theirs. And you might have missed the opportunity to sample five Garage Project beers matched to five mystery beers from the USA (Carywn Cellars being the official USA Pint of Origin venue) with amazing cheese and charcuterie; plus the Garage Project brewers themselves taking you through the session… But the shenanigans that ensue following the masterclass are every bit as worthwhile as the event itself.

The Backroom Bar’s 18 taps will of course be pouring some of the best beers to be had all week (which is saying something) and on no other day is the atmosphere more electric, both inside and out (which is also saying something). The welcoming atmosphere and super knowledgeable staff are as much reasons for loving this place as the beers on offer themselves.

In the past Melbourne’s Boatrocker Brewers & Distillers has hosted similar events. This year Wellington NZ’s kings of all things experimental brewing Garage Project steps up to the crease to showcase five of its finest beers alongside five more inspirational beers from US brewers. I was fortunate enough to be a guest at both the 2016 and 2017 masterclasses (as linked). If you are lucky enough to have your ticket for this year’s, have a gander at my reviews to get a feel for what to expect. If you haven’t, read both and you will see why you need to get your ticket for next year’s!

It is worth noting that throughout the year Carwyn Cellars hosts a number of intimate masterclasses, with opportunities to meet the brewer or esteemed representatives thereof;  featuring rare, sometimes exclusive beers. Keep your eyes peeled to the Carwyn Cellars Facebook page for more info.

More info here.

Boatrocker's Jabber jaw Double IPA alongside Russian River's Pliny the Elder. There probably won't be much of that hanging around the GP & Friends afterparty, but that's not to say there won't be other special beers on show throughout the afternoon!

4. Volunteering for The Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular (GABS)
Various roles and shifts are available - click here to find out more.
Royal Exhibition Building
9 Nicholson St, Carlton
Public transport: Tram routes 86, 96: Stop 12)

The Beatles: “With A Little Help From My Friends” .
A Good Beer Week experience that doesn’t involve the drinking of beer? Whaaaaa…? 

In actual fact, that isn’t quite true. You get to drink beer that no one else (who isn’t volunteering) gets to drink. More on that later.

I have volunteered for GABS twice now - in 2015 and 2017. It has to be said that even without the perks the experience is its own reward. In 2015 following what had been an epic Good Beer Week spent with friends visiting from Perth I volunteered to assist with the Sunday "Silly Hat" session. Pouring beer from growlers into small sample sized cups was the order of the first part of the day, while the second half I found myseelf on general duties - helping set up for a cooking with beer demonstration and a meet the brewer talk with Colonial in one of the exhibition rooms. The buzz around me was nothing short of electric and it felt great to be a moving part (so to speak) of an event that had risen to become a landmark occasion in Australian craft beer culture.

Last year meanwhile I helped with venue set up, which involved unpacking and sorting a large number of paddles, followed by the setting up of tables throughout the venue. My vision impairment didn’t really prove much a factor while volunteering in 2015, however as tables needed to be configured properly in the open downstairs area, things were a little tricky. Thankfully help was at hand from team-mates. Admittedly I felt more comfortable lifting and shifting upstairs as the balcony provided a guide in terms of where tables were to be placed. Once again I felt a great sense of fulfilment upon being a part of something great - while also overcoming the sense of doubt (relative to vision impairment). I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again - I heartedly recommend volunteering for GABS to one and all.

In no way is this thankless work. For taking time out from the Good Beer Week festivities you will receive two tickets to your preferred GABS session(s), a GABS glass and of course a GABS Crew T-shirt. But the best bit? The volunteer’s afterparty (their words, not mine), held at neighbouring The Catfish bar, following the traditional Sunday “Silly Hat” Session - the last GABS session for the year in Melbourne. Head upstairs and mingle with friends and fellow volunteers while enjoying complimentary beer. Don’t forget to keep your T-shirt on or pack it if you’re not volunteering on the Sunday!

Sign up to volunteer here.

Setting up for GABS is its own reward!

5. The Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular (GABS)
Five sessions: Friday 18-Sunday 20 May 2018
Royal Exhibition Building
9 Nicholson St, Carlton

Public transport: Tram routes 86 and 96 (stop 12).
Cream: “I Feel Free.”
A fair and a convention, a feast and a celebration; GABS Melbourne is perhaps the single greatest day of the year (or days - if you have multiple passes) for anyone who loves beer, cider and food.

It is not too dissimilar to the Great American Beer Festival and it has its parallels in its format to the Great British Ale Festival. But instead of cask conditioned British ales, here you’ll find weird and wonderful beers, including a laksa beer from Brothers Brewing (NZ), a lager inspired by margaritas (hola Grand Ridge’s tequila, lime zest and citrus infused creation), a 4.2% ABV durian infused saison from
Foreigner Brewing, plus a heap of ramped up sweet stouts.

Indeed, darker beers appear to be somewhat thematic for GABS 2018. But there is no shortage of NEIPAs, funky sours and bourbon barrel-aged ales as well. Paddles and Untappd at the ready!

When you’re done at the shipping containers, there is plenty more to explore, with festival breweries setting up their own stalls both upstairs and down. You could also check out the Brick Lane Co Craft Beer College or Little Creatures Live performance space. There are even games for kids and adults alike throughout the venue. And it has to be said the atmosphere at GABS is a spectacle in itself too!

Pro tips: Don’t forget to load up on food! It helps, trust me. There are plenty of vendors slinging beer friendly nosh including fried chicken, American BBQ, pizza and more. Always take the time to chat to the brewers present on the day. The insight you get is awesome and it makes what they do totally worthwhile. And above all else don’t forget to drink plenty of water - your body will thank you the next day.


Festival info.

The Good Beer Week 2018 homepage.

All the fun of the fair at GABS 2017

Sunday, 3 December 2017

10 things you wanted to know about hops, but were too busy drinking to ask

Because a little bit of knowledge can greatly increase your appreciation.

For the second instalment of 10 Things, The Blind Taste Test thought it appropriate to delve most deeply into the beating heart of beer: Hops. A safe subject, perhaps, because everyone knows at least a little about our little luponic green friends. Nevertheless, some facts you may already know, others perhaps not.

1. Hops grow on bines, not vines.

2. Hops are capable of more than just flavouring. In Lambic beers, for instance, three times the number of hops are used - but not for flavouring. They help to preserve the beer. After all, Lambics spend one or sometimes more years fermenting and conditioning.

3. Conversely, hops can also degrade in flavour over time. As such old hops are used for their preservative qualities. In the case of IPAs, noticeable changes in flavour can occur after just three weeks (never mind three months!).

4. Alpha acids comprise the resin found within the core of the hop cone.

5. The term “Noble hops” has no technical meaning - it’s merely used for marketing spin. The long and the short of it is Noble hops essentially describe varietals such as German Hallertauer and Czech Saaz most commonly found in mainland European lagers and Pilsners.

6. Noble hops are characterised by low alpha acids (resinous bitterness) and more essential oils. Naturally they are found in most Continental Pilsners and lagers.

7. Pride of Ringwood hops are named after Ringwood, an outer-Eastern suburb of Melbourne, Australia.

8. Pride of Ringwood hops are a descendent of an English varietal known as Pride of Kent and an as yet unknown male parent. Their high alpa acid content makes them ideal as a bittering hop, although with a not too dissimilar profile to English hops one wonders why they are commonly found in Australian lagers.

9. In Middle Ages Britain, the difference between “ale” and “beer” was very clear: Which one contained hops! Beer contained hops while ale contained no hops whatsoever.

10. IBUs (international bittering units), much like the Scovilles scale, should only be used as a guide. Given up to 300 compounds within the hop flower (cone) contribute to a beer’s aroma and flavour it is near impossible to quantify just how bitter the finished product will be.

Pellet hops (left), whole cone hops (right). 

The Ultimate Hop Experience Sixpack

Now you know a little more about beer’s most flavoursome ingredient, it’s time for a little applied learning. Below are six beers, each exemplifying their own unique hop character.

1. Green Beacon: 3 Bolt pale ale
Last confirmed sighting: Carwyn Cellars, Thornbury
The number one American pale ale according to a The Crafty Pint blind tasting, 3 Bolt provides an all-in-one study in Australian, UK and US hop varieties. None of these hop varieties are actually disclosed, however the end result is a veritable storm of passionfruit, mango and tropical flavours with an undertone of earthy spice.

2. Crown Lager
Last confirmed sighting: It’s ubiquitous.
Beneath a pleasant enough lager base beer is, incongruously enough, an abundance of Pride of Ringwood hop character. Somehow the backbone keeps in check Ringwood’s spicy, earthy edge. Crown Lager is as intriguing as it is oddly refreshing.

3. Wiehenstephaner: Pilsner
Last confirmed sighting: Most independent and chain bottleshops stock it, though it isn’t quite as ubiquitous as the company’s flagship Hefe.
That clean German Pilsner taste is made possible by not only water high in sulphates but also its noble (pardon the pun) Continental hop profile. Expect floral, grassy, perfumed and slightly spicy aromas and flavours beneath a beautifully poised Sao-biscuit malt backbone.

4. Epic: Hop Zombie
Last confirmed sighting: Slowbeer Fitzroy
Always be sure to check the bottling / best after date with these big IPAs. They lose their lustre quickly. Epic Hop Zombie has one of the biggest hop profiles of any brewery’s core range globally, and although it’s made not entirely locally in Australian terms, it’s local enough that drinkers can get a sense of its true character. Expect copious amounts of resin and tropical fruit character.

5. Fullers: IPA
Last confirmed sighting: The International Beer Shop, Leederville
From new world hop bombs to the old world splendour of an English IPA. Where US-inspired IPAs are all about whopping resin, citrus and tropical fruit characters, English IPAs are somewhat more restrained and earthy in character. Fullers’ India Pale Ale exemplifies this difference with subtle herbal, spicy and floral notes with a more bready backbone than one might encounter from a modern take on the style.

6. Cantillon: Cuvée St. Gilloise
Last confirmed sighting: The Freo Doctor Bottleshop, Fremantle (a new batch has since been shipped to Australia)
Most Lambics utilise hops purely for their preservative qualities. Cantillon, being the mad hatters they are, decided to dry hop an unblended Lambic (which is to say it is not a gueuze) which is uncommon within Lambic brewing tradiitions. Sitting atop a dense melange of oak and funk is a luscious floral and earthy hop character. A new era Lambic perfect for these strange modern times.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

10 things you wanted to know about lager, but were too busy drinking to ask

Because knowledge = appreciation

Epic Loral, a "New World" NZ lager using a single experimental hop variety

This fortnightly series endeavours to explore all things beer, with 10 short sharp facts you mightn’t already know. I figured it might be ideal to start off with the deceptively simple world of lagers and Pilsners.

Lager is as ubiquitous as brand-name soft drinks, motor vehicles and smartphones. Nine in every 10 beers consumed worldwide are lagers. The style - even once well regarded German examples thereof - has since found itself relegated to the realm of those aforementioned modern conveniences thanks to sleek marketing and industrial-scale production.

Over the past few years, smaller scale craft breweries have embraced the challenge of making lager something worth celebrating again. Indeed lagers are a challenging style to brew. Not only do smaller breweries not have the luxury of age-old hand-me-down experience, hyper-modern laboratories needed to maintain consistency, nor the storage space for “lagering,” the style is highly unforgiving in that any fault has little to hide behind.

Craft brewed lagers and “New World” Pilsners (those utilising hops originating outside of Central Europe) are often hop-forward to the point of being criminally unbalanced. There are, however, plenty of lagers that hit the mark. A handful of brewers, such as Dainton Beer, have gone beyond the pale (helles) lager style by exploring dark malts and global hop varieties. In so doing they have reinvigorated the Schwarzbier lager style. Meanwhile New Zealand’s Garage Project has gone even further by experimenting with adjuncts and even Champagne yeast to full effect.

With summer on the way, why not set aside some shelf space for a handful of lagers of Pilsners? As well as the 10 facts below, Blind Taste Test has also dutifully suggested the “Ultimate Lager & Pilsner Sixer” to get you started.

Without any further ado, here’s the need to know stuff on all things lager and Pilsner.

1. Not all lagers are Pilsners, but all Pilsners are lagers. This is to say Pilsner is a regional variety of lager (in the traditional Old World sense at least).

2. A key difference between German and Czech Pilsners is the acceptability of diacetyl. Though not essential in Czech Pilsners, this perceived fault is acceptable when restrained. Otherwise the German Pilsner is, according to BJCP guidelines, a carbon-copy of the Bohemian Pilsner style adapted for German brewing conditions.

3. Water minerality means everything to lagers. The water used to brew German Pils is higher in sulfate which lends itself to a slightly more aggressive fermentation, while the water found in Czech Pilsners is softer. Water higher in sulfate lends itself to a crisper, drier lager beer.

4. German Pils are not to be confused with Helles lagers. Helles, meaning “pale,” lagers are more subtle in the hop character department. They are by nature malt driven.

5. Old World lagers feature Noble hop varieties such as Saaz, Hellertauer, Spalt and Tettnang. These hops are known for imparting floral, grassy and slightly spicy characters. Commercially brewed Australian lagers tend to use Pride of Ringwood, American Pilsners favour cluster and/or modern Noble crosses, while New World examples may feature a combination of Noble hops and almost anything from across the spectrum.

6. Germany is arguably the only country where spring seasonal beers are common. Sure, “Best beers for spring” lists are a dime a dozen - heck they might even include a German Schwarzbier (black lager). However, when talking seasonal beer it’s important to note the matching of beer to seasonal festivals, gatherings and centuries-old traditional customs (Lent, Oktoberfest, Maifest, etc.) As such, Maibocks are common during May in German (hence “Mai” bock, Maifest).

7. Bock beers are a stronger version of lager. Malt driven, varying in colour from golden through to darker amber hues. Maibocks are at the lighter end of the spectrum; bocks hold things up in the middle; and doppelbocks and eisbocks head up the pointy end. Doppelbocks are incredibly malty with caramelised sugar notes dominating while Eisbocks (“ice” bocks) are even stronger still due to a portion of water being frozen during the brewing process.   

8. The word “lager” came from the German word “lagern” (which means “to store”).Whether or not lager beers are an overarching categorical style or different to ales once the yeast has fermented the otherwise agnostic wort is up for debate. However, the defining feature of lager beers is “bottom fermentation.” Moreover, maturation occurs at colder temperatures following fermentation with the yeast resorbing unwanted characters. Once filtered the result is a clean crisp appearance and complexion.

9. Budweiser is as much a hotly contested trademark (fought by AB InBev and the brewers of Budvar) as it is a generic name for a regional beer style. Just as Pilsners originated in Plzen, beers originating from Budweis are known as Budweisers.

10. Forget the shame of the football hooligan stereotype and the incessant and unfounded rhetoric that IPAs go great with spicy food. Modern curries, particularly spicy ones such as Rogan Josh, beef vindaloo and (albeit inauthentic) spicy rendang lend themselves well to enjoying with a lager because of cleansing and complimentary elements. A pale lager’s carbonation strips the tongue of the fat and spicy heat, while the floral spicy notes compliment those of the curry. Go for a Czech Pilsner if your curry is a creamy though no less spicy number as the slight sweetness will play off both elements nicely.

Just remember that beer does not temper spicy food. Both alcohol and capsaicin are irritants and will conspire together on your tongue. Not even a 5 per cent lager will save you!

Combination Singapore/Malay curry; replete with spicy lamb, hot rendang, pumpkin and more; appropriately paired with a draught-poured pint of Tiger Beer. Perfection! 

The Ultimate Lager & Pilsner Sixer

It is worth noting the following six beers are generally available at most independent retailers and Dan Murphy’s stores, with an emphasis on Australian and new Zealand offerings where freshness is a factor. A last confirmed sighting is also included in the description.

Budvar: Czech Lager
Last confirmed sighting: Readily available almost anywhere
While this blog endeavours to showcase as many fresh Australian beers as possible, it’s worth going back to school with a few Old World examples of any given style. Just be sure to investigate best after / bottling dates when looking at imported beers lest you end up buying a beer with all the hop character of Skippy the Kangaroo following a three-day bender. Budvar, when fresh, is the quintessential Czech Pilsner. Its distinct slightly sweet backbone is offset by fresh cut grass, floral and restrained bitter Saaz hop characters.

Weihenstephaner: Pils
Last confirmed sighting: Dan Murphy’s, Canning Vale
The oldest still-operating brewery in the world is for many a gateway into craft - or well crafted - beers, although most drinkers go down the Hefe-weissbier route. Ignore the Pils at your peril, however, for it is among the world’s most essential beers. With the higher water sulfate level as is common in Germany, the finish on Weihenstephaner’s Pils is drier, hoppier and more refreshing than that of Budvar.

Balter Brewing: Pilsner
Last confirmed sighting: Mane Liquor, Perth
Lovers of Old World lagers and Pilsners will find a lot to celebrate here. Queensland’s overnight success story Balter has created an Australian (in location only( take on a traditional Pilsner. Using all Noble hops and no fancy gimmickery, you won’t be able to stop at just one. Given its freshness and much shorter time spent travelling than any given imported lager, it’s easy to see it stocking fridges from Mandurah to Minnamurra and from Gympie to Glenorchy.

Garage Project: Hops en Pointe
Last confirmed sighting: Mane Liquor, Perth
Garage Project is back on Australian shelves following a short hiatus. Among the newly arrived offerings is the esoteric, boundary pushing Hops en Pointe, a Pilsner utilising Champagne yeast during fermentation. As fresh as the first sunny day after a week of rain in Champagne, Hops en Pointe is guaranteed to have you sliding over towards the 5 when checking it in on Untappd.

Garage Project: Day of the Dead
Last confirmed sighting: Mane Liquor, Perth
With every Ultimate Sixer the objective is to share the love among the brewers, but with Garage Project’s 2017 release of Day of the Dead and its hotter, spicier sister (pun very much not intended!) La Calavera Catrina incoming, resistance proved futile. Day of the Dead is a dark lager infused with blue agave, cocoa and a hint of chilli, inspired by the Aztec xocolati drink. The resulting beer is well rounded, nuanced and delicate with notes of sweet cocoa, smoke and vanilla. What’s not to love?

Dainton Beer: New World Dark Lager
Last confirmed sighting: Mane Liquor, Perth
Carrum Downs’ Dainton Beer (formerly Dainton Family Brewery) took inspiration from Franconian Schwarzbiers but went full throttle with its hop profile to create something refreshingly new. Hellertau Blanc hops form the base before the beer is vigorously dry-hopped with Ella, Motueka (formerly Brooklyn) and Mandarina Bavaria varietals. The resulting beer is a slightly smoky, chocolatey and bitter affair though balance is maintained throughout.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Boatrocking the USA @ Carwyn Cellars (Sat 20 May 2017)

Words by Graham Frizzell

Those who were lucky enough to attend last year's Boatrocker Rarities event at Carwyn Cellars will attest it was one of the highlight events of Good Beer Week 2016, if not the year.  Of course, The 64 Million Dollar Question is: Could the combined forces top it this time around during Good Beer Week 2017?

Where last year's event took in five beers from Boatrocker paired with five from around the world (with Belgium being a key focus), Saturday 20 May would see five brews from Boatrocker matched with five inspirational beers from the USA (in keeping with the Pint of Origin: USA theme).  With Boatrocker owner and master brewer Matt Houghton at the helm, the stage was set for a thoroughly engaging and tasteful excursion in to beer wonderland - tenfold.

Setting up for proceedings


This wet hopped (with Enigma hops) Berliner-weisse beer takes its name from Enigma hops whose character resembles sauvignon blanc, hence its quirky name.

On the nose it's funk, oak, sauvignon blanc and a touch of citrus tang.  These notes transpose to the palate with a hint of honey - and honey dew melon.  There are subtle vinous undertones too.  Its mouthfeel is mellow, vinous, almost silken with subtle carbonation riding on top.  Here, Boatrocker has brewed a unique and enjoyable take on the Berliner-weisse - which is no mean feat given many new world examples don't quite end up being true to style.



Almanac is of course among the most recognisable exponents of sour beer in America, and since the brewery's arrival into the Australian market, a cult following has grown.  El Dorado is among many twists on Almanac's Belgian blond ale (kettle soured, fermented with Brettanomyces and aged in foeders), the twist here being El Dorado dry hopping.

Funk and citrus dominates the nose here too, but the flavour is a much sharper affair.  Finger lime is most apparent, while a touch of oaky vinous tonality is also present.  Carbonation is a little higher, hence this is a refreshing example of the style.

The overall effect of this pairing is one of both contrast and compliment.  Berliner-weissbiers and Belgian blond ales might contain the familiar ingredient of wheat, but stylistically the two are worlds apart (acidity being a noteworthy differential).  But the two are highly complimentary of another owing to vinous undertones and dominant fruity esters.  What a great match-up to kick off proceedings!

Left: Blanc de Blancs and Right: El Dorado


Aged in French oak barriques (a small Burgundian barrel characterised by its relatively slim-lined shape and capacity of 300 litres / 59 US gallons), Boatrocker's 6 Bretts was the first among the day's surprise offerings.  As its name suggests, the Brettanomyces yeast strain and its wonderfully funky (in more ways than one) effect is the focal point here.

Throughout this wonderful experience - from sniff to swallow -  there is plenty going on.  Sharp, but not overbearingly so, summer fruit leads the way before horseblanket funk follows.  Much like Almanac's offering, 6 Bretts is a fantastically refreshing beer.


Joe Soriero from Brooklyn stepped up to introduce Wild Streak, which turned out to be one of the real highlights among a stellar lineup.  Wild Streak is a Brooklyn Brewery "legacy beer" from its Brett and barrel-ageing program.  Originally a Brooklyn Ghost Bottle, first bottled in 2014.  A Belgian blonde ale, Brett fermented and aged in Bourbon barrels...  Just looking at the formula would have anyone with even a passing interest in barrel-aged beers fall into a state of shuddering blissfulness.

Put simply, this beer is extraordinary, and a great counter-point to Boatrocker's 6 Bretts.  Complex, rotund and profound; Wild Streak can hold its neck up as being one of the most unique beers on the planet.  Bourbon rolls upon the tongue like a grown up child in the autumn leaves, while mellow malt and pungent esters complete this Picasso-of-beers picture.

As stated earlier, this pairing was all about contrast.  Both the barrel and Brettanomyces impart various magical flavours to beer, and as evidenced here, those characteristics are as varied as the day is long.  Moreover, both 6 Bretts and Wild Streak marry up remarkably well to good stinky cheeses both hard and soft.

The Boatrocker 6 Bretts bottle sits between 6 Bretts (left) and Wild Streak (right)


Boatrocker just loves acetic acid, in the right proportions of course. Made with 100kg of cherries, this year de-stemmed...  By the cherry farmer's wife...  (The previous year the cherries arrived stem and all, so the brewers asked politely if they could be removed).

Currently Boatrocker has a 20L cask but the guys have dreams of one day having a foeder hall.  As Adam Holliday said foeders are functioning works of art.  Suffice it to say Wilde Cherry is very similar in style to Rodenbach's finest and other Flanders red examples.

Cherry pits, sour cherry flesh, measured acetic acidity funk and oak is the order of the day here.  Much like Rodenbach, oakiness is indeed plentiful.  Were it not for cherries being in short supply, the whole world should be drinking this blissful fruit beer.


20 years ago New Belgium had Rodenbach come over and set up a foeder program, at a time when sour beers were virtually unheard of.  The rest, as they say, is history.  La Folie is a Flanders-style brown ale, and above all is testament to the brewery's rich brewing, barrel-ageing and sour blending tradition. 

On the nose, La Folie is a thing of beauty.  Oak, earth, berries and cherries intermingle in perfect harmony.

Once again, the impression of this pairing turned out to be  contrasting and complimentary.   La Folie's somewhat more rotund mouthfeel and earthier flavour contrasted Wilde Cherry's effervescence and brighter flavour profile.

Left: Wilde Cherry and Right: La Folie


Boatrocker is of course all about Belgian inspired ales, but why not add a double IPA to the rotation?  Indeed, Jabber Jaw is its first to hit the Braeside brewery's portfolio and it's sure to hold its head up high.

Though it was inspired by the beer that follows (below), it could be said Jabber Jaw's closest compadre is Sierra Nevada's Hoptimum (pre-2017 refresh).  Melon and mango lead from the front followed by spicy, earthy and resinous hops.  This is another fine Australian IIPA, one that will surely raise the profile of the country and it is undeniable proof Boatrocker are masters at their craft.


With huge thanks to Carwyn Cellars' Chris and Juanita for bringing back a case of this landmark beer from the US!  Pliny the Elder surely needs no introduction, especially to the lupulin inclined.

Pine forest and earthy tones dominate the nose.  The palate is then awash with honey, mango, stone fruit; then the hops come crashing in like a Hawaiian king wave the likes of which only blind Brasilian surfers could handle.  Pine, resin and a long, almost hairspray (in a good way) dryness round out the immense hop driven finish.

A rare treat, particularly for those who have yet to visit the US west coast.  Suffice to say this match-up was deeply complimentary - and deeply satisfying!

Left: Jabber Jaw, Centre: Pliny the Elder and Right: The prized Pliny the Elder bottle


Boatrocker's Starward whiskey barrel-aged stout is of course among another of Australia's finest.  On this occasion, the crowd was treated to a 2015 vintage.

Indeed, Bourbon barrels are hard to come by, even if they have become something of a commodity.  Hence Boatrocker struck up what became a firm and long-lasting relationship with Melbourne whiskey distillers New World Distillery (the makers of Starward).  Since its first incarnation (2014), Ramjet has risen to the highest echelon of Australia's finest beers, one that has surely elevated the country's beer and brewing profile on the world stage.

As one might expect, this vintage has aged spectacularly well.  On the nose, whiskey and oaky character is bountiful, so too roasty malt.  Raisin character, smooth cocoa and well measured roasty notes dominate the mid-palate.  Whiskey rides atop from the moment the beer touches the lips through to the swallow, backed up by a somewhat rotund mouthfeel.


Firestone Walker's Parabola is a beast of a beer - over 14% beastly!  A top draw Bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout from a brewery whose output (until now) has seldom been seen on Australian shelves.

On the nose Parabola presenta big, bold and brash Bourbon character.  The same Bourbon influence rolls beneath a cascade of dark fruit, berries, raisins, dates and ash over the palate.  Amazingly the booze is concealed well, though the heavy mouthfeel certainly does not.

This final pairing offered up contrast by way of the different flavours imparted by whiskey and Bourbon barrels, while the two complimented one other in terms of stout flavours and characteristics as much as they contrasted.  Ramjet is as smooth as silk in its flavour, whereas Parabola burst in like a freight train with its robustness and dark fruit accented flavour.  All in all the two were evenly matched in every department except alcohol content.

Left: Ramjet (2015) and Right: Parabola

10 beers and two-and-a-half hours later, it was all over.  A massive thanks must go to Boatrocker Brewing Co, Matt Houghton, Brooklyn Brewery's Joe Soriero and the dedicated team at Carwyn Cellars for staging this amazing event.  An unfathomable amount of blood, sweat, tears and hard graft went into procuring the rare beers showcased on the day, and I feel tremendously privileged to have been among the lucky few who attended.

I sincerely hope there will be a third instalment next year, and if so, I implore you to get onboard the day tickets go on sale.  Roll on Good Beer Week 2018!