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!

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Heat is On: Chilli Beers

Words by Graham Frizzel
From a brewer’s perspective, few ingredients are trickier to work with than chilli.  More often than not, test batches need to be done in order to make sure the level of heat is just right, even when milder chillies are used, and then there’s the small matter of how to treat the chillies before adding them to the boil.
But when the balance is just right, the end result is a thing of beauty.  Chilli can either provide an upfront flavour with other elements providing a counterpoint, or it can be used to great effect as a flavour enhancer.
To that end, I thoroughly recommend the following four top draw chilli beers, plus a fifth that’s perhaps best avoided.
BrewDog's Dog B: One of the finest chilli beers going
40 Ft. Brewing:  Gran Humo NegroLevel of heat:  1.5/5
Last confirmed sighting:  On tap at Carwyn Cellars
This is the beer that went on to become a fabulous hot sauce.  Gran Humo Negro is what all other chilli beers aspire to be: Balanced, measured and contemplative.  This chilli porter has a certain comforting tropical warmth to it, with the subtle but present chilli holding the luscious chocolate undertone together like the full moon holds the tide.
BrewDog: Dog B, C, D and E
Level of heat: 2.5/5
Last confirmed sighting:  Carwyn Cellars and Grape & Grain
What was once BrewDog’s Abstrakt AB:04 morphed to become the Scottish bad boys’ anniversary imperial stout.  Older versions of this insanely complex stout are still kicking about the place, with the fresher Dog D and Dog E going even further into madness having been barrel-aged.  The newer versions really do strike while the iron is hot, as there’s not only a decent whop of chilli heat on the back of the throat, there’s also a real alcohol burn too.  It’s like emerging from a chocolate, chilli, boozy volcano and you’ve lived to tell the tale.
Garage Project: La Calavera Catrina
Level of heat:  4/5
Last confirmed sighting: Grape & Grain, 500mL bottles
Garage Project have nothing to declare but their genius, and it’s downright impossible to resist this temptation.  Nobody else could have concocted a brew consisting of habaneros, watermelon and rosewater.  The chilli heat is a truly satisfactory burn, but for the uninitiated it might lead to strange visualisations similar to those experienced by Oscar Wilde following one too many absinthe benders.  Consider this fair warning!
Not hot enough for ya?  Check out Garage Project’s The Fabulous Firebreather.  If you’re lucky enough to find it, you’ll be rewarded with one hell of a habanero-fuelled fire-storm in a glass!
Ballast Point:  Habanero Sculpin
Level of heat:  4/5
Last confirmed sighting:  Young & Jackson during Good Beer Week
Okay, this one’s a ring-in because it’s a been-and-gone annual visitor to Melbourne, but it gets an honourable mention because it’s so damn good.  It’s often said IPAs and spicy food go together like Ebony and Ivory but, truth be known, the reality is more like Simon and Garfunkel.  Put chilli in an IPA though and the results can be devastating.  Habanero Sculpin puts the power of hops together with the heat of habanero to create the perfect rock n’ roll double act.
Matso’s:  Chilli Beer
Level of heat:  3/5
Last confirmed sighting:  Dan Murphy’s
The spiel says Matso’s Chilli Beer is probably the hottest beer in the world.  And yes, it does light up the tongue to a near-challenging point.  But the reality is there are infinitely hotter beers out there.  Garage Project alone brews two of them (see above).
The trouble with Matso’s Chilli Beer isn’t its heat.  The problem lies with its malt and hop characteristics, which take on an unpleasantly bitter and astringent presentation.  Save this one for a party trick or as a base for what could be an awesome chilli batter.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Getting Blind in the Backroom Podcast Episode 1: Interview with Matt Houghton of Boatrocker Brewing

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Boatrocker Brewing's owner and head brewer ahead of a major masterclass tasting at Carwyn Cellars (one day before the most evil of flu bugs set in I might add).  The full interview can be found here.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Into the Barrels of Brooklyn Brewery Masterclass with Miro Bellini @ Carwyn Cellars (Sat 20 August 2016)

Words by Graham Frizzell

When Carywn Cellars announced its Into the Barrels Festival, excitement among beer fans went beyond the capacity for rational thought.  Loose Ghostbusters references aside, beer lovers collectively melted over the announcement of an intimate Brooklyn Brewery tasting, co-hosted by Miro Bellini and Ben Duval, featuring samples of the brewery’s fabled “Ghost Bottles” collection.
The stage was set for an afternoon of drinking deeply of the barrel.
The stage is set
The premise
New York, New York’s Brooklyn Brewery is among the most recognisable brands in craft beer.  Founded by Tom Potter and former Associated Press Middle East Correspondent Steve Hindy in 1984, Brooklyn garnered a firm reputation for its lager, brown ale, double chocolate stout and its collection of eccentric one-offs, known as “Ghost Bottles.”
Brooklyn Brewery’s current head brewer Garrett Oliver started the “Ghost Bottles” program as a fun experiment.  30-50 bottles are brewed a year and only a brewer or a brewery ambassador may open them.  They’re built for special occasions rather than typical supply chains.  Surely intimate tastings don’t come more special than this.
Miro Bellini is among one of the most recognisable faces among Melbourne’s craft beer circuit.  He’s certainly also among the hardest working.  Co-founder of the internationally recognised Good Beer Week, former brewery tour host at Mountain Goat, Palais Imports stalwart, beer menu consultant and Brooklyn Brewery Ambassador - there is little he hasn’t seen or done.
As the host for the occasion, Miro stated words to the effect: “It’s not just about rare and special beers.  If the term ‘Masterclass’ is to be used, there really ought to be something to learn.”  To that end, the session was as much about exploring the palate itself as it was enjoying the most rare and experimental Brooklyn concoctions.
It’s not often you’ll find soda water going head to head with tonic water at a Masterclass, however perhaps it should be a standard fixture at all intimate tastings.  Miro Bellini had the 20-strong attendance compare the two – not only to decipher the nuances of each, but also to calibrate the palate.  As it turns out, the soda water came in handy for cleansing the palate following the enjoyment of a particularly rich and bitey cheese.
Miro went on to say beauty lies in delicate, softer flavours as much as it does in bigger and bolder beverages: “Saying ‘I only like big [red wines] is a lot like saying I need 10 ghost chillies for an ænema,” he quipped.
As the Masterclass would go on to prove, a saison can be – and often is – equal to (or greater than) any barleywine, quad or imperial stout.  Certainly barrel-ageing imparts an even greater degree of complexity on whatever might happen to be taking its beauty rest within, however the same could be said of naked “lighter beers” when pitted against richer, darker counterparts.
Sorachi Ace (2 year-old,) Orchard Pick and Smokin’ Ace
First beer off the ranks was a well-aged (two years – at a constant temperature of 4ºC) bottle of Sorachi Ace.  The idea in presenting an aged beer was so the base could be tasted “naked,” without the impact of Sorachi hop character – perfect for identifying the nuances of the Ghost Bottle versions to follow.
Indeed, the lengthy ageing process had taken its toll on the hop character of the beer, however its baseline flavours remained.  Dry and characterful, Sorachi Ace is among one of the best modern saisons going – aged or otherwise.
Left: 2-yo Sorachi Ace and Right: Sorachi Ace: Orchard Pick
 Then, Miro and Carywn Cellars’ resident co-host Ben Duval distributed the first of two beers to be compared with the original Sorachi Ace: Orchard Pick, aged over peaches, nectarines and in red wine barrels.  Attendees were encouraged to discuss what they tasted with one another, what nuances could be found and how the palate was excited.  It was also pointed out many beer judges use their forearm to reset their olfactories.  After all, the scent most common to a person is one’s own.
On the nose Orchard Pick presented a beautifully delicate and floral bouquet – characters that segued beautifully to the palate.  Saisons are of course wonderful for enjoying alongside food, with Orchard Pick’s intricate flavours playing magnificently well off the Capocollo.

Smoky meats go especially well with smoky beers, hence the next beer to be poured was a real treat: Smokin’ Ace.  As the name suggests, this fantastic beer spent 40 winks inside mescal barrels.  Intense but delicate throughout, the nose is treated to a huge hit of smoke before more than a hint of warming mescal rounds out the palate.  The experience was taken to a new flavour zone with the last of the sediment poured into the glass.  Prosciutto and Capocollo both played exceedingly well off Smoking Ace’s gloriously smoky character.
K is for Kriek
Kriek is far and away one of the most beautiful beer styles, be it a classic Lambic version or a well-executed New World interpretation.  Miro and Ben set about pouring arguably the highlight Ghost Bottle of the day.  Brewed with orange peel, honey, candi syrup; aged in Bourbon barrels on cherries; complex to the point of being damn-near dense; K is for Kriek could be likened to eating gourmet chocolate cherry alongside a dram of Bourbon.  It could even liken a particularly boozy Christmas cake.  Again it must be stressed this is a New World interpretation, one that eschews the traditional Lambic funk for other qualities, however this was nothing short of a rare treat.
During the K is for Kriek tasting, Miro raised an interesting point about styles and the origin of terms like “quadrupel.”  Indeed, the term “quadrupel” (or “quad” for short) was coined by American brewers, rather than the Belgians. 
Ben Duval pouring the exceptionally good K is for Kriek
 Bel Air (aged on mango, in cognac barrels)
So as not to overwhelm the class’s collective palate (a whopping great “dessert” was to follow), Miro and Ben poured something a little more restrained: a mango, cognac barrel-aged version of Brooklyn’s Bel Air wild ale.
This experimental, kettle soured ale seemed to stump a large contingent of the attendees, for few could detect its cognac notes.  Others disagreed, saying that it made a subtle presence.  Either way, this delicate, beautifully poised and richly aromatic beer reached flavour symphony-like heights when paired with a generous serving of d’Affinois cream cheese.  Utter perfection!
Black Ops
Dessert was duly served following what had been 20 minutes of lively (albeit hazily remembered) conversation.  Those treated to “the beer that doesn’t exist” ought to count themselves lucky for being given the opportunity to experience something as rare as a rainy day in Arizona.
Aged in Bourbon barrels for four months, bottled without carbonation and then re-fermented with Champagne yeast – it’s as magical and mystical as it sounds.  Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t nearly as heavy and dense as one might expect.  In fact, Black Ops had a delicacy all its own.
With that, one of the most fulfilling intimate Masterclasses to have been hosted at Carwyn Cellars concluded.  A massive thanks must go to Miro Bellini, Ben Duval, Brooklyn Brewery and everyone at Carwyn Cellars for making this wonderful event possible.
This ain't no game, this is Brooklyn's Black Ops
 Interesting facts you may not know about beer, courtesy of Miro Bellini
 * The effect of storing beer in a room as warm heated to a constant 30ºC for a period of one week becomes as aged as beer that has spent three months in a room chilled to a constant 4ºC.
 * Sorachi Ace hops were initially developed by Sapporo, but were ultimately considered unfavourable for the Japanese palate, due to the hop’s dill and lemongrass-like flavours.
 * Brettanomyces goes to work a great deal slower than most conventional strains of brewers yeast.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Tuesday Tastings @ Forester’s Hall feat. 3 Ravens Brewing / Mash Brewing (16 Aug 2016)

What do goths and the coming together of water and grains have in common?  Quite a lot, as it happens, if you’re thinking Thornbury’s 3 Ravens and West Australia’s Mash Brewing.  Both breweries have carved out a strong reputation in their respective states and with their powers combined they plotting to take over the world.
3 Ravens’ head brewer Brendan Sullivan and compadré Murray Robertson (both also representing WA-based stablemates Mash Brewing) were on hand to host Forester’s Tuesday Tastings on 16 August 2016.  On the strength of the three beers presented to an eager crowd, the future is certainly looking very bright for both parties.

3 Ravens: Little Ravens – Dark Lager
Anyone who has been following 3 Ravens for any length of time surely knows of the brewery’s series one-offs: Little Ravens.  Joining 2015’s incredible oak aged imperial stout, Turkish Delight, the stunning Double IPA (released in early 2016) and the Australian Double IPA is a dunkel-style (dark),  lager.
Any thoughts of Little Ravens – Dark Lager being a pedestrian affair should be banished from your head now like an Olympic drug cheat from the Games (all of them – not just the Russians!)  This is a fantastic lager worthy of your attention – no matter how jaded you are with the bottom-fermented stuff.
Indeed, the secret’s in the yeast here.  3 Ravens opted to go for a full-fledged Bavarian yeast strain instead of the more ubiquitous, neutral US-borne options.  Those glorious little microbes were thrown into a concoction of Munich and crystal malts; hop varieties ranging from Saaz right through to the experimental, as yet unnamed, 035 hop.
The end result is a sterling New World take on the most traditional of German styles.  Pouring a dense nutty brown with an off-white head, Dark Lager certainly wouldn’t look out of place alongside dunkels from Weltenburger and Weihenstephaner.  Biscuity malt character wafts towards the nose, transposing immediately to the palate.  Although malt driven, Dark Lager’s flavour is complimented by subtle green grape and dark fruit characters.
It’s a real shame Dark Lager won’t be a year-round release.
Mash Brewing: Dry-Hopped Wizz Fizz
What originally began as a clever bit of banter in response to Feral’s Watermelon Warhead, Wizz Fizz has grown to become a firm fan favourite among West Australian and Melburnian drinkers alike.  What’s more, the precariously named, kettle soured Berliner-weisse is growing up.  Dry-hopping Wizz Fizz is only the beginning of what will be a long line of variations.  Expect citrus infused, bottle conditioned (with Brettanomyces) and barrel-aged reincarnations in the not too distant future.
The dry-hopped version is a step up from the original in that its overall presentation is a little more balanced.  Kettle hopped with Simcoe and dry-hopped with a range of tropical flavour-imbued varieties, the end result is a contrast between tart acidity and fruity nuance.
Wizz Fizz pours a yellow-hued golden colour with a firm white head, eventually dissipating to thin lacing.  The aroma almost overwhelms with its intensity but eventually settles to a delight of bright citrus and tropical fruit – only a little tartness comes through on the nose.  Acidity threatens to dominate the palate, but order is once again restored by way of hop driven tropical fruit character.
Not only do Mash and 3 Ravens wish to take Wizz Fizz into wilder territory, they also wish to explore wild ales at large.  Mash head brewer Charlie Hodgson began collaborating with 3 Ravens to expand the brewery’s horizons, while 3 Ravens has always held a keen interest with barrel-ageing (not least in the realm of sour beers).  Indeed, the latter will be producing a Flanders red while also rolling out its Wild Ravens series.
3 Ravens: The Druid (2016 vintage release)
The Druid has proven so popular among avid beer fans 3 Ravens made the decision to release it as an annual vintage, with the first ever batch being brewed by former head brewer Adrian McNulty (now the head honcho at Moon Dog).
This Belgian quad (quadrupel) style ale is made all the more beastly by taking its beauty rest in Pedro Ximenez (PX) and pinot noir barrels.  So rich, decadent and sweet is The Druid it could be paired with any number of wintry desserts, or indeed as dessert itself.  Pouring an alluring dark brown with a quickly dissipating lightly tanned head, this is one beer whose looks are sure to enchant.  On the nose a medley of date, plum, raisin, molasses and booze tantalises, before the decadence of boozy dark fruit casts spells upon the palate.  Vinous notes shine through too, but in this year’s incarnation the experience isn’t quite as overpowering.
A big thankyou and cheers must go out to 3 Ravens’ Brendan Sullivan, Murray Robertson (the latter of whom is a regular host of Tuesday Tastings) and the lovely team at Forester’s Music and Beer Hall for staging this most tasteful of evenings.