Friday, 26 December 2014

Ballast Point: Victory at Sea (Coffee and Vanilla Porter)

Bought from Cellarbrations at Carlisle (Perth)

Yet another Victory for San Diego's best
Ballast Point's Victory at Sea coffee and vanilla porter is yet another prime example as to how this SoCal brewing stalwart has risen to the top of fierce regional competition. While its rivals focus on daringly hop forward IPAs, Ballast Point have instead showed the world that the representation of Californian beers does not need to begin and end with huge hop flavour profiles. Not only is the Californian beer flag flying high here but also SoCal coffee from Caffe Calabria, who collaborated with Ballast Point in creating this exceptional porter.

Victory at Sea pours a dense black with a tanned, at first firm head that dissipates to fine lacing. On the nose, this coffee and vanilla-infused imperial porter bounds forth with promising aromas of intensely sweet coffee, vanilla extract and dried dark fruits and berries. Indeed, there is a sharp quality to Victory's aroma.

The addition of fresh, cold brewed coffee from Caffe Calabria makes its presence known right up front. Riding a sweet malt backbone is a torrent of lusciously dry coffee and the sort of roasty and earthy character that suggests the telling of stories by the campfire (preferably while visiting the mountains outside San Diego - which I hope to do one day). Vanilla undertones do their level best to shine in however are ultimately overwhelmed; perhaps this is why the next victory at Sea incarnation sees its omission. The well rounded finish is characterised by roasty coffee and hop bitterness. Victory at Sea's mouthfeel is perfectly complementary to the overlying flavours in that it is relatively smooth once the medium carbonation has settled upon the tongue.

Victory at Sea is among the most intense porters I have ever enjoyed. It is an absolute must for anyone searching for something that better represents the truly broad scope of Californian brewing.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Ballast Point: Sculpin (IPA)

Bought from The International Beer Shop, Leederville (Perth)

The supurb beer named after the super-strange fish.

Mother nature must have got heavy on the turps when she drew up the blueprint for the sculpin; a truly strange looking and at times (depending on the genera) downright ugly fish. When man wants to get on the turps, he can turn to Sculpin, a beer brewed by SoCal legends Ballast Point that is perhaps a lot more attractive than its namesake.

According to the brewers themselves, hops were added over five stages during the brewing process. Moreover, the idea behind Sculpin was to see Ballast Point relive the spirit of its home brewing roots. The end result is a beer that showcases what is great about the SoCal scene.

Sculpin pours a dense ochre colour with a decidedly unfiltered look to it (which is not at all a bad thing). Its head is hued to the same colour of the beer and quickly dissipates to light lacing.
Tart, tangy and zesty aromatics get things going right from the off. There is even a hint of oceanic sea breeze, but one should not be surprised given that this is a SoCal beer.

Rollicking resinous hop bitterness bounds forth immediately on entry, leaving no doubt in my mind that this is one bottle in amongst a fresh batch. As the beer warms, the intense bitter resin backs off somewhat, leaving in its wake bountiful tropical fruit flavours. Lemon zest, apricot, mango and grapefruit dominate. There are even surprising suggestions of leafy greens such as kale, herbaceous notes and plenty of brininess on the finish. Hop bitterness in all its resinous glory returns to round out proceedings.

Sculpin's mouthfeel reflects the unfiltered appearance of the beer in that is not at all coarse while maintaining a home brew-like yeasty character, while its carbonation is quite low for its style.

Indeed, the sculpin fish is as dangerous as it is ugly. Much like the poisonous spikes on the fish's fins, there is a certain sting to this beer. Sculpin is yet another terrifically complex and impactful SoCal IPA well worthy of sampling time and time again.

Special thanks to the lads at The International Beer Shop who selflessly let me have the very last available bottle instead of keeping it for themselves!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Golden Road: Heal the Bay IPA

Purchased from The International Beer Shop, Leederville (Perth, Western Australia)

A brilliant beer that encapsulates the California spirit.

Los Angeles' Golden Road epitomise bright, summery beers in both image and flavour. Heal the Bay IPA is an astonishing beer that encapsulates and embodies the Californian spirit and coastal living like no other has conjured..

The inspiration behind Heal the Bay IPA was found in partnering with LA's foremost ocean and beach- environmental conservation group of the same name, hence this is a very clean beer in every sense.

Heal the Bay IPA pours a colour unique to IPAs as it lays somewhere between lager and pale ale hues. On the nose the aroma is simply mind blowing. Oceanic brine collides head first with an easterly breeze bringing in earthy, slightly volcanic notes. Fresh tropical fruit is also gloriously abundant.

Upon entry, the resin factor is huge in its mouth puckering effect. As the recipe includes Nelson Sauvin, Citra and Centennial the hop character is as deep as it is complex. Beneath a deep sense of earthiness, all manner of tropical fruits shine through; especially notes of pineapple and passionfruit. A hint of paw paw precedes a torrent of walloping grapefruit-forward hop bitterness.

Heal the Bay IPA's aromatics and flavours are not the only elements that showcase Golden Road's superb brewing prowess; the mouthfeel is also rather noteworthy. The way in which the beer rolls over the tongue like the more gentler waves one might experience along the Los Angeles coastline with carbonation and smoothness that somehow strikes both lager and double IPA qualities.

Much like Wolf Among the Weeds, Heal the Bay IPA is unique, phenomenally complex and full of surprises. With a limited run hitting Australian shores, there is no time like the present to get going along the Golden Road.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Twisted Manzanita: Iron Mountain IPA

Twisted Manzanita: Iron Mountain IPA

SoCal beers are becoming something of an obsession with me. San Diego's Twisted Manzanita is just one brewery among many in the region pumping out weapons-grade hop bombs, including this gem of a beer.

The Twisted Manzanita IPA pours a deep ocre; not pale by any means. The colour tells no lies of the bold tropical fruit and ramped up hop impact that eventually follow. Its head dissipates to virtually nothing from the can however this was a half-pour (the other half being shared with a friend). Mouthfeel is smooth with medium carbonation.

The aroma is all spring florals, pine and tropical fruit. What follows is a dogfight between bold pine resin and tropical fruit. Strangely with all this fruitiness Twisted Manzanita's Iron Mountain IPA is in no way sugary sweet; a dryish savoury malt backbone rumbles beneath. There is even a hint of salted, burnt caramel as well (indicative of the caramel malts included in the brew).

Finishing off this delightfully confusing experience is a burst of rollicking, astringent, piny and resinous hop bitterness.

I am suitably impressed by this truly unique IPA.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Sixpoint: Resin (Double/Imperial IPA)

Beer Deluxe, Federation Square (Melbourne)

Does what it says on the tin - literally!

New York’s Sixpoint Brewery need no introduction for those who are already well versed in craft beer and I feel rather late to the party in covering their incredible Resin Double IPA. Nevertheless, I would be criminally remiss if I did not cover it, for what makes beer and hop flowers so special is thrust head first into the limelight.

Its appearance is a lovely shade of orange with a little haze. Resin's mouthfeel is smooth and seductive with medium carbonation. Initially I believed that sugar stickiness lined both the rim of the can and eventually my glass however as it turns out this is hop resin; which is quite adhesive in nature.

Immensely resinous, woody, oleaginous and piny notes do not wait patiently to make their presence known. Like an unruly riot squad this full flavour onslaught enters the scene with authoritarian brute force. This ain't no protest rally though; it is a happy, hoppy occasion. The constabulary quickly realises that there is nothing to see here (but are curious as to the cans labelled "Resin" lying about the place). Beneath the resinous bombardment flows a peaceful stream of tropical orange and mango fruitiness before strangely subtle whispers of floral hop bitterness and lemon pith round out the experience.

Resin really is an experience. This gargantuan DIPA is as complex as it is immense. True hopheads will absolutely love this extraordinarily flavourful yet balanced beer.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Kaiju: Hopped Out Red IPA

Reminiscent of an old favourite.

Beer Deluxe, Fed Square (Melbourne)

Massively hopped American red IPAs have stormed their way into my heart of late with Magic Rock's The Big Top and more recently Deschutes' Inversion IPA being particularly spectacular.  Victorian brewery Kaiju! Has stepped into the ring with an American Red IPA that is not only up there with the aforementioned best, but one that reminds me of an old classic: BrewDog’s Chaos Theory IPA.

American red ales (be they an IPA or not) differ from English and Irish reds in that they are a lot less sweet and malt forward.  Instead they tend to be drier while exploding forward with massive hop bitterness.

Kaiju!'s Hopped Out Red IPA erupts with floral, pine and boozy aroma.  On entry the brew's mouthfeel is typical of the red IPA style: smooth and bold but unquestionably drinkable.  Pineapple and malt sweetness shine through at first however these flavours are swiftly overtaken by intensely resinous, piny hop bitterness.  Grapefruit notes shone through during this intense finish.  As the beer warmed rapidly in Melbourne’s unseasonably warm spring weather, Hopped Out Red IPA revealed its complexity replete with more than a hint of resin. 

Having enjoyed two glasses of Hopped Out Red IPA, what stood out for me was that “arid” flavour sensation that I first encountered upon sampling Chaos Theory by BrewDog.  I might be getting myself confused with pine resin characteristics when stating this tasting note, however I am inclined to believe otherwise.  It is a flavour that transposes the aroma of saltbush to taste.  Indeed, one must travel to inland Australia to experience and understand this almost briny phenomenon.  Whatever the case, if you have been hanging for a re-release of Chaos Theory, Hopped Out Red IPA will not only satisfy but impress as well.

Comparisons aside, Kaiju: Hopped Out Red IPA drinks like driving along Australia's country roads; the beer's domineering, bitey strong finish could very well be likened to be overtaken by a drunken speeding motorist along any of our beautifully scenic rural highways.  Do not be that drunk driver though.  Hopped Out Red IPA is a fine brew that is deserving of savoured, relaxed-pace imbibing.

Writer’s Note:  I sampled Kaiju: Hopped Out Red IPA on tap.  The featured picture is of the beer from the keg sat beside a bottle taken from the fridge for photographic purposes.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Nail Brewing: Clayden Brew (Imperail Porter)

(One-off batch release).

Beer Deluxe, Federation Square (Melbourne)

An accidental masterpiece.

West Australia’s true pioneers of craft beer Nail Brewing created an absolute monster of a black beer by combining two brews; one of which was (reportedly) a resounding failure, the other half being the award winning Clout Stout.  The end result proved to be a thing of utmost beauty; so named to honour John Stallwood’s son, Clayden (John being Nail Brewing’s head honcho).

Clayden Brew’s aroma is nothing short of striking as it touches on sugary sweet, boozy, fig, coffee and chocolate notes.  I found myself taking it in deeply for an extended period of time before proceeding with the first sip.  Suffice it to say that the experience that follows is no less intense.

Without any shadow of a doubt, I have enjoyed few beers this year that have offered up such a delightfully complex, multi-faceted flavour profile. There is more than a hint of maple syrup up front here. Delicate coffee and hop bitter notes follow; at once the coffee rolls forth upon the palate, before resurfacing later as the ultimate finale; partnered with a chocolate/cacao profile that covers the spectrum as the flavour tapers off.

The complexity of Clayden Brew is such that it is difficult to describe in mere words.  Each flavour aspect attacks and fades upon its own cue, however this is not a poorly coordinated improv performance we are talking about.  Lemon zest, lemon meringue, toffee, toffee apple, molasses, barley sugar and even bitter pineapple (rounding out on the side palate) notes burst forth with theatrical enthusiasm. The finish, once the brew has warmed sufficiently, is somewhat oleaginous and deeply woody. Meanwhile, the mouthfeel is big in its syrupy character with just enough carbonation for it to be satisfying and drinkable without being overbearing.

Bloody Nora, Clayden Brew is far and away one of the most complex and hearty brews I have sampled; not just this year, but ever. I am left feeling all the more privileged to sample the spoils of craft beer's golden age, and to think this was a happy accident of a beer.  Doubtless Nail Brewing will need a new trophy cabinet at this rate.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Mikkeller: George (Cognac barrel aged imperial stout)

Beer Deluxe, Federation Square (Melbourne)

The barrel aging of stouts plunges even greater depths… and I am going straight to hell.

A thought occurs: I am almost thankful that stout season is on its way out.  Great stouts of all varieties are so abundant at the moment that it is easy to succumb to pleasure overload.  So, while at the excellent Beer Deluxe (Federation Square); my mind squarely honed in on hoppy IPAs, I am presented with the sort of temptation that would have even St. Peter quivering with anticipation: Mikkeller George (cognac barrel aged imperial stout).  Still, as winter looks set to give way to spring, there is no turning back, no repent, no release from the dark (beer) lord’s embrace.

With an aroma like no other, resistance is utterly futile.  I am as much a stranger to cognac as an Alaskan is to Tokyo, hence my impressions may not be entirely accurate.  No matter…  George is as boozy as can be on the nose; pointed black cherry is there as well.  It is not a particularly complex aroma, like those exhibited by some of MOO Brew’s imperial stouts, however what it lacks in complexity it more than atones for in intensity.

George features a head that is almost as dark as that on show from Founders’ Imperial Stout.  It is a beautiful, mocha colour that sits atop a beer that is squid ink black.  Here, the mouthfeel and body is smooth, rich, dense, decadent and delectable.

On the palate, the delectation continues in earnest.  George is forward in its bitterness and woodiness; in fact, it could almost be described as being quite oleaginous in character.  Black cherry and rich, dark but not terribly sweet chocolate notes take sway over the entire palate.  Suggestions of smoky tar and ash make their presence known as well and in so doing remind me that there is a certain ways to go yet before surfacing from the blackened underground of stout to the floral gardens of IPA-land.

Intensely rich coffee and treacle notes follow through.  As this fantastic beer warms, its booziness becomes more prevalent, but not so that it is rendered overbearing.  While George proved to be not the most groundbreaking beer in terms of complexity, it absolutely blew my mind with its bestial monstrosity.  If you are not quite over stout season yet, get on it, post haste!

MOO Brew: Barrel Aged Imperial Stout (2007-2014)

The Great Northern Hotel, Carlton North (Melbourne)

Simply exquisite.

Tasmania’s MOO Brew has completely wowed me on more than one occasion this year.  There was, of course, their Velvet Sledgehammer (featured in a previous review) and another imperial stout (not barrel aged and whose time stamp escapes me) that blew me eight ways from Sunday with its gratuitously sumptuous chocolate aroma and character.  Could they possibly top both of these experiences?  With the brewery’s 2007 barrel aged imperial stout, the answer is a resounding “equalled, but not assailed.”

Breweries like to “borrow” things in much the same way as Homer Simpson “borrows” certain items from neighbour Ned Flanders.  In MOO Brew’s case, they might never have returned the chardonnay barrels as lent to them by a neighbouring winery.  So, in went MOO Brew’s already amazing 2007 imperial stout for barrel aging.  Seven years on, we are treated to the spoils of outright thrift and ingenuity.

On the nose, MOO Brew Barrel Aged Imperial Stout bounds forth with boozy dense, chocolate, bitter plum, mocha, banana, grape must and, contrary to the barrels in which the beer was aged, single malt scotch whisky.  What follows this already extravagant and complex experience is simply stunning. 

The mouthfeel here is the most unique of any beer I have ever sampled.  It could (loosely) be described as being fluffy, almost cotton-like; carbonation, meanwhile, is on the moderate side.  The whole thing rolls across the palate like distant thunder over hilly countryside.

Coffee wallops the front palate.  Wine-like tannins boldly accentuate the beer’s flavour profile.  Much like the aforesaid Velvet Sledgehammer, there is approximately zero sweetness to this beer.  Earthy notes of peat, ash and what one can only assume to be Tasmanian Oak come through; overlapped by strong and enveloping fruit notes of dried prune, date and mulberry.  Finally, rounding off this sumptuous beer drinking experience is a contrast between bitter astringency and an almost milky undertone on the finish.

Rather unfortunately, my phone was on charge during the drinking of this beer, hence there is no accompanying photo.  Suffice it to say that approximately 350 words will have to do in painting the picture within your mind’s eye.  Consider yourself lucky if you experience any form of synaesthesia.

If you live in Melbourne, make absolutely sure that you get down to The Great Northern Hotel (644 Rathdowne St Carlton North) to sample this wonderful beer before the keg runs dry.  Opportunities to sample beer of this calibre from the tap only come around once in a good while.  MOO Brew has well and truly equalled its finest brews to date.

Founders: Imperial Stout

There are many imperial stouts that deserve your attention, but if you are to select just one before the weather warms up (or one to see in the colder months - depending on location), may it be this one.

If Founders’ need an introduction, you may kindly surrender your beer enthusiast’s card right now – and the gun, too.  If, however, you are familiar with this excellent Michigan-based brewery’s work, you will know that their IPAs, stouts and porters are beers to be reckoned with.  Founders’ Imperial Stout is, in short, stands tall among their very finest while also being one of the finest stouts on the planet.  Prepare yourself for a ballet of aromas, textures and flavours most sensual.

Two things struck my attention right from the off: the sharp and boozy raspberry aroma and the darkest head I have seen of any beer, ever. The aforementioned head quickly dissipates to virtually nothing.  Founders’ Imperial Stout features a gloriously smooth, low-in-carbonation mouthfeel that is absolutely for this beer's individual character and flavours.

Founders Imperial Stout is as intense as it is complex. This remarkable brew boldly boasts sweet, syrupy cherry that dances on the lips, cacao and brandy that holds the floor upon the tongue, tobacco, mocha, burnt toast characters that pirouette across the full palate (nearly drunkenly going arse-over-turkey at the cheeks) before the performance finishes with an Italian dark roasted coffee and burnt date bow to the audience. It has to be experienced to be believed.  What hops have been used to balance out the act here, I do not know, however one does not immediately think of hops during or after the experience.

Moreover, according to the brewery, no fewer than 10 malted barley varieties have been used to create this picture of elaboration.

So delectably smooth, Founders imperial stout even makes Enya sound good. Let the dance take over your senses while listening to some good music in a comfy recliner by the fire.

Paired with all day breakfast (featuring: sausages, poached eggs, veal steaks, pork belly, mushroom and sweet potato hash browns)

My good friend Karl cooked up this meaty extravaganza of a brunch for me on this rather chilly October afternoon. There are some elements of the meal that paired well, others not so well. The imperial stout was absorbed and completely cancelled out by the veal steak; only upon adding sweet honey mustard and a smidge of hot English did the combination sing in full, sweetened harmony.

Sausage, egg and avocado: here, elements of the combination bounced off one another brilliantly, with the avocado and egg providing textural depth while the sausage took on a sweet, charred complexity. Then, combining the slightly burnt hash browns and pork belly (replete with mustard) completed this joyous experience; an interplay between flavours of char, treacle, pork meat and even barbecue sauce ensued. The stout did well in slicing through the fat of both the sausage and the pork belly, thereby readying me for more of... everything.

In spite of the veal steaks not quite matching, this was a great pairing all around.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

8 Wired: C4 (Double Coffee Brown Ale)

Forester’s Hall (Collingwood, Melbourne)

Another contender for aromatic beer of the year!

New Zealand brew masters 8 Wired have, in collaboration with Christchurch’s C4 Coffee delivered the only kind of marriage that ever made any sense to me: coffee and beer.

Coffee is often infused in stouts and porters so as to amplify the already roasty character of the beer, however it is increasingly being added to compliment brown ales and even IPAs.  In this instance, 8 Wired went full steam ahead with a creamy brown ale style.  The end result is a beer that boasts a complex bouquet, magnificent interplay between fruit flavours provided by the coffee and the hops, harmonious nut characters and so much more besides.

The aroma here is strikingly floral: Osteospermum, double delight roses and West Australian wildflowers hit the nose and the imagination.  Suddenly, I am reminded of childhood memories; wandering through Kings Park in late September; if only I appreciated such things then as much as I do now. Coffee is big on the nose as well, as is a whiff of booziness.  Woody notes of aromatic Jarrah follow on...  Is my imagination getting the better of me?  No, it's all there.

The mouthfeel is wondrously silky, with a thin white head that lasts until near the bottom of the glass.  Hazelnut dominates the upper palate, while densely complex coffee notes assume control over the back.  Strangely, there is very little by way of sugary sweetness, nor overly astringent bitterness; only a slight astringency rings with a short, sharp swirl of the tongue.  Balance ensues with a buttery, not quite sweet burnt caramel flavour that rolls on beneath.

Other flavours coming through during the experience: vanilla, cream, suggestions of toffee (remembering that this beer is subdued in its sweetness), date and other dried coffee fruit.  Suffice it to say that this is a highly malt-forward beer as well; balanced by a dry finish.

This is one beer that would make a fantastic food pairing… “But with what?”  While enjoying this beer at Forester’s Hall, I struggled to find a pizza or chacuterie selection on the menu that might pair nicely with C4 Double Coffee Brown Ale.  Only a Moroccan lamb pizza might have fitted but such a fusion thing is just wrong in my book.  This is a beer that would pair brilliantly with something meaty, such as lamb shoulder, shank or ribs (lightly spiced – barbecue sauce perhaps), a good n’ proper pub pie, or indeed a bitter chocolate dessert, such as choc-cheesecake.  In a word, there are many complex and forward aromatics and flavours that would match very nicely to bold, red meat-orientated flavours.

C4 Double Coffee Brown Ale is, like so many other beers by 8 Wired, a masterfully created concoction that I will go back to time and time again.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Rogue: Shakespeare (Oatmeal Stout)

Two Row Bar, Fitzroy (Melbourne)

Easily one of the best oatmeal stouts to be found anywhere.

Here we have Rogue's Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout (on tap no less - at Two Row Bar).

 My eyes are not what they used to be (scraps leftover from a past life, perhaps) but Shakespeare pours a jet black with a fluffy choc mousse head that quickly dissipates like King Hamlet’s ghost.  Aromas of choc cherry become immediately apparent.  The mouthfeel is smooth; nigh on perfect in fact.  A delicate chocolate character dominates the entire palate, however there is a hickory undercurrent and subtle, yet suggestively rich, bitter coffee-like finish.  It has to be said that the beer was served as cold as the wintry night in which Hamlet opens (and it was equally as cold on this evening here in Melbourne).  As the beer warmed, the chocolate and coffee characteristics shone through perpetually; the oatmeal component being almost unnoticeable and certainly not at all "grainy".

Oatmeal stouts are not quite as well represented as espresso, double chocolate, cacao and mocha fusions, however that is what allows this terrific American brew to hold its own within the wide world of stouts and porters.  Rogue Shakespeare oatmeal stout might not require an accompanying guide (a la that written by Bill Bryson) to better understand it, for it is a simple yet highly effective brew, much like a cinematic adaptation of any one of William Shakespeare's works.

Feral Brewing: Barrique O'karma (Black IPA)

Two Row Bar, Fitzroy (Melbourne)

Without any doubt, Barrique O'karma is a triumph in the black IPA genre.

Here we have a handsome face, but not one that is at the head of an ugly empire.  Feral Brewing have truly outstripped themselves with Barrique O'Karma: a limited edition, one-off batch release black IPA that heads up the WA stable's Brewpub Series.

Talk of the beer's head, it is beige in colour and dissipates significantly before leaving solid lacing. The appearance is as black as black could be, however the tonality leaves one in no doubt that Barrique O'karma is a black IPA, not a stout or porter.

The aroma here suggests billy tea with abundant  notes of pine and grass.  Green tea, in fact, is present in tannins and the long-lingering aftertaste.  A very complex brew indeed!  Coffee sweetness dominates on entry prior to a big, bitter, slightly astringent finish; a beer to present to wine connoisseurs, perhaps?  Even the mouthfeel is slightly reminiscent of a good Shiraz (minus the carbonation factor, which itself is on the subtle side).

Barrique O’Karma is a truly unique black IPA, for which the Feral brewers ought to be immensely proud.  It speaks of and for the Swan Valley from whence it came, owing to its black swan colour and vino-esque tannin; not to mention the ingenuity and creativity that can be found within this utterly beautiful part of the world.

Beer Deluxe (Federaton Square, Melbourne) - Photos

Beer Deluxe (Federation Square, Melbourne)

The name says it all: Beer Deluxe.

With more than 20 taps, a fantastic bottled selection, an unrivaled location, a great rewards program, awesome beer food and friendly staff, what other name would be appropriate?

The main bar is dimly lit; an inviting affair replete with wooden tables and stools.  The bar itself is minimal in almost every aspect (except for the quality and quantity of beer, wine and spirits offered) - pot plants punctuate either side of it and there are plenty of menus and coasters for everyone.  Upstairs from the main bar there is a burger bar and a wee café marks the side of the venue (flanking the Federation Sqaure atrium).  Take it from me; the best place to be is out front, in the alfresco area.   Does a view and atmosphere get much better than sitting right upon Melbourne's first aorta?  I think not.  And there are choices.  One one side heaps of seating, ample shelter from the elements and a small bar that does well in catering for the overflow crowd.  Let it be known that competition for seating, no matter how plentiful, is fierce during the evening peak hours, especially if a function is taking place within the wood-floored area that can be found to the Swanston St side of the venue.
But enough of the fit-out, decor and livery.  Here, an already sound knowledge of beer is an advantage.  During peak times servers are understandably overwhelmed by demand to offer full-fledged guidance to the uninitiated.  This is not to say that they are unfriendly, uninformed or curt to the point that they will do nothing to accommodate you; it simply means that they might not have the time to give you a detailed account of the subtle differences between German and Belgian wheat beers.  After all Beer Deluxe is a big place.

If, however, you know your British/Irish style reds from your American-style red IPAs and your smoked porters from your oyster stouts, staff members will happily provide a sample of what is available.  Should indecision get the better of you, you can always go in for a tasting paddle.

My own personal experiences of the venue and its staff have been nothing short of great.  During off-peak times servers are more than happy to withdraw bottles from their frigid glass enclosures so I may take a closer look, yet I am not in the least bit smothered with heavy handed assistance that might render me feeling dependent.  Perhaps the best part is that vision impairment and sobriety testing obstacles are minimal; there is only a beefy bricked foundation in the beer garden and most of the few steps about the place are clearly highlighted with tactile edging.

The tap list rotates regularly here.  Once a brew is gone, it is generally gone for good; a prime example being Magic Rock’s earth-shatteringly phenomenal imperial stout: Bearded Lady.  I pratically drank this keg dry of its lusciously sticky and sweet-as-sorcery contents by myself.  Classics and classics-in-the-making, such as Budvar (served in tankards with handles – everything here is served in the most appropriate glassware) and Little Creatures’ IPA lead from the front.  Also offered is Carlton Draught for the less adventurous and thrifty types who might otherwise have felt left out from the fun.

The bottled selection is among the city's best.  Where else in the city centre could one possibly find a list of barley wines and Scotch ales?  Moreover, the beer menu itself is adorned by well-known beer quotes.  You know the ones: the sort of quotes as shared time and time again by Facebook friends (those who are worth knowing, at least).

When the tummy commences its somersaults, heed my advice: without delay  go straight in for the pork belly.  You know you don't want for anything else.  Served with lime caramel, this cubed, twice-fried delight is a symphony of texture and flavour.  A single serve should be sufficient unless you are travelling in a party of two or more.  That being the case, you and your posse might want to order the lemon school prawns to accompany Beer Deluxe’s porcine delight.  By themselves the prawns are oily in flavour (in a good way), gloriously crunchy and charred with their shells left in tact; perfect for anyone who is bored of prawns being served in the same old fashion.  I would have preferred them doused in chilli for an extra dimension of flavour however this is purely personal preference.

Beer Deluxe do a mean burger and pizzas as well (see specials below) for those wanting something that is bigger than a trance DJ's head.  Pizza and beer are of course made for one another however if you ask me the grazing "beer bites" menu lends itself to far more adventurous beer and food pairings.  The aforementioned pork belly paired with a bottle of BrewDog Dogma (a full on heather honey-infused wee heavy-style Scotch ale) provides a real sensation: deeply earthy and sweet flavours collide in an emphatic taste experience that must be experienced to be believed.

Understandably, given the location, it gets busy during the evenings.  The suited and booted set tends to invade immediately after work, however these folks generally prefer to use Beer Deluxe as a launching post for the rest of the night, rather than a late night venue.  Come eight or nine o’clock, the crowd has contracted to an infinitely more eclectic bunch consisting of curious visitors, real ale diehards, friendly and loquacious middle-aged ladies and even wannabe soccer hooligans who will proclaim that the witbier they are consuming is the most horrible beer they have ever tasted.  Notice a conspicuous absentee?  You will find only a concentrated number of hipsters here.  If you are drinking solo as I so often do, the outside tables lend themselves very well to striking up conversations with strangers.

Half a block away is that “treasured” and well-documented tourist trap of a pub.  You know the one.  The one that is impossible to miss when crossing Flinders Street en route to or from the railway station.  It too serves craft beer but trust me….  Give this corporocratic and outright overstated den of swank a wide berth and make a beeline for Beer Deluxe.  You will not find a better place at which to enjoy craft beer within the Melbourne city centre.

Address:  Federation Square/Flinders St, Melbourne

Directions:  The main entrance to Beer Deluxe can be accessed easily from Federation Square's north-side (situated along Flinders Street).  If arriving by train, exit the station at its Swanston Street end.  The reason being is that at the Southern side of the Flinders St / Swanston St crossing one cannot cross in an east-west direction.  Access to Federation Square is instead made at a dedicated pedestrian traffic crossing.  Large numbers of inconsiderate and at times aggressive pedestrians attempting to enter Flinders Street station at its main entrance are also avoided.  Cross at the pedestrian lights where a shortcut can be taken.  Bear left back towards the road and keep heading east for 100m or so, thereby passing the ACMI building.  The main entrance to Beer Deluxe cannot be missed.

If arriving by tram into the city, Swanston St/St. Kilda Road services will get you there, as will services running along Flinders St.  Melbourne's streets are arranged in a grid system hence any tram arriving into the city will run parallel to either of these.  A so easy-to-follow even-a-legally-blind-person could follow it PDF can be found here.  

Opening Hours
Mon-Thurs and Sun:  Midday-10pm.
Fri-Sat:  Midday-1am.
Nearest Station:  Flinders Street
Nearest Tram:  Flinders St and Swanston St services will get you there
Ph:  +61 3 9663 0166

Monday:  $5 schooners of selected tap beers
Tuesdays:  $10 pizzas all day
Thursdays:  $15 burger meal deal 
Anytime:  If you have moved to Melbourne or visiting for an extended stay (three months or more) and plan to visit Beer Deluxe regularly, download their loyalty app from the iTunes  or Google Play store.  Four points are awarded for each check-in (one allowed per 24 hours) and two points are awarded for photos made with the app shot at the venue once they are added to Beer Deluxe Fed Square's Facebook page.  100 points earns a $50 bar tab!

Beer DeLuxe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Feral Brewing: Boris (Russian Imperial Stout)

Sail & Anchor Pub, Fremantle (Perth)

Another exceptional brew from WA's finest.

Russian Imperialism: one might well be forgiven for thinking that it is the force behind the invention of McDonald's, Krispy Kremes and Starbucks, given their ability to subdue the enemy.  One can only hope that Feral Brewing's totally awesome Boris does not, therefore, fall into the wrong hands.  Here is a beer so powerful it could be weaponised.

Right up front, an aroma of choc-berry strikes with brute force.  Boris is certainly among the very best in terms of its aroma alone.  The picture to the right does not tell any lies; this fantastic imperial stout is as black as the winter solstice - its head dissipates nicely leaving perfect lacing.  Best of all, Boris' mouthfeel is voluptuously dense, oily and minimally carbonated.

Chocolate is prevalent throughout this experience in aroma, colour, texture and flavour; both sweet and bitter chocolate being represented in a delicate interplay of flavour and emotion.  Subtle suggestions of berry, licorice and a less than subtle (in a good way) alcohol warmth with amped up hop bitterness follow through.

If you are lucky, you will find this sneaky Russian on tap at a good beer bar soon, however limited stocks are currently available at Mane Liquor (237 Great Eastern Hwy Belmont WA - 08 9478 3676).

Boatrocker: Ramjet (Whisky Barrlel-Aged Imperial Stout)

The Terminus Hotel, Fitzroy North (Melbourne)

Quite possibly the best beer I sampled during the 2014 Melbourne Good Beer Week.

No need for protein pills, Boatrocker's whisky barrel-aged imperial stout is as strong as Mr Roger Ramjet himself, and not just in terms of its ABV.  Ramjet has the (macrobrewery) crooks worried with its enormous Belgian chocolate character and sweet but not sugary finish.  The wooden whisky and bitterness elements shine through more and more as the beer warms: I am reminded of the bitter finish of Arbelour's single malt scotch whisky, however Boatrocker have sourced its barrels from the New World Distillery.  Unlike Roger Ramjet's 10 minute long show, this is a beer best enjoyed at a subdued, leisurely pace, otherwise you might need rescuing by the American Eagles.  In saying this, the 10% ABV is extraordinarily well hidden.

Ramjet is without a doubt a truly exciting, outstanding beer that is among the very best; perhaps even surpassing Anderson Valley's impeccable Bourbon barrel aged imperial stout (as sampled late last year).  No mean feat, it has to be said.  Vague Roger Ramjet references aside, Boatrocker Ramjet resoundingly encapsulates all facets of stout and whisky boldness.

It is worth noting that Boatrocker named this brew Ramjet not after the cartoon, rather a type of engine that utilised a secondary fuel source that provided a boost.

10 Interesting Facts About Beer

I thought it prudent, for no particular reason, to present 10 interesting facts about the beverage that we all adore so much, and the very thing that may have heralded in civilisation as we know it….

1.       Depending on the style, there could be as many as 100 hop “cones” used to flavour a single pint of beer (this is especially true of India pale ales)
2.       Artificial colourings and flavourings as well as filtering agents are often found in large commercial brews – high fructose corn syrup is particularly common for colour and flavour, while isinglass (fish bladder extract) and beef collagen are sometimes used for clarification – all the more reason to drink craft beer
3.       There is a resounding difference between stout and porter: one features dark malted barley, the other features roasted barley – some two hundred years ago “porter” beer was most commonly consumed in the UK however a tax was levied on malted barley, so instead it was roasted to create a similarly dark beer
4.       During the Second World War, Lloyd George outlawed the production of roasted barley so as to conserve energy required for the production of the Vickers-Maxim gun (later to be known simply as the Vickers gun) – not wanting to upset the rebellious Irish, the law was not extended to Ireland, hence stout porter became less and less popular in the UK and more so in Ireland
5.       To date, the beer with the greatest ABV is / BrewDog’s “Sink the Bismarck!”, an imperial IPA that weighs in at a whopping 41% alcohol-by-volume - BrewDog also hold a slew of beer records besides
6.       “Lambic” beers are different in that they are produced by spontaneous fermentation: the wild yeasts and bacteria of the Zenne Valley, Belgium are utilised in lieu of typical brewers yeasts thus giving the beer its distinctive character
7.       Lagern, the original German word for lager, only refers to “cold storage”, a practice undertaken by many breweries – whether they are producing an ale or a Pilsner
8.       The fundamental difference between ales and Pilsners / lagers is the way in which the yeasts contained within are fermented: “top fermented” beers are typically ales: stored for only a matter of a few days or weeks, typically at warmer temperatures – “bottom fermented” beer: typically lager/Pilsner, stored for longer and at for longer periods of time with as minimal contact with air as is possible
9.       Evidence suggests that beer predates bread and it is said that the discovery of beer conceived civilisation as it is known
10.    If it exists, a special place is reserved for the brewers, the barwomen and barmen who serve us beer to enjoy and while away the drudgery of everyday life

Epic: Apocalypse (Black IPA)

Two Row Bar, Fitzroy (Melbourne)

Get ready for a barrage of Metalocalypse references!

This beer is, how you says, much better than yous.  It's brutal, and the uninitiated may pull a Murderface.

Peppery, herbal, hoppy, and at 8% you will be feeling like Pickles the Drummer in no time.  It is a hex-kick of character and flavour, with a roasty aroma that hints of rosemary.

There is raisin sweetness and roastiness that come through and continue on into the aftertaste.  The mouthfeel is smooth with medium carbonation and there is subtlety in the mix as well with suggestions of tea-like tannin.

A totally awesome sweet alabama liquid snake of a blackened IPA.  The Epic lads have done it yet again.  It is worth noting that Apocalypse provides the continuation in a series of madly over-the-top hoppy IPAs; it's predecessors being Hop Zombie and Armageddon IPA.  Goodness knows what they will come up with next.

Bright Brewery: Fainters Dubbel

Beer Deluxe, Federation Square (Melbourne)

Belgian-style beers are now firmly on the radar once more.

...And here we go. 
From the cold, ashen, desolate remains of the long extinct volcano that was any interest in Belgian and Belgian style beers, the spirit has awaken.  With just one contemplative sip of Victoria's Bright Brewery: Fainters Dubbel, I am hooked once more.

Fainters Dubbel is an exceptional, exciting Abbey-style brown ale.  

Please do not ask of its aroma just yet, for I am fending off one of the worst colds I have ever contracted.  All I am getting on the nose here is "floral sweetness."  That will have to do you, I'm afraid.  Mouthfeel, meanwhile, is just lovely.  It is really polite with it; smooth, but contrastingly well carbonated.

If you are cooking or enjoying a lamb roast, you will want this beer to accompany it.  See, summer sucks, because there is no chance of a good n' proper roast dinner once the temperature heads north above 30º, however there is every chance of catching a summer cold.  I love winter and believe people only pretend to enjoy unrelenting, searing summer heat and it is beers just like Fainters that I use to back up my case for the cooler months.

The character and flavour profile of this marvelous ale, getting back to the point, will have your lamb shoulder or shank singing like Dean Martin after a few too many glasses of wine.  There is a huge herbal quality to Fainters, with not at all subtle suggestions of rosemary, amongst other things.  It is big on caramel sweetness, too, thereby rounding off the balance.  The flavours dance around the palate like they did in the 40s.

Please excuse me while I lament the fact we are faced with more than six months of relentless heat, thereby reducing myself and other craft beer lovers to drinking flavourless lager, "session IPAs" and saison after saison.

Hangover Cures: Breakfast at Lentil as Anything (Abbotsford)

A hangover cure with an ethical twist.

Abbotsford's Lentil As Anything provides what is easily among the best breakfasts to be had in Melbourne.  With or without a hangover, you are guaranteed a serious treat and what's more, it is a secret that has been overlooked by the likes of Broadsheet or Time Out Melbourne.

"So where's the bacon?" I hear you plead.  Well, Sonny Jim, there is no bacon here.  Lentil as Anything, as the name suggests, is a vegetarn restaurant.  Let's be perfectly be honest about it, if you have a full day ahead of you, bacon is not always the best option.

Hangover-friendly breakfasts include the poached eggs with rosti, semolina corn cakes with beans and poached egg, Sri Lankan farmer's breakfast, museli and sweet pancakes (as pictured to the right) so devilishly good it is a wonder the dark lord has not kept them all to himself.  Just look at that syrup!

The coffee here is magnificent as well.  It tastes all the better knowing that it is organic, fair trade.  Oh, and yours truly occasionally worked the groupers last year.  Suffice it to say that Lentil as Anything is an organisation that truly believes in the "equal opportunity" ethos.

Lentils (as it is known for short) can be found in four locations across Melbourne, however the Abbotsford Convent location is the only one that offers breakfast.  They have a "pay what you feel" payment/donation policy, and they also help many of the city's disadvantaged; be they homeless or new immigrants to Australia.  Please give generously.

Lentil As Anything
1-3 St. Heliers St  Abbotsford  Victoria
Nearest Tram Stop:  #86: Waterfront City Gardens to Bundoora (alight at Johnston St stop)
Nearest Train Station:  Victoria Park
Directions:  Both the tram and train pass over Johnston St.  Catch any East-bound bus (barring the 201 which turns onto Hoddle St - if arriving by tram at Smith St) and alight at the footbridge.  The penultimate stop has an office building to its left.  Cross the bridge and head straight.  Take the first left, passing the local primary school.  The Convent is located on the right of St. Heliers St.