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.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Hangover Cures: Guinness and Oysters at South Melbourne Markets / The Drop Bear Inn

It is a Sunday morning, and your head feels as though it has a head-on collision involving two Johnny Cash songs burning up inside it. You feel inanimate.  Your liver is protesting like a French student.  There is no way you are moving for anything, but along comes an “anyone.”  Poked and prodded, the next thing you know, you are stumbling to your feet wearily as your significant other(s) somehow, against all odds, persuade you to join them in a quest for pre-civilised hour activities.  “It had better be bloody worth it!”

There is one place that is totally worth it: South Melbourne.

If you are indeed feeling a little worse for wear, beer and oysters might be the last thing you want to set eyes upon, never mind consume.  Bear with me, though, because in my experience there is no more perfect way to chase away a hangover than with a pint (or three) of Guinness, paired with freshly shucked market oysters.  You will feel even better when you find that, at the South Melbourne Market, they are sold from the adjoining Oyster Bar for a measly $1 per “shot”.  Supremely ocean-fresh, fat and juicy Coffin Bay (South Australia) oysters, paid for by what lies beneath the cushions?  Yes, you read correctly.

Take your treasure trove of bivalve molluscs over to the nearby Drop Bear Inn where you will find among the best pints of Guinness to be had anywhere in Australia.  This fantastic backpackers pub (open to the general public) is headed up by the awesome Melinda Beacroft, who on my visit greeted me and my posse with not only immaculately poured pints of the black stuff, but a heartily warm welcome as well.  No request was too big or too small.  She even sent us away with a Guinness pint glass!

Oyster fans may already know this, however it is always worth reinforcing: the salty taste and squirmy texture lend themselves to being nigh on impossible to pair with most wines.  So, what then would be the best accompanying beverage?  Why, stout of course!  In fact, there are several stouts out there that feature oysters added to the brew (Sixpoint having provided the only specimen that I have sampled to date).  Guinness is an absolutely perfect pairing to be had with briny oysters, due in part to its subdued hop profile.  The burnt malt flavours and smoothness of Guinness do well in offsetting the highly saline flavour of the oyster, with the toasty finish of the former setting you up for the next delicious morsel.

It is bears noting that overly bitter, hoppy craft stouts do not pair quite so well, however smooth oatmeal stouts such as those brewed by Nail Brewing Co. (of West Australia) and Rogue Brewing are far better suited to this rather tall task.  Moreover, resist the urge to add Tabasco sauce if you are pairing with Guinness, for this condiment is not overly suited to the matching.

Suffice it to say, I am thoroughly looking forward to future visits to the market as well as the Drop Bear Inn as the weather warms up, hungover or not.  You, too, would be mad to overlook a visit on a warm, market day afternoon.

South Melbourne Market
322-326 Coventry St
South Melbourne  Vic  3205

Drop Bear Inn
115 Cecil St (opposite the markets)
South Melbourne  Vic  3205

Click here for directions to the market

Mikkeller: Beer Geek Brunch Breakfast (Oatmeal Coffee / Breakfast Stout)

Two Row Bar, Fitzroy (Melbourne)

Coffee...?  Melbourne is of course famous for it, however it is possible that you will find badly brewed, flavourless, sugary crap here too.  After experiencing the worst coffee since leaving Perth, I felt it necessary to find another hit, however the time of day dictated that it was more beer o'clock than coffee o'clock.  Fortunately the good folks at Two Row Bar (yes, I do have another home to go to...) provided the remedy as well as the redemption in Mikkeller's Beer Geek Brunch Weasel  stout.  In so doing, two birds were killed with the one stone.

This stuff is the breakfast of (would be) champions.  It is an oatmeal stout with Vietnamese ca phe chon coffee added to the brew.  If you do not know what is particularly special about this coffee strain, you may direct your questions to the humble civetcat.  Make sure you do so when he's not on the loo, though, for I imagine that this creature values its privacy.  The remainders of this strange weasel-like creature's, uhh, doin's, comprises what goes into among the world's most sought after coffee blends.  Now, two worlds collide.  The folks, nay, geniuses at Mikkeller have utilised the low acidity phe chon coffee to create a beer that stands tall among its coffee stout counterparts.

Traffic fumes and other inner city smells are ushered out the door from whence they came by one of the most potent aromas of any beer I have encountered.  There is the whiff of coffee, naturally, while the rest is all alcoholic warmth.  It tells no lies; this beer weighs in at a solid 10% ABV.  Thus, I am left with the impression that Beer Geek Brunch Weasel is best suited for home imbibing.

Is the bitterness from the coffee, or is it borne of its hop profile?  I would ledger it is a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B (as Grampa Simpson would say).  Either which way, this is flavour and character that commands attention.  The coffee flavour lingers long into the aftertaste, thereby completing this true “experience” in beer tasting.

This is the blackest of black beers I have ever set eyes on.  It is inky, voluptuous and incredibly full of body.  Black coffee, black magic.  Mikkeller have pulled off one of their finest efforts to date; there is no doubt that Beer Geek Bruch Weasel will reign supreme among coffee stouts for a good while to come.

Friday, 19 September 2014

12 Step "From Crap to Craft" Rehabilitation Program

l will say this right up front: if you or your friends have absolutely no interest in craft beer, that Victoria Bitter is the only “real beer”, there is no hope for you.  By extension, hope for mankind dwindles also.  But, you cannot spell “hope” without “hop,” and with every passing day, more and more people are converting to the dark side that is craft beer (and real ale).

So, if you or yours have even a passing interest in craft beer but have been too afraid to dip your toe into the wide world of Saisons, stouts, DIPAs and dark lagers, here are a dozen beers, all of which are accessible enough in nature, to help you on your way.  It is worth noting that most of the brews in this selection are not truly “craft” by strict (anal) definition, for some are brewed on a larger scale (while exhibiting the hallmarks of a craft-brewed beer), however most can be found at retail outlets and bottleshops such as those to which I have provided links.

Enjoy, and you might even learn something along the way (only to be forgotten by the time you have imbibed the fifth or sixth beer on the list…).

1.     BrewDog – Dead Pony Club (California Pale Ale)
The lager-like texture and carbonation makes for a remarkably easy-drinking brew.  Its hop character is subdued but present.  All this makes for a great pairing with fish n chips.  Just don’t tell ‘em it is a midstrength (3.5%).

Writer's note:  Low ABV beers provide a great option for those wanting to lose weight, for alcohol = calories.  Do not be fooled by the "low carb" fad, for carbohydrates do not translate directly to weight gain when drinking beer.  Naturally, you will have to stop yourself after a few Dead Pony Club cans or bottles if you are calorie counting, however good luck to you...  This is one highly addictive, sessionable beer!

2.    Weihenstephaner – Kristall Weissbier (Filtered Wheat Beer)
In 2056, Weihenstephaner will celebrate its 1,000th year in operation, thereby making it the oldest known brewery still running.  They must be doing something right!  Kristall is a fantastic filtered wheatbeer that s yellow, mellow and oh so drinkable.  It provides a great introduction into the wonderful world of German wheatbeer, sans the heaviness and at first overpowering flavour.  It looks and almost drinks like a lager, even if it is a little denser and richer overall.

3.    Pilsner Urquell
Okay, so this fine Czech pilsner is not exactly a craft beer.  In fact, it can be found at just about any bottleshop anywhere.  It is, however, among the very best in its class.  Some might find it too bitter when the palate has been conditioned to drink only sweet, mass produced pap.  My advice is to stick with it and push past the bitterness threshold.

4.    Paulaner - Hefeweissbier (German hefeweizen)
If you have tried and enjoyed the previous three beers, you have officially passed your first test.  Time to move onto something a little more adventurous!  Paulaner’s Hefeweissbier is, again, not at all a “craft beer” in the modern sense, however it is an "old world" beer made with love (in accordance to Germany’s purity laws).  Much like the Kristall, banana flavours run rife over the palate before a balanced bitter finish.  Prost!

5.    Sierra Nevada – Pale Ale
It is said that Sierra Nevada are the people who started it all, even though breweries such as Anchor began brewing original, proper beers long beforehand.  No matter, it cannot be denied that Sierra Nevada played a big part in igniting the craft beer renaissance; they have helped save the souls of beer drinkers both Stateside and the world over with their flagship pale ale.  In short, it is stupendously drinkable.  Simplicity over complexity is at the heart of this incredibly well balanced brew.

6.    Matilda Bay – Dogbolter (Dark lager)
The fact that Matilda Bay, Fremantle’s original craft brewers, upped stumps and relocated its operations cross-country to Victoria is, in this proud WA boy’s book, almost an outright act of heresy, but one cannot help but forgive when one remembers their legacy.  Dogbolter is a fantastic dark lager, not least because it does not bear the overly dominant dark fruit character and hop bitterness that so many others do.  Notes of molasses and caramel shine through, and the mouthfeel is smooth without being heavy.  The dark lager style provides a gateway, I suppose, to stouts as well.

7.    4 Pines Brewing – Kolsch
Now things get interesting, at least from an educational standpoint.  Kolsch is an unusual beer, and much like “Champagne” or “Pilsner” it refers to a specific region (within Germany) as well as a certain style.  4 Pines’ Kolsch is not quite an ale, not quite a lager in terms of its make-up (top / warm fermented at first using ale yeast before being “lagered” at a cold temperature later).  Its flavour profile, unsurprisingly, sits between a typical Pilsner and golden ale.  In short, any Kolsch, especially this one, goes down a right storm with its easy-on-the-palate drinkability.  It is easy to see many a fridge stocked up with 4 Pines' interpretation of the style, ready for summer grilling.

8.    Little Creatures – Bright Ale
Even though Matilda Bay is ground zero for craft beer in West Australia, Little Creatures helped see the movement take flight in the early to mid 00s.  Their Bright Ale underwent a recent change in recipe, however it is only for the better.  What was a fairly bland but easily drinkable golden ale has become something with just a little more bite.  Wheat has been added; thereby making a top-draw Australian-style golden ale.  Moreover, typical lager drinkers will feel at home given Bright Ale's carbonation, mouthfeel and overall character.

9.  Duvel (Belgian Strong Ale)
Most of beer fanaticism these days concerns the "new world" of brewing, however one cannot look forward without looking back over experience and past mastery.  Duvel is among Belgium’s finest old-world beers.  The French have their wine while the Belgians have their beer, and suffice it so say that Belgian beers pack just as much complexity as their grape-borne counterparts.  There is a lot going on under the hood of Duvel (much of which sings of the Czech Republic rather than Belgium); Pilsen malt, Bohemian hops and (the Belgian element) a unique yeast strain.  Duvel is bottle conditioned, meaning that live yeast remains in the bottle, thereby continuing the process of fermentation.  Confused yet?  Grab a bottle (or three), settle in and prepare to (un)learn everything.

10.  Rogue – American Amber Ale
Smooth, mellow, a little nutty and gently sweet; Rogue Amber Ale provides a fine introduction to the amber / brown ale style.  If over-the-top hoppy brews are not at all your bag, the American amber could be just the ticket.

11.  Feral Brewing – Hop Hog (American Pale Ale)
Hop Hog was once considered to be an IPA (India Pale Ale), due in part to its big and bold citrus fruit flavours.  Feral themselves, however, have termed it to be an APA (American Pale Ale).  All this can be quite baffling to the craft beer newbie.  It’s okay – everybody’s journey starts somewhere, and there is no better place to start than this exceptionally beautiful West Australian ale.  Bold flavours of orange and mango precede a walloping but properly balanced hop finish.  If indeed you have sampled and enjoyed other pale ales in the past, your bitterness threshold should be more than up to the task.

12.  Coopers – Best Extra Stout
If you can handle this exceptional beer, you have successfully completed the program.  If you have yet to try it, it might prove to be something of a baptism of fire.  I enjoyed my first Coopers Stout when I was 17 (no fake ID was needed and they were not playing Queen on board the ferry that my family and I took to Tasmania all those years ago), hence I think you can manage it.  It bears all the hallmark flavours of a good, proper stout.  At first it seems “heavy,” but believe you me, once you go black you will always go back.  Moreover, you might find yourself requesting that Coopers Best Extra Stout replace Guinness on tap at your local (assuming you live in Australia).

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Sierra Nevada: Snow Wit (White IPA)

Beer Deluxe, Fed Square Melbourne

“Anyone for hoppy snow cones?”

As mentioned previously in my review of Sierra Nevada’s outstanding Blindfold Black IPA, the Chico, Northern California-based brew masters have this year released a four-part IPA series to rival that of BrewDog and their IPA is Dead annual release series.  Instead of honing in on one single hop variety as BrewDog have done, Sierra Nevada went for showcasing varying IPA styles; all the while showing off their talents with hop growth, blending and experimentation.

Snow Wit White IPA closely rivals its blackened brother in terms of its class and character, however it differs immensely on a variety of levels beyond simple style.  At surface level, it straddles the boundary between Belgian wheat beer and IPA so delicately that it might as well be a circus performer walking the tightrope – without a net to catch its fall.  Look a little deeper and you will find that no fewer than seven hop varieties were used here; dwarf hops no less (as the name Snow Wit suggests).  “Dwarf hops?” I hear you query.  The long and the (very) short of it is that growing hops in hedgerows rather than the more traditional method yield hop cones that have denser, more concentrated flavours that differ slightly from those grown in the usual fashion. *

A strong head quickly dissipates, leaving behind solid lacing.  It is like the snow melting before a sunny day ensues.  The aroma is pungent and heavy with lemon zest and peel.  Following through is massive grapefruit zest, and complex herbal undertones.

Snow Wit’s mouthfeel is as dense and as rich as the flavours that follow; the entire palate is treated to a feast of delights.  Smooth but rollicking and rolling flavours of fleshy orange, banana and an undertone of bready dough lead from the front, before huge, and I mean huge, grapefruit bitterness hits behind the molars.  It is little wonder that the flavour profile of Snow Wit is so immense given the amount of hops used and the method in which they were cultivated.  Moreover, Sierra Nevada is all about balance with their ales.  Snow Wit continues this trend.  It is enormously drinkable while being wonderfully complex.

LazerPig (Collingwood)

To-die-for wood fired pizzas and thrifty specials?  (Lazer) pigs might fly after all!

The combination of beer and pizza has taken over Collingwood in a big way, thanks in no small part to the recent opening of both LazerPig and Forester’s Hall.  While the latter is all about its monstrous array of craft beer, with pizza being something of a sideshow, LazerPig looks set to become a cult hero with its divine pizzas and the most generous happy-hour in town (equal to that of local neighbour and partner in crime The Grace Darling Hotel).

One might be forgiven for feeling confused by what LazerPig is, or indeed by what it does.  Is it a pub?  Is it a sort of disco?  Is it a trippy pizzeria that does not quite know whether it is living in the past or the future?  In reality, it is all of these things, and so much more besides.

The blackened façade of the building conceals a juxtaposed world full of disco balls, a smoke machine, quirky trinkets, taxidermy, stained-glass windows and oldy-worldy traditional pizzeria tablecloths.  The smallish bar, cosy fireplace and surrounding space is all darkened, unpolished wooden floorboards which confuse and delight in that they tell of a proper pub, rather than a typical sophisticated bar or pizzeria.  A separate dining room, replete with an open view of the busy kitchen, flanks to one side, thereby completing the joyously disjointed picture.

On tap, there is plenty to choose from.  It is no secret that I am a huge fan of Coopers Best Extra Stout; a brew that I have requested that The Grace Darling Hotel add to its tap list since my very first visit there back in 2013.  Fellow Coopers Stout fans may rejoice in that it is offered here, and between 4pm and 7pm, it is included in the happy hour.  Mmmm….  $5 pints…!  Not a stout drinker?  I shan’t hold it against you, and neither will the folks at LazerPig.  From the keg they also provide beers from Moon Dog, 4 Pines, Temple Brewing and a cloudy apple cider from St. Ronan’s.  There are a few simple cocktails, an appropriate if not rudimentary wine list and acute Mondayitis sufferers can chase away the early week blues with $5 tumblers of Sailor Jerry punch.

On the pizza front, the ethos here seems to be “less is more;” in terms of each pizza's array of toppings.  Most options are modern takes on classic Napoli-style pizzas; the Italian way, of course, being that no more than three ingredients complete the picture.  Portion sizes and toppings are equally generous.  Moreover, all pizzas are wood-fired, with the dough made in house (using five-year old sourdough culture*); the process for which takes eleven hours.  In the end, the base is seen to be as important as what goes on it; as you bite into the crisp and voluptuous crust you will never look at pizza crusts the same way again.

Thus far, the “Prawn Fraser” (pictured above) has proven to be the most deeply satisfying.  Garlicky, spicy and topped with huge, melt-in-your-mouth prawns (the variety is not specified but no matter); this one is sure to please anyone who loves the utterly guilty, shameful pleasure of enjoying seafood pizza.

Paired with Coopers Best Extra Stout, “The Prawn Fraser” proved to be a true orchestration of flavour, with the pair playing off each other as magnificently as Metallica did with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.  The beer and pizza amplified one another; garlic and bready sweetness went head to head with burnt malt-forward intensity.  The prawns did well in balancing and somehow accentuating the coffee bitterness of the beer, meanwhile, the rich tomato sauce and the addition of optional chilli oil* provided a glorious backdrop to the whole taste experience.

Other pizza options include “The Prosciutto;" a devilishly delightful delving into two classic Italian ingredients: prosciutto, of course, and the silken, textural delight that is buffalo mozzarella.  Your lacto-vegetarian friends are not forgotten about thanks to “The Fun Guy”* and the basil and cheese top-heavy “Il Classico.”  And if all that fails to satisfy (which I doubt will be an issue), there is antipasto, a "catch of the day" and salads to be had.

LazerPig is a great place to visit at any time of the day or week.  During lunchtime the soundtrack revolves around 70s rock n’ roll and punk, before the DJ hits the decks at 6pm to deliver disco tunes all night long.  The Collingwood drinking scene only keeps getting better and better, and the sight of not a single discarded pizza crust has me believing that pigs might one day fly.

* …And the “Pun of the Year” Award goes to…

* Staff provide a bottle of chilli oil for the table

* Five-year old sourdough culture fact provided by Broadsheet Melbourne's LazerPig review, which can be found here.

9-11 Peel St
Collingwood  Vic  3066
(03) 9417 1177

Opening Hours
Mon:  4pm-late
Tue-Fri:  12noon-late
Sat-Sun:  2pm-late

Nearest Tram Stops 
From City:  Stop 15 – Smith St (as the tram turns left after Gertrude St)
From Bundoora:  Stop 16 – Peel St

From the corner of Smith and Peel St, head down the hill on the opposite side of the road from The Grace Darlking Hotel.  The venue is on the corner of the next block.

Happy Hour:  Mon-Sun – 4pm-7pm (Coopers pints are a fiver)
Lunch Special:  No pizza over $15
Monday Pizza Party:  $6 pints all night, no pizza over $15 and Sailor Jerry rum punch tumblers at $5