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).

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