Friday, 22 May 2015

Good Beer Week 2015: BrewDog Punk Party @ Forester's Hall (Fri 22 May)

There are two entities that have helped shape the craft beer landscape within their global and local scenes - BrewDog and Forester's Beer & Music Hall.  The two came together for what would turn out to be one of the highlight events of Melbourne, Victoria's Good Beer Week 2015 on Friday 22 May.  The titanic Scottish brewers sailed in, taking over 10 of the venue's taps.  And since beer and music go together like pancakes and syrup the Forester's boys booked in local bands Pleb, Pagan and Coffin Wolf to provide a glorious punk soundtrack to the night.  Suffice it to say that there was no way I was going to miss out on this embarrassment of riches.

The riches from BrewDog shipped in for the night included a significant number of rarities - many of which being beyond my wildest imaginings.  IPA is Dead: Simcoe, Restorative Beverage for Invalids and Convalescents: Imperial IPA, Abstrakt - AB:18 American Strong Ale, Alt Amber, Lumberjack Breakfast Stout and Shipwrecker Circus (a collaborative brew involving Colorado's Oskar Blues being among the highlights on offer for the occasion.  A BrewDog lineup is not complete without the brewery's iconic flagship ales: Punk IPA, Dead Pony Session IPA and 5AM Red Ale - all of which being responsible for converting many drinkers from the bland side into the enlightened realm that is craft beer since 2007.

BrewDog's brewing history is indeed a colourful and intriguing one.  Inspired by the new wave of American brewing and encouragement from legendary beer writer Michael Jackson, brewers James Watt and Martin Dickie set about brewing their beer on a pilot system for sale from the back of a van.  BrewDog found exorbitant success and expansion through their ingenious Equity for Punks scheme, however a critical shortage of hops nearly saw the operation grind to a sudden halt in 2009.  Fortunately for the craft beer world Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. struck a deal with BrewDog: in exchange for a sufficient amount of hops Sierra Nevada were sent a number of barrels from Scotland for its barrel-aging program.  Six years and an entertaining, if slightly American-cheesy, television series for the Esquire Network later; BrewDog has cemented its place among craft beer's biggest and brightest.

Beers really do not come much bigger than BrewDog's Lumberjack Breakfast Stout - the beer with which I started the night.  Folks, this is a beer that will change your life if not the world - brewed with oats, smoked malt, blueberries, maple syrup, coffee and even bacon (is there anything bacon can't do?) - it is indeed a lumberjack's breakfast in a glass.  As Forester's Hall began filling with eager BrewDog fans I settled in with my friends - some of whom had joined me from Perth for Good Beer Week.

With three punk bands performing in the Woody's Fine Liquor space upstairs, a healthy mix of beer and music fans helped create a bouyant and fun party atmosphere.  The vast majority of folks in, however, had arrived from GABS: The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular.  Without knowing the set times I can only assume that Pagan were on-stage at this point - I will be in contact with Forester's soon to confirm who played and at what time (post will be edited to reflect this) - nevertheless the guys on stage were ripping into some seriously dark and dirty hardcore punk.  The beers and good vibes flowed as freely as unconstrained data waves.

In fact, the beer was flowing so freely that many of BrewDog's kegs ran out very early in the piece.  IPA is Dead: Simcoe, 5AM Red Ale, Alt Amber and Dead Pony ran dry quicker than you could say "punk's not dead!"  Thankfully the vast majority of the beers that had run dry are generally readily available in bottles - and while I was dying to sample the Simcoe - I had my focus firmly set on the seriously limited release stuff.  Immediately following the Lumberjack I got myself stuck into Restorative Beverage for Invalids and Convelescents - a hugely piny and spicy imperial IPA featuring a gloriously golden straw colour and dank aromatics.  Thereafter I found myself sinking with the big and bold Shipwrecker Circus whose rum, sherry and berry characters imparted a sense that the circus animals survived but none of their human slave-masters.  By midnight Pleb had hit the stage and in so doing turned up the BrewDog Punk Party up to 11 with a fun but in no way poppy punk sound.

Punk music and punk beer is truly a winning combination.  A massive thanks must go out to everyone involved in staging such a spectacular event.  It is easy to take for granted the amount of logistics and other planning; execution of such events - the potential for something going wrong (particularly delayed keg shipments) being huge - all in the name of spreading the good word of craft beer.  And with that, BrewDog and Forester's Beer & Music Hall are both well deserving of the utmost commendation.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Good Beer Week 2015: A Brief Guide for the Uninitiated

The epicentre of the beer world will shift to Melbourne between Saturday May 16 to Sunday May 24 as Good Beer Week 2015 takes place.  An astronomical number of venues across the city and regional Victoria are staging a swathe of events ranging from dark beer and even darker metal to the infamous Pint of Origin; The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular three-day festival; food and beer matching is taken to the next level; brewers are flying in from every corner of the globe and it is all in the name of showcasing the delights of the world's most diverse and popular alcoholic beverage.  Suffice it to say that the week-long mega-festival has got the local brewing and hospitality scene excited as locals and visitors from all over get set to descend upon the city.

For the uninitiated visitor or even the well-seasoned Melburne local, a quick flick through the Good Beer Week programme might appear highly intensive at best and excruciatingly befuddling at worst.  How does one make sense of so much awesomeness packed into the one short week?  When time and possibly money are limited there is the very real risk of FOMO ("Fear Of Missing Out" - as the tabloids have dubbed the phenomenon) setting in.  And what of the very real risk of hangovers?  Fear not, beer geeks and beer geeks in the making!  Help is at hand.

Planning Ahead
First off, put that iPad down and take a few four-by-four-by-four breaths.  Yes, the Good Beer Week programme is so loaded it is undeniably overwhelming - even with events being divided into "streams" - but the solution is simple: your portable media device has come with an inbuilt notepad and calendar with good reason.  If using the notepad, jot down each day of the week; before returning to the programme to log the time, date and location of events that catch your eye.  Repeat as necessary.  Like any festival, clashes may be inevitable - however we are dealing with events that go on for several hours (rather than 90 minute sets) here and sometimes events run all day until late.  Major clashes are likely to pose a problem only if you are attending a major degustation or meet the brewer event.  Relax, time is more plentiful than you might think.

To maximise time even more, familiarise yourself with both Melbourne's public transport network and how it will get you to the venues you have shortlisted.  Most venues can be reached easily from the city centre via tram (particularly those along Smith Street which divides the beery neighbourhoods of Fitzroy and Collingwood) while a few are located a little further afield.  Perhaps the first thing you need to know is that the city's tram, train and bus networks are painfully slow.  Moreover, things get tricky after midnight - the city offers a Nightrider bus service however it is sketchy at best and highly unsafe as well.  Check the links below for websites and apps that will help you navigate the city and surrounds:

Public Transport Victoria Journey Planner
Network Maps 
tramTRACKER (iPhone / Android real-time tram tracking application)
Uber Taxis Melbourne

It is worth noting that if you really want to maximise time and money, catch a Uber taxi.  Melbourne Uber fares have recently been reduced by 15% and for short trips (from Federation Square to Forester's Beer and Music Hall for example) it beats the hell out of standing on a crammed tram for 20 minutes!  And let it be known that catching cabs best be the only time spent in a car if you have even a trace amount of alcohol in your system.

Doing It On The Cheap
Beer is so expensive in this country that it is practically a currency unto itself (as it once was).  Furthermore, degustations and other dinners range in the $70-200 price bracket which may appear disheartening to those on a shoestring budget.  In saying that, the best means by which to avoid overspending - as well as missing out - is to buy event tickets in advance.

It is also best to purchase myki (Melbourne's answer to London's Oyster) cards for multiple days.  7-day passes represent the best value.

The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular is doubtless the very best way to optimise budget and even time (say if you are in Melbourne for only a few days as opposed to the full week).  With an incredible 300 beers being showcased - 120 of which have been brewed especially for the festival - and heaps of great local food (from Mr Claws lobster rolls to American-style barbequed meats courtesy of Meatmother) GABS provides a fantastic means by which to soak in a concentrated version of Good Beer Week.

The best value tickets include $20 worth of beer and food tokens, which can be had at $54.00 pre-sale or $63 on the door for single-ticket purchases.  Discounts are available through the awesome Beer Buddy Group buy.  Click here for tickets.

Entry to a large host of events is absolutely free and tasting paddles are of course a brilliant way to sample a wide variety of beer.  Your wallet and body will thank you.


The vast majority of bars and pubs across Melbourne provide free, readily available water at the bar.  For goodness sakes, it is not there for decoration.  Aside from taking it easy and not imbibing too much, drinking water throughout the night - not just a pint before crashing - is a far better hangover remedy than something so greasy it would make the Gulf oil spill resemble a sparkling picture of health.  Moreover, suffering through a hangover might mean missing out on a major event, hence one more very good reason to stave off alcohol's dehydrating diuretic effects.

But in all honesty at least one hangover is inevitable and equally as inevitable is the craving for something to take the edge off.  Check out the following places for what might cure what ails you:

Hair of the Dog Breakfast @ Beer DeLuxe
Fri 22 May - 9:30am-12noon
Cost:  $80
The Hair of the Dog Breakfast is essentially the afterparty following on from the AIBAs (Australian International Beer Awards).  As well as soothing one's head or making that dog even hairier still, there is the chance to meet and greet craft beer brewers at less than half the cost of admission to the AIBA event.
Tickets are still available.

Shop Ramen
329 Smith St  Fitzroy
Pho is well regarded for its legendary hangover curing properties and the legends are indeed true, however a certain degree of gumption is needed to get through all that meat and bone broth.  Enter Shop Ramen who kindly provide a much more easily chewed and therefore digestive alternative.  They even do smoothies - loaded with life-giving coconut milk.

Lentil As Anything - Breakfast @ The Abbotsford Convent
1 St. Heliers St  Abbotsford
Breakfast served between 9am-11:30am

Who doesn't love pancakes?  Or just-right poached free-range eggs sitting atop a bed of potato rosti and baby spinach?  As Lentils is meat-free you might be asking "where's the bacon?" but in all honesty your stomach will thank you later for going meat-free.  The coffee here is top notch and will have you feeling semi-human again in no time.  Lentil As Anything is a not-for-profit "pay what you feel" vegetarian restaurant but please give generously - these guys do some amazingly good things for the city's most disadvantaged people.

Curtin House 1st Floor
252 Swanston St  Melbourne City
Most may find that after a big night breakfast essentially means brunch.  And who says pork belly is not a breakfast item?  Come to Cookie for the amazing, hangover-curing mod-Thai and stay for even more craft beer action.  Cookie is a proud Good Beer Week venue and you might even meet Jeppe Jarnit Bjergsø while sampling Evil Twin beers.  Eight of Cookie's taps will be dedicated to pouring the mad Danish-born gypsy brewer's fine wares throughout the week.

All these tap takeovers and meet the brewer events may take their toll, even after weeks and months of built up excitement.  Remember to take it easy throughout the event - Good Beer Week is, after all, a marathon rather than a sprint.  With forward planning, a little bit of common sense, proper nourishment and plenty of water, there is no doubt that even the most budget conscious and time starved folks will take home a stack of memories that will be talked about for years to come.