Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Heat is On: Chilli Beers

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

Monday, 10 October 2016

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

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

Thursday, 25 August 2016

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

Words by Graham Frizzell

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

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

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

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

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

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

Friday, 27 May 2016

Boatrocker Rarities (and the Beers that Inspired Them) @ Carwyn Cellars (Sat 21 May 2016 - GBW)

Boatrocker Rarities @ Carwyn Cellars (Sat 21 May 2016 – Good Beer Week)
Does it get any better than this?  Surely it does not!
What has been described as the best Good Beer Week ever saw the festival reach its sizzling climax with Boatrocker taking over Carwyn Cellars on the afternoon of Saturday 21 May 2016.  Boatrocker Rarities and the Beers That Inspired Them: Even reading the name fills one with the sort of giddy excitement before setting foot into a stadium for a headline performance by a favourite band.  Only this is indulgence of taste rather than sound.
Moreover, like several live acts, some of the beers being showcased on this day have not been seen in Australia in over four years – if at all.  As the name suggested it wasn’t only Boatrocker’s own fantastic creations on show – each would be paired alongside a similar creation that helped inspire it.  There was no secret it would have been easier rescuing a traveller from Brasilian captors than acquiring some of the kegs for this most special of events.
Joining Matt Houghton in providing insight into each beer was Carwyn Cellars’ very own Ben Duval – whose knowledge of beer is damn near unparalleled – and Phoenix Beers’ “Mr. Beer” Geoff Hanson.  To paraphrase Oz Clarke: “A little bit of knowledge greatly increases the appreciation” – a statement especially true of such rare and unsurpassed offerings.
First up was the match-up of Boatrocker's Brambic and Cantillon's unblended 2015 Lambic (one year old I believe).  Both sours are completely uncarbonated – a characteristic that allows woody notes to come to the fore.  One is a New World modern take on the style (not spontaneously fermented), the other constituent part of a classic gueuze.  Suffice it to say both are more rare than violet diamonds - but infinitely more satisfying.  Matt Houghton went on to explain turbid mashing, a staggered increases in temperature throughout the boil is utilised in sour beer.
Equally as rare, Boatrocker's Framboise was showcased next.  An amazing raspberry sour, Framboise was made from the Brambic base before being aged in French vanilla oak barrels.  Truly Boatrocker's interpretation of the style is heaven in a glass.  Balanced, measured and even a brew your "I can't stand the smell of beer" mother would love.  On the nose it's gentle but somehow assertive with raspberry character dominating.  The same could be said of the palate, though there is an underlying layer of funk - further accentuated by its lustrous mouthfeel.  Moreover, Framboise is great with cheese -especially the French comte (made with raw cow's milk) on offer.
Cantillon’s Fou’ Foune took its place alongside Boatrocker Framboise – a beer that has not graced our shores in over four years.  Promises made at boozy long lunches are all too rarely followed through – not so here.  As Geoff Hanson explained, Cantillon were promised the best apricots in Belgium to make an apricot sour beer.  Sure enough, 300kg arrived one fateful morning at the brewery’s doorstep.  The rest as they say is history – tasty, tasty history.  Fou’ Foune opens with an apricot-cream aroma with an underlying layer of funk, followed by luscious apricot-driven tartness and just the right amount of woody tannin.  It too helped Jarlsberg’s more delicate flavours to shine – so too the charcuterie on offer at the table.
Boatrocker's phenomenal Flanders Red ale

Admittedly, Flanders Red is a style I'm not overly fond of.  Or so I thought.  Boatrocker's interpretation of the famously red Flemish red ale blew me and my mind eight ways from Sunday.  Massive notes of cherry, raspberry, dark fruit and a lot more besides took my breath away.  For company, it was matched up with Rodenbach Caractere Rouge, brewed with cherries, raspberries and cranberries.  It is worth noting it's best to let this one sit over the palate for a brief moment to allow the nuances to shine through.  But I daresay I find the overall character of Rodenbach beers to be a touch on the sweet side.  Everyone's palate is different!
Left: Boatrocker's Sterk and Donker, Right: De Struise XXX Quad Reserva
Then, the 60 or so punters were given permission to go head first into the big stuff.  Two glorious qudrupel-stye ales: Boatrocker Sterk & Donker and De Struise XXX rye Bourbon barrel-aged Quad Reserva.  Both were as immense as they were complex, with the former boasting huge notes of date and dark dried fruit; the latter a sumptuous, layered and engaging experience with toffee, honey and Bourbon notes singing in perfect harmony.  I was thrilled to have sampled a Bourbon barrel-aged quadrupel, having never thought such a thing might so much as exist.
Finally, coffee infused Ramjet and Founders' KBS rounded out the show.  Fresh coffee coursed through Ramjet like a speedboat to heaven while KBS' famously rotund complexity and intensity made it a hard choice between the two.  Not that it was a competition.  Indeed, Ramjet presented a "streamlined" flavour experience - direct flavour impact!  KBS, meanwhile, is worthy of the hype.  It’s not hard to see how it has helped inspire Matt Houghton and Boatrocker to conjure up the Ramjet concept.
A massive thanks must go to the Carwyn Cellars crew, Matt Houghton and Phoenix Beers' Geoff Hanson for staging this wonderful event.  It's hard to comprehend just how difficult it was acquiring the beers on show, and how much behind the scenes effort went into it.  But I'm sure the guys will know just how worthwhile it was.  This is what life is all about - pure sensory indulgence at its utmost.
Good Beer Week 2016 may be over, however every week is a good beer week at Carwyn Cellars!  If you have never been, do yourself a favour and get on down for what must be the most consistently awesome tap list going.  Not only that, Carwyn Cellars is as steadfast dedicated to other beverages too - be it fine wine, whisky or artisanal spirits.  There is always something interesting going on and the best part is the folks on either side of the bar are among the most welcoming and friendly in town.  No matter if you are new to craft beer or artisanal spirits or a seasoned expert, there is something here for everyone.
Head on over to Carwyn's Facebook page, give them a like and stay in the loop for all things good beer and great times.
More interesting facts
* Boatrocker’s Framboise is made with Yarra Valley raspberries and fermentation is kick-started by the addition of young Lambic (3-6 months old)
* The name Lambic comes from the Lambeek region of Belgium.  Much like Bourbon, Champagne or Pilsner, a Lambic must have come from that very region.  (To that end the Lambic name – much like Bourbon – should be capitalised when referencing the beverage – in my humble opinion!)
* In beer, the terms Old and New World are open to interpretation, however strictly speaking the definition of “New World” means a regional style being interpreted and made elsewhere.
* Rodenbach beers are pasteurised.
* De Struise is a modern Belgian brewery based in what used to be a school.
* Founders’ KBS is based on the original Breakfast Stout recipe with chocolate coated coffee beans added to the brew.  It is then aged in barrels at a constant temperature of 4º thus ensuring the best possible consistency.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Lazy Brewer Lunch Sessions @ Carwyn Cellars (Thu 19 May) feat. Kaiju & Exit (GBW16)

As Good Beer Week keeps rolling along like a strangely un-delayed 6:31am ex-Cranbourne service, so too do the Lazy Brewer Lunch Sessions at Carwyn Cellars.  Thursday's instalment proved as engaging and flavourful as those it succeeded - this time featuring Callum Reeves of Kaiju! Beer and Exit Brewing's Fraser Rettie and Grum Knight.

Kaiju! Beer and Exit Brewing both embody everything that is great about the Melbourne craft beer scene: Mateship, camaraderie, innovation and expression.  From their days contract brewing bold one-offs under the Cavalier roof to today's core range focus brewed at a brand swankin' new facility in South Dandenong, these guys have done it all.  In just a few short years Kaiju! Beer has helped introduce Australian drinkers to insanely hoppy beers while Exit - who recently celebrated its 2nd Birthday - have become a firm favourite thanks to its 12 single batch releases.

Carwyn's very own Ben Duval handed the 27 guests (a sell-out event) the first beer: Exit's new core range Saison (so new in fact few others had sampled it prior to this event).  Exit brewers Frase and Grum Knight thought they may not get the core range Milk
stout out in time for GBW, leave alone the saison.  But the yeast strain on hand worked so quickly on both brews the former is already in circulation while the latter will be at a local crafty establishment quicker than you can say: "566 - The Number of the Yeast."

Much like #001 and #006 saisons, the core range version takes its cues from Saison du Pont.  With parts Pilsner, pale malt and new world hops like Sorachi (early addition), Nelson (late addition).  And speaking of the yeast, White labs Belgian 2 yeast (#556) was used in fermentation.  The end result is a brew that dances with tradition while simultaneously flouting it.  Clove, pepper and citrus give way to a new world hop presence that is impeccably well weighted.  If this beer were imbalanced in its hoppiness it would surely show.

Kaiju! Beer, or Monster Mash as they were once known, were told they were mad to go to market with a 9% hop bomb.  Undeterred, Callum (Kaiju) took to regional farmers markets (thanks to possessing a vigneron's licence)  and specialty bottleshops where it sold exceedingly well alongside Kaiju's Golden Axe cider.  So it was Aftermath Double IPA was distributed among the audience.

Aftermath is indeed a hop bomb but like all Kaiju's beers it is clear as much emphasis was placed on the malt bill as the hop addition.  Callum went on to explain Kaiju! Beer is particularly emphatic about crystal malt, which can be found in each of its beers with the exception of Robohop IPA.  Aftermath, meanwhile, stands alone in its own way too.  Where its equally hoppy, top heavy ABV brothers Double IPA and Betelgeuse showcase much rounder flavours, Aftermath has a certain tang to it.  I should have asked if it had been fermented with a Belgian yeast strain, for it carried the characters it imparts - predominantly in terms of mouthfeel.

From spritzy to smoother than a crooner, up next came Kaiju's port barrel-aged Chtulu on the Moon.  This is truly a brew worth hunting down while you still can - its flavour profile and particularly aroma are noteworthy to say the very least.  As the oak barrels were fresh, oak and tannin qualities dominated, but not in such a way balance is compromised.  A touch of booze and vinous notes round out ina superb finish.

The fourth and final beer for the afternoon was a bit special.  They are all special, but this one was limited edition, in numbered bottles (1-18) special.  (This lucky tomcat was lucky enough to take an empty one home for a friend's collection).  Exit's "Russion" imperial stout.  One year old, a beer brewed for Good Beer Week 2015 and blacker than the darkest recesses of Stanley Kubrick's mind, Russion imperial stout proved as big as they come.  Complex notes of roasted coffee, cacao danced harmoniously, before finishing with notes of espresso and fine tobacco.

What's next for Exit themselves?  Perhaps a fifth pale ale.  The idea being pale ales provide the perfect bridge for as yet unconverted typical lager drinkers.

With five tanks currently in place (25,000L), a few more on the way and a little bit of contract brewing Kaiju and Exit are happy to continue growing organically.  There is room to expand at the brewhouse too.  For now though the focus is on brewing great beer, pure and simple.

Once again Them Bones served up the perfect matching lunch - this time crumbed sardine rolls with potato crisps and honey joy panacotta for dessert.  If this pop-up were a permanent fixture in the Thornbury area I'd have little want for anything else when lunch-time cravings strike with the sudden shock of a Metro trains delay.  The sardine roll burst with umami flavour and texture with the most minimalist addition of pickles for perfect harmony.  Kaiju's barrel-aged Chtulu went surprisingly well with the pudding too, as it cut through the 
dense creaminess while adding a delectable, subtle hint of dark berry.

Once again a massive cheers and shout out must go to Exit, Kaiju, Them Bones and hosts Carwyn Cellars. If you have tomorrow off (and why wouldn't you for Good Beer Week?) you really must attend 3 Ravens' lunch session tomorrow.  What else can I say except these events are what Good Beer Week is all about!  Meet the brewer, pick their brains, enjoy the fruits of their labour while they get to do something besides paperwork...  Tickets can be had by heading here:

Monday, 16 May 2016

Lazy Brewer Lunch Sessions @ Carwyn Cellars (Tue 17 May 2016) feat. Hawkers Brewing (GBW16)

What do Lebanese street peddlers and brewers have in common?  Quite a lot apparently, as 20 or so guests found out at the second of five Lazy Brewer Lunch Sessions at Carwyn Cellars, as part of Good Beer Week 2016.  This time, Hawkers Brewing's Mazen Hajjar was the esteemed guest of honour.

Truly there are fewer more colourful characters among Melbourne's craft beer circles.  Inspired by alcohol's role (or not) in religion and a hatred for Heineken, Mazen started 961 brewing in Lebanon with limited knowledge before setting sail for Australia.  

Says Mazen: "The first beer I brewed, a batch of imperial, was as green and smelled of dogshit but I drank it anyway!"

After much trial, mostly error, Hawkers found its feet.  Its facility is now among the most advanced in the Southern Hemisphere.  A barrel-ageing program is in the works.  Hawkers has ordered in 60 Bourbon barrels from the US.  Acquavite - Scandinavian vodka-like Schnapps - barrels are on order too.  Expamsion plans are afoot too - Mazen fired off a slew off numbers in terms of capacity, but the crux of the message being Hawkers is sold out to year's end.  More specialty beers are in the offing, and a single tap bar too once licensed.

For the time being though Mazen and business partner Joseph Abhoud (of Rumi fame) are concentrating on the brewery's pilsner, pale ale, saison and IPA - the latter of three of which were presented as part of the day's lunch.

First up, the saison.  Hawkers sources its saison yeast from Wallonia, and it is the most inconsistent in their range.  Just how Marzen likes it, though this is quite converse to Mazen's overall philosophy.  "I don't believe in crafted," he said.  "Ideally I want hands away from my beer.

"It's all about consistency at Hawkers - drinkers should know what they're getting every time."

Even the saison remains true to form to a degree, a form that is as close to the saison style as possible.  Mazen joked that saisons were a "bogan" drink for farmhouse workers, but today because of the style's French sounding name it has become a boutique style overloaded with excessive herbs and spices.  Sampling Hawkers interpretation, simplicity yet full flavour went hand i hand.  Peppery, clove spiciness and a citrus undertone.  Why would anyone want for more?

Next up was Hawkers' pale ale.  Amarillo, citra and centennial dry hopping is the man event here, and is responsible this fantastic brew's balanced bright 
and crisp character.  What may surprise some is Hawkers' pale weighs in at 50 IBU, however because of the perfectly well weighted malt bill the overall effect is not in the least bit offensive.

Much the same hop billing, though ramped up a notch, is thrown into Hawkers' IPA.  Equally well tuned, balanced; though with a touch more swagger and bite, this is the sort of IPA that is as equally well suited to the hop heads as the newbies.

Finally, a limited one-off keg release - brewed especially for Carwyn Cellars and Good Beer Week by Hawkers and collaborators Wheaty Brewing Corps: a Belgian-style tripel brewed with rosewater and chamomile.  Such ingredients can be quite temperamental, though with a little tweaking Hawkers managed to pull it off. The end result: A lusciously delicate, decadent and beguiling ale worthy of being called "fine."  Small wonder Mazen has a great deal of admiration for the folks at Wheaty.

Throughout the lunch, punters were treated to the following pearls of wisdom (and a whole lot besides!) from the larger than life man at the Hawkers helm.

"The instrument used to measure dissolved oxygen in beer costs $30,000," said Mazen on the subject of viability.  Indeed, breweries must be front of house operations middle or capable of outputting 1,000 cases a month due to the cost of excises, taxes and (most of all) packaging.

On the subject of "session IPAs:" "Midstremgth beers are like porn actors who won't fuck."

As for the inspiration for the Hawkers name, Mazen Hajjar explained that the term "hawker" alludes to Lebanese street peddlers.  Indeed, Hawkers (in a virtual sense) sold its beers door to door, and the name somehow reflects the brewery's philosophy.

I put the question to Mazen the nature of food pairing and whether it's all codswobble (on behalf of a friend), to which he replied: "That's codswobble!  There are 30 more flavour descriptives on the beer flavour wheel than wine.  And not having great food to go with great beer is like removing the string section from an orchestra.

"What wine pairs with Roquefort [blue cheese]?  None.  And if you're talking restaurants, having Heineken is like putting McDonald's fries alongside a well prepared meal."

There would be no such Top of the Pops, car commercial, processed plasticine plainness here - both on the beer and the food front.  Once again Them Bones delivered with a sumptuous lunch, comprising this time of a lobster roll, crisps and a crème brûlée for dessert.  The roll was packed with excellent grade lobster - minimally seasoned as is appropriate - and paired alongside Hawkers pale ale piquant notes were brought to the fore with sweetness, saltiness accentuated.  The perfect compliment.

Even more complementary was the interplay between the crème brûlée and Hawkers Tripel.  The flavours of each segued into the one rolling experience with neither overriding the other.  The experience was akin to rolling through a distant woodland paradise full of fragrance and texture. 

A huge shoutout and cheers must go to Hawkers' Mazen Hajjar, Carwyn Cellars and Them Bones for staging what was a most thoroughly enjoyable and engaging lunch session.  Tomorrow it's all about New Zealand's masters of brewing madness.  Not to be missed if you are keen on seeing how these guys go about brewing the sour stuff!  Tickets can be had right here:

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Lazy Brewer Lunch Sessions @ Carwyn Cellars (Mon 16 May 2016) feat. Birra del Borgo and Nomad Brewing Co (GBW16)

And we are off and racing for the first of Carwyn Cellars' Lazy Brewer Lunch Sessions, a casual but flavour packed way to take in the goodness that is Good Beer Week.

Each session commences at 1300, but there's no harm in arriving early for a chat with the ever affable Carwyn barstaff.  In fact it's almost mandatory, as there is every chance to enjoy a pre-lunch gose or Lambic ale.

7 Cent's experimental Give 'Em The Clams black gose proved the perfect aperitif prior to the commencement of the session.  As the name suggests this Leipziger gose saw clams added to the boill.  The 7 Cent lads had fun with this one, as the idea was the evolution of a wee bit of Hair of the Dog Breakfast silliness during Good Beer Week 2013.  This year's incarnation came out on the sour, spritzy side - with just a low tide of a salty undercurrent.

The session got underway at 1310, good for anyone arriving via Melbourne's notoriously temperamental railway system - no need to rush.  Carwyn bartender Ben Duval and Birra del Borgo's Paolo Bertani were the MCs for the day.

Italian brewers Birra del Borgo are world renowned for taking traditional beer styles and tweaking them for the modern era.  In recent times they have taken a more experimental turn, with their most notable beers including Rubaeus and My Antonia - the latter of which being a hoppy lager collaborative project alongside Delaware's Dogfish Head.  It is worth noting Paolo Bertani and co. produce sone 10 beer varieties annually.

Nomad, meanwhile, has its roots in importing wine into Australia via ExperienceIt (who also import craft beers from the likes of Tuatara and more).  Fast forward a few years and Nomad was formed as a collective initiative between Birra del Borgo and ExperienceIt.  The rest as they say is history.

Straight off the plane, Paolo got straight to it.  First up: Prunus, a sour cherry ale as delicate as it is decadent.  Also delicate is the art of picking the right time to bottle and keg.  According to Paolo, the aim is to ensure that there is enough sour character in Prunus without it being too aggressive.

Indeed, the third incarnation of Prunus is just that.  Measured sourness and tartness, with balance and freshness being particularly noticeable.  This is the sort of beer that demands its place at the table alongside seasonal summer food.  Slight acidity permeates throughout with a subtle vinous, almost grappa-like finish.
Nomad's Wild Mongrel took centre stage for beer number two.  First, grape must was added to what was originally a pale ale base before wild yeast strains were thrown in.  Small wonder then Wild Mongrel is a complex beast of a beer.  Few beers are anything like it, for it straddles a strange tightrope of flavour between pale ale and wine.

The third beer to be handed to the 20 or so guests was Caos.  This equally but differently vinous beer is left in a state of beauty sleep for one year for bottle-conditioning, where it is twisted daily like Champagne bottles to bring forth the yeast to the top of the neck.  The whole process takes two whole years.  Demand currently sits at 10,000 bottles per year - with requests coming from as far afield as Japan.  On the whole it's a damn near unreachable degree of output.

This version was a preview batch - brewed with Malvasia grapes.  The end result is a boundary pushing, bittersweet ale with a surprising undercurrent of Moscato-like sweetness.  Indeed this is another beer equally well suited to summery imbibing as well as dinnertime food matching.

Nomad's Cultural Exchange project, made alongside Jester King, closed out proceedings nicely.  Using Long Trip Saison as its base, Cultural Exchange saw Tasmanian black pepper, locally roasted coffee, Manuka smoke,  wattleseed and Jester King's own yeast strain thrown in.  Barrel-aged for one year, the end result is to a behemoth of a beer as complex as a legal report.  Smoke dominates the palate but the effect is offset by peppery and barnyard flavours.  Some drinkers may find this one challenging, but the reward is totally worth the endeavour for those who love smoky beers.

Throughout the week lunch is provided by neighbouring eatery Them Bones.  On this occasion the guys prepared Reuben sandwiches with potato crisps and popcorn panacotta for dessert.  Certainly not amuse bouche portions, the toasted Rueben sandwich was a meaty delight worthy of the beers on hand.  A nice surprise was found in the Caos pairing neatly with the panacotta - indeed a beer does not need to be sweeter than the pudding as is the case in food and wine matching.

A huge shout out and cheers must go to Birra del Borgo's Paolo Bertani and Carwyn Cellars for hosting this fantastic lunchtime shindig.  Paolo provided insightful background to both brewers' beers and everyone was made to feel more than welcome.

Tomorrow's Lazy Brewer's Lunch features Mazen Hajjar from Hawker's beer.  This is a must for anyone wanting to meet and chat to one of the most influential, personable and exuberant characters in Melbourne's brewing circles.  This will prove the perfect opportunity to sample Hawkers' collab with Adelaide's Wheaty Brewing Corps: a Belgian Tripel infused with rosewater and chamomile, and did I mention lobster rolls will be on the menu?  Don't miss this one!

Tickets:  https://goodbeerweek.com.au/events/view/334/Lazy-Brewer-Lunch-Sessions

If that unrelenting thing called work stands in between you and attending any one of these fantastic beery lunches, pop in any time for a sour beer during Good Beer Week.  The Carwyn Cellars boys have lined up a smashing array of beers besides those covered.  Head on over to the Facebook page to see a full list of beers limed up for your puckered-up pleasure.

Finally, a special shout out must go to an old friend of mine, Peter Simpson, for repairing the un-unified code.  Your services may be needed again good sir as content is being copied and pasted from a variety of sources before publication.
Pictures to follow!