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: