Friday 19 April 2019

Mixed Sixer: Beers That Don’t Taste Like Beer

A lot of noise has been made latelyl about the kaleidoscopic world of beers brewed with everything from gun powder to ghost chillies and everything else in between. This brave new world of “novelty beers” has seen a number of observers scratching their heads, myself included, asking “where have all the ‘beers that taste like beer’ gone?”

To that end I put six of the best examples of beers straight out of leftfield to the test. Turns out, there is no reason why these weird and wonderful concoctions cannot or should not co-exist with the saisons and pale ales of this world.

When you embrace and release your inner child you’ll find, as I have, beer to be exciting again in the way it once was in the first place.

So won’t you join me as we go diving most deeply into full throttled sensory overload. You’ll find it’s an exciting world full of concave and convex mirrors, upside down cakes and alien landscapes...

1. Boatrocker Brewers & Distillers: Braeside Crown Cola (Bourbon barrel-aged scotch ale).

Boatrocker, based out of south-east Melbourne, is known for carefully crafted barrel-aged stouts, wild ales and saisons. The beers present such they immediately command respect, that they are to be taken somewhat seriously, like a perfectly proportioned Saint Bernard on the stack or a fine chef’s knife. You wouldn’t expect them to have a sense of fun, but they do. And they have gone and created a beer that mirrors what for some marked the beginning of a distinguished drinking career: the premix Bourbon & cola.

Royal Crown (RC) Bourbon & cola, to be exact. Rather a lot like Real McCoy and Old Crow, these premixes were downed en masse by pub folk, backyard barbecuers and partygoers across the land. Today, Woodstock is the premix of choice, but for those of us who have grown up a little can deviate away from beer that tastes like beer for a while. Braeside Crown Cola tastes, rather surprisingly, of premixed whiskey and Coke with a chewy scotch ale base.

Boatrocker has recently relainched Braeside Crown Cola, but it’s selling fast!

Boatrocker's Braeside Crown Cola is a nifty take on the scotch ale style. Image - supplied.
Image shows a glass of dark beer with two matching cans to its right with an artistic background.
2. Epic (NZ): Thirteen (Quadruple brut IPA)

Some things are awesome, but just shouldn’t be. Black Sabbath’s 13 - how is that band still going?! Friday the 13th. Oceans Thirteen for crying out loud! And so it is we arrive at Epic’s 13th Birthday celebration ale, a massive 15% brut IPA that is so wrong, but oh so right.

Sure it might be the beeriest beer on this list, a relatively normal triple IPA with the only distinction being it was brewed with highly efficient Champagne yeast. However this is where normality reaches the end of the road. On the nose, Thirteen strikes as ominously as the number itself with warm, boozy apple brandy that transposes straight to the palate. Is it beer or is it a thing all its own? The specs speak of the former, the impression suggests otherwise.

Though somewhat aged now, you might be able to find Epic Thirteen floating around Australia and New Zealand at the time of writing.

Epic is regarded as one of New Zealand's finest purveyors of hop forward IPAs. Their daring take on the triple IPA using Champagne yeast was a triumph in pushing the envelope to the extreme. Image shows two IPA glasses half-full with beer and the matching bottle and bottle cap in the middle.

3. Omnipollo: Anagram (Blueberry Cheesecake Stout)

Pastry stouts are a dime a dozen these days. It takes a particularly special one to capture the imagination, and the only thing that captures my imagination more than anagrams is blueberry cheesecake. A stout brewed with the intention of emulating one of my favourite desserts and named after one of my favourite things... There’s a word for that: Overdrive! (An anagram of which is drive over...)

What is even more peculiar i the lingering aftertaste from this Swedish enigma of a beer resembles my own mum’s homemade blueberry cheesecake, replete with scorched Digestive biscuit base. Yes some imagination is needed to make the connection, but as the flavour induced endorphin rush comes barreling in, it shouldn’t be too hard.

Omnipollo has recently released another batch of Anagram. Watch out!

Omnipollo are the ultimate collaborators and gypsy brewers hence the name. Their Anagram blueberry cheesecake stout is was among my favourite beers from 2017. It is exciting to see it re-released. Image shows a glass of very dark beer with its matching bottle to the right and the colourful mural of Carywn Cellars.
4. Against the Grain Brewing: Maple Bockin’ Pastries (Bourbon BA doppelbock)

Doppelbocks are about as beery as it gets. A beer’s beer. Malt forward, astutely Bavarian and the sort of beer that when gazed upon through the glass immediately reminds you that the history of beer is as rich as that of mankind itself. The two go hand in hand.

Enter Louisville, Kentucky’s Against the Grain. These US craft beer stalwarts took this most historic of German beer styles and gave it an all-American twist. We’re talking 200 pounds of maple syrup and ageing in Bourbon barrels here. It’s like a maple twist dressed in drindl, singing Appalachian folk songs, while smoking a tobacco pipe in your mouth, and everyone’s ignited.

Maple Bockin’ Pastries was a one-off batch release brewed by Against the Grain as part of its Stave It For Later barrel-aged series. We can only hope we may see it brewed once more.

Against the Grain is famous for its barrel program. The Stave It For Later was a celebration of fine barrel-aged beers. If you are lucky enough to have one of these in the cellar, why not crack it tonight? Image: supplied. Image shows individual bottles of Against the Grain's Stave It For Later series.
5. Two Roads X Evil Twin: Two Evil Geyser Gose

The land that only lifted its ban on beer merely 30 years ago has since risen to become a brewing powerhouse thanks to Two Roads. When Jeppe Bjergso of Evil Twin fame joined in and picked up a mash paddle, the end result was always going to be otherworldly.

The two brewers set about brewing up a beer loaded with native Icelandic ingredients including kelp, skyr, herbs, Icelandic, rye and moss. The experience is akin to dipping into Iceland’s Myvatn Nature Baths, alien, but entirely comforting. Better yet, it affords you, the drinker, a scenic tour of Iceland’s native flavours without having to leave your armchair.

Cans of Geyser are still floating around Australian bottleshops. Knowing Evil Twin and Two Roads you can be assured something bizarre is in the works!

Two Roads and Evil Twin collaborated to create something incredibly unique.  Image shows a low-light photo of a glass of pale coloured beer with its matching can to the right.
6. Dainton Beer: Caramel Creme White Chocolate NEIPA

In terms of “novelty beers” this milkshake IPA (with apparently no lactose) [Edit: Dainton Beer has confirmed that Caramel Creme does in fact contain lactose] is the creme de la creme. Upon tasting it, the only slightest hint that this is a beer arrives at the front of the palate with a touch of bitterness, before the middle of a Cadbury Creme Egg bursts into the room like the NYPD performing a drug bust.

But before you go thinking the team at Dainton, one of Melbourne’s newer players, was high while concocting this intriguing beverage, consider how amazing this beer is with a Creme Egg. Or any chocolate dessert for that matter. This is a culinary beer that comes into its own when doubled down with similarly extreme culinary creations.

Cans and kegs are currently in circulation across Australia. Dainton Beer has seriously upped the ante with its experimental brews. Keep your eye on their socials for upcoming releases.

Dainton Beer has made a name for itself creating out of this world conceptual beers. Oh, and this can was not consumed on the bus! Image shows a can of unopened beer held in one hand.
Want more beers that taste like the white knight is talking backwards? Get yourself to GABS Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne or Auckland, where you will find all manner off one-off beers just like these.

Tickets to each city and session can be found here.

Thursday 18 April 2019

#whatbeerwednesdays: Episode 5

American IPA

Welcome back to the blog for another enthralling episode of #whatbeerwednesdays - and yes I am acutely aware it is Thursday in much of the world. The series dedicated to the forgotten beer styles BTT recommends you enjoy every Wednesday in lieu of what might get you the most likes on social media.

This week, we cast the net over the American iPA.

The haze craze took over the beer world like a military coup no one had quite expected. As Garrett Oliver, head brewer at Brookyn Brewery and author of The Brewmaster’s Table and primary contributor to The Oxford Companion to Beer quite rightly noted: “The #hazyIPA is the world’s first #instabeer.”

Personally I see nothing wrong with this in and of itself. However, search Instagram hashtags for “IPA” and observe the top ranking posts. Notice a trend in the appearance of each beer?

Moreover, the fun of Instagramming and Untappd checking-in beers does take away from the fun of physical socialising, and the end result is many classic styles and brands have all of a sudden found themselves struggling to remain relevant. As you know, this is more or less the premise to this blog series and other campaigns like #flagshipfebruary.

It must be remembered we wouldn’t be here in the first place were it not for this loud and proud beer style.

From here on in it’s (almost) all filter and #nofilter as we delve most deeply into the classic American IPA style.

Mr. Banks Brewing, based in Melbourne's south, is among the country's fines, particularly where hop-forward beers are concerned. Their West Coast IPA is a great example of the style. Image shows a glass of beer placed on a wooden table with a Chesterfield couch in the background
American IPAs: What you need to know

Origin: The modern IPA has its background in the English IPA and American pale ale styles.
Etymology: Here’s where things get complicated. For further reading, I have provided a link to the origins and myths surrounding the English forerunner of the modern IPA style. For now, IPA in the true modern sense is used to denote a hoppy pale ale. Many IPAs are not exactly pale and they certainly don’t have any connection to India.
Availability: All over. IPA is among the most widely produced craft beer styles. Even your local supermarket or chain bottleshop/ liquor store/ off-licence should have at the very least a couple to choose from.
ABV: 5.5-7.5%.
Approachability: Variable. If you are new to craft beer you might find hop forward beers to be something of a challenge as your palate, not naturally tuned to taste something so bitter, gradually adapts. Otherwise IPAs can range from balanced and approachable through to the more extreme end of the scale.
Glassware: The Spiegelau (in conjunction with Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head)) IPA glass (pictured) was designed with the IPA in mind. Its tapered-in head concentrates aroma while the ribbed bottom reinvigorates carbonation. Otherwise a stemmed tulip glass with a tapered top will do.

A (not so) brief history of the American IPA

Remember in the last episode we busted open the romantic, even bucolic but ultimately inaccurate history of the saison style? The origin of the IPA tops the lot in terms of historic inaccuracies and myths perceived as facts. But as stated above, you can learn that side of IPA’s history in depth over at Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile blog (link provided below). His excellent piece that puts pay to the belief George Hodgson invented the IPA and that early IPAs were sent to India for slaking the thirsts of soldiers on the Colonial frontline. You might be shocked but not surprised to learn that, as in the homeland, pale beers were the preserve of the elite while the troops preferred porter.

Fast forward to the advent of the American craft beer movement and IPAs henceforth became a very different thing. There are two precursors to the style: Anchor Brewing’s all-Cascade hop Liberty Ale and Ballantyne’s IPA, oak-aged and brewed to a traditional English recipe.

As the American pale ale style emerged brewers and drinkers suddenly yearned for more hops. With pale ale at its base and the notable clean fermentation profile, American IPAs soon became a showcase for the country’s ever-expanding array of citrusy, tropical, piny, bitter and resinous hops. 

An IBUs arms race soon followed as brewers battled it out to see who could brew the most extreme IPA, along with double IPAs, black IPAs, red IPAs and other variations on the theme.

Philter Brewing's IPA is clean, refreshing, punchy with citrus . Unfussy, one can easily enjoy three or four of these in a sitting and not be fatigued or overwhelmed. Image shows a stemmed tulip glass of beer to the left and its matching can on the right.

Why are IPAs so awesome?

That’s like asking why burgers are so awesome? Or why Porsches are so awesome? Or rock concerts? American IPAs are a concentrated explosion of citrus, tropical fruit and resinous flavour while keeping the experience relatively simple.

The good ones, though full in flavour, are also super refreshing.

Hazy IPAs have all the fruit juice you want, but too many and suddenly 6PM feels like 6AM and it’s breakfast all over again. Unless we’re talking unfiltered IPAs which are a totally different animal. Unfiltered IPAs are absolutely chockers with bitterness.

And I’m sure the more seasoned IPA drinkers among you will agree there is nothing more awesome than an IPA with just the right amount of resinousness!

Golden Road's Heal the Bay IPA, brewed in Los Angeles, Calif is a classic example of the style brimming with massive tropical fruit flavours. Image shows a glass of beer to the left and its matching can to the right.
American IPAs are better than wine with…

Spicy food.

Or so the myth goes. The question is, do you want something to quell the heat, or enhance it?

If you are looking to quell the heat, look elsewhere (hummus is great for taming the fire of chilli). Beer’s carbonic bite (the sensation of vigorous carbonation hitting the tongue) and alcohol will elevate the heat derived from chilli’s capsaicin. Moreover, chilli is hydrophobic, which is to say it is repelled by a mass of water, hence beer will make chilli even angrier (beer being ~92% water).

To that end, resist the urge to go balls-out hot with your chosen rub, sauce or marinade if you intend to enjoy a few IPAs with dinner. Go instead for something milder, with lots of bright citrus flavours that’ll play off IPAs’ own citrus, tropical and stone fruit characters. You’ll find the heat of the chilli elevated to a satisfying level.

This match works particularly well when your chosen IPA is at the lower end of the bitterness scale.

Further reading

Look out for a post taking a look at beer's kaleidoscopic weird and wonderful side in the coming days. Caramel Creme White Chocolate NEIPA that tastes like the middle of a creme egg, anyone?

Tuesday 26 March 2019

#whatbeerwednesdays: Episode 4


After a week’s waylay it’s straight back into our wonderful Wednesday wanders through the walk-in wardrobe of beer styles.

So far we have covered the classic German hefe-weissbier, Belgian kriek lambic ale and the bold but beautiful American amber ale. This week it’s back to Belgium to explore a beer style whose real history totally belies the fashionable on as well as the understated finery of the style. We’re talking about saison.

Saison’s history isn’t the only beguiling aspect of the style. Those who are anything but new to beer exploration have watched saisons go in and out of fashion like literary fiction and thigh-high stilettos. We’re here to quite literally reverse the trends, which is to say remove trend-driven  decision-making while perusing the shelves at the liquor store, so that way saisons may find their way into your glass once again.

My own fridge feels particularly empty when there is no saison to be found, for it is a beer style that wears many hats, not just the hat of the storytelling grifter.

And we all know hats never go out of style!

La Sirene Saison, brewed in Melbourne, Australia is a fine modern example of the saison style. Image shows a tulip glass of saison with its head almost erupting over the rim, and to its right-hand side is its now empty bottle. In the background table decorations.
Saison: What You Need To Know

Origin: Liege, Belgium. Not Wallonia! See below. Now brewed all over the world.
Etymology: Saison translates to “season.” It denoted either a specific style or, when used as a suffix, any beer brewed in winter for keeping in readiness for summer.
Where to find them: Independent bottleshops, specialty bars and brewpubs.
ABV: 3.5-5% (table), 5-7% (standard), 7-9.5% (super).
Approachability: Very approachable. Complexities are nuanced and bitterness is restrained.
Glassware: Belgian tulip.
Seasonality: Any time of year.
A (not so brief) history of saison

First and foremost, I implore you to abandon the hopelessly romantic notion that saison originated in farmhouses in the idyllic Wallonian countryside. And I ask you, dear reader looking to reconnect with the modern saison style, please do not shoot the messenger.

Findings by the likes of beer historians Roel Mulder and Yvan de Baets over at paint a much grittier picture. You can read more in the links below.

Much like parts of Britain and cities along Germany’s Rhine river, the Belgian city of Liege is at the country’s industrial and mining heart. It is here the very first historical mentioning of saison Mulder could find, dating back to 1823. Indeed the first mentioning of saison within the Hainaut province dates back to 1858 and from the city of Charleroi. Much like Liege, Charleroi is an industrial town, thus putting the myth to bed that saison was brewed in winter when life on the farm slowed down before being stored in readiness for summer refreshment.

Ultimately what this suggests is that early saison, a pale, clear beer often brewed in Liege with malted spelt and unmalted wheat, was brewed to slake the thirsts of industrial, not rural, labourers. Meanwhile across the remainder of Belgium the suffix “de saison” did in fact denote a beer meant for storage, however this did not in any way announce a specific beer style.

I’m sad to say these home truths about saison will doubtless get in the way of its fashionably fantastical story. Moreover it can’t be understated these stories helped see in saison’s recent commercial renaissance. Above all else the real truth of the matter is saison emerged from humble beginnings to become one of the beer world’s all-round classiest acts.

Saison: A beer for all seasons

Modern technologies, namely refrigeration, mean that any beer style can be brewed and enjoyed all year round, which means that the traditionally interpreted meaning of saison is essentially now redundant. This is especially true when one considers saison,can be brewed in hot weather (up to 28°C thanks to its resilient yeast strain). Above all, it also somehow straddles the line between refreshing and warming, making t fit for any time of year. Think of your favourite item of clothing that‘s equally as appropriate in January as it is June and you get the idea.

Moreover, the style is as broad as it is versatile. There are delicate table saisons, the middle of the road "standard" saisons and the bigger super saisons are great for celebrations. Reach for the latter when the season calls for festive Santa hats (hey not all hats are fashionable per se). They are sometimes darker in colour, much higher in ABV and full of nuanced spicy aromatics, warming alcohol and complex malt character.

What is truly remarkable is how drinkable saisons are. Complex but stripped back, raw but refined, yet always balanced. And with their golden hue, scintillating showiness and luscious white head they look damn good while doing it too.

Saison Dupont, brewed in Tourpes (almost incongruously in the Hainaut province, Wallonia) ticks every box and then some. Bottles are corked and caged for added sex appeal, as if the beer itself didn't have enough of that already...

Bumper edition: Saison is better than wine with...

Almost anything you care to mention. The style that wears many hats is also polite enough to take its hat off at the dinner table. It’s here saison shines with elegance, grace and aplomb.

You could start the meal by serving saison as an aparatiff. Carefully pour your favourite saison into Champagne flutes and enjoy the reaction from your guests. The high carbonation of the beer completes the experience while the grainy malt profile will inspire hearty conversation over the merits of Belgium and France’s finest exports.

Champagne is said to be versatile at the dinner table and its saison’s aforesaid grainy-bready character that echoes Champagne’s agility (and catwalk good looks). Truth be known, saison can do so much more, with or without consideration of the higher and lower extremities of its ABV range.

Seafood entrees (salt & pepper calamari in particular) and main courses (think seafood chowder) latch on to saison’s peppery character and fruity esters while the beer’s bready quality plays off the batter or bread, respectively. There’s enough racey acidity to cut like a knife through the fat as well.

Saison Dupont is perhaps the most sharply dressed and dynamic contender at the dinner table due to its yeast strain being said to be a very close relative to red wine yeast. Indeed for such a generally pale coloured beer saison will more than match the dark flavours of steak, mushrooms or even a hearty roast lamb thanks to its peppery phenols.

Saison Dupont in particular takes a shining to the robust dish of  toasted Turkish bread topped with hummus and mushrooms cooked in ginger, garlic, spices and tamari kepap mania soy sauce. This intriguing Middle Eastern meets Asian flavour explosion fits Saison Dupont like a glove. (Are gloves still in fashion?)

The beer’s bready-graininess adds depth to the Turkish bread and its subtle sweetness. The hummus’s tang and bright citrus flavours meet saison’s orange-lemon citrus esters. The peppery phenols - imparted by Saison Dupont’s peppery qualities match the mushrooms’ earthy flavours and soy sauce’s umami. The whole experience then becomes something so much more than the sum of its parts as the spices and dynamic elements of the beer and meal reach their crescendo. All of a sudden it’s time for another bite as the beer’s acidity, vigorous carbonation and dry finish sweep the palate clean.

Sunday 24 March 2019

The Daydreaming Blind Rebel

If you’ll indulge me, from time to time I will delve most deeply into my very personal connection with beer. Insodoing I hope to connect with you, the reader, while I share a little about yours truly. Ultimately as well as talking about all things beer I hope to increase awareness of blindness and vision impairment as well.
A blind rebel indeed, holding a can of beer at a tram stop in Melbourne. Image shows a vision impaired man wearing sunglasses, holding a can of open beer and holding a white cane beside a tram/bus interchange.

 When I’m not writing, I am a daydreamer. My imagination is so active it could easily be mixed with hot liquor (water) to make wort.

Like so many of you out there I dream of owning and operating my own brewery. But the stark realities of not having a seven-figure bank balance or investors willing to back me with said sum comes crashing in like an unwanted Brettanomyces infection in the brew.

Not to mention the reality that it’s not all glory and no mess.

But you can’t stop me from dreaming about owning, running and brewing at my own brewpub and packaged brewery operation. You can’t stop me imagining that it would be located in Melbourne’s north-east or perhaps even near the as yet to be opened Canning Vale metro station in Perth (close to family and where there is likely a huge gap in the market). And you certainly can’t stop me from dreaming about brewing hype-beast TDH IIPAs, eisbocks brewed with chilli and maple syrup or wheatwines aged in locally produced whiskey barrels.

It would be a middle finger to every perceived notion of what blind and vision impaired people can and cannot do as held by collective society. It would be called Blind Rebel Brewing CoOperative, its slogan: “Walking on the edge of convention”, its primary image stylised footsteps on the wrong side of the yellow line and tactile markings at a train station. 

All in the name of going some way to spreading awareness about blindness and low vision through beer. Because though I can’t change being legally blind and living life in a sighted world, I can change the attitudes of people, misconceptions and accessibility both in the real world and the virtual one.

Alt Text altbier, Tenji Bock helles bock, Seeing Rye Dog red rye IPA, Wit Cane Belgian wheat, APS American peated stout, Beer My Eyes helles lager and of course Braille Ale British strong bitter cask ale would comprise the core range. Puns with a slice of awareness, what’s not to love?

By the way links have been provided at the bottom of this piece so you can learn more about alt text, Tenji blocks, Be My Eyes and the white cane.

Beer is all about community, bringing people together, over history it has helped shape and even save the world. It certainly has the capacity to help blind people integrate with the world and people around them. Thanks to modern and adaptive technologies blind and vision impaired people have never had it easier (the iPhone has enriched my life beyond my wildest imaginings), however there is still a long way to go yet.

Blind Rebel Brewing may be a dream that will never become a reality, but the dream of a better world for the blind and vision impaired is materialising one Tenji block at a time.