Beer Mixes (The Session #88)

For those of you who don’t know; the Session is a synchronised day of beer-blogging, held on the first Friday of the month. A beer-blogger offers to host, chooses a topic, collates the posts and the comes up with a compendium of the responses. It’s all a bit of a laugh really.

This month’s topic comes courtesy of Boak and Bailey, and is all about traditional beer mixes. Choose a traditional beer mix. Try it. Write about it. Simple.

So, I decided to try and mix a boilermaker. Apparently, a boilermaker is one part Brown Ale, one part Mild Ale. Honesty alert: I’ve never knowingly drunk Mild, and I’m not sure exactly how it should taste. Still, why let that hold me back?

I’d seen Coopers Mild for sale in my local Dan Murphy’s (other warehouse-style, supermarket-affiliated alcohol-emporia are available), so picked up a couple of bottles. Coopers is the Grandad of the Australia craft beer scene, pre-dating even the phrase craft beer. Surely their Mild would be an accurate representation of the style?

As for the Brown? There could be only one; Mornington Brown, my winter staple.

Out came the glassware, three ISO tasting glasses, because that seemed a little scientific.

I wrote notes, because that seemed a bit scientific too. Here they are…

Coopers Mild Cloudy yellow. White head; large bubbles. Almost a saison nose. Dry. Prickles on tongue. Little flavour – but what’s there is slightly lemony. Reminds me of my first homebrew. Coopers MildMornington Brown Mahogany. Polished. Tan head, think and creamy Earthy, sweet, leathery, woody, autumnal. Big in the mouth. Rich, unctuous, coffee, chocolate. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Mornington Brown Boilermaker Coopington? Morpers? Almost orange, with a tan head. Still got the saison nose, but richer. Sharp on three tongue. Lighter, all round. But, could grow on me. Boilermaker

I have a real problem with this concept.

I like beer. I like good beer. I like good beer, brewed by a brewer. I like good beer, brewed by a brewer who knows what they are doing. I am not a brewer. And I don’t know what I’m doing.

I can see the attraction of beer mixing in the bad old days when good beer was hard to find. There was always a chance that mixing one substandard brew with another substandard brew was going to lead to a mixture which tasted better than either of the ingredients. Taking some bits from one, and some bits from another, and hoping to only be taking the good bits. Where the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. Unfortunately, it is very possible to take the bad bits and mix them together.

It’s a great idea, making the best of what you’ve got. But not any more; there’s just too much good beer around!

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Against The Grain (The Session #83)

The Session (aka Beer Blogging Friday) is a thing where beer bloggers from around the world think about a predetermined topic and then simultaneously release their thoughts into the wilds of the internet.
Imagine those beautiful candle-powered sky lanterns, but with added beer.
This month’s thoughts are being corralled by thebakeandbrew.com with the theme; Against The Grain. Basically, what do you dislike that everyone else loves, and why (or vice versa).

When I first read the announcement for January’s session, I knew instantly what I was going to write. Unfortunately, I am worried that it is going to seriously undermine any beergeek-cred that I’ve accrued over the last couple of years.

I expect that many of this months Session posts are going to read something like; “I keep trying DogFishHead’s 90 minute IPA and, call me a fool if you like, but I prefer the 60 minute” or “I just can’t get past the fact that Westvleteren12 is over-rated“.

My own thoughts are… well, erm… Where I go against the grain is… ahem, I… Oh man, this is harder than I thought. OK, here goes…

I have a dirty little secret.

I quite like [coughs] Corona.
From a [coughs] bottle.
With a [coughs] slice of [coughs] lime.

Right. I’ve said it, and now am going to be drummed out of the club.
The thing is, I think of beer a bit like I think of poetry or prose; I love well-crafted verse. Beauty can be found in the words of a sonnet, or in a series of rhyming couplets, or in a phrase of iambic pentameter*. There is majesty in the words of the greats; Shakespeare, Dickens, Dahl…
But, on the beach, I read fiction – stories about detectives or soldiers or sci-fi.

It’s exactly the same with beer; I love a well-crafted pint. A perfectly balanced IPA is a beautiful thing to behold; when the malt bill compliments the hop profile, with neither dominating. Beauty can be found in a mouthful of saison, or a porter, or in a barleywine. And there is majesty in an Imperial IPA or Russian Imperial Stout.
But, on the beach, when I have sand between my toes, and sun in my eyes, I like to drink Corona. I know that it’s not a great beer. I know its not really even a good beer. It doesn’t even taste right without a wedge of lime in the neck of the bottle. Or if the sun isn’t shining.
It would be easy to say that I have been taken in by Corona’s From Where You’d Rather Be advertising campaign, but I felt this way before it started.

Sometimes, a beer is elevated by circumstance. Sometimes, I don’t want to have to think too hard about the beer I’m drinking. Sometimes, I realise that there is a very fine line between beergeek and beerwanker. And nobody likes a beerwanker. Now, did anyone see where I put my barrel-aged, hop-forward, fruit-infused, sour, smoked imperial barleywine?

*As an aside, I’ve decided that one day I am going to brew a lambic, just so I can call it lambic pentameter. I might even drink it on the beach.

Corona

Coffin Sally

I love the craftbeer movement.
I love that I get to call it the craftbeer movement, which makes it sound a little like a band of rebels intent on overthrowing the occupying armies of a despotic regime. Think; the French resistance during WW2 , or (geek alert) the Rebel Alliance in StarWars.
One of the things that I most love about the craftbeer movement, is that I get to meet interesting and passionate people, who do what they do because they love what they do.
Yesterday I met Nick and Marcus, who together run Coffin Sally, a funky little pizza joint in Port Fairy.

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The pizzas look, smell, and taste fantastic! Actually, I can only give a second hand report about the taste of the pizzas, but the vonSchlapper children absolutely inhaled their margarita (tomato, mozzarella and basil).

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The kitchen is in the shop window, with a small counter for serving takeaway customers. It’s thoroughly enticing to wander along the high street during the afternoon, and see the team prepping dough and toppings for that night’s service. 20131109-211436.jpg

Head past the kitchen, down the narrow corridor, and find the bar. There’s an open fire, a couple of tables, a walled courtyard, and if you go further still, an eclectic dining-room full of mismatched tables, chairs and light-fittings, with laid-back tunes loud enough to listen to but quiet enough to talk over.
There’s a small but well thought out beer list, with; Stone & Wood Lager, Pale Ales from Bridge Road and Kooinda, and Holgate’s marvellous Temptress, plus others.
Now I struggle to go past Temptress when it’s available, especially on a wet and windy night. It’s a great beer, which serves up chocolate and vanilla and caramel, but balances all of that sweetness with a perfect hit of coffee-shaped bitterness.
20131109-211453.jpgI didn’t have to ask for a glass, which is a good sign. And the glass wasn’t chilled, which is a better sign still. They were latte glasses, which I thought an odd choice, but actually added to the casual charm the place (glasses of rosé and riesling were served the same way).
The service was great too; but then I love that natural banter that you can have with guys who are enthusiastic about their new project. Nick and Marcus and I talked about craftbeer, and homebrew, and transition beers, and about some of their plans for the future.
It’s fair to say that Coffin Sally has won a fan this weekend: I can’t wait to come back, and see how those plans are going.

Women & Beer (The Session #81)

TheSessionBeerBloggingFridayI like beer.
I also like women.
I like one woman more than any other.
That one woman said something very wise to me, one night many moons ago, soon after we first met.
That very wise thing was; “You don’t have to drink shit beer, you’re not a student any more!”
That one wise woman brought good beer.*
That one wise woman is now my wife; I knew that I was onto a good thing.

* The beer was made by Matilda Bay Brewery, and I’m pretty sure that it was just called Matilda Bay. It had a sandy coloured label, with blue writing. And I can’t find anything about it anywhere. If anyone remembers it, or has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Australian beers available in January 2003, please tell me.

Perception

I’ve just had an epiphany. Well, maybe calling it an epiphany is a slight exaggeration, but I’ve definitely realised something about the subjective nature of taste.

HopHog ValeVale IPA has long been one of my go to IPAs. I’m aware that some regard Vale IPA as slightly substandard, and that “you can taste the contract” (Sh!t Beer Geeks Say 2013), but I think that’s a bit harsh. It is an easy-drinking IPA, rather than a “special occasion” beer, but that doesn’t make it substandard in my book. I often take it with me when I’m on missionary work converting the unenlightened (craftbeer unbelievers). (Dan’s $3.99/bottle)

Feral HopHog IPA was recently voted Australia’s #1 beer. Again. I know that I risk being run out of town, but I never quite got the hype. People really rave about this beer. It even gets mentioned twice in the aforementioned “Sh!t Beer Geeks Say”. I’ve always enjoyed HopHog, but to call it Australia’s best beer felt a bit much. Even calling it Australia’s best IPA seemed a bit of a stretch; Mornington Peninsula Brewery’s Imperial IPA, or the late lamented Temple Brewing’s Midnight IPA, anyone? (Dan’s $4.99/bottle)

Anyway, the other night I opened the two back–to-back, and I finally get it.
We started with the HopHog. It is a well-hopped beer, with real citrus punch and a piney resinous backbone – there’s plenty of hop-flavour and real bitterness there too, but it’s controlled. The beer sits nicely in your mouth, and doesn’t demand your undivided attention. Drinking HopHog is a very pleasant experience – no one component is overpowering.

Moving on to the Vale IPA, I noticed a distracting base flavour that I hadn’t appreciated before. The aromatic hop flavours were there, the alpha-acid bitterness too, and a hunk of malt. But they didn’t seem to fit together. I’d never noticed it before, but it just seemed a bit two-dimensional, jarring even. Not bad, mind; just unbalanced.

So, I’ve had my mind expanded. Just a little bit. I’ve seen that my opinion of one beer can be affected by the previous or next one. And that as my palate matures, and my knowledge grows, I am starting to recognise more complex (and amorphous) qualities like balance. I’ve also learnt that when I’m underwhelmed by a beer that everyone else raves about (or at least, all those beergeeks who I respect), I should probably try it again.

GABS ’13

IMG_3360I’ve been building towards today for a few weeks (read; months). As a new age family man, I don’t get that much time on my own. Don’t think I’m complaining – quite the opposite – but, a day that is entirely my own is a rare thing to behold. And what better to do on a me-day than go to a beer festival?

GABS, or the Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular, is a be festival organised to coincide with Melbourne’s Good Beer Week. (There’s a whole rant about Good Beer Week, and my inability to attend any of the amazing events, but that’s for another day!) Anyway, GABS is the brainchild of the guys at The Local Taphouse in St. Kilda. Now in its third year, it is held in the World Heritage listed Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, and a number of Australian and New Zealand breweries are invited to brew a new beer for the festival (this year some other well-renowned international breweries have been included too).

There were 92 freshly minted beers, plus a selection of old favourites at the Beer Market (a kind of farmer’s market for breweries). There was a band, and an awesome selection of eateries – no Maccas here – it’s all small companies like PhatBrats (wicked hotdogs), BarBurrito (mmm, burritos), TheMeltShop (posh toasted cheese sarnies).
So what is the form?

It’s not about getting hammered – drunkenness is frowned upon – it’s about tasting the myriad of different characters that beer can display. It’s about seeing what a master brewer can do when he’s playing with a free rein. In fact, I didn’t see anyone worse-for-wear during the 4 and a half hour session. The most raucous behaviour was from a Buck’s (Stag) party, which culminated in an official “GABS ambassador” (and craftbeer  twitter regular) playing dominitrix with a tasting paddle.

The experienced attendee buys a ticket online, and a supply of tokens. More tokens can be purchased at the event. The unit of GABS currency is the $2 Token, so that actual money only changes hands at the token-stall. An 85ml beer taste is worth 1 token, a paddle of 5 tastes is 5 tokens, and a glass of beer is 3 tokens – the ticket price includes a GABS glass, which you get to take home at the end of the day.   

There are two strategies; [1] make it up as you go along – my method at GABS’12, or [2] check out the beer list and plan your attack before the day. Actually, most beer geeks have pre-planned their paddles – the anticipation is half of the fun. I had gone through the list of 92, selected the must haves and the should haves. That whittled me down to 30something different beers. I ended up with a selection of brews, varying from IPAs to Porters and from Märzens to Imperial Stouts. Disappointingly, two of my choices were scratched.

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As I tasted, I wrote my thoughts down. Some beers were insipid whilst some were outrageous. All were interesting! My beer of the day was an amazing Black Ale from a brewery in WA called Feral. Their festival beer was a Black Ale, aged in French Oak Barriques (it’s a type of wine-barrel), and is called Barrique O Karma. I love the cheeky reference to the current resident of the White House.

I also particularly enjoyed a Barleywine from the guys at Bright Brewery. Called Supermucilaginisticexpialidocious, a slightly weird MaryPoppins/medical-dictionary mash-up name, it’s a woody, malty, alcoholicky triumph.In my notes, I described it… “As woody as sitting in a sauna, in a forest, with an erection. And a brandy!”

High praise indeed.

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I also drank a Belgian Blonde Ale with beetroot, an India Pale Ale with balsamic vinegar, a cherry-wheat-porter, and a Vietnamese mint-mango-chilli IPA. Check out my notes below…

I’ve drunk some beers today that I know I won’t drink again, and some that I hope I do. Either way, it’s definitely not XXXX territory!
If you get a chance, get to GABS’14 – you’ll have a blast!

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GABSnotes1

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Leffe Radieuse

I found these tasting notes from about a year ago.

LEFFE RADIEUSE

Leffe.
It’s a name that beer-types know.
A glorious ruby on the pour, with a persistent cream head. It’s so different from the crop of Pale Ales, IPAs and Saisons that most often grab my attention. Just the most beautiful colour. It’s not red, but it’s not brown either. Mahogany, perhaps?

It’s not got a huge nose, but plums and cherries and vanilla come through.
Initially sweet, the flavours morph as the beer sits in your mouth. It’s like summer pudding that turns into plum pie. The sweetness gives way to a deeper, richer, unctuous velvet with just the hint of golden pastry as you swallow. And then it’s gone, but what remains is the bitter echo of that malt. The almost-burnt pastry flavour. I can almost see the pie coming out of the aga.

This is my first Belgian, so I don’t know if what I’m tasting is representative. But I am rather looking forward to finding out.

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Oh for Peat’s Sake

Beer.
Malted barley. Hops. Yeast. Water.
(And sometimes; a special secret ingredient)
Yet, the most amazing breadth of flavours can be created by the master-brewer.
Beer is such a diverse drink; a yeasty Saison bears little resemblance to a roasty Stout. And even within a style, one example can be poles apart from another.

One of the great things about craft beer, is that this diversity is celebrated. It’s perfectly ok for a beer to divide opinion. And, a beer that divides opinions more than most, is RexAttitude from New Zealand’s Yeastie Boys.
Rex is a beer brewed with peated malt. XeRReX is the one-off single-batch Imperial version.

Actually, I think it’s really important that brewers brew beers which split the craftbeer world in two. I’d rather open a beer that I really dislike, than one of which I have no opinion.
Death to mediocrity!
I’m not sure that this is a mindset shared by some other craftbeer drinkers.
XerreX currently rates at 3.58 on @untappd. This means that either the majority of drinkers/raters think it’s unremarkable (seriously unlikely) OR the lovers balance the haters (much more likely).
WARNING: SCHOOLBOY STATISTICS ALERT! Using the mean is less useful than the mode. Mean is when the sum of the responses is divided by the number of respondants, while Mode is simply the most commonly selected response. 3.606 tells us nothing, but knowing that most people rate it 5, slightly fewer rate it 1 (nobody rates it 3) tells us much more.

I’ll fess up. I really disliked it, right from the moment of the click-pfft, even before I’d poured it; the smell of smoke was overpowering. And lifting the glass to my mouth brought me closer to the smell.
And in the mouth, all I got was smoke. People talk about its balance malt profile. I couldn’t taste anything but smoke.
The odd thing about Yeastie Boys XerreX is that despite finding it revolting, I love it!
Don’t get me wrong, I never ever want to drink it again, but I love that it exists. I love that some mad kiwis have been told “You can’t do that: It’ll never work!” But they did it anyway.
Think of all the people throughout the course of history to whom that was said; Leonardo DaVinci, Gallileo, The Wright Brothers, Christopher Columbus, James Cook, Edmund Hillary.

I love that while I hate XerreX, I love Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta. I love that the same creative spirit that embraces peat-smoke also embraces tea leaves. I love that there are brewers out there pushing the boundaries of what can be done with 4 simple ingredients. I love that in the craftbeer world there is a place for beers like XerreX.

So, how do I rate it on @untappd?
5 because I love that it exists? Or 1 because its horrible*?
Definitely not 3, because it is anything but mediocre!

(* other opinions are available and welcome)

Breakfast?

I know that until now, I have only written about my adventures in craft beer. And this post could be described as a beer review. But really, it is a beer review wrapped up inside an adventure of sorts.

Beer at breakfast time? There is something that has never quite sat well with me. I guess that it is an innate fear of alcoholism. Isn’t it just a hop [pun intended], step and a jump from having a beer at breakfast to having a whiskey with your weetbix, or a metho-mouthwash before brushing your teeth?
Well, I managed that fear this morning. The beer in question has sat patiently in my beer fridge for nine months. It’s been nestling next to a Southern Bay Sunrise Breakfast and a Moa Breakfast. I’ve been fighting an uphill battle with my conscience. But, today was the day…

It’s Sunday, the sun is shining and the birds are sheltering from the heat amidst the foliage in the garden. I am sitting at my kitchen table, listening to the evocative twang of Spanish guitar on the stereo whilst the domestic goddess and attendant cherubim are baking a peach and raspberry flapjack. I’m sitting amongst the remains of breakfast: Eggs Benedict, with homemade foaming Hollandaise, and bowls of stone-fruit salad. Beside me sits an almost empty bottle of a beer that I’ve been looking forward to for almost a year. A beer that I have been hugely excited about drinking. A beer that has only been brewed once and, to the best of my knowledge, won’t be brewed again. A beer that was brewed with breakfast in mind: Bridge Road Brewers‘ 500 Smokey Breakfast Lager.

Now, why would this unusual beer languish in my fridge for such a long time? Because it is a breakfast beer. And, as I said before, who drinks beer at breakfast time except those in need of help? Well, if breakfast is a late brunch, on a Sunday, then it’s almost lunch. And a beer with Sunday lunch is most definitely allowed in civilised company.

A lazy day of cooking, eating and drinking with the family sums up my favourite was to spend a Sunday. Throw in a coffee, the paper and the time to read it and you’re pretty much there. Aaaahhhhh, perfection!
So, six-year-old-son and I set about making the Hollandaise sauce. It’s a simple fact that every man sold know how to make a Hollandaise; girls love a guy who can cook! Although if you’re cooking her breakfast, you’ve probably already done pretty well.
For reference, Delia Smith’s recipe from How To Cook Book One never fails!
Thick cut sourdough toast. Crispy bacon. Poached eggs, quiveringly soft, perched on top. And then anointed spoonfuls of unctuous Hollandaise. Perfection.
And beside it; a glass.

I was surprised by how dark the beer poured. I’d expected a burnished gold with an ivory head, but what I got was a dark brown, almost grey. Like the bitterest chocolate: 85% stuff. The head was tight, firm and tan in colour, dispersing over five or ten minutes to leave fine lacing.
The aroma was slightly odd and, frustratingly, I can’t put my finger on it. It was sweet and smokey, almost like marmite (the original British institution, not that ghastly Sanitarium stuff).
The beer had a lively, spritzy mouthfeel, and tasted both sweet and bitter at the same time. (It’s worth using your whole mouth to taste, rather than just a quick swallow.) My first thoughts ran to maple syrup, and almost burnt toast. And then weirdly, apricots and dried fruit.
It’s a malt-driven beer, and not over-hopped. And it works fantastically.

Between my beer breakfast and actually converting my thoughts into a coherent narrative, I asked Ben from Bridge Road for a list of ingredients. He pointed me towards a great video made on the brewday, listing the ingredients which were drawn from the brewery team’s favourite breakfasts. This list includes; Carmen’s Muesli, Zo’i coffee, Tetley’s tea, maple syrup, cinnamon-raisin bread, and Beechworth honey (of course).
There are several malts, primarily a smoked German Rauchmalz to echo the smell of bacon (didn’t quite work for me), a Belgian Abbey-malt for a biscuity character and a roasted wheat malt for colour and a chocolate hit.
In hindsight, the cinnamon raisin bread, muesli, honey and maple syrup, I can taste. I think that the marmitey smell is a combination of the the coffee and the smoked malt.

Well, I can say that I’m a convert – beer at breakfast time can be a triumph of beer and food matching. As with all craft beer, it’s all about the experience not about getting smashed.
I’ve had an illuminating experience, and the next question is: what should I have with the Southern Bay Brewery Sunrise Breakfast Lager in the fridge?
I’m thinking something lighter and more befitting of a summer Sunday morning; figs and ricotta drizzled with honey, or crepes with maple syrup and banana perhaps?

Red Hill Brewery – Diamond Jubilee IPA

@redhillbrewery Diamond Jubilee IPA

60 years is a long time. Anyone got a bottle of wine from ’52? Or a car? In fact, anyone still remember 1952?
For anyone who doesn’t know, it was 60 years ago that the Queen became the Queen. And that is as good a reason as any for brewing a special one-off brew.
I have been looking forward to this beer since I first heard about it. It speaks to me in a thousand ways; I’m a Pom. I’m a royalist. I have an interest and enthusiasm about beer that some suggest is unhealthy. IPA is a perennial favourite of mine. And I have liked everything from Red Hill Brewery that has ever passed my lips. How can I not? They’re one of my local breweries, and they’re very very very good at it.
In the interests of presenting a fair and impartial review, I should admit that I’m sampling this beer in less than ideal conditions; I’m sitting outside on a chillsome overcast day, and am in danger of being drenched from a nearby puddle which is just waiting for a child to jump into. But worst of all, the health and safety police have decreed that I be served in a plastic “glass”. Surely, the brewers die a little every time one of their beers is poured into plastic.
But, the beer…
For an Englishman, there’s something reassuring about a proper old-fashioned handpump. My pint took a minute to settle and reveal a beautiful golden caramel colour. It’s low on fizz, just as it should be for the style.
Served a little too cold for a British IPA, it warmed and grew in my hand, eventually giving a nose preminiscent of dried apricots and cloves.
There’s a lovely mouthfeel, it’s almost thick. Not quite creamy, but definitely unctuous.
Initially sweet, the bitterness comes through almost instantly. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it sweetness. But the bitter roasted malt lingers in the mouth after swallowing.
It’s a great beer, although not an earth-shattering one. But… it does make me long for my old local village pub on a winter’s evening, when I could sit by the fire, with a dog curled at my feet, amongst the fog of pipe smoke. And for that reason, it does what it sets out to do, so is a winner in my book!
God save the Queen!