Monday, March 29, 2010

Beer - Weekend Catch-up

So...hi...I have realised that making regular posts here is far from easy. As much as I'd love to make this blog my top priority, it's actually about forth behind (1) home-life/entertainment, (2) work and (3) drinking good beer whilst staying healthy.

Therefore, I shall add some regular "weekend catch-up" posts to this blog so I can quickly mention those beers/bars/bands that I experience over the weekends, when I generally get out and try/visit/hear something new and/or different...which there has been plenty of lately! Hence, I feel like I am missing out on sharing much good...stuff!  Then...those worthy (good or bad) of a full blog post will get the proper attention when I have a moment to spare. we go...backtracking to this weekend's beer joy...

Friday night was Rapunzel night at the Mountain Goat Brewery's Goat Bar, as they showcased their rare Belgium Strong Pale Ale with three versions of the brew available on tap. Having already tired the regular "Blonde" a few weeks back, on this visit I had the:
  • Oaked version (aged 9 months in French oak chardonnay barrel)
  • Randy version (with mango and nutmeg in the Randy)
Nothing short of sensational. Full review of the Oaked to come soon!

There was also a 6 of Grand Ridge Gippsland Gold, thanks to a good price at Dan Murphys (and no other decent choices available). My love/hate relationship with this beer continues. The first is always excellent, but it doesn't seem to hold it’s consistency through the next couple. I know it's highly regarded, but it's rather sweet...and's just not sessional for me, despite the Grand Ridge team describing it as "easy drinking, thirst quencing".

Popped into Slowbeer on Saturday evening, where I picked up and later drank...
  • Steam Exchange Brewery India Pale Ale – very good clear copper colour, nice and hoppy but there was also a lot of malt, solid body, a little sticky and quick low in carbination but a strong clean finish. Nice
  • BrewBoys Maiden Ale – very nice deep amber colour, light in the mouth, well balanced, tasty but not complex or anything really special. Very drinkable though.
  • Hargreaves Hill Hefeweizen – had drunk too much by the time I got to this one to make any decent notes, but I liked it. Not the best Hefeweizen I’ve had though (…I think).

Also bought a Malt Shovel Brewery Mad Brewers Orchard Ale Saison (640ml bottle), mainly for the sake of adding it to my bottle collection and which I’ll probably crack next weekend (over Easter). Excited about visiting the Red Hill Brewery this coming Easter weekend as well!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Beer - Fed Square Microbreweries Showcase

Thursday 18 March 2010, The Atrium, Federation Square, Melbourne City.

The Fed Square Microbreweries Showcase is a brilliant initiative.  I believe this is the third such Showcase, with the first two held in March and October last year.  It allows all comers to sample and buy from an extensive range of Victoria's true microbrewery delights, as well an opportunity to speak to the people who are making this local industry so fantastic for the beer lovers.

After a visit to Beer Deluxe to kill some time and escape a very humid Thursday afternoon with some refreshing brews (enjoyed the Stone&Wood Pale Lager, Bridge Road Chevalier Saison and the delightful Murray's Shawn's Fault by Murrays Brewing! Yum!), I headed into the Showcase just after 5pm, with my trusty photographer alongside.

The $25 entry price gives you 20 tasting tickets (60ml) plus a $5 food voucher (mmm pie), so the value is excellent…considering the quality of the beers available, some of which are very hard to come by unless you go for a long drive to visit the Brewery itself.

I was already familiar with all but one or two of the Breweries on display and have tired the majority of beers available at this Showcase through various sources over the past couple of years.  However, I was very happy to also find a good range of beers that I had not been able to sample until now, due to various availability/accessibility issues or simply because these particular brews were brand new.

I used my 20 tasting tickets to sample:
  • Arctic Fox American Pale Ale
  • Bright Brewery Blowhard Pale Ale and Staircase Porter
  • Grand Ridge Draught
  • Mildura Brewery Murray Honey Wheat
  • Red Duck Brewery Overland and 4 Ducks Strong Belgium
  • Southern Bay Brewing RANGA and Bearings Draught
  • Sweetwater Brewing Company Porter and Weissbeir
  • 3 Ravens Bronze English Ale
  • Three Troupers Amber Ale
  • True South Summer Ale, New Wold Pilsner, Red Truck Lager and Dark Ale
  • Tooborac Hotel and Brewery Woodcutter Amber Ale and Stonemasons Pale Ale
  • ...and finished it all off with the awesome Mountain Goat Rapunzel

Of course, I liked some beers more than others.  However, there was certainly not a bad beer in the mix! There was a wonderful diversity in the brews, with many unique tastes coming through.

I could probably go on forever about the event, but would rather let a couple of photos do the talking...

Mountain Goat Rapunzel...still superb...still a favourite.

I also took home a mixed-six box from Otway Estate’s Prickly Moses that included their Wheat Beer and Pilsner, which I hadn’t tried before.

All in all it was a fantastic evening of beer!  Am now looking forward to the next big beer event - the Beer & Brewer Expo in May.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Beer - Mountain Goat Rapunzel (Part 1)

Wow...I have a new favourite beer...and her name is Rapunzel!

I have been waiting for over a year to try this highly regarded and very limited small-batch from the Mountain Goat team...and she did not disappoint.

Last Friday evening I headed back to the Mountain Goat Brewery in Richmond for the specific purpose of tasting this strong Belgian ale. Once again Melbourne had turned on some beautiful Autumn weather and the atmosphere at the Goat Bar was indeed a happy one.  Although, I thought it was actually relatively quiet for Beer O’Clock on a sunny Friday.

I ordered a Rapunzel (385ml tulip glass for $8) and watched with a little amusement as the high carbonation tap caused the beer to pour with a froth explosion into the glass.  It gave a delightful big head, as such a Belgian ale should, which slowly reduced, leaving plenty of lacing.  Standing on the bar, the beer looked very enticing, emitting a rich hazy golden-red colour.

The initial aroma was soft and fruity. A deeper inhale presented plenty of fruit, malt, toffee and a little spice. They use Pilsener Malt, German Hallertau hops and a Belgian Yeast strain to produce this beer.

With my first taste I was delighted by a hit of deliciousness! Wow, I loved it! The 7.7% alc/vol was very nicely hidden, with the luscious fruity taste winning the flavour battle. (I believe the alc/vol has reduced from 8.3% in 2009 to now 7.7% for 2010.)  I'm sure there are many flavours and characteristics of this beer that I will fail to mention, simply because I still have much to learn about beer tasting, but it's definitely complex in a very good way.

The medium body and high carbonation suited this beer perfectly, providing a beautiful balance throughout the whole mouth. I enjoyed allowing it to linger in my mouth. The Rapunzel also has quite a long finish (…I think that's what you call it).

What delighted me most about this beer was how perfectly consistent it remained throughout drinking down two glasses of it.  All aspects of the beer - taste, aroma, mouthful and drinkability - maintained the same character/consistency throughout each sip.

Like Red Hill’s Temptation (which I can’t really compare it to, because I’ve only tried the bottled Temptation, not a tap/keg version) Rapunzel is dangerously easy drinking for a strong ale. Not sessional though, because of the 7.7% alc/vol...but I was definitely ready for more after each glass.  Sensational stuff.  (I should probably pop down to Slowbeer and grab a Duval to try sometime soon…since it seems to be the general “benchmark” for Belgian Strong Pale Ales…yes?)

It is probably a good thing that Rapunzel is very limited. That way, I won’t become too familiar with it…as much as I wish I could. My recommendation is to drink it very slow and really savour it.

Call it inexperience, but I honestly don't know how this beer could be improved anymore...HOWEVER...I am looking forward to heading back to the Goat Bar's Get Back with Rapunzel event next Friday to try the "Oaked version" (which has spent 9 months in a French oak chardonnay barrel), as well as a Randied version.

I hear that the oaked version is really something extra special...and that will be Part 2.

Bar - The Cornish Arms, Brunswick

For non-locals, Sydney Rd Brunswick can often be an intimidating and unpredictable place, with its infamous bikie northern end and a fairly tired and rundown exterior exposed along the street. (Admittedly, I haven’t spent much time in this a more local experience of the area may improve my feelings for it.)

However, the strip is full of excellent pubs and bars that know how to offer something slightly different, as well as a providing a novel aesthetic for music and pub loving randoms like myself.

Whilst shopping along Sydney Rd recently, utilising the wealth of discount and op shops to find some costumes and accessories for an upcoming "80s" themed birthday party, we headed into The Cornish Arms for lunch.

Despite being 2pm on a very warm Saturday, the place was pretty much empty. Thankfully, the bar staff were active and available.  On entering you are immediately met by a beautiful large L-shaped bar, which is very accessibly and maximises service.  Bar stools, seats, tables, couches are plentiful and with large open front doors the Cornish Arms is a very welcoming place for anyone looking to relax and enjoy some quality pub time.

Inside it is very clean and well maintained. The colour scheme is a classic puby red, black and brown, perfectly suiting the desired "funky-grungy" Sydney Rd persona. The same goes for the suitably dim lighting. Next to the bar there is a pocket stage area that can accommodate DJs and small live acts, but was set up with tables and chairs for dining at the time.

The stereo music in the front bar was at a good level and a plasma tv over the entry provides some random soundless tv watching for anyone interested.

Personally, I thought the tap beer selection was outstanding (for a regular "non-beer" pub). During my visit, 10 bar taps were available, surely catering for all crowds, which included:
  • Little Creatures Pale Ale
  • Fat Yak
  • Broo Lager (first time I had seen this anywhere)
  • Coopers Green
  • Asahi
  • Cascade Green
  • Pure Blonde
  • Cascade Light
  • Melbourne Bitter
  • and a Bulmers Cider tap
And then, best of all, the Beer of the Week option (this week it was the Matilda Bay Bohemian Pilsner) is sensational!  Providing $3 pots or $6 pints for the Bohemian is super excellent value.  You will rarely find any quality pub offering $6 pints these days, especially for a "boutique" beer.

The full drinks menu is clearly presented on chalkboards above the bar, along with the wine and generous pizza/burgers/snacks bar menu and the weekly specials and what's on.

After a drink in the front section ($4 pot of the Little Creatures Pale Ale), we headed out the back to the courtyard beer garden for lunch and to enjoy the sunshine.  The beer garden is small but very well constructed and spaced, continuing the design theme from inside. It presents a classic beer garden atmosphere. The music was fairly loud, as we sat at an empty table close by one of the speakers, which did often detract from our lunch conversation.

Selecting from the full menu, the food was generous and very enjoyable, a quality pub meal.  My open steak sandwich on grilled turkish bread was cooked very nicely and came with some superb fat chips, definitely agreeable with a pint of Bohemian Pilsner.

The Cornish Arms provides the full selection of stuff that I like to find in a pub – good food and drink, decent prices, friendly service, plentiful supply of seat/couch space, pool table and a good supply of street-press and papers for casual reading.  Also, it provides a unique style without being too shiny or posh.  I could have stayed all afternoon and into the night...but had things to do.

On their website the Cornish Arms crew says "...when we decided to renovate the tired but spectacular Sydney road icon we really wanted to put a handsome, edgy Brunswick stamp on it. We wanted to lighten it up - without taking away the ambiance of a dimly lit corner. We wanted to focus our attention on the bar - the heart of any hotel - and ensure that we created a space that would become a Brunswick local for years to come."

Congratulations Cornish Arms, I believe you have done exactly that!


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Beer - Grand Ridge Brewery Black & Tan

Grand Ridge Brewing has a reputation in Victoria for being the premier microbrewery of the State, largly due to their highly awarded beers and long running operations, which began in 1989. Regarded as one of the originals in the now flourishing local craft beer industry, many of Australia's top brewers been given a start or "done their time" in the Grand Ridge Brewery. All credit is definitely deserved.

However, the Grand Ridge beers have never really hit me as brilliant, super tasty or complex (other than the delicously beautiful heavy Moonshine Scotch Ale, which I love). Hence, they are not on my regular drinking shopping list. Although, I must say that I have only ever drunk the bottled products from Grand I do really need to educate myself further by popping along to a pub (or the Brewery itself) to try them on tap.

With most of the Grand Ridge range readily available through many liquour stores these days, my desire to try the Black & Tan became strong as this particular beer continued to elude me for months. I could not find it in stock anywhere! However, on a recent trip through Daylesford to visit friends, I popped into a very happy hunting ground for craft beers - Foxxy's Liquor (Cellarbrations) on Vincent St - and there I finally found a bottle of the Black & Tan (...and also stocked up on some Red Duck – taking advantage of the awesome deal of 20% off for any 6 of Grand Ridge, Red Duck and Holgate beers! Awesome.)

The Grand Ridge Black & Tan is the first combination beer that I am aware of trialling since starting my beer journey. It combines the Grand Ridge Gippsland Gold Pale Ale and the Hat Lifter Stout, both evidently quality beers from the first sip, but not exactly beers that have impressed or delighted me.

The Gippsland Gold tends to be an "occasion & situation" beer for me. Despite all its praise and awards, I often find it hit and miss, needing the right time/place/situation to really enjoy it. The Hat Lifter stout is a good stout, but not quite as good as many of the other excellent local stouts.

Pouring a dark but lightly transparent brown colour into a pot glass, the Black & Tan provided minimal head and it only retained the thinnest layer.

The smell was of a classic fruity dark ale, with a touch of the pale ale coming through as I inhaled more deeply the second time. It was actually very pleasant on the nose, I really enjoyed the aroma.

The deep roasted barley and malt of the stout were the dominating flavours to me, with slight hints of coffee and chocolate discovered the more I drank. The taste was somewhat strange at first, probably because it was my first encounter with a combination ale. However, it kept me drinking.

Fairly low in carbonation, the beer was very light in the mouth, which I think was just the Pale Ale side coming through. I wonder if it would benefit from a slightly higher alcohol volume, which stands at 4.90%.

The Black & Tan is certainly another quality Grand Ridge beer, but maybe not the sum of its two parts. Whilst the blend is interesting, I'm not sure about the balance and my enjoyment preference is leading towards the straight beers, in the individual Gippsland Gold and Hat Lifter.

Ultimately, the best thing about this beer is that it exists. Grand Ridge has produced something quite different to what the majority of other local microbreweries are doing on a regular basis, providing a unique taste experience. And excellent.

I'm keen to get down to Mirboo North someday not too far away to visit the Grand Ridge Brewery and hopefully try this beer on tap.

My next Grand Ridge mission is hunt down and taste the Supershine! Although, my more immediate future once again holds a date with the Mountain Goat Brewery to try their coveted Rapunzel...!