Friday, April 30, 2010

Bar - The Royston Hotel, Richmond

In a recent Weekend Catchup blog, I mentioned that the only thing missing at The Royston Hotel was a decent stash of music street-press. Apologies! I was wrong, as I discovered when returning to The Royston last weekend, where I did actually find a neat stack of Beat magazines near the pool room (which I had missed last time). Therefore, the Royston Hotel truly is an exceptional my eyes.

Tucked away in Richmond, along River St (and just across the road from the Mountain Goat Brewery), The Royston was my ANZAC Day destination on Sunday 25th April. As an Essendon Bombers supporter, I like to find somewhere atmospheric to watch the big Essendon vs Collingwood footy game each ANZAC Day. I often go to the actual game at the MCG, but this year the weather forecast was predicting a cold and wet day, so I opted for the dry and cosy option. In addition, I was anticipating a very unfavourable result for my team (...and, sadly, I wasn't wrong).

Arriving at 2pm, just as The Royston opened on this Public Holiday, my other-half and I found ourselves a table in the front bar, which had an ideal view of the projected big-screen that would be showing the ANZAC Day clash. The crowd grew slowly, but remained small, casual and relaxed. The generally 20&30somethings crowd filled various pockets around the bar and mingled well.  (Maybe the "slightly hidden" location of this pub keeps it generally quiet and low-key...but that is certainly a desirable outcome for me...a "generally quiet customer".)

I was pleasantly struck by the excellent nature of those present, notably as the Last Post and National Anthem played on the TV screens during the pre-match ANZAC Day remembrance ceremony. Everyone in the pub was still and quiet. It was a beautiful moment, thanks to a respectful and mature crowd!

The massive horse-shoe bar dominates the centre of the Royston front bar area, surrounded by a number of small tables down the side, several long high benches up front, and an array of comfy couches down back. The dim lighting is perfectly suited to the rugged and characterful interior.

With nine quality microbrewery taps (and one Carlton Draught tap for the non-adventurous), including an old-fashioned Hand Pump tap, it can be hard to know where to start with such a choice. However, the sight of the fresh Bridge Road Brewers The Harvest on tap was a welcome first drink, kicking off the afternoon with hops and character. Two pints of The Harvest disappeared into me rather quickly, thanks to the very drinkable nature of this beer, but also due to the disappointing play by Essendon.

Half way through the telecast of the game, I needed to move onto something a little heavier (and even hoppier!), so next was a pint of the excellent Jamieson 'Beast' IPA, a beer I’ve never had on tap before. And it was delightful.

The result in the football game was a terrible one for me, with the Bombers thumped by Collingwood throughout the entire game. Nonetheless, I had a excellent day at The Royston, simply because the atmosphere was so positive and relaxed and the beer was perfect. We finished the day of with a drunken fun game of pool over a final pot of the Holgate Brewhouse Temptress chocolate porter for "dessert". It has been far too long since I've had Holgate's incredible Temptress on tap. This classic robust porter, is full of luscious chocolate, coffee, and caramel flavors...both in aroma and taste.

I have had a couple of meals in the front bar, but am yet to experience a meal in the Royston's Dining Room restaurant, so that is something for me to look forward to there.

The Royston Hotel is an absolute gem in the Victorian beer scene. Classic setting, casual atmosphere, great staff, fantastic beer, quality pub menu, good prices…I love everything about The Royston. Please allow some pictures to do the rest of the talking...

Welcome to The Royston Hotel...the beer lovers Gastropub.

Love a pub that looks and feels like a real pub.

The Royston's classy and cosy Pool room.

A pint and a pot of the Bridge Road Harvest to start.

This is what I like to see adorning beer taps.

The Royston's bottled beer selection...nothing short of excellent.

The superbly delicious and rich Holgate Temptress.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Beers and Bars - Weekend Catchup

Last weekend was a fairly quiet one for me, in terms of enjoying and exploring Melbourne's beers, bars and bands.

On Friday evening there was a brief visit to The Skinny Dog Hotel in Kew, which is technically my "local". After being closed since the start of January for a major refurbishment, followed by many weeks of delays with the reopening, I was keen to discover what had caused such an extended closure.

I have spent many nights in The Skinny Dog, primarily to catch on tv the Essendon AFL footy games that are only shown on Foxtel. Also, it was the end-of-week-drinks pub for my former workplace. The Skinny Dog has always been decent and relaxed pub, previously famous for their massive chicken parmas. The crowd there was always very random and the place had started to become a little tired, but was always the best pub in Kew, by far.

The pub has had a fairly significant interior design makeover and it is clear they are now looking to join the fashionable gastro-pub market. Gone are the pool tables, arcade-game machines and sports memorabilia on the walls in favour for more dining space, minimalist "decoration" and a cleaner and more open front-bar with tall tables. The carpet in the front bar has also been removed, with polished floor-boards certainly improving the look, but will this increase the noise levels? The place looks shiny and fresh, but definitely feels more uptight and less relaxed. I hope that's just a "newness" thing, because I'm never too comfortable in fine-dining "pubs" or surrounded by overly-serious business-suit types when just after a drink at the bar.

The "new" Skinny Dog Hotel front bar.

Pool table and arcade games - out, plenty of mingle space - in.

The number of beer taps and the range of beers has definitely improved. However, the overall prices have increased somewhat (again), making it an expensive place to drink now. Previously the taps were all macro breweries. Now, in addition to a number of Lion Nathan macro draught taps, there is a selection of semi-microbrewery beers, including James Squire (which is still Lion Nathan) and White Rabbit, plus three Colonial Brewing Co taps – Pale Ale, Kölsch and Witbier.

The Colonial name was brand new to me. I knew nothing of this beer and, unfortunately, the bar staff also knew nothing about the origins or styles of the Colonial beers. When, when I was back at home, I did my own online research to learn that this Western Australian brewery is owned by the same parent company that now owns the Skinny Dog Hotel (Colonial Leisure Group). I had a pot of the Pale Ale, which I enjoyed, definitely a quality pale ale...but at $6 pot, I think I shall pass on the Colonial beers in future.

A pot of the Colonial Pale Ale

Anyway, I'm still happy to call the Skinny Dog my local (it's just too conveniently located not to be!) and I will be keen to try out their new menu sometime soon. However, if I'm looking for beer and footy...I think I'll be heading down to Richmond, Abbotsford or over to the city.

Sunday afternoon, after catching a movie at Victoria Gardens, we popped into the glorious Royston Hotel in Richmond to catch some of St Kilda vs Fremantle game on Foxtel. However, the tvs were showing the other/wrong game, so we did not stay long. Nonetheless, I had time to enjoy a quick pot the Hargraves Hill ESB, whilst staring joyfully at their superb beer menu...

(click the image for a closer look)

The Hargraves Hill ESB was the only on-tap beer that I hadn't tried before, therefore it was an easy choice. And I have no problem seeing a single macro beer choice on the list (Carlton Draught), because craft beer isn't always for everyone. All credit to The Royston for fully supporting the true microbreweries, yet being smart enough to cater for the traditional Melbourne crowd and the non-risk takers.

If I may take a paragraph to rant about one of my pet peeves (price)...this is what I don't get...The Royston charge less than $9 for a pint of high-quality, local microbrews...but over at the Skinny Dog, $9 is the price for a pint of the base macro beers and then they charge $10 for their own "in-house product" (well, it produced by the same parent company as the Hotel owner). It may seem a matter of cents to some, but it makes a very big difference to me that such the widely available and average products, produced by massive and rich companies, could cost more than a independent boutique product. Does this not concern the majority?

Anyway, The Royston Hotel is a beautiful beer pub that ticks pretty much all the boxes for me - very relaxed, excellent staff, delicious food, perfect beer choices, very fair prices, pool table, never too crowded... it's just missing a music streetpress stash. I love it.

On Sunday night I treated myself to a bottle of the Matilda Bay Sebastian Reserve. Pouring extremely dark with a thick beige head (but almost no rention or lacing), this dunkelweizen gave a rich coffee and malt aroma. It was very light in the mouth and provided a full malt taste, with cocoa and some lemony fruit. A little sour at times maybe and not overly complex, but an enjoyable drinking experience.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Beer - Bridge Road Brewers Hans Klopek's Hefe Weizen

A quick beer blog to celebrate the birthday of Bridge Road Brewer's Ben Kraus with a CHEERS!

As mentioned in my last Weekend Catchup, I picked up a Bridge Road Hans Klopek's Hefe Weizen from Purvis Cellars on Friday night (and drank it on Saturday night).

I believe this beer was formerly labelled as the "Bavarian Wheat Ale", which I struggled to like...not because it was a bad beer...but I found the wheat flavour a little too sharp and there was possibly too much vanilla (instead of sweetness from banana) in the brew. I will note, however, that the Hefeweizen is not my preferred style of beer (I'm not big on “white” beers in general). I find them to be very hit and miss, sometimes far too wheaty, but I still have much to learn about the style.

Poured from a 330ml bottle into a tall pot glass, the Hans Klopek's Hefe Weizen presented a very nice cloudy golden colour. Despite a very small head on the beer, it simply looked tasty.

The aroma was of wheat and cloves, with banana sweetness...a classic Hefeweizen fragrance.

Light and flavoursome in the mouth, medium-to-low carbonation and a nice trace of something a little spicy. Easy drinking, this is a thirst quenching beer, but probably not sessional for me.

The excellent banana characteristics certainly lend this beer to the potential of a "breakfast beer". Will have to try that out sometime, maybe with pancakes? The Bridge Road website suggests maybe matching this beer with giant pretzels, which I can definitely see as working well.

I'm still not sold, personally, on the Hefeweizen style, but I can tell that this is indeed a good beer. And the more I try (including the quality ones I've had from Red Hill, Moo Brew, Mountain Goat and Burleigh Brewing) the more I am finding that there is definitely a place in a day (or on a menu) for this beer.

Learn more at:

Monday, April 12, 2010

Beer and Bars - Weekend Catchup

I am quickly learning that being a craft beer enthusiast (especially being relatively new to the scene and therefore having so much to explore) is a very expensive adventure.  With a constant flow of new stock hitting the local beer retailer, along with a number of bars currently showcasing spectacular rare brews on tap, it is time for me to step back and reclaim my credit card for a few weeks, after a relatively indulgent month or two.

Having said that, whilst I may be drinking some cheap (hopefully not macro!) beer for a while into the foreseeable future, I certainly have plenty of blogging to do during that time, with a backlog of delicious beers that I have enjoyed and reviewed (on paper) recently.

The weekend just past began with a Friday Beer-O’clock dash to Purvis Cellars, where I punished my credit card with:
  • 2 x568ml “pint” bottles of the new Little Creatures single batch IPA - another excellent local IPA, very smooth and easy drinking, definitely sessional, but not as good as the recent Mountain Goat Rare Breed IPA.
  • Flying Horse Bar & Brewery Whale Ale and Savage Seagull - very happy to see the Flying Horse beers now in bottles and on the retail shelfs. Have heard much about this well awarded Brewery down Warrnambool way, but had so far only been able to taste their Dirty Angel, which has been a tap regular at Mrs Parmas for a while now.  Both the Whale Ale and Savage Seagull were very enjoyable.
  • Hawthorn Brewing Amber Ale - missed this at the recent Microbreweries Showcase because they were all out by the time I reached their table, so I was keen to try one out. It was good but maybe a little unbalanced. To me, the Hawthorn Amber does not quite stand up against the many other excellent local Ambers that are currently available (especially after I had enjoyed a pint of the Red Duck Amber Ale eariler in the day)
  • Bridge Road Brewers Hans Klopek's Hefe Weizen – I suspect this new Hefeweizen is replacing the Bridge Road Bavarian Wheat, which I wasn’t a fan off.  However, the Hans Klopek is certainly a nice Hefeweizen, which I think could make for a excellent “breakfast beer” and can't wait to try it on tap somewhere.
Friday night we returned to the Mountain Goat Brewery (honestly, can’t get enough of the place) for drinks with friends.  We also finally took the time to have dinner there, courtesy of the Goat Bar’s scrumptious pizzas, including the “Broc’n’Roll” and “Vege Patch”. I drank:
  • Rapunzel - regular “Blonde” version (still loving every mouthful of this small batch Belgian golden ale)
  • Randy Hightail - infused with Galaxy hops through the Randall (hoppy delicious! such a taste is a great example of why Galaxy hops are so popular among Aussie brewers at the moment.)
I must say (sorry)...I was somewhat concerned about the growing number of high-heels and short-skirts (it was a cold night!!) present at the Goat Bar.  Were they just being dragged there by their boyfriends for a quality pre-clubbing drink? I hope so! The Mounain Goat Brewery clearly welcomes all for a top evening of excellent beer and relaxed conversation in a family friendly atmosphere...however...I would prefer the “fashionable young things”, who may be looking to make a loud mess somewhere, stick to the place that everyone knows is already a “problem” (…the CDB).

Sorry about that…back to it...

Mrs Parmas is another place I that I can not get enough of, thanks to their relaxed space, super food and...most of all....their superb Victorian-microbrewery-only beer taps lineup.  It was our dinner destination on Saturday night.

Whilst waiting for our friends to join us, I enjoyed a pot of the Bridge Road Brewers Beechworth Pale Ale (always good as a “first drink of the day”).  Next it was a pint of the Red Duck Amber Ale, which I have drank from a bottle before but never on tap. My previous (bottle) experience with this beer was good, but nothing overly special. Therefore, I was delighted at how much better the tap version seemed to me! The Red Duck Amber provided lovely caramel/toffee aroma and a full and deep taste.  Great pub drinking!

Over dinner I drank a pint of Flying Horse Bar & Brewery Dirty Angel, which was perfectly matched to my Kalamata olive chicken parma.

All in all, another sensational weekend (helped along by my footy team, Essendon, actually winning a game) which finished all too quickly.  Not a bad beer was had, so I encourage all to check out and enjoy:
 Another small bundle of very enjoyable beers...all of which disappeared far too quickly.

 Rapunzel @ The 'Goat...always sexy.

 Sticking with the "healthy" option...a "Broc'n'Roll" pizza.

"Vege Patch" pizza at Mountain Goat
 Just some of the choice at Mrs Parmas.

A pot of the Beechy Pale Ale to start.

Moving onto a pot of Red Duck Amber Ale.

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    Beer - Mountain Goat Rapunzel (Part 2: Oaked version)

    The Mountain Goat team showcased their delicious strong Belgian Golden Ale, Rapunzel, on Friday 26th March, with three versions on tap at the Goat Bar, along with matching food (mussels and frites).

    The three versions available were:
    1. "Blonde" Rapunzel (regular)
    2. "Randied" Rapunzel (infused with peaches and nutmeg through a Randall)
    3. "Oakey" Rapunzel (aged in a French Oak chardonnay barrel for 9 months)

    As previous blogged, having first tried and loved the regular Rapunzel a few weeks earlier, I was excited to be back for another journey through a glass or two of this special brew...with added character. The Goat Bar was packed with a big crowd of beer lovers looking to do the same thing.

    Due to the crowd, there was a fair wait and shuffle to reach the bar, but the Mountain Goat team should be commended for their great work in handling their customers. Plenty of staff were available, all moving quickly and effectively through each order. Furthermore, the wait simply provided more opportunity to enjoy the sights and smells of the Mountain Goat taps pouring each brew.

    Poured into a 385ml stem glass, the first noticeable difference of the Oakey Rapunzel was its sightly darker golden colour, compared to the regular "Blonde". However, Oakey also seemed to be clearer, more transparent.

    The aroma was also quite different, with still a strong fruity presences, but also a fairly predominate hit of chardonnay coming through. I was a little concerned a first, as it seemed the "white wine" smell would dominated the taste (not a good thing, to me).

    Nonetheless, the taste was delicious, deep and complex. Maybe a little too sweet and, yes, at first it was too "winey"...but not for subsequent sips brought out a solid blend of vanilla, apple and an excellent level of hops. Medium body, medium carbonation but also very smooth. The enjoyable 8.5% alcohol was definitely very well balanced.

    I followed up the Oakey with a glass of the Randied...and was then well satisfied. Good beer indeed.

    Ultimately, I probably preferred the regular "Blonde" Rapunzel, due to the sweetness of the "Oakey". However, the Mountain Goat brewers have certainly succeeded in providing another interesting quality brew with a unique twist to please any interested beer drinker looking to challenge the ordinary. Am looking forward to what they come out with next!

    "Randy"...the Rapunzel, peaches and nutmeg filled Randall infuser.

    Two sexy Rapunzels, ready to drink(regular "Blonde" on left, "Oakey" on right)

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    Easter Beer Bar Bands - Weekend Catchup

    Plenty of Easter delights to quickly mention, with the long weekend allowing for much indulgence into excellent beers, bars and bands.

    Thursday I splashed out on my most expensive single beer shop ever, purchasing:
    • Holgate Brewhouse Beelzebub’s Jewels (x2!! $53/bottle)
    • Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast (delightful, but not a “breakfast” beer)
    • Lobethal Bierhaus Chocolate Oatmeal Stout (excellent stout, strong chocolate aroma but lacking chocolate taste)
    • Grand Ridge Brewery Supershine (very happy to finally see this beer back in stock, after hunting it down for so long. And it was absolutely delicious!)
    Good Friday began with my attempt to match a beer with hot cross buns for breakfast. I went with the renowned Beer Geek Breakfast Imperial Oatmeal Stout from Mikkeller of Denmark. This flavour-packed stout is wonderfully complex, with chocolate, coffee and hops all jumping out at you. It is a slow drinking beer with a long bitter finish. However, as a beer for breakfast and a match with hot cross buns, it did not work out in my mouth. Nonetheless, an enjoyable experience and next year I'll look for another hot cross bun beer match.

    Friday night we were at Yah Yah’s to see The Cheats and Valleys play a free gig. The Cheats are all that is good and fun about Melbourne live music.  Also, Yah Yah’s is an excellent bar, but their limited tap beer selection this night (just painful Carlton Draught and Hoegaarden White) was a disappointment. I survived on bottled Little Creatures Pale Ale.

    Saturday we visited the Red Hill Brewery for lunch, which was magnificent. I had the steak sandwich with a pot of Scotch Ale and it was a wonderful combination. The bread used (from Peninsula Baker Boys) was sensational. The specific aim of my visit was try the just-tapped 2010 vintage of their Hop Harvest ale (“Hoppy Birthday”, an ESB celebrating their 5th Anniversary).  The Hop Harvest was a beautiful beer, but not as hoppy as expected. I’m pretty sure last year's vintage was much hoppier.  However, I will certainly be keen to purchase a 6 pack as soon as it is bottled in two weeks time, because it could well be a very agreeable sessional beer.

    I went home with a mixed six - 2x Scotch Ale, 2x Wheat Beer, 2x Golden Ale - all of which I’m already very familiar with (thanks to their now commonplace availability in Dan Murphy’s these days), but happy to purchase direct from the Brewery to support their sensational support of the Victorian microbrewery industry.

    Sunday night we popped into the lovely Wesley Anne in Northcote, where we drank Mountain Goat Steam Ale (on tap) and saw The Holy Sea and The Broadside Push play. The Wesley Anne has a wonderful atheistic, ambiance and drinks selection. The Holy Sea are a very generous and soulful band, providing a perfect ending to Easter Sunday. Top night...great weekend.

    Thank you, Victoria.

    Rock on The Cheats!

    Enjoying a "Hoppy Birthday" Hop Harvest (ESB) ale at the Red Hill Brewery.