Monday, June 28, 2010

Beer - Three Boys Oyster Stout

As a big fan of the local Mussel Stout produced by the Bellarine Brewing Company, I was very keen to try out the Oyster Stout from New Zealand's Three Boys Brewery as soon as I learned of its existence a few weeks ago.

The recent online chatter surrounding this beer has been very complimentary, in particular due to the use of genuine Bluff oysters (Tiostrea chilensis) in the brew. Therefore, my expectations were quite high and hence the temptation drove me to purchase a bottle asap, which I picked up from Slowbeer on Saturday afternoon.

Pouring from the 500ml bottle into a pint stein glass, the beer was near black in colour and provided a delightful big thick tan coloured head that settles over time, with a small amount of quality lacing. Full marks for appearance.

The strong aroma provided an enticing stout presence of roasted malts and some coffee. My nose did not find any clear oyster scent. However, there was certainly something of an unknown element that my nose is not educated enough to interpret. Later I figured it to be something of a "sea" type smell, maybe a salty element.

The taste was complex and quite sharp in an enjoyable way. Full of lovely malts and roasted flavours, with a rounded edge to the stout's classic bitterness.

The more I drank of the Oyster Stout the better and richer it became, as the taste clearly grew in excellence towards the bottom of the bottle. I also started to discover a more apparent oyster character towards the end.

Despite such sharply rich and complex taste, it is actually beautifully smooth in the month, with a medium body and carbonation, making it very drinkable.

The only detractors for me were that the alcohol did not quite seem balanced enough, even though the alc/vol percentage is only 6.2 and also, I was hoping for a stronger, more warming oyster flavour.

All in all, it's an impressive stout (just not quite exceptional in my mind) that provides another quality drinking experience. However, I could have easily drunk two of three of these because as soon as I finished the 500ml bottle, I was ready for more!

Indeed, another brew to drink slowly and savour, allowing your mouth and mind to enjoy the full impact of its complexity. Most of all, I congratulate Three Boys Brewery for making an excellent beer using real & expensive oysters in the brew! That is indeed true "craft" beer, made to please (not just to make money).

In closing, I must note that I drank this Three Boys Oyster Stout after drinking a pint of the Mountain Goat Rare Breed Surefoot Stout, which I found incredibly enjoyable (will review fully soon). The Rare Breed Surefoot Stout trumped the Oyster Stout for me, primarily because of how well rounded and balanced I found it. Nonetheless, both are fantastic stouts that I would recommend to all, especially during these cold Melbourne Winter days.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bar and Beer - Holgate Brewhouse / Keatings Hotel, Woodend

Over the recent Queen's Birthday long weekend, whilst staying with our friends from Daylesford, we headed back to my sentimental favourite Victorian microbrewery, Holgate Brewhouse in Woodend, for dinner and good great beer.

In recent times I have found that many craft beer drinkers have mixed feelings about the Holgate range. But, everyone to their own, Holgate's malt driven and creative range has always worked wonders for me (...except for the White Ale, which I've never been a fan of...but that's more a style-specific thing). Maybe I am a little biased, due to my sentimental connection with Holgate Brewhouse, which comes from the fact that their pub was my first real experience with microbrewed craft beers when I was starting my craft beer journey a couple of years back. Nonetheless, I believe my local craft beer experiences have provided me with a clear enough perspective on quality beers to not allow favouritism or hype significantly impact me.

In contrast to the current craft beer market that seems to be strongly favouring hoppy beers, the Holgate brews are definitely malt-centric and therefore often posses smooth caramel flavours and biscuit textures. However, you cannot deny the excellent craftsmanship and product quality of the initiative Holgate beers. Further, I think their Double India Pale Ale - Hopinator - is often under rated by the beer market.

I love the Holgate story, the passion and brewing philosophy of the brewers and their work to support the local industry and their regional town. Despite personally being very familiar with (and a regular drinker of) their regular range of beer for some time now...I'm still always very happy to return to the Keatings Hotel pub at any possible opportunity. However, there was extra incentive on this occasion with two new beers available on tap - the UXB and Brick Kiln Road Wheat Beer - plus the promise of a Randall hooked up to one of the taps.

We arrived at 6:30pm to a bustling pub and full restaurant. Clearly, the patrons were enjoying a lazy Sunday evening of excellent food and beer. Thankfully, we had pre-booked a table for four, which was ready for us on arrival, hence we were seated immediately and straight into ordering drinks.

First up for me was a pot of the new small batch from Holgate, the UXB, in a 285ml tall pot glass. The UXB (as in "unexploded bomb") is an Extra Strong English Bitter, using Holgate's AIBA Gold Medal winning ESB with 20% extra malt and hops and a 6% abv. The result is a wonderfully malty and complex ESB, full of flavour and very easy to drink.

Pouring a dark golden-brown with a beautiful creamy caramel head, which left plenty of lacing. As the appearance suggests, the UXB gave a rich malty and caramel aroma. In the mouth the UXB is silky smooth, medium bodied and very nicely balanced. The taste provides plenty of sweetness with good citrus hops notes.

An added bonus of the UXB was its perfect match with the goat curry, with green beans and potato, that I ordered for my main. The generous and flavoursome goat curry worked extremely well as restaurant beer food.

After drinking 2 pots of the UXB, I could have easily continued and put away several more, but I was keen to also try the randied Hopinator. Recent tweets by Holgate had alerted me to the presence their Randall, so I was very happy to find it in action during my visit (...although sad to have missed out on the randied Road Trip IPA!).

The Hopinator tap was being fed through a modest little Randall infuser, filled with Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin hops, providing an extra fresh and powerful hop hit for the already hoppy 7% abv Hopinator. Delicious!

Also poured into a tall 285ml pot glass, dark amber in colour, with an excellent frothy cream-coloured head, the randied Hopinator was surprisingly soft and easy to drink and well rounded in the mouth for such a strongly hoppy brew. It was a wonderful step up from the UXB, with quality pine notes and a long bitter finish. As with the UXB, as soon as I finished the first randied Hopinator I was immediately ready to enjoy another...and therefore I was quick to order and down a second.

My other-half drank a pot of the Brick Kiln Road Wheat Beer with her dinner. The tasting notes describe this new Holgate offering as an "unfiltered winter wheat beer", it provided the classic clove and banana aroma and taste of a Hefeweizen. From the small taste I had, it was very tasty and enjoyable, quite comparable in quality to the excellent Red Hill Wheat Beer.

To finish, we enjoyed a pot each of the luscious and award winning Temptress chocolate porter, which I have raved about many times before...and it never fails to please.

Overall, it was another top night at Holgate. The meal was simply delightful, with everyone very satisfied by their food and drinks.  The service was great and the atmosphere was perfect for a relaxed Sunday evening.

After bustling with activity when we arrived that evening, the pub and restaurant were surprisingly quiet when we headed off a little before 9pm.

Of course, on our way out I picked up some takeaway beers from the bar - a 6 pack of my favourite, Big Reg, and a mixed-6 of 2x Double Trouble, 2x Hopinator and 2x ESB.

Here are a few more snaps from our evening...

We dined in the main restaurant room out the back.

The front bar of Keatings Hotel...aka the Holgate Brewhouse.

Three mouth-watering taps - Hopinator (through a Randall), UXB and the Brick Kiln Road Wheat Beer.

The humble Holgate Brewhouse Randall (not as pretty as Mountain Goat's Randy).

Holgate's most widely distributed brews - Mt Macedon Ale and Pilsner - plus the brewery-only The Mild One (3.5% abv English ale)

Hand-pump taps for the Temptress and ESB - Gold Medal winners at the 2010 AIBA Awards.

Since we have a great time on each occasion that we visit Holgate, my fiance and I have made the mental note to stay there for our first wedding anniversary next year, utilising one of the Accommodation Packages on offer, so we can experience the full joy of a longer stay.  Although, hopefully I won't be waiting that long to revisit Holgate for another round of drinks! Cheers!

Finishing off with the always irresistible Temptress chocolate porter for dessert.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Beer - BrewBoys GT Lager

Due to my recent journey through some incredibly rich and bold beers, high in alcohol volume and explosive flavours, this weekend I was in the state-of-mind to refresh my memory and palate by returning to a classic Aussie draught beer taste. Hence, I picked up a GT Lager by South Australia's BrewBoys.

BrewBoys have made this beer in honour of the Ford XW Falcon GT, with a 5.8% abv for the car's 5.8L motor and 35.1 bitterness units for the 351 cubic inches of the V8 engine. (I'm not that interested in cars and motor sports, so whilst it is a clever marketing tactic, it is not something that would really attract me to the product on face value. However, as a beer-bottle collector, it's certainly a choice acquisition for one's collection.)

Pouring the GT Lager into a glass, it provided very little head but looked wonderfully crisp and crystal clear, with a quality amber/gold colour and great consistency in appearance.

The aroma of a classic pub lager was immediately evident, reminding me of a Carlton Draught but slightly smoother (and nicer). The Carlton Draught comparison continued into the taste. However, the GT Lager is certainly crisper, cleaner, light in the mouth and easier to drink. Although, it still ends up being something of a standard lager in the end. Yes, it is well made...but it does not offer much else than a neat malt lager. Nonetheless, it has a clean finish and is fairly refreshing.

Uninspiring in taste, the GT Lager is not a special beer, but it is a good drink and certainly compares well in terms of the often difficult and inconsistent lager style coming out of local microbreweries who dare attempt it. I suspect the most appealing part of this beer is its collectibility for Ford lovers.

I'd be happy to have a session with the GT Lager, in preference to drinking any other macro lager. Ultimately, I believe this beer would deservedly perform best as a tap beer to be drunk at sporting events or in a sports bar.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Beer - Big Bold Barrel Aged Tasting @ Slowbeer

Wednesday night saw Slowbeer hold their inaugural paid beer tasting event. Due to the limited space available (it's a small shop!) and a number of rare and expensive brews available to sample, this was quite an exclusive opportunity, which I am very thankful to have been able to attend.

With a combined total value of over $210, purchasing one of each of the beers on offer out of your own pocket would be unobtainable for the majority. Hence, I thought the $25 fee was excellent value in order to discover whether forking out that $210 for the full enjoyment of these exclusive beers was worth it.

And what a way to start, with the theme of "Big Bold Barrel-aged Beers", Slowbeer went straight to the top with some amazingly powerful selections from all over the world, all of which have been aged for a period in various barrels to add an extra complexity and richness to the mix.

I had already recently purchased and tried two of the beers showcased on the night (Holgate Beelzebub's Jewels and Brewdog Tokyo*) and I have also sampled the Bridge Road Oak Aged Imperial Porter at a couple of other various tastings. Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to encounter all of these beers again.

I was primarily there to enjoy the experience, rather than review the beers. However, I was still able to make a few brief notes:

Mikkeller Weinbrand BA Red AleImperial red ale aged in German Brandy barrels (RRP $25) - I'm not a brandy drinker (whisky is more my spirit) and this Mikkeller provides a serious brandy hit on both the nose and in the mouth. The taste of such a powerful Red Ale is new to me, so I found it rather unusual and a bit harsh, probably most dissatisfied by its lightness in the mouth yet super strong taste.

Southern Tier Cuvee 2 – American strong ale aged in American Oak barrels (RRP $19.50) - Pouring a lovely cloudy brown with a good head, the aroma of this ale was of sweet caramel, which followed into the taste. However, after several mouthfuls I found it became fairly rough.

Holgate Brewhouse Beelzebub's Jewels – Belgian style Quadruple aged in Macedon Pinot Noir barrels (RRP $53) - Already having drunk a bottle of this Holgate delight a month or so ago, I was keen to be reminded of its beautiful smooth taste...but also eager to see how well it stood up against the other beers sampled tonight. And I believe it certainly held its own very well against all the others we tried. Delicious, beautifully balanced, an excellently crafted beer! (Also good to see that the professionals also struggled to break through the hand-waxed lid, as we did when drinking Beelzebub's Jewels at home!)

Murray's Brewing Murray's Anniversary Ale 4 – English style barley wine aged in Hunter Valley Shiraz barrels (RRP $40) - Have heard many good things about the Anniversary Ale #4 and with its very limited availability, I was very happy to be able to finally try it out. Pouring from the champagne bottle, this beer gave a super huge frothy head, almost like a glass of champagne! Fruity, luscious hops, yet wonderfully smooth and soft, this beer is much easier to drink than other barleywines, I think due to its slightly lower alcohol of only 10%. The hint of Shiraz is a nice touch too, but I was left wanting a bit more in the overall taste and mouthful. I also found it a little too highly carbonated, so I didn't absolutely love it, but certainly enjoyed it.

Bridge Road Brewing 4th Anniversary Oak Aged Imperial Porter – Imperial Porter aged in Giaconda Wine barrels (RRP $30)- Another finely crafted ale from Bridge Road, with plenty of vanilla, coffee, roasted malts and chocolate favour, but it seemed to leave a bit of a sour finish. Smooth and unique, but probably my least favourite of the excellent Bridge Road Chevalier range.

Brewdog Paradox Springbank – Imperial stout aged in Springbank whisky barrels (RRP $11.50) - Definitely bold in character, providing a fairly clear and enjoyable whisky taste with some smokey notes, I wasn't overly taken by this beer but I found that it improved the more I drank of it.

Brewdog Tokyo* – 18% Imperial stout aged in french oak barrels and brewed with jasmine and cranberry (RRP $15) - Another one that was a second-taste for me, after drinking a 330ml bottle of the Tokyo* last weekend, which really knocked me out! I find the Tokyo* to be is a little too harsh for my palate, without redeeming itself enough in taste. Whilst I do very much respect how well the Brewdog guys have done to produce a very drinkable beer at 18% abv, it is just too much for me. Nonetheless, I'd be happy to drink it again.

Nøgne Ø God Jul Islay Edition – American strong ale aged in Islay whisky barrels (RRP $22) - Easily my favourite beer of the night (out of the beers I had never tried before). I loved the strong smokey flavour of the Islay whisky. Rich in aroma and taste, it is a surprisingly drinkable beer despite the dominating islay. Plenty of "wow" factor in this beer making it a truly unique drinking experience to savour. I bought a bottle of this to enjoy at freezing winter night.

As per my usual rude addiction, I snapped a couple of photos with my old digital camera...for a further insight...

Slowbeer's Chris leads the tasting, spruiking Holgate's Beelzebub’s Jewels

Happy beer lovers experiencing some very big and bold beers @ Slowbeer.

Murray’s Anniversary Ale 4, from one of Chris' favourite Aussie brewers.

Up close with Murray's Anniversary Ale 4 and its brilliant large frothy head.

The unique and smooth Bridge Road Anniversary Oak Aged Imperial Porter.

All done...leaving some very impressive empty bottles.

Oh...and I went home extra happy after purchasing some delights to savour at a later date...

Looking forward to the next one (...possibly in August, keep an eye on!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Beers, Bars, Band - Weekend Catchup

After laying low for a while, it was back to enjoying plenty of Melbourne's best BBBs on the weekend. Therefore, here is a not-so-brief (but-I-tried-my-best) recap...

The weekend began with the Big Scary gig at the Northcote Social Club on Friday night. Supports Bean and Cameras provided a decent warm up, but were clearly outshone by the talent and genuine rock-out ability of Big Scary, who seemed to have so much fun on stage! Tom (guitar/keys/percussion) and Jo (drums/guitar) smiled and laughed throughout their powerful and diverse set, which launched their Autumn EP.

Setlist highlights included "Lullabies, Lies and Goodbyes", "Polly" and "Tuesday is Rent Day". With all three acts was a quality gig for only $10! Bargain.

I recommend Big Scary to any music lover, particularly for their excellent live performance. At the end of the gig I bought their At The Mercy Of The Elements EP and have worn out the CD with repeat listens over the weekend.

On a beer note...during the gig I enjoyed a couple of Mountain Goat Hightail Ale (the Northcote Social Club has been a long time supporter and stockist of the bottled Mountain Goat range)...but I was particularly pleased to see the local 3 Ravens Blond now available in bottles at the NSC bar as well. Not only that, but plenty of the 3 Ravens was being drunk, as I noticed a bunch of empty bottles of the Blond sitting on the bar as everyone shuffled out of the bandroom after the gig. Rock on, NSC!

Saturday morning I was out the airport way to send off the fiancé for the weekend, when I noticed a new Dan Murphys at Essendon Airport (next to the DFO/Homemaker Centre). I popped in for curiosity's sake and found it to be identical to the now standard format/layout/stock of a Dan Murphys store...of course...but at least they were fully stocked. I picked up 2 bottles of the new James Squire seasonal, the Malt Runner (Winter Ale). (Also spied boxes of the 2010 Cascade First Harvest, but no bottles on the shelf.)

Saturday afternoon involved a visit to the beer haven that is The Local Taphouse, St Kilda, where I thoroughly enjoyed the following beers on tap:
  • Bridge Road Bling India Pale Ale (first time I've had the Bling on tap)
  • Feral Brewing iWit 2.0 (7.5% abv Belgian Imperial Wit, a "beefed up" version of the Feral White)
  • Hargreaves Hill ESB (as good as always...and this batch seemed to have an added smokiness to it)
  • Feral Brewing Raging Flem (an excellent Belgian IPA produced especially for last month’s Local Taphouse Ale Stars)
Packs a punch...Feral iWit 2.0

The incredibly smooth Feral Raging Flem.

The time passed too quickly as I enjoyed each beer whilst poring over over streetpress, the newspaper, twitter and the latest issue of Beer&Brewer magazine (great articles on barrel-aged beers and Stone&Wood's stone brewing).

(It's just a shame that some of the bar staff had to have a bit of a blow-up over their working conditions/treatment, which was far too loud and public. For professionalism sake, that is something that should happen away from your customers, because it can really impact on the mood of the venue. I felt embarrassed to be standing at the bar waiting to be served whilst it was occurring.)

I also ate for the first time at the Local Taphouse (just from the bar menu though). I ordered the steak sandwich, which arrived quicker than I was anticipating. Whilst the steak sandwich didn't look overly impressive on arrival, it certainly tasted terrific! The steak was beautifully cooked, with a lovely smoky flavour and lots of spice. Perfect beer food that was truly complimented by the Feral Brewing Raging Flem.

On the way home, later Saturday night, I stopped in at the Skinny Dog Hotel to catch some live footy on tv and drank a Colonial Brewing Porter for "dessert". On first taste it was a fairly good porter, rich and initially drinkable, but didn't quite stand up through the whole glass, becoming too wheaty (or maybe I had just had too much already).

Colonial Porter.

On Sunday afternoon I was in the city so I popped into Young&Jackson to try the new Mirboo Madness from Grand Ridge Brewery, a 6% abv American Red Ale. I'm not really a fan of the Young&Jackson as a venue/pub, but they do have some excellent local brewery showcases. The Mirboo Madness is beautifully red, aggressive in character and really very hoppy. It's a little too light in the mouth and bitter on the finished, but a good beer. (Y&J claim exclusivity over this beer, but it is/has been also available on tap at several other Melbourne bars, such as Mrs Parmas.)

I also stopped in at Beer DeLuxe for a schooner of the Moo Brew Imperial Stout, which was simply superb! Beautifully smooth and full of delightfully balanced soft flavours giving you everything you want in an Imperial Stout, rounded off by seriously good chocolate notes. Yum! I wish I could have drunk three more...

Delectable...the Moo Brew Imperial Stout.

Continuing the Imperial Stout theme, I ended the weekend on a huge note with a couple of super delicious stouts that I had purchased at Slowbeer:
  • Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout ( stout I have ever tasted, so robust, rich and smooth…a wonderful drinking experience!)
  • BrewDog Tokyo* (another incredible drinking experience full of flavour, the 18% abv is quite harsh on the palate though!)

This week I'll be attending the inaugural (and sold out) Slowbeer Tasting night, for the "Big, Bold Barrel-Aged Tasting", which will feature:
  • Mikkeller Weinbrand BA Red Ale (Imperial red ale aged in German Brandy barrels)
  • Southern Tier Cuvee 2 (American strong ale aged in American Oak barrels)
  • Holgate Beelzebub’s Jewels (Belgian style Quadruple aged in Macedon Pinot Noir barrels)
  • Murray’s Anniversary Ale 4 (English style barley wine aged in Hunter Valley Shiraz barrels)
  • Bridge Rd Anniversary Oak Aged Imperial Porter – (Imperial Porter aged in Giaconda Wine barrels)
  • Brewdog Paradox Springbank (Imperial Stout aged in Springbank whisky barrels)
  • Nogne O God Jul Islay Edition (American Strong Ale aged in Islay whisky barrels)