Friday, November 26, 2010

Beer - Christmas Beer Cheer & Beer Bargains at Biero

I am currently in the final week of a dry month...for the sake of regaining my peak health and fitness in the lead up to my beery-ness has been non-existent for the last 3 weeks.

Nonetheless, I have been keeping a close eye on the many many goings-on around Australia's craft beer scene, which is close to overflowing (relatively...for Australia) with exciting new developments in breweries and products. Next year will be thrilling for all beer lovers!

For the more immediate future, my wife and I have been planning our Christmas Day, which will revolve around beer and food. All the food will be cooked with beer and then matched with a drinking beer. We are calling it "A Very Beery Christmas".

Over the last year my wife has really embraced cooking with beer. She even had her Belgian dubbel braised chicken recipe published recently on The Crafty Pint website (see Beer & Food: Double Trouble Chicken).

And now, using what she has learned from her beer cooking experimentation at home, she has created a 3-course Christmas Lunch that will use beer in every element, as well as starting the day with beer pancakes!

The centre piece of the day will be a bogan-rrific "beer-can-chicken", where a whole chicken is roasted with an open can of beer inside it.

Unfortunately, there are currently no Australian craft beers available in 375ml cans, so we will be capitalising on the Aussie bbq bogan-ness of a beer can chicken concept by using the iconic-but-I-will-not-drink-these-days-by-choice VB.

However, if you do know of a better canned beer choice, which is readily available in the Melbourne area, please let me know!

(I'll detail the full menu and the results in a review post after Christmas.)

My job for the day is to find and supply beers that will match each course. Currently, I'm leaning towards using the Red Hill Bohemian Pilsner, the Bridge Road Galaxy Single Hop IPA and the Red Hill Christmas Ale (for dessert).

In other awesome news that demands shouting about...Melbourne's Biero Bar has announced a brilliant Wednesday night deal of $5 Pints for all of their tap beers! HELLO!!

After successfully trialling the concept this week, the Biero team have decided to make it a permanent Wednesday night feature.

A pint of beer for $5 is a super bargain ANYWHERE. However, a pint of the high quality, small batch, craft beers that you find on tap at Biero Bar is an incredible deal!

This is brilliant news for the craft beer scene, as it makes some incredible, innovative and inspiring brews very affordable and attractive to everyone. Hopefully it will go a long way to creating many new craft beer converts, as the deal entices macro-lager drinkers to try something different.

I also hope that it will help demonstrate the separation between the unhealthy and antisocial issues of binging on commercial-driven macro lagers and bland beers from the appreciation and enjoyment of flavoursome craft beers which, in my experience, do not evoke the drunken excess and misbehaviour that had given beer drinking a bad reputation (or maybe that's to do with the quality of people drinking the beers...?).

Yes, I encourage/recommend all to drop into Biero Bar on Wednesdays for a hump day beer. I plan to take advantage of this bargain for the first time next Wednesday, on the day I break my dry patch and following the U2 concert, which is happening just down the road at Etihad Stadium. rock.

Learn more at "Five Dollar Pints at Biero" on The Crafty Pint or follow the Biero Bar Twitter.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Online Beer - I have been featured!

To start a new week, here is a quick shout-out of thanks and a recommendation to jump on board with The Crafty Pint!

Driven by beer writer and freelance journalist, James Smith, The Crafty Pint is dedicated to and supporting the Australian craft beer scene. It provides an information hub and a comprehensive ('s still a work in progress) directory of the local craft beer industry, covering breweries, beer bars and shops and more. Currently focused on Victoria, James hopes the website will eventually cover all of Australia...which will be a massive task and the site is barely 3 months old at the moment.

The Crafty Pint fills a serious gap that I had encountered on the Internet for local beer information, especially in regards to who is brewing what and where to get it. Combined with its clean, straightforward, flashless structure and very regular updates...I just love it! The website is an excellent example of how to do a modern website well, keeping it interactive without being a mess of useless animations or click-once-but-never-again bandwidth sucking features.

Seeing myself as a rather small player in the blogosphere, I was surprised but appreciative to be approached for a Crafty Pint feature on beer bloggers. (And yes, I was a big fan of The Crafty Pint well before this personal connection to it.)

So, for some of my thoughts on this blog and the local beer industry, check out:

James, aka "Crafty" regularly contributes beer articles to The AGE newspaper's Epicure lift-out (published on Tuesdays), as well as other bits and pieces throughout The AGE and Sunday AGE.

Crafty talks a punter through The Crafty Pint website during the Fed Square Microbreweries Showcase...or is he just filling time with Michael Jackson's "Thriller" dance?

And whilst I'm pimping beer websites, I fully recommend beer lovers bookmark - or add to your RSS feed - Australian Brews News:

I started contributing to Brews News last month, hence I am clearly biased in recommending it. However, I truly believe that it is a valuable resource for anyone seeking news and views about Australia's beer scene.

Established and managed by Matt Kirkegaard, Brews News is driven by a passion for beer and writing about beer, seeking to encourage robust discussion about beer, as well as remaining free of commercial influences.

Where The Crafty Pint is the directory and information hub for Australian craft beer, Brews News provides in depth features covering all aspects of beer and brewing.

All in all, both sites are excellent ways to learn more and keep up-to-date with good beer.

If you know of any other quality websites providing unique, insightful and regular information and resources about Australian beer, please let me know. I am always keen to learn more about what is happening across the beer industry in my hunt for better beer. Cheers!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Band - Sin City

Gig: Sin City, Pony bar 10th Birthday party weekend
Venue: Pony, Melbourne – 2am, free gig
Date: Sunday 31 October 2010

Sin City have been kicking around for years now, punk-pop-rocking out many small live music venues in Melbourne and across Australia. Originally from Western Australia, they relocated to Melbourne in 2004 and found their niche for a hard rockabilly punk style that Melbourne embraces.

Made up of Tash (vocals, guitar), Josh (lead guitar), Kane (bass) and Tom (drums and the band's heart & engine), Sin City are pure dirty rock fun. Loud and brash, they ooze sex and menace but are never frightening. On the contrary, they are a joyous rampage, capturing and feeding off the hearts of many gig goers who fall under their messy spell.

On this particular night, we stumbled into Pony's upstairs bandroom well after 2am to find Sin City in full swing. We had just trekked across the city in pouring rain, following a big night out at Biero Bar for their choice "Fright Night" Halloween event. It was welcome relief to find a warm and very awake Pony bandroom enjoying the punknroll music being thrust out from the tiny stage.

The set list covered Sin City's 2007 album, Hungry for Love, and EPs Sweet Lies (2005) and Sin City (2009) plus other random bits and pieces. Songs pumped out during the relentless gig included "Can You Feel It", "Dating the Undead", "Don't Eat Your Heart", "Man Alive", "Punk Pussy" and "Teenage Rampage". Every song was as energetic as the last, as they once again displayed how well they work together as a live band, thanks to years of performing similar gigs. Their playing connection is tight, feeding off each other whilst they also pull every awesome rock pose ever written...and then some, adding to the fun of a Sin City experience.

There is nothing slick about Sin City's live sound. They are pure dirty rock...and that is what I love about them. Their loud and distorted live sound is actually fairly different to their cleaner and often poppier recorded tracks. However, their rough and rowdy performance is always bursting with talent and effortless command. It is boisterous entertainment that perfectly suits their image and the rooms they play, such as Pony where they have rocked out countless times.

Lead singer, Tash, has been described as a "barbie-from-hell", which is an awesome description of this raunchy rock chick.  Unfortunately, during live sets her vocal talents are often drowned out by the drums, guitars and beer (in particular, her own beer), but this is often on a minor flaw for what the gigs are really about - a rock party.

The band has a loyal little cult following, with familiar faces present at every Sin City gig. Although, the whole crowd (small may it often be) always recieves much love from the band, especially from behind the drums where Tom leads the audience interaction with his animated appreciation for anyone enjoying their show.

As common with Sin City gigs, by the end of the set the band are drained and drunk yet always keen to keep the party going. Before you know it, the time is past 4am and the band closes the night with their 5th "just one more song". When all is done...the crowd is on a natural high and still hungry for more.

For me, this gig 2 weekends ago was another awesome night of pub rock gratification, hitting right on my love for Melbourne's pub rock scene.

I can not fault Pony as a bar and live music venue. It is what it is. Small, grungy, characterful, rough and splendid.

Thankfully, Pony has somehow survived 10 years relatively unchanged as a loud rebel amongst the ever increasing conservative nature of Melbourne's city, which has battled against drunken behaviour and noise. I suspect that there is a fair amount of coin backing Pony, but also...I have never encountered any "trouble" in Pony. The patrons are generally easy going, diverse, bohemian folk...there to enjoy this cosy Melbourne gem. Sure, the pretentious few will slip in (hence the reference in The Bedroom Philosophers' "Northcote (So Hungover)"), but those posers won't still be there at 2am.

And for the beer loving side of me, it is always good to see a range of beer choices available, including Mountain Goat Hightail Ale, Matilda Bay Fat Yak and Coopers alongside VB, Carlton Draught...unlike most similar small rock venues, which tend to offer very little draught beer choice (like down the road at Cherry bar where you will only find Stella Artois on tap).

There will be one final chance to catch Sin City play this year (according to their Facebook page), with a gig at The Brunswick Club on Saturday 20 November, supported by Kingswood Factory, The Ramshackle Army and The Tearaways. As with most Sin City gigs, it is free...and guaranteed to be a fun night of awesome dirty Melbourne rock!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Beer - Murray's Icon 2IPA

It has been very exciting to finally have local retail access to the bottled range of awesome craft beers from Murray's Craft Brewing Co in NSW.

Anyone who is passionate about Australian craft beer will be aware of the general high regard for Murray's Brewing and their ability to provide some truly unique and creative products. Their brewing philosophy is to create unconventional, full flavoured, big aroma beers. Therefore, the majority of their beers are not true to style, but rather hybrids or styles-with-a-twist.

With a very active online presence, via their website, blog and Twitter, it has actually been somewhat difficult to sit here, down in Melbourne, and follow all the delicious and enticing news and activity emanating from Murray's Brewing, whilst unable to actually drink their beers.

Other than ordering online direct from the brewer, my best chance to try the Murray's beers had usually been (generally expensively) on tap at Beer DeLuxe.

Thankfully, through a distribution deal with Slowbeer, Murray's bottle beers should now be a fairly common sight throughout Melbourne's quality bottleshops . Awesome!

Last night I drank the Icon 2IPA, an American Double India Pale Ale that is regularly praised as one of Australia's best IPAs.

Pouring from the 300ml bottle into a stem glass, the Icon 2IPA a provides clear yet deep amber appearance, with an inch or so thick frothy off-white head (common on many Murray's beers) that leaves a good amount of lacing. A significant amount of sediments was visible in the glass, which soon settles to the bottom.

The aroma is big and enjoyable, dominated by the hops, full of citrus, lemon, maybe a hit of pineapple (or just pine), and soft malt as well as some spice.

I found the taste to be fairly soft at first, but then a second later it hits you with a quite intense wave of hops, followed by passionfruit and peppery characteristics. But it's not all hops! Filling out this beer there is a smoothness and slight sweetness added by the malt. The complexity of this brew is top shelf, providing plenty to explore and pick out.

In the mouth this beer is good! Yum!

It is warming but very well balanced, with the 7.5% abv present hardly noticeable in the mouth. The depth and full body of the Icon 2IPA is also excellent. The carbonation is high, which is something I find fairly common across the Murray's Brewing range.

Finally, the finish is long and bitter, in a very well rounded way.

Yes, to me the Icon 2IPA is a fantastic beer that is not over the top. Certainly brewed for the hop heads, but still very drinkable, so I definitely encourage all beer drinkers to try it out.

For those who tried the excellent Murray's "Spartacus" Imperial IPA, the Icon 2IPA is like a mellow version of Spartacus, but deeper and without the in-your-face alcohol.

So...after having their beers on my "beer journey wish list" for so long, here is a quick recap of the Murray's brews that I have now enjoyed:
  • "Whale Ale" American Wheat Ale - in bottle and tap on various occasions - I as introduced to this at the BeermenTV Beer Breakfast and it had an instant positive impact on me for flavour and drinkability, especially at 10am in the morning!
  • "Shawn's Fault" Black IPA - on tap at Beer DeLuxe - probably my favourite Murray's beer, because it was so enjoyably unique, wrong and complex, with a deep hoppy blast counteracted by dark malts. It was both a challenge and joy to drink.
  • Murray's Anniversary Ale 4 - from bottle at Slowbeer tasting event - an English style barley wine aged in Hunter Valley Shiraz barrels that is luscious and fruity with hints of the Shiraz, very nice.
  • "Heart of Darkness" Belgian Imperial Stout - on tap at Beer DeLuxe - OH GOODNESS YES! MORE PLEASE! This amazing chocolate driven Imperial Stout has a sweet rum twist that makes for perfect drinking on a wet and cold Winter's day in Melbourne.
  • "Angry Man" American brown ale - on tap at Beer Deluxe - a delightful malty brown ale with just a hint of "angry" as different bits and pieces of flavour pop up and spike you.
  • "Spartacus" Imperial IPA - on tap at Beer DeLuxe - a really in your face, massive Imperial IPA, packed full of punchy hops, yet so very drinkable. One will knock you out, but you will want two!
  • Grand Cru Tripel - in bottle from Slowbeer - a beautifully smooth and classy triple without being too heavy.
  • "Wild Thing" Imperial Stout - in bottle from Slowbeer - just a fantastic Imperial Stout that is big and bold with an quality choc-coffee hit.
  • Pumpkin Ale - on tap at Biero Bar (last weekend for Halloween!) - it was my first ever taste of a Pumpkin Ale, so I do not have any point of comparison for it, but it was definitely a quality brew with an interesting spicy twist.
  • Murray's Sassy Belgian Blond and Nirvana Pale Ale - in bottle from Dan Murphys - I need to revisit these two beers from the regular Murray's range, because it has been too long to recall exactly what I thought of them, after randomly selecting and drinking them early on in my craft beer journey.
The only two beers from this brewer which I have not given two very big thumbs up to have been:
  • "Dark Knight" porter - on tap at Biero Bar - I found to be just a bit plain and underwhelming, lacking body and the signature Murray's depth and complexity. I guess with a name like "Dark Knight" was was anticipating a more robust ale with a fuller body.
  • "Punch & Judy's" English Bitter - (both in the bottle from Slowbeer and on tap at The Local Taphouse) - many fellow beer drinkers have been talking up this 3.9% abv beer recently. And yes, in comparison to any other local low-alcohol beer it is fantastic! However, I still found it somewhat short, lacking the flavour hit or character that I was expecting. The problem probably lies in a (possibly unfair) comparison to the amazing Mikeller Drink'in The Sun, a 3.9% abv Wheat Ale, which I also drank recently at Biero Bar. The Drink'in The Sun was a wonderful shock of taste, depth and refreshing enjoyment from a low-alcohol beer, which you would normally expect to be very short on complexity or depth, but this was a good as any full strength beer!
I must say, both these beers were far from bad! No, they were just less than I expected from the, usually rich, flavoursome and well balanced range coming out of Murray's Brewing. They are still excellent beers to drink and a considerably better choice than anything breweb by a macro brewery!

As an added treat for Melbourne craft beer fans (along with the arrival of Murray's beers onto the retails shelves), Murray's Head Brewer, Shawn Sherlock, was recently in town for The Local Taphouse Ale Stars.

Due to life logistics (i.e. time and money...and stuff) I was unable to make it on the night...but after reading about the event through the blog posts of Beer Blokes and Eat Drink Stagger...I am somewhat regretting the missed opportunity and will definitely have to try harder in future to be a part of such experiences.

As I am learning more and more lately, such insight provide through direct interaction with the brewers is not only invaluable but can take your appreciation for good beer to a whole new level.