Thursday, June 21, 2012

Beer Bar Band's Winter Solstice

9:09am on Thursday 21st June 2012 and it's the Winter Solstice here in Melbourne. This annual occurrence has brought us another miserable cold damp dark day across the city, so we are very thankful that the days will once more stretch longer towards Spring.

To celebrate, here is a short post for the shortest day...a beer, bar and band with a rather loose connection to the Winter Solstice...

Beer - I wish I could recommend for everyone to grab a Dieu du Ciel Solstice d’Hiver bareleywine, but I have never seen it available in Australia, despite the regular availability of several other Dieu Du Ciel beers from Canada. Solstice d’Hiver is one of few quality craft beers brewed specifically for the Winter solstice, as the name indicates.

Today requires a deeply dark, full bodied, big warming beer. An Imperial Stout it will be. And there are many such fine local beers to celebrate these days. However, on this darkest day of the year, it can surely only be the Murray's Brewing Company barrel aged Heart of Darkness Imperial Stout.

Bar - Hmmm...any suggestions for Melbourne's shortest bar? How about Pony...? Ok, the Pony bar isn't as short as some bars around here, but ponies are short! Also, Pony is a very small venue and always dark. Grungy but cosy, Pony is actually very Winter Solstice. Best of all, you can head their today and celebrate the passing of the solstice all night long ('s open until 7am).

Drinks, couches and live music. Find Pony at 68 Little Collins Street Melbourne.

Band - Ok, I didn't dwell too hard on this and I'm out of here is the lyrically short, dark and seasonally appropriate Winter by Melbourne duo, Big Scary (...hear the rain):

"Look to the sky, as she opens up on me...hands in my pockets, and a smile that only...she understands..."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Beer - Two Birds Sunset Ale

I first met Jayne Lewis when she was the head brewer at Mountain Goat Brewery. Not only was it refreshing to have a female brewer leading the beer production of a local craft brewery, it was also during a time of exciting progress and innovation at Mountain Goat, which helped fuel my own excitement for Australian craft beer. Jayne's fingerprints were evident across the brewery's increasing success, through her command of process and quality control. Most of all, her influence on the barrel aging of beers gave us Oaked Aged Rapunzel...a revelation to my then still young palate.

A year ago Jayne made the bold leap of setting up her own brewing company with her good mate Dani Allen, an exciting development in Aussie beer, which I wrote all about on Australian Brews News.

Last month Jayne and Dani's Two Birds Brewing released their second beer, Sunset Ale. Possibly taking a lead from the uber successful Stone & Wood Pacific Ale, Sunset Ale can not really be defined by a classic beer style. It is an Australian interpretation of a sessionable hop forward red ale with a rewarding character and complexity.

Sunset Ale pours a beautiful copper red with a good sized bright white head. The aroma offers soft Cascade hops, round Cascade hops, full Cascade hops! Yep, lovely tropical fruitness in front of biscuit and toffee. Wonderfully consistent mouthfeel from a light but full body, the taste is vibrant and it is easy drinking. In the mouth the malt is king yet the Citra hop shines through with passionfruit and maybe hints of lime and mango. The specs read as 4.6% abv and 26 IBU.

Thankfully, Two Birds make no secret of the fact that they currently brew their beers under contract at the Southern Bay Brewery in Geelong, "commercially collaborative brewing" as Southern Bay's Head Brewer calls it. I still can not fathom how any company producing a beer can justify the need to lie about where their beer is brewed, as some beer brands have done under the contract brewing scheme. But that's an argument for another day.

Anyway....a little side-tracked there...and here. The one potential drawback of this arrangement is that the Southern Bay bottling process requires all beers they produce to go through pasteurisation (...I think...ok I'm not 100% certain but my current understanding is that it is unavoidable in the Southern Bay bottling process). Pasteurisation is heat treatment of finished beer to reduce any present microbes to a level where the product cannot spoil within its shelf-life. It is standard practice for big commercial breweries that are pumping out mass produced products that reply on consistency (and where liquid hop-extract is used instead of fresh or palletised hops). When it comes to craft brewing, pasteurisation is often a taboo word because it can kill a significant portion of the hop character. I think the Two Birds Golden Ale suffered a little from this process in bottling, because it was much better when it was fresh on draught.

Well, Jayne has definitely done her homework here to deliver a beer that still provides a quality hop character after pasteurisation. Sunset Ale is the most hop distinguishable beer brewed at Southern Bay that I've ever had. (Interestingly, within the same 6 pack we had one bottle that was somewhat different to the rest with a noticeable lacking of the hop character. Not sure how that came to be.)

The winning formula of this new beer is that the biscuity crystal malt sweetness mixed with its tropical fruit hop profile lends to fantastic diversity for time and place drinking. As a match, it will compliment many foods, scenarios and settings. Dinner or lunch, pasta or meat, autumn or spring, footy or party. Maybe, hopefully even a gig beer (...I'm really keen to try that soon as I'm at a live music venue that sells Sunset Ale). It is 6-pack-sessional yet one or two is also plenty enough.

This is exactly the type of accessible beer that I have been hoping to see more of on the local market - flavoursome and sessionable, hops and malt, red. Thank you Two Birds!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Beer - Garage Project Pernicious Weed

During our beer tasting planning for last month's Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular (GABS), one of our most anticipated beers was the Double Day of the Dead by young New Zealand craft brewery, Garage Project.

Double Day of the Dead's description in the official GABS Tasting Booklet captured our interest at first glance: an 8% Strong Black Lager with chocolate, smoke and chipolte chili.

A Strong Chili Chocolate Black Lager? Hell yes! Good crafty black lagers/schwarzbiers are both underappreciated and few and far between, so we were excited. Add to that Jenn's love of Mexican culture, in particular El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and sugar skull artwork...on paper this beer had everything we seek in good beer - an interesting beer style with character and concept.

Random Jenn at GABS with Double Day of the Dead mask & taster.

We knew little-to-nothing about Garage Project. Although the social media chatter coming from across the Tasman seemed to always be very positive. Their website filled in the blanks about this band of three...

"Why Garage Project? Garage because it started in a garage, but it's more than that. It’s also about approaching things with a garage mentality. It’s about playing around, making do and thinking outside the box. The surroundings might be basic but this is no barrier to creativity. This is bière de garage – beer from the garage.  

And why Project – because it's ongoing, it's a work in progress and we plan to keep it that way. For example, we don’t plan to come out with a fixed portfolio of beers – this is about experimenting, pushing boundaries, blurring the boundaries between styles - seeing what works. We love beer styles, but we want to take them somewhere, to reinterpret, not just reproduce them."

Brewer Pete has worked at large breweries in the UK and even Australia's Malt Shovel (Lion Nathan) brewery. With his brother Ian and their mate Jos, the creative force behind the concept, they home brewed, nano-brewed and contract brewed via Three Boys Brewery in Christchurch. Now they have built their own, very shiny microbrewery in Wellington.

As for their GABS brew - "Day of the Dead, our chilli chocolate black lager, launched on November 1 to coincide with El Día de los Muertos - Mexico’s Day of the Dead. For those who loved Day of the Dead, we've just been down to Three Boys to brew a special, high strength Double Day of the Dead. Most of the beer will be going to Australia for the Great Australian Beer Spectapular (not a typo) to be held in Melbourne in May".

Garage Project Excitement Mode engaged!

Random Jos, paddlin' at the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular.

At GABS our excitement proved justified as the beer lived up to our own hype. Chili in beer is always a big risk because it can easily dominate the palate and ruin the drinkability of the beer. Very few commercial examples are good and they tend to end up as a novelty beer. The two best examples of chili beers that we have experienced so far have been big dark ales in the Mikkeller Texas Ranger Chipotle Porter and the Moon Dog Cock-sockin’ Ball-knockin’ Chipotle Stout (a one off brew from Good Beer Week 2011). Hmm...chipotle seems to be a common theme here in chili beers that work. But would it work in a lager?

Yes, oh yes it worked. Double Day of the Dead was one of the few beers that we drank by the glass, twice, at GABS because it was such a highlight. It was a dark lager but it had an excellent, suitable body to support the subtle chili, as well as brilliant depth, complexity and length. The balance was great, with the chocolate, chili and smoke all working in harmony.

Anyway, I'm rambling and making this post far too long...again. The point of this post was supposed to be that...on leaving GABS I passed Jos who had his arms full with a backpack of beers. I can't exactly recall what was said (because much delicious good beer had been consumed) but I ended up with a bottle of Garage Project beer in my hands after a possibly loose promise to write about it...?

It was a 750ml bottle of Pernicious Weed, number 3 of their 24/24 series (24 news beers in 24 weeks). Other than the subtitle of "whole cone hopped", there is no style or specs printed on the label and I could not locate any official details online.

The Garage Project blog provides this much: "Organic Rakau and whole cone Nelson Sauvin go head to head in this strong, golden, hoppy brew. Bitter, yes. Intensely hoppy, absolutely. Too much, never."

With an abv around 7.5% and at 98 IBUs (confirmed by the video mentioned below), I dare to label this beer an American Double India Pale Ale.

Pernicious Weed poured a cloudy-to-clean golden-orange with a small but full white head. The deep, hop dominated aroma evokes citrus and tropical fruits, predominately passionfruit, and then some pine which continues into the taste. The bright hop profile reminded me of the new local hop Topaz yet with the distinctive fresh-cut-lawn scent on the edge that I find common from NZ hops and I love muchly. Full and fruity like grapefruit but not too much to take away its beeryness.

Hoppy all through and supported by an appropriate backbone of slight sweetness, it has the right balance and carbonation to make this big hoppy beer easy drinking. It also has a long bitter finish that is not harsh, lingers nicely and is clean enough to send you back for more.

It's the kind of beer you can stand around and think with...or engage in light banter and euphemisms...and maybe have a revelation about how to make everything better. The revelation may not make sense the new morning, but at least this beer will deliver a good time with heartwarming lush the mouth.

Oh...and yes, do drink this by the per this video of Peter & Jos with Pernicious Weed for Clemenger's Wellington in a Pint competition.

So, that's now two very excellent beer that I have had from Garage Project. I am absolutely looking forward to drinking more...although I may need to travel to New Zealand for that...

Friday, June 1, 2012

Pale in Comparison (The Session no.64)

The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community, which was started by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. On the first Friday of each month, all participating bloggers write about a predetermined topic. Each month a different blog is chosen to host The Session, choose the topic, and post a roundup of all the responses received. For more info on The Session, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin’s archive page.

This month's Session is hosted by Carla Companion of The Beer Babe. Her chosen topic: Pale in Comparison.

"Whether American (typically a bit hoppier) or English (a little more malty), these brews can be complex, interesting and tasty, and are all too often fast-forwarded through in a tasting or left as the 'eh, guess I'll have a pale ale' decision.

Your mission – if you choose to accept it – it so seek out and taste two different pale ales. Tell us what makes them special, what makes them forgettable, what makes them the same or what makes them different. Then, share it with us."

Hello June. Hello Winter. This is my second contribution to The Session. Since I love this blogging concept so much, I am happy to look past the local dark beer season and join our summery good beer lovers of the northern hemisphere in this celebration/dissertation of the Pale Ale.

Pales Ales are the balanced simplicity of good beer. Water, hops, malt, yeast...all there, all working together. They are as diverse as red wine and as surprising as a first date, even when rediscovered.

The Pale Ale is alive and well across Australasia. Our craft beer market is still young, so the Pale Ale is yet to reach the "eh, guess I’ll have a pale ale" stage, which would be a rather welcome sentiment around here.

Pale Ales are the crafty session beer. They're the beer to hand to a mass-produced-lager drinking mate with the simple instruction, "try this". At the same time, you can hand that exact beer to your beer-nerd buddy who needs to be refreshed. Your palate wrecked hop-head counterpart will appreciated the original experience of a classical easy beer that still offers something more than a golden beery liquid featuring alcohol.

So often the "gateway" to craft beer, the Pale Ale is a bland-lager drinker's introduction to the wonderful world of hops. And where does one start when developing a palate for hops? Why, Cascade of course!

There are some excellent distinctive/characterful/smashable/write-about-able pale ales pouring across Australia. Instead of picking an obscure, recent, beer-snob agreeable Pale, I decided to revisit and explore the two beers that opened up this modern style to our land down under. Now regularly available to the majority of the country, these are beers that everyone can enjoy and surely appreciate.

On a world scale they may pale in comparison, but these two beers definitely do not lack importance or significance in Australia's good beer history: Little Creatures Pale Ale and Matilda Bay Alpha Ale.

The same but very different. The Cascade hop is a common tale in Aussie brewed pales. Both of these feature Cascade predominately. Other than that, as you can see, Alpha and LCPA are very different beers.

Little Creatures Pale Ale is a cloudy-to-transparent orange-to-straw colour with a healthy white head. It washes through your mouth easily, with a plentiful but not smacky hop hit thanks to the delightful Galaxy hot, medium-to-high carbonation and a light body. It looks and drinks like beer...but gives you flavour, character. As many have said, it was the beer the popularised the American Pale Ale in Australia following its birth in the year 2000.

Little Creatures Pale Ale is what I wish the default pub beer was in Australia (...but we still have a very long way to go before the rancid Carlton Draught and XXXX Gold give up that title). It is a beer of it's the beach of Fremantle. Drink this beer, several of them, whilst enjoying fish & chips by the ocean. Rightly polled within Australia's top 3 beers for the last three years...this is a sessionable no-brainer, delight.

Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale is a malty beast for just the right amount of bitterness to recapture your interest after the first four mouthfulls. Redish-orange in colour with a creamy white head, the big aroma provides an initial hit of sweet malt followed by fruity and citrus hops. Alpha is inspired by the pales of the American northwest. Alpha is characterful with a long linger that is not overbearing.

This beer has won many Gold medals and accolades. That's because everything in this beer is in the right place. Satisfied by one or happy to down a second, this is less of a session beer and more of a slow beer and food companion. Try it with the subtle red meats, like lamb or roast pork. Wisely, bottles are only sold in 4 packs, which suits the sharing consumption of this fine brew.

Brewed by Carlton United Brewers (now SABMiller via Fosters), Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale was one of the beers to ignite by beer-nerd-ness. When I began my craft beer journey, I often read that Alpha was Australia's best craft beer. It was an elusive ale back in those day. When I was finally able to track it down (no longer a problem), I loved the richness that this beer displayed over the subtle infant Australian craft beers circa 2006-7.

New vs Old...I prefer the old style Alpha label on the right.

These beers are good. As do many pale ales, they suit almost any time or/place because they represent classic beer yet give you character and an experience. They make me smile.