Monday, July 16, 2012

Beer - Moon Dog Black Lung II

I love to blog when a beer, bar or band excites me. Tonight...the new Black Lung II from Moon Dog Brewing has excited me... seriously.

Wow...I love this beer! It's big, smooth and offers just the right amount of smokey bacon in front of a little tar. yes, if you know me (in person) or have followed my beer writings closely (unlikely!), you will know that I love the Moon Dog brewers and their crazy-ass beers. I do tend to write and tweet/facebook about them regularly-ish ...but that is simply because Josh, Karl and Jake continuously brew interesting shit (aka. excitingly good beer). They are also three genuine, intriguing (read: arousing) and entertaining Aussie guys the words flow easily when seeking to share their story. Yep, it's hard (hehe..."hard") not to blather all over them.

Moon Dog operate a tiny brewery in a converted workshop, which sits under the shadows of the massive Abbotsford brewery, the home of Carlton United Brewers (Fosters/SABMiller). They brew generally outragous craft beers that challenge the majority of beer drinkers and even beer nerds, offering a unique hit of crafty indulgence to Australian drinkers. Moon Dog are our own slice of BrewDog or Dogfish Head, when those breweries were in their infancy.

Moon Dog beers are fun, irreverent and unique. Often a ménage à trois style smash, the beers always present something worth checking out for the pure sake of originality and a beer experience, which is exactly what I'm after. They have produced one beer that I did not enjoy...the Magnificent Mullet Series: Billy Ray Citrus was too "sausage" for me. Nonetheless, everything else I've had from these big-assed, crazy-head homebrewers cum commercial brewers has been actually magnificent. Yes, I even fully loved Symbiotic Solipsism.

Other local drinkers (mostly beer nerds) complained about carbonation issues with the early bottle runs of Moon Dog beers last year, but that noise has dissapated significantly in past months. So maybe the brewers have made some improvements to their processes. Bottle conditioning extreme beers is a difficult science after all!

Back to Black Lung 2...

Whilst the original Black Lung was a delight, the new Black Lung II tickles my fancy WITH A BIG STICK thanks to it's ageing in whisky barrels that replaces he sweet vanilla of the former bourbon edition with the red hot camp-fire bacon of this...

Dark and deep, bold and balanced, it ticks all the boxes for late night winter drinking. Beer Daisy Steiner would say, "this... is the good shit."

Yes, I'm a non-smoking smoke-head as well as a hardcore geek for imperial stouts, so I naturally love this style. But there are many beers like this that I drink and enjoy...and there are those that excite me so much that I stay up past midnight* just to blog about it.

There is actually a nice subtle hop character peeking through from the back of this stout, but dominating is the woody whisky flavour that has been imparted by barrels from a distillery in Albany, Western Australia (Great Southern Distilling Company Distillery). The Moon Dog brewers has declared that they are "pretty happy with how it came together" and that they will be a fair few bottles hitting the local market.

So, beer nerds, head to your good beer retailer and snap this shit up! Maybe even tuck a few away in your "beer cellar" to see how it developed over time. Also, drink more Islay whiskey. cheers.

*I usually go to bed about 9:30pm to start the next day at 5:00am with a fitness workout session.

**Also... fuck this blogger for calling Black Lung a Porter and daring to compare it to Yeastie Boys xeRRex. So so sooooooo far apart Mr/Ms Ber Tracker 1.0!

***Whilst I'm being random with my asterix, check out the brilliant/amusing Tumblr feed for the tag Moon Dog

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bar - The Scratch, Milton (Brisbane)

Brisbane is my second home. Whilst my physical time on the ground there may have been limited to merely weeks of my 32 years, Queensland’s capital gave me my wife. Hence, my connection is strong and Brisbane is my most travelled destination outside of Victoria.

As craft beer breweries and venues bubbled away nicely in my home town of Melbourne, ensuring something new was always in reach for good beer lovers over the last 6 years, Brisbane was stuck in one spot for some time. That boring spot was surrounded in bland yellow fizz. Two years ago, a trip to Queensland required a dampening of one's expectation to satisfy your palate for good beer whilst in the state.

Since 2010 a few pockets of Brisbane attempted to offer a slice of the new craft beer market to the laid back population, but their offering was essentially "gateway" craft beers, those beers that really just put a name to a style and are not that far removed from the mass produced lagers that Queensland lives on.

We often left Brisbane with a serious itch for a big hit of flavoursome and characterful beer (on tap), something that wasn't just a mass-produced "craft" beer that you now find everywhere across the country. We itched for something that provided a genuine slice of character and diversity to compliment the eccentrics of craft brewing.

That itch can now be scratched, and in a very big way, thanks to a very small thing known as The Scratch...a self-proclaimed Dive Bar.

The Scratch wasted no time introducing Brisbane to beer nerd exploits. Against all common market sense, they did not take the approach of weaning the locals off their mass produced bland lager, which is brewed metres from the Scratch taps. Nor did they set up in the hip, bohemian or young-cultural districts like The Valley or West End. No, Scratch appeared in "working class" Milton, a stone’s throw from the Castlemain Perkins Brewery, home of XXXX beer, with a line up of draught and bottled beer that many would declare to be acquired tastes. Big, bold, beautiful beers from emerging local brewers and rock-star craft brewers from the other side of the world.

How the hell do they get away with it? I can only come to the conclusion that if you underpin a concept with personal passion and give the punters no other choice than to try what you have on offer, you will convert enough people to begin a following that will sustain a small business with walk-up clientele.

The Scratch co-owners - Ben Nichols, Kieran Ryan and Patrick Shevlin - all love beer and exploring the full spectrum of beer. "The idea for the Scratch was born out of the enjoyment of witnessing a growing interest in Brisbane for craft beer, but also a frustration in not yet having the right place to enjoy said craft beer. A small bar like ours offer an intimate and comfortable environment where one can sit, enjoy a hand crafted ale and discuss privately, or across the bar", Kieran told smallbarfly.

The success of Scratch to mostly bypass the "introductory" craft beers speaks to me of the power of good craft beer. The majority of craft beer lovers I know were converted not by a slow and gradual build from bland lager through soft pale ales to slightly dark beers onwards to extreme beers. No, many tell me that they had a revelation beer, a special moment from experience an impressively different beer that lead them to go back and discover everything else in the middle.

It was the same for me. old mate hands former macro-lager-drinking me a 8% abv, lush and fruity dark Belgian ale and I'm hooked by the revelation of the complexity possible in beer. It was my first flavoursome hit of rich malt and yeast characters. From there my beer journey began, as I went backwards through everything from the entry level beers to beyond. So why not lead Queensland drinkers down the same path? It can work...just see Scratch!

At first glance, the ethos of Scratch has been influenced by hipster and grunge. It is basic but beautiful, offering character to match that of the beers they pour. Antique style and mismatched furniture, dark colours and plenty of timber. A floor tom drum as a side table brought true delight to my heart.

There is thought behind the design, savvy placement of elements to appeal to those looking for cool but not pretentious.

Scratch is cosy, friendly, relaxed. It's the perfect environment for drinking good good beer.

At the moment there are 5 taps, one of those taps is a beer engine handpump. This means the beers are regularly, almost daily, rotated. The diversity offered by Scratch's tap rotations is actually a point of envy for many, as there are currently very few places in Australia that offer a whole new line-up of draught beer so regularly, that you can drink at one place and experience new beers several times a week. Those exciting local emerging breweries, such Four Hearts and Bacchus Brewing, are regular features on the beer taps alongside many of the top, often rare, new beers from Victoria's best craft breweries, as well as the international excellence of Mikkeller, Nøgne Ø, Haand and Yeastie Boys.

I love Scratch's use of a live chalkboard menu image displaying their current tap list. Helpfully, they share the updated pic on their website and across social media every time their beer taps change.

Conveniently located on a small vibrant main strip of Milton, a very short walk from the train station and an easy walk into the city (2.5km max) thanks to the riverside Bicentennial bike/walkway.

Yes, get to this bar and scratch your palate's itch for something different! If it’s not for you, then that's ok...Scratch is too small to be for the moment.

Thank you Scratch for bringing your little piece of good beer love to Brisbane. I can’t wait to return for another session.

There's no doubt that the success of Scratch has been in-part responsible for the recent mini boom of craft beer loving small bars around Brisbane. Brisbane's beer market is now diverse and interesting enough to support a week long festival of beer, with the inaugural Queensland Beer Week ready to lift off next week (July 16 - 22, 2012)!

The Scratch is hosting a bunch of excellent beery events for QLD Beer Week. We'll be there for a couple - International Brewers Day with Australian Brews News - The Boring Beer Festival and hopefully 2Birds vs Cavalier.

We're excited to be returning to this humble gem of a bar. Hope to see you there!

Find The Scratch at: 
(07) 3107 9910
Hours: Mon - Sun, 12:00pm - 12:00am

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Year in Beer? It's not a challenge anymore, guys.

Today's Fairfax print and online media has published a story of two Aussie guys, Scott Ellis and Shane Maguire (from Sydney), who are on a mission to drink a unique beer every day for a full year (366 days in this leap year): A new beer a day? You bet


Maybe a decade ago this was something of a challenge, but with today's flourishing craft beer industry and limit defying beer brand market, it's a simple mundane task. All you need to do is walk into your local Dan Murphy's, or one of the growing number of specialty beer shops around the country, and it's game over.

Is this an indication of how very far behind Sydney and New South Wales are in the good beer market? In the last six months I have visited Canberra and Brisbane, where I have found readily accessible retail ranges of beers with plentiful supplies far exceeding 366 unique brews to consume. So Sydney must be positively struggling!

This year-in-beer concept is nothing new too. A quick Google search will lead you to an internet littered with blogs of people from across the globe attempting the same thing (and completing it easily).

To bore things further, since 15 December 2010 when I began logging my beer drinking history via the app Untappd I have consumed 818 unique beers (without "cheating" to record any back-history). During May this year alone I drank 170 new and unique beers (thanks GABS!), last month is was 98. OK, so I'm a beer nerd and clearly some level of alcoholic thanks to these stats. Essentially, I just love exploring all forms of beer, across all styles, specification and maker. I much prefer to drink a different beer every day to discover how it adds to the experience of our surrounds rather than some seemingly misguided blokey attempt at being "awesome"...?

Australia has a very rich brewing history. Indeed, a fascinating topic to explore. Much of it has fallen victim to big business, so I would rather read about the small brewing businesses that make it work. I encourage beer drinkers to try beers that embrace the art and science of brewing. There are great stories behind many beers, which is the part worth printing.

Maybe the only thing worthwhile from this Ellis/Maguire mission is the retrospective that it gives the drinker at the end - hopefully an appreciation for beer quality and diversity, as well as realising that all those mass produced brand-centric bland lagers that dominate our pub taps are really quite samey. Beer is much more enjoyable when the brewer's hands have crafted something unique to offer the drinker and there is something to learn from the result.

Don't get me an aspiring beer writer I am completely jealous of Scott Ellis scoring publication in The AGE Epicure today. Although Scott seems to be a seasoned journalist for several mainstream newspapers, I would much rather read the insightful, accurate and up-to-date journalism of James Smith or Willie Simpson.

Over in the News Ltd Herald Sun, I enjoyed today's opinion piece by Susie O'Brien - "I gave my son alcohol... and he hated it" - (due to the pay wall you'll need to Google the title to view the full article.)

Susie is correct. Alcohol is not for children or teens. Nor is using controlled exposure as an education tool a form of abuse. Beer is an acquired taste, so it will be very rare for a child or teen to enjoy its fragrant bitter flavours (...why do you think mass beverage produces make sweet easy drinking alcopops?). Hence, an early controlled experience may help deter unnecessary deluge into beer before an appropriate age. Modern science has provided strong evidence* that the human body should be fully developed before processing alcohol.

Not sure why I'm on a cranky rant path today. It could have something to do with my career in Communications and desire to see much better, more accurate and quality communication for the merits of good beer.

*Solowij N, Jones KA, Rozman ME, Davis SM, Ciarrochi J, Heaven PC, Lubman DI, Yücel M (2011). Verbal learning and memory in adolescent cannabis users, alcohol users and non-users. Psychopharmacology. 16:131-144.

Mahmood OM, Jacobus J, Bava S, Scarlett A, Tapert SF (2010). Learning and Memory Performances in Adolescent Users of Alcohol and Marijuana: Interactive Effects. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 71(6): 885–894.

Lubman DI, Hides L, Jorm AF, Morgan AJ (2007). Health professionals' recognition of co-occurring alcohol and depressive disorders in youth: a survey of Australian general practitioners, psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health nurses using case vignettes. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 41:830-835.

ABC TV Catalyst, "Teen Alcohol", first aired 09/08/2007.

Friday, July 6, 2012

So lonely (The Session no.65)

The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community, 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 Nate Southwood of Booze, Beats & Bites. His chosen topic: So lonely.

"The way I see it is that I love beer and pubs and I don’t see why I should only go to the pub when I’m with other people. Am I weird for going to the pub alone?

How do you feel about going to the pub alone? Do you feel it’s necessary to be around friends to spend time in a pub?"

Preamble: Busy busy mid-winter days have flown by. Another month has past and a birthday celebrated with good beer around old Melbourne town. Yes. I have aged a little deeper into my thirties. And so returns the first Friday of the month and a post, my third, for The Session, which continues to be excellent incentive to keep me blogging unrestrained in my own thoughts on a general beer topic. This month we explore drinking alone in a pub. A sign of alcoholism to some, a welcome comfort to others.

Drinking alone is the pub is something I am very familiar with, from my early ignorant beering days to current times, thanks to the low-population and non-craft-beer-drinking demographic of my new home town that can often result in me solely occupying the Oscar's Ale House bar at 5pm on a Sunday. For me, drinking alone is simply a consequence of me loving good beer. It often allows me a moment to escape in my own quiet space, to clear my mind and reset my energy, but ultimately it's the sensory-to-psychological journey a solo beer takes me on that gives the appeal to drinking alone.

So lonely: Pubs are made for drinking. In draught form, a beer poured from the tap to your glass is the purpose of the pub. Their buildings provide the space, atmosphere and character to consume and experience beer across all levels of social interaction.

However, never will the pub’s aesthetic provision be more clear and rewarding to you than when you drink alone.

The beauty of the construction, the passing fascination of the nooks, the comfort of curious background noise…it’s all there, around you, as you drink and think. Often the beer is simply a prop and a means to let your mind wander away from the heavy thoughts of everyday modern life.

Then, when your eyes do return to the delicious pint of beer in your hand, you may notice that the beer is lingering longer in your mouth. The tasty moreish bitterness clings to your tongue, not washed away by the saliva of conversation and pace of social exchange.

With the right beer in hand I will never be lonely. The character and finish of the beer is more prevalent, just as everything around me becomes a little more randomly intriguing.

I write this as I sit alone, drinking a pint in my local bar. The room is almost empty except for a few other fellow isolated drinkers. I observe their lonesome acts with beer in hand. One is standing at the end of the bar in a frozen stare oblivious to his full glass of beer; one reads a book as he turns his beer glass; one sways in the cold outside as he smokes, with his other arm straight against his side, beer glass extending below.

So find your spot, alone in the pub, drink your beer…and let your mind lose on the physical and cerebral. When beered up, the analytical brain-strain is inhibited. Creative decision making flows and lightens the load…and it’s all of your own, free of influence of others. A good beer will guide you through and thank you when it’s finished.

What a strange power of release this quiet beer has. Maybe I’ll have another....then go talk to someone...