Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A quick Beer Bar Band Halloween

What? Halloween? What's that?

Yes, it's mostly a foreign concept here in Australia...but it's also an excuse to theme another day full of beers, bars and bands. And we can now, because Pumpkin beers are now available in Australia! (Read Jenn's blog post for more on that: Boo! Spooky Pumpkin Ale Scones)

So here is a beer, a bar and some bands with a Halloween feel for this dark night of pumpkins and lost souls...

BEER - All Hallowed Ale by HopDog BeerWorks

Recently arrived on the shelves of Melbourne's craft beer retail, HopDog BeerWorks is producing some very tasty hybrid style beers with a twist that celebrate the craft of beer. Craft beer!

All Hallowed Ale is a Belgian Pumpkin Ale brewed with roasted pumpkin, specialty sugars and spices. It pours a golden-amber, providing a pumpkin appearance. The Belgian yeast dominates the aroma and flavour, but the pumpkin is also clearly there on the aroma. The pumpkin is a bit lost in the mouth though, as the Belgianness of cloves and a little banana plus bitterness take over. Good softer hits of spices and sweetness....but not enough pumpkin for me. I did not pick the 7.3% abv because it is very easy drinking.

My experience with pumpkin beers is very limited so far. Unfortunately the best one I have tasted is still about two weeks away from being available in bottles - the very pumpkin Artisan Pouseure spiced pumpkin ale from Moon Dog Brewing. We tasted this year's batch at last week's Fed Square Microbreweries Showcase and it was just exactly what we want from a pumpkin beer.

BAND - Aussie Halloween-ish songs

When I look for some spooky rockin' locals on my playlist...well, it's a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, I head straight for a bite of girl punk from the last decade. Maybe more fluffy than dark, but all good grisly fun...have a listen...

Zombie Girl by The Spazzys

Dating The Undead by Sin City

There's plenty of appropriate songs from the locals guys Deadman by Expatriate and Dead Dog Standing by Ratcat, plus plenty of tracks from Grinspoon. Of course there is also plenty of Halloween style fuzz from the Aussie metal scene...but my own playlist lacks the short-fast-loud at the moment (and this post has been too hastily last-minute to mine that rich well).

BAR - The Tote Hotel, Collingwood.

The bar that died then returned to life!

At age 30, The Tote was shut down under the weight of bad government policy for live music venues. It was revived by several spirits who care deeply for the culture and sound of Melbourne's music. Read the story on Wikipedia or buy and watch the brilliant documentary, Persecution Blues: The Battle For The Tote.

Dark, hard rocking, sticky carpet (less sticky now though...since the original bandroom carpet was torn up at time of Tote death). Many Halloween appropriate bands have blown through the speakers of The Tote bandroom, Cobra room and front bar. An icon of Melbourne's live music scene and culture. Often scary...but thankfully there is Mountain Goat beer in the fridges. Rock on...forever.

Long live The Tote.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Beer - Brown Ale Day Beer Review: Big Brown Beaver

Today we have enjoyed many local brown ales for Brown Ale Day. It has been excellent drinking, proving the versatile variety of good brown ales from modern craft brewers. We have had typical Melbourne weather, four seasons in one day - sunny, warm, windy, cloudy, wet, cold, and more sun - and the brown ales have suited each weather situation so well. The brown ales have also matched beautifully with today's lunch, dinner and snacks. Brown ale win!

One of the best brown ales that I've tasted this year was the Big Brown Beaver from The Wig & Pen.

Richard Watkins, the brewer and heart & soul of Canberra's Wig & Pen, is a master brewer of the highest order. He is revered among the brewing community, an expert in science of cask conditioned real ales and the art of the Randall hop infuser.

We visited the Wig & Pen brewpub in April this year, on an Easter road-trip planned for for the specific purpose of drinking a Saturday night away at Wig & Pen. It was a brilliant night indeed. We were joined by Ian Morgan, the senior brewer from Holgate Brewhouse, and his brother-in-law, along with the best tasting paddle in Australia...

Now...tha'ts a generous tasting paddle of quality beer!

That night the Wig & Pen was also pouring a brown ale named Big Brown Beaver (Richard loves cheeky names for his beers!) through the NZ Hallertau hop filled Randall.

The brewer's tasting notes say of this 5.9% unfiltered brown ale: "Big Brown Beaver is a malt driven brown ale for the hop lover. Beaver has a strong malt flavour and leaves a satisfying bitterness on the back of the palate. As it is dry hopped through 'modus hoperandus' it has different aroma each week depending on the wims of the brewer, which creates an evolving and easily savourable ale."

It was a delightful drinking experience - full, balanced, long and complex. Caramel sweetness to start then a long hoppy finish of bitterness. This was one of those beers that could turn a non brown ale lover into a true brown ale believer!

When it comes to crafting beer, Richard Watkins is conventional yet punk. Brilliant browness.

Beer - It's all brown from here!

Brown Ale Day is ON!

Yes, we're deep in the brown now.

We are drinking and sharing brown ale beers to celebrate this frequently unpopular style. The talk of craft beer too often seems to be about IPAs and black variant beers. How about some love for the brown?!

Hope you can join us, here's why:

Beer runners we are, today started by completing a 10km fun run through the tough hills of a local town. Ouch. Thankfully, the reward of good beer was motivation again! As soon as we arrived home we cracked our first brown ale and consumed it with banana, peanut butter, choc-chip, brown ale muffins that Jenn baked yesterday.

Here is how Brown Ale Day has run visually for us so far...

BROWN ALE FACT: In the Top 100 beers of the Critic's Choice: Australia's Best Beers 2011, brown ale was the 5th top style in the list of 100 beers. That was an improvement of three spots after it was the 8th most occurring beer style in the 2010 list. The 2011 list included: 2brothers James Brown (#95), Murray's Angry Man Brown (#59) and Moon Dog's Henry Ford's Girthsome Fjord (#26).

Share your Brown Ale drinkings and love via #BrownAleDay

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Beer - Get down with Brown on October 21

Tomorrow, Sunday 21st October, is Brown Ale Day! Join us in celebrating this too often underrated yet richly diverse category of beer style by simply drinking a brown ale.

Why is it Brown Ale Day tomorrow? Well, Jenn simply decided that it would be! It is nothing official or formal. There are no events, no website or statement of purpose and no organising committee. It is simply a random day that we've set aside for drinking just brown ales and calling for others to do the same, because this unjustly under-appreciated beer style needs more exposure and support.

Over the last few years there has been a growing number of celebrations for craft beer and beer styles, primarily driven online. Following IPA Day and International Stout Day...Jenn asked "why isn't there a brown ale day?". She loves the brown, more than anyone else I know. Brown ale is also the style she most commonly uses for cooking because of it's versitility in food.

So now we're extending the concept and declaring a day of brown beer for October 21, simply because the open forum of the internet allows us to do so.

For the full short-story of our Brown Ale Day's origin, read Jenn's post at Soaked in Beer: Celebrate the Sedate – Brown Ale Day

Tomorrow we encourage you to drink a brown ale - maybe one you've never tried before, maybe a local favourite - drink it and share something about it online.

We will be lining up a selection of brown craft beers from Australian brewers.

Local breweries that produce a brown ale are in the minority. There are certainly many more browns available now than there were two years ago, but that is primarily just a reflection of the recent growth in the craft beer industry. Nonetheless, the brown ales currently available on the market are all diverse and wonderfully drinkable.

We've done our best to track down every available packaged brown ale from Australia. The only browns we could not find at this time were the 2brothers James Brown, a strong Belgian brown ale made with banana lollies which is a very limited seasonal and it's the wrong time of year, as well as Murray's Angry Man Brown Ale which we haven't seen in Melbourne for a long time (about since the Murray's Pale Ale was rebranded with an Angry Man label as well).

Anyway, there is plenty here to fully brown up our day in different ways!

Social media will be the outlet of our brown celebrations. Find/follow/connect and all that at:

Other online channels to share brown ale experiences tomorrow include posting pictures and words to the likes of Tumblr, Flickr or your blog. Go on, make a big brown blog!

To link in with our Brown Ale Day, use the hashtag of #BrownAleDay when posting your brown drinking thoughts and experience on Twitter or Instagram.

Oh...and there is so much more beyond the sad old Newcastle Brown Ale! Brown ales in the crafty 21st century is much more interesting...

...brown up!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Novelty Beers (The Session no.68)

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 Tiffany Adamowski of the blog 99 Pours. Her chosen topic: Novelty beers.

"What novelty beer comes to mind when you think: Is this beer just to strange to stay around? Why in the world would they choose ingredients most beer drinkers have never heard of ...what the heck is a qatar fruit? If it’s okay for beer to taste like tea or coffee, why not pizza? If wild yeasts are allowed to ferment beer, then why not beard yeast? If oysters, why not bacon? If pumpkin’s good enough for pie, why not beer? Since hops are flowers, why not brew with actual flowers?"

I love exploring beer, all beers! I will try any beer I come across and there are definitely some weird and wonderful beers out there these days. Actually, the list of ingredients with which brewers from around the world are experimenting now seems to be endless, as is the number of never-seen/tasted-before beers that I have consumed in the last few years. Even in this small corner of the beer world, Scott Wilson-Browne of Red Duck alone plans to brew 50 new, unique beers in the next year!

There's just too many delightfully eccentric and peculiar beers to mention or even recall. I'm too much a fan of big, bold beers that some people may dismiss as novelty. Hence, I struggle to pick one to highlight because I'm always looking for the next one.

So I thought that I'd take this topic down the road of what the term "novelty beer" means to me...

An imperial pale ale brewed with peated malt, chipotles and blackberries; an uber smokey golden ale brewed with 100% peated malt; a 11.3% abv bread beer inspired by ancient Egyptian brewing; an imperial milk stout that drinks like a Crème Brûlée; gin aged beers; wheat beers with melon and guava; beers with sugar beet, kopi luwak, horny goat weed...Auld Bulgin' Boysterous Bicep?!?

Novelty or craft?

I call these beers craft!

Why not novelty? Simple, because I would drink them again and again and again...!

They may initially be novel in nature - new and unique - but when I continue to drink such a beer because I love it, the beer hence becomes familiar. No longer novel but a regular treat of good beer drinking, beyond the diminishing tag of novelty.

This is what defines my concept of novelty: a quirky concept that I won’t revisit once experienced. It will remain novel because it is a one-off experience. And should I happen to drink a novelty beer more than once, it is likely to only happen a very small number of times and for a specific reason to match an occasion/situation, so the beer still remains a novelty.

More often than not, a novelty beer is a shit beer. You don’t buy/drink it for the beer, you buy it for the concept emitted by just part of beer, such as the name or packaging, rather than the whole beer experience. Novelty does not respect the beer, it is produced for a reason other than the combined science and art of brewing.

A classic novelty beer from my corner of the world is Piss beer. As you would expect, the Piss beer concept was born from a boozy joke. The men behind the Great Britain Hotel in Richmond were more than happy to “take the piss” to help promote their pub in the spirit of Aussie larrikinism.

Piss is a generic 4.9% abv lager. For any good beer lover, it literally is piss. It's an easy laugh. You drink it once so you can say that you literally have drunk piss. Thankfully it's easy to perceive the joke of the beer, as the Great Britain Hotel holds a special and respected place in Melbourne's craft beer evolution. It was the first pub to sell Mountain Goat beer (exactly 15 years ago this month!), opening a new wave of craft beer industry and culture in this now beer rich city. Yep, GBH was ground zero for Melbourne's 21st century craft beer boom!

Other Australian novelty beers in this vein include Broo, Good Head and Kwencher. These beers could all be the same beer: generic, bland, "premium" lagers. They are simply a name and a label that makes them a one off.

There’s also Skinny Blonde with it’s heat sensitive label. On a cold bottle the label shows a bikini clad girl, then as you drink the beer and the bottle warms her bikini disappears.

Not surprisingly they are all contract brewed for non-brewing companies that have a single beer brand that capitalise on the marketing dollar. Do they serve a purpose? I don't think so, that's why they are novelty beers.

And then there's Duff. The latest attempt to market the famous beer brand of The Simpson's was squashed earlier this year by the might of 20th Century Fox's copyright lawyers*.

Under the label of "The Legendary Duff Beer – Premium Lager", the beer was brewed at Eschweger Klosterbrauerei in Germany. Despite media reports claiming that all remaining Duff beer in Australia was required to be poured down the drain by retailers and the distributor because it is now illegal, stock of the beer is still kicking around bottle shops of Melbourne. I stumped across cans of it and thought it would be appropriate for this post.

Indeed, this Duff beer sadly lives up to my interpretation of a novelty beer. It seems to be a Czech Pilsner but tastes like beginners homebrew. It is unbalanced with a grainy texture. The taste and mouthfeel was essentially beer flavoured lemonade. It’s drinkable, I was able to consume the whole beer, but the short finish on it wasn’t particularly pleasant.

The label is iconic but there is no respect for anything more about the beer than just the imagery. Although, maybe that's what the real Duff beer of Springfield is like...dirty, weak swill drunk by just a few old disheveled men who are sad permanent fixtures at Moe’s bar? Surely it should at least be an American lager with the brown-ish appearance of the cartoon.

It might be fun to have the empty can on display in my "man cave", but not for the sake of the beer.

I'll stick to drinking the crafty brews that I don't want to be a singular, novel, experience. Hand me a pint or three of that harshly smokey, 7% abv golden ale made from 100% heavy peated distilling malt! Mmmm...yes, Rex.

*For an excellent insight into attempts to use the Duff brand in Australia, read The Return of Duff Beer – Only This Time it’s 'Legendary' by Amanda Scardamaglia of the (now ceased) IP and Media Law blog, The Fortnightly Review.

Monday, October 1, 2012

If I have inspired only one, I have inspired

Sucktember is OVER! WOOHOO!

Yikes, what a month. For a full 30 days (31 days if you count the actual hours), team Beer Bar Band has worked hard on our physical health and fitness through a personal program of full-on detox and training. Our main aim was to get back in shape for running in the Melbourne Marathon Festival, but there was also the desire to simply reclaim robust fitness and health after a somewhat gluttonous winter and leading into summer.

During all of September we had no beer or any form of alcohol. The only beverages we allowed ourselves were water, green tea, sports drinks (only after long runs) and coffee, which was cut back compared to normal consumption levels. I also stopped drinking orange juice, of which I used to have a glass every morning. The disallowed list during Sucktember further extended to any desserts, chocolate, sweets, chips, cheese and fast food in general. Intake of bread and any processed foods were also minimised.

The other key component of Sucktember was daily and diverse exercise. That involved waking up at 5:00am for 45 minutes of pre-breakfast exercise (exercise-bike cycling or yoga), going to work, then coming home and completing another hour or more of training/exercise (running, riding, weights, resistance, skipping, etc.), with one rest day in the week. Mostly, we were in bed by 9:30pm every day to be ready for the next 5:00am start.

Today, two weeks out from the half marathon, the taper begins. With the commitment to Sucktember over, the really tricky part starts now. During October - aka ROCKTOBER - we will allow ourselves to once again enjoy beer, but we need to steer clear of indulging and undoing the hard work of the last month ( least until the marathon run has been conquered!). Unfortunately, we both have the type of body that puts on weight and falls out of fitness very quickly without regular persistence.

I post here today because yesterday, half way through running 22km(*), I had a realisation that brought great satisfaction: even though I pursued the extreme program of Sucktember for no one else other than myself, my regular long runs have also inspired someone to better their health with exercise. It was a comment from a while ago now, but it is purely heart warming to be told that my actions have resulted in someone else's pursuit for improving their fitness health. Something I have done, without the intention to influence, has made a small positive difference.

Over the past month I have filled my Twitter and Facebook feeds, as well as this blog, with nothing else but exercise updates and lack-of-beer-whinging, but from it has come constructive impact...and no matter how small, that is special.

Fat James at age 21.
It's special to me because I know intimately both ends of the scale.  I did not have a healthy body until the age of 29. Through all my youth and early adulthood - from the earliest of my teenage years to deep into my twenties - I was obese (pushing into WHO Class III obesity of "very severe"). After five years of arduous hard work (then even more hard work) and plenty of lifestyle change along the way, I thankfully discovered real health and fitness, gaining the body I have today. Now my cardio fitness and weight** supports my ability to run a long way...and live longer.

32 & ready to run again!
I now know big change is possible, after believing for so long that it could never happen. From experience I also understand that it is much better to be fit than fat. Consequently, I desire to share with others the goodness of being in top condition whilst still being able to enjoy pleasures like beer, cheese and chocolate. Mmmm.

If you are very unfit/unhealthy, the journey to significant improvement will be long and painful, and it will also be via a different path for everyone (just find what works for you!), but the reward is fantastic!

And there's some excellent recent science for beer loving runners!  A commentary paper published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition provides a summary of beer and health science presented at the 6th Beer and Health Symposium held in Brussels last year (and yes, funded by the Brewers of Europe industry organisation, but the science is rigorous). The summary includes findings from peer-reviewed science that note moderate beer consumption boosts bone health; and it can improve immune-system function! Beer winning!

A Sierksma and FJ Kok (2012), Beer and health: from myths to science, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2012) 66, 869–870; doi:10.1038/ejcn.2012.30

Although the science unpublished, the following presentation by an aptly qualified exercise physiology scientist is a highlight for the beer runners - Beer after exercise: Yes or no? Professor Manuel J. Castillo says: "Beer quenches thirst and is frequently consumed after practicing sport or exercise. Beer is mainly water but also contains alcohol. Research into whether alcohol content prevented adequate recovery and/or rehydration found that neither a specific nor a negative effect could be attributed to the intake of beer compared to the intake of just water. In conclusion***, at least in healthy, young adults, beer in moderate amounts is as effective as water for rehydration and recovery after exercise." (***based on a 4.5% abv beer in 660ml amounts)

Throughout September 2012 I ran for beer with no beer. Right now I am the healthiest and fittest I have been for several years...and it feels great. I will fully appreciate drinking beer once again...and any tipple of an ale will be much more rewarding.

Balance is the real factor that matters.

If I have inspired just one person to take some action on their health, then I have inspired...for the better. That is something I never expected that my shy self-doubting self would achieve. I'll celebrate with a beer!

*Yes, this post made much more sense mentally during a 22km run.

**In 2007 Runner's World magazine published a useful article about a runner's ideal racing weight: "What's Your Ideal Weight?"