Monday, May 21, 2012

Vale Geoff Scharer

Today's Good Living (Fairfax press) reports the passing of Geoff Scharer, at the age of 72 after a short illness.

Along with the late Mark Shield, Geoff Scharer was a major influence in my passion for good beer. His single-mindedness about brewing beer of uncompromising quality was a significant factor in driving the Aussie craft brewing industry to where it is today.

His eponymous brewery in Picton was a 80's/90's haven for beer nuts, travellers, and bikies alike. And his particular ethic about not serving anything else but his own product was, if not unwise, admirable.

"Brave", Sir Humphrey might have said. What made it braver was his attempt to replicate this business model in the Rocks.

I recall an evening with my old friend Julian, at the Australian Hotel, which became Scharer's outlet of choice in Sydney city. As Julian and I sipped on Burragorang Bock, a group of nursing students fronted the bar (Geoff was behind it), and asked for half a dozen Carlton Colds and as many Toohey's News.  Our host leant over the bar, said something to the effect of "we don't sell that shit here", and summarily dispatched them to the nearby Glenmore Hotel.

My first ever taste of Burragorang Bock was an epiphany. A rich, complex, chocolatey drink with a hidden kick. We would buy champagne bottles of the stuff at Picton, with instructions to "treat like milk". Unpasteurised, and meant for immediate consumption. So too the Scharer's lager, an unfiltered, apricoty old world lager that would these days go head to head with the ubiquitous American Pale Ale.

I'm not even sure the brewery exists anymore..... so these beers may be consigned to history. But I won't forget the irascible Mr Scharer, nor his contribution to the Australian beer scene as it stands today.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Baxter Inn

My mate Rowan and I caught up in town last night. Via Beeradvocate I'd learnt of a new place in Clarence St, The Baxter Inn, so suggested we take a look.

Last week, I took a tentative stroll to see if I could locate it, but to no avail. Scott Morgan of Hart's Pub later advised me to head down the alleyway opposite Redoak, and turn right at the garbage bin. Not quite the directions one expects for a new venue.

Arriving ahead of Rowan, I followed a couple of young suits down the dark alley (there was no bin.... is this the right alley?), and turned right into a deadend. All inner-city grime and grunge..... no signs of an establishment here.

Except for the black-shirted security guard, and a fancy rope, indicating where the queue is to form. But to where ? A darkened doorway leading into an even darker stairwell. Down I went, and opened a door.

A blast of music and laughter hit me, and I quickly learnt that I was not one of the first to discover this place. Like a speak-easy of 1920's Chicago, this converted cellar is all brick & wood, with a distinctly American jazz bar look and feel, minus the smoke. There must have been a hundred people already there, and no available seating.

But the bar.... oh the bar... hundreds of whisky bottles from bench to ceiling, and a large board listing them and their prices. And four taps of good beer, including Coopers Lager, Mountain Goat Steam Ale, and 2 Brothers Growler Brown Ale. A small but impressive bottle beer range includes Moylan's Hopsickle Imperial IPA, a bottle of which we shared upon our return.

Yes, we returned later. As I waited for Rowan, the bar got more and more crowded, and I wondered if the door queue was now in operation. A quick SMS exchange confirmed this, so I left, collected him from the queue, and popped over to Redoak for a couple of good beers.

At 8pm we returned to Baxter, assuming that a lot of the post-work crowd had left, It had, so we found a booth, and ordered the Moylan's. This is a mouth-ripping beer, outstanding hop and malt profile, almost heading into American Barleywine territory. At $25 a long-neck, this is a very, very reasonably priced beer. I reckon you'd pay the same at Platinum Liquor. Dirt cheap liquor licensing  allows for smaller markups, and lots of these back-alley establishments opening up all over Sydney (and elsewhere).

Did I mention the complimentary pretzels ? They just kept coming and threatened to curtail our dinner plans.

According to the proto-website, The Baxter Inn is open Monday to Saturday, 4pm-1am. I recommend timing your run, though, otherwise you're in for a long wait.

Basement, 152-156 Clarence Street, Sydney

Thursday, January 26, 2012

IMAX ? or Pumphouse

Well, it's not often that Libby (my wife) suggests that I should spend some time in a pub. Not much of a beer drinker herself, she tends to view my proclivities with disdain.

Today, however, we escorted our offspring through the wonders of Sydney's Darling Harbour ("no you can't go on that", "keep away from the edge", "don't talk to that man".....) with the end-goal of catching a movie at the big IMAX cinema. Libby suggested that they would take the movie, and I should go to the Pumphouse... At times I do have selective hearing, but on this occasion she didn't need repeat herself.

The Pumphouse was an old stomping ground.... with on-site beers such as Federation Ale, Thunderbolt, and Brewers, it was quite ahead of the pack in the 80s/90s. After an hiatus, it has returned with an internal wash of post-industrialism, and a beer selection of outstanding merit.

The thing about this place is that every barman I've met here has known his stuff, loved his stuff, and happy to share his stuff (today, at least..read on).

Today's visit started with Weiss City, the house wheat from St Peters Brewery. This is a decent hefe, with some additional IBU angst, which makes it a bit meaner than your average Bavarian.... 13/20

Holgate's Road Trip is, according to mein host Ash, a response to the brewers' trip to West Coast USA. So, yeah, it's a big IPA, but for mine, quite caramelly and richly bodied. It's an ongoing debate in some forums (fora ?) about the difference in IPA from one side of America to the other. West Coast is all about hops, East Coast about malt & body. This beer seems more East than West, to me at least. But so what.

Regardless, the Road Trip is a see-saw of hops and malt. A flavoursome ale, and good on tap. 14/20.

After the draught beers, time to look in the fridge. I noticed a somewhat discretely labelled bottle that shared the names of the much lauded Norwegian Nøgne Ø, and our own Bridge Road Brewers. In a trans-continental collaboration, the beer is India Saison.... This is a fine, fine beer. Expensive yes (cost me $15 a 330ml stubby), but a wonderful use of Aussie hops (Galaxy, Stella) atop a fine saison profile of spice, dank, and funk. A rare find, and a rare treat. 17/20.

Ash (my host and new friend) felt that at this stage he could offer me something else. The keg remnant of Mikkeller's It's Alive! was sitting idly in a growler bottle... for his later enjoyment. But, much to his credit, he offered me a glass (on him), for which I will be eternally grateful. A tribute to the classic Trappist beer Orval, this goes a step further. Full of Brett & funk & barnyard, it's also overlaid with cara malts, bringing with it some more body and sweetness than one would expect with Orval. 18/20

Funnily enough, some young poseur from Canberra fronted up to the bar and started to bemoan that he missed the keg. Ash said "shake my hand and I may have some for you". It took the goose a couple of seconds to realise he was onto a good thing, but even still, his attitude cost him $10.50...... So folks, it pays to give the barman respect, introduce yourself, and listen well to his opinions.

I finished with another Mikkeller.... Monks Elixir. Styled as a Belgian Quad/Abt, this is a significantly good ale..... it's like a Pecan Pie with a dram of Speyside malt. A great beer. 16/20.

At the end of it all, my young family swung by and carted me away. Probably a good thing.

The Pumphouse is a strange venue. Strangely located & strangely decorated. But it is committed to beer.



Thursday, December 1, 2011

Coopers the Big Australian

Hi all, it's been a while.

I was happy to open the Sydney Morning Herald today, and see the following full-pager:

True brew.

As an Australian company,
we're responsible for more than brewing beer.

Sure, we're not the biggest player in the beer game
but now, surprisingly, we find ourselves the largest
Australian-owned national brewer.

This is not something we should celebrate.
On the contrary.
We understand how our colleagues may feel because
it was only a few years ago that we to were at risk
of being taken over by an overseas company.

Only our commitment to staying true blue and the
strength of our family ensured we remained
a family-owned, Australian brewery.

That's how we started in 1862 and after
nearly 150 years of quenching thirsts
of fellow Aussies, that's how we intend to stay.

Dr Tim Cooper AM           Mr Glenn Cooper AM

At the time SABMiller made its successful bid for Fosters, I did think it was a potent marketing opportunity for Coopers. What pleases me here is their restraint and dignity. The reference to "their colleagues" is a consideration to those who have no say in these boardroom decisions: the brewers, drivers, sales reps, marketers, storemen, admin staff etc. Those who run the brewery....

But.... it is a full, page 7 advertisement. Coopers still want us to know they are now the top Aussie dogs; let's see them leverage this to the betterment of the local industry and products. I paraphrase this as "stop reacting to Gen Y's demand for dry, low carb beers.... brew a saison, an IPA, a barley wine, a decent pilsener".

Good on 'em. Now get on with it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cooperian Dark Ale - The Results

As a preamble, kindly read the earlier post.

The results:

a) Pours a fairly haze-free, chocolaty/ruby brown. Garnet highlights. Head is a soft beige, holds well and leaves a decent lace (thankyou maltodextrin).
s) Peach and soft yeast fleshiness. Touch gluey.
t) Strong stonefruit, but tempered with an acetone-like heat. Keep the naked flames away.....
Has a strange seedy/vegetable note. Maybe celery (?)
m) Light to medium. Touch hollow in the middle.
d) Seems to have the awkwardness of Casacadians/Indian Blacks etc..... but not the quality..... Needs an addition of steeped dark malts to give more chocolate & mocha notes, and the hop additions may be better post-primary.
I'll save it for when Darren comes around :-)

Serving: On-tap

Well, I think this experiment was part success, part failure. A tin of Coopers Pale, a tin of Coopers Dark, and a kilo of Brewbooster.  My recent success with a Pale clone (using the Pale tin and the Brewbooster) could be put down to the use of full boil techniques (including wort chilling), and a stable, cool fermentation.

I didn't give this beer the same attention. It was a quick empty of the contents onto the yeast cake of the Pale, and topped up with tap water. The hop additions were thrown in at the end, but most of the aroma seems to have blown off during fermentation.

It's probably worth another go, but with the additional attention of the full boil. It is drinkable (just), and cheap to make. Not sure if Amarillo is the way to go with Coopers tins. Maybe some spare Pride of Ringwood might have aligned better....

Incidentally, an interesting variation has presented itself. My friend Glenn has given me an old port barrel, so I've filled it with this beer. My ambition is to have, in 12-18 months, a Rodenbach clone. 

You can stop laughing now...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Beer Porn

That got your interest, didn't it ? "Beer porn" is a rather questionable idiom that is used whenever one wants to show off their recent beer acquisitions. I've been guilty of it before, and here again.

Last Friday saw me drop into the Beer Cartel, growler in hand, and a mind for Father's Day. Geoff got the refilling underway, and I had a bit of a browse.

Certainly some interesting bottles here. I collected Meantime London Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Porter, Mikkeller 1000IBU, Viven Imperial IPA, and Mountain Goat's Seedy Goat Coffee IPA.

The growler contains a German-style Pilsener, from the Australian Brewery at Rouse Hill.
Anyway, these have all been consumed..... another splendid Father's Day spent in the garden with the extended family. My brothers Chris and Nick don't mind a quality beer, and Chris' father-in-law Bob spends way too much time at Platinum and Northmead cellars. This is good news for us, as he brought along some very interesting beers, including Greene King IPA, Hepworth Sussex Ale, Kozlak bock, 3 Monts, and the Little Creatures Dreadnought stout, which we never got to, sadly.

The Meantime was a little subdued.... maybe would be better on tap in a London pub. The Viven seemed strangely schizoid..... I'm not entirely sure that Imperial IPAs are meant to come from Belgian yeasts. The Mikkeller almost took the roof of my mouth off. Intense hop flavours and bitterness that just kept on going. It left the Viven on the starting line.......

And the Seedy Goat ? Coffee IPA ? Well, it was interesting. We couldn't detect any bona fide coffee flavour, but the overall impression was one of green vegetable. Capsicum, to be precise.
The beer in the growler was brewed by Neal Cameron, who was also the brewer behind Red Angus pilsener. To me the beers are similar, with a well-balanced malt profile, and a good dose of hops giving the spine needed for the style. The growler is a concept that is beginning to take off in NSW, with Murrays doing it at Bob's Farm (and hopefully Manly soon).
The surprise of the day was the Kozlak, from Poland. I tend to view Eastern European beers as being fairly straightforward, with an almost pedantic ahderence to style, but lacking the substance. The Kozlak offered a caramel, fruity malt flavour that was almost doppel. A great drop for an early spring afternoon.

I also had my own Coopers pale ale on tap, as the in-betweenie session beer. For a kit brew it's remarkably good. I put this down to the full boil I gave it, rather than my usual approach of tipping tins into hot water and filling up from the tap. I think the full wort boil is a "best practice", even when using the tins.
Thanks Nick, Chris & Bob. A good lineup, and a good afternoon. And thanks to Geoff at Beer Cartel.



Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cooperian Dark Ale

One of the many hybrid styles going round these days is Cascadian Dark Ale. Invented by the late Greg Noonan in the 90s', it's a variant of the IPA, adding some darker malts to the grain bill, but maintaining the hop profile of (American) IPAs.
Cascadia is in fact a region of the Pacific Northwest, taking in parts of Canada and the US, and home to the ubiquitous Cascade hop.

This got me thinking.... is there a quick and easy way of brewing a hoppy, dark beer from kit ?  I had a yeast cake left over from a (failed) all-grain batch, which was then reused for a Coopers pale ale kit (successful). So on it's third outing, the yeast should be raring to go, and up to the challenge of something a little unusual.

A quick trip to the supermarket, and I landed a tin of Coopers Pale Ale malt, a tin of Coopers Dark Ale malt, and a kilogram of brewbooster (a blend of dextrose, malt, and maltodextrin). Normally you only need one tin plus sugars to get to a 4.5-5% ale, but two tins plus the brewbooster should see me in at 7-8%. (Incidentally, I smashed my hydrometer doing a recent brew, so the original & final gravities, and ensuing ABV%, are anyone's guess.....)

Since I was pitching two tins of malt extract, I was also doubling the hop bitterness. Tins are not renowned for their late-hop aroma, so any additional hops will come in handy to give some of the aromatics associated with IPAs.

Back at home, I scrounged some leftover Amarillo hop pellets, tipped it all together, and had a good fermentation underway within the hour. It's still been quite cool in the cellar, so hopefully a lot of the warmer-ferment, yeasty characteristics will take a back seat to the malt & hops.

After three weeks in the fermenter, I kegged the result today. First tastings are not too bad, with some interesting spicy notes, and a hint of alcohol warmth. And it's dark. It'll spend the next fortnight cold conditioning, and then get the carbonation treatment.

As for the name, well I thought "Cooperian" was appropriate, although the play on words relies on the coincidental naming of the Cascade hop variety and another Australian brewery.

My hopes are high; I'll get back to you in a fortnight.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Beer Review: Murray's Spartacus


Guide to review scoring is on the post Beeradvocate Ratings Systems
Unless otherwise specified, these reviews are my own.
Murray's Spartacus Imperial India Pale Ale 10% abv
A- / 4.2
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

This beer is an absolute mind****.  Strong, rich, flavoursome, very, very moreish. I'm not sure if it's a one-off, but I have enjoyed it on-tap at Murray's in Manly, as well as in the bottle from their Port Stephens outlet.

a) 1 inch off-white, spongy head. Hazy marmalade amber in colour.

s) Pine resin aromas, passionfruit, caramel and licorice, almost barley-wine richness in the malt. Warms to melon and pineapple.

t) Rich flavour, honeycomb, caramel, brambly wild green vegetation and tropical fruits. Spicy, with alcohol warmth, and a prickly bitterness.

m) Silky smooth, if not slightly oily. Not at all heavy, nor cloying.

d) "Dangerously drinkable" says the label. I agree. Classy beer.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Wheatsheaf Hotel

It's a big claim when you read statements like "the best pub in Australia", as I did when doing some research on Adelaide pubs. You'd think there are too many diverse styles and locations, let alone individual tastes and preferences, to be able to confidently make such a comment.

But, you know, I reckon this pub comes pretty close.

Came straight to the Wheatsheaf Hotel from the airport. Taxi driver didn't have a clue, so thankfully the iphones were handy.  It's in a rather drab commercial area in Thebarton, just west of the city. But once inside, you get a cozy, warm and homey feeling. There's an open fire, and plenty of well-loved soft furnishings. Reminds me very much of the Royston in Richmond, Victoria, which has many parallels.

The beer, of course, is outstanding. There must have been at least half a dozen stouts on tap, including a chocolate stout from Lobethal, two varieties from Mountain Goat, and also a couple from Moo Brew. One of the Moo Brew stouts was pumped through a Randall, not filled with hops, but with Kopi Luwak beans, and appropriately named "Poo Moo". An amazing beer, like an affogato, and at $15, worth savouring slowly.  Took a while to get to sleep that night.....

Also tried a Rye IPA from the Feral brewery, which was an amazing hit of tropical fruit and bitterness.  Rye IPAs (or RyePAs as I've seen written) seem to be in vogue at the moment, having recently been a specialty beer at 4 Pines in Manly.

And managed a foreigner as well. A Mikkeller 10 IPA, all pineapple, pine resin, and caramel.

The bottled beer list is extensive, broad, and fascinating. In this regard, comparisons with the Local Taphouse were easy to make.

The staff are very friendly and very eager to advise. A great place to visit, and hopefully I'll be there again next week.  Best pub in Australia ? I don't think there is one, but there are several that make serious claims.  The Wheatsheaf is one of them.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sierra Nevada goes mainstream

Although this is a blog about Aussie beers etc., I have been known to deviate into the wider world, as occasion sees fit.
This is one of those occasions.


Happy days at Mona Vale
The legendary Sierra Nevada beers have been rare visitors to these shores. I picked one up many years ago at Leura, and had also seen them infrequently at other specialty beer shops.

At the time, these beers were brought in via 'the grey market'...the brewery had no intention of exporting to Australia, but a few savvy middlemen would buy in bulk, and do the exporting themselves. The problems with this are manifold: there is no oversight from the brewer's distributor of choice, the quality of the beer cannot be guaranteed, and the middlemen make a killing. i.e. you pay more for a risky product.

Hence the $7.95 I laid out for a stubby of Sierra Nevade Pale Ale ("SNPA") at Leura, many years ago. It was very good, mind you.

You may have seen international beers that have the little white sticker on the side. This sticker contains all the legal pulava required to sell beers in this country, as the original beer label does not comply. i.e. the brewer never intended the beer to land here. Whenever you see one of these, think twice, as there is no guarantee the beer made its way to you without some inordinate stress. Look for a "Best Before" date as well.

Recently, I was aware that several American brewers were starting to take the Antipodean market seriously, and had hear rumours to the effect of Sierra Nevada, Rogue, Anderson Valley et al. were on their way. Officially sanctioned, too.

So, it was with great joy to read this morning's local paper, and to see the Dan Murphy advert for Sierra Nevada beers:  the Pale Ale, the Kellerweis, and the Torpedo. And for very reasonable prices, too.

I have just returned from the Mona Vale store. Although there were plenty of six packs on display ($19.95, $19.95, $22.95 respectively), there was only one of each by the case. They had to go....

As I surveyed the scene (and took the picture of the shelf), another bloke came up and said "you here for this too...", before walking off with a six pack of Torpedo.  And the lady at the check-out said that a lot had already been sold.  I think there are more discerning beer lovers out there than one would realise.... Happy days indeed.




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