Sunday, May 30, 2010

Extreme Beers - some for, some against

The extreme beer phenomenon is pretty much an American invention.  After all, why have a balanced, 5% alcohol ale when you can go over the top and blow the palate with any combination of bitterness, sweetness, and more alcohol ?

I subscribe to the monthly Beeradvocate magazine (, which can be frustrating at times as it is very biased towards US content and beers.  But it's published in the US, primarily for US market, so no surprise there.

What's interesting is watching the various opinions on extreme beer (EB).  The majority of opinion to date has been pro-EB, with occasional noise from the anti-EB lobby.

This month's issue (#40) has a good letter from a Mark Broe who writes, in part " asked for suggestions on how to get more folks drinking craft beer....... Stop making and promoting extreme beer......make it more drinkable...... More alcohol, more hops, fewer customers" he goes on.

I must admit I do agree, although it should be pointed out that the American Craft brewing industry is growing quite well, at the expense of the big guys, so somebody's doing something right.

In the same magazine, there is a beer recipe "The Audacity of Hops". It has a theoretical IBU (international bitterness units) of 221.  That's right, 221. IPAs come in at around 60, Russian Imperial Stouts at around 90.  In fact, it has been suggested that the human palate stops recognising hop bitterness at above 100 or so IBUs.

This "monster DIPA" recipe has 11 separate hop additions to the boil, plus a dry hop. Centennial, Amarillo, Warrior, Simcoe, Columbus, Newport, Palisade all get a gurnsey at one stage or other. This includes hopping the mash and the first wort run-off.

True Brew India Pale Ale Homebrew Beer Ingredient KitOriginal gravity is 1.098, which roughly ends up around the 9% mark.  The malt bill is mostly pale malt, with a touch of cara and chocolate, and there aren't instructions for high mash temp for a higher final gravity.  So one expects they want this to fully attenuate and hit the highest ABV possible.  9-10%, of course, is not "extreme".... but I think the IBUs most definitely are.

My opinion ? Well, I won't get to taste this hop monster, but it does seem a bit indulgent.  I do like a nice hoppy IPA that is bitter, but balanced with some good malt. The Murray's Icon IPA springs to mind as a good Australian example.

On the one hand, it's perfectly OK to brew anything you want. On the other hand, when trying to increase the universal perception & acceptance of craft beer, it's probably better not to scare the horses.....

Friday, May 28, 2010

Lunch visit to Hart's Pub

Grant and I, after an arduous morning of CD shopping, retired to Hart's Pub.  It's located on the corner of Essex and Cumberland Streets, The Rocks, Sydney. It's a part of the Shangri La hotel complex.

This pub's recent reopening has not been without great anticipation; the Rock's Brewing company had been looking for a viable outlet, and Hart's pub (closed for some years, I think), became the ideal venue.

Twelve taps operate (although as we sat there, two went off....), and have local crafties, plus one cider (Pipsqueak from Little Creatures).

Rock's Brewing put forward a decent bitter.... at 3% almost a breakfast beer, full of grainy malt and herbal goodness. Also Byrnes Red Ale, 1809 Pale Ale (tasted a bit tired on tap), Cribb's Porter represent the local brewery. All decent, but nothing exceptional.

Continental Pilsener (Classic Beer Style)Murray's have Whale Ale (their not-too-shabby Wit interpretation) and Nirvana - arguably the best beer on tap, for mine.  Paddy's Pilsener is there but, like many local Pilseners, too much honey-ish characters. 
Stone and Wood Draught is a massive hit of guava.... initially it's marvelous, but towards the end of the glass gets a bit too sickly in flavour.

A good place to visit, but at pint prices heading up to $11, I think it's not a good "local".  Our visit was somewhat tempered by some poor kitchen service, with our counter lunch of steak & BBQ lamb sandwiches taking over 90 minutes to arrive, by which time the barman (a very good barman) had plied us with some free beers to compensate.  The lamb sandwich was, eventually, excellent, with pink, tenderly-cooked backstraps.

A good concept in the ideal spot..... very close to the Australian Hotel and Heritage Belgian Beer Cafe.  And a further stone's throw to Lord Nelson, Redoak, Bavarian Bier Cafe too.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Weizen tasting - results

The overall winner of the day was Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, with an overall rating of 4.05, which equates to A- (excellent) on the Beeradvocate rating scale.  Runner up was Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, with 4.00 (B+ very good).
New " Hefeweizen Street " Drink / Drunk / Drunkard Street Sign Drinks                                                                   
Scott's top 5 were (scores out of 5):
Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier 3.90  (equal 1st)
Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse         3.90  (equal 1st)
Schneider Aventinus                  3.85
Schofferhofer Hefeweizen          3.50
Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier           3.50

Michael's top 5 were:
Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier 4.20
Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse         4.10
Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier           3.80
Erdinger Weissbier                    3.50
Schofferhofer Hefeweizen          3.45

As expected, the Germans took all the top spots. The two Australian offerings did not perform very well along style lines. One of them performs better on tap, the other drinks well but seems to be more of an Aussie pub ale than a creamy, clove & banana hefeweiss.

Article: Boutique Beers of Montréal in Australia

My latest article for Suite101 is about the Dieu du Ciel beers from my previous blog:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

No more Unibroue in Australia, but don't despair

I was very much taken with the ad in Beer & Brewer for a new range of beers available in Australia.

Quebec brewery Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! is taking up where Unibroue has dropped off - exporting Belgian-(and other)-inspired Quebec beer to Australia.

What drew my attention were the labels. Beautiful artworks from a local Montreal artist, each linked to the beer name and in some cases the style. Upon further investigation, it turns out that Dieu du Ciel has a brasserie (which has over the course of 10+ years pushed out more than 100 different beers) and a microbrewery (which brews and bottles 12 of the more popular beers from the brasserie).

Yesterday I stepped into Leura cellars, which apart from an outstanding wine cellar, has one of the better beer selections in NSW. Three Dieu du Ciel beers were available: Corne du diable IPA, Péché Mortel imperial coffee stout, and Dernière Volonté blond Abbey-style ale.

All three beers are excellent. The IPA blew me away, and is probably my beer of 2010 to date.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Weizen tasting this Saturday

My good mate Scott gave me his Weber kettle BBQ the other day, gratis. I thought the least I could do was get him round for a BBQ, and some beers.

So this Saturday is a wheat & smoked meat day, in a Bavarian way.  We'll have a taste-off of popular hefeweizen, from Germany & Australia. Here's the range:

New " Hefeweizen Street " Drink / Drunk / Drunkard Street Sign Drinks

Astute observers will note that one of these beers is not in fact hefeweizen. Which one ?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Visit to Belgian Beer Cafe Cammeray

Took family to Epoque Belgian Beer Cafe yesterday. They're very good at hosting kids, with waiters very friendly and providing colouring in.

We had a quick bite: some chips & mayo, and a selection of tasting plates, including the must-have cheese balls, salt & pepper squid, and pork belly pieces.  Each under $10, and excellent companion food for the beers.

All Belgian BeersSpeaking of which....

My wife enjoys Hoegaarden, so had a small one which she sat on for the duration.  I was a little less reserved.

Started with Timmermans Gueuze... a fantastic lambic, beautifully sour, but with apple notes and that funky, just been through a hessian sack element as well. $11.90 5%.

Next tried (for me) a new offering. Satan's Gold comes in at 8% and $11.30 a bottle. Unusually for Belgian beers, this has a big, fresh green hop element. Belgians tend to go more to restrained and/or aged hops. But this beer provided hints of Pilsener in its hops, but backed up with usual chewy, estery malt & yeast components.

Saison Silly (5%, $9.20) gives blackcurrant aromas, but sherry notes. I was able to draw a comparison with older Coopers Vintage ales.

Finally, finished with Trappiste Rochefort 8.  I think about $15, and 8-odd%. Served a bit too cold, but once warmed between the hands, offers that delightful malty dried fruit complexity the brewery is known for.

Food great, beer always great (but not cheap), and service outstanding.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Beer & Brewer - Winter 2010

I've been subscribing to Beer & Brewer since it's inaugural issue. Generally, I think it's vital for the healthy evolution of the microbrewing and homebrewing scene in Australia. Hats off to the founders, and to current editor & "Beer Diva" Kirrily Waldhorn for establishing and maintaining it, respectively.

The contributing writers are certainly experienced in their subject matter; (as a disclaimer I have met and share Beeradvocate membership with a few of them), and the new release beer reviews are often quite esoteric, which appeals very much to the collector-cum-drinker mentality such as mine.

I do hold some reservations, however, about its style and content.  I recently mentioned on the Beeradvocate site that I think its layout is a bit all-over-the-place..... reminds me of my 6 year-old son's comic books, where pop culture, article, and advertisement all blend together.

More seriously, for mine, is the apparent "sponsored" content..... for example Paul Mercurio is given the run of Dan Murphy's to select and talk about particular beers.  Plus space to flog his new book. The latter is bald-faced, and perhaps (it might be hypothesised) a contra deal for the article. But I have doubt about the former; there is no declared indication that the article is an advertorial sponsored by Dan Murphy.  Sure, Dan Murphy is clearly stated as Paul's venue for selection, but I might suggest that, given the choice of any store, Paul would not have chosen Dan Murphy. Was this article sponsored by Dan Murphy ? Maybe not, but I'm suspicious.

Similarly, on the bit-too-cute homebrewing flipside, there is a blurring of the lines. At least the first couple of recipes (for Imperial Stout and Bock) clearly state that the recipes are Coopers and Lion Nathan promotions respectively. But page 10 runs a lovely piece on Barrett Burston Malting, with an ad on the opposite page. But the page 10 piece looks like an article, with headings, introductions, nice paragraphing etc., and the ad on Page 11 looks to be a separate entitiy.  OK, the Page 10 font matches that of the ad, but the whole piece is situated smack bang in the middle of Ian Watson's "Which Malt?" article.  So it's not completely clear if Page 10 is a part of the article, or a separate item viz advertisement.

OK, I'm prattling on a bit like Media Watch, but the lines between content and sponsored content/advertorial need to be more clearly identified.  There are pages where sponsored content is clearly stated, but pages where it's not.  So, the team is conscious of its obligation, but not consistent in its application.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Article: Brewery Tour of Inland New South Wales

Here I talk about those small breweries that are operating away from the big cities and the coast. It includes a brief overview of William Bull, Mudgee Brewing, Hunter Brewing, Bluetoungue, Goulburn, Scharers, and Infusion.

It could be argued that Infusion is not quite rural.... sure it's just off busy Narellan Road in Campbelltown. But as it's quite close to Picton, (and quite different too), I felt bracketing them together was appropriate.

Next article will hopefully be on the coastal, non-Sydney breweries of NSW.

Monday, May 10, 2010

4 Pines Manly

In today's Sydney Morning Herald's Good Living section, Willie Simpson has written a good piece on the 4 Pines Brewing Company in Manly.

I didn't know they had released in bottles until I read there were some available in Balgowlah Porters (I think). Willie has confirmed this in the article, and I hope the Sydney Northern Beaches drinkers support these guys.

Sadly, support doesn't seem to come from the local council. 4 Pines were to join the Manly Food & Wine Festival this year and serve their beers. But for some obscure licencing restriction or permutation, their stall is to be separate from the rest of the action, and need to charge something like $2.50 per 100mL serve. The 4 Pines guys are reconsidering their options, and the last thing I read, were unlikely to proceed. Things may have changed of course. But 4 Pines is a taste of Manly, and although not ostensibly Food or Wine, is a key player in the local food & beverage scene. Manly Council could be a little bit more accomodating methinks...

Pale Ale, Revised: History, Brewing, Techniques, Recipes (Classic Beer Style Series, 1)Back to their beers.....

I think the ESB is good, with caramel and piney notes.

The hefeweizen didn't really impress me, but this was 12 months ago, and I believe there have been brewer changes since then. Willie's notes align with the classic German characteristics.

The kolsch aligns closely to a good Aussie drinking ale. I've mentioned this in another post, but I feel that this style is too varied in this country, although some of the better examples align very closely with some Aussie 'premium' beers.

For the American Pale Ale, Willie gets tropical fruit & citrus. I picked up stonefruit and pineapple. A good beer.

All up, I have enjoyed my two trips to 4 Pines, but baulk at frequent returns, because $9.50 a pint is a little beyond my means lately.

But hats off to the team; the brewery is visible, shiny and busy, the venue is smart & modern, and close to ferry & bus termini. The food is modern, ranging from share plates to full main courses. And the service is top notch. They're keen to have a chat about their offerings, and will give you a taste it you're unsure. Well worth the ferry trip from Circular Quay.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's day beers

Had the extended family over on Sunday for a lazy BBQ and a few tasters.

John Boston lager. A reasonable drop available through the Wine Society, and competes on price & style with other "premium" lagers such as Cascade & James Boag.

Brewdog Bashah. From Northmead cellars. A so-called Black Belgian-style Double Indian Pale Ale. What ?? Tasted like a hopped porter to me. I'm not so sure about all this "extreme" brewing & style cross-overs. The style boundaries are being challenged, which is OK I guess. But why then try to categorise the beer using the standard category definitions ? It comes across as a bit, um, contrived.

Brew Like a Monk: Trappist, Abbey, and Strong Belgian Ales and How to Brew ThemDuvel. I scored these for $2.30 a bottle from Dan Murphy. Someone mistakenly printed off the price tag as $47.95 per case, rather than per six-pack. I cleared them out of the stock and took the tag to the checkout, knowing full well there was a mistake. :-) If it had been a small privately owned bottle shop, I wouldn't have..... but, Woolies ? Come in spinner....
Complete Coopers Brewery European Lager Beer Kit PackageTrappist Westvleteren 8. Unavailable in Australia, but sent over via the "grey market" in the US. Me and a couple of other beeradvocates banded together and paid, from memory, $30 a bottle for the 8 and the 12. The beer is outstanding. An earlier review can be found here:
My own concoction, a kind of imperial schwartz beer (lol), was on tap. Coopers European lager tin, augmented with Special B, pale Cara, and chocolate malts, plus some Perle for additional bittering and my home-grown Tettnang for dry-hopping. Fermented around 18C, and kegged/conditioned for a couple of weeks.

Had some wine, too.....

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Article: Beer and Brewery Guide to Sydney City

My first article for Suite101 has been success published:

Beer and brewery guide to Sydney City.

I expect there will be some chargrin that I included Manly, but not Darlinghurst. I'll probably write about the Local Taphouse in greater detail later.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Australian Ale ? What's that exactly ?

Yep... Cooper's would take 99% of survey respondents here... And 99.9% in volume sold as well, you'd expect.

Pale Ale, Revised: History, Brewing, Techniques, Recipes (Classic Beer Style Series, 1)It's my go-to ale. Every week I have lunch at the local RSL, and put two Red's down regardless of what I'm eating. And I reckon that Cooper's Sparkling Ale in a 750mL bottle is a particular joy. Dunno why it's better than 375mL bottles..... just seems to be more balanced.

Most of us would like to see Aussie Pale Ale in its own beer style. But a couple of problems here...

1) The arbiters of beers style categories have a collective conscience sitting somewhere between Boston, Bruges, Bavaria & Burton.... the New World doesn't come into consideration.

2) The style itself would be up for debate in Australia anyway....what is it ?

Well, you'd have to go to Cooper's as a touchstone at least.... Pride of Ringwood hops, a clean malt profile, and a cloudy yeasty fruitiness .... say green apple or pear. OK... this serves both Red & Green Coopers.... but anything else ?

I remember one occasion long ago at the old One-Eyed Beer Tasters club at the Lord Nelson Hotel in the Rocks.. Willie Simpson pulled out an aged Kent Town Pale Ale. Must have been something about 1980's Adelaide, but this was all satin & lace. Yet very much the same pedigree as it's larger neighbour. Kent Town is long gone, sadly.

I'll throw some Sydney locals into the mix:

Lord Nelson Three Sheets, James Squire Governor King, Redoak Kolsch.

Kolsch ? Fair enough to pull me up on that. But I will argue that, in Australia at least, this style is so wide and varied that at least one offering is likely to align with Aussie Pale.

A lot of Aussie brewers are hung up on American pales. Little Creatures has paved a wide, wide way, and the ongoing evolution of New World hops, particularly from NZ, has seen the fruit-bomb beer become the norm.

I want clean, fresh malt, (yep... Kolsch-like), good yeasty evidence in ester & eye, served cold, but not too offensive when warming, and sessionable.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

G'day & Welcome


You are reading my first-ever blog entry. It'll take some time to get my head around all this jargon and stuff, so the site's look and feel will evolve.

My name is Michael, with the nom de plume vancurly.

My passion is beer, beer pubs, brew pubs, breweries, homebrewing and any other searchable key word associated with beer ;-)

I have a lot to say about beer. Too much in fact, so it's time to start writing it all down. I am a relatively active member of beeradvocate and recommend this site to any beer lover.

In an ideal world, someone would come out of the woodwork and offer my a job to review beer & Aussie beer related stuff. I don't think there is that sort of market in Australia, and if there is, it's already well covered by Willie Simpson.

However, this is a passion-based pursuit, not financial. I hope to have some formal articles published in particular sites, but for the moment, most 1st-person and opinion pieces will land here.


Aussie Beer Blog

Aussie Beer Blog