Friday, March 25, 2011

A top tap night

Barney, Paul and I each got leave passes on Thursday night; time for a visit to the Local Taphouse at Darlinghurst.

As is my wont, I headed into town a little early and dropped into Harts. I selected a pint of Hans Klopek Hefe Weizen (5%, $11). If I may say so, it reminded me of my own offering with home-made crystal malt, although probably a little more professionally balanced.

After this, a half pint of Pickled Monkey Belgian Golden Ale (7.5%, $7.50/half). Pickled Monkey is a brewing collaboration that includes Harts' own Scott Morgan. He kicked off this brand at the first Harts Brewers Fest, dressed as an ape and offering Imperial Pilsner.

This Golden Ale is excellent. Quite a dry offering, lacking the cloying characters that so often accompany Belgian Ales, yet plenty of pronounced yeasty phenolics. I even got some pear which made me think fleetingly of Coopers Pale Ale.

I then headed down to Schwartz Brewery in the Macquarie Hotel, where I was due to meet the guys. On tap and on special is a St Pat's day offering, "Goodness" dry Irish stout. At $3.50 a schooner, this was great value in anyone's language. I'm not much of a stout drinker, yet found this to be very approachable. Not so approachable was the pilsner, which has an overt honey character that seems to disguise any hop aroma.

Then the reason for the trip.  A quick walk up the hill to the Local Taphouse, and into some very interesting stuff.  We tried (on tap):
(links are to BeerAdvocate reviews)

Needless to say, all were excellent beers, with the grapefruity sourness of the Saison cleansing the palate nicely at the end of the session.

By this time of night, I tend to lose interest in jotting things down; one's taste buds tend to be sub-optimal also. Barney took a few notes, so he may kindly offer them for consideration.

The highlight for me was "The Craig". It was served through a glass & stainless "Randall", which contains a pile of fresh hops through which the beer passes on its way to tap and glass. The beer was murky, the aroma intense, the flavour intense, and we all agreed that a half pint would have sufficed. An amazing offering, like a bowl of muesli mixed with potpourri.

Great beers, great place.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Best Sydney microbreweries ?

My good friend Barney points us towards a recent Fairfax article: Finding Sydney's best microbreweries.

For the click-averse, here's the list:
  • Redoak  (24%)
  • Lord Nelson  (50%)
  • Schwartz  (6%)
  • James Squire Brewhouse (8%)
  • Harts Pub (12%)
All up, a reasonable list. What interests me is the reader survey attached to this article: "Which do you think is Sydney's best microbrewery ?" The percentages are those shown above.

The Lord Nelson is arguably Sydney's most handsome pub; sandstone, wood & brass, local ales. But as a 'microbrewery', the Lord's ales have never quite met expectation. "Best pub" for sure.... "Best microbrewery" not likely.....

For Schwartz to lose to James Squire is merely an indication of the former's relative obscurity. Squires successfully showcases the range of Malt Shovel beers, plus a couple of other local niceties, but does not have the edge that Schwartz has.  If the 1,959 survey respondents had visited all establishments (which I'm sure they haven't), the results would be different.

Although glad to see Harts on the list, it's not technically a microbrewey. But as a bona fide, local-focused-and-committed pub, there is none better.

And Redoak ? Again, not technically an onsite microbrewery.  Yes, there may be a couple of conditioning tanks in situ, but you won't find a mash-tun for at least a mile.... and that will be at Schwartz.....

What the journalist fails to consider (and this may be a result of editorial bias) is the possibility of microbreweries in Sydney that exist OUTSIDE the CBD.

Consider 4 Pines at Manly, or Paddy's at Flemington, or the new Australian Brewery at Rouse Hill.

Probably worth an update tour in itself. Anyone interested ?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Australia's best pale ale ?

My previous post contained a qualifed statement about Alpha Pale Ale being Australia's best American Pale Ale. The qualification being that it is 'widely available'.

This got me thinking about the veracity of my claim. In my fridge at the moment is probably Australia's best American Pale Ale ("APA"). And I'm not really sure if it's all that scarce so as to not compare with Alpha's availability.

I'm talking about Stone & Wood's Pacific Ale (previously known as Draught Ale).  I picked it up at 1st Choice at Forestville NSW (aka Crown of the Hill).

OK, sorry, I've had this carton in the fridge for the last couple of months, and haven't quite gotten around to telling you about it. I've taken the photo, just not as yet supported it with formal commentary.

What sets this beer apart from the run-of-the-mill APA is the choice of hops. APAs are notable in their use of American hops, particularly the 3 C's (Cascade, Centennial, Chinook) and Amarillo. This beer however uses an Antipodean variety: Galaxy.  In fact it's been mooted that a 'Pacific Ale' style might be a bona fide style different to the APA...less citrus and more tropical notes. And different also to the 'Aussie Sparkling/Pale', which is considered to be a sub-branch of English Pale Ale  - think Coopers and all that I've waffled on about before.

(As an aside, also consider how the Knappstein Reserve Lager set itself apart from the crowd by using the NZ Nelson Sauvin hop to impart its distinctive fruitiness...... 'Pacific Lager' perhaps).

I think, therefore, I can still support my claim of Alpha being the best Aussie APA.  The Pacific Ale is the best, ahem, Pacific Pale Ale......

Stone & Wood Pacific Ale: outstanding late hop aromas, tropical fruits such as guava, & passionfruit (my Mum even detected frangipani). Refreshing and light body, 4.4% ABV.... top class warm-climate session ale.

I think it set me back $65-$70 (AUD) for the carton of 24.

ADDENDUM: Stone & Wood didn't figure in the Sydney Royal Beer Show results. Perhaps they didn't enter. I'll try to find out.....

ADDENDUM+1: Brewer was judge, hence no entry. Thanks Matt, again.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sydney Royal Beer Show results

Thanks to Matt again for his Australian Brews News. Always something interesting in it, and I recommend subscribing.

Last week, he wrote about the results of the Sydney Royal Beer Show competition, with some interesting, if not necessarily stellar, results.

Being the inveterate number cruncher that I am, I felt an analysis was necessary. Based on the medal list, I have the following conclusions. (Note I only have the medal winner list, not the full list of entrants).

Matilda Bay and Redoak lead the way with trophies and golds. Nail Brewing demonstrates the highest "average" score of 100% gold.... but this is due to one beer only, the Nail Stout, which is arguably Australia's finest of that category.

It would be good to know who's missing. There are some notable micros, but also some majors, including corporate-owned craft ventures (Malt Shovel, Matilda Bay).

Matilda Bay's frequent success is mostly due to the Alpha Pale Ale, which for mine is the best (widely available) American Pale Ale in the country. It tends to also win on the backs of Beez Neez (which corners the Other/Specialty Beer category) and Dogbolter.  Interestingly, Dogbolter was pipped in both bottled and draught dark lager categories by Hunter Bock and Redoak Oktoberfest respectively.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Coopers, and time.....

Cooper's Sparkling Ale holds a special place in my beer-loving heart. I had my first 'hand grenade' as an eighteen year old, quickly followed by the epiphany of draught Cooper's at uni (where 1st year Maths allowed me to appreciate the ABV-per-dollar metric).

Even today, Cooper's "red" is my beer of choice at my local RSL. I don't think it has a particularly strong following at this venue, however. The latest bottles have a "Best After" date of June 2010. I think this is to my advantage, however.

I reckon that there is a distinction between recent ales (say, 1-2 months best after date) and those that have an extra 6 months in bottle. As it ages, there's less hop, but more mellow malt. Less Aussie Pale, more English Pale....

I'm not suggesting one is better than the other - just different. But is this what Cooper's intend ? And what about those ales they do intend to be cellared ?

So, decided to do the journalistic thing and go to source:

{email to Cooper's, 22 Feb 2011}

Dear Cooper's,
I have a couple of questions regarding Cooper's Sparkling Ale, and aging beers.

• Your FAQ mentions that “The best after date was introduced to ensure that the minimum two weeks required for secondary fermentation has expired before the bottles are distributed for sale.” Does this specifically mean that the beer was brewed 14 days prior to the Best After Date ?

• I drink Sparkling Ale at a local club, where in the one sitting will get different best after dates (e.g. six months difference). I detect in the younger beers a more noticeable spicy, herbaceous attribute of the hops. The older beers seem to have this characteristic subdued, but have a more English pale ale malt profile. Is this what Coopers expects of the Sparkling Ale ? What is the maximum age you recommend before the ale would be considered (in all likelihood) ‘past it’ ?

• You also recommend that the Stout and Vintage ales will benefit from some aging. In the case of the latter, I have tried different vintages at different ages (including, recently a 1998 and 1999). There is of course great bottle variation, but the general experience (from those that have survived the trip) is of preserved fruit, sherry, nuttiness. Carbonation may have all but gone, or still remain in decent quantity. So there is quite a variation. Do you have a profile of how you expect the vintage ale to appear after 2 years, 5 years, etc ?

• Other breweries have taken a leaf out of Cooper’s book by extolling their ales as being age-worthy. The newly minted Endeavour brands spring to mind. When I tasted these beers, I disagreed. There did not appear to be the body, the hops, the alcohol that one would assume would be necessary for a beer to be considered cellarable. What components of the beer does Cooper’s believe contributes to aging ? Is it the preservative qualities of the hops, the yeast, the alcohol ? Or is it having enough gravity to allow post-secondary fermentation to continue slowly over time ? Or a combination of these ?

Thanks in advance,

Michael Vanderlaan

{end of email}

Cooper's advise me they have passed the email onto their production team for comment.

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