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.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Beer review: Coopers Vintage Ale 2011

A highlight of the beer lover's calendar is the annual release of Cooper's Vintage Ale. The first edition was way back in 1998, and subsequently released annually, except for a couple of years (2001, 2003, from memory).

Every edition is different. Some drink really nicely early on, some require a little bit of additional conditioning.

I think this is a nice beer, but will be significantly better in six months. Readers will recall my interest in observing how Cooper's Sparkling Ale changes over the course of six months: the wild, green hoppiness mellows into a balanced, fruity English Pale Ale.

I expect this Vintage Ale to behave similarly. And, of course, it will keep developing for years to come. The hop profile disappears pretty much, and the malt backbone begins to take on nuts and fruitcake. Later, this evolves into sherry-like flavours, a more desirable outcome of gradual oxidation.

It was $70-odd a slab at Dan Murphy. I'm planning on drinking a six-pack in the near term, one in half a year's time, one over the course of 12-24 months from now, and one over the long term.

Guide to review scoring is on the post Beeradvocate Ratings Systems
Unless otherwise specified, these reviews are my own.
Cooper's Extra Strong Vintage Ale English Strong Ale 7.5% abv
B- / 3.48  look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

a) Mostly bright copper; some particulate in suspension. Coarse, beige foamy head.
s) I get capsicum, lantana, banana, molasses & caramel. I also get a need for patience.
t) Banana bread & acetone. Licorice note. Archetypal "Coopers" flavour of pear flesh and yeast. Medium bitterness.
f) Smooth, slight heat.
o) This is a fractured beer at present; the weedy hop aroma will subside, and the bread & molasses notes evolve into a nuttier profile. Will review again in 6 months.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Pumphouse

The Pumphouse in Sydney has been around for a long time, in various guises and functions. I first became familiar with it in the 80s, where it vied with the Lord Nelson as the beer lover's venue of choice.

At the time, it produced a few ales in-house, including Bulls Head Best Bitter, Federation Ale, and the classic Thunderbolt strong ale....... I have done some very silly things after drinking 5 or so pints of Thunderbolt.....

The Pumphouse has reestablished itself among the top beer venues of Sydney. Good friend Barney & I dropped in there last night (as the first stop on a two-stop tour... more to come on that). I was excited by many things; a BrewDogs beer on tap (their 5am Saint, a hopped red ale), three house beers (including Thunderbolt), and a range of bottled beers that demands serious attention.

The guys behind the bar are falling over themselves to give you a tasting, and will talk the leg off the proverbial chair given half a chance.

The highlights for me were the 5am Saint, the full range of Murray's beers, including Angry Man, Shaun's Fault, and Spartacus, and also, at long last, some Sierra Nevada ales from California. There were other Americans there as well, such as Rogue etc., but I aimed straight for the Sierra Nevada Torpedo, and was not disappointed.

I think you'd need a good week to get through the beers on offer here. In the 80s and 90s, another Sydney venue, Jackson's on George, boasted of its range of beers, and awarded those who made their way through the range. This of course not only promoted irresponsible alcohol consumption, but irresponsible choice of beer.... you had to drink the rubbish as well the good stuff to get your gong.

I don't expect the Pumphouse would go down this path. Besides, the variety of beer available these days is wide and everchanging; people will keep coming back just to see what's new.

Life's too short to drink bad beer (to paraphrase the late Len Evans). I suggest, however, allocating a reasonable chunk of it to attending the Pumphouse. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Global Beer Consumption

Some interesting statistics can be found in Saturday's Fairfax business press. It's a map of the world showing 15 of the largest beer consuming nations in the world.

Litres per
head, 2009
New Zealand72.7

When multiplying out by population size, China is the biggest market in volume, consuming 23.8% of the world's beer production.... and that's with only 30 litres per head per annum.

Any crafty beer marketer would recognise the potential here. One hurdle, however, is the competition of fine wine and spirits. The fast-growing Chinese middle class is taking a keen interest in quality global commodities, and good liquor is up there as strong symbol of prosperity.

Beer's challenge is to rate up there alongside wine, whisky and brandy. This is a tough challenge; even in the established Western markets, beer is having a long and difficult fight in changing its image as the everyman's drink into a more premium offering.

Beyond China, the most interesting entry on the list is Venezuela. The brewing landscape is quite small in Venezuela, although it's a very popular and accessible drink. It's leading brand, Empresas Polar, commands 77% volume share (, which at 68 litres per Venezuelan, is more than the total per capita beer consumption of Brazil.

No wonder that the country's president, Hugo Chavez, sees the Forbes Rich-Listed president of Empresas Polar, Lorenzo Mendoza, as a particular threat (

Friday, July 1, 2011

James Squire 150 Lashes

Thanks to Brews News for this heads up.

The James Squire range is about to be augmented, with One Fifty Lashes Pale Ale.

The quote from Chief Brewer, Tony Jones, goes:

“One Fifty Lashes is a refreshing Australian-style cloudy pale ale with restrained bitterness and a clean, smooth finish. It’s an easier-drinking beer than others in the James Squire range and a familiar style that Australian beer drinkers will recognise. The use of malted wheat also adds to its refreshing character delivering a beer with a fruity nose and hints of passionfruit, grapefruit and citrus,”

I'm all for the evolution of the Aussie pale ale. In this instance it may be more aligned with the "Pacific Ale" direction, as per the fruity descriptors above.

Also of interest is whether it's based upon some previous releases, such as the Brewhouse-only Governor King Pale Ale.   The Governor, however, had more honey and apple fruit notes, more in touch with the Cooper's pale ale genre than the Pacific Ale.

Released nationally on tap and in the bottle August 2011.

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