Thursday, May 26, 2011

Good Beer Week - Sunday - Slowbeer Tasting

The "Around the World in 18 Beers" Tasting at Slowbeer last Sunday evening was the final event on Jenn and my Good Beer Week itinerary.

Honestly, by Sunday we’d had our fill. Saturday had been a massive beery day, which began with the BeermenTV Hair of the Dog Breakfast, followed by The Local Taphouse Kiwi SpecTAPular and ended with the Great Beer Debate. It was touch-and-go as to whether we’d actually make it out on Sunday, but the strong history of Slowbeer’s previous tastings enticed us along. Thankfully the refreshing half-hour walk from home to the Slowbeer shop helped prepare our heads and livers for another big beer session.

Slowbeer co-owner and beer purveyor, Chris Menichelli, really knows how to structure and run tasting events well. His small craft beer shop in Hawthorn is ideal for intimate sessions of beer discovery, allowing a group of 20 to comfortably gather around the large table that sits in the middle of the shop, providing plenty of space to rest glasses and make notes. At this tasting, the 20 attendees consisted of a mix of old and new faces and probably the most number of females (8) that I have seen at a Slowbeer tasting before, which is great to see.

Chris opened the evening in his forever causal manner, yet still conveyed the key points of the occasion: this was a special event as part of Good Beer Week, which was ending today; this tasting was much bigger than any Slowbeer has held before (18 beers compared the usual 8-12); and basic food elements would be matched with each style. Let's get into it!

The first 12 beers were ordered by region, with a light and dark version of each compared to a local microbrewery’s challenger. The final 6 beers showcased some modern craft beer benchmarks, International vs Australian.

Our journey around the beer world began in Belgium with the Saison. The beer that is popularly regarded the style benchmark – Saison Dupont – was followed by the local Otway Saison from Otway Estate Winery & Brewery. It was an exciting start for me because these are two beers that I had never tasted before and had been keen to try for a long time. Wow, and what a difference! Saison Dupont was miles beyond the Otway Saison. Dupont's excellent big but balanced flavour included elements of orange peel and spices. With its full body, high carbonation and a relatively short, clean finish, it was a fresh fruity start. In contrast the (2010) Otway Saison had a flat flavour and was far too thick, with some unbalanced yeasty notes. Possibly it would be better when younger, but it really had nothing on the Dupont or another Aussie that I have enjoyed plenty of - the Chevalier Saison from Bridge Road Brewers. The Saisons were complemented with brie and crackers.

For the dark side of Belgium we were presented with two Dubbels, the Trappistes Rochefort 8 and the local Bright Fainters Dubbel. A big step up from the Saisons, both these beers provided wonderfully complex, sweet malty aromas and tastes. The international benchmark of the Rochefort 8 was again a clear winner with the better body and length. However, the Bright Dubbel was a worthy local opponent and a good interpretation of the style. The best Australian brewed Dubbel that I have had has been the Mad Abbot Dubbel from The Little Brewing Company in NSW. The real winner in this round was the fig paste and crackers that enhanced the dark fruit characters of the beers.

Jumping over the border to Germany, the Hefewiezen was the focus of Round 3. The Weihenstephaner brand, with its big banana "house flavour", is well known throughout the world and their unfiltered Hefewiezen is the common example of what a German Hefewiezen should be. The local competitor, the Bridge Road Brewers Hans Klopeks Hef is a very different beer that brings out more of the clove and spice elements of the style. This meant that the Weihenstephaner provided another win for the international options, but I thought the match was somewhat incomparable. When I tasted the Hefewiezen from new Melbourne microbrewery - Cavalier Brewing – back at the Fed Square Microbrewery Showcase, I thought it would be a worthy opponent to Weihenstephaner's Hef.

The big smoky characters of German Rauchbiers are not to everyone’s liking, but they have always provided me with a kick of aromatic joy. Also, I have watched Jenn’s palate develop from disliking smoked beers completely, to now enjoying the good ones. We tasted the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock against the local 3 Ravens Dark. In my book, the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier deserves its benchmark status and the 3 Ravens Dark is best consumed as a food match, with something like pork. Both beers were characterful and evoked plenty of discussion, but the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier scored another style win for the internationals. Smoked ham and cured meats proved the natural food support for these beers.

Swimming over the figurative English Channel, we were next presented with Pale Ales and Porters based on the English style.

English Pale Ales were represented by Timothy Taylor's Landlord Ale and the Ragged Jack from Van Dieman in Tasmania, whose beer range has just hit Melbourne. The Landlord begged to be pulled through a traditional English handpump, with its lovely soft caramel notes and hints of coffee (instant coffee though?) needing the warm and flat serving of a beer engine to really excel. The Ragged Jack was unfortunately bland in comparison. It had some interesting fruity notes but lacked hop character.

Next were English Porters with Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter and the Holgate Brewhouse Temptress chocolate porter. It was a bit of a mismatch putting the straight traditional porter from Samuel Smith against the delectable chocolate infused Temptress, but still an interesting experiment. The London Porter from Meantime remains my personal benchmark for English Porters and I will never have enough of Temptress, which is better on tap. Each Porter was enjoyed with delicious 80% dark favourite!

There ended the International Benchmark vs Australian interpretation component of the night. Next Chris guided us through six beers that have set new benchmarks in the craft beer scene over the last 25 years.

The Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Stone & Wood Pacific Ale are two beers with big reputations for making an impact on their respective beer markets. Pacific Ale was my "beer of the Summer" for 2010/11, so I probably need to say no more about it. I love it by the slab. In contrast, I am still not sold on the distinction of Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale, but I believe that I need to try it fresh from the source to really understand way so many drinkers rave about it.

New World Pilsners were demonstrated by tastings of the Emersons Pilsner from New Zealand and the Knappstein Reserve Lager from South Australia. Two finely crafted beers, but it was a cold and wet night so I wasn't really in the mood for them.

The final two beers tasted were coffee beers, which suited the weather much better. First was the collaboration beer from Amager Bryghus and Mikkeller – the Hr. Frederiksens Væsel Brunch – which blends the two top end Imperial Stouts by each brewer, the Amager Hr. Frederiksen and the Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel. After recently drinking the Beer Geek Brunch Weasel and declaring it one of my Top 5 ALL TIME FAVOURITE beers, it was hard for me to judge this blended brew on its merits without feeling like I was drinking a watered down version of the Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Brunch Weasel. Amazing as the Hr. Frederiksens Væsel Brunch was in flavour, complexity and with a lovely coffee kick, it missed the silky thick body that I enjoyed so much in Beer Geek Brunch Weasel.

The Australian coffee beer was the impressive Black Giraffe from Burleigh Brewing Co. Most of the flavour goodness in this black lager was drowned out by the Hr. Frederiksens Væsel Brunch, so it seemed underwhelming. However, I have enjoyed plenty of the Black Giraffe in the past and agree that it is a valid Australian craft beer benchmark. Placing Black Giraffe at the end of the tasting was not the best way for a newcomer to experience it, but it was a refreshing was to wash down 18 diverse beers.

At the end, three hours had passed in what seemed like 30 minutes. Chris wrapped up the evening with thank yous and a final shout-out to Good Beer Week. Spirits were still high so many people seemed to linger for a while, a sure sign that good time was had (or was it just the coffee hit from the last two beers?). I felt remarkably fresh, even after so many big beers, which I put down to a well structured and coordinated event.

And wow...what a line up! It seemed like there were mismatches and oh-so-wrong jumping across the beer style spectrum, but somehow it just all worked. None of the beers ruined your palate or were followed by a serious clash on your taste buds. Even the Hefeweizens acted as something of a palate cleanser following the Belgian Dubbels. Looking back over the night, the whole thing was spot on. Jenn and I were still exhausted but glad to have come.

It was also great to catch up and engage in some beer chat with fellow blogger John "Beefy" Bogan of Beer Dakari. John had consumed 100 different beers throughout the week and was celebrating with a Delirium Tremens Pink Elephant hat. Fun stuff!

The fun ended as we realised that Good Beer Week was now officially over and we had to trudge home through the rain (it always seems to rain on the nights of Slowbeer tastings!). It was bittersweet after another enjoyable and rewarding Slowbeer experience.

Well done, Chris!

Well done Good Beer Week.

Good Beer Week - a brief review

The inaugural Good Beer Week has come and gone...and it was brilliant!

The Abbotsford Collaboration Ale by Mountain Goat, Moon Dog and Matilda Bay breweries.

Yes, Beer Bar Band was far too quiet during Good Beer Week (GBW). Sorry! I threw myself fully into the good beer celebration and festivities. Seven straight days of attending events and consuming plentiful good beer took its toll. My blogging therefore suffered as I wore myself out physically and mentally, as well as lacking any time and space to sit down and physically blog.

Thankfully, I have notes! The quality of these notes seriously degenerated towards the end of the week, but I still plan to blog about each of the GBW activities I attended. My posts will work backwards through the week, whilst those memories are freshest.

Overall, the week was a blast of fun and flavour. Although, I may have been lost in something of a schmooze-fest with brewers and industry folks for most of it. Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA) brought to Melbourne many notable and exciting people from the global beer industry. Hopefully, the success of GBW will cause the international guests to return home with very positive reviews, drawing back a larger contingent of the world’s brewing elite to our shores next year.

A special mention to the craft brewers of New Zealand who I met last week - as our "cousins" from across the Tasman sea, I found the Kiwis wonderfully approachable, genuine and generous. Their stories about the NZ craft beer scene put a visit to their country higher on my "to do" list.

A big shout-out also goes to the crew from Innspire, who showed Melbourne how to really party! They were responsible (in the best way possible) for me being completely worn out by Thursday morning.

Importantly, pretty much every beer I tasted throughout the week was fantastic. They all varied significantly, in many aspects, but there was not a beer that I could not drink and enjoy. This was the most rewarding aspect of the entire week, as the "Good Beer" Week lived up to its name.

Sure, there is room for substantial polish and restructuring before it all happens again, but the framework is there and was sufficient for the birth of Good Beer Week. Rest assured, a little bird told me that the planning and preparation for next year's GBW has already begun. Now that's saying something!

For what was essentially an unstructured festival that was thrown together in the space of a few months, by the passion of a couple of beer lovers, the week defied initial expectations. The concept sparked the imagination of many brewers, bars and venues. This in turn attracted crowds, curious visitors and locals to the places that are helping making beer in Melbourne so very good.

This is where my appreciation for Good Beer Week hits the highest note. The ultimate reason for starting Beer Bar Band was to share my experiences of Melbourne's beer and music scene in hope of opening up new locations, venues and experiences to fellow locals and readers. I want everyone to enjoy the awesome beers, bars and bands that Melbourne has to offer! The Crafty Pint's GBW Crafty Crawl had punters checking out bars, shops and breweries they had never been to before, as they hunted for the chance to win a big beery treasure.

The industry and marketplace has has a glimpse of the awesome potential and power of Good Beer Week (especially thanks to the AIBA gala dinner infiltration of the Beer Song video!). Now it is just a matter of keeping the festival true to the cause and preventing it from breaking out like wildfire (...moderation is always best)!

I learned much from last week's experience and look forward to being a better prepared and smarter beer writer during Good Beer Week 2012. Bring it on!

If you attended or were part of anything during Good Beer Week, I'd love to hear what you thought – good or bad. Leave me a comment or send an email. Cheers!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Beer - Good Beer Week is GO

The first Good Beer Week starts today (like, now!) in Melbourne and across Victoria. *excite*

What's it all about?

Over the next 7 days, Melbourne's breweries, bars, venues and beer retail outlets are showcasing the wonderful world of good beer with events, special deals, fun incentives and good beer friendly environments.

The week also coincides with the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA), which are announced at a gala dinner on Friday night. This also means that many luminaries from the Australian-wide and global beer industry are either in Melbourne or have their eye on they wait to hear which beers (including 550 international entries) have been awarded gold in 2011.

What When Where How Why?

Everything you need to know about Good Beer Week can be found on the GBW website:

Even more GBW information, insights and news can discovered at The Crafty Pint:

You can also follow the live action via the twitter hashtag #GBW

But beer is beer?

No...GOOD BEER is not "just beer". Beer is diverse and interesting!

Good beer has flavour (LOADS of flavour), character, depth, complexity, length. Good beer is very interesting...and much fun.

If anything...the ultimate aim of the week is to really open up good beer to everyone. Therefore, if there is only one thing you get out of this week...please make it the decision to try a beer that you have never tasted before.

James loves Good Beer...

I'll be around here and as many Good Beer Week event's and bars that I can get too...and maybe even a few sneaky say hi if you spot me...

So Melbourne, I commend you to go somewhere with beer that you have never been before...and have a very Good Beer Week!


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Beer - Mountain Goat Rare Breed Surefoot Stout

Well this is a surprise! I knew the next batch of Mountain Goat's Surefoot Stout had been brewed and was heading for Rare Breed bottles, as well as the usual Mountain Goat taps, but I thought it was at least another three weeks away from release. This is primarily because Mountain Goat co-founder Dave Bonighton told me so last month. Dave noted that the next new beer to be released from the Mountain Goat tanks would be the Mountain Goat/Moon Dog/Matilda Bay collaboration beer (a Belgian Dubbel, codename "Abbotsford Brew"), with kegs delivered to good beer bars during Good Beer Week. Surefoot Stout would follow that at the end of May.

Fast-forward to tonight, the wife and I made an evening dash down to our local shops for some groceries. I also used the opportunity as a beer run. (We have cheekily extended the Good Beer Week concept to Good Beer Month, as we aim to drink at least one craft beer every day during May.) The chill that has recently settled in to Melbourne's air had installed in me a craving for something dark...a stout.

Our dark beer shopping options are limited at this particular group of local stops. Therefore, my mind had settled on sufficing with Cooper's Best Extra Stout (#12 in the Critic's Choice book). Surprisingly, there was none available in the big chain supermarket, Woolworths. As a backup, I wandered over to my local Vintage Cellars (wine outlet of the big chain supermarket, Coles) and was delighted to find in the beer fridges...a fresh batch of Mountain Goat Rare Breed Surefoot Stout  (a terrible omission from the Critic's Choice Top #100 Australian Beers)!


So I purchased three bottles...and now I have Surefoot Stout circa Autumn 2011! Hooray!

Curious, I asked Dave Bonighton via twitter if this was possibly old stock from last year (which wouldn't be out of the question, knowing the turnover rate of craft beers at this Vintage Cellars...where they are still selling Stone & Wood Draught Ale). According to Dave, this batch of Surefoot Stout was a special small batch brewed specifically for Vintage Cellars. Maybe this means VC are "testing the waters" with the retail of Mountain Goat Rare Breed releases. So hopefully I am helping the cause by buying up a batch...because I would love to see Rare Breeds stocked at ANY shop within 300 meters of my home. (hehe)...greedy me.

Mountain Goat's move to produce regular Rare Breed releases throughout the year was one of the best developments of 2010 in the Australian craft beer scene. Formally a regular seasonal produced in 330ml bottles, the Surefoot was dropped from the main Mountain Goat line up when the focus turned to the supply of Hightail and Steam Ale. However, when space was created at the Mountain Goat brewery to allow more experimentation and small batch releases, the Surefoot Stout was given the royal Rare Breed treatment. As a 4.9% alc/vol craft stout, it provides a welcome difference in a market sector that is saturated by Imperial or flavoured stouts.

The Surefoot Stout appearance is wonderful. Black without being too thick, it pours with a decent tan head. The aroma is of sweet malt, milk chocolate, some yeasty esters and that Mountain Goat signature blend that I love so much.

This year's Surefoot is extra beautifully smooth. This is because Mountain Goat have filtered it for the first time. However, it was good to hear from Head Goat Brewer, Jayne Lewis, that this batch was brewed using the same old tried and true Surefoot recipe.

Maybe this batch is just extra fresh, but I think the beer's body has been beefed up and a richer chocolate taste is shining through, alongside plenty of roasted malt and some liquorice notes. Yum.

Excellent complexity, balance and length.

Best Surefoot Stout yet!

Beer - SHARE THIS: Elbow Skin Beer Song

In the eternal battle for better beer across this country, everyone's favourite local craft beer champion, The Crafty Pint, and trusty sidekick, The Wobbly Thong, have joined forces with Melbourne comedy duo, Elbow Skin, to create an official music video for Good Beer Week.

The video was primarily filmed during the brew day of the "Abbotsford Brew" collaboration beer between Mountain Goat, Moon Dog Craft Brewery and Matilda Day Brewing Company (read about that on Brews News at: Goat Dog Bay Collaboration Day). Some of Melbourne's best craft beer destinations provide the locations for this video, including the Mountain Goat and Moon Dog breweries, as well as The Royston and The Courthouse Hotel.

In my mind, this video may not quite be helping with the image of it essentially supports the typical beer-ad bogan-ish stereotype of beer drinking males (but it's comedy, hey?). Nevertheless, it's a bundle of fun and a very well made clip! Love the lyrics.

"Behold, behold...this liquid of gold..."

Beer Song by ElbowSkin from Alister Robbie on Vimeo.

Tremendous editing and post-production by Alister Robbie! Considering the huge marketing budgets of the macro brewing companies and the types of TV ads they regularly spin out...I wonder if they are scratching their hungover heads as they try and compute how such a fun ad for beer has been created on zero budget! The small team behind this beer song video created this ramshackle production by simply enjoying good beer...and the result is GOLD!

Let's get it out there...for the sake of BEER! (...and YES...we drink it in the morning!)

Swallow it down:

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Beers and Bars - Footy Pub Crawl FAIL

After a five day weekend over Easter, it is a rather sad experience to return to the standard two day weekend. Therefore, I planned to make the most of my May Day Sunday.

First I had to complete my healthy-life obligation of a 10km run ( preparation for next Sunday's Mothers Day Classic 8km run) followed by domestic duties of ironing, cleaning, lunch & dishes. Yes...hardly blog worthy, but such is my life. time!
May Day...celebration of the Harvest with a Red Hill Hop Harvest Ale!

Over lunch, complimented by the brilliant autumnal Red Hill Brewery Hop Harvest Ale, I followed online the AFL team I barrack for - Essendon Bombers - as they kicked the HELL out of newcomers, the Gold Coast Suns. Ok, no mean feat here. In only their sixth game ever The Suns do not have the build or experience to provide quality competition yet (unless they are playing the worst team in the 2011 AFL competition - Port Adelaide Power). So I should not be overly excited...but a decade suffering Essendon supporter will take anything they can get right now!

I watched the online scorecard tick over and over, goal after goal after goal, as my Bombers finished the 1st Quarter with 15 goals and 4 behinds (94 points!!) to 1 behind (1 point!). Unheard of in AFL history!

So, with this Aussie Rules footy slaughter providing a rare high for my team, I fast-tracked my plan to watch the 2nd Half telecast and quickly headed down to my local - The Skinny Dog Hotel - to watch the rest of the game live via the Pay TV feed (I don't have Foxtel at's an expense that I can not reasonably justify).

FAIL #1 - Arriving at The 'Flog (The Skinny Dog), I found a bunch of fit 20something Corona drinking guys & gals crowded around the plasmas watching silly UFC. I'm sorry...but UFC is baseless and entertainmentless for me. To see all 7 TVs in the pub tuned into the UFC was...disappointing.

I quickly left that scene and jumped down to Local Option Number 2 - The Hotel Kew. Thankfully, Hotel Kew (a Sports betting pub...very much not my scene) was showing the footy (with audio!) and it was relatively quiet and free of knobs that are commonly attracted to such a pub. Unfortunately, the ONLY beer available in this pub that is not a macro adjunct lager was James Squire Golden Ale. It was enough to suffice for a quarter...but I wanted to enjoy this fun footy watching experience with good beer...craft beer! The Hotel Kew is a good beer wasteland.

At half time I jumped on a tram and headed down to Richmond, making tracks for my favourite Melbourne pub of all...The Royston Hotel.

FAIL #2 - Unfortunately, when I arrived at The Royston I discovered that the pub does not open until 3pm on a Sunday. Boo!

So, I jogged back to Bridge Road, home of many pubs. After quickly noting that The Bridge Hotel was also closed, very closed, I trammed up another two stops and headed into The Spread classic pub with a big central rectangle bar, which needs better beers on tap. Thankfully, they at least have Little Creatures Pale Ale on was Sunday afternoon trivia. So, whilst the footy way playing on 2 big screen TVs, there was no audio...replaced by the Trivia host's voice... FAIL #3. I do like the Spread Eagle...but I was saddened even further when I heard that one of the trivia teams was named "The Cider Men". Ug...boys...drink good craft beer! It will impress you like no cider can!

At 3pm I made my way back to The Royston...only to discover that my favourite pub does not have Foxtel and therefore were unable to show the footy. FAIL #4

This failure was made up for by a pint of draught Bridge Road Brewers The Harvest Ale (2011 release). A beautiful beer, easy drinking with a long lingering taste that is hoppy fresh and balanced with excellence. This is the type of beer I hope will one day be regularly be on tap at the majority of Australian pubs. One day...!

(A full blog post of three Australian hop harvest ales in I will go into the full tasting notes then.)

My beloved Bombers were picking up the pace again in the 3rd Quarter of the game...and I was still keen to witness the live vision. Hence, I ditched my esteemed Royston and slow trammed back to...*sigh*...Hotel Kew to catch the final minutes of the game. Over another pot of James Squire Golden Ale, a fair but uninspiringly thick English Pale/Golden Ale, I celebrated a massive win by the lowly Bombers over the uber lowly Suns...which I mostly missed, because I do not have a subscription to Foxtel.

To complete the symmetry of my day's fail pub crawl, I went back to the start...returning to the Skinny Dog Hotel. I would have been happy to spend my Sunday afternoon at the Skinny Dog watching the footy, which I have done many times in the past, thanks to the supply of Colonial and Little Creatures beers. However, UFC cancelled that option for me...and through my failed hunt for beer and footy, I discovered how little good beer and/or craft beer mixes with sport in my local area. Despite living so close to Melbourne city...the craft beer capital of Australia...we are still a long way from penetrating the mainstream beer market.

Anyway...with the pub now relatively empty, I watched the post game wrap-up over a pot of White Rabbit Dark Ale, a welcome tasty relief in Melbourne pub-land. (side note: on Friday night I went through the "in-house" crafty Colonial beers on tap at The Skinny Dog - Kolsch, Witbier, Pale Ale and Porter - and enjoyed their balance...but more on that to come...)

Excellent lacing.

In the current local landscape of craft beer, the White Rabbit Dark is definitely a quality beer (as shown by its #7 ranking in the recent book - The Critic's Choice: Australia's Best Beers). However, on this occasion it did not satisfy me. FAIL #4.3 (yeah...not really a full fail...just a third...). I was in need of something with a fuller body and fruitier flavour.

Therefore, to end this fail day with some extra win...I enjoyed a dessert of the Trappistes Rochefort 8. Recently, I've had a craving for something full-bodied, dark and I picked up this popular Belgian at Slowbeer. In the past I have muchly enjoyed the highly regarded Trappistes Rochefort 10 but had yet to taste the 8 on my beer journal. Now I have...and it is good...damn good...

Essentially a lower gravity and ABV version of the Trappistes Rochefort 10 (which is still my favourite from the Rochefort range), Trappistes Rochefort 8 provides a wonderfully deep and fruity aroma that is a pleasure to just sit and inhale. In the mouth I tasted plenty of dark cherry, chocolate, yeast and something a little nutty. With a warming finish from the 9.2% ABV, it is suprisingly easy to drink and hence did not last long between the wife and I as we ended our Sunday.