Thursday, July 21, 2011

Band - Josh Pyke & Jackson McLaren

Gig: Josh Pyke - "Fans First" single launch
Support: Jackson McLaren
Venue: The Grace Darling Hotel, $20 tix
Date: Friday 1st July, 2011

My wife has a couple of "music husbands" and Josh Pyke is one. When I first met her in 2006 she had recently discovered Pyke's music through a late night showing of his "Middle of the Hill" video clip on Rage and then had caught this unknown artist at a couple of tiny gigs at Brisbane's The Troubadour (RIP).

I was deep into the pub rock scene at the time, but also looking to rediscover some quality local acoustic-alternative music. It was a desire to reconnect with the style that originally ignited my love for the unplugged guitar. Soon after we connected I had purchased Pyke's "Feeding the Wolves" EP and experienced his live talent as a support for Eskimo Joe at The Forum. The dark literary lyrics and drop-D tones of Josh Pyke's music has kept us on board his melodical journey from obscurity to popularity.

Come last month, the wife was all over the announcement that Pyke would launch his new single, "No One Wants A Lover" with a special mini-tour consisting of intimate gigs for the fans. Josh would return to his solo roots roots playing small rooms with just his guitar and voice.

The sold-out Melbourne gig was held in the upstairs bandroom of The Grace Darling Hotel. Located along Smith St in Collingwood, a strip of emerging trendiness, the Grace Darling is a modern bar with character from the old pub building. It also has an (unfortunate...ha!) historic connection to the formation of the Collingwood Football Club. (why would I ever mention that?!? my team my be doing ok at the moment...or something...) The bandroom covers the upstairs section of the building, which provides three spacious rooms with one including a bar and corner stage to fit a cosy 3-piece or squishy 4-piece band.

This particular "Fans First" show was an intimate gig in an intimate space with an intimate audience all there for intimate songs. Thankfully though, there was plenty of room to move, as the crowd spread out through the various upstairs rooms throughout the night when the stage was empty.

Jackon McLaren opened the gig with a short and sweet set, focusing on his current EP, Mirrors and Strings. We have seen Jackson several times before, as supports to Howie Day as well as Josh Pyke who produced his self-titled EP in 2009. Each time McLaren has displayed an improved maturity and competency with his familiar-feeling songs.

Jackson plays simple songs on a well-worn left-handed guitar, with a mostly alt-country or folk rock vibe to the tunes. His chord driven music invokes a mix of Bob Dylan, Paul Kelly and Colin Hay.

Between songs Jackson sipped on a Bowmore Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky and declared his love for the spirit. Post gig the wife told him to find and drink Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude!(Go Jenn!) He seemed interested, so I hope he does! We bought his EP for $10 and caught him play again two weeks later, as he supported Busby Marou at Northcote Social Club.

Between sets I ducked downstairs to the main bar and stocked up on bottles of Mountain Goat Hightail and Murray's Craft Brewing Co Whale Ale for the next set. After ribbing the upstairs bar tender for the sadly poor selection of beers, I had learned that it was fine to purchase any beer from downstairs and bring it back up into the bandroom. Coopers Pale Ale was the best draught option from the limited bandroom taps, where the bottle selection is just...big bland macro-commercial. I would much rather enjoy such a gig with a fine Aussie craft brew if it's available in the same building! Probably one of my least favourite beers from the always excellent Murray's, Whale Ale scores a tick as a good gig beer. Flavoursome and sessionable, it suits live music in a pub setting well.

Josh Pyke hit the stage and launched into the familiar tunes of "Forever Song", "Candle in the Window" and "Memories & Dust". After a couple of years of playing to large crowds around Australia, with full backing bands, some stage production and a stint with a super-group project, it was great to see Pyke recapturing his solo roots, right down to the use of his footstomp pedal. This gig was the old-school Pyke that had made us fans.

Pyke's first new song of the night provided a new element to his performances - the use of loops to set up beats, percussion and additional vocals, all using only his single guitar and a double microphone. It's a trick that we had seen before from other solo artists and it worked well for Pyke, who was quite proficient with the looping setups. "I've been practicing heaps", Josh told us after the show, noting how difficult it actually is to get right.

More new songs followed. I didn't catch the title, but the song with the line "whose side are you on?" displayed further efficient and effective loop beats. Josh also used this new effects play-thing for a revised intro to "Make You Happy", which was initially punched in too fast causing Pyke to stop the song and say "ahhh...that was a test of the new song, Make You Really Happy". It would be his only obvious mistake with the effects and provided a quality moment of light relief. "Boys with their toys!", Pyke quipped.

The crowd showed their fandom with cries for "Doldrums" and "Silver". Josh responded firmly yet playfully with "I'm not a fucking jukebox!". That was followed by an incident with an audience member who loudly asked some fellow crowd members to "shut up!", which Josh would later recall to be hilarious...once he discovered that it came from fellow artist and mate, Lior.

Josh kept the gig rolling with "The Summer" and then his new single, the first from the new album, "No One Wants A Lover". Like Jackon McLaren's "A Whole Day Nearer", this song is currently being flogged on TripleJ, so the crowd readily joined in.

The alternation between old and new songs continued with "Lines on Palms", new song "Factory Fires", then "Our House Breathing" and "Sew My Name". The set was wound up with lively hits "You Don't Scare Me" and "Middle of the Hill", both of which offered new variations with the loop and microphone effects.

The night ended with Josh's favourite song from the new album, "Love Lies", which had a feeling of The Shins to it.

I found it a little unusual that for a gig aimed at the hardcore fans it did not include any of his pre Memories & Dust songs (other than the forever present "Middle Of The Hill"). However, this is probably just the case of Josh having a head full of new and recent songs that he needs to refine for upcoming tours. Ultimately, the audience seemed satisfied by the set. The night achieved its purpose...providing a speical intimate gig for those who really wanted it.

Speaking to Josh after the gig, we asked him where the inspiration to start using loop effect pedals came from. Our initial suspension was that he may have caught a live set by Howie Day, a true master of building multiple guitar/percussive/vocal loops during solo acoustic gigs (check out this clip of the song "Ghost").

It turned out that Pyke's loop effects inspiration was the musician Magnet from Norway.

"I've never really done it [loops] before," said Pyke, "but I saw Magnet do something with loops. It was very drone based but I liked the way it gave depth.

"In the same way I want to push myself with the band music I want to push myself with the solo stuff," Josh noted as we chatted about how tricky loops can be to set up, as well as how the loop locks the performer into a phrase for the whole song. Nonetheless, it allows for a more dynamic sound and variations to songs that we've heard played the same way many times before. Good stuff.

It was a good night. The venue and crowd were relaxed and friendly. We hope Josh Pyke continues to do these types of gig throughout his career, because it is the type of setting where his unique style shines through best. Josh did promise he would do so, and we'll be holding him to it...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Beer - Red Hill Brewery Imperial Stout (2011)

Warning...I have a somewhat blind love for Red Hill Brewery and everything they do, thanks to the lovely, friendly, generous staff of Red Hill and their beautiful microbrewery location. The Mornington Peninsula is an area I have a nostalgic connection to and it makes me want to move there every time I visit. So, it may be hard to properly judge their beers. Therefore, forgive me for any hyperbolic statements in this post.

The Red Hill Brewery Imperial Stout is one of the best beers in Australia. Brewed in May/June for a seasonal winter release each year, it is highly anticipated by many beer connoisseur. Fairly true to style for a Russian Imperial Stout (8% abv), it uses the brewery's own estate grown hops and is an in-house favourite of the brewers. This beer is both worth drinking now and also cellaring for several years. A multiple AIBA medal winner (Gold in 2010 for the 2007 batch and Silver for 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007), this finely crafted beer definitely improves with age.

A perfect pint?

Last year was my first experience of a Red Hill Imperial Stout and it was instant love - such a big, flavoursome and warming beer, but also accessible to all drinkers.

This year I have enjoyed this Imperial Stout on several occasions in various forms:
  • first it was bottles of the 2010 release beautifully paired with dessert (Espresso panna cotta with hazelnut and chocolate donuts) at the AIBA gala dinner (where it was totally snubbed for any recognition this year),
  • then, the real treat, 2011 Red Hill Imperial Stout, dry hopped cask conditioned on handpump at the Red Hill Brewery (sensational!),
  • at home from the bottle poured into goblet glass (my wife gave me a slab of this beer for my birthday, which she bought whilst we were at the brewery) and
  • right here and now at The Royston Hotel, where I am blogging this live!

This beer looks fantastic. Solid jet black with a big beautiful and consistent creamy tan head.

The aroma is of roasted malts, coffee, chocolate and the slightest hoppiness. There is also a faint alcohol kick that warms up your nose. It has everything I want in an imperial stout.

The taste is rich, sweet and smooth. Up front you are hit with dark chocolate, a complex but smooth profile of burnt/roasted malts and some good subtle hop bitterness, yet overall it is predominately sweet! Go deeper and you open up more of a mocha mix with dark fruits and cherries as well as some licorice and caramel.

The big body provides a creamy mouthful. On the handpump at Red Hill Brewery, the low carbonation supported the beer gorgeously, ready to drink from the moment it was poured. On tap here at The Royston it needs to sit and warm for a short while to achieve a similar rewarding mouthfeel.

The beer is warming, for sure. The 8% alcohol is evident but well balanced/suited to the beer.

The cask conditioned handpumped and tap versions left little lacing as my glass was drained, but there is a nice amount of lacing left by the Royston's tap pour. More importantly, the head retention is fantastic. All three ways (handpump, bottle, pub tap) result in a good head all the way to the bottom of the glass.

Drinkability, well...this beer is not "sessionable", but I damn well can drink it non stop! There is no need to drink more than 3 in a session because it is perfectly satisfying with only one or two (...I would classify "sessionable" as 4 or more). The warming alcohol slows your drinking but the quality and balance of the beer makes it very moreish.

The mostly dry finish provides a lovely long linger.

This beer excels when cask conditioned and poured from an handpump beer engine. Alternatively, simply poured from the 330ml bottle at room temperature, it is just as good.

Right now I am finding that, when served chilled by a carbonated tap at a pub, you may miss out a little on the true potential of this delicious brew.

Red Hill's Dave Golding said that they were keen to increase the bitterness on this year's version. This was further enhanced by dry hopping the cask conditioned batch that was exclusive to the brewery. The Red Hill Brewery team are super happy with this year's Imperial Stout and desire for everyone to try it as truly intended...from the cask at the brewery bar in Red Hill.

The ideal stout...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Beer - July Events - Women of Beer brew day & Festival of the Stone

A quick shout-out here for two upcoming beer events that will hit Melbourne this month. Both will showcase the wonderful craft of beer, wrapped up in a bunch of good fun, good people and more (like food & music!).

First up, on Saturday 23rd July is the Woman of Beer brew day:

Following the success of the Beer Diva's Women of Beer show and the launch of the Barley's Angels Australia earlier this year, the good women behind these events have decided to brew a beer together. Awesome!

Initiated by Sam Füss, Head Brewer at True South Brewery, this will be the first known all-female collaboration beer brewed in the Southern Hemisphere. Under the Barley's Angels banner, they have chosen to brew a 9% spicy Belgian style tripel, inspired by the likes of La Fin du Monde, Chimay White and Westmalle Tripel. Eventually this Women of Beer brew will be bottled and sold with all profits going to charity.

The gang of female brewers and brewery owners from Victoria will be joined by the Beer Diva and Barley's Angels for a day of fun and feasting whilst brewing this big beer. Members of Barley's Angels are invited to participate in the brewing process, such as helping with hop additions.

There will be a special long lunch as well, an Argentinian BBQ held upstairs on True Souths function space, Mawson's Landing (booking required).

All are welcome to attend the brew day and lunch (male & female)...but don't expect to see any males touching the brewing ingredients or equipment.

The Women of Beer line up will be:

Closing the month is the Stone & Wood Festival of the Stone event on Sunday 31st July.

Stone Beer is a rich amber ale with a big caramel malt profile. It was my first experience of a beer from Stone & Wood Brewing and remains my favourite brew from the company, despite the intense love discovered for their Pacific Ale over last summer's bbqs. Stone is brewed once a year, during winter, in small batch and with flaming hot rocks added to the boil. The Festival of the Stone has previously just been held at the brewery in Byron Bay and helps showcase the Stone Beer release each year.

This year, the Stone & Wood crew and bringing a bit of the Byron Bay vibe to cold old Melbourne by holding a mini-festival party at The Workers Club in Fitzroy. The Sunday afternoon event will feature music from Jumpin' Jack, The Galaxy Folk and Tehachapi. It will also include a preview of the surf film El Mar Mi Alma (My Sea My Soul), which premiered at the Byron Bay Film Festival earlier this year. Of course, Stone Beer will be pouring a'plenty!

Both events should be a bundle of fun and another fantastic opportunity to mix and mingle with the local craft beer industry and supporters. I hope to see you there...

Event: Barley's Angels presents the Women of Beer Brew Day
Time & Date: 11am - 4pm. Saturday 23rd July, 2011
Where: True South, 298 Beach Road Black Rock VIC
Cost: Free to visit True South and watching the brewing action.
Lunch: $55 per person for an Argentinian BBQ with a True South beer
Lunch Bookings: Call True South on 1300 878 360 or email
More info:

Event: Stone & Wood Festival of the Stone
Time & Date: 4pm - 7pm, Sunday 31st July, 2011
Where: The Workers Club, 51 Brunswick Street Fitzroy VIC
Cost: $12
Tickets: Available at the door or order online via Stone & Wood Facebook Shop
More info:

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Beer - Birthday Brews - Revisiting Favourites

On Thursday I completed 31 years of life...and began my 32nd. That must mean it's a good time to enjoy some extra special beers!

So yes, for my 31st birthday I opened my mini beer cellar, which I began a year ago, and revisited some of my favourite beers.

Bringing in the next year of life on Wednesday night, the wife and I drank my saved bottle of Bridge Road Brewers B2 Bomber Belgian black IPA (which I blogged my love for last year).

Not surprisingly, the beer poured with a massive frothy head. It was no gusher, but the yeast must have still been working away for sometime, continuing the production of carbon dioxide. All that did, however, was slow down the process of pouring the beer. It still possessed a beautiful solid dark black appearance with a generous tan head.

With just under a year of age behind it, the B2 Bomber still tastes fantastic and drinks beautifully. Naturally, the hop character has mellowed and softened a bunch, but the rich and complex flavour was still in good form. A flavoursome combination of dark roasted malts, coffee, chocolate and dark fruits in a well balanced, warming package. I really love this beer!

Towards the bottom of the bottle, there was a small edge of a sour funk, indicating that the yeast may soon turn this beer a bit. So if you are sitting on a bottle of B2 Bomber, I recommend drinking it soon, unless you have a decent and controlled cellar set up.

In good news for lovers of this one-off anniversary ale from Bridge Road Brewers, Ben Kraus plans to brew and release a "revamped" version of B2 Bomber later this year! Awesome.

For my birthday present, the wife surprised me with a very special bounty of international craft beers that I have never tasted before...

Mikkeller Black Hole Barrel Aged (Peat), Mikkeller George! Barrel Aged (Bourbon Edition) and BrewDog Abstrakt AB:05 (bottle 3437 of 3600)!

These are extremely exciting beers for me. I have tried other versions of each - Mikkeller Black Hole Barrel Aged (Red Wine - Pinot) on one awesome night of big stouts at Biero Bar; had my first taste of Mikkeller George! in January this year and was blown away by the coffee kick; and BrewDog Abstrakt AB:04, which was enjoyed with the ABWG over dinner at Josie Bones. Each other those beers have been serious "WOW" beers for me and sit comfortably in my list of top 20 beers I have ever tasted. Hence, Jenn's above birthday present to me is something very special ...she's an awesome wife!

Birthday night, Thursday, we had a quite little birthday dinner at The Courthouse Hotel in North Melbourne. Dining from the bar menu and drinking excellent craft beers from tap, it was exactly my type of preferred dining experience. I wish I could visit The Courthouse more is just so satifying to see many people drinking, discussing and enjoying a diverse range of beers.

Over dinner we enjoyed:
  • the new McLaren Vale Beer Co Vale IPA - good easy drinking, but I'm not sure about the hop profile. The hop aroma was a little musty dirty, with a very flat bitterness and soft taste. I want more punch from an IPA. Although, I must say that this IPA worked wonderfully as a match for the beautifully soft Gorgonzola croquettes entree that we started the night with!
  • Mountain Goat Oaky Porter - a bubble & squeak brew using left over incredients that hint at the inclusion of elements from the Thorny Goat Black IPA and Surefoot Stout. We had previously enjoyed this beer in draught growler form from Slowbeer, but enjoyed more on tap, possibly due to the better dispensing system as well as some improvement from an extra 2 weeks age behind it
  • Hargreaves Hill ESB - Jenn drank this with her baked ricotta gnocchi, confit duck, spinach, olives
  • Bridge Road Beer Chevalier Biere de Garde - I had with my Porterhouse steak, mash, rocket & red wine sauce. I love Biere de Garde so I always go for it when on tap, but it was a bit of a match-fail for my steak. There was much yeasty banana coming through the Biere de Gard and less of the usual lovely dark fruits. In hindsight, the Mountain Goat Oaky Porter or Hargreaves Hill Stout would have been a more appropriate match for my steak. Nonetheless, the meal was thoroughly enjoyable.

After dinner we trammed back into the city and headed up to Biero Bar for more good beer action, which included the Prickly Moses Black Panther IPA and the Morning Peninsula Brewery Brown Ale, which was shining a beatufiul hue of red in the candle light...

Prickly Moses Black Panther

Mornington Peninsula Brown Ale

Sometime after 10pm the music was turned up too loud in the fairly empty Biero Bar, which kinda killed our chilled out mood as we lazed on the couches and enjoyed good beer. We took it as a cue to waddled down the road to Penny Blue bar. A little birdy had told me that the Holgate Brewhouse Temptress was pouring from the bar's handpump. So, even though Temptress was available at Biero Bar for $5/$10 for a pot/pint, the handpump enough incentive to make the short journey down to Elizabeth St (and only $8 for a goblet is pretty good!).

This was my first visit to Penny Blue...and I loved it! I feel sad that it has taken me so long to discover this characterful little bar, beautifully located in the heart of Melbourne. Whilst I have known about it for some time, I have just never made it there...and I've been missing out! Penny Blue only has one beer tap, but it is an old English handpump beer engine. If that does not take your fancy, the craft beer selection in the fridge behind the bar is excellent. The bar is cosy and relaxed. The staff are good, with one guy behind the bar impressing me with his explanations of three local craft beers when a customer asked if they had any good American Pale Ales to try.

There was some glassphemy when my 2nd order of Temptress was poured into a tall Trumer Pilsner glass. Totally the wrong glass for a chocolate porter! But oh well, such a minor that time of night I was just happy to still be drinking good beer in any form...

And so ended my birthday day, with the joys of handpumped Temptress. However, the birthday beering did not end there...!

Friday started with a hair-of-the-dog breakfast. Home-made bacon, egg & cheese muffins (so much better than McDonalds will ever make!) alongside a glass of the spectacular Nøgne Ø God July Islay Edition, thanks to the generous & hardworking crew of Innspire. Whilst visiting the Innspire warehouse back in January I mentioned that God July Islay was one of my favourite beer discoveries in 2010 and was used to mark my 30th birthday. In return the Innspire guys gifted me with this bottle to celebrate my next birthday with, and I did, over breakfast the morning after. Win!

This Porter-like American Strong Ale has been matured in Oak casks previously containing Islay malt whisky. Many drinkers struggle with the strong Islay character, but I love the rich woody smokey baconness. And we're all about big peat and Islay kick at the moment, especially after the crazy beautiful explosion of Yeastie Boys' Rex Attitude!

Finally, last night (Friday), Jenn and I returned to our "local" (microbrewery) the Mountain Goat Brewery...aka goatbeer. There we had pizza for dinner and drank Three Golden Goats, more Oaky Porter and 2011 Oaky Rapunzel!

Mountain Goat's Rapunzel is another beer that I have blogged undying love for in the past. This 2011 release is the best yet!

The massive and potent 2010 version of the Rapunzel Belgian Strong Blond Ale has been soften substantially, because it has been blended with a touch of Steam Ale after 15 months of ageing in Chardonnay barrels. It is now so much more drinkable and dangerously sessionable, even though two is enough to knock you out.

The appearance is still the same, cloudy golden-orange with a decent white head that leaves loads of sexy lacing. The huge Chardonnay aroma remains, along with notes of grapefruit, apple and some vinegar at the back.

Rapunzel's complex taste is also still big but now better balanced, full of citrus fruits like orange, green apple, vanilla and a slight sweetness.

The oak aging is very evident in the astringency and short dry finish. This version was also extra oaky because it had been run through the Randy filled with French Oak chips, adding some extra oaky funk to the taste. It hinted at elements of a good Lambic Gueuze. Really good stuff.

All it needed was some crusty bread and brie to match!