Saturday, March 10, 2012

Beer - I am a Beer Snob! Sorta...

Earlier this week, fellow social media addict Tif (aka @beergirlbites) brought to my attention this little gem of an internet meme - Annoying Beer Snob

Now that's a strangely familiar photo ...haha! Some of my favourites are...

Seriously, I love it. If you can forgive the Americanisms...then in the words of Dewey Cox, "Guilty as Charged"!

I'm honoured to be the subject...and hey, I own it! It's damn funny...because yes, it's so often true...not always of me, but of any clichés of culture or collective of enthusiasts in general.

I do my best to be balanced when sharing beer stuff with people, but sometimes the beer snob rolls out because some beer is so amazingly good whilst other beer...well, you'd just never it drink again!

I'm on a journey to experience as many beers as possible from across the globe in search of the best and most delicious/enjoyable, whilst specifically focusing on supporting the local Australian brewing industry. I will claim a point of difference from many of the hardcore beer snobs that I have come across over the last few years...I do still drink the macro lagers that I "grew up" on, like VB and Melbourne Bitter...there's always a time a place for those (...usually a dirty rock pub gig!). Oh...and should I mention my curiously strong predisposition to always have a pint of XXXX at the pub when we visit the wife's hometown in regional Queensland...

A pint of XXXX Bitter at The Rising Sun Hotel in Rosewood, QLD

The choice of photo for this Annoying Beer Snob meme is probably the only questionable part. I mean...pretending to drink a Slowbeer growler with a straw whilst dressed in my AFL footy gear (Go Bombers!)? Seems more like a doofus/bogan move! A better beer snob image would be of one drinking a Bourbon Barrel Aged Barleywine from a branded snifter glass whilst wearing a cravat (hmmm...I must do that soon, now that I have those Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywines that I scored from BJ Seidel last week. Where's my cravat? Might just have to dust of my vest instead.)

It's a shame they didn't pick up on some of the more wanky posey photos that showcase my beer snob tendencies this one, from Good Beer Week last year:

Nice boneheading, Klara!

Anyways, well done to the Internet for more random hilarity! Where would we be without it?! (...probably doing something intelligent or useful...pfft...)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Beer - Pliny the Elder by Russian River (3 March 2012 Part 2)

(...continued from Part 1)

Two weeks back, on the night before our febfasting was activated, I meet up with Chris Nelson and Merideth Canham-Nelson, aka The Beer Geek and Beer Girl Geek. Chris and Merideth are intrepid brewery explorers, travelling the globe to visit every brewery they can reach. They actually hit 700 breweries visited during this visit to Australia!

After crossing paths at Mountain Goat Brewery during their 2009 visit to Australia, it was great to formally catch up this time and chat all things local-beer-industry. We began over Aussie craft beers at Beer DeLuxe and then drank the new Mad Brewer's Hoppy Hefe at Portland Hotel, home to the Melbourne James Squire Brewhouse.

Sharing the good beer love, we swapped local beers. I gifted the BeerGeeks a Ninkasi's Angel and the 2011 Mountain Goat Rare Breed Surefoot Stout, which I thought was an especially fine batch.

In return...I received the coveted Pliny the Elder! Score!

Brewed by Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California USA, Pliny the Elder is one of those "holy grail" craft beers in the beer nerd community. This 8% abv American Double India Pale Ale holds perfect scores on both RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. It is widely considered the style benchmark for American Double IPAs and regularly appears high on lists of all-time best beers.

Whilst many may now concede that Pliny the Elder has been outdone by newer Double IPAs, it continues to hold the highest of reputations due to its influence on American brewing. Russian River's owner and brewmaster, Vinnie Cilurzo, is often credited as the inventor of the American Double IPA style and so to many Pliny The Elder, their flagship beer, will always be "the original and (hence) the best".

Understandably for Russian River's microbrewery operation, availability of Pliny the Elder is very limited. Distribution of this beer only reaches across a very small portion of California, let alone barely touching the rest of the USA (here's a good blog post that covers this discussion in more detail). It's just like the limitations of our own Aussie craft brewers. One could only taste the indescribable joy of the Red Hill Double Barrel Aged Imperial Stout if you had physically visited Red Hill Brewery when it was available for a short was the only option for acquiring a bottle. However, Pliny the Elder's history is also written in brewing folklore. Hence, the scarcity of Pliny the Elder adds to it's wonder and desire.

Like many other Australian beer nerds/snobs/fans, I was unlikely to ever experience Pliny the Elder without making a specific pilgrimage to Santa Rosa. Therefore, we are teased by the myth as we're left wondering "what's all the fuss about?"

There is one other way to experience such a beer...and that's to have a generous, craft beer appreciating local bring you a well treated and relatively fresh bottle. I was lucky enough to find myself in that situation.

So here it is...

Pliny the Elder's bottle label implores you to drink this beer as fresh as possible, not to age or store it for a rainy day. "Pliny is for savouring, not saving" reads part of the text that borders the simply yet striking label. This beer relies on its hop character, which will only diminish with time.

My bottle has a bottling date of 16 January 2012. Yes, I should have drunk it straight away for maximum effect. Unfortunately, I had reached my beer consumption limit after meeting with Chris and Merideth and the next morning began our dry Half-arsed Febfast fortnight. So, Pliny's been keeping cool and dark in my fridge until last night (which just so happened to be at the end of a rainy day).

Yes, Pliny the Elder is awesome/beautiful/impressive/wonderful. However, this beer's brilliance isn't related to its big hoppy flavour profile. The use of Amarillo, Centennial and Simcoe hops actually provides a very familiar American 2IPA taste. It's a straightforward hop-smacking flavour that doesn't throw up any curve balls besides a common pepperish hit. Where this beer excels is in everything else: balance, body, complexity, length and finish.

Pliny the Elder has a balance and smoothness unlike any other American Double IPA that I have tried before. It looks spectacular, clear yet richly golden with a big thick white head.

The classic aroma of the style is instantly evident from the moment you crack the lid open.

Everything in this beer works perfectly in harmony. This beer is big and powerful in your mouth, yet the hop heavy mouthfeel is supported by a clean malt backbone. The alcohol is very well hidden in the beer, providing warm but zero alcoholic vapours or burn.

Despite its intensity, it is actually quite moreish. It's easy to drink yet provides everything a hop head seeks in a Double IPA.

So, does Pliny the Elder live up to expectations? Definitely. I can not fault it. My preference is for flavoursome yet extremely well made beers...and this beer is definitely that.

Those who are much more hardcore about American Double IPAs and more well travelled in experiencing such beers fresh may argue Pliny's place against other, more unique and characterful American Double IPAs, but I suspect few would fault its composition and drinking performance.

Well done Russian River and thank you The Beer Geek. I am very lucky...but now I desperately want to visit the Russian River brewpub, which will simply be out my reach for a long time to come. Maybe one day though...maybe.

There is only way I can fittingly conclude today's two posts...and that's with some hops porn...

Photo by Jenn Davidson, captured at Red Hill Brewery, 3 March 2012.

Beer - Catching up...(3 March 2012 Part 1)

Well, haven't I been a bad blogger! Have I been neglecting my passion for Melbourne's bustling beer, bar, band scene? I seem to have missed a massive February with blogger essential events like National SLAM Day, countless large music and mini beer festivals, even yesterday's American Beer SpecTAPular at The Local Taphouse, as well as bar news aplenty.

No, not neglecting...I've just been far too busy with my full time job, maintain my property and keeping fit. So, apologies if you're a keen blog reader! The last two weeks also involved a commitment to Half-arsed Febfast, in which we completely gave up all alcohol (plus junk-food, chocolate, ice-cream and chips) to focus efforts on maintaining good health and in support of health and addiction awareness. We also needed to find a near gear to boost our running training as we prepare to run the 14.38km Run for the Kids and the 13.2km Puffing Billy Great Train Race over the next two months. This goal was best served by a dry two weeks.

Whilst I'd love to blog here every day, obligation free rainy days like today are so rare for me at the moment. I also continue to write for Australian Brews News, which takes some priority, so keep watch there!

Thankfully, just quickly, I have some free space today to share about an excellent beer day, as well as a little boast about a very special international craft beer that I consumed last night (...which made this post far too long, so I turned that into Part 2).

Yesterday, we had a sensational day as we returned to the essence of that which makes us such big fans of the local craft beer scene - visiting breweries with friends and enjoying beers over good conversation in beautiful settings. We returned to the scenic Mornington Peninsula for lunch at Red Hill Brewery, followed by a tasting paddle of Hix Beer at the Hickinbotham of Dromana winery and then more beers at Mornington Peninsula Brewery.

For the day we were joined by BJ Shelton from Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA. BJ is a bar owner, musician, blogger, craft beer lover and honourary Australia (his wife, Jess, was originally from Australia). It was great to catch up again with BJ, who shares a passion for exploring local beer.

First we shared lunch with BJ and Jess and Red Hill Brewery, which was busy as many sought to escape the rainy day after visiting the popular Red Hill Community Market. Good thing we had secured a booking earlier in the week! Once again the food, beer and service was spot on. The improved Belgian Blonde, the current seasonal, provided excellent drinking on a gloomy wet day. It even paired beautifully with my steak sandwich. The relaxed setting with fresh food and beer provided a joyus lunch session, as has been the case every time I visit Red Hill Brewery. They just seem to have the prefect brewery cafe formula there.

With Jess heading home to return to parenting duties, BJ, Jenn and I continued onto the Hix brewery at Hickinbotham, which none of us had been to before. The characterful winery cellar door was busy, but everyone seemed to congregating around the wine tasting area. The beer bar off to the side was empty, providing a quiet and relaxed space for the three of us to enjoy ourselves over a tasting paddle of the 5 Hix beers.

Already family with the three bottled beers (Pilsner, Pale and Brown), Hix also offerred two beers which I had not encountered before - an Irish Stout and their seasonal Summer Ale (a Steam beer). Overall the beers didn't throw up many surprises, but it is definitely a location I'd be happy to visit again.

Sometime after 3pm we arrived at Mornington Peninsula Brewery. The rain was now pouring down hard as we took shelter in the warm brewery bar warehouse. MP's head brewer, AG, was just finished up a brew, a White IPA - a hybrid witbier India Pale Ale cross. It will be the first of the style to be commercially released in Australia, although Doctor's Orders will also be producing a White IPA in several months for the Great Australiasian Beer SpecTAPular during Good Beer Week). When his brewing duties were done. AG joined us for several beers. Dave and Karen Golding of Red Hill Brewery also popped in on their way home from a night in the city, leading to some insightful and entertaining brewer on brewer beery chat. There may have been an incident with a pillow-pet and a glass of Mornington Peninsula Imperial IPA.

I drank the Mornington Brewery Saison, which was lovely but didn't quite hit the mark of the three Saisons that I discussed in my last post. AG acknowledged that he wasn't overly happy with the Saison, with something not quite right lingering at on the back palate.

Horrendous weather continued to dominated outside, but it failed to attract from the good times inside, as the afternoon reaffirmed that craft beer people are good people - friendly and welcoming.

As the designated driver for a day, I kept my beer consumption on the soft side for the day, as I knew my reward was waiting for me at home... 3 March 2012 Part 2 to discover that reward!