June 21, 2015

As we head towards the second half of 2015, craft beer is everywhere. The rise of “craft beer culture” in Australia has tended to follow the American model, with lots of big hoppy IPAs and endless limited-edition brews to attract novelty hunters and “tickers”. I’m hoping it’ll settle down at some point but right now it seems that everyone with a redundancy and a mate who’s into homebrew is growing their beards and starting a brewery. Most of them start with a pale ale and maybe a second “basic” beer (an amber, golden or pilsener) which taste pretty much the same as everyone else’s, and then start getting into silly territory in order to try and stand out. It becomes very wearing to hear of yet another super-strong black DIPA/saison hybrid with added durian that is coming in a limited edition to a bottlo near you, or a “tap takeover” at some trendy Surry Hills pub where a brewery shows that they can do lots of different beers to a reassuringly mediocre standard. Not to mention the dreaded “collaboration brews” where brewing mates/rivals egg each other on to produce the most ridiculous concoctions they think they can get away with.

In the face of all this “choice”, I’ve actually started to reduce the number of new beers I try, as I’ve been burned too often. I stick to ones that I know will deliver the right taste, at the right time. And, truth be told, most of my choices now are imports. There’s a reason why the likes of Orval and Schlenkerla are classics: the brewers concentrate on no more than a handful of beers (in Orval’s case, only one) and take the time and effort to make sure they stay excellent year after year, a lesson Australian craft brewers should heed if they want their business to last beyond the current years of peak craft beer. When you see craft brewers introducing a cider or two into their range (and it’s happening) you know that the end is nigh.


The Verdict

June 17, 2015

It seems a bit crazy to be ranking the beers I drank five years ago, but I think it’s worth finishing the job and at least triaging the list into some categories:

The good stuff
These are the beers that I would seek out again, and recommend to others:

2. Knappstein Reserve Lager
5. Mad Abbot Dubbel (all Little Brewery/Mad Abbot beers are worthy of your consideration)
27. James Squire Mad Brewers Orchard Ale (too bad they haven’t made it again)
51. Wig and Pen Pale Ale
52. Wig and Pen IPA (just get to the Wig and Pen already)
64. Sail & Anchor Brass Monkey Stout (if you’re stuck in WA)
70. Holgate Temptress Chocolate Porter
73. 3 Ravens Ale Noir (if they still make it)

The safe standbys
These are all solid choices, if nothing fancy:

4. Tooheys Old
11. Carlton Black
12. Coopers Pale Ale
18. Coopers Sparkling Ale
23. Resch’s Draught
31. Temple Saison
35. Coopers’ Extra Stout
43. Zierholz German Beer
53. Wig and Pen Cream Stout
80. Abbotsford Invalid Stout
81. Grand Ridge Moonshine (if you’re on a mission)
90. Pepperjack

Don’t even think about it
These should be avoided at all costs. If there’s no other option, have a lemon lime and bitters.

21. Toohey’s New
32. VB
33. Carlton Draught
34. Platinum Blonde
37. Redoak Oatmeal Stout
38. Pure Blonde
41. Boags Draught
42. Cascade Draught
45. Redoak Bitter
46. Cascade Light
62. Swan Draught
77. Baron’s Brewing 88 Balls (although I’m pretty sure they don’t make this any more)
79. Balmain Pale Ale (because it is offensively otiose)
93. Hahn Super Dry
95. some bad raspberry stuff at Y&J (just avoid fruit beers entirely, to be safe)

The others
I’ve given you 20 beers I can get behind and 15 beers you should never drink. The other 62 Australian beers I sampled over the course of 2010 may be your cup of tea or they may not. Some of them are bland but serviceable, others a decent attempt but nothing worth writing home about. My opinion about them en masse is that I’ve drunk them (at least) once but have no immediate desire to drink them again. In some cases this is good as they’re not made any more…

1. Coopers Mild Ale
3. James Squire Sundown Lager
6. James Squire Golden Ale
7. James Squire Governor King
8. Jame Squire Craic
9. James Squire Choc Bock
10. Hargreaves Hill Stout
13. Stone & Wood Ale
14. Burleigh Heads Hefe
15. Sunshine Coast Best Bitter
16. Mountain Goat Hightail Ale
17. Wicked Elf Tripel
19. James Squire Amber Ale
20. Matilda Bay Fat Yak Ale
22. White Rabbit Dark Ale
24. The Lord Nelson Old Admiral
25. Hatlifter Stout
26. James Squire Porter
28. Holgate Road Trip IPA
29. Feral Barrel aged Saison
30. Temple Saison through a Randall
36. Mildura Wee Heavy
39. Little Creatures Rogers Ale
40. Moo Brew Pilsener
44. Zierholz Swill
47. James Boag’s Wizard Smith Ale
48. Moo Brew Dark Ale
49. Huon Dark Ale
50. Iron House Porter
54. Rocks Brewing Co 1809 Pale Ale
55. Rocks Brewing Co Cribb’s Porter
56. Temple Soba Ale
57. Murray’s Punch and Judy English bitter ale
58. Wig and Pen Big Ass
59. Paddy’s Pilsener
60. Rocks Brewing Co Byrne’s Red Ale
61. Paddy’s Old Regret
63. Sail ESB
65. Little Creatures Single Batch India Pale Ale
66. Northern Rivers Stout.
67. Stone and Wood Pacific Ale
68. Mrs Parma’s Temple Special Bitter
69. Gippsland Gold
71. Holgate Double Trouble
72. 3 Ravens Dark Smoke
74. Hahn Premium
75. Prickly Moses Otway Stout
76. 3 Ravens Black Stout
78. Burleigh Heads My Wife’s Bitter
82. Redoak Kristalweizen
83. Redoak Kolsch
84. Redoak Pale Ale
85. Redoak IPA
86. Little Creatures Oatmeal Stout
87. Temple Saison de Miel
88. Bridge Roads Robust Porter
89. Beer Diva Saison
91. James Squire Mad Brewers Noir Stout
92. Crow Wheater
94. Matilda Bay Bohemian Pilsener
96. Wig and Pen IPA through Randall with raspberries
97. Matilda Bay Alpha Ale

90-97. December roundup

June 17, 2015

A final entry then, to cover the new beers I drank in December 2010.

90. Pepperjack Ale. An amber ale apparently with a bit of shiraz “wine” (actually grape juice) added for flavour. A nice beer, which I’d drunk early in my time in Australia and also managed to get in as a replacement for Fosters on my wedding day. Bottles only, made in a SA winery.

91. James Squire Mad Brewers Noir Stout. Another in Squire’s experimental series, this was heavy on the coffee. I think I liked it.

92. Crow Wheater. In 2010 I lived literally a stone’s throw away from the legendary Crows Nest Hotel, which every Friday and Saturday night would be full of the North Shore’s finest young people drinking themselves into oblivion and copping off with each other. The rest of the week it was a pretty non-descript place with pretensions – the $20+ schnitzel bar they had in there for a while, for instance. In late 2010 they decided to jump on the craft beer bandwagon and opened a Craft Beer Bar, which on inspection turned out to be a few uninspiring taps around the back of the main bar. I popped in there one evening and, once I’d managed to get someone to come over and serve me, I had a schooner of their Crow Wheater, a wheat beer supposedly brewed especially for them by an undisclosed brewer. It was ok. The bar didn’t last long as the clientele weren’t ready to give up their Crownies and overpriced schmiddies of Asahi for that weird craft stuff just yet.

93. Hahn Super Dry. NFFEF’s favourite drink, of course. I drank this at the Australian Training Awards, held that year in Sydney. I have no recollection of the event or the beer.

94. Matilda Bay Bohemian Pilsener. No idea what this taste like or where I drank it but it may have been at Young & Jacksons in Melbourne, as the next beer is linked to this one in my notes.

95. “some bad raspberry stuff at Y&J”. I do remember this. It was an afternoon of what had probably been a day trip to Melbourne and I was killing time before getting a cab back to the airport. I can’t remember the name of the beer but I do remember it tasted vile.

96. Wig & Pen IPA through Randall with raspberries. I think this was another day trip, this time to Canberra, as this was another afternoon swifty. I’d had the Wig & Pen’s IPA before during 2010 but not with the beer forced through a chamber stuffed with raspberries. I recall it working rather well.

97. Matilda Bay Alpha Ale. And for my last new beer of the year…something pretty bog-standard. My notes state that it’s “like Little Creatures only a bit maltier.” I’ve not had it since.

87-89. Beers Deluxe, Robust and Diva-esque

June 17, 2015

October brought another trip to Melbourne, and another visit to Beer Deluxe (but no inadvertent thievery). I sampled 87. Temple Saison de Miel, which apparently was “Very nice, but $12 a glass”. This didn’t stop me having two.

I then popped across the road to have a squiz at Chloe in Young & Jacksons and had a pint of 88. Bridge Roads Robust Porter, which my notes tell me only cost $8.90 and tasted of “chocolate, malt, all good if a bit cold”. In the upstairs bar Bridge Roads had a monopoly on the taps but I didn’t try anything else. Perhaps it was late.

Not long after this I dropped into Harts again and the only new beer I had here was 89. Beer Diva Saison. Apparently this was “Not too bad.4.7%”.

82-86. Redoak (plus a cheeky one at Harts)

June 17, 2015

My feelings about Redoak beer have been made clear before. However, Louise brought me a beer-matching dinner here for my birthday so I looked forward to seeing how that went. The food and the company was lovely. The beers…

82. Redoak Kristalweizen
Redoak Bitter (no number as I’d sampled it earlier in the year)
83. Redoak Kolsch
84. Redoak Pale ale
Redoak Oatmeal Stout (no number as I’d sampled it earlier in the year)
85. Redoak IPA

…were fine, nothing outstanding but fine, until we got to the Oatmeal Stout. On and on our host went about the flavours we were supposed to be tasting, but we couldn’t as it was too cold. The Dutch guy sitting opposite us asked our host why they served the beers so cold, and was told that that was the way Australians liked their beer. The Dutchman looked quizzically at me “but…can you taste the roasty flavours, the coffee and so on?”. “No”, I replied, “because it’s too cold”.

Louise and I dashed up to Harts for a cheeky one for the road and I had 86. Little Creatures Oatmeal Stout, a limited edition brew on draught. From what I remember it was quite nice, and slightly closer to cellar temperature.

77-81. Miscellaneous bottles

June 17, 2015

These were all drunk at home during the second half of 2010. I have no notes about these but my scant recollections follow…

77. Baron’s Brewing 88 Balls. Actually, I do have notes about this one – two words: “well named”. This was supposedly brewed in Belgium for Baron’s as a Belgian-style pale ale but was thin, insipid rubbish. Baron’s appear to have been subsumed into something called the Great Southern Brewing Company, but the GSBC’s website is copyright 2013 and shows no signs of being current and Baron’s Facebook page’s last entry is 2011. I don’t think we can expect anything more from them in the future.

78. Burleigh Heads My Wife’s Bitter. This is supposedly an English-style ale, which at the time was a limited release in larger bottles but is now widely available in standard bottles. Nothing to write home about, as I recall, and I’ve not been minded to try it since.

79. Balmain Pale Ale. Generic pale ale with a trendy Sydney suburb as its title. Their website makes a lot of fuss about mateship and how wonderful Balmain is. Dull dull dull.

80. Abbotsford Invalid Stout. A reminder of the olden days. The Abbotsford Brewery in Melbourne was taken over by Carlton in 1925 and this is the last beer to carry Abbotsford’s name, although plenty of CUB Beers are brewed at Abbotsford these days. Whether the beer tastes anything like it used to I don’t know, but it’s a sweetish, not too thick stout. It’s not usually found outside Victoria and the rumour is that the only reason CUB keep brewing it is to keep the historic “Abbotsford” name in case they want to use it for something else in the future –they can prove they’ve been brewing beers with that name ever since they took it over. I first drank this on my first visit to Melbourne, a month or so after I’d moved to Australia, when we went down there for a wedding and the Melbourne Cup. The hotel we were staying in hadn’t been renovated since the eighties (at best) so drinking a longneck of this stuff in there created a very retro atmosphere. It’s nice that this is still around.

81. Grand Ridge Moonshine. Described as a “dessert beer” on their website, it’s a strong Scotch Ale. Quite nice, and I’ve revisited this one occasionally when stuck in Dan Murphy’s or 1st Choice with no better option. I’ve not yet followed the website’s advice to ”enjoy with a lover and chocolates of the highest calibre” though.

66-76. Mrs Parmas twice, Beer Deluxe and a few extras

June 17, 2015

Chronology getting a bit tricky at this distance, but I went to Mrs Parmas, Melbourne’s shrine to the Parmigiana and craft beer, at least twice in 2010 and took notes. Here’s the list from visit one, exact date unknown but probably in February so hopelessly out of order.

66. Northern Rivers Stout. Wow.
67. Stone and Wood Pacific Ale – passionfruit pale. Not bitter. 4. Something
68. Mrs Parma’s Temple Special Bitter malty but dry. Slightly spicey, perhaps a hint of citrus 4.7 per cent.
69. Gippsland Gold malty but sweeter. Less interesting but v drinkable.4.9 per cent.
70. Holgate Temptress Chocolate Porter – choc, vanilla, smooth, belies it’s 6 per cent strength but too cold!

A mixed bag, with the dark beers obviously the winners on the night. I wish I’d said something a bit more descriptive about the Northern Rivers Stout, which I’ve not had since. The Holgate Temptress is a bit of a classic and now comes in bigger than standard bottles with a rather expensive price tag.

Five beers and a parma in, it appears I was not ready for the night to end. I decided to go to Beer Deluxe. Here’s the new beer I drank that night.

71. Holgate Double Trouble 8 per cent dubbel. Bit thin.
I went back to Mrs Parmas on 6 June and tried some more…

72. 3 Ravens Dark Smoke – similar colour to Schlenkerla but head not so big, prob cos colder! Aged in smoky barrels(?) delicate smoke taste, barley taste prominent too. 5.2% exclusive to mrs p’s. Nice.

Charming barmaid proms ahead to my next drink, 73. 3 Ravens Ale Noir. Aged in Pinot noir barrels. More subtle . Unbidden, gives me taste. I am sold. A slightly reddish tinge, soon disappearing head.  Brandy- like taste, or whiskey? Perhaps that’s the result of the grape and grain tastes meeting. Full on anyway . Warming on a wet Melbourne winter night.
And both tasted better after being allowed some time to warm. Chilled glasses too!

At some point around this time Louise’s friend Ruth left some beer at our house for reasons now lost in the mists of time. This allowed me to add 74. Hahn Premium to my list but it doesn’t really need a description. Standard.

On that June trip I spent the Saturday in Brighton, the posh Melbourne suburb that Percy Grainger spent much of his early life in, making recordings for a project that I still haven’t quite worked out yet. While I was there I bought a couple of bottles from the excellent Cloudwine Cellars, 75. Prickly Moses Otway Stout and 76. 3 Ravens Black Stout. What did they taste like? My recollection is that they were both good enough.