24-31. What happened?

March 6, 2011

It’s been ten months. And I’ve been busy. Busy working. Busy travelling. Busy presenting.

George Martin is my mentor

Studio A at 2MBS, last week.

And busy drinking too. But somehow the list of beers I’d drunk overwhelmed me and inertia took over as far as writing any of them up properly. But I kept that list going, and made some notes along the way. Rather than attempt full-on reviews of all of them, here’s part one of a whistle-stop tour through that list, with the occasional comment/picture to shed light where it exists.  Eyes down for a full house…

24. Old Admiral

The Lord Nelson Hotel maintains that it’s the oldest pub in Sydney. It probably is, but it’s only been brewing it’s own beer since 1985. Does some good stuff too. Did I go in there in 2010? Not sure, but I bought a six-pack of their Old Admiral, one of the two beers they make available in this way, Three Sheets being the other. A thick, strong (6.1%) porter, Old Admiral is a nice way to finish an evening. They serve it too cold in the pub though.

25. Hatlifter Stout

I reviewed this in my stout taste test in 1999. My views haven’t changed.

A Friday at The Marly

The Marlborough Hotel, Newtown

26. James Squire Porter

27.  James Squire Mad Brewers Orchard Ale

I drank these both at The Marlborough Hotel (aka The Marly) in Newtown with Louise and her two tallest friends. You don’t often get the porter on draught outside of the James Squire Brewhouses, so this was a nice treat for me. Like a creamier, more vanilla-y Old.

The previous Mad Brewers release I’d tried was really awful, so I was pleasantly surprised by the Orchard Ale. I’m a sucker for a saison (which is the base for this beer), and the apple taste worked well. I’d like them to make this one again. I had it on draught (I think the Marly was one of only a handful of pubs to have it that way) but it was released in longnecks too.

A Friday at The Local Taphouse

Nude (1930) by Edwin Holgate (1892-1977)

28. Holgate Road Trip IPA

29. Feral Barrel aged Saison

The Local Taphouse opened in Darlinghurst in early 2008 and I’ve not been there nearly as often as I should have been. It’s on the wrong side of town for me, which is part of the problem, and if I went here frequently I’d have no money or liver left, but I think the main reason I haven’t been more often is that I don’t feel 100% comfortable in here. I like beer, but not at the level that these guys do. I feel a bit intimidated. Still, it’s doing really well and I’m glad it’s there. Maybe it’s me that needs to do the work.

Anyway, I was there with Lorkers, who’d just started his new job at UNSW so that dates it to early March 2010. I had a Trumer Pils to quench my thirst, German and so not to be counted. I’m sure it was fine. I have no notes on the Holgate Road Trip IPA or the Feral Barrel Aged Saison but I seem to recall being vaguely disappointed with the saison. They’re both breweries I’d like to visit at some point – I’ve enjoyed most of the Holgates I’ve tried, and Feral look like they do some interesting stuff.

A Monday at Beer Deluxe

Shirley Temple. Probably not drinking beer.

30. Temple Saison through a Randall
31. Temple Saison in a bottle

Looks like I was going through a saison phase. Beer Deluxe is in Federation Square in Melbourne, where I was on business. I was also just starting a bout of the genuine ‘flu, so my head was swimming even without the beer. Beer Deluxe doesn’t look particularly exciting from the outside, but it has a good selection of aussie micros on tap and a fridge full of bottled wonders so I always try to pop in here when I’m south of the border. They also have one of those randall things, a chamber between the barrel and the tap, usually filled with a beer-related ingredient, which the beer shoots through under pressure on its way to the tap and subsequently your glass. It was full of hops when I turned up, which they were putting the Temple Saison through. I had a schooner of the draught though the randall, and then a bottle of it au naturel, to see if I could tell the difference. I could a bit, but I was feeling rather unwell.

So unwell that when the barman had come over and showed me a 750ml $30 bottle of a rare saison and left it on my table, in my befuddled state I thought he’d given it to me to keep. As I staggered out of the door he came hurtling along to explain that it wasn’t a gift. I got in a cab, went to the airport and spent the next three days in bed.


19, 20. James Squire Amber Ale and Matilda Bay Fat Yak Ale

April 2, 2010

The real "Amber Nectar"

Recognise that picture? It’s the full version of this blog’s header.

I took the picture in October 2008 at the James Squire Brewhouse, on one of my first forays into Sydney on my own. The first Amber Ale I drank in 2010, however, was in company as our friend Beccy was visiting from London and we met up with her in the Albion Place Hotel on George Street, a handily-placed pub for meeting folk in. A bit trendier than I usually like, it nevertheless scores high in two categories – (a) a short but good selection of local and international beers, and (b) it’s right next to the main cinema drag. Food’s not bad either.

Getting there early, I plumped for the old Amber to wet my whistle.  The picture up above shows you its beautiful colour. The taste is malty, pleasantly hoppy, has a touch of nutty spice and a slight metallic/fruity finish. Very drinkable. Heavier than the Golden Ale, and boozier – 5% against 4.5% abv. One that English people looking for a beer that’s similar to a Bitter back home might like.

I was then distracted by the foreign lagers on display, the best of which being 19a Budweiser Budvar, which was served in a proper 500ml glass and, as usual, was about a million times nicer than that dreadful American pretender (King of Beers my arse).

A quick one before we headed off for food was required. I plumped for Matilda Bay‘s Fat Yak Ale, a brew that’s only been on the market for a year or so and one that’s aimed fairly and squarely at the American Pale Ale lover. Cascade and Sauvin hops smack you around the head. You get the picture.  It makes me feel hungry, somehow, so our trip to Capitan Torres immediately afterwards was most welcome.

Matilda Bay started off as a  microbrewer out of the excellent Sail and Anchor pub in Fremantle, WA before setting up in their own right in 1989. Alas, it wasn’t long before Carlton United Brewers (i.e. Fosters) bought them out, so like James Squire, Matilda Bay is, despite what they’d like you to think, merely a boutique arm of one of the big two. They also brew Dogbolter (good but alas not the skullsplitter of the same name beloved of those who drank in Firkin pubs in the 1990s), Beez Neez (honey beer – never a good idea imho), Alpha Ale (even hoppier than the Yak)  and a Bohemian Lager, some, all or none of which may turn up on this page at some point.

The original brewers at Matilda Bay set up Little Creatures in Fremantle in 2000, still independent today and, without a doubt, the subject of an upcoming post here.

6-9. James Squire Golden Ale, Governor King, Craic, Choc Bock

January 19, 2010

I believe five pints constitutes "a binge"

Ooh,  a session.

The James Squire beers were my first inkling that Aussie beer could be something other than Fosters. I may have had a Coopers at some point earlier, but on my first adult trip to Oz in 2006 Louise made sure I tried a few, including their limited edition Rum Rebellion Porter which I really wish they’d make again.

You probably all know the story of James Squire, but just in case you don’t: James Squire was probably the first commercial brewer in Australia. A sometime publican and habitual criminal back in the Old Dart, Squire came over in the First Fleet in 1788. He apparently started brewing more-or-less straight away, and at the end of his sentence he set up a farm at Kissing Point. Being the first man to successfully cultivate hops in Australia, Squire opened The Malting Shovel Tavern to help slake the thirst of river travellers passing his property, lying as it did half-way between Sydney and Parramatta. As was the custom in those days,  Squire brewed his own beer for his tavern, and continued to do so until his death in 1822. His children kept the brewery going until 1837. Kissing Point now lies within the well-to-do Sydney suburb of Putney.

The modern 21st century James Squire beers owe their existence to an American and our old friends Lion Nathan but come back! They’re still worth drinking.

The American in question is Chuck Hahn. In 1986 Hahn set up the Hahn Brewery in Sydney, one of the first of the new wave of small breweries in Australia. The recession of the early nineties led to a sell-out to Lion Nathan. The big boys recognised that Hahn wasn’t just any chancer, and worked with him to create a new line of beers. The Camperdown Brewery had its name changed to The Malt Shovel Brewery in honour of Australia’s first brewer and the new beers were called…I see you’re ahead of me.

Last week Squiresy (no relation) and I felt the need for post-work beers. A big project had been delivered, it was hot, it was Tuesday…we had lots of excuses. We went down to the James Squire Brewhouse on King St Wharf, helpfully downhill from our place of employment, and settled in for a few.

One of the good things about the Brewhouse is that it sells beer in pints. One of the bad things is that those pints aint cheap. However, we arrived during Happy Hour and were able to get a couple of $5 big’uns down each before the prices rose.

My cheap and cheerful drinks were both Golden Ale, light and eminently sessionable. There’s been grumbles in the beer community that this isn’t what it was a few years ago, but its slightly bitter, slightly fruityness went down well enough.

After six o’clock I decided to go for one of the beers that are only brewed in the Beerhouses, and not bottled or kegged for sale elsewhere. Governor King is an unfiltered pale ale, and it was pretty insipid. No real hop flavour, and a watery dullness that was a chore to finish. Blah.

Keen for some taste (and looking to replace the dinner we’d not got round to ordering, let alone eating), my next choice was a pint of Craic. Can you guess what kind of beer it is? Irish stout, and done well, despite the rather annoying name. Another of the exclusive Brewhouse beers, this is thick, toasty, slightly nutty and much nicer than Australian-brewed Guinness. But then everything is nicer than Australian-brewed Guinness.

The night was becoming hazy but I was determined to try the Chock Bock. The Governor King and Craic are always on, but this was a new one and didn’t even have a proper sign on the tap. And it was 6.9%. At a quarter to ten these things are catnip to me.

Pity it was so average. Maybe my tastebuds were shot, but the only taste I could get out of it was a slight caramelly sweetness. No chocolate at all. It was a bit thin too.

Davo stuck with the Pilsener all night and one might think he made the right decision, given the up and down nature of my experiences. However, his hangover the next day was about twice as bad as mine, so perhaps not.

3. James Squire Sundown Lager

January 10, 2010

times 24!No, I didn’t buy a carton. Just a six-pack.

James Squire bought this beer in as a limited release last summer, supposedly hoping to tease lager drinkers towards more full-flavoured beers. It obviously was very popular as the label has been redesigned (one of the reasons why I can’t find an up-to-date picture of a bottle on the web) and it’s been relaunched as a year-round, but quintessentially summer, brew.

I don’t think confirmed lager drinkers would use it a as gateway beer though – in fact I think that’s a false premise. People who don’t drink ales mainly don’t drink them because they don’t like them. The idea of converting people suggests that lagers as a whole are inferior in some way and that’s  not the case. There are plenty of very average ales available too.

Tastes pretty good, but nothing special. Bitter, slight citrus taste. Easy to drink, 4.4% and $16 a six at Cellarbrations, another of Crows Nest’s fine collection of bottlos. Does the job, nothing more.

Aussie Hot 100

February 2, 2009

The Local Taphouse, Melbourne’s best pub (and soon to open a branch in Sydney), has compiled a list of the 100 favourite Australian beers as voted for by “hundreds of people… from around Australia”. I’d suggest that this was not a sample worked out to adequately represent every beer-drinking person in Australia, otherwise the list would have been very different. Still, it gives me a few names to conjure with, and something to argue with in due course.

The full list is here, but, to aid the lazy, here’s the top twenty without the need to click:

1 Little Creatures Pale Ale
2 Murray’s Icon 2IPA
3 Mountain Goat Hightail Ale
4 Knappstein Reserve Lager
5 Little Creatures Bright Ale
6 James Squire Golden Ale
7 Coopers Sparkling Ale
8 Coopers Pale Ale
9 Holgate Mt Macedon Pale Ale
10 James Squire Amber Ale
11 Jamieson ‘The Beast’ IPA
12 Murray’s Nirvana Pale Ale
13 Holgate ESB
14 Hargreaves Hill ESB
15 Murray’s Grand Cru
16 Nail Stout
17 Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale
18 Holgate Hopinator Double IPA, Red Hill Imperial Stout
20 Moo Brew Pale Ale

Looks like I picked a winner to drink on my first night out here, then! I’ve drunk 9 of those top twenty and, the Little Creatures Bright Ale apart, wouldn’t argue that they were decent beers.  I’d argue that James Squire Amber is superior to the Golden though. But anyway…

I think I run to 23 of the hot 100. Plenty of work for me to do then. Nice to see my session favourite, Toohey’s Old, sneak in at 99.  Oh look, no Cascade beers at all!

James Squire “Mad Brewers” Raspberry Wheat Beer

December 11, 2008
not a good idea

not a good idea

James Squire is a name we’ll come back to quite often on this blog. More details in another post, but despite being part of the Lion Nathan conglomerate they brew some of the better beers that are easily acquired in Sydney.

They also do some seasonal and special brews. Looking in Amato’s cold room a few weeks ago I came across some bottles of their Mad Brewers’ Raspberry Wheat Beer. One came home with me.

I’ve drunk fruit beers before. A Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen or Boon Kriek (Cherry) is always welcome, and their Frambozen (Raspberry) beers are usually ok too, but often fruit beers are too sweet for me and made with extracts rather than using actual fruit, which makes them taste unnatural to my buds. I remember at my first Great British Beer Festival (1992) my mate Rob ordered a Banana Beer that was so horrible that three strong men could not finish the 250ml bottle. But I reasoned that this beer was (a) a relatively classic style (wheat-based rather than lambic, but not that odd), and (b) by someone with a good track record for other beers, so it should be worth a go. It couldn’t be worse than Fruli, surely.

The bottle, then. It’s a 640ml “longneck”, and comes with a sub-Ralph Steadman label proclaiming that this will “make you think differently about beer”. Hmm.

The beer is the colour of Mateus Rose, lighter than it looks in the picture above, with a reasonable light pink head that disappears quite quickly. It smells like raspberry cordial. Taking a slurp, the overwhelming taste is of boiled sweet. The advertised tartness is barely perceptible. Definite raspberry taste, but with an overlay of…mint. Yes, mint. A quick read of the label tells me that this is actually intentional, and that the beer is brewed with “extracts of raspberry and peppermint”. So no actual fruit then. And a weird fresh aftertaste, like drinking raspberry juice after you’ve cleaned your teeth. I really struggled to finish this. Too sweet, no actual beer taste under the sledgehammer raspberry cordial taste, and that mint thing was a really bad idea. Here’s one limited release (only 3,800 cases, there’s a couple of bottles in the BWS in Crow’s Nest for $9 a go if you’re desperate) that I hope won’t be coming back.

Having done my Responsible Service of Alcohol certificate last month I feel duty-bound to tell you that this beer is 5%abv, so the 640ml bottle (the only size it comes in) is 2.5 standard drinks. It gave me a slight buzzy head but that’s only because I was drinking it quick to get rid of it.