What Mikkel did on his Aussie Holiday….

The Gyspy, and for those wondering the little glass has dried pineapple pieces in it.

Mikkel Borg Bjergso is a busy little fella, Beer Advocate lists 223 brews bearing the Mikkeller name.  For a brewery that opened in 2006 that’s a beer about every 8 days, aka a shedload of them.

Now the smart arses amongst you will note the error in the sentence above. There is no such thing as a Mikkeller Brewery. Mikkel goes from place to place brewing with other people’s stuff (mainly de Proef Brouwerij in Belguim), so essentially he’s like that shit friend everyone has who just turns up at your house, steals your food, sleeps on your couch and never really leaves. 

Because beer folk are a friendly lot though Mikkel is not considered a shit friend but rather a gypsy or phantom brewer (I prefer phantom brewer, because I can then imagine Mikkel wearing a purple lyrca suit and stripped undies on the outside, which is a nice change from the regular hipster garb that all Danish people seem to wear). And it’s not considered that he’s using your stuff, rather he is collaborating.

Mikkel popped down to Victoria back in March and whilst here managed to bang out a couple of collaboration brews with two of the mainstays of the craft beer scene in this here southern state, Mountain Goat and Bridge Road. Fast forward a couple of months and both brews are out and about in Melbourne stores and pubs so it seemed apt to try them both and review them together.

First up is the Mountain Goat effort going by the name of ‘The Gypsy and the Goat’ part of their Cross Breed range, which in turn is part of the Rare Breed range and it’s a Black Pepperberry IPA. Got all of that? I know it’s a little confusing.  What is not confusing is that this beer is fricken awesome.

It looks brilliant, jet black with a great solid head. The mouthfeel is dense, almost oily and it laces well down the glass as you work through the brew. The smell is citra hop pineapple tones mixed with roasted malt, quite similar to Feral’s Karma Citra. There is a slight spiciness in the nose and in the taste which I can only assume is the pepperberries, not really understanding what pepperberries actually taste like. I loved this, it was everything I like about a Black IPA with an oilier, silkier mouthfeel – Jug.

This brings us to our second brew, Bridge Road’s ‘The Dark Harvest’ which makes me feel like it should always be accompanied with a soundtrack comprising of the imperial march from Star Wars. This brew is a dark beer version of Bridge Road’s Harvest Ale, which uses fresh hops picked just up the road at major Victorian hop farms in Rostrevor. This variety is so new that it doesn’t even have a name yet.

The beer is jet black as well, the colour belies its drinkability though, this is refreshing, the body is thinner and less roasty than I was expecting (but not in a bad way) and the fruity hops, pineapple and orange, particularly in the nose made it feel strangely summery. As I worked through the beer I started to pick up piney resinous notes as well. It is a really interesting beer, not what I was expecting from the name and the look but I really enjoyed it, not quite as much as the Mountain Goat, but still worth picking up a bottle or two to try – Pint.

 

Long Bow YouTube Clip:  Darren Hanlon on his theories on Couch Surfing, Zombies and Swedish sayings about beer, fish and hatchets, which I think are all things going into the next Mikkeller collaboration brew.

From Across the Ditch

The All American Croucher

I think it’s safe to say that the range of Kiwi beers that the big island (Australia) is receiving at the moment is pretty, pretty impressive. With the likes of Epic, Yeastie Boys, Croucher, 8 Wired and Renaissance it is quickly becoming a rule that if you see a NZ beer in the fridge at your local bottleshop then it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s a good drop.
I used this theory when I went searching in my fridge (which is generally better stocked that my local bottleshop) for some beers on Saturday afternoon.  I pulled out a couple of New Zealand beers, and it just so happened that both were Black IPAs which was great because a) Black IPA a da bomb (I’m so street I could be hanging out with Toni Basil) and b) it allows me to put two beers in one post for a better reason than my usual tenuous links.
First up is the Croucher Patriot, which is like some Kiwi/American hybrid clad as it is in the red, white and blue and made with US hops. Upon opening this brew was nowhere near as big and heavy as I expected, it seemed to lack some flavour as well. I decided to let it warm up a little and then the flavours started to shine through a bit more. Roastiness at the front of the sip and then hoppy bitterness, which seemed to be a mixture of sweet fruits and piney resins, so really a little bit of everything in there. It was a good beer, but a little too carbonated for my liking and I was left with a feeling that it was almost brilliant, but just falls an inch short and was thus only very, very good – Pint.
Next up was one of those beers which takes on legendary status amongst the beer wanker community. This can sometimes be a burden as the actual beer couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, but I can assure you that Yeastie Boys’ Pot Kettle Black doesn’t disappoint. It is more syrupy and nowhere near as carbonated at the Patriot. In fact you could easily describe the mouthfeel as silky smooth. It’s a little hard to explain how good this beer is, here’s how I described it to Jord who was drinking with me and acting a scribe.
“The sip is luxurious, then 2 seconds later it comes back like ‘Pow take that with your hoppy goodness’. This has to be a Juggy McJug Jug.”  (Looking back I may have let this beer go to my head.) 
And that bitterness lingers, in fact I found I could still sense the bitterness in my upper gums about an hour later as I was wandering along the street. Suffice to say this is a brilliant beer and in the pub later that evening I did tell my brother ‘I had the best beer I’ve had in a long time this afternoon.’  He reminded me that I did have the Moo Brew Imperial Barrel Aged Stout two weeks ago, so we also solved the mystery of how long a ‘long time’ is – it’s two weeks.
Long Bow Youtube Clip: Dragon’s April Sun in Cuba, because, well it’s April and Dragon are Kiwis and that’s about all I can come up with…

Feral Moondogs.

Another brilliant label from Moondog

We have discussed Moondog before, they are those crazy guys from Abbotsford who produce weird beers with strange names but awesome labels. The latest beer of theirs is no different. It is a raspberry coffee beer (because that’s a thing apparently) and it’s called Symbiotic Solipsism, which if Wikipedia definitions are correct means a mutualistic relationship that may not exist outside of one’s own mind. Doesn’t make any sense? Don’t worry neither does the beer.
And that’s the basic problem, when you are pushing the boundaries of what has been done in beer-making (certainly in this country) you are going to alienate people and you are going to produce brews that some people are going to hate. This beer for me was one of those. It could probably be best described as tasting like you took the wet coffee grains at the bottom of a bodum pot, left them sitting on the bench for 4 days so they got a little mouldy and then mixed them with some very weak raspberry cordial.  Pot.
I’m all for experimenting and I’m all for breweries producing something different and a bit wacky, and as a card-carrying beer wanker it’s my duty to be amazed by everything Moondog do. But I’d like to see them produce a good quality standard IPA or Pale Ale, or dare I say it lager to prove that they can actually make good beer before they go out making dung infused, dry roasted, barrel aged, sour ales laced with star anise and the honeycomb sourced from East African hives populated entirely by cross dressing bi-sexual  bees named Terry. 
One brewery that has proven time and time again that they produce great quality beers is Feral and I assure you that the Karma Citra is no different. It’s a black IPA, although it pours brown rather than black. There are sweet citrus fruits on the nose that remind me of marmalade and even a fleeting hint of smoke.
And the taste is all there as well. It’s complex and exciting, hoppy without being aggressive. It’s got this great silky smooth body as well, with quite a bit of malt character, almost chocolately and just a hint of nuts. Even though it’s a big IPA and has plenty of hops you get the feeling that even a novice to the craft beer scene would love this one, very sessionable. If you had to be stranded on a desert island and you could only take one beer to drink for the rest of time, I think I might choose this on. Although maybe I could do a two for one deal and take some Hop Hog with me as well  – Jug.

Is Soren Eriksen a genius?

The Sultan, and matching my beer to the sunset

Today we are discussing two beers from two different breweries, both are very impressive drops and there is one man who has been involved in both. That man is Soren Eriksen, the Danish Kiwi, who is Assistant Brewer at Renaissance Brewery in Blenheim, and Head Brewer and owner of 8 Wired which is contract brewed (one assumes by Soren himself) at the Renaissance Brewery.
So Soren is a man who produces two breweries worth of beer. I don’t want you thinking that these are run of the mill, mindless knock them out beers which anyone could make either. Between them Renaissance and 8 Wired are responsible for 9 of the top 15 best beers in Australia and New Zealand as announced by ratebeer.com  a couple of weeks ago. So the lesson here is, if you want to produce great beer, employ Soren Eriksen and you’ll go a long way to getting it right.
But the proof is in the drinking and I recently had the chance to try a couple of Soren’s brews. First up was the Renaissance Craftsman Chocolate Oatmeal Stout.  I’d been saving this for a special occasion and I thought a weekend away down the coast with some friends would be a perfect excuse. The fact that this weekend comes with baked treats from Chris and Jodie meant I even had some awesome ‘Chocolate Stout’ appropriate matched food. 
In truth I was hoping for the famous rumballs, but instead got equally yummy lamingtons, made all the better when cut in half and topped with jam made by another friend Justin, with plums from the backyard of his northern suburbs home. This is sounding all a bit hipster at this point. What if I told you we were also drinking this whilst playing a high stakes game of Cluedo? Not helping is it?

Lamingstons, Chocolate Stout and Cluedo

Well call me a hipster if you must, I don’t care, because this beer was awesome. It pours a dark chocolate colour with a creamy tan coloured head. I thought this could have a silkier, fuller body.  I was expecting a something luxurious and thick and syrupy from a chocolate oatmeal stout and thus found this a tad thin. In terms of flavour there are hints of chocolate (but only hints) and perhaps some roasted coffee beans, but no single flavour overpowers another. I am tempted to use that overused beer reviewer’s word – balanced.  All in all though a very nice beer – Pint.
Fast forward another week and myself and Jord are back at home on a Sunday evening, when the weather (finally) turned cold and rainy, a perfect time to pull of the bottle of 8wired Sultan which had been sitting in the fridge for about 4 months waiting for a cold and stormy night. The Sultan is a beer brewed with sultanas in it (which kind of makes it sound like wine to me). This is no gimmick though, you can smell the sultanas. In fact it smells like sultanas that have be stewed in rum.
This is one of those ‘whoa’ beers, where you take the first sip and you are blown over (in fact I think people who claim all beers tastes the same should have to take a sip of this, they won’t like it, but it’ll teach them what beer can be). The taste is complex to say the least, silky smooth (although not as syrupy as I expected)  sweet, but not in a sickly way, and the 10% alcohol is nicely disguised in the sip. Admittedly it comes back as heat in the mouth about 30 seconds after you sip, but that only makes you want more. Overall this is an outstanding beer, not a BBQ guzzler, but more of a cheese and fireplace beer. Jug   
So hats off to you Mr Eriksen, you seem to know what you are doing. Oh and this story seems to suggest Soren is funding his business with his poker winnings – talk about a rock star brewer.

Sierra Nevada Tumbler

The Tumbler & Studio 60, perfect.

Prologue:  Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been revisiting an old television show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip which was a short lived series from the pen of Aaron Sorkin (he of West Wing and Social Network fame), as always it’s a sophisticated program for sophisticated audience.
It’s a behind the scenes look at a tonight show and the connection to beer is that a couple of the characters can be seen every now and again drinking none other than Sierra Nevada brews (specifically the pale ale). This is entirely believable as the characters are sophisticated Californians, much like the Sierra Nevada brewery itself.
We are not drinking the Pale Ale though, today I’m drinking the Tumbler which is an Autumn Brown Ale. So of course my seasons are all out of whack, which is one of the problems of drinking Northern Hemisphere beers. I also find it interesting that this is called Autumn Brown Ale, as I wasn’t aware Americans understood what Autumn was (or that there was a world outside of the 50 states).
Packaging: Autumnal – browns and oranges abound, there is a country lane and a stone house and it all works, even the Sierra Nevada banner works better on this than the bright green pale ale label.
Appearance:  This was a little like Autumn as well, it was a dark brown colour when looking at the glass on the table, but hold it up to the light and it turned a lovely ruby red colour, not unlike the leaves on a tree. 
Smell:  I thought I got hints of coffee beans, but it’s always hard for me to know as I often drink on the balcony and we live about three doors down from a coffee roasters, so my whole world smells like coffee. 
Taste:  From the first sip I could tell that this was a very good beer, there were these fantastic roasted, almost smoky malt tones, slightly piney hops notes and then it all faded away for just hints of powdered chocolate.   
In conclusion: The overused word in this review is ‘hints’. And that’s the thing, there are hints of lots of different familiar brown ale tastes, but no single flavour overpowers another. It’s beautifully balanced. Subtle, its beauty creeps up on you, this is Autumn in a bottle, it’s not extreme, rather it makes to sit and contemplate and consider.   
Ranking:  A Jug please (and a moleskin journal so I can record my musings whilst sitting under a maple tree with a pipe). 
6 Degrees of Norm (where we prove all beers can be linked to George Wendt in 6 easy steps)
1. This beer reminded me of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
2. Which I would argue is Matt Perry’s best role.
3. But did you know Matt Perry was also in an episode of Charles in Charge?
4. Where it was Scott Baio who played the Charles that was in charge
5. And Scott was in a telemovie back in 1980 called ‘The boy who drank too much.’
6. Which is exactly what Normy did every episode of Cheers (although did you note that there was never any drunks in Cheers?)

A Trip to Holgate

The Tasting Paddle

There is a lot to like about a trip to Holgate brewery. It is located in ‘The Country’ which is a place that inner city people talk about escaping to like it has some magical recuperative powers. Of course going to ‘The Country’ for most of the inner city crew means loading up your car with an iPad, laptop, mobile phone, hair dryer and designer straw hat (that is just the right balance of jaunty and stylish) and heading down to Portsea to see the same people you see in the city, sit in cafes that are a facsimile of the ones you frequent in South Yarra and drink the same ‘imported’ beer at the Portsea Pub that you drink at the Royal Saxon.

Well I’m here to tell you to put down those imported beers, throw away your hat (or keep it on I don’t care) and go west (well north west). Better still you can throw away the car keys too. Just jump on the Bendigo bound train at Spencer Street and an hour later you are stepping on to the platform at Woodend, mere metres from the Keating’s Hotel, home of Holgate.

The hotel is a pleasant place; sprawling would be a good description. There are four or five different rooms where you can choose to drink your beer, including a restaurant with some truly outstanding food – the beef pie made with Temptress porter was a corker, and dessert was a step up again.

The tank on the right had something called Pearl Harbour Pils fermenting in it

And just to prove that this is a working brewery you can go have a look at it, placed as it is behind glass on the way to the toilets, there are the usual array of stainless steel tanks.  Unfortunately I was there on a Sunday so there was no activity behind the glass, but I do like the idea of watching the brewers work like they are zoo exhibits (I assume that like most zoo animals they would spend most of their time sleeping).
But the star of the show is the beer and the Holgate guys know how to present it too, for a very reasonable cost (I feel it might have been $15) you can get a tasting paddle of 8 brews (and these are not one sip tastes either, they are more like a third of a pot). There are a few other beers available by the bottle only, here are my (very brief) thoughts on some of the beers we tried: 
The Pilsener (if you are following along with the pic above the pilsener is on the top right, and we are working through the paddle clockwise): This had a thin body, a grassy nose and a hint of honey in the taste. It finished dry and was refreshing but not all that interesting – Schooner 
 

Another angle of the brewhouse

Mt Macedon Ale: A pale ale, but actually not what I was expecting. It has almost no aroma and the flavour was outdoorsy, with maybe a hint of pine, very sessionable – Pint
White Ale: If the pale ale had no aroma, this one made up for it. It was a flowery brew, Holgate claims this appeals to the non-drinker, perhaps that’s why I was left unmoved by it. – Schooner
Big Reg: Marzen is a style I love and this didn’t let me down. It had some great biscuity, caramel flavours coming through. It was perhaps a little light on the carbonation and it runs the risk of getting a little cloyingly sweet, but hey I’d be happy to take that risk – Pint
ESB: which stands for English Special Bitter. Again I thought it a little under carbonated, even for an English style beer. It started sweet, but then the hops came through to create a well rounded beer – Pint
UXB:  Just like the ESB but bigger and stronger, it is not sessionable at all, rather it is a beer suited to contemplation, and cheese – Pint
Road Trip:  The stand-out on the paddle. This is the type of beer you taste before you drink it and that’s all in the aroma, great big American hop tones. This is really an outstanding beer, it has all of the depth of flavour that hops can impart on beer, but not in an overly aggressive manner – Jug
Double Trouble:  Now the really smart amongst you might think that the eighth beer on that paddle doesn’t look like a Dubbel Abbey ale, and that’s because the eighth beer on there is Temptress, which is a beer I love and have reviewed before, so I shant discuss it here except to say this example was hand pumped, which I actually though made is less enjoyable than usual. But back to the Double Trouble, the overwhelming thought on this was that it is very sweet, it was like a Christmas pudding in a glass. I found it a little too sweet for my liking though – Schooner.
So if you are looking for an awesome afternoon out I’d suggest heading to Holgate, it’s easy to get to, they have amazing food and the beer is pretty darn good as well. Oh and they do growler fills, so you can go home with 2 litres of your favourite beer, like I did with the Roadtrip.

Super Epic Beer

The Stunning Epic Armegeddon IPA

The naming of beers is a difficult matter, it isn’t just one of your holiday games. Nope hang on a sec, that’s the naming of cats not beers.  Beers really can’t be that hard to name. Either you fall into the Brewery /Style name pattern. i.e. Carlton Draught, Mountain Goat Steam Ale, Holgate Pilsener, or you go the really long, slightly obscure route. The Moondog Henry Ford’s Girthsome Fjord,  Moondog Cock-sockin’, Ball Knockin’ Chipotle Stout or Moon Dog Perverse Sexual amalgam. Do you see how cool and crazy those guys are?
There is of course another, little used approach. I’m going to call it the superlative approach (some might call in the Adam Hills joke approach).  This is where you give the beer the descriptor you would like the drinker to say after taking their first sip.
Today we review two beers that fall into this category. One that lives up to it and one that doesn’t.
First up is the Epic Armageddon IPA and this is a truly Epic beer. It’s pretty much everything you want an IPA to be. Firstly its ABV is 6.66% which is just cool. It looks amazing, with a copper golden colour and a nice head. The hops feel New Zealandy (that’s a thing now) with great tropical fruit tones; floral and a little grapey. The flavour is amazing. The hops are balanced with the malt backbone and there is interesting flavour all through the sip and aftertaste.

Epic with the Awesome Pizza

It’s pleasant, non-aggressive and very, very enjoyable.  I enjoyed it with Jordan on our balcony on a hot summer evening and it was very well suited to this. It went very nicely with a casual pizza and this is what this beer can do; it’s casual, approachable, relaxed and yet exciting, flavoursome and supremely interesting all at the same time. 
An Epic and Jug worthy beer.
The setting for the second beer was similar; it was hot, it was late afternoon and I found myself at Section 8, everyone’s favourite pop-up, hipster, packing crate container bar. There is something very Melbourne about Section 8. It’s grungy and hidden, although only in a way that they used to hide things five years ago, the hiding of cool bars has reached all new levels since then. Now you can regularly hear people say ‘I went to this bar last night, it doesn’t have a name, but you go down this alley way, past some bins, around a corner, go through the green door, then down some stairs, through a curtain, around another corner, past a row of sewing machines and then push on a metal door that you have to lift slightly before pushing it though.’
In fact I’m convinced that Section 8 can’t be cool anymore because it’s a bit old now, and

Super Bock or Okay Lager?

more importantly I was drinking there, and I am in no way cool and/or funky.
The important bit here though is that I had a beer and it was a ridiculously named Super Bock which is not a bock at all, but rather a lager all the way from Portugal. It is not Super either. But I guess, Okay Lager doesn’t have the same ring as Super Bock.  It’s not the worst beer out there, but hey it’s not the best either, it has a little more malt than your typical euro lager, and it’s this malt that drives the smell. There is no real hop character to speak of and it is really a standard run of the mill beer that clearly only gets imported so that the uneducated hipsters think they are drinking a premium euro brew. I would suggest the hipsters drinking long necks of Cooper’s Green were getting a much better deal though.  Schooner 
Long Bow You Tube Clip: And here is the Adam Hills joke that I’ve just stolen, I’d be concerned that he’d sue me, but he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Bang. See what I did there? Cause he only has one leg (well one and a half).

Coffee and Beer

I was listening to Brews News Radio last week and the professor likened the craft beer industry to coffee. I have no direct quote because I can’t be bothered listening to the whole hour again to find it but the concept was this….

15 years ago everyone was happy with a can of International Roast coffee, but nowadays if your workplace doesn’t have an espresso machine you are likely to riot.  Back in the 80’s if you told people that in the near future they would happily pay $4 for a coffee everyday they would call you crazy.

And there is something for everyone. Nescafe may still be in the cupboards and there are coffee snobs doing cupping sessions (which sounds pseudo sexual if you ask me), but there is also everything in between. Cafes are just as prevalent in suburban shopping malls as they are in city laneways filled with ironic milk crates.

Imagine if you will the beer scene in 15 years, there will still be the Carlton Draught at one end and the Brewdog Toyko 18.2 at the other, but in between is where the excitement is. Imagine being able to walk into any pub in any suburb and find good quality craft beer available, the same way you can get a decent cup of coffee almost anywhere now.

Why all this talk of java though? Well today we are tasting two coffee-infused beers. The first is Mountain Goat’s collaboration with coffee roasters Seven Seeds, the Seedy Goat IPA, which is part of the ‘Rare Breed’ range of limited edition brews. Now first thing you need to understand is it’s not meant to taste like coffee.

And it doesn’t, rather it tastes like a slightly strange IPA. The coffee is meant to be imparting bitterness but not really taste, meaning that it’s doing the job of some of the hops. It’s an interesting beer, amber with a wispy head, scents of tropical fruits and a definite and familiar hop aftertaste, but just before those hops is an unfamiliar, un-beer like tang.

It’s a good beer and an interesting study in what can be done, but Mountain Goat make better IPA’s, both their regular one and the Double IPA, and there are better Coffee IPA’s out there, namely Mikkeller’s Koppi IPA .  Still worth a Pint though.

The second beer is one that is 100% meant to taste like coffee; it’s Burleigh Brewing’s collaboration with coffee roasters Zarraffa’s Coffee, the Black Giraffe, part of their ‘Bit on the Side’ range of limited edition brews. It is a black lager, or Schwarzbier for you German speakers out there.

This poured black with a creamy crema coloured head. It smelled of coffee, not burnt coffee like you get with many stouts, but rather sweet latte coffee.  It’s also an unusual taste; coffee, then fruits, then coffee again and then it melts away to a lingering aftertaste more like a coffee liquer or possibly an iced coffee Big M.

This is a seriously good beer, all the complexity you would expect from a stout but as easy to drink and refreshing as a lager. A new favourite – Jug.  

Long Bow Youtube clip: It might be possible to get decent cup of coffee in Melbourne, but it’s a bit tougher in the Mallee.  ‘A Decent Cup of Coffee’ by Wedding Parties Anything (with one of the later line-ups).