Now you might not have heard of Casella, but even those with a passing interest in wine will know the [yellow tail] brand. This brand was originally launched in the US in 2000, by 2003 it was the biggest wine brand in the US. This in turn made Casella one of the biggest wine companies in Australia and the biggest wine exporter Australia has. If you doubt the power of Casella consider this:
It was 150 years ago this year that Thomas Cooper brewed his first beer and gave rise to the brewing empire that would become Australia’s biggest (Australian owned) brewery, loved by South Australians, home brewers and the type of people who frequent pubs with band rooms and sticky carpet.
Now I love Coopers, both Coopers Green and Red have a special place in my heart and certainly helped me understand beer better before the wave of craft brewers came along and moved it to a whole new level. Coopers home brew extracts helped me to brew my first beers before I moved on (some would say rather unsuccessfully) to full grain brewing.
Now that I had finished with GABS it was onto Good Beer Week proper. the days started with a hearty brunch and then made a detour past Etihad stadium to watch what can only loosely be called a game of football. Not wanting to hear the ‘Sons of the West’ and wanting to forget about the game a quickly as possible as soon as the siren blew we made for the exit, jumped a tram and twenty or so minutes later we were out our first beery point of call for the day, the always underrated Mrs Parmas.
We were there for what I’m going to start calling the traditional Moonparma event. Last year it was Moondog’s Coconut and Pineapple beer matched with a Hawaiian parma. This year Moondog have gone a little more traditional with a smoked altbier, whilst Mrs Parma and her Chef’s have got more wacky, this year the crumbed chicken is topped with sauerkraut, bratwurst and smoked Chutney.
I’m here to tell you that the Moondog Kaiser Saute was fantastic, in my opinion it’s close to the best beer that Moondog have put out, it was sweet, almost caramel with a hint of smoke and some alcohol heat in the aftertaste, perfect for the freezing cold afternoon. Pint. The parma was even better, in fact it was so good it made us ponder why all parmas don’t come with sausages on the top. If you find yourself hungry at any point during Good Beer Week get down to Mrs Parmas, I assure you, you will not regret it.
We couldn’t stay however, after a second Moondog it was time to jump on another tram to travel across to New Zealand, which for this week has moved to the Royston in Richmond. Now you may remember that I claimed yesterday the NZ beer scene was more advanced than Australia’s so the line-up of NZ brews had a lot to live up to.
We started in safe territory with 8 Wired’s Haywire, which is a highly hopped wheat beer, and boy was it hopped. I fear for anyone picking this up thinking they were getting a nice gentle wheat beer, instead It’s more like an IPA with a slightly floury body. A great beer – Pint.
Next up was the Tautara Pale Ale, which was just a pretty run of the mill pale ale. I guess any other week of the year you would be happy with this beer, but this is good beer week I won’t settle for just a sessionable and enjoyable pale ale when there is so much else to try. Schooner. It did however start the biggest fight of the evening over what a Tautara was, Andre was claiming lizard I was claiming modern dinosaur. Pretty sure Andre was right, kind of.
Emerson’s Bookbinder is a beer I see in the bottleshop many a time but never buy because it doesn’t really look interesting enough. But it is GBW and time to try things so this was the next choice. Safe to say not buying it all those times was the right choose. Both Andre and Jord claimed it had a stale like quality to it, and Andre went as far as calling it manky. I didn’t bother finishing it. Pot
We got back on track with an Epic Armageddon which is always an outstanding beer. Then it was time for dessert, the Royston’s amazing sticky date pudding which got wow’s from both our table and the table next to us. We coupled this with 8 Wired’s Tall Poppy which was a nice beer, but again not ground breaking, in fact it reminded me a lot of Mountain Goats Hightail ale (which is not a bad thing at all). It had a great caramel backbone, for some reason I thought it would be hoppier (for no other reason than poppy rhymes with hoppy, logic is not one of my strong points) A good little beer well matched to a sweet sticky dessert Pint.
We then finished off with the 8 Wired Big Smoke, which is an outstanding beer. The beers tonight were a little hit and miss, but we did get to try some new brews and had some great food along the way. A good afternoon/evening had by all.
The high country brewery trail is a great little initiative by four breweries that are located vaguely close to each other. Of course this is the Australian bush so they really aren’t that close, if you start at Black Dog Brewery in Taminick it’s a 60km drive to Bridge Road in Beechworth, then another 60km to Bright Brewery, in you guessed it Bright, and then another 31km to Sweetwater Brewery at Tawonga. Total distance 151km (and then you have to get home again).
Lucky for us (fearless assistant/navigator/scribe/fellow drinker Jordan was in tow) we had the whole 4 day Easter weekend to fit in the four breweries which allowed us to go at a leisurely pace, taste most of the beers on offer and even have a few meals here and there. The brewery trail is fascinating for the simple fact that you get to see four very different breweries, with very different approaches, and all in different stages of their development; from the young upstart of Black Dog to the old school establishment (well for the Victorian microbrewery scene) of Bridge Road.
This seems a logical way to split the story as well. You have to be a real beer geek to have tried Black Dog and Sweetwater (or for that matter even heard of them), so I’m going to call them the ‘The Little Guys’ on the other hand chances are if you have even a passing interest in Victorian craft beer you have had a Bridge Road or Bright Brewery beer, so I’m going to call them the ‘Big Guys’.
Today we look at the big guys, soon (and by that I mean when I get time to write it) we will look at ‘The Little Guys’.
Let’s start with Bridge Road. As I was there on the Easter Long weekend Bridge Road was a madhouse (I only ever seem to go there on long weekends, maybe it’s always that busy, but I doubt it). This led to some very uncraft beer like behaviour like queuing eight deep at the bar and having to scrounge about for a table.
Of course it is all worth it because Bridge Road produces some awesome beers, I’m not going to tell you about them, because I have before here, here and here. I will however tell you about the only ‘new’ beer for the day which was the 2012 Hop Harvest . Not surprisingly this is a beer where the hops are on showcase, it tasted super fresh, fruity and a touch grassy. The malt profile seemed a little light to me, but that did make it very refreshing, but still with depth of (particularly hoppy) tastes, so good I had it twice (which is impressive given the level of choice at Bridge Road) – Pint.
Fast forward a couple of days and we ended our brewery trail at Bright Brewery, which I would have to say is one of the better brewery set-ups in Victoria (I say that about every second brewery though). It is a smallish tin shed that opens onto a big outdoor eating and drinking area which overlooks a playground and a river, all very country and peaceful even though it’s in the shops of Bright.
As myself and Jord worked our way through the tasting paddle (sadly the MIA was indeed MIA which did make me sad) we quickly remembered that Bright are a very consistent brewery. To put it plainly they just don’t ever miss the mark, all six brews were impressive. In fact the four full-time brews are all Pint-worthy; The Blowhard Pale has a nice body and a lingering piney bitterness. The Razor Witbier is surprisingly good for a style I’m not a huge fan of, it feels full of flavour with nice citrus overtones. The Hellfire Amber has always been a favourite of mine, it’s such a smooth beer with a thick body and a subtle hoppy aftertaste and The Staircase Porter is everything you expect from a porter, perfect for a winter afternoon.
The seasonal brews were two difficult styles, but they made an admirable job of it. First up was the Mystic Mild which was a 3% light brown beer that had more flavour in it than most mainstream full strength beers. It even had a hint of powdered chocolate in there and would have been just what you need if you were driving back to Melbourne. Schooner.
The second seasonal was Smoko – a rauchbier, or smoked beer, a style liked by very few. This was a reasonable example, although I felt it fell a little bit short for my personal taste, but then again I want my smoked beers super smokey, so much so that they probably would struggle to sell it to anyone else – Schooner.
So that is half of the Brewery Trail – and the half that was pretty much what I was expecting, great beers in a pretty standard, pretty busy bar like setting. The little guys, well that’s a whole other story……
We are all about fiscal responsibility at this here blog, we are also firmly of the belief that all economic (and possible just all) problems can be fixed with beer.
Now we all know that Greece is up the proverbial creek of shit and are lacking some implements that could be used for propelling their boat forward. All of a sudden I have a feeling that this is the blog equivalent of one of those really lazy political cartoons in the Herald-Sun where they draw a boat in the effluent sodden creek, but then they feel their readers are a little too dumb to get that so they label the boat the HMS Greek Economy.
Anyway point is if we all drink Greek beer then the economy can be saved. Of course the beer has to be worthwhile.
I started my Greek rafting trip with a craft beer from Athens and in the style of the lazy cartoonist they have called it Craft Athens Lager. On pouring this didn’t really look promising, it was pale yellow, clear as a bell (or are least as clear as a bell made out of yellow glass), it was all topped off with a detergenty white head. In summary it looked like a commercial lager – not promising.
The taste was better than your typical Euro-swill. It was nowhere near as fizzy, which was a plus for me, but unfortunately the body lacked something, it was all a bit thin and uninteresting. It was an okay beer, better than the commercial brews, but I was left with that familiar feeling yet again of ‘Why did they bother shipping this beer half way around the world?” Schooner.
For our second beer we are heading over to Cyprus, or as I like to call it Greece Lite. (All of my Turkish readers are welcome to send the death threats care of the email address below). The beer in question is Keo, which comes in a very summery bright yellow can. It too is very commercial looking, pale piss yellow with that bubbly head. And the taste is exactly what you would expect from a Euro lager from a very hot climate – it’s entirely forgettable. I’m sure it tastes amazing in the baking hot heat on a Cypriot beach, but it has no real place in Melbourne – Pot.
So there we have it, much like Germany I tried to bail out our Greek friends (in my own special way) but I have to admit it was all a little unpleasant and I don’t think I’d bother trying it again.
It has been quiet around here of late. You see I’ve dropped out of society and like many people before me headed to the hippie enclave of Byron Bay.
Now we all know of the famous brewery in Byron, Stone and Wood who make the most popular beer for craft beer people in Australia with the Pacific Ale, are located there somewhere. I’m not going to tell you about them because a) the brewery is not open to the public and b) I’ve never really liked the Pacific Ale anyway.
What I will tell you about is the not particularly imaginatively named Byron Bay Brewery. This is located just out of the main shops in an old piggery, which was converted in the 80’s (or maybe the 70’s, I wasn’t paying that much attention) to a sprawling complex with the huge Buddha bar (home of the brewery) a cinema, a huge bandroom and the biggest backpackers I think I’ve ever seen in the carpark out the back.
The Buddha bar represents everything that is good about Byron. It was the birthplace of the Blues and Roots festival, there are a series of weird murals on the wall, including one of naked people with fairy wings bathing in a stream, and of course it seemed to be populated mainly by backpackers and a few aging hippies who were getting stoned in the corner.
The brewery makes a full range of beers to cater for the varied markets that no doubt come through the doors. The range stretches to six brews from a low carb monstrosity through to a very nice pale ale and dark lager.
Myself and Jordan managed to taste all of the beers in NSW-friendly schooner sizes over a couple of visits, including one in happy hour which had unheard of (for craft beer) $3 schooners.
We started with the Pale Ale which is always a safe choice as it’s reasonably hard to make a bad one. This was on the gentler side of the scale, not too aggressive, it had a nice full body (certainly fuller than I expected) and a noticeable pleasant aftertaste. There was much talk between myself and Jord about whether it deserved a Schooner or Pint, because we were on holidays or maybe because the smoke from the hippies in the corner wafted over we were feeling generous and gave it a Pint.
It was a hot evening so I figured I’d stay on the lighter beers and ordered myself up a Pilsener. Now I have to say I often find this style a little boring, but this was actually a pretty good version of one. It was a lovely looking beer, great clarity, good head retention, the hop taste was spot on. The only shortcoming was a slightly buttery taste which suggested to be it might have been Diacetyl affected, perhaps the heat of Byron got to it – see I do actually know something about beer. Schooner.
I’d had some previous intelligence reports that the Billy Goat which is their dark lager was the pick of the bunch. This intelligence was correct. The beer had a nice creamy head, a full body, yet it was still very refreshing. There was a hint of roasted malt and just a hint of bitterness in the aftertaste. Pint.
Whilst I was drinking this Jord was working her way through the Mid Strength called Red Belly and she was nice enough to give me a taste. I didn’t have high hopes, and I was right, it was a bit of a nothing beer, had just a hint of marmalade in the smell, and the body (not surprisingly) was very thin. Not offensive by any stretch of the imagination, but really not that pleasurable either. Pot
It was then time for our last round. We had been putting off drinking the Premium and the Blonde (meaning low-carb not witbier) because, well those are both marketing terms not beer styles. Jordan whinged about it, asking why she couldn’t just have the ones we liked again. I mumbled something about having to report on things for ‘my people’ and reminded her that they were $3, if it was shit we didn’t have to drink it.
And that’s exactly what we did with the Blonde. Jord took a sip and told me ‘This beer is wasting my time, it tastes like nothing, I might as well be drinking water.’ I took a sip and agreed with her, I then apologised to her for making her order such an embarrassing drink and we left it ¾ full on the end of our table. Most pointless beer since Burleigh Brewing’s Big Head. Butchers.
The Premium wasn’t a great beer, but next to the Blonde it was a Belgian master. In truth I think it was actually a good beer that was hiding behind too much carbonation, as it sat on the table and de-fizzed it got better. Schooner.
My advice – if you are in Byron head out to the Buddha Bar and sample some of the Byron Bay beers, probably not all of them, as there really as some lower common dominator beers in there which I guess is what you have to do when you run a brewery in a major tourist area. Then again there is enough in there with the Billy Goat and the Pale to keep the craft beer kids happy too.
The Long Bow Youtube clips. The Byron Blues and Roots festival has amazing line-up this year, there too many great acts to mention. But two highlights are Lucinda Williams and The Pogues. So here are your vids. Joy by Lucinda Williams
And The Pogues with Dirty old town
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.
There are many things that you have to do if you are a card carrying, beard wearing, certified, dyed in the wool beer wanker. You have to drink IPA’s on international IPA day, you must follow every brewery on twitter, you must at least contemplate attending every spectapular or animal VS beer dinner, or wine vs beer dinner, or Beers starting with the Letter S Vs Foods starting with the Letter R dinner (which I believe is hosted by Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch), but most of all you must like all big alcohol, highly hopped or spiced with weird shit beers.
No one else will like these beers, but that is just how you prove that you are better than the ill informed barbaric mega swill guzzling masses.
So imagine my concern in the last week when I had two different designed purely for beer wanker beers and I didn’t really enjoy either of them. I’m shocked to my core, is it possible I’m not as big a wanker as I think I am? Is it possible that I’m only days away from reaching for a Pure Blonde, or stuffing a lemon wedge in a Corona?
The first of my taste failures was the most concerning. The beer is Murray’s Grand Cru, Murrays is a seriously good brewery, they produce some stunning beers. The Grand Cru is a Belgian Tripel, a recognised style and one which Beer wankers love, so I should like this right?
The problem, I didn’t really like it, I didn’t hate it either, maybe my hopes were too high, maybe it wasn’t suited to my drinking situation (Sunday afternoon, on a balcony when it was about 30 degrees C) but I didn’t get much from it, short of a lot of heat from the alcohol (this is a 8.8% beer) and some spicy, clove taste.
The question though is did this beer fail me, our did I fail this beer? Schooner.
The second beer was always going to be challenging. In fact I’m not even sure that Red Duck’s Canute The Gruit is a beer, it doesn’t have hops, rather it is a ancient spiced ale, where the hops have been replaced by crazy shit like hawthorne berries and tumerics or some shit.
I was so scared of this beer. In fact that it had been sitting in my fridge for about 3 months as I tried to find the right occasion for this ale, but without a Deloren to take me back to about 1400 I don’t see how this was ever going to be appropriate ale. I opted for the old reliable cheese on the balcony on a balmy night.
It poured nice enough, black as the ace of spades, with no head and almost no carbonation. So it looked good, but then you taste it and it all goes wrong. It’s hard to explain what this tastes like, imagine you got some Ribena, but somehow managed to take all of the sweetness out of it, then poured into a heap of burnt lemon juice. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Well that is roughly what this tastes like. Add to all of this they it’s unfiltered so there is all this brown stuff floating in it and it’s ends up as a really unpleasant experience – Pot
Don’t get me wrong, I love that these beers exist, there have to be things are the edges of what beer can be and I do feel guilty about not liking them (well the Grand Cru, not really the Canute, that shit is just evil), but I guess you can’t like all of the beers all of the time, even if they are darlings on the vest and hat wearing crew.
Long Bow You-Tube clip: Speaking of vests and hats have you seen Shit bar tenders say…..