Brewery Visit – Byron Bay Brewery

The Pale Ale

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.

The really quite weird mural

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

Nova Schin Pilsener….is an evil beer.

The Nova Schin on the right, and a good beer (Fat Yak) on the left.

Most of the beers choices I make for the blog are natural. I drink whatever I feel like and review it on here if I think it’s good beer that others should try it or if I have something interesting to say about it.  But occasionally I’ll go out searching for a beer for a specific reason and today’s beer is one of those.
I was updating the list of beers I’ve reviewed to include the December beers, which also involves me updating the map of countries from which we have tasted beers. I started thinking to myself that South America is looking a little thin and I should rectify that.
So this going through my mind on the tram on my way home from work when I remember a Back of the Ferry post about a strange bottleshop near Crown Casino which has random beers. My tram is about to go right past its door. I quickly jump off, calculating that I have 6 minutes until the next tram, race to to the bottleshop and start looking in the fridges.
Strangely I have three Brazilian beers to choose from. I choose Nova Schin on the basis that it looked the most like a proper beer (I think it was the only one in a brown bottle). I quickly grab it, pay for it and race back to the tram only to be stopped at the pedestrian lights and watch it sail past. 
And it all goes downhill from here. When I get home I notice the use by date on the beer. It’s the 9th of January 2010. I bought this beer on the 7th of January 2012, so by my calculations that is almost two years past its use by, which probably means it was brewed in early 2009.
Now how does this happen? Is it a dodgy grey importer? That’s probably the first problem. The distributor is listed as which I note is now called Ibev and Nova Schin is no longer on this list of products. They claim to have started importing Brazilian beers in 2009, so there is a chance that this beer was in date when it got to Australia, but probably only just, and this is the problem with a lot of imports, Beer is heavy, it has to come by ship, which means it’s never going to be that fresh when it hits the shelves, add to that that the bottleshop probably isn’t doing a roaring trade in Brazilian beers and you have yourself a problem.  
The other problem with importer beers (or any beer for that matter) is the lack of control that the beer maker has over the product once it leaves the brewery. God only knows how this bottle of Nova Schin made it to Australia, how long it sat in the Ibev warehouse and finally how long it sat in the fridge at Cellarabrations. 
So was this beer any good? Short answer, absolutely not. We should start with the fact that there was guck floating in it. I was determined to taste it though (because I care about you, my three readers.) I poured it in a glass, it had a very, very light colour to it and seemed thin and watery, which was probably a sign that it wasn’t a good beer to start with let alone 2 years past its best. It had almost no carbonation and a slight apple vinegar smell to it.  I tentatively tasted it and it tasted like, well nothing really, except a slightly weird, slightly off aftertaste. Simply terrible, Butchers.
One sip in and I decided that it wasn’t the best idea to continue drinking a funny tasting beer with guck floating in it so I tipped it out and I quickly poured myself a Fat Yak to get the taste out of my mouth.
And the lessons I learned: drink local, or at the very least check the use by dates.

Cantina Pura Cerveza

Prologue:  Some of the more concerned amongst you may have been wondering what the hell happened to me. There has been radio silence for about a week of so now, which is quite unusual.

Perhaps I’d fled the country after getting a shake-down from ‘Big Beer’ and told to keep my craft beer loving mouth shut. Maybe I’d visited a brewery somewhere and feel into a vat, a la Augustus in Willy Wonka.

Or maybe I just had a case of Man Flu.

But the important part is I’m back, and ready to get back on the beer tasting horse (how good would it be if I actually had a beer tasting horse. I would call it Dufflecoat Supreme)

Now choosing a beer from the beery powerhouse of El Salvador probably wasn’t the most auspicious choice. The fact that this beer is imported by Australian Beer Connoisseurs (AKA Coles) also doesn’t bode well either. Add to that the fact that this is in a clear bottle, and appears to be a cheap rip off on Corona (as if Corona could actually get worse) and there is a very strong chance that I was still delirious with fever when I purchased this.    

Packaging: It does that Central American thing of printing straight onto the bottle, Which I think is awesome. There is Corona gold and blue, and there are the ‘paint by numbers’ Central American symbols of suns and alike.

Appearance: The beer itself is a very light yellow colour, with a slightly green tinge with a bubbly white head.   

Smell: A very strong commercial beer smells, sweet and a little skunky.

Taste: Really ordinary. Gassy, thin, almost no lingering aftertaste, Some (Jordan) would say it was a bit of a nothing beer, I went as far as to say it was actually unpleasant to drink.

Now you might know my thoughts on adding fruit to beers. I did however hate this beer so much that I went a found a lemon and added it to the brew to see if that improved it. And you know what? I really did. The lemon took away a lot of the gassiness and seemed to give it a bit more body.   

In conclusion: A truly awful beer. Although it did have a educational effect on me, I know understand the benefits of wedging a lemon in the neck of the bottle. It makes a crap beer taste slightly less crap.

Ranking:  Nah mate, just a butchers.  

The United State of Beer – Random US Brews – Part 2

It is often quipped that M*A*S*H ran for significantly longer than the Korean war in which it was set. This also seems to be the case with The United States of Beer. Although I was only in the US for three weeks it has taken close enough to six weeks to get through the stories.

But all things have to end and this is the last ‘United States of Beer’ entry. Much like the last episode of M*A*S*H I expect this entry to be the highest read of all time. The final episode of M*A*S*H was watched by 106 million people in the US, so we have some work to do, but if we all tell a friend then we might just get there. And for you media buyers reading this (and I know there are a few of you) that is a TARP of 60.2.

But we are here to talk beer not ground breaking sitcoms on the 1970’s. So let’s get this show on the road. The last three beers to review are another random collection.

The story commences with the worst beer we had in our entire time in the US – Miller Lite. In fact I’m not convinced that it was beer. It tastes like very weak beer flavoured carbonated water. You know it’s beer, because it looks like beer, but it’s like someone has put 30mls of some pale lager in a glass and then topped it up with water. Just horrible – Butchers.  

I know you are wondering why I would be drinking such trash. Well we were at the baseball at Yankee Stadium. When one is embracing the most American of sports, one also needs to embrace the full experience, so when Cat returned to our chairs with a bucket of food (and I do mean an actual bucket) and four plastic containers of Miller Lite it seemed apt, if not a little exciting. Oh the disappointment that followed.

Speaking of Cat our next brew comes highly recommended by her. She claims that Fat Tire by New Belgium brewing is one of her favourite session beers. In fact there was a long discussion about how it Fat Tire would stack up against the unfortunately named Pork Slap beer. But this head to head battle which I liked to call the Fat Pig battle was not possible as Fat Tire is not available in NY, thus we had to wait until San Francisco to taste it.

We hadn’t been in San Francisco long before we found it on tap in a restaurant we were having lunch at. It was a seriously good beer too, nicely suited to sitting outside in the sunshine, and eating a salad, all San Francisco hippy style. The beer was a nice amber colour with a foamy pure white head. It had little bubbles heading for the surface and a nice malty flavour, with overtones of maple syrup (but not that sweet). It reminded me a little of 2Brother’s Chief, but this is slightly more refreshing and summery. It was a very good beer and I would happily drink it all afternoon. Pint

This brings us to the last US brew to be reviewed in this series, and the cheapest on tap beer we had on the trip.

Imagine it; we are in Haight Ashbury, epicentre of the hippy movement and the most happening place on earth in the late sixties. We had done the tourist things like checking out Janis Joplin’s house, although as I misread the guidebook and now have a nice photo of house next to the house than Janis used to live in, but close enough.  Jordan had even bought a jacket from an ageing hippy in a shop where it looked like some tie dyed monster vomited in it.

After all of this we needed a drink. And we found one in a café called Squat and Gobble. We were attracted by a board out the front that said ‘Fat Tire $2.75’ before 12 noon. Now I do like a café that sells cheap beer, but only in the morning because drinking in the morning is very civilised.

Alas they were out of Fat Tire, but I was able to get another of New Belgium’s brews at this cheap cheap price (You Melbourne kids, need to keep in mind that they drink Pints in the US) it was the brilliantly named Mothership and is a witbier, as such it is cloudy yellow colour with a thin but solid white head. It is a gentle beer without much carbonation and unlike a number of US wheat beers it doesn’t have a candy lemon taste, rather it has a subtle and pleasant hop tang. Very easy to drink, even in the morning – Pint

And that my friends concludes our US journey. 50 Beers, generally pretty good. Although I only awards 3 Jug ratings, we handed out 24 Pints, which is a pretty good strike rate when you consider a Pint worthy beer is still good stuff.

6 Degrees of Norm

  1. There is little to connect these three beers together
  2. Except all those clever M*A*S*H references I made up there
  3. And M*A*S*H was where the creators of Cheers Glen Charles and Les Charles got their start writing the episode ‘The Late Captain Pierce’
  4. Also Shelley Long appeared in a episode called Bottle Fatigue
  5. And George Wendt (Norm himself) was in an episode called Trick or Treat    
  6. And of them wrote/starred alongside/starred as Norm in Cheers

Hahn White

Prologue  A cacophony of alarm bells and some blinding warning lights should have gone off when I ordered this beer. The reason for this is that the bartender responded to my request of the Hahn White with..

“We don’t have any fresh oranges to put in it, Is that okay?”

I was taken aback, why wouldn’t it be okay? I’ve never really wanted adjuncts put in my beer, no lemons, no lime, no raspberry cordial, occasionally some lemonade (when in Paris) and definitely no oranges.

The second warning sign was when she produced two giant towering glasses from beneath the bar. Everything started to stink of a marketing gimmick. Once she had poured my beers I got the final clue that I was being taken for a ride “That’s $13.40 please”

Packaging:  Stupid glasses are the order of the day if you are in a pub, if you pay $3.30 for a stubby in Dan Murphy’s you get a label that is more marketing gimmick. This is a summer beer, so of course it has a sun on it.   

Appearance: Clear yellow colour with a white head.

Taste: It claims to be ‘a Belgian style white beer made all the more refreshing with subtle orange notes.’  As Frewy (my drinking buddy for this brew) rightfully pointed out if this is a Belgian white beer it’s like Belgium has been replaced with its Disneyland doppelganger which has a ‘I can’t believe it’s not Belgian White beer’ soda fountain for which they sourced this ‘beer’.

This ‘beer’ doesn’t taste like beer at all. It tastes like orange flavoured mineral water. And not even good orange flavoured mineral water, really fake chemical tasting orange mineral water.        

In conclusion:  In the immortal words of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Worse. Beer. Ever    

Ranking:  Nah Mate, Just a Butcher’s     

Burleigh Big Head

Prologue: I didn’t have high hopes for this beers. Firstly it was from Queensland, which is not a state renowned for their beer. Secondly its claim to fame is that it is Australia’s first ‘No Carb’ beer. Low Carb beer is of course code for low taste beer, so I can only assume that no carb beer means no taste beer.

I check my trusty companion ‘The Brewer’s Nose’ and it told me that this beer was low in Fullness, Bitterness and sweetness. I started to hear ominous music in my head.

Appearance: I poured it into the closest approximation of a beer glass that I could find in the non beer drinkers house. It looked pale, very pale.

Packaging: The label is shit. I can see what they are trying to do. The giant baby, drawn in a I’m a teenage girl with posters from ‘Frankie’ all over my wall style. The label is all attitude. It’s like they are trying to give the beer a personality through the label. Of course a good beer will still be a good beer in a plain brown bottle.

Taste: This is not a good beer. On the first sip I thought ‘This tastes strange’ as I continued to drink I realised it didn’t ‘taste’ strange, because it didn’t taste of anything. Not hops, no bitterness, no malt, nothing. I knew it existed because I could see it, and I could feel a liquid in my mouth but I might as well had been drinking water.

Which is to say it’s refreshing, the way that water is, so you would drink if  you were thirsty but if you wanted to drink beer I buy beer rather than this.

Food suggestion: The non drinking Brewer I was hanging out whilst drinking this made a very nice asian inspired baked chicken with crunchy greens. You want to drink this with some nice food to distract you from the fact that you are drinking this.

Made up Reader’s question: How the hell do you make ‘No Carb Beer’

Great question made up guy. The short answer I don’ think you can. My basic understanding of how beer works is that the alcohol is made from the yeast reacting with the sugar and starchs in the grains, but not all the sugar and starch is converted to alcohol, what is left is carbs.

So to make beer you have to end up with some carbs. Same deal with wine. The only way to get alcohol without carbs is to distill it, like vodka. Interestingly I note Big Head does not list Yeast as an ingredient. Is it possible that this is a beer flavoured drink with distilled alcohol in it? 

Of course Low carb beer is a marketing gimmick at best and a complete crock at worse. Beer is low carb anyway, there are more carbs in a glass of milk or orange juice (and about 3 times as much in a glass of coke). It’s actually the calories from alcohol that is the real problem. If you want to slim down I’d suggest low alcohol beers are a better bet than full strength but low carb beers.

Ranking:  Nah Mate, just a Butchers

Broo ‘Premium’ Lager

Prologue:  Tomorrow is Australia Day. So I thought we better Aussie it up a bit. So today I present to you Broo.

Now I had heard about these guys a while ago. I saw interview of ACA or something like that. The concept basically that this is the most Aussie Beer you can get.

It set itself up and the underdog fighting against the internationalisation and blandness of mainstream beer.  Because you know foreigners are evil.

I kind of agree with them in a way, I’m all for patriotism. But reading the bottle and now the website  I fear that this might stray a little too close to the Southern Cross tattoo on the arm, Lebo bashing brand of patriotism so popular amongst the Tooheys swilling bogans in the suburbs.

Or maybe it’s the One Nation of beer. The website show pictures of all of the Lion Nathan brands with a ‘100% Japanese owned’ written under them. It’s almost like red arrows are invading the country and needing to stop the boats.  

Which leaves us with fighting blandness. An admirable crusade. I only hope they can back it up with a product is premium and different from the commercial beers.

Appearance: This is a commercial lager in every sense of the word. Which makes sense if you are appealing to bogans and you are taking on Lion Nathan and CUB. It’s a light golden colour with a pure white head, it has less carbonation than a mainstream lager though.

Taste: This is the problem. It tastes like, well nothing. It has no smell, no taste, no malty goodness, no hoopy aftertaste. Nothing. If you are going to position yourself as Australia’s finest premium lager (this is written on the bottle, not sure how they prove it though) you might want to actually back it up with a product that’s good.

Now I thought I might be being a bit tough on this. I was born in the land of the long white cloud so maybe my kiwi tastebuds weren’t attuned the Aussieness of it all. But I was drinking this with my girlfriend, brother and dad who are all dinky di aussies, my brother is even born in Queensland for christs sake, and they thought it was average at best.

A couple of days later I tried it again. I even Aussied it up for the occassion. I was taking a break from painting and needed a drink and if CUB has taught me anything it’s after Hard Yakka that beer tastes best. I even had the cricket on the TV (muted), Paul Kelly on the Ipod, and was wearing green and gold Sydney Olympic socks (I was painting so it’s okay). Even in the perfect storm of Aussieness the beer was still crap.

Packaging:  I actually quite like the Kangaroo road sign, and the nice simple clean label. I do however have to disagree with the statement on the back ‘A good Broo should always be drunk from a brown bottle’. No good brewer (or Brooer) would ever encourage you to drink beer from the bottle. Good beer should always be drunk from a glass. You wouldn’t drink wine from a bottle, so don’t do it with beer either.

Although I have no problem with a 330ml bottle, I do have a problem with the explanation they give on the website (clearly built for the market more used to 375ml VB’s and XXXX) – And the 330ml bottle…well you fit more into an esky.”   Don’t bullshit me mate. 

 Food suggestion: Would it be wrong to suggest Kangaroo? Of course their website has an opinion on this You can eat whatever you bloody well like with it, but by all accounts the beer tastes just right on its own. A mouthful of raw squid, and a plate of something that a good vet could get going doesn’t do much for the taste.”  They are just so fucking down to earth Aussie battler aren’t they?

In Conclusion:  Tipples wholeheartedly endorses supporting independent Australian owned breweries, We wholeheartedly agree with moving beyond the standard Carlton and Tooheys products. But you don’t need to drink Broo to do that. There are hundreds of microbrewries in Australia that are producing better beer than this clone of a mainstream lager. Hell my homebrew is better than this stuff.

Ranking:  Nah Mate, Just a Butchers.     

The Low Bow Youtube Clip – Rags the kangaroo fights marty monster


Prologue: Kozol had the most difficult task of all of the beers tasted, the morning after beer. That’s right I decided that this Czech master (which we dubbed Ivan Lendl) would cure my hangover, but alas this was a task that could not be performed by even the best beer, and this thing was not the best beer.
Appearance: This had the look of whisky.
Taste: It was tangy, bitter and all in all disappointing
Packaging: It has annoying gold foil around the top of it, this is our pet hate on beer bottles, it;s give the feel of Gold Coast property developer, a shit bloke that is dressed up with some tacky gold frills. It also had a very untrustworthy looking alpaca with horns. However on the plus side it contains the word Velkapopovicky which is Czech for ‘Trust me this is an amazing beer’
Drinking Location Suggestion: on a hill with a goat

Food suggestion: Sausages and mashed potatos

Possible Slogans: “Like a Slutty Blonde on Brownlow Night.’ some gold trimming gold, no substance, but will good down anyway.
Ranking: Nah mate, just a Butchers
Postscript: About a year later I had this beer again. This time it was not drunk in a Castle, but rather on a mountain in Prague. It might have been that it was fresh, it might have been that I was drinking it out of a giant stein, or it might simply have been that I was not hungover, but I assure you it was a lot better then that it was ‘the morning after.’

Post Postscript: Fast forward another 8 months or so and I move into a house that shares a driveway with the Czech club. Just like every country pub has a VB sign out the front, every Czech social club has a Kozel sign – so every day I see that untrustworthy alpaca