Coffee Stouts

The EPICurian Coffee & Fig

One of the excellent things about being a beer blogger is that people always know what to give you as a present.  So when my birthday rolls around each year in late April I can trust that I’ll always get some nice bottles of beer or some other beery treat. This was the case again this year when Andre and Cat gifted me two impressive and generally difficult to find coffee stouts.

Of course the flipside of this generosity is that there is then an expectation that you will blog about said beers and I’m here today to say I finally got around to drinking these brews. As my birthday falls just before Good Beer Week/Eurovision it was difficult to ‘fit these in’ any earlier.

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Good Beer Week Day 2 – A tale of Moondogs, Dinosaurs and some bits of wire.

Life is a blur at the Royston

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.

GABS session one

The Sparse crowds at Fridays session

So after much waiting Good Beer week is upon us, or at least the great Australasian Beer Spectapular is upon us. I’m happy to report I was the first person through the door at 12 noon and throughout the afternoon managed to taste 26 different beers, partake in some excellent food from the Gumbo kitchen and even managed to catch up with a few friends here and there.

First things first, I’ll admit I fully expected GABS to be a nightmare of queuing and general shamble-ness, but it actually ran very smoothly, bars were quick and tokens were easy to get, which made for a generally relaxing afternoon, even if this was the least busy session, which I fully expect bodes well. Well done to the Local Taphouse guys.

But I guess what you want to know is what were the beery highlights. Well here they are;

Murray’s Bob’s Farmhouse Ale The first beer I tried (why I started at 9% beer is anyone’s guess. It was a fabulous beer, sweet and complex and agricultural and it perfectly hid the alcohol content, could drink this all day – Pint

Moondog Mr Mistoffelees although it led to much singing, and Jordan hates Cats (the musical, not the animal) this was a great beer. It smelt strange like you were under a fruit tree in late summer surrounded by rotting fruit, it was sour and sweet all at the same time, very nice. Pint

2Brothers Bloody Oak this was the first beer of the day to make me sit back and exclaim ‘Wow’. It smelt of sweet cherries and brown sugar, sweet and luxurious, and just brilliant. Jug.

Renaissance Stonecutter Oak nothing to do with Steve Guttenberg unfortunately, but still an outstanding beer, all the goodness of the regular stonecutter which I love but with added complexity, yet still drinkable and approachable, stunning -Jug.

Epic Zythos Seriously good IPA great hops tones, and very very refreshing. Jug

Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta I really liked this. The tea was there in the front of the sip and then the hops came through, although I have to say the tea took the edge off the hops making a very balanced brew. Pint.

So there it is,a top six. Shout out to Temple for their Smoked Weizen, the Lord Nelson Last Consignment, 4 Pines Beetroot Belgian and the Mornington Grouch which were all very good.

So all in all a good day had by all and I’m back tomorrow to try a few more brews. As a side note I caught up with a couple of not beery friends who would normally be drinking Peroni and they were loving the afternoon and the Boatrocker, so it would seem the event is converting people to craft beer, which is the main thing.

Six Pack of Brewing Success – Part 1 The Product

Let’s start with what every beer geek will tell you is the most important thing, in fact they will tell you it is the only important thing – the product – what’s inside the bottle, can, growler or keg.  This is also the reason that most brewers get into the business, they love beer, they love creating beer recipes, pushing the boundaries and producing great, high quality product.
But what should you brew? If you are a brewer chances are you have beer tastebuds that are developed far beyond the general public, including most beer geeks, but you are running a business here and you can’t sell your beer to yourself so you have to consider what the public want.
And here starts one of the biggest fights in the beer geek community. God forbid you are a craft brewery that is ‘playing it safe’ by producing what there is demand for. All beer geeks think everyone should produce beers that are targeted absolutely directly at them, even though we can’t actually agree on what beers we like.
I’ve discussed Thunder Road before; they are a Melbourne brewery putting out perfectly acceptable, if a little boring (to beer geeks) pale beers. The strange thing is there is an unnatural level of hatred for them amongst the beer geek community.
Thunder Road are unashamedly going after the mainstream beer drinker. Phillip Withers the owner of Thunder Road told the SMH:
”It’s important to respect the 98 per cent of beer drinkers who don’t drink craft beer, because they are the ones we need to convert,” Withers says.
”They deserve to have as close to what they enjoy already but better. We would love people to all be drinking IPAs but some are going to be scared off.”
It’s a simple enough philosophy; produce a better version of the style of product that the market is already drinking and it’s the exact model that a brewery like Thunder Road would need. If you don’t know anything about them, the description in this article sums it up nicely as a ‘money-is-no-object brewery’. I’m sure money is an object (rich people don’t get rich by being dumb) and they know that if you want to make serious money you need to produce mainstream styles.
Sure do them in a craft beer way with a focus on quality ingredients, but if you want to carve out significant market share you are going to have to go after the pale lager loving, beer garden market. 

The Moondog Boys in their makeshift brewhouse

At the other end of the spectrum is Moon Dog who I have also discussed on here a few times. Now these guys are absolutely the brewery that all beer wankers love to see. Three guys (unfortunately only two and a half beards between them, but we can forgive that), completely ramshackle, a do it yourself vibe and small scale. I assume they have low overheads (for the notoriously capital intensive brewing industry) and therefore they can take risks.

They produce risky beers; pumpkin, plums, coffee, pineapple, coconut, all sorts of things are in their beers They are playing at the ragged edge of where Australia’s beer tastes are and are heading. Some people will love the beer, probably just as many will hate it. It’s a niche within a niche and I’m not entirely convinced it’s actually big enough to sustain a brewery, but I could be, and often am, completely wrong.

To make this approach work you have to accept that you are only going after a small market and you have to treat them as special. It’s going to be a huge amount of one on one communication, talking to people at bars, on twitter and in blogs.

I would suggest you might need to be charging a premium for the product as well and you’d have good cause to given it’s unique and one assumes it’s limited. Of course with a higher price comes an expectation of higher quality, unfortunately quality control has been a little patchy at Moondog, but beer wankers are a forgiving lot (assuming we like you to start with) so they will be fine.  

Which approach is right? Well both, or none, or maybe one of them. I’ve discussed this article before, but let’s face it in the blog world no one reads old entries so I’m going to quote it again. There were some dudes in the US who did a correlation study between sales growth (and you should note it’s growth not volume) and ratebeer scores and found:
By analyzing hundreds of thousands of beer reviews, Clemons found that the brewers whose sales grew the most were not just those with high ratings, but those with the biggest gaps between their highest and lowest ratings.
“It is more important to have some customers who love you than a huge number of customers who merely like you,” the paper concludes — even if your beers are so intense that they turn off a lot of potential customers. “Good, solid, likable, average, middle-of-the-range new products that consumers neither love nor hate will not sell.”

So that suggests that raspberry-infused coffee stouts that half the beer wanker population love and half hate will produce sales growth. Having said all that the article goes on to speculate, when discussing the success of Three Floyds brewery:
But one factor trumps the others: “They picked styles that America truly loved and they made them extreme but not too extreme.”
It’s possible, Clemons notes, to make a beer so edgy that nobody likes it. The key is to be as different as possible without being just plain weird.
So maybe success actually lies somewhere between the two approaches. Produce styles that people like, or perhaps more importantly styles you think the market will grow to like.
We can see that the two biggest selling craft beers are Little Creatures and Fat Yak (both pale ales at around 30-35 IBUs) so perhaps the best approach would be to produce a more extreme version, say a 45 IBU pale ale and then grow them to a 60 IBU IPA and then to a 80 IBU Imperial IPA.
And this is the approach of EPIC brewery, which is one of the most popular craft breweries in New Zealand and increasingly pushing into the USA. Their entry level beer is the pale ale (45 IBUs), but also in the range is the Armageddon (60 IBU) and Hop Zombie (80 IBU). And for the ‘I did a weird fruit infused beer’ crowd they have the Portamarillo, which is made with tamarillos and the Fig and Coffee Stout.

So there are a few approaches that you can take, play it safe lagers all the way through to completely nutbag weird shit. You can probably find a market for both, even if they are different sizes, you just need to understand the market you are making the beer for. 
Possibly interesting epilogue. GABS is approaching later this week. 60 craft beers, some relatively safe, some way out there. There is a ‘People’s Choice’ award where the punters vote for their favourite beer. The questions, what will win? A ‘safe’ choice like Thunder Road’s Richmond Pilsener, or maybe Bridge Road Imperial Lager or something way out there like Moondog’s Mr Mistofflees (clearly the brewers are big musicals about pets fans) which is a passionfruit and mango wild ale or The Monk Brewery’s Sweet Potato Porter.  My guess is it will be a ‘safe’ beer.

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).

Drinking Birthday Beers

Nope it’s not my birthday, but recently it was my brother Andre’s anniversary of his birth. To celebrate this anniversary I gave him a collection of beers all with numbers in their names. In a concept stolen from Beauty and the Geek he had to arrange those beers (like the beauties did with sheep) to end up with an answer that was his age. Thankfully he didn’t need to wear cut off shorts and a check shirt whilst doing it. 
Nice concept right? Good brother right? Don’t get too ahead of yourself thinking how great I am. There was a sneaky part, a week later I turned up to his house and because he’s a nice fella he shared said birthday beers with me.

First up was 30 Year Anniversary Ale by Epic Brewery, brewed to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Flying Nun records, which is (I’m told) a very important record label in promoting indie music in the land of the long white cloud.  I did demand of Andre that we played a Flying Nun record whilst drinking and as he owns more CD’s than anyone on Earth, he pondered for a second and then went and got this

Now the beer itself was very clever and very tasty. It was a beer in two halves (yes I understand all beers have two halves, or four quarters for that matter but you know what I mean). You would have to think this is a beer that would get a few music lovers who don’t normally buy Epic’s beers buying it as well as the Epic fans, so Epic needed to walk the delicate balance between satisfying beer geeks and being approachable enough for the new beer drinking music folk. Here’s how they did it.
They have made sure there is a shed load of hops in there, but here is the trick, they have made them all aroma hops.  So it smells grassy and fruity and really fresh (in fact it smells almost exactly like you have opened a bag of hop pellets from the homebrew shop and stuck your nose in), but the beer itself is actually quite crisp and not all that bitter and very, very drinkable. So there is how you give your beer geeks their hop hit without making the beer so bitter that regular people can’t drink it. Overall a seriously good beer – Pint.
Next up was the V-twelve from Victory Brewing in Pennsylvania. This is anything but an approachable beer. It weighs in at 12% and is a Belgain Quadrupel.  It is an outstanding beer; it poured a deep orange caramel and had a solid head, which laced amazingly down the glass. It’s big, it’s ballsy, a big sweet malt bomb and you can certainly feel the alcohol in their too. This was a touch too sweet and a touch too harsh for my liking (it might have benefitted from some cellaring, but let’s face it that was never going to happen). Almost a jug, but not quite – Pint.
The Long Bow YouTube clip: It has to be Chris Knox (who released on the Flying Nun Label) with ‘Not Given Lightly’