WA – Ironbark Brewery

Weird Oktoberfest people at Ironbark for Spring in the Valley

We of course arrived in middle of Spring in the Valley, a strange dress-up/piss-up type event where groups of young people move from brewery to brewery and proceed to ask stupid questions like ‘have you got anything that tastes like Corona?’ They all seemed harmless enough, although their presence did mean there wasn’t a spare seat in the rather large house so we were forced to stand at the bar for our tasting paddle.

Overall the brewery is making beer for the tourist market so there was nothing too special in the line-up for us beer geeks, but there were some highlights:

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It really was a Good Beer Week….

The wonderful Thirsty Crow Vanilla Stout

So Good Beer Week is over for another year and I’m now currently in my detox phase which I imagine might last a good while. Many have called this the ‘coming of age’ of the Australian beer scene and you won’t hear any disagreement from me. I can only imagine how big next year’s event is likely to be.

I understand you haven’t heard from me for a while, the last daily report was last Wednesday. But fear not I didn’t end up in a gutter somewhere, the truth was Thursday was a very quiet day, as I was not feeling the best I did a couple of beers at the Rainbow and that was about it. I can tell you however that the Thirsty Crow Vanilla Stout that I had was absolutely stunning. It poured jet black with little head, smelled of vanilla and tasted of the same. It was the perfect dessert beer, in fact it made me instantly want to go out and find some churros and chocolate dipping sauce to drink it with. Well actually, realizing I wasn’t going to top it I just went home, but still a Jug worthy beer.

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Good Beer Week Day 4 – West Australian Brews

Dinner at the Great Northern

When a plumber starts swearing you know you are not going to have the best of days. This is how yesterday started for me. Those playing along at home will know that on Monday I ripped out a pantry so that the plumber could look at a leaky downpipe. It turns out that the leaky downpipe is not a leaky downpipe at all but rather a rusted through metal roof and what seemed like a simple fix will now drag on for a few more days whilst everyone considers how to fix it.

On a related note I now need someone to build me a new pantry, if anyone knows of a handyman/cabinet maker/joinery person who doesn’t mind doing smallish jobs, drop me a line on the email address over there on the left.

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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.

Hottest 100 Beers

It’s hottest 100 time again, no not the Triple J hottest 100, but rather the Local Taphouse’s hottest 100 Aussie craft beers.
The beer geek Twitterverse has been all a flutter with ponderings of a top five and lamentations of the unfortunate beers which have to be left out.
Of course what will actually happen is the beer geeks out there will spread our votes across 200 very obscure, but brilliant beers and then a middle of the road, well distributed craft offering like Vale Ale(2010 winner), Little Creatures (2009 and 2008 winner) will end up dominating. People will whinge (as people do) but that is actually a reasonable snapshot of the industry, to be successful you need both good quality beer and distribution.
So this begs the question, what will happen this year? Firstly I don’t think Vale Ale will top it again, my tip is Feral’s Hop Hog for Number 1 (up from 4th last year) it has the right mix of being a brilliant beer, the darling of the beer geek set, but approachable enough to get good numbers of people drinking it.  Little Creatures and Fat Yak will be up there again thanks to their distribution.  Oh and I think it’s the year of the Pale Ale and IPA – look for about a quarter of the top 100 being highly hopped beers.
The bigger interest for me though will be down the bottom of the list. There are so made secondary stories, will beer geek darling beers like Bridge Road 500 Breakfast Lager make the grade? Did enough people actually find any of the Moondog beers for them to make an impact? Could Temple Brewing sneak something in, even though they were only open for about a week in 2011 (it’s not as weird as it sounds given the collective orgasmic bliss that dominated Twitter just after they opened) or will a beer from the  ‘most hated by beer wankers’ Thunder Road brewery make it in? (I doubt it).
As for me, well after a week or so of revisiting some of the better beers I had this year, here is what I voted for:
Feral’s Hop Hog – The best regularly available IPA made by an Australian brewery, hands down.
Mountain Goat’s DIPA – This was a revelation when we had it on tap at the Wheaty earlier this year; I just wish I could find it again somewhere. 
Holgate’s Temptress – Always a stunning beer to end a session with (I’ve tested this theory many a time now).
Murray’s Angry Man Brown Ale – I liked it so much I bought the T-Shirt, unfortunately like many of Murray’s beers it is near impossible to find in Melbourne Town.
Burleigh Brewing’s Black Giraffe – Of all the coffee infused beers that have been around this year, I think this is the stand-out.
So there we go, I think that is a well rounded top five, 2 IPA’s, a Chocolate Stout, a Brown Ale, and even a lager, albeit a coffee infused dark lager. And surprisingly for a Melbournian, only 2 Victorian brews (plus one from WA, one from NSW and one from QLD).
And apologies to a whole heap of beers that were on the cusp of the top five including Hargreaves Hill’s Topaz and Amarillo IPA, Red Hill’s Weizenbock, 2Brothers with both Chief and James Brown, Murray’s Heart of Darkness, 3 Raven’s Black, Lord Nelson’s Old Admiral, Mad Brewers Stout Noir, Bridge Rd’s Saison Noir and Steam Exchange’s Southerly Buster. So many great beers, so few spots in the top five.
Voting is open until the 25th – so head over here and vote.

A Couple of WA Brews

Today’s beers have nothing in common apart from the fact that they are from Western Australia. The first is from Mash Brewing, which is a brewery I must admit I know nothing about (and their straight out of 1994 website didn’t help me much) but they have been starting to pop up here and there in Melbourne town over the last few months.
The beer I had was a Weizenbock (which I picked up at Beer Deluxe where I was hiding to escape the ridiculous heat that was up and about in Melbourne over the Chrissy break).  This was a good looking beer, a deep brown colour with a great tan coloured creamy head. It also smelled terrific, nice burnt caramel tones on the nose, which is what you would expect with this style. But then the love-fest stopped. My mouth’s experience did not match the expectations that my nose and eyes had promised. There was just a hint of sweetness, but then nothing.
This is what I would describe as a donut beer, that is, it has a huge hole in the middle. You are expecting a big malty sweetness, but rather you get this unsatisfying thin bodied beer. It had all the makings of a seriously good beer, but it just left me wanting for more. Schooner
Our second brew is from Feral, makers of what I will claim is the best IPA made by an Australian brewery. The beer today, just like the weizenbock is another European style – a Belgian Golden Ale, called Golden Ace This beer is a honey golden colour, with some lively, yet non invasive carbonation. There are some interesting flavours in there, Jordan claimed she could taste bananas, which I can only assume was from the Belgian yeast (personally I couldn’t taste it, which only proves, yet again, that Jord is now better at tasting beers than me). The other distinctive thing was some spiciness and lemon tones, which I would attribute to the unusual hop variety used. For you beer geeks out there it has Sorachi Ace hops (and if you are a beer geek you know how unusual and cool that is).
Overall this was a very nice beer, no Hop Hog, but it was right up there. Pint
Six Degrees of Norm: (Where we prove all beers can me linked back to Norm from Cheers (George Wendt) in 6 easy steps.
1. Well Mash brewing is easy – George played Pvt. La Roche in an episode of M*A*S*H called Trick or Treatment, it was a Halloween Episode.
2. Feral Golden Ace is a little harder, although have you ever considered that the Golden Girls were both Golden and Ace?
3. And one of the cast members was Betty White, who was also ace in Lake Placid
4. Which was written by David E Kelley
5. Who also wrote Harry’s Law (along with Ally McBeal, Boston Public, Chicago Hope and LA Law)
6. And George Wendt guest starred in an episode of Harry’s Law as Franklin Chickory

SA Week – A Night (and day) at the Wheaty

Here in Melbourne town you don’t hear too many good things about Adelaide. Okay you’re vaguely jealous that they can get Coopers everywhere, but you take pleasure in Port Power falling apart, laugh that their biggest ‘celebrity’ is Ben Oxenbould or that chick from Superjesus , joke that their entire population is aged 63 and that it is just an overgrown Geelong.

About the only good thing you do hear about (if you are a card carrying beer geek) is the Wheatsheaf Hotel, or The Wheaty to its friends.

 I’ve heard that this is the best beer pub in the whole of Adelaide, I’ve even heard it said that it is the best in Australia, or even more grandly the best pub EVER.  

The Wheaty is located in beautiful downtown Thebarton, which is a word I’ve only ever seen followed by the word theatre and only on band  tour posters. The good thing about Thebarton for Melbourne folk is that it can be reached by a tram (bet you thought Melbourne had a monopoly on trams) and better still it’s free (officially free, not just the ‘I can’t be bothered paying’ free that Melbourne trams are).

Once you exit the tram and wander through some industrial back streets you’ll find the Wheaty, a classic old style inner city pub. Inside it has a real Melbourne feel. If I had to compare it to anything I’d say it has the grungy homeliness of The Great Britain, combined with the music cred of The Corner (as it has a band room out the back) and the beer list of The Courthouse .  I know all this makes it sound like the perfect pub, and it is close to it. So sit back and hear the tale of when Jordan and myself went to The Wheaty.

We were here for the beer, so I scanned the tap handles. I was looking for brews I couldn’t get in Melbourne and in particular SA brews – there was only one on tap. And here lies the first problem with the Wheaty, it needs more local SA brews. Maybe it was a quirk of the night we were there, maybe it’s that the SA brewing scene isn’t very well developed, or maybe it’s that The Wheaty’s point of difference is that it’s the only place you can get interstate craft beer, but as a tourist in Adelaide I would have liked to have seen a few more local beers.

Anyway we started with the only SA tap brew, a beer from the Adelaide Hills – Lobethal Bierhaus Double Hopped IPA. It was a good place to start, it was a great refreshing summery brew. It was a honey golden colour with few bubbles and a wispy head. The smell was hoppy pine resins and a backbone of caramel malts. It was not quite sweet at the front of the sip but not far from it, it had a nice body and felt smooth in the mouth, then the hops came through and lingered, but not in an aggressive show off sort of way. It was a very well balanced IPA – Pint. 

For our second brew it we decided to head back to our home state Victoria, but stuck with the style with the

The King Brown in a king brown sitting on some of 1960's furniture

Mountain Goat Double IPA. This was a great amber colour, darker than the Lobethal, it had a much better head too, this one was a solid creamy tea coloured head. This too is a beautifully balanced beer, great caramel malt at the start of the sip and the hops come rolling over the top of it, again piney and resiny rather than overt fruit tones. It is an astoundingly drinkable beer. Jord (who is a hop head we are discovering) described it as ‘A glass full of goodness.’ And Victoria beats SA again because I’m giving this one a Jug.

We were feeling a little bit guilty and this point and wanted to return to the SA brews so we delved into The Wheaty’s extensive bottled beer list and selected Brewboys King Brown which suitably enough came in a King Brown (which is what some people, possibly South Australians call long necks). I carried this back to our 1960’s inspired chairs along with two butchers (which is what South Australians call ponies. Strangely they also call pots schooners and if you ask for a pint you’ll get a schooner, it’s a weird place).

This beer tasted a hell of a lot like Jamieson’s Brown Ale. It was more amber in colour than brown, a touch thin in the body with powdered chocolate in the aftertaste. It was a little underwhelming. I’ll suggest the beer is designed as an easy to drink sessionable brown ale, which it achieves, but it’s nothing special – Schooner (an actual schooner not a pot).

I like a narrative when I drink and I think you can see I tend to start light and work up to the darker, more

Feral's Boris, lit romantically by an ironic lamp

challenging beers. As it was now dark outside it was time to get serious. It was time to order the Feral Boris which is an 11.5% alcohol Russian Imperial Stout. If that was unusual enough it was on a hand pump, with means no injection of carbon dioxide so a low carbonation beer, and it flowed through some fresh hops (using a randall) before hitting my glass.

The initial reaction was ‘wow’, this tastes like no other beer I’ve ever had (or more correctly it tasted like every other beer I’ve ever had but all at the same time). It smelt of BBQ sauce, plums and alcohol. It was pitch black with a thick head. The taste is surprisingly smooth, with a ridiculously full body. I couldn’t work out if it was complex, or just confused. From second to second it bounced around between hops, sweet chocolately malts, stewed fruits, resiny hops, alcoholic punches all sorts of things. I’m tempted to give it a Jug for its complexity, but I’m going to knock it down to a Pint because it was so complex it was confusing. (And yes I’m aware I’ve stopped making sense).      

At this point it had become obvious that it was almost 9pm and we hadn’t had lunch, but had had quite a bit of beer so it was time for food. Now this is the second problem with The Wheaty, no kitchen. I don’t really understand how you can have such a big pub (there were three good size rooms inside and two big beer gardens) without a kitchen. So we set forth into the night in search of food.

I know you think this is where this seemingly never ending tale ends, but alas it does not. After coming out of the pizza place we couldn’t work out where the tram stop was so we had to retrace our steps to the pub to work out where we were. Of course once back at the pub it seemed logical to have another beer.  We were smart enough to choose a nice gentle Moo Brew Pale Ale.

This is a light coloured, slightly hoppy beer perfectly designed for drinking in summer in beer gardens. You could use it as a cleanser at the end of the night, or a thirst quencher at the start of a session (perhaps if you have been sightseeing all day). How do I know? Because that’s what we did – end Friday night’s session on this worthy beer and then start Saturday’s afternoon session back at The Wheaty on it. (If you’d like to know more it was the 4th ever beer we reviewed on tipples)

The Dreadnought on the next day, and yes I'm sitting in the same chair as the night before

Of course Saturday was just a short session (really it was just a place to meet someone before the long drive to Murray Bridge) so I only managed to sneak in one more beer, Little Creatures Dreadnought. This was very very good, black as the Ace of Spades, with a creamy tea-coloured head and little carbonation. It had chocolate tones in the body and then a bitey, tangy hop tone coming through. It was a beer with a silky mouthfeel and a nice full body. Definitely Pint worthy.

So incredibly long story short, if you find yourself in Adelaide jump on the tram towards the Entertainment Centre, get off at Thebarton and go to The Wheaty. It may not be the best beer pub in Australia, but it would have to be in the top five and certainly more interesting than looking at the fucking pandas.

Turning Feral

Today I’m going to tell you a tale of two beers from the Feral Brewing in WA. One is the darling of the beer wanker scene (and rightfully so), the other is a beer that can be picked up at any half decent Uncle Dan’s. One is a hop driven super beer which pushes the boundaries of the craft beer scene. The other is safe choice, an old world style beer. Can you guess which one is available in Uncy Dan’s Big Barn of Booze?

Let’s start with what, for most people will be the introduction to the Feral brand. Feral White. As I mentioned I picked up a bottle of this in my local Dan Murphy’s so I’m going to assume that it’s reasonably easy to get your hands on. It’s a Witbier, the educated amongst you will know that this is a olde world European style (mainly Belgian), and you’ll know that witbier means, wait for it, White Beer.

This beer pours a light yellow colour, hazy and with an orangey tinge, or maybe that was just my mind playing tricks on me given I could smell orange, mixed with a whole lot of wheat, like a pungent sourdough bread.

It had a very thin white head, but what head there was did stick around. There is also a hint of orange in the taste, along with a bit of a spicy overtone and again plenty of wheat. It’s a really good beer, very much on style. It’s not really a style I love, but I can appreciate that this is a good example of it. On personal preference I’d probably give it a schooner, but I’m willing to bump it up to a Pint, because I like what they have done, even if it wouldn’t be my first choice of beer.

What would be my first choice beer, anywhere, anytime and almost everytime would be the other end of the Feral range. The much harder to find Hop Hog. I’ve had it a number of times on Tap at The Courthouse in North Melbourne, and you’ll find it at most of the better pubs in the inner city of Melbourne.  

Whilst the White is an old European style. The Hop Hog is a new school American style IPA. American style of course meaning packed full of hops.

This is a stunningly good beer, sweet citrus, melon and pine hop note abound. It’s sweet on the lips as you start drinking then the subtle bitterness comes through with some passionfruit tones. It’s nowhere near as aggressively hopped as I thought it might be, or that the name and label would suggest. Rather it is a very well balanced beer and just so enjoyable. Full bodied and seriously good. Jug.

The Long Bow Youtube clip: Now I’m sure you were thinking how would I get something that is appropriate for Feral Hop Hog, I mean hogs aren’t generally the stuff of musical wonderment. But like many people you would have forgotten about the musical Big River (I might be one of about 7 people in Australia to have seen this). Anyway here is a song called ‘Hand for the Hog’ all about how good Hogs are, no mention of the beer though (And I’m not entirely convinced that this guy isn’t Streech from Saved by the bell)