The Beer Academy

Uni students between pints of Geelong Bitter might try to convince you otherwise but beer and education aren’t generally the best of friends.  This isn’t how the Beer Academy sees it though. The Academy was started in the UK in 2003 and has recently launched in Australia, in fact I was lucky enough to get invited down to their first event in Melbourne town.

Hosted by the appropriately monikered Professor Pilsener (AKA Pete Mitcham) and held at the James Squire Brewhouse, the event was part 90 minute introduction to beer tasting session, part intro to the Beer Academy, part the biggest collection of beer bloggers and associated beery people this side of Good Beer Week.

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The Six Pack of brewing success – Part 3 – Trial

The Casual Cravat

Welcome to part three of the Six Pack of Brewing Success. Now I know I promised that it would take six weeks to get through this series and that was seven weeks ago where only now are we at the half way mark, but in my defence, I drink quite a bit and I get distracted easily so you know, live with it.

Previously we have talked about what to make and how to brand it, now it’s time to move to the all important step of getting people to try the product.

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Winter Warmers

Winter Brew Left to Right, 8wired Batch 31, Seven Sheds Willie Warmer and Matilda Bay’s Dogbolter.

The skies have turned grey in Melbourne town, its citizens have donned their winter uniform of black overcoats and woollen scarfs, and periodically the heavens open and dump buckets of rain on this fair city.

The marketing gurus at the macro breweries have spent millions of dollars telling us about ice cold beer and building some sort of symbiotic relationship between ice and beer.  All this marketing claptrap may lead you to think when the grey clouds roll in that the beer drinker rolls up the carpet and heads home, or worse still moves to a nice glass of red wine or perhaps a port by the fire.

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Matilda Bay Alpha

Prologue:  I have it on reasonably good authority that in the Matilda Bay family Alpha is considered the golden child.

You know how it is, even though the parents claim that they love all of their kids  equally they don’t. In reality they like the kid who got the better grades, or is more polite, or visits more often.

Alpha is this beer, the star of the show. The beer that wins all the awards. The beer that the brewers wish every beer could be. But how good is it?   

Packaging:  Whilst we are working on this sibling analogy I think you’ll find that the Alpha label is just a yellowy version of the Cascade Pure (which isn’t a bad beer by the way) label, which would make sense given that, as I understand it, Alpha is brewed at the Cascade brewery in Tassie

Appearance: A nice toasty amber colour with a creamy but thin head which had a slightly tan tinge.   

Taste: Malty but not in an overpowering way at the start of the sip then these great hop flavours come through and linger right through until the aftertaste.    

Food matching: I follow Matilda bay on Twitter and thus I note that the brewers often drink Alpha whilst eating cheese. So I gave that a try, in particular crumbly vintage cheddar, it was very good, so try that.    

Made up reader question: “Hey cool blog, I love it and will be telling all my friends about it, how does this beer get its name?” I don’t work a Matilda Bay (although I would love to if anyone is handing out jobs) so I have no proof of this but I can only assume that it is a reference to this being a high hop beer.

You see the ‘strength’ of a Hop is measured in AAU or Alpha Acid Unit. Which is basically the amount of alpha acid in the hop, the more alpha acids the more bitter it is.

Traditional hops from England and Germany are generally quite subtle. For instance Saaz used in must Euro lagers has 2-5% alpha acid. US hops like Chinook is much more bitter at around 12-14%, and that kids is why American style pale ales are much hoppier or bitter than English styles.  

It may also mean that this beer is for manly men, but that would be an outdated view of beer drinker preferences and gender politics and I’m sure the marketing kids at Matilda Bay are smarter than that.

In conclusion: A seriously good beer. Like Fat Yak on steroids.  

Ranking:  I’ll have a pint thanks.      

Mad Brewers Stout Noir

Prologue:  Craft beer is on the up and up. We all know that, and there is no truer sign that this is true than the fact that the two bully boys of the brewing world are increasing their craft beer offerings:

CUB’s offering is led by Matilda Bay, a kind of mainstream craft brewer, producing fine brews for sure, but they play in the shifting mainstream brewers over to craft beer with friendly gateway beers like Fat Yak, Redback and Beez Neez. A noble cause without doubt but not the sort of stuff beer wankers get excited about.  

For excitement you need to look to Lion Nathan. They have a number of ‘craft’ offerings. These include Knappstein, makers of one of the best lagers out there. They also own the Kosciuszko Brewing company, which has the gimmick of brewing in a ski resort and New Norica which claim to be Australia’s only Abbey brewed beer. Both sound like marketing wanks to me.

Lion Nathan also have a significantly stake (somewhere around 40%) – in Little World beverages, makers of Little Creatures. Little World in turn own White Rabbit.

And of course there is the most mainstream of their craft offering James Squire, which much like Matilda Bay concentrate on picking off mainstream beer fans. But James Squire are a little different because they also manage to produce something for the beer wankers like you and me. And that is the Mad Brewer’s range.    

And this beer is the winter release from the Mad Brewers. It’s the Stout Noir.

I must point out that James Squire obviously thinks that us beer wankers are a dumb lot because the press release for this beer does explain that Noir is French for black. Seriously.

Packaging: I really like this label, it’s contemporary. The graphic has a real comic book/film noir (that’s French for film black) feel to it, the font, the scribbles they all scream madness to me. Brilliant.   

Appearance: Very Noir (French for black), so noir in fact that I can see my reflection in it, which makes this a very good looking beer (with a beard).

Smell: The smell is roasted malts.  

Taste: A soft silky drink, full of flavour and very warming. It is well balanced, with sweet malty flavours in the front of the sip and then they melt away to a slightly bitter, slightly acidic, aftertaste.

The press release also bangs on about liquorice and even manages to claim medicinal purpose (and trend in beer marketing I thought went out about 90 years ago), at the start of the drink I failed to taste this, but as the brew sat around on the table it warmed up and these wonderful Aniseed flavours came through, mixed with the sweetness this made it taste like a liquid black cat (Candy not pussy, oh I feel like Mrs Slocombe) This is also why you shouldn’t drink your beer too cold.        

In conclusion:  A seriously good beer. The liquorice overtones make it one of the best stouts around in my opinion.    

Ranking:  A Jug Please  

Six Degrees of Norm: Where we prove that all beers canbe linked back to George Wendt (Norm from Cheers) in 6 easy steps:

  1. The Mad Brewer of this beer is one Dr Chuck Hahn (head brewer are Malt Shovel brewery who make James Squire)
  2. And Chuck was a TV series which starred Zachary Levi as Chuck
  3. Who also played a bellboy in an episode of Curb your Enthusiasm
  4. Which is a program that Ted Danson appears in regularly as himself
  5. And Ted also played Sam Malone, owner of Cheers
  6.  Where one Norm Peterson drank.  

James Squire Golden Ale

Prologue:  James Squire is another of those interesting cross over brewers. Not mainstream enough to be loved by the blue singlet, swirling beers from eskys brigade, but too mainstream to be embraced by the trilby wearing, sipping beers in a darkly lit gastro pub crew.

It sits somewhere in between, but when faced with a tap selection that is limited to the Lion Nathan conglomerate it becomes a more than worthy option.

We have spoken about the Sundowner Lager, but this time we ventured a little further up the tap selection to get the Golden Ale.

Packaging:  I’m writing this from the picture you can see above because mine came straight out of the tap into my pot glass. I like the James Squire font, it’s classy and looks just a little bit fancy, there is some writing on there, but god only knows what it says, and a picture of some wheat, which I believe to be the most picturesque of all      

Of course this is the old packaging, look out for the all new packaging which should be working it way into stores around now, and it comes with it’s own marketing story bullshit

Appearance: It lives up to its name – It is very golden, tending almost towards the honey end of the golden scale (if there is such a thing as a golden scale). It had a white head, which ended up turning a little wispy and left lacing throughout the drink.

Taste: There are some bitter flavours here, fruit, sweetness of honey, but all of the flavours are a little dumbed down. You get the feeling they could have produced something fantastic here, but then they dialled it down to appeal to the masses, which is a real shame.   

In conclusion:  If you are choosing between this and the real microbreweries or even the macro owned micros like Matilida Bay and Little Creatures/White Rabbit then I would forego this. But if you are faced with a rack of commercially orientated Lion Nathan, or even CUB or worse still Pale Euro Lager taps, then this is probably one of the best options.   

Ranking:  Let’s have a schooner

Microbrewers Showcase

So many beers, so little time. A couple of nights ago myself and my trusty sidekick Jordan jumped the tram from rainbow house to federation square for the showcase of Victorian micro brewing. We arrived just after 6.15pm. The function ended at 8.00pm (on the dot, no exceptions). We had 20 tasting tickets (each)  to spend in 105 minutes, A beer every 5 minutes and 15 seconds. And we had to include a break for a hot dog in there as well.

We needed a strategy. We couldn’t go see everyone. We ignored our favourite brewers, 2 Brothers, claiming we needed to try new things. We struck off Bridge road (having been there on Sunday). Gave up on Mountain Goat, Southern Bay and White Rabbit as they had nothing new to offer me. We rejected 3 Ravens for a reason I can’t remember, and never really got back to Bellarine Brewing, Three Troupers, or Holgate (who thinking back may have been replaced in the show by Grand Ridge)

Now I can’t possibly review all of the beers fully, so here it is my twitter like feed of beers in order of tasting, how very web 7.3 of me:

 True South Red Truck:  Not Fantastic, but it did grow on me as I worked through it.

Boatrocker Alpha Queen: Very Nice, much better than their Hopp Bier, will try again.

Grand Ridge Mirboo North Dark Ale: Like brunt treacle, great beer, close to my pick of the night.

Mildura Brewery Choc Hops Limited Edition: Amazing, as described by the person behind me in the line to her friend ‘You have to try this. It tastes like Easter!’

Kooinda Brewing Belgian Witbier: Firstly kudos for filling the glass to the top rather than the tasting line. Quite fruity and light, smells of agricultural (wild?) yeast. It was like I was standing in a barn with Pip and some straw.

Hawthorn Pilsener: I thought I tasted cascade hops, but we were racing through these so I could have been wrong. It was a very nice beer, clean and refreshing.

Coldstream Naked Ale: No Hop bitterness, crisp and refreshing but not hugely interesting.

Coldstream Porter: (Bonus beer which allowed me to stay one up on Jord all night). Surprisingly thin, with very few hops, refreshing and quite nice but a little wimpy for a porter.

Cavalier Brown: Best facial hair of the showcase from the tap jockey, the beer wasn’t great though, lacked any real breakthrough flavours.

Buckley’s Dark Bock: Smelt like green olives which I thought was strange, not sure if I liked it, but interesting enough to make me seek out more of their beers.

Bright Brewery Razor Witbier: Similar to, but not as good as the Kooinda. Tasted agricultural again, with the bitterness in the midpoint.

Break for Hot Dog.  Not a beer and actual hot dog, although how good would hot dog flavoured beer be?

Prickly Moses Organic Blueberry Hefeweizen: Blueberry Wheat beer. Wow, tastes like a muffin in a glass, gimmicky and fun. .

Arctic Fox English Pale Ale: Very gassy in the mouth, a little disappointing, but I think that’s the style rather than the brewer.

Sweetwater Weissber:  Quite good, distinctive yeast flavour with a very slight hint of banana.

Tooboorac Stonemasons Pale Ale: Nice, very subtle and dare I say it, friendly.

Mornington Peninsula Saison: Very yeasty, refreshing light and generally quite good.

Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale: Smells quite fruity. Very nice beer, like a more refined, concentrated version of Fat Yak.

O’Brien Brewing Pale Ale: A good beer to finish on, subtle bitterness, refreshing. Good Stuff.


So there we are we ran out of time, and only got through 18 brews. And before you get all, how can you stand up, remember they are tasting sizes (somewhere around 60ml I would think). We learnt important lessons for next time like: A) get there earlier B) understand that the breweries are in alphabetical order, thus cutting down on ‘Where do you think Blah Blah are? c) Get there earlier.  

There were some real stand-outs Mildura Choc Hops, my new Easter beer. Prickly Mosses Blueberry Hefeweizen because it tastes unlike any beer I’ve ever tasted. Plus the show did what it’s meant to, I will now go seek out beers from a number of breweries that I wouldn’t have sought out before.

Matilda Bay – Big Helga

Prologue:  Big Helga, sister to Fat Yak (which I promise I will review at some point).  She came into my life in early December. I was at one of my many family Christmas functions. There were only two beer drinkers in the room, so we banded together and opened a couple bottles, sat quietly in the corner and were happy little vegemites.

It made another appearance at my immediate family’s Christmas, where everyone is a beer drinker. We sat on the balcony sipping away and throughly enjoying it. 

And then on the weekend, there it was again sitting in a keg at the Doutta Galla hotel in Flemington, a third group of people to test it. This is perhaps the most scientific of all Tipples reviews. It has a sample size of seven people. If Frewy has taught me anything about research it’s that sample size matters.  

Appearance: It has a nice pale gold colour, almost like straw with a cascade of bubbles. Not big fat commercial lager bubbles, but rather small, more delicate bubbles.  

Taste: Very smooth and easy to drink, refreshing but complex. Although this is not wheat beer I thought I could get small hints of third most popular cereal in the world.

I also felt the beer had fruity overtones, and if I had to guess a fruit I was suggest Passionfruit.  Now bitterness and the fruity flavours generally get into the beer through the hops. I did some research to see if I was right. I found out the Big Helga is made with Pacifica Hops from New Zealand. Pacifica is meant to give orange marmalade tones, so I was vaguely close.

Pacifica is also meant to give a solid yet soft finish to the beer, and I would whole heartily agree that this is the case.

Packaging:  I really like the bottle. I like any bottle with a buxom wench on it. I like the fonts, the colours. As we know from my review of Kronenbourg 1664 I love an embossed bottle so the raised Matilda Bay on the bottle really does it for me.

And because I love a story of unrequited love I like the (most likely made up) story behind the name of the beer. Here it is…..

The story of Big Helga begins with a Matilda Bay brewer who took a break, went in search of inspiration and found it in Munich at Oktoberfest, where he fell in love with a lofty blonde beer maid named Helga. . . Helga, he said, through misty eyes and with a croaky voice, could carry 12 steins of beer while his mates struggled with two. Helga was large, certainly, but she had a heart of pure Munich gold. Helga, he reminisced, should come to Australia one day and meet his parents . . .

She never came. So he made a beer in her honour instead.

Having a beer named for you, now that’s love

Food suggestion: Being German I want to say Sausages. Here is a photo of me in Germany (Berlin not Munich) with a sausage….

In Conclusion:  This isn’t the experimental brew that you impress your beer wanker friends with,It’s not the type of high hopped, high alcohol beer that is only liked by fat guys with beards and a trilby hats. No this is a beer that you can take to a BBQ, one of those great session beers, easy to find, easy to drink and guaranteed to be enjoyed by all, or at least the seven people I’ve drunk this with.

Ranking:  I’ll have a Pint thanks.      

The long bow YouTube clip:  I was bought up on a diet of pop songs, but I still claim that the best song of unrequited love, (like that between Big Helga and our brewer friend) is ‘Saturday Boy’ by Billy Bragg