Selecting Beer for every occasion.

The Gibbs River on Dunsborough Beach

It wasn’t all long boozy lunches at massive breweries in WA, occasionally I either popped in to a brewery for a quick one, sat on a beach drinking, or ended the evening with a nice brew.Whilst there I managed to find three brews that were perfect for each of these very specific situations and lucky you get to hear all about them.

Let’s start with a beer perfect for a quick pop in to a brewery. The brewery is a little one (by WA standards) called Occy’s which is on the outskirts of Busselton. It’s a rustic little setting, with the brewery itself in a shed in the corner of a huge beer garden.  And the beer of choice for me at Occy’s was the Radler. Now the clever amongst you may point out, that ‘Radler’ is not a style of beer exactly, but rather a beer mixed with lemonade (what Australians would call a shandy).

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Moondog & Yeastie Boys Peter Piper’s Pickled Pepper Purple Peated Pale Ale.

Work drinks are a place fraught with potential disaster for the beer geek set. Thankfully I work in a vaguely enlightened workplace, certainly enlightened enough to still have work drinks. In recent weeks these drinks have been creeping earlier and earlier on Friday (now commencing sometime around 4pm) and have been accompanied by cheese and crackers, which I find very civilised, if not a little wasted on the 22 year olds and their cider-drinking uselessness.

Beer choice is normally pretty good due to a manager who drinks only Little Creatures and a PA who thinks Coopers Pale is a good ‘mainstream’ choice, even though she doesn’t drink it. It all went wrong this week though when said PA was busy and a receptionist was sent to get the beer. She returned with Pure Blondes and Crownies.

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Penny Blue & Moondog

If you find yourself in the CBD of Melbourne, in fact pretty much right in the middle of the city, just near the GPO building and you are looking for a place to have a few drinks then you can do much worse than popping into Penny Blue for a beer or two.

Now you won’t have too much trouble finding something interesting to drink, it’s more likely that you will struggle to narrow down the choice to just one beer. More than once here I’ve entered into a decision daze where I’m left staring at the fridge or beer list unsure of what to choose.

I did manage to make some choices when I was there a couple of days ago. I started the journey with Moondog Black Lung II. The first sign that Penny Blue is a seriously good beer bar (apart from the three hand pumps sitting on the bar) was that I was asked if I would like my drink at room temperature rather than from the fridge.  Seriously when was the last time a bar asked you that when ordering a stout? Also as you can see from the photo they then pour it into a wine style glass and give you both the glass and the empty bottle to take back to your oversized couch.

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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.

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.

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.

Moons and Dogs, a couple of birds and a skunk.

You may remember all the way back in the post about the 2birds launch I gave mention to another newish brewery Moondog, suggesting that if 2birds were playing it safe with a highly sessionable pale ale then Moondog were the other end of the spectrum, pushing the beer-stained  envelope. 

Today’s beer is the Moondog Brewery Skunkworks Cognac Barrel Aged Double IPA. Not a beer to be ordered in a loud nightclub, much easier to yell ‘Pot of Caaaarlton thanks’ over the din of the latest Lady Gaga ‘tune’ than Moondog’s Dr Seuss inspired moniker. 

I think it’s safe to say that Moondog are definitely producing beers aimed directly to the beer geek.  This is evidenced by the label, in an unusual move in beer circles it lists every ingredient, not just the standard malt, water, hops, yeast and time. Nope this one tells you the three different malt types, the six different hops and the type of yeast. It tells you a bunch of figures and abbreviations, most of which I didn’t understand, except IBU of 105 (warning to craft beer newbies, this figure of 105 means this is a big, challenging, very bitter IPA – approach with caution).

The beer pours a browny amber colour with a solid tea coloured head. The interesting thing was there were hops in my glass, clearly they are using fresh hops in the cognac barrels this is aged in, and then,

Bits of hops in my beer....

strangely these are not filtered out (or their quality control is just awful, as I can find any other reviews that mention this). I guess it proves how hoppy it is, but it was a little concerning having all this green mucky stuff sitting in the bottom of my glass. It also meant I couldn’t drink the last 30ml, which was a real shame.

The smell was interesting, a lot sweeter than I was expecting, there were a mixture of hops notes, including citrus, pine and very sweet marmalade and apricot tones.

The taste was also a lot sweeter than I was expecting. They obviously knew this was going to be very bitter so ramped up the malt bill to balance that out, but I actually think they have pushed it too far in the sweet direction. I was drinking this with Jord and we agreed that it tasted a more like a highly hopped Barley Wine rather than a traditional IPA. 

In fact this was like two beers in one, a big sweet malty beer in the sip, and then a big bitter hop bomb in the aftertaste. And that aftertaste does really linger, although it seemed to come in waves, bitterness, then sweetness, and then more bitterness, and this continues on for 30-40 seconds.

It’s a fascinating beer, a beer for real beer wankers, one to be considered and discussed and loved and hated. We discussed at length what rating to give it and eventually decided on a Pint

I really enjoyed this beer, but I’m not sure I could have drunk another one (at least not right away), and here in lies the rub from Moondog. Sure this is twice the price of 2Birds Golden Ale, but I happily drank five 2birds in a session, and you simply couldn’t do that with this, it would be one and then onto something a bit less challenging. At this stage 2birds looks like the safer business model.  This video about Moondog suggests even they know that:

 Are there enough beer wankers out there to support the crazy breweries like Moondog? I sure hope so, because I am excited to see what they are going to come up with next.

 Six degrees of Norm (where we prove all beers can be linked back to Norm from Cheers in six easy steps):

  1.  Moondog always makes me think of greeting card company Moonpig
  2. A Moonpig always makes me think about ‘Pigs in Space‘
  3. Which was a segment on The Muppet Show
  4. A segment which John Cleese starred for an episode
  5. And John Cleese also featured in an episode of Cheers as a marriage counsellor helping Diane Chambers.
  6. And Diane Chambers of course served beers to Norm.  

Good Beer Week at Mrs Parmas

It would be hard to spend any time in the beer fuelled blog world without hearing about Good Beer Week. That’s right down here in Melbourne Town we are nearing the end of a week long festival of craft brewing.

I have heard of the exploits of many of the Melbourne beer blogging mafia and looked on with envy. My problem has been that I have been sick all week, struck down with Man Flu. (a cold by any other name) This, combined with my absence from the country recently had limited my beery adventures.

But I summoned up all my strength and went on a (little) drinking trip last night. To do this I first had to go to work (which was a mistake, although on the plus side I’ve probably made a whole bunch of other people sick just in time for the weekend) and collect Jordan and Frewy.

Then it was off to Mrs Parmas for the Gidget goes Doggy, which is an exceeding  stupid name for an event, but it signaled the partnering of Moondog brewery and Mrs Parmas in a Hawaiian themed extravaganza.

Moondog had provided a very special beer for the occasion. The George Freeth Memorial Tropical Brown Ale. The first question everyone asks is who the god diggens is George Freeth? Well according to the interwebs he is thought to be the father of modern surfing, and that’s him Up there on the left.

The second question is what is the Tropical Brown ale?. Well Moondog claim it’s the closest thing to pina colada you will find in a beer. It a brown ale, meaning it’s malty, but with hints of Pineapple and Coconut in it. It sounds awesome I know. But does it live up to the claim? – Almost.

Now I should start this review by explaining that I had a terrible head cold and was doped up to within a inch of my life so couldn’t really taste anything, Jordan wasn’t much better (but was whining about it a lot less, because well she isn’t the giant sook that I am) so we are relying heavily on Frewy’s tasting skills for this review (thanks Frewy I owe you one)

The Moondog brew was a cloudy light brown colour, I inhaled deeply and could sense the pineapple scents. I was struggling to get much flavour at the front of sip, although Frewy claims crystal malts, and a slight roasted flavour. I did however pick up the pineapple flavours in the aftertaste (coming I suspect from the hops). None of us however could find the coconut. Overall it was a great beer though, really interesting, and perfectly suited to some sips on the beach (Although I think you can only get it an Mrs Parma’s so that might be hard) We all agreed it was Pint worthy.

Next up we tried Bright’s Topaz Harvest beer. This is a Marzen (ain’t they everywhere all of a sudden?) that uses the Topaz variety of hops. It is a golden colour with a wispy head, which sits around and laces down the glass with each sip. Strangely it smelt sweet. Investigations this morning say the hops give paw paw and passionfruit characters, so that would make some sense then. It is more Ale than Lager in its carbonation, which I liked, but Frewy thought was a shortcoming.  There was a nice malty, almost biscuit body, with a fruity hoppy aftertaste. A very drinkable beer.

There was much arguing over the rating for this one, with everything from a Pot to a Pint being mentioned. In the interests of harmony I’ll spilt the difference and give it a Schooner.

So if you get a chance get into some Good Beer Week action. If I make a remarkable recovery I might even make it to the Kiwi Spectapular a Local Taphouse tomorrow. You can check it all out at


The George Freeth Memorial Tropical Brown Ale: I’ll have a pint thanks

Bright Topaz Harvest: Let’s have a Schooner

Six degrees of Norm: Where we prove that all beers can be linked back to Norm from Cheers in 6 easy steps:

  1. We enjoyed these beers are Mrs Parma’s at the top end of Little Bourke Street in the City.
  2. Anyone who went to uni in the city in the late 90’s will know that Mrs Parmas used to be a different bar.
  3. And that bar was called Cheers
  4. Which was a rip of bar in Cheers the TV show (it even had the same logo)
  5. Although it was actually a beer barn that was famous for ‘Toss the Boss’ nights
  6. So it was nowhere near as good as the Cheers that Norm drunk in

Long Bow Youtube Clip: I can’t explain the vision, but the song is Jewel Theives by The Lucksmiths, which has a nice surfer vibe to it and involves, well, thieving jewels, like Topaz. (See how clever that is?)