Sessionable session ales are good for sessions

It’s become just about essential for brewers to have a session ale or Session IPA in their lineup. But is it a valid style or just a buzzword used to rebadge pale ales and encourage more drinking?

While the session ale can overlap with other pale ale styles, it does fill a gap in the range. It’s less strong and bitter than an IPA, but is more bitter than a summer ale. It has less caramel sweetness than American-style pale ales and can weigh in anywhere between 3 to 5% abv.

When done right, session ales hit the sweet spot between full flavoured and easy drinking. For me, I can’t drink big IPAs quite like I used to and I’m not a big fan of the caramel sweetness of crystal malts present in many American-style pale ales. So these lighter tastier drier ales are a perfect go-to drink if I don’t want anything too heavy.

Here are some of the session ales to look out for in Australia:

Mornington Peninsula Hop Culture Session IPA (4.9%)

A cool pop art style can, on the heavier end of this style. Nice and hoppy, it’s fruity with a firm but not overwhelming bitterness. I got around to drinking this one recently after ordering from BoozeBud and I thought it wasn’t dissimilar to Feral Hop Hog and other great Aussie pale ales of that ilk.

Pirate Life Throwback Session IPA (3.5%)

A mid-strength beer, light in colour and malts, heavy in tropical fruit aromas with a medium bitterness. This is my favourite Australian example with the lighter strength making it perfect for certain occasions.

Yeastie Boys Australia Bigmouth Session IPA (4.4%)

NZ’s favourite contract brewers are brewing this one out of Nomad and at a great price currently at First Choice. Using NZ hops, including some Nelson Sauvin by my reckoning, it has a distinctive fruity, almost grape-y aroma and a nice tongue coating bitterness but is refreshing and I want some right now.

Bridge Road Little Bling Session IPA (3.4%) – The smallest member of the Bling family still packs a punch with plenty of hops and flavour.

Founders All Day Session IPA (4.7%) – Founders are generally regarded as the, er, founders of this style with this tasty beer. A classic with all the flavour of the aroma hops, without any over-the-top bitterness or caramel sweetness that had typified American IPAs.

Brew Dog Dead Pony Club Session Pale Ale (3.8%) – This was my introduction to the style and was a pleasant surprise. Now available in cans, lower bitterness with s a citrusy and spicy kick from the hops.

Feral Sly Fox Session Ale (4.7%) This beers seems to have changed from summer ale to session ale at some point, I guess because summer ale is soo last year. But seriously, this is a refreshing beer with some citrus hops and a low bitterness crisp finish.

Ballast Point Even Keel Session Ale (3.8%) – Like the other Ballast Point ales, expect lots of hops and no sacrifice in flavour for this lighter style of beer.

Colonial Small Ale (3.5%) – A refreshing beer with aromatic citrusy hops all packed into a cool can.

 

 

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Top 10 GABS beers in 2017 according to Untappd

The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular aka GABS kicked off with a bang in 2017 in its first weekend in Melbourne. Beer lovers from all over congregated at the historic Royal Exhibition building for another year of unique beer tastes and festivities.

I was lucky enough to attend the event, courtesy of GABS, and pulled off the doubleheader on Friday for back-to-back sessions. For me, the event lived up to its name with a great lineup of beers, a marketplace packed with stands of good beers and beer people, and lively entertainment from Little Creatures Live acts.

There were some definite themes that emerged among the beers this year, with a lot of New England IPAs, the hazy juicy style sweeping the US, a range of spiced beers including a few Curry-inspired beers, and plenty of dessert-style beers, presumably trying to recapture the winning formula of many past GABS winners.

GABS legends and defending champs Bacchus didn’t make it to this year’s event, so who will take their crown as the People’s Choice winner? We’ll have to wait a little while to find out but in the meantime we can speculate with the aid of some Untappd data, which gives an indicator of what beers were most highly rated by punters in Melbourne. I checked the data following the event and these were the top 10 highest rated.

Top 10 GABS beers according to Untappd ratings as at 30 May 2017

1. Stockade – Mountie Maple Imperial Stout – The people of Untappd found this 12%+ beast of a beer a standout and I totally agree. Someone compared this beer to McDonald’s hotcakes and I think they’re right, but even more surprisingly, it actually works too.

2. Akasha – Lupulin Fog Double IPA – They are one of the best in the biz at doing hoppy beers, so no surprise to seem them come out on top in the battle of the juicy IPAs.

3. Pirate Life – Vanilla Thickshake IPA – Pirate Life is giving winning the People’s Choice award a good, er, shake with this beer. A dessert beer and an IPA that works from a beloved brewer, this may be a prohibitive favourite for the People’s Choice award now.

4. Little Rivers – Little Licka – perhaps the surprise of the event this little known Tassie brewer won a place with a nostalgic Red Rope Licorice style beer that hit the mark.

5. Sierra Nevada – Bombastic Montastic Belgian Brown – One of the very few international brewers at GABS, they earned their keep with this beer, a really nice complex sipper at just over 10%.

6. Feral – Dark Matter – This one stood out by being not as ‘out there’ as other beers but just being a really nice ‘normal’ chocolate porter. Hopefully we see more of it.

7. Modus Operandi – Cascadian Howl – A Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale, is a style that is sometimes maligned and somewhat restrained for GABS, but in the reliable hands of hop-loving MO, it seems to have paid off with the Sydney punters in particular.

8. Hop Nation – Jedi Juice – Another new entry to the top 10 after the Sydney GABS. Another juicy IPA from another hop-loving brewer. Departing the top 10 following Melbourne GABS are Hawkers/Wheaty’s Baklava Brown and 2 Brothers’ The Smoking Jacke.

9. (tied) DeedsJuice Train New England IPA – one of the success stories from the many juicy IPAs on offer, from a somewhat unexpected source.

Moon DogThe Jimmy Laureys – A big bold 22% abv Belgian Strong Ale, personally I wasn’t game to try it, but it clearly won some fans.

And for the record, here are some of my other top picks for beers I enjoyed at GABS.

10 other GABS beers I enjoyed

  1. Wayward – Funky Hoppy People – a hoppy and sour beer, this was something I felt I could easily drink more of.
  2. Chur – Chocolate Fish Milk Stout – This is a classic GABS dessert-style beer with a strong candy-ish raspberry character that indeed tastes like pink marshmallows.
  3. Shambles – ‘Cool Runnings’ Whole Coffee Stout – creamy with plenty of coffee and a subtle earthy, berry flavour, this one was enjoyable.
  4. Willie the Boatman – Marvin Berry’s Choc-Milk Stout – Another sweet stout with cacao, strawberry and raspberry that is well put together with a dry-ish finish.
  5. 3 Ravens – Mango Lassi IPA – surprisingly well balanced, a creamy sour and mango beer that goes down alright.
  6. Wolf of the Willows – ‘Raisin Kilts’ Rum n Raisin Scotch Ale – another one that actually drinks pretty easy as it isn’t overly sweet or rummy.
  7. Yeastie Boys – Royal Tanninbomb – An amped up version of their classic GABS winner, Gunnamatta, the IPA with Earl Grey flowers. The Earl Grey can be a bit overbearing for some, but for me, I liked it.
  8. Emporium – No Whey? Yes Whey! – You go to GABS to drink something different, and this white stout with whey was certainly that.
  9. Shenanigans – Flower Power – this lighter refreshing sour wheat beer with some subtle floral aromas was a good change-up beer.
  10. Stone & Wood – Salty Sour East – A particularly salty and funky gose, so if you like that kind of thing, which I do, then it’s good.

GABS at the Royal Exhibition Building

Pale ales are Rock, and that’s cool, but I also like Jazz

I’ve always found it impossible to answer the question ‘what kind of music (or beer) do you like’?

For some people it’s easy, they say rock (or pale ale). But for me it’s a challenge because I like so many different kinds and the kind I like most of all generally defies any labels.

Sure I like rock (and pale ales) like almost everyone else does but I wouldn’t answer that rock (or pale ale) is the kind of music I like, because when I really want to listen to music, I usually seek out something new, something entirely different.

I seek out different music like freeform jazz (and lambics) and fusion (and India Saisons) and eclectic music like Congotronics (and imperial stouts) or certain German techno labels (and Berliner Weisses).

I do enjoy rock (as I do pale ales) and I still come back to it, because sometimes I just don’t feel like making the effort to seek out the latest and greatest new tastes and just want to listen to reliable old rock (or drink a pale ale).

I like classic rock like Led Zeppelin (or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) or rock that reinvents the classics especially well like The Black Keys or Wolfmother (Pirate Life’s IPA or Hop Nation’s The Fiend) or rock with a slightly contemporary (or new world) twist on the genre (or style) like Grizzly Bear (or Balter’s XPA).

But the music I like most of all is that which can’t be easily categorised and defined by only one genre. Music like that from my favourite artist Amon Tobin, whose music is some kind of unique blend of jazz and hip hop and classical and drum n bass and sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

The beer I love most defies labels too. When I do drink that kind of beer and it hits all the right notes, it’s an epiphany, a revelation that opens up a whole new world of flavour and makes me rethink how I view beer. Beers like the Avant Garde series from La Sirene, the Mayday Hills beers from Bridge Road, and any of the brilliant barrel aged beers from Boatrocker.

In the GABS Hottest 100 list this year, the vast majority of beers on the list were pale ales and I get that. Pale ales are the beer that people who are less novelty seeking than me will continue to go back to. And it’s the beer that the novelty seeking geeks like me will go back to from time to time because it’s reliable and comfortable and is always worthy of a spot in the fridge (or in the playlist).

In the Hottest 100 I still voted for beers like Balter’s XPA and Hop Nation’s The Chop and La Sirene’s Urban Pale with their first crossover into pale ales, because I appreciate a good pale.

But I also vote for the likes of Bridge Road’s Yee Ha and Pirate Life’s Stout because I like beers that are different or may not be to everyone else’s taste and that’s ok.

Really there’s no reason to get upset because you find that Pacific Ale is a bit too boring for you to drink. I’m sure there were some Triple J listeners who felt the same when Powderfinger won too. It’s a popular vote and that’s going to mean that the list is always going to be dragged more towards the centre than left or right.

But more niche beer styles (or genres) and beers that defy styles altogether will continue to thrive in their own way too. They may never be recognised in a popular list, but they will spark epiphanies and win hearts in a way that a good old reliable pale ale never can.

My top Australian craft beers and breweries in 2016

2016 felt to me like the year that craft beer grew up. It seems now that the breweries rising to the top are increasingly not only producing great beers but are also commercially savvy types with greater financial backing.

For instance, Pirate Life continued their success and set up their own distribution arm, 4 Pines continued their expansion with plans to open more venues, and Gage Roads announced their intentions to extricate themselves from Woolworths and double-down on the craft side of their business.

It makes sense that as the market becomes more crowded that the more commercially savvy brewers will rise to the top and start to form national brands and take on the big players. But if that makes you a bit misty-eyed for the romantic ideal of nanobreweries owned by a brewer/founder , don’t worry, the romance of the small brewery isn’t gone either.

There were also a lot of new brewery venues opening with a primary focus on their local area and selling on-premises it seemed. For example, I visited Willie the Boatman in Tempe in Sydney, which is a brilliant locally-focused venue where its two owners also frequently pour the beers at the brewery on weekends. I was also impressed to see the likes of Daintons and Bad Shepherd connecting with local communities in the outer suburbs of Melbourne with their good range of craft beers.

All in all, whether craft brewers had a local focus or broader ambitions, they each contributed in different ways to creating a richer environment for beer drinkers, as the availability of great beer and the range of styles being produced continued to increase in 2016.

I managed to sample a healthy amount of good beers myself and below are my personal favourites of new beers of 2016, as well as my latest ranking of Australia’s top brewers.

Cheers to another great year in Australian craft beer.

My favourite new beers of 2016

A list of my favourite Australian beers of those brewed for the first time in 2016:

  1. Pirate Life – Stout – Perhaps Australian craft beer’s most celebrated brewer at the moment, they’ve won plaudits for their hoppy core range of beers but also showed they are no one-trick ponies with this creamy chocolatey oatmeal extra stout, which really hit the spot for me.
  2. Mornington Peninsula – Dog’s Bollocks  – I really enjoyed all of the limited-release beers from Mornington Peninsula this year and this one may have been the most understated of all their beers, but marked the first canned nitro beer in Australia and a good rendition of the ESB style that I really enjoy.
  3. Murrays – Coffee Wild Thing – I found the coffee twist to an old favourite, the Wild Thing Imperial Stout, to be tasty and balanced and the best imperial stout I drank this winter. Something of a comeback year for the veteran of NSW craft beer with beers like Skully and Thunderbolt IPA also impressing.
  4. La Sirene – Urban Pale – Once again La Sirene produced many sophisticated and interesting beers, but this one wins my vote for its simplicity and for bringing the farmhouse style to the people in an attractive and affordable can format that is a summertime winner.
  5. Stockade – Peachy Keen – It seemed like a big year for Gose’s and Berliner Weisse’s and this was perhaps the saltiest and peachiest of the gose’s that achieved the effect of quenching my thirst but also provoking me to drink more.
  6. Balter – XPA – I waited a while to see what all the hype was about and was pleased to find that this one tastes as good as its can looks. A big peach aroma and a dry-ish finish works really well for this new Gold Coast-based brewery.
  7. Hop Nation The Chop – One of many brewery venues to open in 2016, opening up in Melbourne’s west, the Chop was an intriguing mix of IPA styles that worked really well, juicy, bitter and fresh.
  8. Fox Hat – Phat Mongrel – I have a soft spot for Oatmeal stouts and I was very happy that this one lived up to the billing and was a big tasting winter beer from this new SA-based brand. Also really good, was Mr Banks’ oatmeal stout, which is another new brewery on my list that I need to visit.
  9. Wheaty Corps – Blackberry Saison – A highlight from the SA Pint of Origin and the first beer I’ve tried from the classic SA craft beer pub.
  10. Bridge Road Yee Ha – Loved this subtle-ish example of the much feared and revered Brett yeast. A simple base beer allows the complexity of the brett to shine through with just a little bit of funk. Look forward to seeing more that comes out of the foeder.

Top Australian brewers power rankings

My latest subjective ranking of Australia’s best brewers with their previous ranking in brackets.

10. tied (new) 4 Pines / Murrays

4 Pines continue to grow and expand as one of Australia’s biggest independent craft brewers. They also make really good beer that is accessible anywhere. Their Amber Ale, brewed with a healthy amount of the excellent Mosaic hop, was their best core beer yet. While I may not rush to get their one-offs, they produce good beers in a wide range of styles.

I also had to have Murrays on this list after they returned to form in a big way this year. They seemed to have dropped off the craft beer radar a bit but really came back to form this year with their special releases including Thunderbolt IPA that won Crafty Pint’s blind tasting, Coffee Wild Thing (see above) and Skully, a Red IPA.

9. (10) Wayward 

I was stoked to visit their premises in Annandale this year and sample more of their impressive range. I’m yet to have a bad beer from these guys and they have a great variety of beers beyond just pale ales.Their Fat Charmer, a bigger version of their classic Charmer Red Ale, was a highlight for its flavour and drinkability at the NSW Pint of Origin, while I also enjoyed their tart Sourpuss raspberry Berliner Weisse and dry fruity Saison. They’ve also started bottling this year so we should more of their core range.

8. (9) Bacchus Brewing 

My wish came true and we’re seeing more and more of their beers available in good beer stores. They became the first two-time People’s Choice GABS winners with their win at this year’s festival with the Peanut Brittle Gose that was another dessert-like beer – sweet with a salty finish in a unique take on the style.

7. (4) Holgate

Their Flanders Red ale has received quite the praise from Crafty Pint and their barrel-aged stout also had some good wraps. I enjoyed their Tangelo Gose and these craft beer vets showed that they are still among the best in the business.

6. (6) Mornington Peninsula

I was really impressed by the range this year. Nothing too crazy but a good range of different styles released regularly and all done well. I mentioned A nice complement to one of the best core ranges in the business.

4. (7) Pirate Life

Another big year for Pirate Life, quickly moving up these rankings and set to be one of the top performers again in the Hottest 100. Their Triple IPA at GABS delighted the punters with the best rating on Untappd and they turned out a good range of beers this year. I was most impressed by their stout, particularly as it was the first beer of theirs I’d had that wasn’t hop-focused.

4. (5) La Sirene

La Sirene is all class. Their beers are always well-made, complex and intriguing. Their Avant Garde series met a lot of praise (and had beautiful labels), while their Urban Pale was a great first example of them bringing their farmhouse-style beers to a wider audience.

3. (3) Bridge Road

Continue to pump out creative beers that push the envelope and bring Australia craft beer forward. The Mayday Hills range, featuring a huge wooden barrel innoculated with brett yeast is the latest example of that. While I also found their duo of Biere De Wilde beers featuring wild yeasts from different winemakers intriguing and tasty.

2. (2) Boatrocker

The barrel program continues to be a success and produce high-quality beers that are unmatched in Australia. Ramjet once again impressed as one of Australia’s best beers, big and flavoursome and balanced, while the Dark Saison was probably my favourite beer this year from them. They are breathing down the neck of Feral at no. 1.

1. (1) Feral

A relatively quiet year in my books from Australia’s best brewer but they still have a great core range of beers complemented by a variety of excellent limited releases. It seems that many agree with me on their ranking as Beer Cartel’s industry survey also had them in the top spot. Look forward to seeing what they do after moving to a new brewery with greater capacity this year.

Drink Local or Drink Quality? The question that divides craft beer

I’m always interested in reading about trends in the US craft beer scene as it can give a good indication of where things might be headed in Australia.

One trend I’ve been paying attention to is how some of US’s biggest brewers grow are rallying against what has long been one of craft beer’s key messages – ‘drink local’.

Founders Brewing, an American craft brewery with a growing presence in Australia, are one of these breweries that are now pushing ‘quality’ ahead of ‘local’. Founders’ Dave Engbers in this article, outlines the message that their sales crew pushes that is decidedly anti-local.

The biggest challenge our sales crew has is “local.” Every town has like eight breweries now. We just keep preaching, and I hope retail follows suit, that “local” does not mean “quality.”

‘Drink local’ has long been a key message for craft beer and it was a shock for me to read a craft brewery flipping the script like this. The ‘drink local’ message linked in nicely with a broader cultural movement to support local producers over multi-national corporations, and made sense to drinkers who like the idea of buying beers from brewers that they can meet in the flesh and breweries that they can visit.

Why have these bigger craft breweries in the US changed their tune? Because they’ve reached a point where to grow further they need to expand beyond being local. To do this, they need to switch drinkers’ focus towards a message of ‘drink quality’, where they boast more experience and can invest more money in equipment for quality control than the younger, local breweries that they’re competing against.

However, the emotional pull of ‘drink local’ is real for drinkers and is supported by the data in this Nielsen survey of beer drinkers in the US in 2015.

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That’s why breweries like Samuel Adams lament that their beers are being ignored in spite of their quality, simply because they’re not small, new, or local.

In this Good Beer Hunting article, Christopher Barnes, who works at a distributor of iconic import brands like Rodenbach in the US, opines about about the irrational attachment of drinkers to local beer:

“People will often drink a poorly crafted local beer because they have some sense of story or attachment to the brand regardless of quality.”

For Colorado brewery Oskar Blues rather than trying to rally against local they’re trying to become local by setting up breweries with taprooms around the country.

They most recently opened a brewery taproom venue in Austin, Texas, and in this excellent article, Austin Chronicle writer Eric Puga, outlined some of the friction that their expansion causes with the local industry. He also suggests that ‘local’ is about more than just a physical presence.

The phrase “buy local” among Austin craftsmen and women has traditionally been a call to preserve small, independently owned, hometown breweries…

“Buy local” is a complicated phrase, and it extends to terroir, sustainability, endurance, and perhaps even friendship in the small beer industry; its meaning is much more than a quaint marketing suggestion.

Is it unfair that some drinkers ignore bigger craft breweries in favour of local beer regardless of quality? Perhaps, but the ‘drink local’ message has been an important part of what’s gotten craft beer to where it is, and the emotional side of purchasing decisions cannot be underestimated.

With more local breweries opening up everywhere, growth has been harder to come by for the biggest craft breweries in the US. So they are also looking for new markets to expand into as the US market comes close to saturation point.

Australia is one such market and the likes of Ballast Point and Founders have captured the attention of Australian beer drinkers over the past year, each causing a stir in their own way with the launches of Sculpin IPAs and the Kentucky Breakfast Stout.

This must be causing some concern among Australian brewers, especially with some of the value pricing. The Ballast Point Big Eye IPA was long at the top of my best value for money beers, and the Founders Imperial Stout was recently available at an unbeatable price for that style and quality.

The local advantage is real but this kind of competition from the US is also going to put the pressure on Australian brewers to continue to produce good value quality beers too.

At Dainton brewery in Carrum Downs. A quality and local brewery.
At Dainton brewery in Carrum Downs. A quality and local brewery.

Meanwhile, some of Australia’s craft brewers are getting bigger and more sophisticated themselves.

Pirate Life recently took over their own distribution and their potential for growth looks enormous with their ongoing success and popularity. While 4 Pines continue to expand their reach and have plans to open up 3 more venues soon.

This is all good news in my books. Craft beer is becoming more professional and that’s going to help get craft beer into more people’s hands. Rather than one-man-band local founder/brewer/salesman types, we’re seeing breweries emerging that are more savvy marketers and experienced operators in the beer business.

While at the same time, brewpubs and brewery bars with a strong local focus are also opening up and proving a hit by connecting with their communities.

It isn’t hard to see that in a few years time we may be facing a similar situation to the one in the US, as newer smaller breweries continue to open up and push their local credentials, while the bigger more established and professional craft breweries try to turn the focus towards quality.

This all means that the question of ‘drink local or drink quality?’ is only going to become a more polarising question for Australian craft beer drinkers in times ahead.

For me I ask, why not both?

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Some Extra Special ESBs in Australia

The Extra Special Bitter (ESB) has a cocky name that belies its appeal as a beer style that is generally understated, balanced and highly drinkable.

What I love about ESBs is the great interplay between the different elements. Without any one ingredient dominating, the malt, hops and yeast are each able contribute their own distinctive characteristics to the beer.

The ESB is a broad style that is difficult to define. It is basically a kind of English-style pale ale that is a bit stronger. These BJCP style guidelines describe it as “A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer”.

This is borne out in the ESBs brewed in Australia that range from sweet to dry, light to dark, and creamy. Here are some of the best examples going around in Australia at the moment:

3 Ravens English ESB

A Gold Medal winner for this style at the AIBA awards, along with Mountain Goat’s Hightail Ale. It is a bronze/copper colour with a dry earthy finish. This ESB is a really good winter beer for those that enjoy an eminently drinkable malty ale.

Mornington Peninsula’s Dog’s Bollocks ESB

The Dog’s Bollocks is a new release that seems to play on the tendency of UK ales to have bizarre names like Sheepshagger. The beer itself is interesting as a rare canned ‘nitro beer’, the nitro giving it a creamier thicker body that enhances its already sessionable nature.

This beer really hits the mark as a smooth creamy beer with a pleasant interplay of sweet malts, earthy hops and fruity esters.

dog's bollocks square 4.jpg

Napoleone’s Longbow ESB and Fighting Jack ESB

While many craft breweries are focused on following American styles, Napoleone are making their mark through their interpretations of European styles and recently released an ESB for their first canned beer. The Longbow ESB is quite pale for an ESB so is a bit subtler in its malt flavours but has some nice nuances of fruity esters from the English yeast.

Personally I enjoyed most their bigger ESB on tap from the brewery bar last year, Fighting Jack, packing in at over 7% with a darker colour and bigger malt profile.

Napoleone-tasting-paddle
Tasting Paddle at Napoleone brewery bar

4 Pines ESB

4 Pines’ ESB is one of the lighter and sweeter examples out there. I enjoyed it more as it warmed up and the fruity esters of the yeast came through more.

Hargreaves Hill ESB

An Australian classic that may get overlooked by some, I feel like if it was called a pale ale and had a rad label it would be one of the best regarded beers in Australia.

This is distinctly different to other ESBs on this list as the beer is powered by new-world hops, the bright berry and tropical fruit aromas of the Nelson Sauvin hops shining over a sweet malt base.

Holgate ESB 

Holgate’s ESB is a well-balanced beer and good example of the style. It drinks particularly well when it has a fuller mouthfeel after being pulled from a handpump at the brewery bar or at the Royston Hotel say, and is a handy winter beer.

For those lacking for the classic examples of the style, there’s Fullers ESB which is the forefather, and Courage’s Strong Bitter is another. They are a good drop and are available at the big retailers. And for those brewing at home, Jamil provides a good style profile here.

Planning for Good Beer Week 2016

The Good Beer Week 2016 program has dropped and for beer geeks and lovers it truly is set to be ‘better than Xmas’.

The party starts at Beer Deluxe in Federation Square on 13 May and run through to 22 May at locations all across Melbourne. After scouring the program, I’m overwhelmed by the number of great beer events. Whatever beer bar you find yourself in for that week, you’re guaranteed to find some delightfully good beers.

I’ve managed to pick out just a few of the many events that have me excited for GBW ’16.

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Wrapping up the Great Australasian Beer Spectapular aka GABS 2015

Australia’s biggest beer festival again took over Melbourne’s iconic Exhibition Building for three days with more than 16,000 people attending and 300,000 tasters being poured, before taking its act to Sydney for another full day. I was fortunate enough to attend  all 3 days of the event in Melbourne, taking to chance to talk to soak in GABS’s unique atmosphere, talk to the people behind the beers, and taste a bucketload of beers.

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An introduction to Hawkers beer at Good Beer Week

If you haven’t yet heard of Hawkers beer, I expect that’s going to change in the near future. Their brewery in Reservoir is apparently among the largest for craft beer producers in Australia and they’re led by the experienced hands of Mazen Hajjar, known for his Lebanese craft beer range 961, and restaurateur Joe Abboud, owner of Rumi and the Moor’s Head.

And most importantly, since they started appearing around the craft beer circuit earlier this year, the reaction to their beers has been overwhelmingly positive. I hadn’t had the chance to try their beers myself yet so when I saw the chance to sample their wares at a Good Beer Week event last Sunday alongside food from a personal favourite restaurant in the Moor’s Head, I jumped on it.

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The Moor’s Head is a gourmet Middle Eastern pizza restaurant and they had four courses to match the four beers from Hawkers’ core range for the event. Mazen and Joe were also on hand at the event to provide some insight and stories behind the beers.

So how was the beer?

I think Joe summed up the Hawkers approach best when he noted their range is very much to-style, nothing crazy or out there, but still full-flavoured. This range sets them up perfectly to really crossover to the mainstream while also being a go-to favourite for craft beer lovers.

Their Pilsener is probably the beer you give to your non-craft beer drinking friends when they come over. It’s a Czech-style pilsener with a bit of bitterness at the finish but not too much.

Next up was the saison, which was my favourite of the range, it’s a traditional Belgian beer style that is gaining popularity for its versatility and drinkability. This one used a Belgian yeast from a small town on the French side, it gives off some lovely fruity esters but the beer remains nicely in balance, complex but sessionable, a saison at its best.

I wonder if this will be the first saison in Australia to truly become an everyday beer, available in multi-beer packs for a reasonable price all year round. I hope so as this would truly be a great go-to beer.

image-c2079db9f110de48325d3dcbf8b5c46df268b3793db684abeb58c8f9bf00702e-VFollowing on was the Pale Ale, hoppy but not overly so with pleasant citrusy hops aromas. Joe explains that they used Citra instead of Galaxy because they couldn’t get their hands on the latter. All for the better for me as I find the overt fruitiness of the Galaxy a bit overbearing, and the bitter citrus notes of the Citra make a welcome replacement.

Finally, kicking things up a gear with more malt, more hops, more alcohol, is the IPA. It goes surprisingly well with the ricotta and honey calzone. I do like this amped-up beer myself but I might need to revisit this one at a later date with a cleaner palette.

All in all, the event was a great chance to try a top-class range from this exciting new brewery in Melbourne’s north-east. Along with the always top-notch food from the Moor’s Head, my belly went home plenty full and satisfied.

The balance and professional quality of the Hawker beers is a promising sign of things to come. I’ll be interested to try more of their beers as they expand their range starting with the Imperial Red Ale slated for the GABS festival and possibly an Imperial Schwarzbier on the way from the Good Beer Week masterclass at the brewery.

GABS 2015 preview and my top 20 festival beer picks

GABS 2015 draws near and it’s time to start preparing your assault on Australia’s biggest beer festival. I’ve examined the GABS 2015 guide and the 110 plus beers for this year and noticed a few beer styles trending this year:

  • Sour beers – get ready to pucker up because there’s a lot of sours on offer. Last year there were some great ones and this dearly beloved but also divisive style is back in a big way with the previous two years winners going sour.
  • Dessert-style beers – after winning the last two years it’s no surprise that sweet dessert-style beers are making an appearance with Snickers, Golden Gaytime, Cherry Ripe, Black Forest Cake and Lamington style beers being brewed to name a few.
  • Dark beers – there are a lot of porters and stouts on offer too, which is likely a product of timing, as brewers gear up for winter seasonals after GABS.
  • Saisons and pale ales with limes – On the lighter bodied side, there’s a variety of saisons on offer, and a number of pale ales and IPAs brewed with limes.

But basically every area of the taste spectrum is covered across the list and if you like good beer, you won’t find it hard to find something to your liking.

Picking which ones to miss of course will be the hard part. For those new to the festival, anything more than 4 paddles in a session and the beers are going to start to blur together, so take it slow and pick out the ones you really want to try to get the most out of the event.

After much deliberation, here’s my rundown on my top 20 (or 4 paddles worth of) festival beers that I’ll be sure to drink from a mix of tried and true brewers and exciting newcomers. Without further ado…

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