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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Something’s brewing in QLD… good beer

This year’s AIBA awards marked the ascendance of Queensland’s beer scene from a craft straggler to an emerging hotspot. Brisbane’s Green Beacon won Small Brewery Champion, Gold Coast’s Balter won Medium Brewery Champion and Best New Exhibitor, and a new brewery in Brisbane’s south, Ballistic, also picked up multiple gold medals.

Having recently taken up residence in the Sunshine state, I’m of course delighted with this state of affairs, and have been surveying the scene closely.

Currumbin’s Balter Brewing and Mount Tamborine’s Fortitude Brewing/Noisy Minor have already placed in my best brewery bars to visit list, offering some of the best go-to beers in Australia in the form of Balter’s XPA and Noisy Minor’s Admiral Ackbar. Balter’s Alt Brown and Fortitude’s Echo Chamber IPA and Stout are also personal favourites.

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Another brewery in the Gold Coast area excelling is Black Hops. While their brewery and tasting room in Miami is tiny, their beers pack a lot of punch and they are looking to take on investors and expand. The Eggnog Stout is a unique and interesting beer and others like Code Red IPA and Pink Mist raspberry saison also ticked my boxes.

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Nearby, industry vets Burleigh Brewing are still churning out some decent beers like Figjam IPA even if they’ve lost some of their innovative edge, and even the Harajuku Gyoza restaurant in Broadbeach has turned their hand to brewing. While I was skeptical, their seasonal beer, a Yuzu saison, was actually pretty tasty, and the gyoza is certainly damn good.

And while not in QLD as such, Stone & Wood in Byron Bay is another brewery in the region worth checking out. Only a short drive over the border, they have some interesting one-off beers available at the bar there, experimenting with funky yeasts and different flavours, alongside their classics like the Pacific Ale and Jasper Ale.

IMG-20170423-WA0001.jpgMeanwhile I still have some exploring to do in the Brisbane area. The medal-winning breweries like Ballistic and Green Beacon are at the top of my must-visit list. Ballistic has burst onto the scene and established itself as a top local in Brisbane’s south, while Green Beacon are now looking further afield as they go national.

Other Brisbane breweries I’m looking out for include Newstead and Aether, who are within walking distance of each other on the Milton Good Beer Trail.

Then there’s newcomers Slipstream, Catchment and Brisbane Brewing and of course you can’t forget about Bacchus. The two-time GABS champs are still producing some of the most unique beers in the country. Recently they held a NEIPA and seafood festival at their brewery in Capalaba south east of Brisbane, and always have an interesting beer or five up their sleeve there.

It’s exciting times for Queenslanders and visitors to the sunshine state.

Worst. Beer styles. Ever.

It’s my 100th post on this beer blog and I’ve professed my love for all kinds of beers and beer styles over that time, from milk stouts to ESBs, brown ales to sours, and even lagers. But to be honest there’s a few beer styles that I don’t enjoy so much and some I even passionately dislike, so I’ve decided it’s about time I give these styles the dressing down they deserve.

You might like these beer styles, and that’s ok, but to me they’re trash, and that’s ok too. So with my snark control turned way up, here are some of the worst beer styles according to me:Read More »

Is Ballast Point the greatest threat to Australian craft beer?

It would be easy to assume that the greatest threat posed to Australian craft beer comes from the corporations pumping out bland tasteless pale beers that still dominate well over 90% of the beer market. But drinkers will know the difference between these beers and craft beer as soon as they take their first sip.

And while supermarket craft beers like Steamrail and Sail & Anchor and craft-washed brands like Yenda and Whatever Yak, may fool some with their crafty-looking packaging and lack of disclosure about who they really are, those who also drink full-flavoured craft beer will not be fooled for long by these mediocre beers.

But when it comes to US craft beers like Ballast Point or Oskar Blues, when they are fresh, drinkers will find that the beers are every bit as good as the Australian craft beers out there, if not better.

This is why I pose the question are Ballast Point, and other big American craft brewers looking to expand beyond a saturated US market into Australia, in fact the greatest threat to Australian craft beer?

Certainly the recent influx of Ballast Point tinnies across the country has captured the attention of craft beer drinkers and filled social media feeds. Stocked exclusively at Dan Murphys, they are available just about everywhere and the variety of hoppy pale ales are fresh and really tasty, so I totally get why Aussie craft beer drinkers are stoked.

But craft beer drinkers who otherwise might be drinking Australian craft beer are drinking American craft beer because it’s available at a better price and in most cases it is better quality too. More so than the other threats, Ballast Point is direct competition with local brewers for the Australian craft beer drinker and could impact upon the industry’s growth.

Ballast Point’s beers are of a quality rarely seen in Australia and certainly not at the price point they are being sold at. I was always amazed at the Ballast Point Big Eye IPA being sold for so little and now the Sculpin too can be fetched for less than $30 a six-pack. There are some great value beers available in Australia sure but you won’t be able to find 7%abv+ monster hoppy beers like this at this price and widely available year-round.

There are some great Australian big IPAs out there (see IPAs from the likes of Pirate Life, Kaiju and Feral) but they are mostly in  batches at greater cost, mostly sold in singles, and aren’t consistently available. As the Australian market matures, Australian craft brewers will certainly start making bigger IPAs more regularly accessible, but currently it is so much easier and lower risk for American craft brewers already brewing big IPAs like Sculpin at a large volume in a more mature market to bring these beers to the Australian market.

Smart Australian brewers have long recognised the threat that big American craft brewers represent and have taken steps to decommoditise their beers, differentiating their product and also building brand loyalty to separate themselves from competition. Australian brewers have the advantage of being able to build relationships and putting a face to the beer they brew by participating in events like Good Beer Week and establishing taprooms so that drinkers can see it all up close and take the beers away fresh.

Looking at the positives, the competition that US craft beer presents can boost the standard of beer in Australia and accelerate its maturity. To be fair, where would Australian craft beer be without American craft beer? Most of the beers are heavily based on beers and styles from the US. Copying something from American has often passed as innovation in Australian but that won’t cut the mustard any longer.

With Ballast Point and other US craft beers coming to Australia, there’s tasty fresh craft beer available everywhere at a reasonable price. Buying local and independent will hold some sway with drinkers, but the Australian craft brewers who will thrive most against this competition won’t be those who offer inferior imitations, but those who present a genuinely differentiated beer experience, be that through more creative beers, community engagement, superior freshness, or a great brewery venue.

Lagers are not craft beer’s enemy… but German purity laws might be

While there is plenty of debate around what craft beer is, the craft beer movement has often defined itself by what it is not. Craft beer is not like the Other beers – bland lagers, brewed with adjuncts and produced en-masse by faceless corporations in unknown locations.

Many craft brewers brand themselves as ‘rebels’ and ‘revolutionaries’ in opposition to these Other beers and the corporations who own them. Such terms have proven useful marketing material for the likes of BrewDog, Rogue and other craft brewers to differentiate craft beer, but this has also caused misconceptions about who and what the enemies of craft beer really are.

Adjuncts are not the enemy

The Other (not craft) beers often use adjuncts like rice and corn rather than malt, and craft brewers often take exception to their use, categorising these as cheap substitute ingredients in place of malt. However, there are exceptions to this claim too.

Two Brothers’ Kung Foo Rice Lager and Willie the Boatman’s ‘Albo corn ale beer‘ are two examples of Australian brewers who have highlighted the adjuncts used in their beers. But perhaps the best example I’ve tasted of malt substitutes being used effectively is from US gypsy brewer Stillwater. His use of rice and corn they use in the ironically named ‘Premium’ produces the typically thin body, which allows the flavours from the funky Belgian and Brett yeasts to shine through to great effect.

This is where I have an issue with the Reinheitsgebot, which was so talked about with its 500th anniversary. These German beer purity laws are often lauded for upholding beer quality (whether that is the true reason or not), but by restricting what ingredients can be used in beer, the laws also serve to homogenise beer, which goes entirely against craft beer’s spirit of creativity and experimentation.

Hop extracts are not the enemy?

The Other beers often use hop extract rather than real hop flowers or pellets, which again is seen as a cheap substitute. And again it’s a little more complicated than that.

Traditional Belgian strong ales are some of the most revered beers by the craft beer community, strong and flavoursome beers from the likes of Westvleteren and St Bernardus always rank near the top of the lists on beer review sites. And yet these brewers are also known to use hop extract rather than hop flowers.

In Australia, NZ brewer Garage Project showcased Mecha Hop at GABS 2014, a beer which ironically highlighted its industrial process and use of hop extracts. While hop importers Hopco recently called for craft brewers to open their minds to the idea of brewing with hop extracts.

Lagers are not the enemy

The beers that dominate the mainstream beer landscape are almost all pale lagers and the term ‘lager’ has suffered in reputation as a result. But of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with lagers – a lager is simply a beer brewed with a top fermenting lager yeast revered for its ability to produce a clean taste.

Craft brewers have long favoured ales, but some lagers are now making a name in craft beer too. A number of Australian craft brewers produce excellent quality lagers that take advantage of the desirable attributes of a lager without sacrificing on aroma and flavour.

Temple’s Powerstance Pilsner and Hawker’s Pilsner are excellent Aussie examples of tasty craft lagers. Building on this classic European style, the beers possess grassy aromas and a firm spicy bitter finish.

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While the term ‘lager’ evokes images of pale lagers, the lager yeast can also be effective with darker malts too. Dainton’s Samurye Lager uses rye malt to give the beer some intriguing spice, while Burleigh Brewing’s Black Giraffe black coffee lager is an old craft favourite with plenty of taste.

There’s no right way to brew a beer, there are many

Craft brewers have demonised some of the methods of the large-scale beer companies producing beer, in order to differentiate and justify the premium prices of their beers. As you can see from the examples above however, there are many shades of grey around what constitutes good and bad beer.

By pushing black-and-white claims that adjuncts are bad or hop extracts are bad, craft brewers make themselves liable to be seen as liars and hypocrites.

It’s time for the industry to worry less about right and wrong ways to brew beers because for me craft beer is about pushing beyond the boundaries – not simply shifting them.

Whether a beer is a lager, follows German purity laws or includes corn, rice, or hop extract, the important questions are – is it good? Is it interesting? Is it a taste experience that’s worth paying for? If the answers are yes, the purity of what’s in it will matter a whole lot less.

 

 

 

The new craft beer trends are old

Having plumbed the depths of standard beer styles, craft brewers are exploring new tastes by reviving some of the more obscure and unique beer styles in world history.

These beer styles stem from specific regions of Germany and Belgium and came close to extinction, only to come back bigger and perhaps better as part of the craft beer movement across the world including Australia.

Read More »

Sydney’s best craft beer bars in 4 bar crawls

Whether you’re a resident of Sydney or travelling there like me, if you’re looking to drink the great craft beer at great venues, these 4 bar crawls give you a good introduction.

Sydney took a little while to come to the craft beer party but now that it truly has arrived with an exciting array of venues to choose from to drink good beer. From the newly opened brewery bars of the hot inner west, to classic CBD pubs, to the many bars with many taps in Surry Hills, there’s plenty to choose from for any drinker with an interest in craft beer.

Here is a guide to the very best beer bars in four bar crawls.

Read More »

Are $10 ‘craft beer’ six-packs actually a good thing?

Over the past few months, Dan Murphys have been offering $10 six-packs of ‘craft beer’ to those who sign-up for their free loyalty card, which is around half the price that these beers would normally be available for.

With the price of beer so high in Australia, being able to find a quality beer at a reasonable price is gold for punters (in support of this point, the most popular article on this blog over the past few years has been on the best value beers in Australia).

At first glance, this seems like a massive win for the regular beer drinker. Access to reasonable quality beer in six-pack formats at an unheard of prices, what’s not to like? Well there are a few considerations beyond the hip pocket to give drinkers pause.

Read More »

Melbourne’s best craft beer bars in 4 bar crawls

Melbourne is teeming with great craft beer bars but you need to know where to look. If you’re visiting Melbourne, or even if you’re not familiar with that particular part of Melbourne, then finding good beer isn’t always easy without a guide.

So here are some favourite beer bars, broken down by neighbourhood for ease of exploration.

Crawl 1: Crafty in the CBD

The Arbory / Beer Deluxe / The Mill House / Boilermaker House / Village Melbourne 

While Melbourne’s inner city suburbs rightfully get most of the kudos for great drinking and eating places, but there’s still a few good places to be found in the city if you know where to look.

A good starting point, literally right next to the Flinders Street Station rail platforms and overlooking the Yarra River, The Arbory is a perfect spot for after-work drinks, pre-sporting event drinks, or basically drinks anytime. For this reason, it can get a bit crowded. The craft beer range is decent if nothing out-of-the-ordinary. Expect a few classic craft beers like Mornington Peninsula beers on tap and Pirate Life pale ales in cans, that will go down well with their tasty burgers.

Beer Deluxe is smack bang in the middle of Federation Square, a convenient starting point to access good beer. The beer can be a little pricey but you’ll usually find a few gems in this spacious venue with some good local craft beers on tap that you won’t easily find elsewhere.

The Mill House is a new bar on Flinders Lane that pours growlers from Sydney brewery Young Henrys and has a South American flavour to its food.

If you head up the other end of the city to Lonsdale Street, the Boilermaker House is a great beer and whiskey venue that specialises in yep you guessed it boilermakers (beer & whiskey pairings). This place can get busy and if you snag a table or booth you’ll feel more comfortable and can sample some of their charcuterie and cheese lists. With 12 taps of always interesting craft beers and some specially crafted boilermakers from their impressive whiskey selection you’ll likely stagger home from here.

But if you’re still going strong, finish off the night with voyage down to St Kilda Rd to the Village Melbourne (formerly the Belgian Beer Café), which has the best beer garden in Melbourne and a range of good craft beers from the likes of say Moo Brew and others to drink the night away.

Crawl 2: Fitzroy’s finest

Rainbow Hotel / The Catfish / Foresters Hall

The streets of Smith, Brunswick, and Gertrude in Fitzroy may just be where craft beer penetration is at its highest. Just walk along here and you’re likely to find plenty of bars and restaurants and pubs of every variety that serve decent local craft beer. It’s the one area you can freelance and still be confident you can find a beer worthy of appreciating.

But if you want a little guidance, here are a few places that I would recommend.

If you head over to Brunswick Street, up a sidestreet you’ll find The Rainbow Hotel, once a participant in Good Beer Week’s Pint of Orgin, it’s a local’s pub with an emphasis on live music best washed down with their tasty local ales.

Now head up the hill to Gertrude St, where you’ll find The Catfish for Philly cheesesteaks, more live music and more good craft beer.

Saving the best for last, head back down Gertrude to Smith St, where Foresters Hall is sure to impress with 35 taps to choose from, live music, huge TV screens and pizzas on offer. With a range like that, you’ll never want to leave.

Crawl 3: Boozy Brunswick East

The Alehouse Project / Temple Brewery / Atticus Finch / Greater Northern Hotel 

Lygon St is known as Melbourne’s Italian heartland, so it’s no surprise you can find the World’s Best Pizza along here. And right across the street from there you can also find perhaps the best beer bar in the North – The Alehouse Project.

The Alehouse Project is a spacious bar with 12 taps of beer pouring out. It’s always been fairly relaxed when I’ve been there and the food always hits the spot too.

From there, head right around the corner and somewhat tucked away, you’ll find the Temple Bar and Brewery. This brewery has always had a place in my heart for not following the crowd and producing consistently great quality beers over the years. Start with their classic Saison and work you way through their range to fresh tasty beers like their Anytime IPA.

Keep heading further up Lygon St and you’ll find more great restaurants like Rumi (Lebanese) and Hellenic Republic (Greek/Cypriot), and you’ll also find Atticus Finch. A great local’s bar with only 4 beers on tap, but they’ll all be good and one or two will probably be special.

Good simple bites to eat and a cool rustic fituot with an area out back with outdoor heaters for when it’s colder.

And if you want to find more of a pub/place to watch footy – head back towards the city to Carlton. On Rathdowne St you’ll find the delightfully down-to-earth pub The Greater Northern Hotel.

A very relaxed spacious pub including a beer garden, pub classic meals, footy, and oh yeah, great beer. You tend to find some classic Australian craft beers on tap and a bevy of great US craft beers too.

Crawl 4: Raise a glass in Richmond

Slowbeer / Royston Hotel / Mountain Goat Brewery / Moon Dog Brewery

Away from the footy crowds and general hubbub of Swan St, it is possible to enjoy a relaxed Friday night after-work drinks in Richmond with good beer aplenty.

Slowbeer is primarily a bottleshop, its shelves showcasing hundreds of great craft beers, but they also have four taps pouring beers that you probably won’t find anywhere else, so stop in for a taste, and maybe tuck away a couple of bottles in your rucksack for the night’s end too.

From there, it’s a good 10 or so minute walk to The Royston Hotel, a classic pub located in the quiet backstreets of Richmond. A cosy atmosphere, sit at the bar or on an old couch, and enjoy good local craft beers on tap (including one handpump), and some quality pub staple meals.

Oh and what’s that across the road – why I believe that is Victoria’s biggest craft brewer Mountain Goat with their doors open, pizzas cooking and their own beers pouring. In a spacious but busy area at the front of their brewery warehouse, you can sample their core range and a few special rare ones (including one through a randle), in a relaxed friendly busy atmosphere.

If you still have enough stamina to push on, the Moon Dog Brewery Bar in Abbotsford is another venue in the backstreets that’s worth a venture. They too have pizzas on offer and a down-to-earth factory turned brewery bar where you can sample their zaniest beers, or their crowd pleasers, depending on your mood. Either way you want be disappointed.

So there you have it, enough Melbourne craft beer bars to keep any visitor or craft beer convert going for a while. Also be sure to check out The Local Taphouse and The Terminus, as they’re a couple of classics that are well worth a trip all on their own. Happy drinking!

Boilermakers, gushers and hops

Boilermaker a la bandit

The other night I enjoyed a Killer Sprocket Bandit, a sweet and hoppy red ale with a smoky finish owing to its 10% peated malt, this may be the perfect beer to enjoy along with a shot of fine whiskey. I paired it with Laphroaig, a fine peaty whiskey from the Islay and it went down a treat.

Australian hops

As a follow up to my post on hops, Hops Products Australia gives this great breakdown of the spectrum of flavour profiles of Australian hops right here.

Hops spectrum chart from Hop Products Australia
Hops spectrum chart from Hop Products Australia

Carbonation issues

I’m not sure there’s anything more annoying than after forking out the cash for a premium beer only to get a gusher. Carbonation issues with bottles lets a number of microbreweries down and the worst I’ve ever had came recently from Forrester, their Untamed Turkey double IPA was a huge gusher and tasted like vegemite, what a disappointment.

Stone cold serious

The recent drama with Stone beers potentially coming to Australia and then not was an interesting one.

Overall it’s disappointing and doesn’t speak well of the brewer. Distributor Experience It have been bringing some great beers to Australia and doing it in the right way and they were dudded in this instance. Thankfully, there’s plenty of other great beers around for Australian beer drinkers to look forward to. Another can of Sixpoint please!