Are nitro beers set to explode?

Many craft brewers have a bit of ‘mad scientist’ about them. Because craft beer is about experimentation and pushing into new (or rediscovering old) beer styles and constantly providing the novelty-seeking beer geeks like me with new tastes to explore.

And one of the latest mad science endeavours in Australian craft beer is nitro beers.

Nitro beers involve switching out some of the usual CO2 that carbonates a beer with around 70% nitrogen, creating a denser head and thicker body. Nitro beers are poured through a special tap or go through a specialised bottling or canning process.

Nitro adds another dimension to beers with the body and mouthfeel. Nitro tends to work better with maltier beers like stout and English style ales rather than hoppy pale ales and IPAs, with which it can dull the flavour a bit.
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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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How the Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular grew up fast

2013 may just mark the year that Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular aka GABS put itself on the map as a major event for Melbourne and for the craft beer world.

It’s been a rapid rise from its humble origins two years ago at the Local Taphouse in St Kilda. In fact, the 2013 GABS, barely resembled the inaugural event.

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Inside the Exhibition building, a cool venue for a beer festival

Back in 2011, the Local was decked out in kitschy Australiana decoration, there was a staff member in a Koala suit and entry was by a gold coin donation. The just under 20 beers brewed for the day all came from Australian microbreweries.

Fast forward two years and the event was held at the Royal Exhibition Building and had more than 90 new beers brewed just for the event by local and international brewers.

The rapid growth is a testament to the growth of craft beer and the abilities of the Local Taphouse crew to take craft beer to the masses.

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