Welcome to the insightful slurrings of a beer lover and occasional homebrewer...

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Top 10 Favourite Craft Beer Cities in the World

Inspired by Melbourne recently being dubbed the ‘World’s Most Liveable City’ for the fourth straight year, it dawned on me that I should do my own list of best cities. Rather than ‘most liveable’ I thought it might be fun to list my favourite ‘craft beer cities’ around the world. Besides, anyone that knows my wife and I would know how much we enjoy travelling and drinking a good craft beer...

In doing this I haven’t really given any thought to what constitutes a ‘craft beer city’ other than the general, overall availability of craft beer in that city. Some are clearly the home of numerous breweries, others have craft beer available throughout its bars and pubs, and some are massive supporters of the craft beer scene with beer events and festivals.

One thing to note – they are my favourites because I have been to them. For instance I know Denver, Colorado is considered a fantastic craft beer city…but I haven’t been (yet!) so it can’t be on my list.

Enough already…I now give you my top 10 favourite craft beer cities…

10.  Boston, Massachusetts (USA)

Maybe it’s the presence of Harvard and MIT, or even their Irish roots, but Boston just seems to have a lot of pubs (Cheers anyone?) and craft beer is extensively available in them. Perhaps it’s due to local brewers Boston Beer Co. (Samuel Adams) or Harpoon or simply because Boston is the main city of the New England region; where craft beer is as common as lobster. And that can’t be a bad thing. 

9. Munich, Germany

Yes, okay. German beer is not traditionally considered Craft Beer but if we look at some definitions of craft beer we’ll see ‘quality’ and ‘hand made’ mentioned. There are a number of corporate breweries in Germany today; however Germany is responsible for the creation of a number of beer styles; many of which are still made by small, independent breweries today. Besides, any city that hosts Oktoberfest is obviously pretty serious about beer!

8. Prague, Czech Republic

Like Munich, Prague is very much a beer drinker’s city with cafes and bars lining nearly every street. No wonder there are numerous Beer Walking Tours available for visitors to do. The inventors of the pilsner, Prague combines rustic bars with microbreweries; many of which opened hundreds of years ago. There are also a number of brewpubs and restaurants in the city centre that brew their own beer for your beer drinking pleasure.

7. Seattle, Washington (USA)

One of two entries from the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is home to Starbucks, Superbowl champs the Seahawks, a lot of rain and the Landis family. Nearby Yakima Valley grows three quarters of hops available in the US; meaning the area is ideal for craft breweries to call home (35 of them in fact). Pike Brewery, Elysian Brewing Company and Redhook were amongst my favourites.

6. London, England

London’s pub scene alone should see the city ranked highly when it comes to beer; however small breweries have recently popped up all over the city including Camden Town Brewery, Meantime and Beavertown, as well as a noticeably wider selection of beers in pubs. I also recently heard that London now has more breweries than any other city in the world; however that claim seem unconfirmed. London also hosts the annual Great British Beer Festival to celebrate craft beer and ‘real ale’. Once again Mrs Sweeney, I’m sorry I accidentally smashed our commemorative glass…

5. Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne without doubt leads the way in Australia in terms of the craft beer scene. The city and its surrounds are home to the most craft breweries in Australia and of course the city hosts the massive Good Beer Week and Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular. But it’s also the small one off events that Melbourne attracts; such as this year’s Stone Brewing tap takeover at the Local Taphouse. With dedicated craft beer bars popping up around the city – especially the inner northern suburbs, Melbourne is fast developing a reputation as Australia’s craft beer hotspot. All this despite being the home of brewing giant Carlton United Breweries (Fosters)!

4. Brussels, Belgium

Chocolate, mussels and beer. Yep, that’s Brussels. And boy, there’s a lot of it. The breweries itself may be spread throughout Belgium and Antwerp probably has the biggest beer festival, but Brussels as the largest city in Belgium (and the Capital city of the European Union) just drowns itself in good beer. There’s the infamous Cantillon Brewery in the city, Delirium CafĂ©, numerous bars dedicated to lambics and geuze and an amazing history of brewing. Go take a bite…

3. Wellington, New Zealand

I’m not sure I appreciated the full awesomeness of the craft beer scene in Wellington until the wife and I went for a visit in 2013. We were shocked. A city of roughly 400,000 that looks like San Francisco crossed with Hobart, the craft beer buzz in the city is hard to ignore. Dubbed the ‘Craft Beer Capital of New Zealand’ it's home to heaps of breweries - Garage Project, ParrotDog, Black Dog, Tuatura and Yeastie Boys, plus literally dozens of bars without a drop of corporate lager being sold. There’s even an official craft beer map to help you find them all. And of course there’s Beervana…one of the biggest craft beer festivals around. Oh that’s right…that’s where we are going tomorrow…to Beervana!

2. San Diego, California (USA)

Sunny San Diego. What a glorious city for craft beer. Whilst most of America’s hops are grown in the far north west corner of the country; the majority of them must be harvested and sent down to San Diego in the far south west corner. It’s a city where Pale Ales and IPAs rule and home to some of the best breweries in the world; meaning that you don’t have to go far to find amazing beer on tap. We’re talking Stone Brewing, Green Flash, Ballast Point, Mission, Lost Abbey, Karl Straus, Coronado, AleSmith…! Deep breath Todd, deep breath. Getting to them all is also easy with craft beer dedicated tour groups like Brew Hop ready to take you around. Plus there’s the annual ‘Beer Week’ festival. Just don’t drink ALL the good beer and fall over and hurt your arm like my wife did. That would be pretty silly…

And drum roll please…coming in at #1…

1. Portland, Oregon (USA)

Yep, Portland. That took all of 3 seconds to decide! Portland is the ultimate beer city and is recognised as such. The city has dubbed itself ‘Beervana’ and ‘Brewtopia’ in the past and a previous mayor officially called it ‘Beertown’. The name doesn’t really matter. What does is the fact it’s considered the birthplace of craft beer and is home to over 50 breweries; many of which you can walk/tram to in the city. I’m not sure we even went to a regular pub in Portland. Why bother when you can visit Rogue, BridgePort, Deschutes, Widmer Brothers, Hair of the Dog, Cascade (the house of sours!) and so on. Nothing else needs to be said. Portland IS the best craft beer city I’ve been to in the world.

That’s it folks!

Before I leave you; a couple of apologies. The following cities are fantastic craft beer locations for one reason or another and just missed out on my top 10…and they are:

·         Portland, Maine
·         Perth, Australia
·         San Francisco, California
·         Hanoi, Vietnam
·         Edinburgh, Scotland
·         Tokyo, Japan

And with that I leave you until next time!

Till then,

Monday, 16 June 2014

Ironhouse Brewery - Where Brews Come with Views

Launched in late 2007, my first foray into the beers from Tasmania’s Ironhouse Brewery occurred soon after when my parents bought over a mixed 6 pack from Tassie for my wife and I to sample. Always enthused to try a new entry to the ever emerging craft beer scene, we cracked into the fairly typical offering of Pales, Pilsners and Lagers only to be somewhat shocked by what we were tasting.

The Pale Ale tasted like a musky sour beer. That seemed odd. Maybe they were going for a Two Metre Tall ‘style beer’! But I couldn’t get past why they’d called it a ‘Pale’. Later we tried the Pilsner…same thing; musky yet sour. The Lager…argh, same thing! Okay, something’s not quite right here. The beers had been infected and were off. Bugger.

Personally, I wasn’t too bothered. It happens. My parents had bought the beer from a gift shop in Tassie selling all sorts of local produce. They may have been in the sun too long, kept beyond the appropriate time before being sold, or the brewery simply had some teething problems early in its brewing life. No biggie.

Fast forward a couple of years to March 2013, and my wife and I were in Tassie and happened to attend the ‘Taste the Harvest Festival’ in Devonport. And what do you know? Ironhouse Brewery had a stand!

After what happened previously, we were chomping at the bit to try the beers (this time on tap), and...

We were impressed! Really impressed. The Pale Ale and Porter jumped straight out as more than just solid new world versions. A slightly slurred mental note was made to one day get to the brewery itself on the picturesque East Coast of Tassie…

Hit the fast forward button again…this time to Christmas 2013. Low and behold my parents had given us an accommodation voucher to stay at Ironhouse Brewery! Woohoo! Come May 2014 we were off on our visit…

Without sounding too much like a giant advertisement or some Molly Meldrum clone…do yourself a favour and spend a weekend at the brewery. Located within White Sands Estate, I guess a major point to make is the fact that you don’t have to be into craft beer to enjoy your stay (or wine for that matter as the estate also makes their own wine!). The brewery itself is well integrated into the main building/restaurant of the resort; with cabin type accommodations scattered around the grounds.

I could say a lot about the resort itself but in a nut shell the major things to know are:

  • It’s kid friendly but importantly isn’t set up as some sort of adventure playground for kids. This is a good thing. There is a brewery there after all!
  • The resort is remote. About 90 minutes drive south from Launceston, it’s located 30 minutes north of Bicheno on Tassie’s rugged East Coast. And by remote I mean remote. There are no towns or shops particularly close by.
  • It would rival any brewery in Australia for views. Only metres from the beach, on a cold, grey day in May you’d be forgiven for thinking you were by the coast in Ireland or Scotland. Admittedly you could also blame alcohol for thinking such things...
  • The restaurant does excellent meals. My slow roasted smoked beef was rich and hearty and my wife’s pork ribs wouldn’t be out of place in any BBQ restaurant in the US.

As for the brewery itself, their full range of standard beers are on tap in the restaurant/bar for you to sample (tasting paddles are available). You can also purchase bottles to take away (all the way to your cabin!) or even get yourself a 2 litre growler to enjoy your favourite beer fresh from the keg in your room. We did all three. Rebels…

In one way the beers do reflect the ‘Cascade / Boags drinking culture’ of the area. In terms of craftiness most are fairly safe, entry level beers. Serving up an Imperial IPA or Saison may please us, however it wouldn’t be all that approachable for the area. Yet.

The beers on offer were:
  • Pilsner
  • Wheat
  • Lager
  • Pale Ale
  •  Porter 
  •  Stout
Fairly standard stuff however it does have to be said that all the beers were made extremely well. Beyond a tasting paddle, I’d normally skip any Pilsner or Lager on offer…but both were refreshing and full flavoured.

However the standout to me was most definitely the Pale Ale, followed closely by the Porter. An American style Pale, it was hoppy, malty and very sessionable. After a few bottles (umm and a growler) I turned to my wife and dubbed it ‘Tasmania’s best Pale’. As an ex-Tasmanian I feel like I have some sort of say in this ‘award’…but thinking about it after (and apologies maybe to Moo Brew), I honestly think it might just be Tassies best Pale. Stuff it. It is…

Alas there was one more treat in store for us. Thanks to the friendly owners of White Sands Estate, we acquired a couple of bottles of Ironhouse’s latest one off release – Paddy’s Head Stout. The beer was aged in whiskey barrels from Hobart’s Lark Distillery. Wow doesn’t even begin to cut it; it was just magnificent.

If Ironhouse’s standard brews don’t start popping up on ‘mainland’ Australia, then it’s their specialty creations like Paddy’s Head or their entries into Good Beer Week / GABS that will see them gain a reputation in a bigger craft beer market like Melbourne.

Until then, I can’t wait to see what they do next. Otherwise, it will be another trip back to White Sands Estate. Did I mention the coastal views?

The essentials:

White Sands Estate
21554 Tasman Highway
Ironhouse Point
East Coast of Tasmania
PH: +61 3 6372 2228

Monday, 23 December 2013

My Top 10 - 2013

Howdy folks!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year…and all that.

As the year of 2013 comes to a close, it seems fitting to put together a countdown of sorts. Everybody loves a countdown and everybody loves beer (that’s right isn’t it?). So here are my favourite Top 10 Beers of 2013.

These aren’t necessarily new releases. Just the beers I really enjoyed drinking this year. A couple are newbies, some are old favourites and a couple are beers I’ve re-discovered this year for one reason or another. They may not even be my all time favourite beers…however in 2013 these guys got the nod.

Enough of that, let’s get to the beers that 2013 was all about for me…

Number 10
Rogue – Dead Guy Ale

Nationality – USA (Newport, Oregon)
Style – German Maibock       
ABV – 6.6%

An oldie but a goodie. This one makes the 2013 list as a re-discovery. Rogue beers have become widely available in Australia this year; making Dead Guy Ale easy enough to get your hands on.

The Ale is honey in colour and the biscuity malts aren’t subtle but they don’t mask the well balanced finish. Drink at Halloween if you want, or all year round. Or as we did, at the brewpub in Portland, Oregon!

I for one love the fact that I can (almost) easily get my hands on this beer in 2013!

Number 9 
Red Duck – Hoppy Amber

Nationality – Australia (Ballarat, Victoria)
Style – Amber Ale
ABV – 5.6%

Okay, I am clearly late to the party with this beer. It’s been around for a few years…but I just can’t get enough of it after discovering it in 2013. Maybe it was hidden behind all of Red Duck’s other beers. They do make a few!

It’s pretty much a hybrid of two of my favourite styles – IPA and Amber. There isn’t a lot to say…it is exactly what it is. It’s hoppy, it’s a bit malty (toffee) like any good Amber, but it’s also sessionable enough at 5.6% which isn’t too boozy; allowing you to have more than one. Or four. Don’t judge me.

Note – Red Duck plans to retire the Hobby Amber from its line up in 2014. I think I might chain myself to their brewery in protest. Boo.

Number 8
Brooklyn Brewery – Silver Anniversary Lager

Nationality – USA (Brooklyn, New York)
Style – Lager (Doppelbock)
ABV – 8.6%

Like all of Brooklyn’s ‘speciality’ beers, this comes in a 750ml bottle with a champagne type cork and was released early in 2013 to celebrate the New York brewery’s 25th anniversary.

It might be called a ‘lager’ but it’s wonderfully complex. Re-fermented in the bottle, the beer is light copper in colour, has a fruity, hoppy aroma and almost surprisingly, is quite bitter and malty. To be honest, much like a top shelf champagne, it just tastes very special.

Number 7
Victoria’s High Country – Brewery Trail Rule 47

Nationality – Victoria (Collaboration - Bridge Road, Bright, Black Dog, Sweetwater)
Style – Abbey Tripel
ABV – 7%

This 2013 limited release beer is a Belgian inspired collaboration between the four Victorian high country breweries. It is an internationally inspired beer; Belgian in style, hops grown from the Victorian alpine region, malts from three continents and a Trappist yeast strain.

It pours rather light in colour but at 7% it is full of flavour with a high malt and hop profile. It is the added hop presence and strong malts that gives this beer its uniqueness; it’s a Belgian beer holidaying in the US. And I like it.   

Only one extremely technical and sophisticated word describes this beer….TASTY.

Number 6
Holgate Brewhouse – Beelzebub’s Jewels

Nationality – Australia (Woodend, Victoria)
Style – Oak Aged Belgian Style Quadrupel
ABV – 12.5%

The Prince of Darkness! What a beer. Strong, rich, malty. This is a special occasion beer. Aged in French oak it does have a complex ‘red wine feel’ to it but then the amazing malts take you to a whole other level.

In 2013 the 750ml bottle (sold for about $70 a pop) was re-released in smaller, 500ml bottles…kinda making it a new beer in 2013!

Skip dessert and instead grab this gold medal winning beer with some strong tasting cheese. Simply amazing.

Number 5
Stone Brewing Co. – Ruination IPA

Nationality – USA (San Diego, California)
Style – Imperial India Pale Ale
ABV – 7.7%

Incredibly hard to get (okay it basically isn’t available in Australia…legally); I am rating this beer based on a couple of recent trips to the US. A visit to Stone was an absolute highlight. I also spent a lot of 2013 thinking about Stone and this beer!

The Imperial IPA is a typical, first class West Coast IPA but everything is multiplied. Smashed with as many hops and malts as possible, and high in ABV, this is a real palate wrecker yet smooth and indulgent. It demands to be consumed with a massive rib eye.

Stone you brilliant, brilliant bastard.

Number 4
Hargreaves Hill – Phoenix

Nationality – Australia (Yarra Glen, Victoria)
Style – Imperial Red Ale
ABV – 9.3%

How do you describe this wonderful beer? How about ‘biscuit and caramel malted, ruby in colour and with a floral, pine hop finish’? Or just go with ‘wonderful’.

Brewed to mark the anniversary of Hargreaves Hill’s return to brewing after the original brewery was destroyed in the Black Saturday fires of 2009, this limited release was our beer of choice as midnight struck on New Years Day 2013. Unlike New Years Eve in general (overrated), the beer certainly wasn’t. Wonderfully luscious in all its amber, malty glory, if there is a better Imperial Red Ale around I want to drink it. Now.

Number 3
Black Dog Brewery - Leader of the Pack IPA

Nationality – Australia (Taminick, Victoria)
Style – India Pale Ale
ABV – 6.2%
Black Dog is in no way a household name in the craft beer scene, but this is due to change. Quickly. Their range of beers could be described as both hoppy and sessionable (i.e. perfect) and the Leader of the Pack IPA is no different. For mine, this is one of (if not the best) new-ish Australian IPA out there. Smashed with hops (Citra, Chinook, Cascade, Galaxy, Warrior, Simcoe, Stella, Columbus, Centennial and Nelson Sauvin…I did say smashed!), this is a malty, bitter and extremely floral beer.

In 2013 the brewery installed larger-scale brewing equipment, meaning this year they arrived as a serious player on the beer scene. Spread the word people. Spread the word.

Number 2
Mornington Peninsula Brewery – Russian Imperial Stout

Nationality – Australia (Mornington, Victoria)
Style – Imperial Stout
ABV – 9.5%

This gets better every year and this year’s winter release was superb.

As black as a beer gets with a lighter tan head, it is packed with complex chocolate and espresso flavours. The bitterness is there without overpowering the brew; this really does take some beating on a cold winter’s night. It’s ridiculously smooth and decedent and it smells magnificent.

Even better on tap, this is one to keep an eye out for every winter.

Number 1
Garage Project – La Calavera Catrina / Day of the Dead

Nationality – New Zealand (Wellington)
Style – Spicy Blonde Lager / Strong Black Lager
ABV – 6.9% / 6.7%

Maybe I’m biased by the fact we were in Wellington this year during the official launch of these two beers. Maybe because two versions of a beer is better than one. But either way these new releases lived up to the hype and are real stand outs of 2013.

These lagers were released in two styles - Day of the Dead (strong dark lager) and La Calavera Catrina (spicy blonde lager), but in no ways are they ‘boring lagers’ (as if they would be from Garage Project!).

La Calavera Catrina is the lighter of the two; a spicy blonde lager with rose water and slight watermelon flavours. But the chilli aftertaste gives this an amazing depth. Refreshing, a tad spicy and then that subtle warmth of chilli. It’s extremely morish!

Day of the Dead is a strong dark lager and unlike its ‘blonde sister’, has the added presence of cocoa giving it a darker, richer, smoky finish. Slightly less sessionable but more luxurious, this beer is pretty amazing.

Drink them with soft shell pulled pork tacos and you’ll see exactly why they came in at #1!

That's it! All in all another great year for beer...see you all in 2014!

Till then.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Wellington. So much beer and wind…

Okay so the wife and I decided we wanted a long weekend away. Well…I was told we wanted a long weekend away. Preferably involving a passport.

Hmm. A short break overseas? From Australia. That pretty much means Asia…but with 7+ hours of flight time it isn’t really practical for a long weekend.

“What about New Zealand?” I said. “Remember, Wellington is meant to be great for craft beer. They host Beervana…!”

(For those not aware, Beervana is an annual craft beer festival and the biggest of its kind in New Zealand).

As fast as you could say ‘craft beer’ the trip was booked. Suddenly we were going to New Zealand’s windy city for four nights. Sounded like a good break and an opportunity to check out a city (and country for that matter) that we had never been to.

Planning the trip soon returned to the topic of beer and working out which of New Zealand’s breweries are actually in Wellington. Turns out some brilliant ones are there including Garage Project, Parrot Dog and Tuatara. Bonus. Even better - Garage Project and Parrot Dog are ‘downtown’ Massive bonus!

What we hadn’t realised was the number of dedicated craft beer bars that are actually in Wellington. Now we’ve been to the States and there is no way anything could rival Portland, Oregon. Or San Diego, California. No way. However Wellington appeared to be right up there. So much so the city has its own craft beer trail telling you which bars to go to for the best beer.

Purchase a pint at each venue and collect a stamp...get all 12 stamps and get yourself a t-shirt! Brilliant. How could this fail? (Remind me to tell you later exactly how this could fail…)

 Wellington's Craft Beer Trail Map

So off to Wellington we went. A ‘short’ 3 hours and 20 minutes later we landed in the Kiwi capital primed to check out our surroundings and find some of those craft beer bars (after all we did arrive at about 4pm Friday). But first it was a matter of clearing Immigration and Customs; where my wife told the friendly Immigrations Officer that we were ‘here to drink your craft beer’. Surprisingly after that, we were let in…

I won’t bore you with every beer of our Friday pub crawl, other than the next few hours were spent exploring the city and stumbling across the likes of Fork & Brewer, The Bruhaus, D4, Little Beer Quarter and The Tap Haus. That my friends, is 5 stamps on the trail map! Woohoo. We were well on our way to that t-shirt!

Alas we had our fill for one evening and called it a night. A big day was ahead of us exploring the city including the Botanical Gardens, riding the Cable Car and checking out the city’s Saturday craft market.

Long story short, we did all those things, and they were great (well the market was okay at best)…however this isn’t a travel blog. You want to know about the beer, right?

Well beer we did find…in the way of Parrot Dog and Garage Project breweries!

Parrot Dog Brewery

Whilst there is a lot to say about both, there are similarities in the sense that the sites are active, working breweries, they sell lots of merchandise, offer extensive tastings (free of charge!) and allow customers to fill up growlers for take away. Neither in fact have a licence to sell beer onsite. This meant no opportunity to sit back and watch the world pass by over a few beers at the brewery, but it didn’t matter. The quality of beer at both was outstanding.

Garage Project

Also outstanding was the fact that Garage Project was launching their new Day of the Dead beers on that very day! After trying both chilli infused brews at the brewery, staff told us to head over to Golding’s Free Dive Bar for the official launch. So head over we did! The ‘American style dive bar’ was a real highlight of the trip and a great craft beer venue. But it wasn’t on the beer trail map meaning no stamp and still no t-shirt. Boo!

But the Day of Dead through a tequila barrel sure made up for it! Smooth, rich and 11%

Golding's Free Dive Bar - Day of the Dead Launch

The next 48 hours involved a combination of sightseeing and touristy stuff (drinking a Tuatara APA after spotting the native tuatara at Zealandia Sanctuary was a highlight!), checking out some Kiwi scenery and eating and drinking. Oh yes, plenty more drinking…

Highlights of the latter included visits to more quality craft beer bars, including Malthouse and Hashigo Zake. Both were fantastic with a massive range of local and US craft beers, but it was Malthouse that struck a cord. A brief visit turned into a long afternoon session and the opportunity to talk beer with the bar staff (and a couple of American tourists). Just like being in Portland! Even found out that 50% of craft beer sold in New Zealand is sold in Wellington! We sure did come to the right place.

Oh and that would be two more stamps on the beer trail map thanks!

Unfortunately, that would also be the last two stamps on the beer map. We failed. A matter of too many venues and not enough time. And also geography. Some were scattered around the city a little too far; which became a massive effort when there is so many quality bars within short walking distance. Even some of the restaurants had ‘beer menus’ to rival the best bars in some cities.

I was crushed that I didn’t get the t-shirt…especially after finding out it had a great logo and design…sigh. But all was not lost! From out of nowhere my wife informed me that Malthouse was in fact SELLING the exact t-shirt! Why wasn’t I informed of this (8 stamps) earlier?!

 The Infamous T-Shirt Logo

Oh well, we had fun getting stamps and discovered a great little city in the process. And I got the t-shirt!

Wellington…we will be back. No doubt to attend Beervana in 2014!

Till then,

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Portland. It Smells Like Amber Spirit

To a lot of people, especially those under 45, the word ‘nirvana’ relates to one of the biggest alternative rocks bands of modern times. However it also means a place or state characterised by freedom or oblivion to pain, worry, and the external world. Thanks dictionary.com

In many ways the city of Portland (Oregon), in America’s Pacific Northwest, epitomises both uses of the term nirvana. The place is 90s grunge. Right down to the noticeable drug culture and uber cool, almost hippy feel. Locals sport sleave tatts, piercings are as common as the bicycles on the streets. T-shirts and jeans are the local dress code. It’s all very ‘Portlandia’.

Yet at the same time, the more traditional, spiritual meaning of the term is much more apt. Portland is characterised by its oblivion to pain, worry and the outside world. It has ‘achieved nirvana’ as they say. But I don’t mean nirvana in a socio-economic or even political sense. Go read a social science journal. I mean Portland has achieved what others cities can only dream.

Apologies to Munich and maybe Dublin, but Portland is a rare city that has achieved the ultimate nirvana. Beer nirvana! This is so bleedingly obvious locals even have a nickname for their great city...



Let’s looks at why Portland, sorry I mean Beervana, has achieved beer nirvana.

Portland (let’s stick to the official name) claims to be a birthplace for craft beer in the United States. Quite possibly the ‘new world’. It was the early 1980s. Michael Jackson was number 1, Spielberg gave us ET and the beer scene was large corporate breweries like Budweiser. Portland had had enough and once appropriate legislative changes were made, brew pubs and breweries popped up everywhere. Today there is some debate as to whether Portland has the most breweries in the world, or simply the most per capita (London has recently claimed to also have the most breweries). Either way it doesn’t matter. They are everywhere in and around the city.

As a tourist to another city I would struggle to name another place that names one of city sections after the beer that is brewed there. The ‘Brewery Blocks’ within the arty, foodie Pearl District contains amongst other things:

- Rogue Public House
- BridgePort Brewing Company
- Deschutes Brewery

Okay so three breweries may not seem that big a deal, but credit where it’s due. In downtown Portland within a two or three block radius you have three of the ‘biggest and best’ craft breweries in the world. That sure is exciting.

Cross the Willamette River and it’s much the same. All within walking distance or at worse a short tram ride:

- Widmer Brothers Brewing
- Hair of the Dog Brewing
- Lucky Labrador Brew Pub
- Green Dragon Bistro & Brew Pub
- Cascade Brewing Barrel House

I mean come on; this is Disneyland for craft beer loving adults. By no means is that it either. There are some 40 breweries and brew pubs in the Portland area. That's a lot of good beer.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other things to do and see in Portland other than beer hopping around the city (if you really must). There’s Powell’s Books – one of the best bookstores I’ve been to anywhere in the world. The amazingly decadent Voodoo Doughnuts....but even some doughnuts are made with beer supplied from Rogue Brewery. Likewise, Rogue makes a maple bacon doughnut flavoured beer. Brilliant! Sorry where was I? It came back to beer. There’s also Japanese and Chinese Gardens, Oregon forest. Oh and you know what they grow out beyond the forests? Hops! For the beer! Oops. I did it again.

In all seriousness however America’s Pacific Northwest is a renowned hop growing region and the quality of hops, water and barley all sourced locally is a major reason why so many breweries congregate in Portland.

I’ve seen a fair bit of the States. East Coast, West Coast, some parts in the middle. A number of cities are proud beer regions. New England. Seattle. San Diego is right up there. But nothing is quite like Portland. A walk around at night is a treat. Don’t like the brews at a particular brew pub? Fine. Take a 5 minute walk and go to another. And with so much good quality local craft beer available, regular bars, restaurants and hotels are almost forced to tap the very best. No Bud or Corrs Light around here folks.

The final point I’d like to make about Portland is that nickname again. Beervana.

Any city that actually debates what its beer related nickname should be is alright with me. Yes it’s officially ‘Rose City’ but the Portland Oregon Visitors Association promotes the city as either Beervana or Brewtopia. Posters in the city also dubbed it Brewtown. But in 2006 the Mayor of the city officially gave the city a new nickname - Beertown.

Really makes little difference what we call it.

What matters is Portland, Oregon has without a doubt achieved that illustrious state of nirvana. Beer nirvana.

And for that I will continue to toast Portland every time I raise a glass of delicious craft beer. Pioneers deserve such acknowledgement. Maybe you should toast them too.

Till then,

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Randall? Is That You?

Folks, there’s a new kid in town. Well a relatively new kid anyway.

As if there needs to be another excuse to head to a microbrewery for a few brews, or a casual meal. Surely there’s dozens of reasons to do that already. The tasty, often hard to find beers should be enough to get you through the door alone.

But the emergence of a certain cylinder shaped device planted on the bar next to the beer taps has got my attention. What is this mysterious shiny thing? Is it for looks? Can I drink out of it? There doesn’t seem to be a way of getting into it yet it’s filled with…well I don’t know. Hops? Fruit? Cloudy brown liquid?

I initially didn’t know what these space aged devices were called. It seems that a specific brewery calls them one thing, another might call them something else.

What I do know is they are rare in these parts and no doubt expensive. I’ve only come across three of them. And considering the amount of breweries / bars around, that’s not many.

A bit of further research suggests they are called a ‘Randall’. Invented by the brilliant Dogfish Head Brewery in the US, they were looking for a way to make their 120 Minute IPA even more hoppy at a beer festival, way back in 2002.

So how does it work?

Despite looking rather mysterious, this little bad boy is simply an encased filtering device containing whatever the owners want to put in it. Let’s just say it’s filled with hops just like Dogfish Head invented it for. The device is attached to a particular beer on tap, so that when the beer is poured, it passes through the device to take on the additional flavours trapped within. Want more hops on the palette when you drink a Pale Ale? Pass the keg of Pale through the device. It’s like the beer has received a last minute tea bagging of flavour.

Fancy the Witbier with a bit more flavour? Maybe add some cut up fruit and spices to the device.


Why am I so impressed?

As I said, there’s always a reason to go to a brewery. But, thanks to our US friends, there is officially one more reason. Yes, you can still drink that Pale Ale on tap at a particular brewery, but if they also run it through the ‘Randall’ then a whole new, additional beer has been created. A beer you will never drink again, and certainly never be able to find bottled. Re-visit said brewery and gone are the hops from the device. Suddenly a dark coffee and vanilla like substance has been added and their Stout is being passed through it. Just like that, a brand new, unique beer has been created on the spot. A brand new beer that I just must try…!

As mentioned, I’ve come across three of these devices recently. All seem to be slightly different. All three have their own unique name. Whilst none have been introduced to me as Randall, they all operate pretty similarly to the Dogfish original.

Temple Brewery in Melbourne’s northern suburbs has recently attached two devices and dubbed them ‘Fat Boys’ (one for each bar). The Fat Boys are the biggest and certainly the widest of the ones I’ve seen, so the name is pretty apt. It was filled with East Kent Goldings hops with their ESB passed through it when I visited last. The ESB is a great beer as it is, but the hops made it extra, extra special!

The second of the devices is at Mornington Peninsula Brewery down in Mornington, Victoria and is called the ‘Tardis’. This one has been there for a bit and was recently encased with lemons and attached to their Witbier, however they do change it often enough depending on what beer they attach it to.

Thirdly, I came across one in Hobart at the New Sydney Hotel. Nicknamed the ‘Hopinator’, this one was full of hops, plums and spices. The owner of the pub seemed pretty impressed with what he’d stuffed in there, and it made a local stout more like a Christmas Ale. According to the pub, the ‘Hopinator’ is the only one in Tassie.

So beer folks, as you can see I’m rather taken with the ‘ol Randall…or Fat Boy…Tardis…Hopinator. Whatever people want to call it, it is a brilliant invention. Whilst it gives me ideas of creating a little tea bag of hops and flavours and adding it to my glass of homebrew IPA at home…I probably should just accept that it won’t be as good, and keep heading to breweries with one installed.

They might be expensive to install, but as a beer enthusiast, they are well worth it I reckon!

Till then,

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Bull at a Holgate

Approximately 45 minutes drive north west of Melbourne is the quaint little Victorian town of Woodend.

Sitting proudly at the end of the main street the brewery is rich in history. Originally operating as The Commercial Hotel, it was a popular stopover for horse drawn carriages between Melbourne and Bendigo during the Gold rush years.

Now it’s a bloody good stop over for craft beer enthusiasts. 

I originally visited the brewery with my wife in 2009 as a curious beer drinker on a casual days drive to the area. Thanks to Holgate and their range of brews, that day turned into an overnight trip, and nearby accommodation was required to avoid a beer fuelled drive home. That wouldn’t be such a good idea.

The grand Holgate Brewery is very much multi purpose. Operating as a brewery, it is also a bit of a ‘local’ for…well…locals. It has a fine restaurant (more on that later) and upstairs even has 10 refurbished rooms for B&B style accommodation.

The latest visit to the brewery was a little more civilised. Lunch with my wife and parents. I won’t go into the food details too much but I do want to say that the meal was a complete surprise. Breweries often favour simple meals to accompany the beers. Wood fired pizzas for instance. Nothing wrong with that, but at Holgate there is real emphasis on a relaxed, high quality lunch. Beer is certainly not the only reason to visit.

You have the choice of ordering from the Bar Menu – usual pub fare such as fish and chips, parmas, bangers and mash etc, or as we did, sit in the restaurant area and dine on eye fillet, pork belly, mixed grill or game burgers. Beer is ever present in the ingredients and I do have to say, the ‘beer garlic bread’ was divine.

A lot of breweries in Australia are very much pitched at the beer drinker. Well of course they are. Stupid thing to say. But after lunch at Holgate I left thinking the place is perfect for anyone. No non beer drinker could seriously groan at being taken there when the food is that good. Besides, the well stocked bar offers plenty of wine and spirit options.

Anyway, enough about the food and history lesson. Holgate has a reputation for making one of the country’s most highly acclaimed dark beers, but also constantly produce seasonal beers of extremely good quality. As usual, we opted for the beer paddle so we could try everything on offer. Here’s a run down of the beers…

Pilsner (5.1%)
To me, Pilsners are a pretty small step from lagers and are only just on the craft beer scene. They are often described as a ‘session beer’ and are brewed for easy drinking. Holgate’s version certainly fits that description but is malty and hoppy enough to be a pretty damn good attempt. Rather Bavarian. Nice work.

Mt. Macedon Ale (4.5%)
Another ‘session beer’ to an extent, the Ale is very much Euro malts meets US hops. And it works. Goes down easily enough and is just a little complex on the pallet; meaning it will pretty much please all beer style drinkers.

Brick Kiln Road – Wheat Beer (5.0%)
Another homage to Bavarian beer, the wheat beer is very much what you’d expect – low on the hops and high on the yeasty, fruity taste. No ignoring the clove and banana aftertaste. Personally I’m not the biggest fan of wheat beers (largely due to disliking the taste of banana), but credit where it’s due. This was high quality and easy to drink. My non-beer drinking Mum even liked the taste of this one!

Gruit Expectations (6.0%)
I hadn’t previously come across this beer, and have to say it epitomises craft beer. It’s unique and complex in every way, and very tasty. It’s based on their Belgium Blonde recipe, but uses herbs and spices instead of hops. Like drinking a beer from the days of medieval brewing. This is one to be enjoyed whilst watching Game of Thrones

ESB (5.0%)
Holgate’s version of the classic English style ale is a complete winner. It quite literally is, as it’s won numerous awards over time. Along with Hargreaves Hill’s version, this would be my favourite ‘local’ ESB. English hops and crystal malts…it’s English. Special. And just a little bitter.

Hopinator (7.0%)
Wow. That’s all I’ve got. Wow. Our visit was the first time I’d tried the Hopinator and I’ve been drinking it ever since. Since my wife and I visited the US in 2011 we have been drawn to US style, big hopped IPAs or even better, double IPAs. Reminded me of Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum or Torpedo, to say you can really taste the floral/citrus hops would be a massive understatement. A brilliant beer for hop lovers.

Temptress (6.0%)
What can be said about the chocolate porter that hasn’t already? It’s award winning and highly rated (regularly features in the top 5 of the annual Critic’s Choice Top 100 Australian Beers). Cocoa, coffee and vanilla beans…it’s all in there. No Winter should pass without having at least one Temptress.

Double Trouble (8.0%)
A Belgium style Abbey Ale, at 8% this one has an immense alcoholic kick but is brilliantly smooth. Toffee flavour with a hint of rum, this is very much a sipping beer to be enjoyed over a massive wedge of cheese. Well named (it matters); this was very much enjoyed, even without the cheese. 6 pack to go thanks!

Anyway, that’s probably enough for me. In summary, Holgate Brewery is an awesome place to visit for either a quiet drink or a delicious meal. Even better, do both and stay the night!

Can’t wait to go back.

Till then,

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Be True to the Beer in Mornington

Be true to the beer and those who drink it.

That’s the motto of Mornington Peninsula Brewery and it couldn’t be more apt. Create great beer and in turn reward loyal drinkers. And boy, they sure are creating great beer!

Set in a fairly non-descript industrial street off the highway in Mornington goes to show how serious they are about creating great beer. Sure, the owners could have spent millions on a seaside block at the end of Mornington’s main street, but that would create a false impression that their main priority is to run some sort of fine dining tourist attraction. It’s not. Creating great beer is the number one priority.

That said the set up inside Mornington Brewery is excellent. Open in 2010, the brewery boasts a large courtyard outside, plenty of space in front of the bar, an additional (more relaxed) area upstairs with couches, and best of all, the operating brewery is set behind the bar for all to see. Ask nicely enough and you’ll get a walk around / short tour of the equipment. Beer geeks rejoice.

The only food on offer at the brewery is more than adequate – wood fire pizzas made to order. In fact they are great quality and go ridiculously well with their hop slapped beers. My wife and I loved them. There are even a few hops in the bases of the pizzas…another win!

As for the brews, Mornington Brewery has a real US craft beer feel to it. Lots of Pales and IPAs. As a fan of US craft beer, this is a damn good thing.

Here’s a run down of their beers. All simply named, no gimmicks or quirky names, just really good beer that grabs your attention. Just like the brewery’s medieval logo featured on all the labels…

Witbier (4.7%)
A Belgian style wheat beer, this version is refreshing and goes down pretty easily. It’s a bit more ‘citrus and spice’ than some wheat beers. I’m not a huge wheat beer fan, but I can acknowledge that when they are good they are really good, and I certainly enjoyed this one. 

Pale (4.7%)
An American style Pale Ale this one is a cracker. Not too hoppy it could almost be described as a ‘session beer’. That said the American hops and malts are easily recognisable. Those after a Pale where the hops kick you in the teeth may not rush to this one; however it is a very fine, easy drinking brew.

IPA (6.2%)
What to say about the IPA? Like the Pale it is an American style brew and one of their best. It’s a great step up from the Pale with more hops and fruity bitterness. It’s my favourite brew of their regulars, but just be warned if driving to the brewery and ‘having a few’. At 6.2% it won’t take too many to put you over 0.05. 

Brown (5%)
This one is actually an English style Brown rather than an American Brown. It’s full of English malts with a tasty toffee flavour. It’s a lot smoother than what you might expect making it a year round brew rather than one to keep aside for the cooler months. I’m loving Browns like this more and more.

Porter (6 %)
Another fine English style beer, the Porter is dark brown with a tan coloured head. It’s pretty easy to detect the chocolate and malty aroma and taste. The brewery describes the beer as ‘rich, silky smooth and moreish’. I concur! Especially during a long cold Melbourne winter.

The great thing about any good microbrewery is the ever changing specials, seasonal brews and one offs. Mornington is no exception. At the time of my recent visit two brilliant IPA based beers were available to taste.

Imperial IPA (8.5%)
At 8.5% this monster IPA is big. In every way. It’s fruity bitter with stacks of American hops, yet despite the bitterness the malts makes it rich and tasty. Pouring a dark, burnt orange in colour it’s one of the better attempts at an imperial / double IPA. There’s a lot going on in there, but there’s definitely a lot to like.

White IPA (6.3%)
A newcomer to the beer scene in Australia, a White IPA is pretty much what you get if an American style IPA got it on with a Belgian Witbier. Whilst the combo may seem strange it really does work. With the light citrus wheat flavours of the Witbier combined with the hops and bitter goodness of the IPA, it’s a match made in Euro-US heaven. Like Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi, it somehow works.

That’s it folks. If you still aren’t sold, the brewery also has live music sessions on Sunday afternoons. Stop reading and go. Now. Or Sunday if you like. I might be there too.

Mornington Peninsula Brewery
72 Watt Road
Mornington VIC 3931

Till then,

Monday, 4 June 2012

Whine and Dine

Okay so I'm a little peeved and need to get this off my chest.

I love a good beer and do enjoy going out to restaurants with my wife. Fine food, tasty beverages, what a great night out. Well no actually. Not at all unless I plan on drinking wine. Whilst there is nothing wrong with that (I love wine as much as the next person), my issue is with beer and the fact I am rarely able to enjoy good beer with a great meal in the vast majority of restaurants.

Whilst the consumption of craft beer is increasing and microbreweries and boutique beer dedicated bars are popping up around the place, the beer options on drink menus in restaurants is consistently a disgrace.

This was highlighted recently during a meal in a very good restaurant in Melbourne. We simply did not feel like wine, especially after a couple of quality beers before hand at Beer Deluxe. So, hopeful there might be a decent beer option to have with dinner I asked what beers they had available. Sadly I should have guessed:
  • Carlton Draught
  • Pure Blonde
  • Crown Lager
  • VB
  • Cascade Premium Light
  • Asahi
  • Heineken
What a great idea. Add two recognisable foreign beers and 'everyone should be happy'. So typical of most restaurants. Why is it that when a restaurant plans a menu it takes the time to consider its wine list almost as much as the food itself; making sure various wine options and styles are considered. The restaurant in question had dozens of wine options with a pretty extensive Victorian selection. That's great. Yet putting together the beer list read like they had 30 seconds to come up with something. And its pretty much the same everywhere. I have sat in some of the best restaurants in Melbourne and been saddened at the beer options on their menu. As a beer drinker I think it detracts from its 5 star status.

How can a restaurant charge hundreds of dollars for a meal and offer up Carlton Draught (for example) as a beer option? It would be like merging Vue De Monde with McDonald's. Makes no sense to me.

Any beer enthusiast would know how well good beer can and should be matched to food. Some restaurants (such as Josie Bones in Collingwood) make the effort to ensure guests can drink excellent beer with great food, but that is such a rarity. The recent Brooklyn Brewery Degustation Dinner during Good Beer Week also showed how easily (and well) beer can be matched with food.

I understand that in a standard pub the majority of beer taps are going to be dedicated to the corporate giants. Fosters/CUB in Melbourne, Toohey's in Sydney and so on. There's various reasons why this occurs, most of them economical. But surely a restaurant has much more freedom to stock the beers they want on their menu? By all means offer Carlton Draught or Crownies if people are asking for them, but why on earth can't a selection (even a small one) of decent craft beer be on the menu? Make it regional if they like so tourists and locals get to try some of that state's finest ales. Restaurants bother doing that with wine don't they? It's good for the restaurant, it's good for the breweries, it's good for the economy...right?

But no. Restaurants continue to have a 1980s attitude that beer is a beverage best suited to pubs where cheaper is better and its primary purpose is to get people drunk. It doesn't really sit well in restaurants but the odd person (especially older, overweight males from previous generations) will probably ask for a beer with their meal because they don't drink wine, so we better stock a few generic, bland brands. But lets impress the sheila with plenty of good wine selections...

My gut feel is that the beer options in a number of good restaurants is getting worse not better. This is despite the increasing availability of good beer. Go to the website of any decent restaurant and 99% of the time you'll find the lunch/dinner menu and the wine menu. It's so irrelevant to the restaurant that the beer selection isn't even mentioned most of the time, when it could be a selling point! I've given up even checking for it on menus before going to a restaurant.

It's highly annoying that at home I know how well a Two Birds Brewing Golden Ale goes with Thai food. Or a Holgate Temptress with chocolate pudding. Or a Red Hill Imperial Stout with oysters. But that's okay, beer at a fine dining establishment seems to mean pork belly with Carlton Draught, wagyu beef with well, Carlton Draught or seared salmon with...well you get the idea. Thought I was in a restaurant not sitting at the football.

No wonder I stick to wine every time. Such a shame really...

Anyway rant over, I'm out of breath. Until next time!

Till then,

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Life’s too Short to Drink Bad Beer

It’s Friday 11 May 2012.

In Victoria, that means the start of Good Beer Week. How very awesome. Dozens and dozens of beer events, tastings, beer infused dinners, festivals, brewery showcases…

That said, this blog is not about Good Beer Week. That speaks for itself.

In fact this blog isn’t really about anything. You may call it the ‘Seinfeld of blogs’.

With Good Beer Week only hours from starting this seems an apt time to flog the merits of craft beer and stick the boot into bland corporate swill. Quite frankly, life is too short to drink bad beer. Seriously, just because it’s made cheap and therefore sold cheap(ish) and is widely available, does not justify drinking it by choice.

Yeah craft beer can be a little expensive. But as a beer drinker there is nothing better than exploring craft beer, trying different styles and types and learning what suits your palate. I guarantee that once you realise how nice a good IPA or Red Ale is, the thought of drinking a ‘pot of draught’ will make you reach for a red wine. I mean, did any hops even die for that beer?

Despite a drop in beer consumption in Australia over the past decade, the sale of craft beer is increasing roughly at 3% per annum. That’s a great start but could be a lot better. Australia is a good decade behind the United States in terms of the number of craft breweries, sales and how craft beer is simply a part of the local beer drinking psyche.

Not convinced you should put down that generic lager which is on tap everywhere and reach for a beer with actual taste and flavour? Well let me put it in perspective for you by comparing it to that other major alcoholic beverage that most of us enjoy…wine.

Let me set the scene. You’re partial to a wine and therefore like everyone, make the effort to know what you like. It might be Shiraz, Pinot or Sav Blanc. You also know a few wineries that you enjoy and therefore make the effort to look for them when in the bottle shop. Maybe it’s a State or a Region you trust. Either way, most people have a maximum amount they want to spend on wine but wouldn’t touch the $5 bottle just because it’s cheap, or because you see it around everywhere like it’s soft drink. You assume it will taste like vinegar, right? So why on earth do you treat beer with such discontent and accept the cheap, tasteless shit as the ‘preferred choice’? Don’t be so lazy and show a bit of respect to your taste buds!

And hey, supporting small business is cool too right? What’s more enjoyable than realising that tasty Ale comes from Bright or Mornington Peninsula? Suddenly you have a damn good excuse for a weekend away! Sell it as a romantic getaway if you have to, but just do it!

Deep breaths Todd, deep breaths.

Anyway, enough from me…see you all over a glass of tasty, flavoured beer…

Till then,