Saturday, June 11, 2011

Raiding the Red Hill Brewers Secret Stash

Such was the sense of adventure and joy afforded from our last trip down to Red Hill (for the launch of the Hop Harvest and the newly installed hand-pump tap), that it was with no hesitation or trepidation that Dave and I jumped on the opportunity to spend another Saturday morning making the lengthy trip down the Nepean Highway to one of Victoria's most aesthetically pleasing breweries. Laying unassumingly in the hills just inland from Mornington Peninsula's scenic coastline, surrounded by woodlands and boasting it's own hop farm, the Red Hill Brewery could almost claim to be situated right in the heart of "God's Country", or if not, certainly the well-kept backyard of some middle-shelved deity.

The Brewer's Secret Stash was a chance for punters to try Red Hill's ever increasing, always impressive collection of aged and limited edition ales in the one place, on tap, for one weekend only. Boasting a tap line-up including the Barrel-aged Imperial Stout, Temptation Ale, Weizenbock and the Christmas Ale as well as the promise of a beer-matched menu of gourmet treats, it was a red circle calender date for any beer lover with adequate transportation, or in our case, someone willing to drive us. (Thanks Tiff!)

If that wasn't already reason enough to fill a car with beer drinkers and head south, it also coincided with the much anticipated launch of the brewery's brand new India Black Ale, which would be pouring through the recently installed traditional beer engine, or hand pump. This launch, alone would have probably been enough to drag us down the coast, away from such city luxuries as mobile phone reception and all-day kebab vans, so the combination of the two was a well-pleasing bonus, if not a deal-clincher.

There is something quite exciting about finally arriving at the brewery. Whether it be the sight of the hop yards as you close in on the entrance, the first glimpse of the rustic, wooden brewhouse, giving a sense of arriving at an old farmhouse, the anticipation of having a range of quality craft beers to sample or just the relief of being able to stretch ones legs after a long drive, arrival at Red Hill is always met with a sense of occasion. The bar/restaurant has an eclectic country-pub-meets-city-beer-garden charm that plays on the brewery's surrounding gardens and farmlands, making it impossible not to feel welcomed and relaxed. An astute environment for the sampling
of quality beers.

We kicked of the session with a pint of hand-
drawn India Black Ale, a style of beer that has seen a surge in the local beer culture of late. But few breweries are giving drinkers the chance to try the style from the traditional hand pump, so we were keen to see the effect that reduced carbonation would have.

Brewers Simon and Tim had been given a little creative license, with this brew being a one-off specialty batch, and while the first taste was somewhat unassuming, it developed in depth and character with every subsequent drink. A balance of upfront bitterness and a rich, lingering malt
character makes this a particularly session-able ale, that could really be enjoyed on a cold wintry night or a balmy summers eve in equal measures. Certainly an excellent follow-up to my favourite Australian beer of 2011 so far, the Hop Harvest Ale. I also must offer thanks to Mr Dave Golding who allowed me to fulfill a long time dream of mine to hand draw my own beer via the traditional beer engine... cementing once and for all, any accusation that i am, in fact, a beer nerd.

We followed a couple of pints of the India Black Ale with the Imperial Stout, which was a particular favourite of both Dave and myself from 2010, as well as sampling the Christmas Ale and the Temptation. With the food-pairings on the special Secret Stash menu, and an abundance of fine ales in this beautiful surrounding, it was hard not to sit back and be content with one's lot in life... We weren't the only ones enjoying ourselves either. Beer lovers, families, couples and groups of mates filled the bar and restaurant, many of whom were sporting the "I found the Brewers Secret Stash" tankards that came ale-filled as part of the booking fee. We were also treated to a tour of the brewhouse and a rundown on the production process of some of the better known Red Hill beers. Sheer beerporn.

In summary, the Brewers Secret Stash really succeeded in showcasing the passion, diversity and quality from a brewery that has only been brewing since 2005, while the India Black Ale proved their adaptability to tackle new styles with their own unique flair.
All in all, a top day trip and the recent opening of the Mornington Peninsula Brewery not too far away has meant that you can really justify making the drive and spending a day down the coast, taking in some of Victoria's (if not Australia's) top beers.

With the brewhouse buzzing with the anticipation
of the impending Imperial Stout (we understand the brewers are quite excited by the progress so far), and a rumoured new Weizenbock recipe on the horizon, I can say without hesitation that it won't be too long at all before Dave and I load up the car again and make the trip south.

Thanks again must go to our official "blogtographer" Jeremy Daniell for accompanying us and taking photos of a quality beyond that which we can write. And thanks to Tiffany for driving us back.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Feral Tap Takeover Roundup

The Feral Brewing Company took over all of the taps at The Local Taphouse in St. Kilda. 

Simple idea. Right?
Firstly, The Local Taphouse has got 20 taps in operation. How many breweries have got 20 beers? Not that many. 
How many breweries have got 20 beers that are unique and have the diversity to make it an interesting event? Even less. 
Feral are one of those few, and they brought the nice in kegfuls. 
Along for the ride was Jeremy Daniell (now becoming the official photographer for From Beer To Eternity) and took some absolutely beautiful shots of the event. 
We spotted The Local Taphouse’s own Ange trying to get some work done and help the event move along smoothly, but we endeavored to interrupt her at every opportunity and talk about the beers (and beer in general) and she agreed to sit down with us and have a bit of a chat for our little blog. How nice of her! Here is what we got:
Dave: What do you think of this kind of craft beer event?

Ange: I think it’s incredible to give a brewery the chance to showcase a huge amount of their beer styles to show what they’re capable of. Feral are up there as my favourite brewery in Australia and they do so well experimenting with a range of different styles and producing at such a high quality.

Dave: Some tap highlights?

Ange: It’s really, really nice to try something that uses salt, most beers that you get capture the floral aroma and bitterness to it, but you don’t get many that have that savoury bite to it. Traditionally a lot of beers would have used that savoury element so what I find really interesting about craft beers is the reintroduction of really old styles, so Jose the Gose is definitely a highlight for me. Especially running through the Funky Brewster it’s really full on but at the same time it’s highlighting that savoury saltiness. The Fanta Pants is definitely one of my favourites, the Barrel Fermented Hop Hog is just a stand out. The last time we had that it was the first time I’d tried anything of that calibre in terms of the complexity of flavours. The fresh moss and vanilla and the sweet earthy flavours really go together perfectly. Thats actually my favourite.”
Now doesn’t that make you want to know more about the selection they were showcasing? I thought as much. Luckily I’ve got it covered.
Each beer on offer didn’t get a concentrated review but I did try and get tasting notes for each of them. 
So here we go:
983 Pale
A very unique pale ale using the sorachi hop variety. A delicate balance of lemongrass and vanilla, but with a nutty taste that comes through a bit like coconut. The malt really balances it out to make a very good pale ale. 
The Runt
2010’s Champion Ale in the AIBA awards. Stonefruit aromas bleed over into the fruity palate with mainly passionfruit flavours. A nice, easy, long flavour. Easy to justify the accolades. Easy to justify on a sunny day. 
Sail and Anchor IPA
This is a pretty interesting IPA. It has a banana aroma that is quite distinct from other IPA’s. The banana also comes through in the initial taste. Stretching out with a fruity sweetness makes this one a highly sessionable one. 
Jose the Gose
Well hello there. Here’s a different one. There’s a light sourness on the nose. A smooth, creamy mouthfeel makes it fairly easy to drink. Brewed with salt and coriander, this is a real savoury treat. The salt is a primary flavour, but it’s not overpowering. I had a huge urge to buy fish and chips with this beer.
Then, through the Funky Brewster it is even more extreme. Served though caper berries it gives a much bigger, sour aroma. The aftertaste of the salt and coriander is intense and it provides the most unique experience of the night. 
Farmhouse Ale
A nice floral, fruity nose. A very pleasantly balanced Saison. The taste progresses to green apples and riesling. All the characteristics you’d come to expect from a lovely farmhouse ale. 
Golden Ace
The latest of the Feral range to be bottled and distributed, and we can see why. The Golden Ace has the perfect balance that is the signature of the tried and true Feral ales. It starts with a pleasant, floral aroma with a citrus hint. The lemon carries through in the inital taste and lingers nicely. Balanced with a Belgian style malt. After it warms, you can pick up some coconut characteristics. 
Funky Junkie
The big, sour invention from Feral is quite unique! The aroma offers up a sour, fruity waft that really heightens the anticipation for this one, and the taste did not disappoint. A big, sour taste that is balanced by a mild sweetness from the malt. One punter on the night suggested fruit tingles, which isn’t far off really. You could add this beer to fruit salad for some serious harmony.
iWit 2.0
Brewed with orange peel and white pepper, these come through straight away in the aroma. This is really unlike any wheat beer I’ve had. The pepper and ginger flavours in this beer make it a very drinkable wit. The pepper aftertaste is quite remarkable.
Nice Guy, Dud Root
This brown ale sports a nice, coffee aroma on the nose, with a little bit of sweetness sneaking in. The first taste is just a classy, malty brown ale. The overall taste is rich and malty with a hint of aniseed. A solid brown ale. 
Smoked Porter
A little subtle smokiness on the nose with the addition of some sweetness. Some warmth lets out some toffee character too. A beautiful sweetness on the palate. A really good, malty, smokey porter. 
Hop Hog
The winner of this years Champion Ale from AIBA. A solid classic. Do I even need to describe it? Fine, okay. Beautiful, hoppy aroma with a touch of citrus to it. Lovely hoppy ale, but you already knew that. The #3 selection in the Critics Choice top 100 beers for 2010. THe flagship Feral beer. 
Barrel Fermented Hop Hog
Fermented in new French oak barrels. It’s sweeter on the nose than it’s regulation counterpart. The oak comes through beautifully. It’s dryer, cleaner and sweeter. Improving the Hop Hog is no mean feat, but Feral have managed to do it. 

Karma Citra
One of the first India Black Ales to surface this year, when they are set to pop up all over Australia. The citrusy, fruity aroma completely defies the black colour of the beer. This is offset by a smoky nose. A smoky flavour teams up with a sweet malt and strong bitterness form the citra hop. Very good IBA. 
Sail & Anchor Brass Monkey
Fantastic chocolate malty aroma for this Oatmeal Stout. It’s got a pretty light body for a stout, but a nice licorice flavour rounds out the taste. An extra kick is added by a good finishing hint of espresso to wrap it up. 
Fanta Pants
A very big, hoppy aroma (a tick in my book). It’s also got a staggering, deep red colour. An immediate sweetness is closely followed by the big, bitter hop hit. Simultaneous sweet malt and the hop bitterness make this unusually balanced for such a strong character. The red colour really is striking for it’s taste. 
A good, true to style Belgian Dubbel style ale without compromising any of the Feral uniquity (<--- that’s not a word, but it should be). The taste is a big, sweeping dubbel and finishes strongly with some candied banana. A double excellent dubbel (I must have had a few too many barrel fermented Hop Hogs before I wrote that last comment...)

A really lovely, sticky sweet nose, almost like a sticky date pudding aroma that invites you to dive in. The taste hints of coconut flavour. The 9.8% ABV is hidden like Wally (toward the end of the book, not the start where it’s easy to find him.) with it tasting like a 7% at most. Danger. The flavour tails off with a lovely liqueur taste. Very nice.
Jet black Imperial Russian Stout. An odd, almost clover-like aroma that really bears no resemblance to the flavour. A big, rich, nutty stout that has a unique quality of the warming agent of the alcohol but being off set by the hop character adding a cooling character. Big, Winter warming stout. 

Still reading? Interesting. I thought without being able to taste the beers and having to struggle through my boring tasting notes you’d be bored and have gone on to YouTube or something. 
This event is an excellent showcasing of everything that a single brewery can do and I sincerely hope that this gets replicated, even if on a smaller scale with smaller breweries it really is wonderful to be able to taste everything that a brewery has to offer side by side. 
My final point will be this: Barrel Fermented Hop Hog. Mmmmmmm.