Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Raconteur Reloaded: Hendo's Hopfest

Steve "Hendo" Henderson
If there's one thing that becomes immediately apparent in initially meeting Steve 'Hendo' Henderson, its that the man just loves beer. Good beer. And hops. He really loves hops.

The former Prickly Moses brewer (now plying his trade at Southern Bay Brewing) loves good beer and hops with an infectious passion that beams from every part of him as he waxes lyrical on the topic, it's the kind of enthusiasm that comfortably treads the tightrope between genius and madman. As with his passion, his talents as a brewer are equally unquestionable.

He has been responsible for some of the finer beers to come out of this country in the recent craft beer explosion, unleashing the Raconteur, the Tailpipe Big Ass Brown Ale and the Black Panther, just to name a few from the Prickly repertoire. It was the first of these that would be the focus of Raconteur IPA: Reloaded, a collection of 5 single-hopped versions of the original hop rocket.

A Crowded Royal Standard Hotel
The Royal Standard Hotel played host on a cold, rainy Monday night, (where Melbourne had seemingly decided that it had probably been a bit half-arsed at doing winter of late and that it was time to pull it's proverbial socks up) and the punters began shuffling in just after 6:30, a throng of beer nerds, industry folk and curious locals all keen to sample the five specially brewed ales.

On the wall, amongst the sporting memorabilia and the Good Beer Week promotions, a poster read "Raconteur IPA: A Love Story About Hops". Probably the most appropriate tagline for the event and the man himself, let alone the beer whose poster it rightfully adorns. The hops on offer were Galaxy, US hop Citra, Brambling X from the UK, Simcoe and the now-rare Riwaka flower, 5 hops with contrasting flavours and characters, some not often used in Australian beer.

Simcoe, Raconteur IPA and Galaxy
As a showcase for diversity in ingredients, the difference from one beer to the next was evident even to the most novice of novice beer drinkers, from the aromatic floral sweetness of the Riwaka, to the deep bitterness of the Simcoe, the passionfruity lightness of the Galaxy, to the bittersweet finish of the Citra, there was much to be analysed, discussed and compared amongst those who had filled the bar.

There was no subtlety with the hops either. Hendo, (who had been seen not two days before, sporting a t-shirt with a picture of a man firing a 'hop bazooka' on it) explained the importance of making each beer a hop explosion, to showcase each hop's individual characteristics. The end result was a feast of six (the five single-hop varieties and the original Raconteur) hop-charged IPAs, each with clear and unique identity and individuality and each capable of being a quality stand alone beer.

The pick of the beers was the Riwaka Flowers version. With origins in New Zealand, there has been something of a shortage of this hop recently. The last available Riwaka flowers in the country for some time reportedly went into this particular brew.

A strong floral sweetness gives way to citrus and grapefruit that take a firm grip without being too overbearing. It's sad to know we won't be seeing the hop used locally for some time, but I thank Hendo for gifting us the opportunity to sample it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Brooklyn Brewery Degustation Dinner

It’s the first night of Good Beer Week and already one my most highly anticipated events has rolled around. The Brooklyn Brewery Degustation Dinner.
Brooklyn is one of those breweries that just oozes cool, so having their beers matched to five courses prepared by the kitchen at Beer Deluxe is just too good to pass up. 
Just get to the beers, you say? Give me a chance, there are some other cool elements of the event. 
Making the long trip across the water was Eric Ottaway, the General Manager of the brewery to be our host for the evening. Eric introduced each course and took the time to regale us with some anecdotes and give us some insight to the genesis of some of the beers. 
Eric personalized his role as host and made it around to each table for a chat to the punters and proved himself to be a warm and genuine person to share some excellent beer and food pairings with. 
Now that I’ve mentioned the pairings, what better time to start having a look at what we were presented with. I know, slick journalism right?
Upon entry everybody was served a glass of Brooklyn Lager matched with some cajun spiced popcorn that was on the tables for everyone to share. Now, this already was a stroke of genius. I could write a whole post about this combination alone, but that would not be entertaining for anybody. 
It was a combination that would suit almost any situation. Watching a football match with a Brooklyn Lager and this cajun popcorn would be omnisensory bliss. That’s my word by the way, I’m coining it right now. 
Next up was pork belly with an apple mash with walnuts. Chosen to accompany this was the Brown Ale. In this course the beer played the support role as the big, bold flavours of the pork belly took over and made everyone in the room enjoy the moment. The sweetness of the sultanas in the apple mash made an excellent match to the Brown Ale. 
The food was expertly prepared and tasted delicious on it’s own. 
For those playing at home, I’ve just realised that “omnisensory” is already a word. How silly do I feel at the moment?
The next dish to be served was gravlax cured salmon on a shredded Thai salad matched with Brooklyn’s East India Pale Ale. This was another matching hit. The hop character of the IPA harmonised with the tang of the salad and combined for a truly tasty pairing. The salmon was cured beautifully and it rounded out a classy dish. 
Now following this was my favourite pairing of the night. Crispy lemon chicken with the Brewmasters Sorachi Ace Saison was classic flavour compliments executed professionally and I wanted to keep enjoying these all night but alas, there was more to come.
It was at this stage that the penny dropped that these pairings had been carefully considered and they were all just superbly complimentary.
After this onslaught of flavour it seemed like our tongues could use a break, and this was achieved with the serving of a Cuvee de la Crochet Rouge Rose as a palate cleanser.
Palates cleansed, the next matchings were out to please the sweet tooth in us all. A vanilla bean custard tart with candied acidulated malt. A dual pairing here, with the Monster Barleywine and the Companion Ale served with this dish. The Monster is a treat by itself, but the Companion Ale was my favourite of the two as a match to the dish (as well as a beer nerds delight. The rarity!). 

There was a second dessert offering, and I think most people were expecting it as we’d gotten to this stage of the dinner and hadn’t seen the Black Chocolate Stout yet. 
Sure enough, accommodating a dark chocolate, blue cheese mousse was the Black Chocolate Stout and the rumoured Black Ops Imperial Stout (that may or may not exist...). Both of these beers matched the chocolate mousse beautifully and it was just excellent to get to try (or not try....) the Black Ops. 
The dinner was one of the best degustations that I’ve been to in relation to the pairings. Each course was beautifully presented and more importantly really appropriately paired with the beers from Brooklyn. 
It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and one that Beer Deluxe can be proud about holding.
A big thank you is also due to Eric Ottaway for his hosting duties, he made the night that extra bit special with his interaction with all the punters.

If this is how Good Beer Week starts, it’s going to be a wonderful seven days.