Friday, November 28, 2014

Boatrocker Brewery Show

About a fortnight ago (a month ago now, it took some time to publish this. Why don't you sue me!?) Luke and I did a show with Matt Houghton at Boatrocker Brewery.

Not knowing much about where Braeside is (which is much closer to my house than I ever realised...) we jumped on trains with our bikes and peddled on out to the industrial area to where we figured the brewery site was.

The clue that we found was the boat suspended over the roller door with the word 'boatrocker' painted on it. Reasonably sure we'd found the place.

The first sight as you pass through the door at the brewery is one that makes ridiculous geeks such as Luke and myself suddenly vague and distracted.

Barrels. Just barrels as far as the eye can see.

Now, maybe there were 35 or 40 barrels but my vision was so focussed that it was certainly as far as my eyes could see.

Matt gave us a little tour of the brewery, which is smaller than I probably thought it would be, and having noticed that we'd cycled out to the site he offered us some glasses of water and some refreshing tank samples of berliner weiss that will eventually go into chardonnay barrels and become their Mitte.

Even though we'd ridden the bikes basically no distance and really slowly, that berliner weiss really hit the spot as a thirst quenching, low ABV winner. We dicsussed the possibility of this being packaged without any of it's brettanomyces or barrel treatment as a straight berliner weiss option for the masses. It's a possibility at this stage, but not scheduled. That would become a mandatory fridge option for me so damn fast.

My eyes strayed back to the wall of barrels. Does that say “Flemish Red” on it? God damn, is that the new batch of Ramjet sitting there, just soaking in the whiskey from the New World Distillery barrels?

This was seriously poor etiquette, given that I wasn't paying Matt the full attention he deserved on account of being smitten by his barrel program so when he said “Do you guys want to sample from the barrels?” I nearly got whiplash from snapping my head back to look in his direction.

Like little kids in a candy store we giddily watch Matt scale the ladder and carefully extract some samples from a barrel into a pitcher for us to stand around and drink like the entitled nothings we are. Matt lovingly replaces the nail to the barrel and sanitises the areas that were disturbed.

Matt is undertaking an ambitious barrel program, treating his already acclaimed Ramjet imperial stout and Sterk and Donker Quad, as well as some new wild and Belgian style ales. He's not doing anything by half. Most of the beers in barrels have been in barrels for 12-18 months with some being held for up to three years, so this is all relatively young beer that we're tasting.

The first sample we try is a saison that's been in barrels for 5 months and already has the aroma of a world class saison, matched with a flavour that is going to be lots of fun.

Matt starts telling us about the newest batch of Ramjet which is currently sitting in barrels and the reason why it might not have exactly the same flavour profile as the previously adored batch.
Matt gets his whiskey barrels from Starward Whiskey, who are now New World Distillers (I might have part of this wrong, but it's really not pertinent to this part of the story) and he gets them from New World because he has a couple of good contacts there that have helped him establish that relationship to access barrels for aging.

These contacts 'sorted Matt out' on the most recent lot of barrels and these ones came across with more whiskey left in them than any of the previous lot, in fact when the brewers properly drained the barrels they extracted about half a litre of excess whiskey left behind.

Huge result for Matt and his staff. Also a huge impact on the beer that would go in to these barrels.

Ramjet version 1 was a luxurious 10.2% imperial stout. The same beer in these soaked barrels sit at around 15% ABV and is whiskifully massive. Those that know me are aware that I have a huge dislike for most beers over 10 or 11 % because of the omnipresent alcohol sweetness that is the backbone of most of these kinds of beers.

Not so with this one though. The alcohol is definitely noticeably high, but the character of the beer is all in the malt bill. It's hugely enjoyable in it's 15% state. Relax though, geeks. The next Ramjet won't be a 15% imperial stout. Matt will be blending this version of the beer with an unbarreled version to smooth out the packaged product which will be an improvement across the board, no doubt.

I'm not going to go through each individual beer that we sampled on the day but there were clearly some standouts that are worth mentioning.

Firstly the barleywine is huge. On paper that is. It's 14.2% (maybe not exactly that, but in that vicinity) but it drinks way under that. English styled, malty as all hell but drinking really smooth already. By the time this baby is ready it's going to be extremely fun and a really great one to stash away for rainy days of future years.

The most exciting one thought was a p-lambic. Pseudo lambic, as it's accurately labelled given that it's not made in the correct region of Belgium. What are you supposed to call it? I don't know. P-lambic works for me. Anyway, this is the most exciting one of the day. It's still really young, only about a year in the barrel, but already the aroma smells exactly like a Belgian lambics that we've come to adore. It's the most promising Australian sour beer that I've tasted. It already tastes very good, but there's plenty more development to come so this one is probably now my most anticipated Australian beer.

Matt talked about some of the intricacies of making wild beer and we realised yet again that we were having some great conversation off mic.

We got ourselves in order and recorded what's probably the best show we've had in the year that we've been podcasting. You can listen to that episode directly here, or you can subscribe from iTunes here.

Plugs, what a pro.

Check out that episode to get some finer detail on what's going on at Boatrocker Brewery, there are some really exciting things on the horizon for them.  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Where's The Townshend's At?

So Townshend's Brewery from Nelson, NZ is looking for a distributor into Australia.

"Suh-weet!" is what you'll hear those in the know say. "Can't wait to get my hands on it when it gets over the ditch!" you might also hear.

But it's not quite as easy as that, so let me slightly amend that first statement.

Townshend's are still looking for a distributor into Australia.

Martin Townshend has been looking for a distributor for little while now and for those that have tried his beers, it's something of a cranium scratcher that he hasn't been snapped up with vigour.

It's clear as day that in Australia we have a love affair with Kiwi beers, and it's with good reason. They're a strong group that do well at making beers that we want to drink.

We tend to gravitate toward brews from over the Tasman, and 

Have you tried Martin's beers before?

During Good Beer Week they were featured as part of the Kiwi pop up bar at The Catfish, or maybe you've been across to New Zealand and tried them locally. If you have done either of these you know what I'm talking about.

You might not have tried them at all, and there's a couple of reasons for that.

"There's no distribution here Dave, you zilch. Isn't that the whole point of this post?"

Jesus, give me a break here, I'm getting to it.

The times you might have seen Townshend's around (particularly us Melbourne folk) would have been at the GABS (Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular) festivals from 2012 - 2014.

Martin understands what GABS is all about, but that doesn't mean that he's going to conjure something outrageously out of style and ostentatious.

In 2012 he made the Janszoon Summer Ale which was a gentle English IPA that had mildly prominent late hops that made this pop.

2013 saw the Riwaka ale was a 3.7% Ordinary Bitter that was hopped with Riwaka hops.

This year we saw Union Square, a 5.5% UK style ESB.

Now you all know how GABS works. The directive is that each brewery must present a beer that has not been previously released on tap or in bottles.

When we get killer python kolschs, rocky road ales, pepper steak porters and the like we tend to overlook the "regular" sounding beers in favour of the weird and wonderful sounding ales that make our tongues tingle and our brains struggle to even comprehend what we just tasted.

Even if you don't ignore beers like Martin's in this kind of environment, when you have tiny tasters in a paddle the delicately crafted stylistic ales get dwarfed by imperial IPAs, dry chiptole'd ales and creme caramel eisbocks.

How are you supposed to appreciate the subtle characteristics of a mild ale when you tongue is covered in a thick layer of pure lupulin?

Each year now I've had a full glass of the Townshend's beer and this is really the best way to fully appreciate any beer.

This interest influenced me when I ventured over to Wellington in 2013. What I'd tasted at GABS led me to do a little research on what Townshend's have to offer. It was clear from this preliminary research that I had to seek out his Flemish Stout. The description of this beer was smack bang in my wheelhouse.

Dave Wood at Hashigo Zake pulled out a bottle for me and I tasted one of the most extraordinary beers I'd ever had. 

This moment, in conjunction with my GABS experiences, was enough for me to add Townshend's to my favourite breweries and those that I want to seek out wherever I can.

Anyway, this is a rambly way of explaining that even if you have had the opportunity to, you may have not properly tried anything from Townhend's.

Martin is a brewer's brewer. Ask the Kiwi brewers what they think and you'll get similar answers across the board. 

I emailed Martin to get his thoughts on Australian distribution, and it seems that his align with mine pretty closely. 

"...with our new bottling plant from Italy we are now ready and wanting to find Australian distribution.  With our new branding and website, we are in a better position than ever to export.  Our beers were well received through Phoenix (one off deal) last month to coincide with GABS, but on approaching them we were informed they were down scaling their portfolio."

You can understand the position of Phoenix here, because they already have an extensive portfolio of brands and they also want to maintain a high level of service to all stakeholders, so something's gotta give. 

There's plenty of others distributors however, so why do we have a brewery that is producing outstanding beer in New Zealand and want to expand into the west island struggling to find an avenue in to the country?

So why hasn't someone picked up this brand? This is a genuine question. Is there a reason why? It doesn't really make sense to me.

Excellent quality beer, a strong interest in exporting here, a growing market. Where am I going wrong here?

I'm happy to look ignorant, I do it frequently!

Comment here or shoot me an email at if you've got some information that might shed some light on it for me. 

Better still, if you're a distributor let's get you on to Martin and we'll work something out!

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Session #84: "Alternate" Reviews

What is The Session?session_logo_all_text_300

The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. Over time, it is the hope — of me, at least — that a record will be created with much useful information about various topics on the subject of beer. The idea for the Sessions began with fellow beer writer Stan Hieronymus, who noticed similar group endeavors in other blogospheres and suggested those of us in the beer world create our own project. Here is Stan’s original thought process to start up the Session.

I have an intense dislike for beer reviews. 'Hate' is a strong word for me.

I hate beer reviews.

Why? Because what's the point. I didn't misuse punctuation there, that was not a question. It was an exasperated exhalation of words onto the page.

Some bozo who you couldn't care less about is passing comment on beers that you do.

I like reviews on beers from people whose opinions I value and respect. These people do not do beer reviews.

It's just not for me.

What's that you say? Isn't part of your website dedicated to beer reviews? Well you've come out swinging from the beginning, but you've gotten ahead of yourself. Mine aren't reviews really, they're more of a celebration of beers that I was enjoying at the time. There were no negative pieces. If I didn't like a beer it sure as hell wasn't going to be worth keyboard time from me.

It's so ball achingly boring, too. Everything is basically the same. This colour, this aroma, this flavour. ABV. IBU. SRM.

It's a little bit like AFL press conferences (yes, my other current pet hate).

As the coach is sitting down to the microphone you pretty much know exactly what he's going to say already.

"We're ticking all the boxes one week at a time."

Anyway, that's neither here nor there. Let's get back on topic.

This is probably the only format that could have roused any interest in the reviewing of beer for me, and that's because reviewing is banned.

If I may, I'll reiterate the guidelines for this particular Session;

"So for my turn hosting The Session, I ask all of you to review a beer. Any beer. Of your choosing even! There’s a catch though, just one eentsy, tiny rule that you have to adhere to: you cannot review the beer. 
I know it sounds like the yeast finally got to my brain, but hear me out: I mean that you can’t write about SRM color, or mouthfeel, or head retention. Absolutely no discussion of malt backbones or hop profiles allowed. Lacing and aroma descriptions are right out. Don’t even think about rating the beer out of ten possible points.
But, to balance that, you can literally do anything else you want. I mean it. Go beernuts. Uncap your muse and let the beer guide your creativity."

I have been thinking about this very topic, since a good friend of mine was enthusing about how perfume guru Luca Turin describes various aromas and fragrances with these complicated, yet removed, vivid and florid descriptions that were indirect but somehow imparted the characteristics of the smell with precise accuracy.

If Turin can do it with perfumes and colognes, why can't the very same methodology be applied to beer?

This is the reason why I have dusted off ye olde keyboard for The Session.

Without further ado, I will begin some ridiculous wordification to attempt this challenge.

You're 5500m above sea level. To achieve your goal there is a further 800m to scale. When you forecast conditions and planned for the many challenges that climbing the Andes might present, you had no idea of the mental demons that would be present, taunting you at every stage since you got to the 5000m mark. What line were you on? You'd set markers at regular intervals all the way up to keep track but when you look down you don't see a thing. Actually, when you look down it feels like you're moving away from the surface of the mountain, so let's not do that too much. Not coping well, this can be deadly. A short climb up and you'll find an ice ledge just big enough for a brief rest.

Like highway hypnosis, you have reached the ledge but have no recollection of how you got there. Some nutrients are absolutely essential so you hurriedly fossick through your backpack to find that you only possess two more items. They are the two most valuable items that you have been carrying, and now it is time for their utilisation.

With the one free hand you pull out a Mornington Peninsula Imperial Stout. You reach in again and extract a bulbous brandy balloon. The backpack in now useless. You feel it will be therapeutic to watch something you've lugged 5km up a mountain tumble down the side of the cliff face into the  abyss, but when you let go it disappears instantly due to the near nonexistent visibility.

The hissing of the bottle opening gives you a reassuring shiver down your spine, and even though you can see nothing else, your entire focus is consumed by the glass that now holds more warmth than anything you'd experienced since you'd begun scaling.

An emotion stirs from deep within you as you're transported back to your grandmother's farming property they owned when you were a young child, and when you smelled the chocolate brownies she made you always wanted to take one fresh out of the oven. “Wait until they've cooled down!” she'd say, but why? They were so moist and delicious that there was still melty chocolate in the centre of them when they were hot out of the oven. She always told you to wait, but she always gave you a piping hot sample, you know, just so you could test them and make sure they weren't terrible.

Reality check. No, you're not eating one too many brownies. You're precariously perched on a ledge made of frozen water and you have no supplies once that glass is empty. This is it. And my god it is cold.

The cold seems like it was so long ago though, because as this beer caresses your tongue it is a loving, caring, parental hug of warmth so reassuring that you reassess the task of climbing the remaining distance to the top as a medial task, purely a means to an end with the overall goal eclipsed by this revelation that reaching the summit means you can return to your loved ones.

Even after this much effort has been expended, this much physical and mental trauma has been imparted on this body, the pure warming joy of reacquainting with your loved ones at sea level is more than the required stimulant and nutrition to get you through to the end.

Sooo.... anyway. That's what it's like drinking an Imperial Stout from the Mornington Peninsula Brewery.

Oh also, it will help if you read those words via the voice of this man.

Please be kind. I'm in a fragile place after writing that.*

*Side note. I had a little sleep and now I'm fine. You don't need to be kind. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Gettin' Fresh With Y'all

Just quickly off the bat, if you're capitalising the first letter in each word of the title and you decide to use "y'all", do you capitalise the Y and the A? Or just the Y?

Interesting analysis material no doubt, but I've made my decision and I'm not changing it.

Anyway, this wasn't a digression because I hadn't actually started saying anything yet, so you can't have me on that, but I intend to start something right now.

So let's go.

There's no doubting the 'drink by' date on this fella.

I've been thinking about fresh beer. With the recent (and most likely ongoing...) heatwave oppressing us, I bet that's not an original thought in the slightest. But I mean fresh beer in a slightly different sense.

Luke Robertson's recent blog post about FOMOOB (an all too familiar phenomenon derived from Fear Of Missing Out, extended to Fear Of Missing Out On Beer) highlighted how common this is, and he embedded a great little movie short from the Russian River Brewing Company about the brewing and serving of their legend status hop bombs, Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger.

The only reported acceptable use of comic sans.
Pliny the Elder is packaged year round and has a published recommended 'drink by' date on it for maximum freshness and enjoyment. Some American uber beer geeks say that outside 2 weeks from the bottling date the aromas and flavour diminish noticeably. Some uber beer geeks tip it out if it's more than two or three weeks old.


Pliny the Younger however, is not packaged and is only available from the brewery bar when it is brewed once a year. And my goodness, do people lose their minds when this occurs. It's bigger than the sum of its parts. People travel from all over the country (some come from other parts of the world) to queue up at the bar door for five hours just for a glass of this immaculately fresh Triple IPA.

Stone Brewing Company also release an IPA that is created for immediate consumption called Enjoy By, in which the date is splattered across the label so there is no mistaking when this one was intended to be consumed. This one is a packaged monster so slightly more people will get the chance to enjoy this one.

In mid 2013 Feral Brewing Company brought out an Imperial IPA called Tusk that was brewed with a similar intention in mind and it was delivered to various venues around the country with the strict instruction to tap it as soon as it is received.

I was FOMOOB panicked enough to ensure I was at the Local Taphouse when they put it on, and it sure was enjoyable. If I remember correctly it was obviously hoppy and aromatic, but it was also quite tart and zesty and an all around delight.

When I was enjoying this and most likely pontificating on all the important aspects of life I remember having the thought: "This is the beginning of IPAs made for fresh consumption."

And how right was I?

Not at all. Wrong. Nothing happened after that. Bupkis. Nada. Zilch.

Actually, that's not completely true. Research has shown me that the Tusk got made again in September  2013 but only got sent to some WA venues and The Wheaty. Come on Feral, hook a Melbourne brother up with that tasty beverage.

But where has it been? Some people say we're IPA mad in the market at the moment, so why haven't more breweries jumped on this kind of idea? Now I know you're saying, that all IPAs and hoppy beers are enjoyable fresh and you get the same experience when you have a beer tapped fresh from the source, but I say that's not quite what I'm talking about.

I thought we'd see more breweries embracing the idea of brewing a beer that you can only have super fresh. It's on at the brewery, or a select bar as soon as it's received. There's no chance of a keg being tucked away into a corner, or bottles being kept by someone with the possibility of that beer being consumed when not fresh, or light struck etc.

Now please don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily believe that fresh is always best when it comes to beer. There are many hoppy beers that balance out with a good, robust malt bill and these ones take a little time for everyone in the bottle or keg to get along optimally.

Clearly though, it appears there is a place in the market for it and I am a little surprised that there haven't been a few more of these special releases around the grounds.

Who do you think would be likely to make such a beer? Ben at Bridge Road? Tim at HopDog? I imagine we'll probably see Tusk again at some stage, so we'll mark Brendan down for one.

Anyway, I've outstayed my welcome here and this post has run down to the ground, so this seems like an opportune time to leave the idea with you.

Adios muchachos.