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.