Category Archives: craft beer goodness

and we have in the red corner, beer – in the blue corner, wine

It seems only fitting that at a pub called The Courthouse one should deliberate upon the merits of both good beer and good wine and so one evening a large contingent of the Australian Beer Writers’ Guild found themselves at The Courthouse in North Melbourne to do just that at the invitation of Scott, the manager and the newly appointed (at the time) head chef Julian Hill.

Now what on earth was a gastropub manager doing, inviting a bunch of self-confessed stinky amber ale lovers to a dinner where there would be wine?! Conversion, of course! Did it work? We’ll see…

I have nothing but deep admiration for wine nerds: there is so much to learn and as much as I would love dearly to be as wine nerdy as I attempt to be beer nerdy (for I also have bucketloads to learn in that area too), the truth is, I’ve no idea where to start. Yes, it is that simple. It also feels more intimidating. It might sound stupid, but this is not a thought process exclusive to foodie-drinkie aspects of my life. I’ve been a classical flute player for half of my life and absolutely terrified of learning jazz because I never felt I mastered classical.

However, as if to ease us in, we were given a canapé that had only a beer match: an ocean trout cornet matched with the Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus. It looked beautiful and tasted delightful and got the table talking excitedly in promise of what was to come.

The first proper course, the entrée, was crumbed pork head with sauce gribiche and remoulade.

It seems any meat on the pig’s head is prized for its porkier-than-usual element and the course was matched with a whopping three beverages: two beers – the Stone and Wood Pacific Ale (formerly known as their Draught Ale) and the Weihenstephaner Kristall Weissbier, a beer from the oldest brewery in the world. The wine chosen was the Max Ferd Richter Brauneberger Juffer riesling from 2008.

To my palate, the best match was the Kristall Weissbier though even that was not entirely perfect: I felt the course needed something along these lines style-wise but more ‘beefed up’. The Stone and Wood beer oddly enough got too hoppy: not usually an issue I would raise with this particular beer as I find it quite fruity and enjoy its passionfruit notes.

For the next course of venison shanks en crepinette with sweet potato and horseradish, it was the same deal – two beers and one wine and left up to us to nominate the one that best matched the course.

The meal had a distinctly French slant to it and this largely reflects what The Courthouse do, both in their dining room menus and the pub fare available in the less formal area.

From left to right we have the Bridge Road Bière de Garde, Three Ravens Dark Alt Noir (a Melbourne microbrewery out in Thornbury!) and the Alpha Box and Dice ‘Enigma’ Barbera-Cabernet Sauvignon blend from 2009.

The liquid match here was no contest: it was the Bière de Garde (god, am I forever jealous I missed out on imbibing this confessed favourite on hand pump at the Tanswell pub in Beechworth. The Three Ravens I had sampled prior to dining and the Barbera-Cabernet Sauvignon I found too rough on my palate. Yes, I emphasise ‘my’ palate and fully disclose that it is not one developed for adequately judging wines.

Usually, French-influenced dining gives you the choice of a cheese or dessert course. Scott and Julian exceeded our expectations by spoiling us with both: to finish, we were treated to ‘textures of chocolate’ and raspberry sorbet. It sounds like a standard dessert but the treatment of chocolate in its various iterations ensured it stayed interesting.

The two beverages served with this were the Hargreaves Hill Abbey Dubbel and the NV Sanchez Romate Cardinal Cisneros Pedro Ximenez, the latter of which won most of the hearts around the table as best suiting dessert.

But Hargreaves Hill was yet to come back to a triumph for the last course of Isle of Mull cheddar, beating the De Bortoli Melba Reserve cabernet sauvignon 1999 vintage with their humble English Special Bitter. I confess I am very partial to a good ESB though I seem to recall that this was one of the pairings that divided the table the most.

The excellent news is that you do not have to be an Australian Beer Writers’ Guild member to come along to such a dinner as the folks at The Courthouse have decided to host one for the general public! Simply head on to The Crafty Pint for booking details – several ABWG members will be there and we’d love to say hello and hear your thoughts on whose alcoholic beverage reigns supreme!

Crafty on the right, Champion of Beer. Chris McNamara on the left, Reformed Wine Nerd ponders his defection to the dark, beery side. Could it be that he is thankful for his defection when beer was named the winner on this very night…?

BYO boxing gloves, shorts and boots in your chosen colour, of course.*

The Courthouse on Urbanspoon

*we encourage responsible drinking. Please don’t brawl. Bruises and the like will hurt when you’ve sobered up.

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an invite for a pint of cider

I’ve never felt comfortable with the decision to accept PR contact because, I don’t know why, it feels a little…dirty – but yes, I have done it (so before you slag me off, I am ‘tainted’, hehe). It feels like a bit of a slippery slope: once you start accepting freebies, at what point do you a) stop because free stuff is ace especially when you’re poor and b) does it impugn on the impartiality of your review of the product or the meal?

This feels like more of a concern in the food blogging world. Not so much for beer blogging: I know beer journalists (yep, journalists, not bloggers) that get free beer – how else are they supposed to review it and make a living? Reviewing and visiting breweries is a time-intensive exercise – and I only do it for fun. I imagine it’d be trickier for those in the biz.

Sadly, I’m not in that journo camp. When brewery owner Nick Strong actually contacted this here humblr blog via our contact form (like whut?! people use our contact form? awesome!) to offer us free Coldstream cider because we didn’t have many cider reviews on the blog, I replied and said that Tristan and I would be happy to visit but would pay our own way, sample the brewery’s wares and report accordingly. This occurred last Sunday.

brewery exterior

First things first. If you want to go to Coldstream Brewery for lunch, you’d best book. I’d erroneously made the mistake of assuming that it’d be perfectly okay for me and Tristan to just swan in sans booking as the owner was expecting us. Strike one Gem. The brewery was absolutely packed. So yes, if you visit, book. Plus, it’s just good manners. Shame on me.

beer pour

After finding an awkward table to sit at, two beer tasting paddles were ordered. Just the thing for frazzled nerves.

tasting selection

From bottom to top: the autumn porter, the chocolate winter ale, the pilsner, the naked ale and lastly the crushed apple cider. Unavailable on tap, as they were seasonal brews were the spring lager and the summer ale though we did pick up a bottle of the latter upon leaving.

We started with the pilsner, which is closest to their ‘draught’ ale. It is very clean, refreshing and sessionable. Next up the naked ale which I’m a fan of – again, very sessionable, flavoursome and well balanced. This is the kind of beer I’d want to buy a six-pack of if I were going round to visit a good mate.

Third in the sequence is the chocolate winter ale, ooh what scrumminess! Surprisingly bitter, or more so than expected but you can definitely taste the chocolate and its scent permeates the beer to the last drop. Do note that the bitterness is not at all unpleasant. Try this while it’s available, it’s lovely!

bottles on the windowsill

Our waitress informed us that this year’s version of the autumn porter was nicer than previous year’s. It was roasty, with burnt coffee notes, a smooth mouthfeel though quite carbonated. Perhaps a tad too thin for a porter? Personal preference, but I would have preferred perhaps less of the burnt notes.

Ah but what of the cider? Coldstream’s cider is made of red apples and no concentrate though the odd green apple sneaks in, cheeky whatsit. The one on tap was the crushed apple cider at 5% ABV (not to be confused with their regular cider) and it was gorgeously clean and clear, bubbly, not too dry or too sweet which made it freaking fantastic.

Now, onto the food. There’s an excellent selection of food but judging from the price of the mains ($25-35), massive. I wasn’t particularly hungry when we arrived so I opted for the caramelised onion, goat cheese and spinach tart with walnut, roquette and pomegranate molasses.

walnut and cheese tart

It was going to be obvious that I’d wallop said entrée above so to bulk that up a bit, I got a side of simple steamed vegetables. It did the trick, providing a substantial meal.

steamed vegetables

Tristan made his life nice and easy and opted for the ol’ faithful parma.

chicken parmigiana

Our Coldstream adventures didn’t end there – we ended up taking home a 750mL bottle of the summer ale (seasonal release), a regular stubby of the original cider (for ‘research’!) which stands at 7% ABV and seems more tart. You can definitely taste the alcoholic content in it and perhaps though I confess I’m sensitive to it, more of that cider sulphurousness was evident and so I prefer the crushed apple cider. We also bought a six-pack of the porter regular which went down a treat. Again, I liked this more than the autumn porter because I felt it had a thicker mouthfeel and just more depth of flavour.

Erm, I may not have any notes on the summer ale, but it was shared liberally between three of us and went down a treat during a True Blood watching marathon. ‘Nuff said.

Coldstream Brewery on Urbanspoon

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just when you thought the Local could serve you no better

I always look forward to Ale Stars sessions at The Local Taphouse. If you’ve been reading the blog long enough you’d see that to be the case for they are sessions of much love, a place where you can talk about mouthfeel and not be verbally stoned, collectively bitch about Untappd being down again (regardless of what flavour of smartphone you have) and avoid ‘characters’ such as the one I am about to describe to you.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a friend’s birthday party dinner. One of her friends seems to derive enjoyment from mentioning how ace he is for being a useful(*subject to individual opinion) law student and shoot down others not in his ‘league’. I managed to cop an earful for very, very discreetly pulling out this gorgeous little beer nerd number to make a record of my drinking habits, the book for which I must thank Dave and Hollie of Innspire and the hipster capital of the world, Portland, Oregon…

33 Bottles of Beer notebook

Should you want to acquire any of these adorable beer-wanky whatsits, you are strongly encouraged to go to the website of the creator with whom I’ve dealt with personally and thoroughly recommend and will continue to keep on dealing. They also have versions of the notebook for cheese, wine, coffee and cigars. Wankers of all persuasions eat your hearts out!

In any case, I digest (my favourite Ali G malapropism of all time and remarkably apt for a food blog). The Local Taphouse continue to service (and protect!) beer nerds not just with the pub’s actual existence, but have now got a new shop next door for some takeaway goodness called The Local BottleStore & Provisions. Upon entering you will most likely see James Smith aproned up. It’s like walking into an old-school smallgoods store.

Though they are now readily available, I still marvel at the notion of BrewDog Punk IPA in cans.

The selection of beer is very well put together – admittedly, I couldn’t help but compare to another favourite purveyor of mine Slowbeer and notice that both will attract me as a consumer as their range combined does not double up much. Sadly, neither venues are particularly close to me but I suspect that will force me to be financially well-behaved…of a fashion.

Behold, the siren song of great beer calls from the fridges.

In that shot, you can also see a mixed 6-pack – there were a few about. Depending on your persuasion (say, if you want very hoppy beers, or porters), you can find a few themed mixed 6-packs thoughtfully put together. Naturally, do not hesitate to talk to James if you need any recommendations or help or information – several folks made use of his knowledge during our too-short sneak peek.

Then there are two consummate accompaniments to any good booze – cured meat and cheese. Do not go into this place if you are depressed and cashed up. You’ll end up poorer having consoled yourself with the culinary equivalent of lipgloss and books (oh, okay, that’s just me). The selection is small and there are very detailed notes about all of these offerings on a board. These folks have done their research! Tasty, tasty research. mmm.

If you want to read about what the owner, Steve Jeffares, has to say about this exciting little add-on, then there’s an article on Oz Brews News and if you’re social media stalky, um, I mean savvy, then check out the The Local Taphouse’s post about the The BottleStore here for contact details. Steve has said to me that they’re not quite finished and that growlers will be available soon – very exciting news! Takeaway fresh beer, yippee! Oh, and no nasties to ‘berate’ you for being an epic beer nerd. We’re all at home here.

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