I don’t know about you, but beer tastings are not as common as wine tastings and the like!
However, Melbourne does seem blessed in that there are places you can go to learn more about beer and sample the wares of microbreweries, which are, admittedly, quite fashionable at the moment. I most definitely don’t have any problem with microbreweries and their products being fashionable of late as their produce is often fantastic and just as delicious as a good wine.
This was what led me to The Local Taphouse in St Kilda, on Carlisle St. I’d heard a fair bit about how they serve awesome beers on tap, and they tend to rotate what they have on tap fairly regularly too.
They also have a monthly event called Ale Stars. You pay $30 and are treated to generous tastes of four or so beers, with pizza for the evening. Usually the nights have a theme. Tonight’s theme was, rightly, festive ales.
The night is really informal, though you do get treated to someone guiding you through the beers on offer. Because our table was the made up of newbies, we got a bell to ring, in case we wanted further info on something, or if the room was getting too rowdy. As I remarked to one friend on my table, the crowd was like the beer version of the Stonecutters (obligatory Simpsons ref).
First up for tasting, the Meantime London (as in Greenwich, London) High Saison. This is what the peasants used to drink after working the fields, probably more applicable to Europe. It was also their payment. Aside from the unfairness of feudalism, what lucky bastards.
This was quite a subtle ale, and reminded me a bit of a wheat beer. I’ve previously tried the Meantime IPA (India Pale Ale) and found the High Saison more to my liking. It’s very refreshing and clean on the palate.
Next up, the Red Oak Christmas ale.
(sorry it’s so blurry, I was taking photos as quickly as I possibly could). For me, this was like a savoury version of Christmas pudding – so you have all the associated spices of that pudding, except that it wasn’t all that sweet. This was probably my least favourite.
Thirdly, we had the Red Hill Christmas ale. Apparently, this is a difficult beer to make and we had the benefit of one of the brewers and part-owners of the Red Hill Brewery come and talk us through the beer. Extremely informative and tantalising. All Ale Stars participants got to take home a bottle of this gratis which was pretty bloody ace. Cheers guys!
I’d had this beer before: in late October, I had the pleasure of going to the Red Hill Brewery and tried the Christmas ale 2008 vintage which I found to be sweeter than this year’s version. I preferred this year’s incarnation because it’s less sweet and still very nommy. Not sure what I’ll drink my takeaway bottle of it with food-wise just yet, but intend to save it for something a bit special.
The brewer even passed around a sample of some of the hops that went to making this beer. They smell just like marijuana which isn’t really all that unusual, given that hops and the ganja are actually in the same family.
Last of all, the ‘manliest’ of the lot, the Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve.
Why ‘manly’? To my tongue (and in case you’re wondering, I am female), beers that are very hop-heavy are always extremely bitter. I’m embracing them a bit more of late, but even a year ago, it tasted utterly vile to me. Once you get past the bitterness, hoppy beers are actually really refreshing – seriously, on a cruelly hot day, try something like…a pilsener. Just thinking about it now is making me crave it for the the sense of refreshment it brings.
Two of the more beer savvy lads on my table loved this – one, L, a homebrewer, and T. I must confess that the bitterness did get in the way for me. I couldn’t enjoy it on the same level as they did. Alas, I do belong to the weaker sex after all.
I absolutely loved my first Ale Stars night and am considering becoming a member – for $300 a year, you get your own shirt, an engraved tankard, and a gorgeous old-fashioned wooden locker to keep it in. Oh, yeah, and you get to try and learn about ace beer and spend an evening with some pretty friendly folk. Two of the lesser beer-nuts in our party seemed to enjoy themselves, which I think is testament to the fact that you don’t need to know anything about beer to come (though trivia will well and truly humiliate you!), just some enthusiasm.
Look forward to the next Ale Stars session! See more bad photos…
Edit: my only reader, most likely, has pointed out to me that I didn’t actually describe what the darker Christmas ales were like. My bad. The Red Oak and Red Hill Christmas ales are dark ales (reader has pointed out that one might even be a dark lager). So not as hearty and burnt-coffee like, like porters (I love porters!) which is a pretty flavoursome beer style. To me these ales were really dark, spicy (and sometimes herby) dark-coloured ales.