Tag Archives: Ale Stars

Good Beer Week: roadkill, lesbians and getting intimate with your beer and BrewDogger

I very literally renewed my membership (read: figuratively pulled money out of my nether regions) to Ale Stars for this session – for Good Beer Week, The Local Taphouse brought the one Beer Draw Card To Rule Them All: James Watt from BrewDog, a Scottish brewery that you’ve probably heard of in regards to their high alcohol content ales at the least even if you’re not of a beery persuasion.

Interestingly enough, I don’t remember it being packed to the gills and it being all-out chaos like when Feral’s head brewer Brendan Varis came down though don’t get me wrong – getting an actual seat was serious ‘gig’ strategising (ie. mad dash to a nook with a clear view). You know how these punk/Ke$ha gigs gets. At least, I only needed to listen, Tristan is the one who gets to take the pretty pictures and needs the good view. Ooh-er, maybe we’re at a classical gig then, eh?

James is very upfront about the fact that BrewDog is ‘beer for punks’. Him and Martin, the fellow with whom he started BrewDog in 2007 were homebrewing for four years and with a stroke of luck (and perhaps reputation), Michael Jackson sampled their wares and said, right boys, quit your jobs and start doing this for a living. They approached banks (though James tells that much better than I could ever put it into words), got secondhand equipment and whee, Operation Small Brewery is GO.

I will presume for a moment that most craft beer drinkers will be aware that at present the going is good in terms of education and general palate adventurousness, this is fairly recent. Traditional media is only just starting to feature beer as a topic of epicurean delight (ABWG pres James Smith could confirm this for you as some of his reportage is gaining more prominence), and this is understandable. As with all smaller things, the fanbase can be small and dedicated but how does that translate into, well, profitability? Stupid capitalism and having to eat.

So of course, when BrewDog began, times were Dickensian: it was difficult to get folks to try something that wasn’t made by a larger commercial company and thus, suitably punk, one can imagine having to eat cat food to get by, perhaps literally: in James’ case, taking up stints on a fish trawler.

Before we get onto the beer, some other interesting tidbits: James was initially attracted to craft beer after tasting Cantillon as well as trying the iconic Sierra Nevada pale ale. He also seems to think that the Germans are ‘pesky sausage munchers’ – don’t mention the war, eh?

First beer – the Punk IPA a ‘Post Modern Classic Pale Ale’, accounts for 50% of BrewDog’s sales, the first beer they ever made and is I believe PUNK TO THE CORE. Boiled for ninety minutes, hops are added at the start and end and then post-fermentation. To evil indeed! Don’t toast too loudly lest Mephistopheles hear you.

Before drinking (read: excitedly chugging, whoops) our beers, James asked us to treat our beers with more reverence and give it the greeting ritual a person deserves:

“Hello?” *sniffs* (Nelson Sauvin hops)

“How are you?” *sniffs, swirls* (good, but in want of spicy food, please)

I shan’t bore with the details, but I’ve enjoyed this brew (responsibly, oddly enough) more times than I can remember. Dare say, such times will indeed continue.

The second beer I believe I’ve had the pleasure of having on tap – either at Biero or a growler fill at Slowbeer: the Hardcore IPA, their ‘Explicit Imperial Ale’. This has more malt, hops, bitterness and grunt than the Punk (I’d go Hardcore over Punk anyday).

“Hello?” *sniffs* (Columbus, Centennial, Simcoe)

“How are you?” *sniffs, swirls* (again, I want spicy food please!)

Warm up your beers before tasting them, and to James’ exacting instructions, we did a fair bit of sniffing before taking the initial sip. He was fairly reluctant to admit which of his beery babies he preferred, but he did admit that the Hardcore was the one he drunk most of.

Normally, one would think the third beer reserved for the end of the night, but given these lads are uncharacteristic, we were hit with the Paradox Isle of Arran, a whisky cask aged imperial stout. Not quite as alcoholic as Tokyo, but getting there as a beer you’d share with a (lesbian) mate.

“Hello?” *sniffs* (Gallina appley, peary hoppiness)

“How are you?” *sniffs, swirls* (good, but hand over the 88% Venezuelan cacao, thanks. It’s nightcap time)

This was the beer that beery Jacko had that means we now get to drink BrewDog. Again, having had it before, was surprised that it was drier than when last sampled (at a previous Ale Star session no less). The casks are used to either age Islay or Speyside – am verging on slight preference for Islay due to the peatiness). Incidentally, our dear Shandy has spent a fair bit of time on the Isle of Arran which he says is ‘little Scotland’. Paradox is aged for twelve months in its casks and 10% of the brew is lost to what is apparently called the ‘angel share’.

I rather like that idea, despite my atheism. Just don’t tell Hitchens and we’re all good.

We finished on a red note, are these BrewDog lads trying to tell us they’re rampant commies? Most likely not: one of James’ killer anecdotes related to us how having to answer a questionnaire for a competition regarding the social and ethical responsibilities of the company being “I’m not fucking Mother Teresa” left them banned from some commercial trade European competitions. Oh yes, the beer: we finished with the 5AM Saint, their ‘Iconoclastic Amber Ale’. Unorthodox? Oh yes – though James said their modus operandi is to “offend, upset, alienate”. Another one of their quotes I suspect was Doctor Who-inspired: “the UK beer scene is sick, it needs a fucking doctor”.

The 5AM Saint, is doctorly in that it heals the palate after the ‘beating’ it just took (in the nicest way possible) from the Hardcore and the Paradox at a matronly 25 IBU. So not at all a good deal of bitterness and a fair whack of malt. It’s a great session beer, again, another I’ve drunk a fair bit of.

Of course things weren’t going to end there. Surprise! The IPA is Dead! Long live the IPA! Well, not quite but as a bonus, four new IPA Is Dead beers were handed out to all and sundry (one of which is on tap at the Taphouse, so get thee there to try it!). We got the Nelson Sauvin single hop IPA.

I think the gig punters rather enjoyed themselves, what say you? Having a BrewDog founder down was a bit like seeing a rockstar except I shan’t forget that he skilfully avoided the dog turd, um questions I had for him (and we were allowed general questions) about where the roadkill for the End of History was actually sourced and how he felt about bisexuals (I meant bisexual girls, but I figure given the lesbian pr0n they admitted to ‘viewing’ bi girls are cool).

Well, Radiohead are telling me in ‘Down Is The New Up’ to get myself a (non-alcoholic) drink, so I think I’ll take that advice, and then queue up my fave post-punk band The Fall. Mark E Smith, you’re old, but I’d still throw my panties at you and am sad I didn’t get to when you were last gigging in Melbourne-town.

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Lad(ies) Love LL Cool Lambics

Some of the best classical music composers reuse their best material and not often due to lack of originality. Have you heard how repetitive works like Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ or Allegri’s ‘Miserere’ is?

And so I repeat a claim previously made, not due to any inkling of genius but because that is what this poetaster does best, and that is to recycle. Lambics taste like ladies. Some lambics/ladies taste better than others. Imagine my horror when my father, knowing I was excited to be back in the beery-foodie game said that I could bring back any beery leftovers to share. Shudder. No Dad, you can’t have my ladies and also, lambics are an acquired taste. Dad’s not a big beer drinker at all (he prefers wine) so my concern wasn’t prompted by snobbery but by my own first experience with sour beers.

Brouwerij Boon crate! thanks to Ben at Local Taphouse :)

Both Professor Pilsner and humble Ale Star Tsar Shandy still remember the scrunched-up face of distaste that was lambic virginal Gem. I said to Tris prior to this session that tasting lambics for the first time felt like someone forcibly holding me down and squeezing an entire lemon’s contents into my mouth, wrenched open.

Initially, it was not an experience I was particularly keen on replicating. It should be embarrassing (and they tease me mercilessly about it) but looking back, I’m actually pretty proud of how far my palate has come. Me and lambics are now truly friends. To continue with the overtly sexual conceit (fuck yeah lit nerdery), I can now hide my rude robbed-of-virginity face, though now everyone knows what my (beery…) orgasm face looks like.

Most of the folks at this evening were pretty well informed about sour beers, so this did allow Shandy to get into some more beer-nerd-tech aspects of lambic and its genesis. They are old, and according to our excruciating trivia questions, ‘lambic’ derives from Lembeek, assumed to have given this beer style its name. It also apparently means ‘lime creek’. It would have made my day if it actually meant ‘lemon’ creek given my predilection for the ladies (I can’t believe no one remembers this as slang for lesbian in primary school: showing my age, you say?).

First up, and probably my favourite of the evening was the Cantillon Bruocsella Grand Cru, brewed in Nov 2005 and bottled in Nov 2008 — because I know some of the more…pedantic among us were concerned.

Cantillon Bruocsella Grand Cru

My photographer was off-duty (read: a disorganised whatsit) so I had to resort to the Smartphone of Evil™ for my photos. The light wasn’t great so yes, the using of flash sin was committed this evening, and committed often. However, I had previously enjoyed this beer so have a better photo of it on my Flickr account.

Revisiting this lambic was a remarkably different experience to my first trial of it at the Slowbeer Cantillon showcase: it was smooth, not at all that sour and wine-like, which was actually one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. The beer was kept in a sherry cask hence its less blonde colour and its vinous aromatics. Virtually no carbonation and no head.

For our second beer, we had the privilege of Scott, the main brewer of Bright Brewery introduce his ‘Pinky Framboise’. My beer briefing sheet is absolutely covered in notes about this beer: it’s made with raspberries from a farm local to the brewery and they’d experimented with making a similar one based on wild blackberries! Mmm, wild blackberries…takes me back to visiting my lovely uncle who lived in Hertfordshire and used to let us pick blackberries from his garden to eat. Ah British childhood memories!

Argh, the beer! It wasn’t that tart, with a hint of bitterness that I did not initially attribute to hops, but the hop bitterness become more evident when the beer warmed. The beer was made when raspberries were in season and the one we had on the evening was, by the brewer’s admission, still a little young. Gorgeously fragrant in the best way possible, I think this is a beer to ride cider’s coattails. I really wish it had’ve been the sour beer to break my sour beer virginity.

Scott of Bright Brewery introducing Pinky Framboise

Shandy gracefully stepping out of the limelight...for once

Back to hearing our fave beery Scot talk, the third beer on our list was Brouwerij Boon’s Oude Gueuze.

(image is not mine and comes from UC Davis ChemWiki site)

I added the above image to illustrate how one measures levels of acidity and alkaline/basic substances. Water (roughly) has a pH of 7.

The Oude Gueuze has a pH of 2. That, my friends, makes it a really fucking sour beer and oh boy was it felt! Easily the beer my palate struggled with the most. It was pretty ‘rude’ on the nose and extremely lively on the palate. Ale Stars folks had some great tasting notes for this one: dry concrete, wet cardboard (oxidation), pineapple, sherbet. Beautiful, cream-foam head. Apparently aged in two hundred year old wine barrels (and these dudes have making it since the sixteenth century). Reprazent.

Lastly, a nice bookend to my personal lambic journey — started with a Cantillon I’d had before and ended with another: the Iris. Again, before the sour beer pedants get up in my grill, first things first: Iris’ maturation year is 2007 and any matured in 2007 were bottled in 2009. It’s one of the few unblended lambics that uses fresh hops. Funny that this seemed such shock to the tastebuds (again, at Slowbeer’s Cantillon showcase) but seemed quite, well, natural at this stage. It has a white foamy cottonwool-like head, a very carbonated mouthfeel, with antiseptic and metallic notes – none of those notes being unpleasant. A tad bitter initially not seeming to be hop-driven, but like the Pinky Framboise, once it warms up the bitterness is more evidently hop-related. Still, it’s mouth-puckering but a solid, smooth flavoured sour beer.

Cantillon Iris

Though there are about one hundred different bacteria to be found in lambics, the three main suspects for making lambics the special whatsits that they are are Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and acetic acid bacteria. Erm, don’t read the lacto’s Wiki page too thoroughly…it’s present in some rather yonic places, it would appear. So yes, ‘bad’ bacteria can yield some good things. Unrelated to beer, I learnt just before going to this Ale Stars that sometimes really, really bad bacteria can save lives. In other cases, it can cause mirth within the Australian craft beer community, particularly when an uninvited bacterium gatecrashes. I’m sure Corey Worthington wouldn’t have minded…

Incidentally, even repetitive music when performed consummately is still hair-on-back-of-neck amazing. The same goes with beer, and these beers too. While I’ve had the pleasure of having had both the Cantillons offered at this night before, repeat performances remind you why you fell in love with them in the first place, or give you a chance to have them grow on you. The lambic love groweth and this was reflected by fellow Ale Star members, though given the aceness of Ale Stars in general (no, not myself, I’m a miscreant lapsed member now), it’s not a jot surprising.

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not quite the pub with no beer

Tuesday night last week saw Murray’s Brewing head brewer Shawn Sherlock come to the monthly Ale Stars meet-up at The Local Taphouse. I have to say that I feel Shawn (pictured below, left) was expecting a crowd that would be more…divided in its love over the beer he makes. Not so! He was indeed preaching to the converted.

While Murray himself is not a brewer, he had something of a beer epiphany when he tried a Sierra Nevada pale ale for the first time. Interestingly enough, despite being initially and continually inspired by the US craft brewing scene, the brewery does not use any US ingredients.

A few days ago via The Local Taphouse blog, there was a most tantalising blog post on the 3 Beer Beef Burger. Yes yes, I know it’s not new but I hadn’t had it and had decided I had to eat it before Ale Stars. Peak-hour traffic of course had its own ideas so I was furiously stuffing it down when Shawn was up on the podium. I have to a big-up to Burger Adventure for further encouraging my inner ravening carnivore.

Behold, the 3 Beer Beef Burger in all its glory. A juicy medium-rare pattie with a subtle smokiness and perfect grill lines. Dear god, this thing has battered onion rings in it! Being a teensy lass, I had to eat mine with a knife and fork, incurring the ridicule of Tristan and my dear beer chum Jourdan. And the chips and mayo! Yeah, it’s a rad burger. The only gripe I had was I did have to discreetly spit out a few chunks of gristle but I can forgive. It’s worth taking your non-beer nerd mates to The Local for this burger, as well as many other delish items on the menu.

murray's ale stars

It was fab to see The Crafty Pint in attendance and if you don’t know who he is or what is site is about and you’re a beer-lover, you have your head under a…keg! I may never recover from having him introduce me to Die Antwoord and their ‘Evil Boy’ video clip (please note: not for prudes or those in the workplace). It has to be the most…inventive protest on African tribal circumcision I’ve ever seen.

Did I mention ‘Crafty’ (as he is affectionately called and also because there are many Jameses in the world) was kind enough to interview me for his site? There’s only a few days left, but it was pretty cool to be nominated October’s blog of the month!

I haven’t forgotten about the beer, promise. I’m taking a cue out of our beloved beer stalwart (I did say I’d quit with the ‘old man’ digs!) Prof Pilsner’s book and keep the beer nerdiness out of my Ale Stars posts from now on. Let’s see if I can keep my impressions on the beers brief, shall we?

Murray’s Punch & Judy ale – is this really 3.9%?!?!? Made in the style of an English bitter (though Murray’s Brewing is very clear that they brew to taste and use style as a guideline), this is an amazingly flavoursome beer. Sadly a seasonal – great shame given that it screams to be drunk by the multiple pint. There were whispers it may become permanent which would be freaking fantastic.

Murray’s Angry Man – who is the angry man in question (it was hinted at, but never uttered)? Don’t we all have an angry man within? Well yes, we do, as soon as we’ve imbibed this American brown ale (again, just a guide, not brewed to the letter). Shawn named this as his personal session beer. It’s late hopped and the crystal malts give it its brown colour along with the malty caramel flavour. Yum!

This is Jourdan’s Tristan-please-stop-taking-multiple-shots-it’s-hard-work-looking-fabulous face. With a glass of beer, natch.

Murray’s Grand Cru – a Belgian-style tripel/golden strong ale hybrid. I found this one very hard to define in terms of taste, but it was my least favourite. Not at all a criticism on the brewers or the brewery: it’s just not a style I really get excited about, probably because of the sweetness. It looks beautiful though – clear, gold colour with a thin to medium body. Fairly hefty too at 8.8% ABV. Shawn said it’s one of his favourites.

Murray’s Icon 2IPA – good god, if you want hops, you got hops with this beer. Some notes of citrus and pepper cut through the bitterness. The thing I am really beginning to appreciate is that an intensely hopped beer does not necessarily equal the sort of bitterness that makes you screw up your face. Shame that the brewery can only brew half batches of this.

Despite it not being available, there was considerable discussion about their Heart of Darkness stout. I confess I may have heckled Shawn a bit (not being able to let go of an opportunity to unite my new-found love of craft beer with an older love for modernist literature). I really do wish they had’ve put ‘the horror, the horror’ on the labels! Sorry about the heckling, Shawn! And no, you’re not really a dickhead if you don’t like it. The owner Murray said that for the lolz. A few of us Ale Stars mentioned that we felt it had got smoother and a tad sweeter a month after being in the keg. It was pretty bold when fresh, but I’ve discussed this all before at a previous Ale Stars session.

One last beer! The Murray’s crew were super-kind and aside from giving us extra Grand Cru, we were treated to Spartacus imperial IPA! I’d previously paid an exorbitant sum (I felt) for a goblet of it at Beer Deluxe but it was nice to revisit – it seemed more floral and less sweet than on initial tasting.

Before I shut up, I’d just like to add that this was probably one of my favourite Ale Stars sessions in terms of beers offered. It was ridiculously difficult to choose which beer I preferred overall – they all cater for different sorts of beer-drinking sessions. In some ways it would be like choosing which child you love more.

As always, you can read an account of this fabulous Ale Stars session on The Local Taphouse’s blog with Jimmy’s pretty pictures. Included therein is a link to Prof’s post – he’s a speedy man and always gets his posts up before me.

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