Tag Archives: Ale Stars

ambassadors for the (largely) amber ale

Three men. Twenty (or so) breweries. One apparently large but generous Mexican.

Tom of Mountain Goat fame and Barney and Miro from Beer Deluxe planned a trip to the States, the sole purpose being to sample the best of what the US could throw at these men, from the very lively craft beer scene.

Last Ale Stars we were treated to a slideshow to see where the lads got about to.

By some fluke of nature, I’d got there early on the night and had the good luck to chat to Tom just before the crowd was let into the front bar. He’d said to me that before beer (was there ever a time before?! hehe), he didn’t really have much interest in visiting the States. I nodded in agreement.

Here’s Tom posing as a confident informant with big cans…oh alright then. Those are actually massive brew tanks in the background.

ale stars - beer ambassadors

Inspired by their journey, the beer was chosen to focus on breweries the trio had got to visit.

ale stars - beer ambassadors

(Miro telling the story of the very large Mexican fellow who could have killed him, but provided him with consummate hospitality…overnight)

The nibblies on the night were not going to enough for me, so based upon Mel’s recommendation, I shared the gnocchi on the bar menu with Tris. It did not survive long. RIP gnocchi, we never knew you.

ale stars - beer ambassadors

Tristan took gorgeous photos of the beers sampled on the night but I thought I might just include the photo of all the pretty bottles from which the beer came and include my notes.

Ale Stars Sep 2010 beer lineup

Lagunitas ‘A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin” Ale – the group seemed pretty passionately divided on this one: either it was love, or hate. I personally loved it – didn’t taste like it had 7.3% ABV. A little too chuggable! It uses a mixture of German, European and US hops and softened with wheat to add a ‘bready’ character. The Lagunitas brewery is apparently the size as that of Little Creatures. It also has an infamous car park. I’d say this is a nice entry to hoppy beer.

Avery India Pale Ale – an American IPA. I don’t seem to have many notes on this except ‘very, very bitter’. This is very much in keeping with the West Coast IPA aesthetic as they favour hop flavour over malt. Didn’t quite have as much depth as the first beer sampled though it is possible I just wasn’t used to the bitterness. Been a long time since I had a beer I felt was too bitter for me!

Avery ‘Salvation’ – a collaboration brew with Russian River after realising that both breweries had a beer that had the same name. Rather than have one brewery pull their beer, both blended their ‘Salvations’ and thus we have the result here. Beer is love, folks! This is quite an alcoholic drop at 9% ABV and it’s obvious in the taste, and a little warming. Quite fragrant too.

Left Hand Milk Stout – a bit of a softie as far as stouts are concerned, due to the addition of lactose powder, and not milk. These milk stouts are very, very smooth and silky on the palate. Very aromatic but as far as stouts go, a little thin for my liking. I need to stop drinking those extreme beers perhaps!

It was fantastic to live vicariously (and perhaps with healthier livers!) through our Beer Ambassadors, and wonderful of them to regale us with their tales of beery derring-do. You can read their chronicles on their blog. Naturally, you can read Prof Pilsner’s account (he always gets them up lightning-fast!) and also our beloved Local Taphouse’s too.

Feel free to sift through Tristan’s photos below.

Shandy has one final word for you – make your choice: Jesus or hell?

ale stars - beer ambassadors

dark and mysterious stouts

Confession: even though I really like Tuesdays, for some reason it’s a miserable effort to get to Ale Stars. By the time I arrive, fake smile firmly plastered on for the benefit of acquaintances, I’m stressed, tired and on occasion actually pretty depressed. Maybe it’s the mad dash to get to the Local Taphouse during peak hour traffic?

In any case, it’s not so bad, once you find yourself at the familiarly lit board with the ever-changing beer list. The contemplation begins: which should I start with? Which ones do I need to avoid because they’re part of the night’s tasting? Which ones have I never ever tried before?


Genuinely friendly faces at the bar, pleasantries are exchanged. The day’s disappointment and stresses are gradually erased. I know Shandy feels like people come for the ‘rock stars’ of the craft beer scene, that being when brewers come to visit, but I love the smaller sessions too – more intimate, less rowdy (perhaps…) and easier to chat to other members.

It is possible too that there were those who were scared into attending because this session was devoted to stouts, apparently ‘dark and mysterious’ ones at that. Indeed, some Shandy had no notes for and so the moniker is somewhat appropriate, like the first beer, the Indian Ocean Brewing Company’s vanilla milk stout. It was beautiful – smooth, slightly sweet due to the lactose but still subtle. Doesn’t have the pronounced roasty characteristics some stouts are known for. I may have maligned this as a ‘girlie’ stout but it isn’t really. It’s just gentle is all.


Second beer on the list – HaandBryggeriet’s Dark Force, an imperial wheat stout. Wheat stout, you say? Yep, I don’t believe it myself. It was bready but smelt of dark chocolate, roasted malt and a hint of whisky, the latter being due to being in whisky-soaked barrels. I’m confused however – my notes say it was bottle conditioned? A very alcoholic drop.


We jump back to Australia to a stout du jour and one previously imbibed at the Local Taphouse – Murray’s Heart of Darkness, a Russian imperial stout. Mistah Kurtz, he dead! Holy cow – what a changed beast this is – it’s much sweeter and smoother than it was but a month ago. I think I preferred its first incarnation which was much more aggressive. It seems a little more bitter too. If I had to personify this beer, I’d say it’s King Kong after attending finishing school (I’ve been watching Little Dorrit of late and thinking of how no amount of tutelage could…’refine’ Fanny Dorrit, the sister of the main female protagonist). It was good to get confirmation from fellow beer nerds about HoD’s change too, so as to confirm it wasn’t just my dodgy palate.


The last one in the lineup was one I’d had the pleasure of imbibing a while back and was made available for the SpecTAPular – Dieu du Ciel’s! Péché Mortel. Cor blimey. Heaviest mouthfeel of any of the stouts in this session, with hardly any carbonation and the infusion of coffee. Dark as sin.

A couple of pointers on stouts: you have to let them warm up so that their flavours become more evident. Don’t drink them cold! Also, as our dear Ale Czar instructed us, don’t be afraid to ‘arouse’ the beer – swirl it around in your glass like the beer-tasting wankster you are. Arousing the beer may lead to arousal of tastebuds which could then lead to…you get the picture.

Very, very briefly, I also got to try some wheat beers just before Ale Stars started. My dear fellow Ale Star Mel got a tankard of the Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier. HOLY FUCK. You know that Plato theory about forms (that which I shall attempt to appropriate and bastardise in 3…2…1…)? How we have in our heads an idea of what a chair is? Well, now when I think ‘wheat beer’, I shall forever have Weihenstephaner’s one in my head. So freaking awesome.

In the meantime, I had to nurse my Bilboquet l’Archange (a hefeweizen) because I’d not tried any of the brewery’s beer at the SpecTAPular. It was quite a sweet example of a wheat beer. Needless to say, after drinking the One (Wheat Beer) to Rule Them All, drinking this was like being given Cadbury chocolate straight after the 85% cocoa content stuff.


The nibblies were as usual at an excellent standard, and Tristan (Ale Star member #50!) and I shared a bowl of mussels from the bar menu. It pains me to say that they were pretty disappointing. The bread was delicious, but the mussels did not smell nor taste fresh. Alas, no amount of tomato and chilli can mask that (though they did try…). I really should make the effort to get to the Local Taphouse early and just dine upstairs where the food is much, much nicer.

happy second birthday, Ale Stars!

While Ale Stars was celebrating its second birthday, the French restaurant Embrasse in Carlton was having a dinner to introduce Melburnian diners to horsemeat. I really, really wanted to try horsemeat ever since my French friend Seb told me it’s actually pretty popular in France and other parts of Europe. Thanks to some death-threat jerks, Nic Poelaert (Embrasse’s chef) will not ever be serving it again.


Claire of Melbourne Gastronome jokingly chastised me via the Twitters for attending a beer tasting in favour of sampling horsemeat (yes Claire, I am horrendously jealous but eagerly await your report!), arguing that beer tastings were commonplace. Indeed perhaps now, but this wasn’t always the case.

Two years ago, a group of eight people were assembled at a table for the first of what would become monthly beer tasting sessions at The Local Taphouse in St Kilda. Even in the short time I’ve been attending (since December last year), the sessions have grown in popularity. This was definitely evident on this particular evening. The Taphouse even managed to sign its fiftieth member! The large attendance may have had something to do with Richmond-based Mountain Goat Brewery coming along to help with the celebrations too.


(pictured above, Jayne Lewis the head brewer, and Dave Bonington the co-founder)

Before the festivities, we were extremely fortunate to have Barry Cranston, who jointly won Australian Homebrewer of the Year. The Goat website explains what his prize was…

So not only did Barry sit down and chat to us about his story, he also brought some of his brew to share – the Two Champs Kolsch. It’s really inspiring to hear that the humble homebrewer can go pro (not himself but he cited examples of microbrewers who started off as homebrewers), if they want, provided they’re good enough!

The kolsch originated in Cologne, Germany. This particular example of it is 4.7% ABV and good for a session of drinking. It had very little scent and was slightly bitter. It was supposed to be fruity but I couldn’t detect that (I was coming down with a cold, drat). Great beer to start the night with!


I got a bit caught up in the festivities, I confess: looking through my poor photos, I can’t quite tell which beer is which. So from this point on, you’ll have to rely upon my boring notes with no over-exposed photo. Have a photo of Shandy being Scotland’s first ever rapper instead. He’s smiling because this is probably before he lost his phone…


Second beer of the evening was the Mountain Goat Dunkelweiss – a hefeweisen. The malt gives it chocolate characteristics and the esters give off the scent and taste of banana. Not my favourite for the evening – I think the weather needs to be hot for me to really enjoy wheat beer. Get the hint Melbourne and warm up a bit, eh?


A lovely shot of the bar, courtesy of Tris. That’s glasses being filled for the benefit of the Ale Stars present. The beer could be one of two beers served, the next of which in our tasting was the Mountain Goat Richard III Doppelbock. This beer was brewed in conjunction with Richard of the Wig and Pen Brewery in Canberra. The hops are there for structure and it’s largely a strong malty lager. Pretty alcoholic at 7.4% ABV with notes of caramel and toffee. YUM. This was probably my favourite for the evening.

Though to be fair, comparing the last beer, the Double IPA, is really like comparing apples and oranges. It’s hop heaven, having Galaxy, Cascade and Riwaka hops. It’s also dry hopped. Despite having 65 IBU and having 2.5g of hop pellets and flowers per litre, it was sweet!

I couldn’t leave without trying the much fêted Heart of Darkness stout by Murray’s Brewing. Apparently, the head brewer has said that anyone who doesn’t like this beer is a dickhead. As far as I’m concerned, the fact that it harkens back to my modernist lit obsessive days and happens to be beer makes it a winner in my book. I’m not sure if it’s still available at the Taphouse, but you could also try sampling it at Beer Deluxe in the city. My friend Anthony had a glass of it with me and he’s not a big beer drinker and he seemed to really like it. Good thing, or he’d be a dickhead, haha.

Murray's Heart of Darkness

A fellow Ale Star introduced my mate Anthony to the concept of the ‘tweenie’ and we found ourselves with pints of Little Creatures brown ale. My enthusiasm for both the Little Creatures pale and bright ale has waned, but you know, the brown ale ain’t half bad!

I don’t do really do the ‘Ale Stars is love’ posts quite as well as Prof Pilsner (whose report you can read here). Selfishly, my Ale Stars posts have always been about my personal beer journey – of learning and discovery. I owe so much of my education and curiosity to Ale Stars sessions. So glad to be part of the family!