Feedback for the Hottest 100 Beers

Major kudos to Guy, Steve and the team at the Local Taphouse for organising the Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beer poll.

It is a great event that promotes craft beer across Australia.

Well done and thank you.

Hottest 100

 

Nothing else to see here, go about your business as normal.

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When to use the #spitbucket

Those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I attend a number of regular events; Alestars at the Local Taphouse, any tasting by Sommeliers Australia and one that I talk about the most – #spitbucket.

cloudy bucket

#spitbuckets are regular wine dinners with ever changing subjects, fantastic guest hosts, some great wine, great food and great people which are live shared across social media, especially Twitter. They are the brain-child of Poppy Gresson (@poppygresson,) starting in 2011 as a promotion for Darling Harbour’s Coast Restaurant where she was General Manager. Poppy left Coast last year and set up her own event management company, Pop Events and reinvented #spitbucket.

Themes over the last nine months have included New South Wales wines, biodynamic wines, natural wine, sparkling wines and the Hunter Valley Wine Show trophy winners along with an incredible #whiskybucket. Around ten wines are supplied by social media savvy wineries each night and are always high quality and interesting. Wines are served in brackets of two or three usually similar styles or different vintages of the same wine.

champagne bucket

A number of venues are used with MuMu Grill in Crows Nest the most regular. Craig Macindoe at MuMu is certainly generous when it comes to food and expertly matches the courses with each brackets of wine. Fix St James is another regular venue and it goes without saying that the matches are spot on (oddly enough Stuart Knox from Fix has hosted a few #spitbuckets but never at Fix itself.) Great wines and food make #spitbucket excellent value for around $70.

It’s never a room full of people staring at their phones, the nights become pretty rowdy with plenty of interaction. The guest hosts are always knowledgable but have a lot of fun with it. Patrick Haddock recently hosted for an entire night in his Beer Spills, Wine Survivalist character. Winemakers who are not in the room interact with the attendees across social media, which adds a great twist to the event, answering question and often pushing to find out how their wine fared against the others.   

christmas bucket

Spectacular wines at the #christmasbucket sparkling wine event hosted by @poppygresson and @beerspills.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Bowell @jezzster

Poppy has a lot of events planned for 2014 including Summer of Riesling at Fix St James next week and #chardonnaybucket in early February. I’ve heard rumours of a #rumbucket which sounds a little dangerous. The dinners are limited to 24 guests and always sell out. Follow @pop_events on Twitter so that you don’t miss out.

#spitbuckets are a great example of how both drinking wine and social media are supposed to be fun. I’d heartily recommend them to anyone.

2013 The Year in Beer

The start of 2014 means that it’s time to look back on 2013 in order to vote for my favourite beers of the year for the Local Taphouse’s Hottest 100 Beers competition. Looking at the hundreds of beers available to vote for and how difficult it is to narrow down a top five it’s clear that 2013 was very simply the best year in beer ever.

Hottest 100

Vote here http://www.brewsnews.com.au/vote-for-australias-hottest-100-beers/

Sure there were a few beers and brewers that disappointed but that’s been the case every year that I can remember. For every brewer that made a whole bunch of uninspiring beers there was another pushing the envelope.  While more and more exciting imports hit our shores, I doubt that I would change my top five if imports were allowed.

Judging by my choices, it seems that envelope pushing sits well with me when I score beers. My criteria was pretty simple. Look back at the highest rated beers that I checked in last year on the Untappd app and decide which ones I would go out of my way to try again. This perhaps gave an unfair advantage to difficult to find beers and pushed “my go” to session beer, Stone and Wood Pacific out of the running. I don’t think they’ll miss my vote.

I didn’t deliberately try to only have one beer from any single brewer although I could easily have had multiple entries from any of these brewers, and a few others.

5. Dennis Beer Co. Rocket Science Mad Hatter IPA.

There are a lot of new local brewers that have kept me happy this year. Every beer from Riverside has been superb. HopDog has a whole bunch of exciting beers. Wayward, Grifter and Dennis have proven that you don’t need to own a brewery to make great beers. I’ve enjoyed all of the Dennis beers and this was my favourite, fruity and easy to drink with tea leaves adding extra lift and freshness that hides a reasonably high alcohol content. New Zealand’s Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta was the original tea-leaf IPA and is spectacular, the Mad Hatter sits happily beside it.

mad hatter

4. BrewCult Supa Fly Rye IPA

I seem to like the addition of a bit of rye in beers, it seems to help balance beers with plenty of hops and gives a little bit of a toasty aftertaste. Mountain Goat Rare Breed Rye and HopDog Horns Up were a couple of my highest rating beers of the year but this one pips them. BrewCult’s Steve “Hendo” Henderson has made four beers so far and each one could make anyone’s top 5.

3. Bridge Road Chevalier Saison.

The only beer to appear in my top five that was there last year this is simply a superb beer and still the best Australian saison. It is the pinnacle of beers to match with food. There are plenty of other 5 star Bridge Road beers that I had this year that could have been on the list including the India Saison, Bling Bling Double IPA, Dark Harvest, B2 Bomber and the spectacular Aurora Borealis.

2. Two Metre Tall Original Soured Ale

sour

There is no doubt that Two Metre Tall’s Ashley Huntington is a passionate man. The former winemaker and full time farmer makes some serious beers in the Derwent Valley, Tasmania. I tasted the Original Soured and Sour Cherry Ales on the first day of Sydney Craft Beer week and they remained the best beers I had over the 8 days (I had a lot of beers that week.) The Soured Ale is barrel aged for three years and is easily the best lambic style beer that I’ve had outside Belgium.

1. Doctor’s Orders Cephalopod.

cephalopod

This was the one beer that I went back to every time I heard that it had been tapped. The concept was a black Berliner Weisse using squid ink to colour it. Of course it was a different colour every time, ranging from grey to turquoise and every shade in between (I did try it a lot.) The taste was superb, a bit of lemon tartness and a rich texture. It surprised and delighted. Doc is currently brewing another take on the Berliner Weisse style although it’s hard to imagine that it would be better than this. I will go out of my way to drink it of course.

Brewery of the Year – Riverside Brewing Company

Special mention has to go to Parramatta’s Riverside Brewing Company which in its short history has never put a foot wrong. Every one of their beers has been superb and the 44 Amber is the best amber ale that I have tasted. Brewer Dave Padden will go down in Australian brewing history as a man who perfectly understands hops and isn’t afraid to include as many as possible in his beers.

riversideDave Padden enjoying pouring us his beers

One thing is for sure though, 2014 will be an even better year for beer. New brewers will appear, the number of craft beer outlets will continue to expand and the envelope pushers will push even harder.

Bring it on.

Real Ale in Sydney

I thought I should summarise the list of pubs with handpumps in Sydney. Remember they might not always meet the Campaign for Real Ale’s definitions of Real Ale but they all pump some splendid beers.

If you are only heading there because of the handpumps you should double check before going to ANY of them.

A fuller version of this can be found here https://beerwinebeer.com/2013/03/10/fistpumps-for-handpumps/

Harts Pub, the Rocks – two handpumps usually both running, sometimes one with cider, Rocks beers plus regular guests

Union Hotel, Newtown – two handpumps usually both running, Young Henrys and Murrays beers plus others

Royal Albert, Surry Hills – two handpumps usually both running, Young Henrys and Murrays beers plus others

4 Pines, Manly – one handpump, pretty regular but check ahead, officially real ale

Rubber Duckie Taphouse, Manly (previously Murrays at Manly) – two handpumps usually both running, Murrays beers

Flat Rock Beer Cafe, Naremburn – two handpumps, usully at least one running, beers brewed on premise

Young Henrys Brewery, Newtown – two handpumps, beers brewed on premises

Local Taphouse, Darlinghurst – one handpump, rotating guest beers (Australian Brewery, Riverside Brewery so far)

The Duck Inn, Chippendale – one handpump, Rocks beer, sometimes cider

Quarrymans, Pyrmont – two handpumps, one in use most of the time, Young Henrys beer so far

Petersham Bowling Club – one handpump, Young Henrys beer so far

Lord Dudley, Woolhara – one handpump, beers from the Badlands Brewery

Mojo Record Bar, City – one handpump, Young Henrys beer, only available Friday night and sometimes Saturday, check ahead

Redoak, City – one handpump, only occassionaly used, check before heading there although the other beers are worth a visit anyway

Bellvue Hotel, Paddington – real ale night every last Friday of the month with St Peters beer

Outside Sydney

Wig and Pen, Canberra – 6 handpumps with all beers brewed on premise

Albion Hotel, Newcastle – 2 handpumps, constantly changing beers

Grain Store, Newxastle – one handpump, Young Henrys and Murrays beers so far

Hunter Beer Co at Potters Hotel, Nalbuka, Hunter Valley – one handpump, only at weekends, beers brewed on premise

Let me know if you spot more handpumps in action in NSW (@wilsonscec on twitter or wawilson1969@bigpond.com)

My (Not Really) Near Death Extreme Beer Experience

When I see guys dressed up in Red Bull costumes jumping out of hot air balloons or walking a tightrope across the Grand Canyon I usually think “what an idiot.” Risking your life or serious injury for your hobby is just a little bit over the top.

I’m allergic to seafood, so when a local brewery in conjunction with one of my favourite beer websites brought out a beer made with oysters and mussels I didn’t plan to taste it. To be up front it wouldn’t kill me, the allergy is very unpleasant but not anaphylactic. But would I really want to go through it just to taste a beer…

Well, maybe…

Epi Pen at the Ready

Epi-Pen at the Ready

Murray’s and the Crafty Pint’s Auld Bulgin’ Boysterous Bicep has been getting some pretty good feedback. It first appeared at last year’s Beervana as part of a brewery and media collaboration competition. It won the competition by a long way. A blackboard with the judges scores showed almost unanimous perfect marks.

It sure sounded like my kind of beer. A 10% smoked Belgian stout with 200 Port Stephens oysters, 200 blue mussels and 200 green-lipped mussels. Well certainly the 10% smoked Belgian stout part sounded like my kind of beer. The rest I could probably do without.

bicep 1

Wish me luck

On the nose the smoke dominates with hints of coffee and chocolate. A hint of iodine with the smoke makes me think of  of Islay Whisky and I’m reminded of the Ayrshire coast where I spent many summer holidays in my youth. The taste is heavier than expected with thick treacle and rum and raisin Old Jamaica chocolate. To finish there is dry tobacco, a touch of salt, coffee and a quite fresh, lingering orange peel bitterness.

The beer is smooth and complex and every sip reveals more character. Every sip to the bottom of the glass. At some point I obviously decided that quality of the beer was worth the risk to my health. I could have just had a sip or two, made the tasting notes and hoped for the best, instead I downed every last drop.

bicep 3

So a couple of hours later and apart from feeling a bit itchy I’ve not had much of a reaction. It’s difficult to pinpoint any seafood character to the beer and I don’t think that I’m the only person happy with that. The beer is superb, a full bodied and full flavoured Imperial Stout that is worth seeking out. Kudos have to go to Shawn Sherlock at Murray’s and James Smith of the Crafty Pint.

I guess now I’m going to have to try Young Henry’s latest seafood beer, the brilliantly named Mother Shucka Oyster Stout…

Crown Lager Drinkers, Your Dark Overlords are Trying to Tell You Something

There was a fair amount of discussion last week regarding the re-launch of Crown Lager. It mainly centred on the way that the Carlton and United marketing team were now telling us that the beer which has always been made using the finest ingredients was now being made with… better ingredients. The best was now, umm, bester.

I’ve long been immune to marketing from large brewing companies. Marketing executives receive a lot of money to convince us that one identical tasting beer is better than the next. The product in the glass is what’s most important to me, certainly not the image.

Crown Lager is all about the image. For decades “city types” have been quenching their thirsts on Friday afternoons with Crown Lager. The beer was one of the first in Australia that was drunk straight from the bottle instead of from a glass. It was a “premium” product, sold only in bottles, never from a tap like those inferior beers from the same brewery. That tasted the same.  The brown bottle with gold label around the neck was instantly recognisable and identified the drinker as someone who was happy to pay more for his beer. 

Whenever that image is changed it’s big news and the new finer than finest ingredients also come with updated packaging. The word Crown is now written up the neck of the bottle rather than on the horizontal. The thing is I’m not sure that it says the word Crown. I’m pretty sure that it says CLOWN.

New Crown Lager Bottle

Is someone at CUB trying to take the mickey out of drinkers that still think that it’s cool to pose with a bottle of overpriced beer? Perhaps a craft beer swilling graphic designer has pulled a swift one on his big brewery employers. If the beer you drink says a lot about you then this one seems to want to call you a clown.  

It reminds me of a story that I was told when I first worked in pubs in Scotland in the late 1980’s. This was in the days that beer bottles were returned back to the brewery and kept in plastic crates. Newcastle Brown Ale was popular with young drinkers who would drink it straight from the clear glass pint sized bottle, much to the disgust of “proper” beer drinkers. Allegedly the delivery men from Scottish and Newcastle Breweries would climb on top of the pallets of beer crates and unrinate over them. We made sure that every bottle we sold was wiped clean.

beer-crates_670293n

Just exactly what is this guy up to?

If you do want to drink Clown themed beer I would recommend trying Clown Shoes from the United States.  They’re pretty gimmiky as well, though perhaps they don’t take themselves quite as seriously as CUB. I had some of their Tramp Stamp Belgian IPA last week and it was superb.

clown-shoes-beer-logo-new

Clown Shoes – the preferred footware of CUB marketers

Getting Stoned in Byron

I was lucky enough to visit the Stone and Wood Brewery in Byron Bay recently and came away feeling pretty damn good about the beer industry in Australia.

stone and wood logo

Most of you will probably be surprised that I had some concerns about visiting. Their beers are consistently fantastic and receive rave reviews. Stone and Wood Pacific Ale is easily one of my favourite beers and has been a game changer for Australian beer. The thing was I always looked at them as being a bit too “big business” for my liking. I like to visit the little guys, struggling to support their families while focussing on the quality of beer. I’d never thought that Stone and Wood fitted into this category.

Three successful young men founded Stone and Wood in 2008, giving up some senior big business positions to do so. Brad Rogers and Ross Jurisich worked for Matilda Bay, the “craft” beer arm of Foster’s as Head Brewer and National Sales Manager respectively. Jamie Cook was one of Australia’s top beverage marketing men, a director at Dig Marketing, one time Head of Marketing for Foster’s wine division and previously the General Manager of Matilda Bay.

Stone Wood 3

Don’t ask

Around fifteen years ago I was on a holiday to Queensland’s Gold Coast and I dragged my wife to the Sanctuary Cove Brewery which was part of the Fosters owned Tankstream group of brewpubs that included the Sail and Anchor in Perth and the Pumphouse in Sydney. The young brewer showed us around and when it came to tasting he steered me away from the “Cane Toad Beer” towards a new beer that he had come up with called Alpha Pale Ale. He described it as a US style pale with plenty of alpha acids, hence the name.

This was an epiphany beer for me in Australia, the first time that I thought that we could make really great beer here. While the brewpub would go through a few name changes and eventually close down, the young brewer, Brad Rogers, was destined for some big things. He took Alpha Pale Ale with him to Matilda Bay along with Beez Neez and now in addition to his role at Stone and Wood he is the Chief Judge for the Australian International Beer Awards and the chairman of the Craft Brewers Industry Association. 

When I first tried Stone and Wood Pacific Ale (or Draught Ale as it was called at the time) I hadn’t been impressed. Dirty beer lines had dulled the flavours making it seem like just another Coopers Pale Ale clone. I was hooked after my next taste though, the tropical fruit aroma from the Galaxy hops was amazing, with passionfruit bursting from the glass. Stone and Wood was a sure thing to be a big success and the price of Galaxy hops was about to go through the roof.

To build business they had partnered with Little Creatures. This gave them access to national distribution and a bit of capital. A lot of beer lovers were concerned when Little Creatures was swallowed by Lion Breweries last year and fortunately Stone and Wood were in a good enough position to buy back the 20% of the business Little Creatures owned. They received a lot of kudos from the craft beer community for doing so.

Earlier this year we travelled up the coast from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast. We didn’t see many independent beers on the way but Stone and Wood popped up at a lot of beach side bars to keep me happy, even though when I asked for a glass in one bar I was given a schooner full of ice for it. Hmmm. On the way back we stayed overnight in Byron Bay. I posted onto twitter how good it was to drink Pacific Ale at the legendary Beach Hotel and Jamie Cook messaged back saying that I should visit the next day.

Pacific Ale 1

Pacific Ale at the Beach Hotel, Byron Bay, the beach and the Pacific Ocean in the background

The first thing you will notice if you visit Stone and Wood is that the brewery is almost invisible. I had to use my GPS to find it, hidden in an ageing industrial area on the road North out of town. Even once the GPS told me that we had arrived I couldn’t see anything that fitted the bill. Where was the spectacular shiny big business brewery which I imagined would have stunning beach views? A small orange sign with the Stone and Wood logo, hidden behind some overgrown bushes was the only clue that we were in the right place.

The front door to the office area was open (there was no fancy reception, just a couple of desks) and it was Jamie himself who welcomed me, wearing shorts and a t-shirt rather than the suit and tie he would have been wearing at Foster’s. He seemed genuinely happy to talk to me about beer and show me around despite clearly being flat out.

Byron had put on a scorcher for us, over 30 degrees and extremely humid. As we went into the brewery itself you could tell that air conditioning wasn’t part of their business plan. The brewery is just a big open plan industrial unit, ageing and made from corrugated iron. Every available inch of floor space is utilised, pallets of malt and hops at one end, then the brewery itself, plenty of tanks and a packaging line at the end. A few more tanks were due to arrive soon after and it would be a struggle to fit them in.

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I’m hoping that delicious beer might come out of that tap

Two men were on the bottling line and Jamie grabbed a bottle of Jasper Ale for me, as fresh as you could ever drink it. Bottling is done by hand with a sheltered workshop putting together the boxes and empty six packs, saving space and time at the brewery. This is one of many aspects of the business that supports the local community.

Jamie told me that I was lucky to see anything other than Pacific Ale. He explained that they had always wanted to focus on just a few beers, making sure that they were as good as they could be rather than having a wide portfolio or a whole lot of seasonal releases. 

We walked further into the brewing area and I noticed that the only brewer on duty was actually Brad Rogers himself. Wearing shorts, he was shovelling spent malt and it was clearly hard work, the heat an humidity certainly wasn’t helping. This was where the penny dropped for me. While Stone and Wood might seem a bit flash the simple reality is that the success is based on a hell of a lot of hard work and a huge risk taken by the three partners, along with some business smarts and of course, great beer. It might seem pretty big compared to many independent breweries but in reality it is a small business that is competing against some monsters. 

The brewery will continue to expand with demand for the beers, especially Pacific Ale, outstripping supply at peak times. Their draught beer customers take first priority along with accounts that have supported them since the start. They weren’t able to supply all of the beer ordered by some big accounts over Christmas and even with a few more tanks they will struggle to supply it all again this year with demand continuing to grow. They have to order their Galaxy hops two years in advance to make sure that there will be enough.

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Major thanks to Jamie Cook for his time (and the Jasper Ale)

It’s great to see Stone and Wood in so many bars up the NSW Coast (and beyond) that would normally be full of big brewery blandness. They are proof that while great tasting beer is essential to bring more people to craft beer it needs some strong sales and marketing to put it into as many places as possible. The separate skills of the three partners along with some seriously hard work has made them the success they are today.

Go out and buy a six pack of Pacific Ale, support a small business and think of the beach at Byron Bay, which isn’t visible from the brewery.