This heading should read ‘What I did on my holidays’ and I make no apologies for the content in this post. Amazing beer will be referenced, sometimes casually. Name dropping is likely to happen even without my best editorial intentions. Good beers were drunk, Goodtimes were had and these are my beery highlights from Melbourne 2015.
This is a short story about chasing rare beer across Melbourne, finding it and then missing a wonderful opportunity to share it with the man who made it. After phone calls and cab rides I’m sharing a magnum of Jester King ‘Equipoise’ at Slowbeer oblivious to the fact that Jester King Co-owner / Founder Ron Extract was browsing the store.
As the name ‘Equipoise’ suggests this beautiful beer is about balance. I met Ron later and he noted that Jester King rarely do magnums any more and this was a good find.
The store itself is well stocked with local and international beers and the ability to drink on-premise was great.
Brewers & Chewers at The Local Taphouse
Brewers & Chewers at The Local Taphouse continues to be one of the best events of the year. Hosted by the affable genius Pete Mitcham AKA ‘Prof Pilsner’, this is a speed dating dinner with brewers from near and far. This years guests included brewers from Jester King, Victory, Beavertown, Birra del Borgo, Modus Operandi and BrewCult.
Bill Covaleski from Victory (pictured above), Logan Plant from Beavertown and DJ from Modus Operandi were particularly informative and good fun. It also great to have Cam from KAIJU sitting on our table as a punter. This alone shows how good this event is.
It seemed that this year’s Good Beer Week was awash tartness. Local GABS entries held their own amongst the limited release of classic Sours. Draft pours from international breweries like Cantillon, Boon and Rodenbach were in high demand. From a punters point of view it was great to have options to refresh the palate from many of the high ABV and resinous beers. The generally lower ABV and complex flavours of Sour beers pleasantly slowed the pace of some sessions.
The Alehouse Project – Pint of Origin New Zealand
The Alehouse Project in Brunswick East hosted the New Zealand ‘Pint of Origin’. Pint of Origin is a week long event focused purely on taps from one region or brewery, in this case EPIC Brewing from New Zealand. While trying to get a beer at the bar I ended up talking with Owner / Head Brewer Luke Nicholas . Over the next hour he shared many stories including his love of Gin and samples of a new Epic ‘White Gin IPA’.
Luke was funny, informative and brutally honest about beer and the world in general. It’s his passion for quality not only in his beer but in the industry that inspired me the most. While all of this was happening his ‘Armageddon’ IPA was winning Best IPA at the Australian International Beer Awards across town.
The conversation turned to music and he mentioned that he was DJ-ing tonight. What followed was a trip into heaviness with Metallica, Black Sabbath and some heavy New Zealand bands getting airtime while I was drinking draft Epicurean Coffee & Fig Stout. I can thank him for having ‘War Pigs’ stuck in my head a week later!
Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular (GABS)
The heritage listed Carlton Exhibition Building is one of Australia’s most beautiful buildings. Originally it was the site of Australia’s first parliament and each year it hosts 15000 people over three days for the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular (GABS) Melbourne.
Despite getting in at 4am that morning I elected to attend the Friday midday session. It’s a little quieter, easier to chat and generally softer on a dusty head.
The 118 GABS beers on offer represent an expression session of creativity for local and international brewers. They ranged from a 2.3% ABV ‘Tonic Ale’ from Pikes Beer Company to the 16% ABV ‘Brutus’ monster from Murray’s Craft Brewing Co . Both of these were great beers by the way!
Although many seem to be based around cheeky names, the beers are generally well constructed with many of them being brewed a year in advance only rest in specialty barrels for extra character. That said, it’s got to be fun designing a beer around names like ‘Flaming Lamington’, ‘Pop My Maraschino’ and ‘Lord Helmet Schwartz’.
Most entries were enjoyable with my only exceptions being The Australian Brewery’s ‘Mad Mad Madras’ curry beer and Barossa Valley Brewing’s ‘Christmas Pudding Porter’. Full marks for creativity but I think the names speak for themselves.
My picks tend to be from the first half when my senses and attention span were at their peak. Well, as close as they were going to get on only a few hours sleep. The second half of my session consisted of doing laps of the venue talking to brewers and dispensing my own pours of Rodenbach ‘Grand Cru’ and cured meat cones during conversation.
GOODTIMES GABS PICKS:
#11 BACCHUS BREWING CO – Atomic Lemon, Lime & Bitters (2.7% ABV) – Sour Ale modeled on the non-alcoholic drink.
#23 BLACKHORSE BREWING- Finger Lime Ale (4.7% ABV) – Pale Ale with Finger Lime fruit.
#24 BOATROCKER BREWING CO – I Ain’t Afraid Of No Gose (4% ABV) – Historical Sour Ale with Salt and Coriander.
#27 BRIDGE ROAD BREWERS – Creek (4.5% ABV) -Cherry Lambic (Sour) Ale aged in Cognac barrels.
#39 EAGLE BAY BREWING CO x MANE LIQUOR – Black and Tannin (6.5% ABV) – Black IPA aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels.
#55 HOMESTEAD BREWERY – Velvet (9.8% ABV) – Black Cherry Sour beer that nods at Cherry Ripe.
#64 LA SIRENE BREWING – Bebe Rouge (4.5% ABV) – Belgian style Red Ale with berries.
BrewCult’s ‘Milk and Two Sugars’ 8% ABV Sweet Stout eventually won the People’s Choice Award for their tribute to a classic coffee order. Vanilla beans and 3000 shots of Cold Drip coffee sourced from a boutique Melbourne coffee roaster were added to this very authentic beery take on a breakfast beverage.
Surrounding all of this delicious madness was an ample food area, giant Jenga, a roving brass band, a three piece ‘Cirque de GABS’ troupe, information sessions and opportunities to talk with breweries at stands throughout the Exhibition Building. It’s during these one on one conversations that I tried new beers like a 440ml Oaked Stout can from New Zealand brewery Panhead and elegant, European inspired beers from La Sirene.
I was also able to sample Mountain Goat’s new ‘Barrel Breed’ Barley Wine. This massive but nuanced beer was aged in Lark Distillery barrels and won Champion Australian Beer at the Australian International Beer Awards the night before. Highly recommended!
The Catfish is a classic old school Melbourne bar & bandroom with great Southern US styled food – Cheese steak anyone? This was the destination for anyone finishing or starting a GABS session. That included brewers, punters and the media.
I loved it’s well worn, knock-about-ness and lack of pretension. Dancing through The Catfish’s three levels is eight intelligently chosen taps and bottle menu depth that includes 2011 Marriage Parfait and 2012 Rodenbach Vintage. This is a bar that understands its punters.
Belgian Beer Brunch at The Local Taphouse
A spur on the moment decision to head back to the Local Taphouse resulted Filip from Rodenbach very politely asking if he could join the table (of two) for breakfast. Cue: Waffles, bacon, Rodenbach ‘Grand Cru’ and a 40 minute tour of everything Rodenbach on his laptop all well before noon. Filip couldn’t grasp how thankful we were for his conversation and time. This experience was the most personal and humbling of the whole trip.
Carwyn Cellars Sour Saturday
Carwyn Cellars is about 25 minutes from the Melbourne CBD and had been on my list since beginning to plan the trip. Last year they conducted extensive renovations to the existing bottleshop to include a modern bar area at the rear. My visit was well timed with the stores ‘Sour Saturday’ in full swing.
Watching Ben Carwyn, owner and super nice guy, of Carwyn Cellars pouring himself pints of Cantillon Kriek and laughing at the absurdity of it rates as one of my favourite GBW moments.
Rodenbach ‘Foederbier’ was tapped for the third time only out of Belgium for this event and it drank beautifully.
Plans are a foot to include the shop next door and it shows how sensible liquor licensing can create a respectful, community hub.
This Melbourne institution was the hub for Danish brewery Evil Twin’s tap takeover. Lucky for me Cookie was 40 metres from the hotel.
My highlight was drinking Evil Twin’s 10.4% ABV Russian Imperial Stout ‘Soft DK’ at Cookie, making the most inappropriate comments about ‘Soft DK’ to anyone that would listen and still being offered the food pairing of Fried Bananas with Coconut Ice Cream and Honey.
For the record the ‘DK’ refers to ‘Dookie’ or human faeces. Soft Dookie. It sounds repulsive but the beer drinks like a thick, vanilla spiked, velvet stout hug. It’s beautiful.
There was also plenty of action at Two Row Bar, Beer DeLuxe and the huge Foresters Hall. This post could go on for days!
In short these highlights don’t even hint at the laughter, great beer and good times that played out over my four days. I’ve made some new friends and can’t recommend the the trip across enough next year if you are a punter or in the industry.
Cheers to you Good Beer Week!