Tuesday, June 7, 2011

More Australia Brews!

Sorry for the long delay in posting guys.  Going through a long stretch of home renovations and trying to get the house in order after being gone for a month.   To keep things rolling, here's a few of the more interesting beers I encountered in my Australian travels:

Beer: Barons Lemon Myrtle Witbier
Brewery: Barons Brewery (Woollahra, New South Wales)
Type: Witbier
ABV: 4.5%

A single bottle picked up at a Canberra liquor store.  Certainly picked this one up because of the name; anything smacking of lemon myrtle can't be all bad, right?  Talking to folks later, I found out Barons is a bit of a style-over-substance type of brewery.  Although they have some interesting-looking stuff on tap, there's nothing overly exciting, save for this fellow.  Ah well, let's give it a go anyway!

Poured into the closest approximation to a beer glass I could find in our Canberra apartment.  Poured a pale golden straw colour, which was initially clear and sparkling but the swirling of the sediment yielded a nice opaque consistency. Good frothy head, lots of lacing.

Nose is lemon, herbs, grass, a bit of soft wheat malt.

A good beer rule of mine is that whenever a brewery goes out of its way to identify the dominant flavors in the beer's name ("chocolate stout", "orange peel ale", "ginger wheat ale"), it usually means that those flavors will be overly potent, and will probably crush the beer's delicate balance.  This was certainly the case here. Although this was a fairly tasty brew, and would no doubt enjoyable on an autumn patio, the lemon flavor is a bit artificial tasting, and was far too overpowering.  Still, lemon is a nice flavor to have in a beer, so I still enjoyed it.  Finishes with a grassy hop kick to cleanse the palate. Slightly creamy, zippy carbonation.

A decent witbier, a bit heavy-handed with the lemon flavor, but still nevertheless a good warm weather drinker.  (Grade: B-)

Beer: Feral Hop Hog IPA
Brewery: Feral Brewing (Perth, Western Australia)
Type: American IPA
ABV: 5.8%

The second brew from my excellent Australian beer trade (cheers again, David!), enjoyed on a quiet evening in Sydney before we headed out to sample the night scene.  When my Aussie friend asked me months ago about what kind of breweries I wanted to try for when I arrived, I responded that I'd be game for anything - although I have to say I certainly was hoping for something from Feral.

Feral is one of a several exciting new microbreweries from the state of Western Australia, which offers a wide variety of ales and lagers with a distinctly American bent (in the brewing world, this is very much a good thing), as well as a respectable sampling of Belgian and English styled ales.  Of their list, Hop Hog is among their most sampled and highest rated (according to BA and RateBeer), so you might safely call this their flagship brew.  It certainly tasted like one, as we shall see!

Poured into the handy hotel room tumbler glass, which served its purpose admirably. An amber-russet brew, slightly hazy, with a lively head, great retention and lovely icicles of lacing. First rate appearance.

The nose is solid American citrus hops, brown sugar, pale malt. Some orange, lemon and other tropical fruits kicking around.

A maltier American IPA, with the hops coming to my attention only later in the sip. The hops have a nice earthy character with the citrus only mildly poking its head above the surface. Quite flavorful, although the hops lack that juicy punch I come to expect from any brew with "Hop" in the name.  Still, quite tasty and enjoyable.   Effervescent carbonation, medium feel.

With a bit of tweaking, this IPA could hold its own quite nicely against other brews of the style.  I guess you could say we're pretty spoiled with IPAs in North America (less so in Canada), so our expectations can run a bit too high; I certainly thoroughly enjoyed this brew!  Hop Hog is a highly drinkable, approachable IPA and is well-worth seeking out - if you can find it, that is... (Grade: B+)

Beer: Knappstein Reserve Lager
Brewery: Enterprise Brewery/Knappstein Winery, (Clare, South Australia)
Type: German Pilsner
ABV: 5.6%

For all my drinking exploits in Australia, I have to say I really didn't spend much time sampling their world-famous wines and visiting their undoubtedly scenic wineries.  Which is a shame, really, because I'm sure a winery exploration of southeastern Australia would have been fantastic.  Now I likes wine and I likes it fine, I've just never been able to distinguish one wine from another enough to really worry about which wine to have, so I've never really progressed beyond the confines of: "I like that wine.  That one is too dry.  I detect berry and oak, possibly some booze.  Further sampling is needed...you know what, just leave the bottle."   That, and as a dedicated quaffer of the ale, I tend to harbor a bit of resentment towards wine, because it has so nicely weaseled itself into a position of primacy in the alcohol-drinking world, becoming a far more cultured, sophisticated and socially-acceptable beverage than the blue-collared barley juiced swill we Delta-Epsilons so enjoy.  But I certainly have a strong respect for the vintners; indeed, anyone whose vocation is providing the lot of us with intoxicating beverages is fine with me.  And my wife and I do enjoy our yearly drive through the Niagara region, stopping by whatever winery comes up next on the GPS (there are a lot of them) and buying a random bottle or two, so I do know a little bit about wine.   I also know that those who make wine tend to also make some pretty damned good beer as well; I've sampled many brews from places whose normal produce is wine, and I've been satisfied if not ecstatic with the result.   Knappstein, being the formidable vintners that they are, have certainly succeeded in this front.  In fact, I can safely say that their brew was my absolute favorite of the trip, and once again I owe this drinking privilege to my Aussie beer-trading comrade David.

Poured a light hazy golden, clear and effervescent, sturdy inch of frothy head. Not much lacing, but excellent retention.

The nose is simply fantastic: truly, this stuff smelled like the holy matrimony of wine and beer.  Sweet white wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, I've been told), fruit (apple, passion fruit, melon, orange, grape), honey, mild grain, a bit of light hops.  The sweet alcohol smell reminded me a great deal of mead or ice wine.

Knappstein Reserve is truly an excellent lager, fresh and fruity, but with a clean hop finish to maintain its overall "beeriness." The wine flavors are terrific, nice and sweet, complimenting the malt quite nicely.  Finishes with a dry white wine kick, slightly astringent.  The beer was mildly under-carbonated, but that was probably my fault, as I subjected the bottle to a 25 hour flight back to Canada before I got around to sampling it properly.  The mouthfeel is nice and light, refreshing, with a dryness lingers on the tongue.

Simply brilliant.  Knappstein takes the best parts of a German Pils and an Aussie Cab-Sauv, making an end product that is greater than its sum.  A must try!  (Grade: A)

Beer: Seeing Double
Brewery: Brewboys (Sydney, NSW)
Type: Scottish Ale / Wee Heavy
ABV: 8%

The last brew of the trip, which, like the Knappstein, I ended up saving until I got home.  There just wasn't a great opportunity to really savour these two brews while there, and I wanted to extend the wonderful Australian brew-experience a little while longer.  I could have even aged this one a little, but lets face it, I can't risk this guy going foul without having sampled it.  A good aging rule of mine: only age stuff you've tried before, first so that you have a frame of reference to compare it to, and secondly, I could keel over before having tried it.
"Well, good night!"
I'm totally serious: I have no intention of dying in a freak leopard accident with unsampled beer in my cellar, dammit.  Beer is for the living!  Fortunately, since my current status pegs me at "alive", I guess it's beer time!

Scottish Ales or Scotch Ales - sometimes known as "Wee Heavies" - are exactly how you'd imagine an ale from Scotland would be: strong, malty, peaty or leathery, and totally incapable of qualifying for the World Cup.   While hops are there (mostly as a preservative), the flavor is really all in the malt, not entirely unlike a fine lowland scotch whisky.  Wee Heavies are boiled extra-long to caramelize the sugars, which makes for some strong, sweet, malty goodness; as Randy Mosher observes in "Tasting Beer", a Wee Heavy is really just a Scottish barleywine.  They were also the most expensive of the ales, using the antiquated shilling method of pricing ales.  You may have seen Caledonian 80 Shilling (80/-)on tap or in the LCBO, a nice standard Scottish Ale, which traditionally went for...you guessed it, eighty shillings; Wee Heavies on the other hand, being a more complex (and stronger brew) typically marketed for a hefty160/-.   A pretty penny, indeed, but certainly worth it.   Though not too well-known outside of Scotland, fortunately many craft brewers have the Errol Flynn approach to brewing: they'll do anything.

Poured into a nonic glass, and enjoyed on one of the more humid days I've encountered since getting back.  Not really the ideal beer for a day like this, but I really wanted to finally try it!  A rich, sludgy, murky brown brew, toffee-coloured when held to the light.  Left behind a nice sturdy off-white head, with some lacing flecks.

The nose is a pure malty delight: caramel, toffee, fresh bread, cracker, a touch of peat and leather.  Smells exactly as one would expect.

As complex as a mid-range bottle of scotch, Seeing Double sports an impressive flavor profile.  It opens with a nice malty blast of caramel, bread, biscuit and dark fruit, before settling in to a lovely dry peaty-leather finish, with only the faintest traces of hops.  The alcohol, which is quite high, is nearly imperceptible, which is a very dangerous thing indeed.  No doubt one would certainly be seeing double after a few of these bad boys.  The leather/peat character lingers long on the tongue.  Slightly creamy, light but spritzy carbonation, thicker bodied.

A great example of the Wee Heavy style, in fact I'd happily rank it alongside some of the better Scottish offerings.  A study in malt, but with a nice diversity of flavors to make for an interesting and enjoyable sipper.  Not something I'd recommend more than a bottle or two of at any given time, but certainly well worth seeking out if you're Down Under.  Great stuff indeed! (Grade: A)


Well, that about wraps things up from my Australia Beerventure.  Though I was a bit stymied in my attempts to try some of the more obscure brews the country has to offer, a successful grocery-store haul, some exciting brewpubs and a fortuitous trade with a fellow Quaffer of the Ale has shown me that Australians not only love their beer, their craft breweries are off to a cracking start.  From this small sampling of brews, I've seen Australia's brewmasters' reverence for the ale traditions of the British Isles, their superb ability to utilize the newer hops and brewing styles from the United States, as well as a great passion for experimentation.   Foster's and VB be damned; Aussies can brew beers as good as the rest of us - it just sucks that I have to travel so damn far to get my hands on them! 


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