The final Sunday-afternoon session of GABS was considerably lower-key than the ones which came before. There were fewer attendees (a shade less than the Friday afternoon session, perhaps would-be visitors were off being dutiful offspring for Mother’s Day), and the whole machine of the thing was running with now-practiced smoothness such that I, an early duties / backup volunteer had a particularly-early knockoff. Time, then — this not being rocket science — for a beer or several.
My first paddle was everything I could find from the ‘sessionable’ weight class of ≤ 4.5% ABV — I inadvertently overlooked the sixth on offer, Moo Brew’s ‘Belgo’, but I’ll get to that next — and for my second set of five, I decided simply to round up the beers from places I knew and was fond of for one reason or other. It did wind up rather a rag-tag collection, style-wise (though skewing heavily ‘Belgian’), and a sensible drinking order took some figuring-out, again. But I think I managed it; this was a fun little ride.
Starting with Bridge Road’s ‘God Save the Lager’ was daunting — since it’s a 7.5% Imperial Pilsner and I hadn’t really eaten breakfast before heading in to town — but made the most sense, style-wise. A return to tasting paddles made it re-obvious that a little / warmish / plastic sample only ever gives you a hint of a beer’s real character, but ‘G.S.T.L.’ seemed a nudge drier and ‘spicier’ than Epic’s ‘LARGER’ — though it definitely shared the element of being potentially very dangerous indeed. Also, “Imperial Pilsner” seems now to be well and truly a thing; it’ll be interesting to see how it goes, as a (sub-)style. Then, Doctor’s Orders ‘Plasma’ White IPA looked to be an obvious second, and shares the quality of having a style-name with an unexpected adjective in front of it. But really, where else to go, after Black IPA,1 Red IPA and good old-fashioned — what do we even call it, now? — Regular / Middlingly-Brown IPA. The hazy-and-pale body makes you think “white” in Belgian-Wit-esque way, and the hops come through with enjoyably-peculiar notes that made me wish I’d given it a proper-glass try. I’ve had many glasses of Doctor’s Orders ‘Iron Lung’ black pilsner, so he’s got an obvious fondness for the stylistic colour-curveball and certainly seems to have the knack.
I’d had a little sip of the ‘Bob’s Farmhouse Ale’ from Murray’s when I understudy-hosted the ‘Beerista’ seminar during Friday night’s session but it was all a little lost in my personal bewilderment and hurry. It was, at this more-civilised pace, delicious. Cleverly named for both their original location (before they moved the brewery to a headland North of Newcastle and put a charming little pub on Manly Beach) and its super-saison(ish) style, it’s alarmingly drinkable for its massive dose of booze, and genuinely fun and funky while it’s at it. The Little Creatures / White Rabbit ’Little Rabbit’ that followed, however, was a little more vexing. A collaboration between my long-loved Fremantle favourite and their (also fondly regarded) country cousin, it just seemed to fall well short of its promise. From the outset, it was — for its style — unsettlingly, needlessly clear (that’s it on the far right end of my tasting paddle, above, glowing much like Bridge Road’s souped-up pilsner) and seemed way too strong given its stated inspiration was Westmalle’s table beer. And even if that latter reference was just them reaching / being a bit generous / fudging things for the sake of ‘marketing’ and standing out in the Big Book of Many Blurbs, its strength just came across as too unbalancingly hot. It was nice, but still kinda sad, in context.
Then finally, the black sheep of the paddle: Seven Sheds ‘Black Elephant’, which I reached just as I noticed brewer / beer writer Willie Simpson on a nearby table. A few of his books were instrumental in the transitioning of me from Clueless Drinker to Something Of A Beer Geek and now — as you know, if you’ve made it this far — Part-time Beer-related Rambler. So I just had to embrace the moment of geek-out and say Hi, and am relieved to report (as I always have been able to, so far in this industry) that he turned out to be a lovely chap and very approachable. Fittingly enough for a writer-brewed beer, the Big Book’s tasting note — “a complex riot of roasty notes” — was bang on. ‘Black Elephant’ is apparently a blend (recipe-wise, I believe, rather than just piping two tanks together) of two Seven Sheds regulars; a Belgian strong ale (‘Elephant’s Trunk’) and a spiced strong dark ale (with the throw-back-ish name ‘Willie Warmer’).2 And it tasted like just that; hugeness, spice, richness and the charming eccentricity of a mad old codger in a quiet pub.
Just to repeat myself, this tasting paddle was early in the Sunday session after almost no breakfast. And, to repeat praise from my general post-GABS ponderings, food at the festival was frequently fantastic. None moreso, to my mind, than the ‘Beef Debris’ Po’ Boys from the fine young folks at Gumbo Kitchen. I liked it so much I had one each day, and treated myself to this feast (he says, gesturing sideways) for the final day. There was a fried shrimp option for the po’ boy, but I could never tear myself from the sure-fire deliciousness of the beef. So I asked for a side of fried shrimp with my sammich, resulting in a glorious pile of omnomtastic goodness. After a boozy tasting paddle and this epic heap of endorphin-crackling delight, I had quite the happyface firmly affixed to my skull for a good while into the afternoon.
Original Diary entry: GABS Paddle #2: Random Favourites. 13/5/12 Happy Mothers Day. Quiet Sunday session, but a nice mood. (32) Bridge Road ‘God Save the Lager’ (7.5% Imperial Pilsner) Spicier than ‘LARGER’, though temperature and plastic make comparison tricky. Nice and dry. Could be deadly. (20) Doctor’s Orders ‘Plasma’ (7% White IPA) Nicely ‘white’ — cloudy, pale, like a witbier — peculiar hoppy nose (but again; limitations). Nice flavourful bitterness. Would be worth a shot. (25) Murray’s ‘Bob’s Farmouse Ale’ (9%) Pete Mitcham told me the name refers to the new location. Oak-aged, hazy + nearly as pale as #20. We had this at Beerista and it’s great fun(k). Love it. (57) Little Creatures / White Rabbit ‘Little Rabbit’ (6.9% Belgian) Similar colour as prior, but unexpectedly clear. Strong, given the stated inspiration (Westmalle’s table beer), and quite ‘hot’. Big round fruit from Noble hops (probably). (50) Seven Sheds ‘Black Elephant’ (7.8% Black Trappist) Willie Simpson! (Minor geek-out impending…) Fittingly, the note is bang on. “A complex riot of roasty notes.” Hell yes. Weird + good. Soy-saucy. [And he was perfectly nice about the geek-out.]
1: There are a couple of them in my Diary on upcoming pages — local boys Funk Estate put out a new one I’ve been liking / drinking a lot lately which whole-heartedly embraces the contradictory style-term — so I’m sure I’ll have a proper re-airing of the sometimes-vexed issue of “Black IPA”.
2: It gets the okay, I think, simply because his actual name is Willie. Otherwise, it’d be just so appallingly worth of an entry on Pumpclip Parade (well, if it had a pumpclip) — the label test even has the very Dad-joke-ish note “Guaranteed to warm the extremities”.