Verbatim: Harrington’s ‘Big John’ Special Reserve. Something relatively random that George apparently forgot he’d picked up somewhere along the way. It’s a strong dark ale, matured in Bourbon barrels. As you can see, it pours with quite enthusiastic bubbles, and they definitely hold a very strong whiskey nose. Almost disconcertingly so; it just smells like a big glass of that, rather than beer. But the taste is refreshingly beery, and very smooth. Nice maltiness, chocolate roastiness, and a bit of a caramelly kick — like a great big melted Toffee Pop. Soaked in whiskey.
Afterthoughts, November 2010: From memory, the ‘Special Reserve’ bit came from the fact this was actually Bourbon barrel aged; the regular stuff is Bourbon infused, methinks. And it’s another great example of how some beers are tricky to pick, in terms of their official style. The RateBeer.com nerds have the former as a Scotch Ale and the latter as a Dunkler Bock. If I had to put a sum of my own money on it (or, more to the point, if I had to tag a blogpost one way on the other), I’d think the Bock guess was right; the body and the finish seem more lagery than aley, but we’re in pretty stab-in-the-dark territory here, I’ll freely admit.
Verbatim: Renaissance ‘Stonecutter’ Scotch Ale. Partially because of a long day, partially because it’d go well with sitting and finishing off a couple of books, partially because of the easier-going one I had in Melbourne, and partially because I didn’t yet have a photo of it, I had another one of these. And oh my god do I love it to bits. Absolutely huge malty fruity flavour to it. Big and dark and smooth and a little bit Christmas cakey, it hides its 7% booze worryingly well, and often proves itself surprisingly popular with the “I don’t drink beer” crowd, once we just plonk a taster in front of them and insist they have a go.
Afterthoughts, November 2010: The books, incidentally are, 1) Irreligion, by John Allen Paulos and 2) The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. Both are utterly excellent in their very-different (althought thematically-related) ways. And it’s only just occurred to me that a beer named after the Freemasons-lampooning sect on The Simpsons makes an extra-good accompaniment to such reading material. Aren’t I (accidentally) clever?
Verbatim: Emerson’s Dunkelweiss. I’d sold too many of these without yet trying one, and so went halves with another bartender. Very glad I did. It certainly deserves the “Caramelised Chocolate Bananas” notation on the label, and has a gorgeously smooth long-lasting flavour with a nice side of wheaty liveliness.
Also, note the ghostly apparition of our bar manager Scott, in the top-right corner of the frame. He showed up late to a long-exposure shot.
Afterthoughts, November 2010: It takes me ages to convince people that Scott really is visible in that photo. Even he had trouble recognising himself as a near-ghost, intially. Seeing-faces-where-there-aren’t-faces is an occasionally-hilarious thing, to be sure, but I promise you this one’s legit. Scotty ain’t no Virgin Mary, and the Malthouse wall ain’t no grilled cheese sandwhich.
3 Ravens 55 American Pale Ale. “55” because of five hops and five grains, apparently — and first made for the occasion of their fifth birthday as a brewery. It’s made from barley, corn, wheat, oats and rye — which makes me want to say that it feels more “American” at the expense of being less “American Pale Ale”. The grains do make for a really nice mix and a good full body, but they’re driving very much more than the lively American hops you’d usually expect. Possibly another case of peculiar branding of a beer that’s doing what it is doing very nicely, whatever it’s called.
Verbatim: 3 Ravens ’55 American Pale Ale. 7/10/08 $3.5 @ Markets 5.5%. 5 hops + 5 grains (Barley, Corn, Wheat, Oats + Rye), so more American, but less APA: not hugely hoppy in the nose again. The grains make a nice mix, but drive more than the floral hops. Maybe our NZ hops are distorting our PAs. (Bottle cond.)
Afterthoughts, November 2010: This borderline-numerology stuff does crop a bit in brewing circles, actually. It seems a common trope to jig the number of ingredients, or the ABV, or IBU, or something to match some relevant number. I suppose that just shows you that obsessiveness and nerdery are common traits among craft brewers. And that’s got to be a good thing.
Meanwhile, that’s a terribly-focussed photo. The two strong beers previous must’ve blunted either my ability or my perfectionism, or both.
Another recommendation from the guy in the markets, and he’s two for two. Which also backs up my earlier praise for the James Squires people. Fairly heavy at 7%, it’s a very appealing golden amber, and smells utterly gorgeous — all flowery, fruity and citrusy. The taste is fresh, with a slight metallic zing (not in a bad way, like you get in a Becks or whatnot), and has apricotty and grassy flavours kicking around in there. Toby compares it (favourably) to wandering around a sunny field, chewing on wheat. And I’m fairly sure I’ve been to the monastery where it’s matured, in New Norcia, WA — Karen and I drove past it on our way up to her family’s farm for her birthday party, methinks. (A quick look at Google Maps left me feeling able to upgrade from the “I think” in the paper diary to an “I’m fairly sure”.)
Verbatim: Malt Shovel Abbey Ale. 7/10/08 $4 @ Markets 7%. Another recommendation. And M.S. = James Squire’s. Smells gorgeous; flowery, fruity, citrusy. Nice golden amber. Tastes fresh, with non-bad metal, apricotty, grassy. Like chewing wheat. And I think I’ve been to the monastery in New Norcia, WA.
These guys are a popular “little” Victorian brewery, but I was distinctly underwhelmed when I tried their stuff during my years in Melbourne. This bottle in particular, though, was recommended by the guy in the South Melbourne Markets. Actually, he didn’t so much recommend as insist. And took care to apologise on their behalf for the utterly hideous label. Godawful packaging, great beer, he promised. And damn, was he right. Pouring a nice, slightly cloudy amber, it doesn’t have a hugely hoppy nose but that’s because they’re all hiding in the taste. Which is good and big, with stonefruity bits all over the place. And it weighs in at 7% booze, so it earns its name, as well as excuses its own ugly bottle.
Verbatim: Jamieson ‘Beast’ IPA. 7/10/08 $3.5 @ Markets 7%. Recommended by the Swords guy. Hideous label, great beer, he said. Nice slightly cloudy amber. Not a hugely hoppy nose, but it’s all in the mouth. With stonefruity bits all over the show, too. Big + grunty. So excuses/earns the label/name.
Afterthoughts, October 2010: Yeah, yeah; books, covers, trite moral lessons. All learned, don’t worry about that.
I do love the Little Creatures, and heard, not long after I moved out of Melbourne and back to Wellington, that they’d opened their own bar in Fitzroy. Which elicted some complex emotions: joy, that they were expanding and obviously still doing well; sadness, that they hadn’t managed it while I lived there; and wanderlust, because I was dead keen to visit a.s.a.p..
I didn’t have a lot of time to hang out there on this trip, but I poked my nose in, had a wander around and took a few pictures. And instantly fell in love. Happily, I was able to have myself a longer stay on my next visit, about six months later.
Pouring a hazy dark amber with a reddish tint, this surprised me by being a good deal lighter than I was expecting. It’s nicely fruity and smooth, but stays a bit too ‘small’ in the taste department for me. “Scotch Ale” just makes me expect massive great big fullness, and this doesn’t have it. Labelling aside, though, it’s perfectly tasty after-dinner type stuff.
And by after-dinner on this occasion, we mean after steak tartar, and with barbequed pavlova. Given that insane food-matching challenge, it performed ridiculously admirably.
Verbatim: Red Hill Brewery Scotch Ale. 5/10/08 $3.5 @ Markets. A hazy dark amber with reddish tint; so a lot lighter than many others. Much lighter taste, too. Pleasant, but not quite what I expected from the name. Nicely fruity and smooth, but not huge + dark.
Afterthoughts, October 2010: I realised a little while later that my expectations were somewhat confounded by the scotch ale I was most familiar with, Renaissance ‘Stonecutter’, being both abnormally dark and abnormally massive in the flavour department. So this has no labelling problem — and neither does Stonecutter, really; they’re just extreme ends of the style, each.
Another winemaker’s beer. And this one seems much more of a go, marketing-wise (in that somewhat-tragic but totally-understandable way that more ‘normal’ / less ‘interesting’ beers are often more marketable).
It’s a very clean lager, like a lighter version of the ‘Weka’ by Moa Breweries (itself another winemaker-offshoot). A little too thin for my liking, but perfectly well-made. These things do make for a good way to begin an evangelism effort — the flavour won’t freak anyone out, and you’re miles better off having one of these than something daft like Heineken — and at least it gets some people over that first hurdle of actually trying things from places they’ve never heard of before.
Verbatim: Knappstein Reserve Lager. 5/10/08 $3.5 @ Markets. Another winemakers beer. Very pale lager, with vanishy bubbles. Very clean lager, a la Weka by Moa. Better for evangelism, but a bit too thin for my liking
There’s the beginnings of a trend towards a wee fusion between beermakers and winemakers, and here’s a good example. Pepperjack is, ordinarily, a Shiraz. Of which I’m quite fond, despite being a Malt Nerd. I haven’t yet found out just how it’s incorporated into their Ale, but it allegedly is. The result is basically a decent straight up-and-down bitter ale. When I’m in that mood, I’d rather a Little Creature’s Rogers, but this can’t really be faulted. Except maybe in marketing terms; it’d probably be a difficult style for “evangelism” to wine drinkers. But maybe that was never really their concern; they’ve made something pretty tasty and pretty interesting and, well, pretty. That’s enough to warrant a tip of our glasses.
Verbatim: Pepperjack Ale. 5/10/08 $3.5 @ Markets. Made with Pepperjack Shiraz, somehow. It doesn’t say. Basically a decent straight up and down bitter ale. Maybe not different enough, for the odd pitching. Not one for evangelising to wine drinkers despite appearance.
Afterthoughts, October 2010: So here I was, sitting at the bar on my night off and tinkering with these things, uploading some more of the backlog. And I’m thinking to myself ‘what to drink?’, when it occurs to me that I have a bottle of this in my personal stash in the fridge. How appropriate. (Many thanks to Glenn, who I used to work with in Melbourne, who grabbed me some Interesting Looking Beers when he came over not long ago.)
On another go, I’m a bigger fan. It’s tasty, more ‘different’ than I remember, and definitely has a shirazzy zing.