It started off innocently enough as the name of a beer brewed specially for a wedding. But soon 3 Ravens was taking on a life of its own. By 2003, a microbrewery had opened in a warehouse in northern Melbourne, knocking out traditional European beers and putting them into a handful of nearby pubs. Today, the focus on European styles sold locally remains, but embellished by a range of new, souped up variants of the brewery’s beers.
One of the first to install a traditional, English-style hand pump into a Melbourne pub (which to this day still rotates seasonally between pouring their English Ale and Black (Stout) at Fitzroy’s Lambs Go Bar), more recent limited releases have included the Ale Noir – their Dark smoke beer aged in a French oak barrel previously used for pinot noir – and the Ravenator Bock. According to brewers Dave Brough and Adrian McNulty, this “Uber” range will always be based on the brewery’s core beers but with a different twist each time.
All of their ales undergo a gentle filtration to remove fermenter yeast before a small amount of fresh live brewer’s yeast is added to kickstart bottle conditioning. You’ll often find them at the Fed Square Microbreweries Showcase, while anyone eager to sample their beers at their freshest can head to 3 Ravens' Thornbury HQ on Fridays, when it’s open from 2pm for tastings and takeaway sales.
3 Ravens Beers
3 Ravens White
Pouring with a light white head, this traditional Belgian witbier (or “white beer”) has a pungent fruity aroma that hints at Juicy Fruit gum that comes from the addition of citrus peel, coriander and chamomile in the boil. Those flavours come through in the mouth along with pepper and peach before the beer finishes tart on the palate.
3 Ravens Golden
Formerly known as their Blond, the 3 Ravens Golden Ale is a German style altbier (“old” beer) with a lightly floral, slightly spicy aroma from the use of Saaz hops from the Bohemia region of the Czech Republic and a smooth, biscuity malt flavour and gentle hop bitterness. An nicely quaffable beer.
Style: Golden Ale
3 Ravens English Ale
A recreation of the classic English pub ales, this uses the Maris Otter malt and Fuggles hops found in many UK beers. Burnished copped in colour, the hops are of the earthy, grassy variety and lend the beer a lingering, floral aftertaste and mild bitterness – although not before your palate’s experienced a little chocolate and the slightest hint of smokiness from the malts. Designed for cask conditioning, it’s one of two 3 Ravens beers that rotates on the traditional hand pump at Lambs Go Bar, in Fitzroy.
Style: English Pale Ale
3 Ravens Black
The 3 Ravens stout, this is as jet black as a raven itself, yet is a surprisingly smooth, balanced take on the style, showing off plenty of coffee and dark chocolate flavours, underpinned by some sweet caramel and an espresso like finish, without the sharper bitterness you can find in some stouts. Comprised of ten different grains, it’s one of two 3 Ravens beers that rotates on the traditional hand pump at Lambs Go Bar, in Fitzroy.
3 Ravens 55
Today, it’s probably harder to find an Aussie brewer who doesn’t have a highly hopped US style ale on their roster. But when the 55 first rolled off the 3 Ravens production line, it was one of few. Made up of five different grain and five different hop varieties, it boasts a mix of big passionfruit and pineapple aromas typical of American hop varieties and more grassy varieties with a full flavour and serious hit of bitterness.
Style: US Pale Ale
3 Ravens Dark Ale
One for the more adventurous, this is a rare Australian take on the Bavarian smoke beer style. The use of smoked malts gives it a beechwood and smoked bacon aroma and a lightly peaty flavour.
Style: Rauchbier (Smoke Beer)
3 Ravens Bittersweet End
Melbourne’s 3 Ravens marked 10 years of brewing beers this year. We say “marked” rather than “celebrated” as things haven’t necessarily gone as planned, what with the building and brewery appearing to be on sale at one point and the whole affair looking close to disappearing. A solution has been found (we’ll bring you news on that soon) and the tenth anniversary beer is here too. The aim was to create a 100 IBU (international bitterness unit), 10 per cent beer to mark the occasion. And, in keeping with how the occasion turned out, it ended up just short, measuring 100 IBU and 9.6 per cent ABV. It being an Imperial IPA named appropriately – in more ways than one – Bittersweet End. Chock full of mostly American hops, namely Simcoe, Citra, Chinook, Amarillo and Horizon, with a dash of homegrown Galaxy for good measure, it’s a hazy copper affair that demands lazy drinking. The aroma from its off white head is a mix of sweet toffee-like malts, spicy booze and hops and a touch of pine too. In the mouth, it’s creamy, almost oily, with those piney characters joined by herbal, almost woody hop characters balanced by sweet malts. The bitterness is there in spades, but isn’t out of control, while the booze lends it an element of rummy stewed fruits. One to approach slowly, which is just as well as there are only 16 cases in existence.
Purvis Beer Richmond
Valley Cellar Door
Belgian Beer Café
Oscars Ale House
Harvest Wine & Liquor
Style: Imperial IPA
Bitterness: 100 IBU
3 Ravens Prussian Porter
Word on the hopbine suggests 3 Ravens will live on, despite earlier fears, with a white knight on the distant horizon. Should that not prove to be the case and were this to be the final special release from the Thornbury brewer it would be a fitting farewell. A year in the making from the time of its brewing followed by a few months in barrels also used for beers such as the Double Ale Noir, it has now been deemed ready for release, following an early taster in cask form at Good Beer Week’s Bull and Raven Cask Off. It’s not for the faint-hearted with all manner of leathery, smoky characters mingling with the vanilla and dark fruits on the nose and plenty of heavy flavours to play with too. It’s alternately tarry and fortified, rich and roasty, warming and like a mouthful of molasses. In other words, one to sip and savour.
Style: Prussian Porter
3 Ravens Smoked Wheat
The Thornbury brewery continues to plunder every nook and cranny of the Germanic beer world, coming at us this time with a beer that combines elements of two of their regular beers: a bit of smoked malt and a bit of fruity wheat beer yeast. It might sound an unusual combination to the newcomer – mixing elements of earthy, woody, campfire like aromas with the banana and clove esters of the wheat yeast – but they sit together rather well. It’s not bananas on the barbie, instead a cloudy copper coloured beer with a surprisingly full body for a reasonably low alcohol content beer and some malty sweetness.
Style: Smoked Wheat Beer
3 Ravens Oktoberfestbier
Of all the breweries in Australia, few have as much experience playing around with German lager styles as 3 Ravens. Their Oktoberfestbier sticks true to the German fest beers, undergoing cold fermentation and spending four weeks lagering at the brewery prior to release. The result is a seriously malty lager, one that pours a deep amber and has a sweet, biscuity malt aroma. It’s all about the malts in the mouth too, with rich toffee and biscuit flavours leading the way and a hop bitterness that’s pretty restrained in a beer that’s surprisingly 6.3%.
3 Ravens Ale Noir
It’s been seen this year in “Double” form and now the Thornbury’s brewery’s barrel-aged version of their smoky Dark Ale is back in normal “Ale Noir” fashion. The story behind it sees the brewers pop some of the Dark into a barrel once used for pinot noir and let the two go to work for a few months. The result aroma-wise this time around is low on wine characteristics, but high on the oak and smoke, both of which make an appearance once imbibed amid swirls of dark malts that range from the sweet to the roasty. Carbonation’s kept pretty low, contributing to a body that’s light to medium, with the brewers recommending it’s quaffed at 10C.
Style: Barrel-Aged Smoke Beer
3 Ravens Ravenator Bock
One of the best received of 3 Ravens' limited run releases in 2010, the marvelously named Ravenator is back. Another to take its inspiration from Germany, this is a strong lager, one that was traditionally brewed dark, which is certainly the case here. Treated lovingly, as it should be, with a lengthy period of cool fermentation and maturation at the brewery prior to release, it’s a beer from the Thornbury brewers to reward those who love their malts. On the nose, they come in the form of sweeter, caramel types, with a touch of roastiness, while in the mouth you’ll find the likes of toffee and chocolate giving way to roast, coffee, even smoky notes and a long, lingering dry finish. A lager designed for the colder weather and one that the brewers claim should be poured with “an initial ‘flourish’ to activate the head”. We recommend a triple salchow and curtsy, finished off by throwing your arms wide like Sgt Elias at the end of Platoon.
3 Ravens Rye
This is the return of a beer that first made an appearance in 2010. It’s 3 Ravens' take on the pretty rare Roggenbier style of wheat beer from Bavaria that combines a wheat beer yeast with rye malt. Last year’s was one of the more intriguing specials to roll out of the Thornbury brewery, blending many of the characteristics you’d expect from a wheat beer accompanied by a distinct, almost peppery spiciness. This year’s is one that seems to have got the brewers feeling all florid, as they describe the colour as “burnt sienna” – a description that forced us into a dictionary. It means yellow-brown, apparently. They also talk of a “dense, rocky head leaving delicate lacing on the glass for the duration”. On the nose, we’re told to expect clove plus hints of cinnamon, carraway and banana bread. In the mouth, it’s all about caramel and toffee flavours and (continuing their colourful description) “some distinct pumpernickel bread/rye characteristics” backed up by a hint of noble hop bitterness.
3 Ravens Hell
When done right, the lagers – or helles – originating from the southern German state of Bavaria are among the very best in the world: delicate, beautifully balanced and as refreshing a beer as you could ever wish to taste. We’ve not had the chance to taste this 3 Ravens take on the style yet, so will have to rely on the brewer’s notes, which tell us it’s a light gold/dark straw coloured lager with a dense head and moderate carbonation. On the nose, we’re told to expect a “light, clean malt and grain like aroma” with “very light flowery hop notes”, while once it’s passed your lips, expect a “sweet malty flavour”, a “low level of bitterness” and a “truly sessionable beer”.
Style: Hell Lager
3 Ravens Schwarz
While most brewers seem to be hotfooting it after the latest hop varieties and chasing ever bigger hop fixes, 3 Ravens are happily playing around with malt led beers (and the odd barrel too). The latest release in their Uber Range is another inspired by classic European styles, this time a Schwarzbier, aka a dark lager. It registers in the realms of dark brown – with an orangey tinge when held to the light – rather than black and, as we said, is all about the malts. On the nose that translates to some bready and caramel characters – even a suggestion of coca cola, whereas in the mouth you’ll find sweeter syrupy flavours mixed with lots of chocolate before it’s all wrapped up by some roastiness that comes to the party late then sticks around. Only as you make your way down the glass does the 6%-plus alcohol become apparent, adding a little tingle in cahoots with the gently spicy hops.
3 Ravens Double Ale Noir
The latest limited release (very limited release) from 3 Ravens has undergone quite a journey. It takes the concept of last year’s first Ale Noir (a Geelong Pinot Noir barrel-aged take on their Dark smoke beer) and adds another dimension. The barrel that was used last time around was refilled with Dark beer which spent ten months maturing. A second batch of Dark was placed into a fresh Pinot barrel for six weeks and then the two were blended. The result is a 6.5% beer that brewer Dave Brough says has “a big oaky, vanilla and earthy phenolic nose”. There’s a thinner body than last year’s as there was less malt to “fatten it up”, he says, which along with the slightly acidic notes and long, dry finish give it a vinous character. As for the palate, it’s “a full bodied Pinot spiced with subtle malt sweetness and peated Scotch notes”. There’s only the tiniest handful of kegs so keep your eyes peeled for where they turn up. It will also be released in 750ml bottles and Crafty will be grabbing one next week for a sample.
Style: Oak Aged Smoke Beer
3 Ravens Uber Blond
It might sound like the return of Brigitte Nielsen, but this is in fact the latest release under Thornbury brewer 3 Raven’s Uber range, one which sees them take their Blond (or Golden Ale, depending how you know it) as a starting point then head into strong lager territory. Looking towards Europe – in particularly Germany – it’s a recreation of an altbier, albeit something of an Uber version of that (its subtitle “Sticke Alt” means secret altbier – the one you’d have to request from the publican with a nod and a wink). The recipe puts a greater emphasis on the toasty malts, which leads to rich toffee flavours, with a hint of orange, while the hops are very much in the background, only creeping up with a little bit of a spicy tickle once you’re a few mouthfuls in. Higher fermentation temperatures than used with the normal Blond add some fruity esters, while a lengthy period of conditioning at 1C ensures it pours a clear copper colour.
Bitterness: 30 IBU
3 Ravens USB
On a trip to the UK last Christmas, Crafty noticed some of the brewers behind the UK’s more popular real ale brands, such as Abbot and Old Speckled Hen had started releasing souped up “vintage” versions. And very nice they were too. It’s a similar approach that 3 Ravens has taken here with the second release of their Uber Special Bitter – a bigger, stronger version of their English Ale. Thicker in mouthfeel, darker in colour (an enticing dark rusty hue) and higher in alcohol, it’s not crazily “uber”, more a highly enjoyable, richly caramelised ale with a lengthy and pretty solid bitterness in which the fruity esters of the English ale yeast come through with added intensity.
Style: Extra Special Bitter
3 Ravens Rye
The latest in the 3 Ravens' ‘Uber" series, in which the Thornbury brewers pick a style from their usual range and do something a bit special with it, the Rye is loosely based on their White (or witbier). It’s a Roggenbier, a style originally heralding from Bavaria, in which the yeast strain used in wheat beers is combined with a hefty whack of rye malt – a type of malt rarely used in beers today, although becoming increasingly popular in the US craft scene and among Aussie homebrewers. The result here is a dark copper-coloured beer with a dense white head, a sweet, spicy aroma and a tangy fruit flavour reminiscent of wheat beers but with an added malt sweetness and serious peppery bite.
Style: Roggen bier (Rye beer)