You often hear talk of gateway beers, the sort that can smooth a beer drinker’s transition from the mainstream to the wonders of the craft beer world. So how about a gateway venue? If ever you were to sit down and design one, chances are you’d come up with something similar to the Portland Hotel. Slap bang in the heart of Melbourne, it’s mixes bar, brewery and restaurant within one venue in such a way that those looking for an easy-drinking beer in a traditional pub environment can feel just as at home as a craft beer lover venturing in to try out the latest limited release from the wood-clad onsite brewhouse.
Located inside one of Melbourne’s most historic hotels – a building with a long history both as a pub and, prior to the James Squire Brewhouse being installed in 2001, as one of Melbourne’s original “gentlemen’s clubs”, Santa Fe – its taps offer the full James Squire range plus limited release Mad Brewers beers and others brewed in house. In 2010, the onsite brewery knocked out its 200th beer, an excellent Double IPA called Two Centurions, while year round it mixes regular seasonals, such as the ever popular Speculator, with occasional experimental brews. Visitors can join brewery tours from the Brewhouse Bar where there is live entertainment throughout the week.
Newcomers can work their way through the taps with one of the six-beer tasting paddles, while staff are happy to answer questions about their beers too. The Portland also hosts regular beer events, from pairing dinners to new beer launches. The latter are usually free of charge and open to anyone who is signed up to their mailing list. It’s also a key venue during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, during which time it becomes filled with comics and their crowds, while those after a laid back meal can head to the Portland Lane restaurant across the corridor.
NB: Year round, you’ll find the full range of James Squire beers on tap at the Portland. Those listed below are those that are brewed on the onsite brewhouse.
Portland Hotel Beers
It’s all change for the Portland Hotel’s most popular in house brew. The American Pale Ale has been pouring ever since the Brewhouse opened at the venue, traditionally offering up citrus and and passionfruit hop aromas, biscuity malt flavours and a solid bitterness to finish. The change isn’t crazy, just that, as of early 2014, they decided to shake things up a little. From now on, they’ll use the beer to showcase a different hop in each brew, kicking off with Cluster.
Style: American Pale Ale
Portland Hotel Speculator
An annual release from the Portland and one of the favourites among regulars, this is a beefed up take on the US Pale Ale style. A big, robust, hop-heavy beer packed with Cascade, Amarillo and a touch of Kiwi Nelson Sauvin set against a full-flavoured maly backbone comprising pale, Munich and dark crystal malts that give the beer a full body and deep amber colour.
Style: American Pale Ale
Portland Hotel The Craic
Another regular at the Portland bar is The Craic, an Irish-style stout that always rears its head in time for the onset of the colder months in Melbourne – and occasionally pops up at other times too. Black in colour, it’s a creamy, chocolatey number with a dry finish that, as it warms, revealing layers of roasted malts, dark fruits and even some nuttiness created by a blend of roast barley, crystal and Munich malts.
Style: Irish Stout
Portland Hotel Highwayman
The big boy of the Portland’s regular lineup, the Highwayman is a “thrice-hopped” red ale. As such, it pours a deep amber colour with an off white head and plenty of citrusy, grassy hop aromas alongside some sweet caramel and nutty malt characters. Smooth and creamy in the mouth, like a traditional Irish red, with the malt flavours to the fore in the mouth, it all finishes with a solid bitterness, making for a big, hearty, fulsome ale.
Style: Irish Red
James Squire Constable Copper Ale
According to the ever-growing story about the original James Squire, the inspiration behind the name for this midstrength – a new permanent addition to the range – is that in his latter days he worked as a District Constable. Presumably it’s also because a slang term for police officers is copper and it’s a copper ale. And, presumably presumably, it also works because it’s so low in alcohol that you can drink a little and drive without troubling the coppers. Either way, what we know for certain is that this beer, based on the English Bitter style, may hold back the alcohol but not the flavour. It’s not noticeably hoppy, at least in the aroma stakes, but has bags of richy, toffee like malt flavours to tickle the taste buds of those keeping a lid on things.
Style: English Bitter
James Squire Hop Thief 6
Even in Hollywood there are few series that make it as far as number six. So as James Squire’s ongoing series of hop showcase beers reaches the half dozen mark, it’s in rarefied company: Rocky; Nightmare on Elm Street; Friday the 13th; Halloween; Police Academy – that sort of rarefied company. Thankfully, it is holding up rather better than those movies were by their sixth outing. In fact, it’s possibly even an improvement on its predecessor, with a leaner body than the slightly sticky number 5. This time around, the brewers in Camperdown chose popular US hops Simcoe and Columbus for the brew and it is the former that takes centre stage, offering up big passionfruit aromas, with a touch of pine, alongside the creamy caramel aromas of the crystal malts that contribute its enticing amber colour. That fruit and caramel combo follows through to the taste, with a touch of spicy hop in there too in what is a highly drinkable drop from one of the big boys. Apparently, work is underway on number 7 too, with the brewers having recently returned from Tassie armed with fresh Aussie hops…
Nationwide in draught and bottle
Style: American Pale Ale
Mad Brewers Garden de Paradisi
They like to mess around a little at the Malt Shovel Brewery when it comes to conjuring up beers for their Mad Brewers series of occasional releases. In the past, they’ve thrown native plants into a smoked lager, licorice at a stout and now their latest is a relatively high ABV Belgian style witbier that we are told features a rare West African native spice traditionally referred to as “Grana Paradisi” that was once used by Ghanaian which doctors and occasionally in Caribbean voodoo rituals. It has been conceived by two of the younger brewers at the Camperdown facility, Dan Feist and Josh Staines, and is the sixth limited release under the Mad Brewers label. As well as the unusual spice, they threw lime and mandarin peel into the brew along with a blend of Mosaic, Topaz and Summer hops. The result is a cloudy, light yellow beer with a steepling, fluffy white head that gives off some soft spice aromas with a touch of the tropics and more than a hint of lemonade. As for the taste, anyone who grew up in the UK in the late 20th-century may remember Um Bongo, a kids fruit juice with the memorable advertising jingle: “Um Bongo, Um Bongo, they drink it in the Congo.” Well, said advertising jingle came flooding back with the first mouthful of this beer, with the fruity jungle juice moving from sweetness to a drying tang as it goes down.
Style: Spiced Witbier
James Squire Hop Thief V
Every now and then over the past few years, the Malt Shovel brewers have grabbed a load of favoured hops, crammed a load into a beer and sent it out into the world as the Hop Thief. They’ve been at it again, with the release of version five accompanied by the news that the Thief will be back on a more regular basis, but still featuring different hops each time. This time around it’s the turn of CItra and Centennial, a pair of punchy US hops known for their bold citrus character (a point reinforced by the hop pellets they sent to Crafty Towers to announce the launch). It’s a character that’s captured in abundance in the beer too, which really tastes like it’s made out of hop pellets, although not in a bad way. There’s plenty of sweet malt to balance the hops, ensuring they’re showcased well without stealing the show with any runaway bitterness. Look out for state by state launches through James Squire venues followed by a wider nationwide release.
On tap at:
Generous Squire, Perth
The Curious Squire, SA
The Squires Bounty, Tasmania
The Grand Central Hotel, Queensland
The Squires Maiden, NSW
Style: US Pale Ale
Portland Hotel #250
Despite being called #250, you may be surprised to know this beer isn’t actually named for a twitter hashtag. Rather, #250 is the 250th brew to come from the Portland Hotel’s very own brewhouse. Being a celebratory beer, it’s been cause enough for the brewers to let loose a little – after all, it’s their party and they’ll brew what they want to. And what they have brewed is a single hop Galaxy India Pale Ale. If you’re not already familiar with the unmistakable Galaxy hop, what you can expect from this beer are big tropical fruit characters like pineapple and passionfruit. While the #250 may be fairly light in colour, it’s certainly not in bitterness and strength as it weighs in at 7 per cent abv. Running the numbers, only 750 litres of #250 were brewed which means with each pint consumed we’re counting backwards until none is left. Therefore, the solution to this equation is to get down to the Portland Hotel, and get there quickly. NO
Style: Single Hop IPA
Mad Brewers Wee Highlander
It’s been a while – six months, in fact – since the last release from Malt Shovel’s Mad Brewers label, which is a shame as they’ve knocked out some crackers in the past year or two, such as the deeply unusual Scribbly Gum lager and the rather fulsome Hoppy Hefe. Now, they’re back with a beer inspired by Crafty’s homeland. The Wee Highlander is a Scotch Ale designed by the brewery’s own ‘wee’ highlander Hamish McArthur. “The style and name of this brew originates from Scotland and my Scottish heritage,” says Hamish, “a Scotch strong Ale (or Wee Heavy) that we have dubbed Wee Highlander.” In keeping with the style, it’s a "rich, full-bodied, Scottish Ale brewed using a small portion of peated malt to add a slight smokiness and malted oats to add depth of character.”
“Just like traditionally brewed Scotch Ales, this brew undergoes an extended boil which, along with the use of crystal malts, gives a high degree of caramelisation of the brewhouse wort. The result is a brew that has a deep red hue and a much more pronounced malty caramel and roasted malt flavour,” says Hamish. At 6.7 per cent, it should also make for a suitable transition beer as we head into winter. Enjoy from a thistle glass (of course).
Nationwide from April 19
The Fitzroy Pinnacle
Style: Scotch Ale
Portland Hotel Colonial Wheat
The eagle-eyed may have spotted that in the past week, the Portland Hotel’s popular brewer Dan Dainton has left his first commercial brewing role at the Melbourne CBD brewpub to join the ever-growing brewing crew at Holgate. Before he set sail for Woodend, Dan brought one of the venue’s rarer brews back out of retirement, with the Colonial Wheat making an appearance on the taps for the first time in two years. It’s a German-style hefeweizen, brewed from a blend of fresh wheat, malted wheat and pale malted barley. According to the chaps at the hotel, expect “subtle notes of tropical fruit and spicy clove.” And be warned there’s only a limited amount available…
James Squire Hop Thief IV
The Hop Thief, or should we say Hop Thieves, are a series of beers released sporadically by James Squire whenever they feel like going on a hop splurge. Each one has featured a different blend of hops, often newly released, and this is no different. Based around the American Pale Ale style, the hops are a blend of the powerful Aussie variety Stella and Americans Citra and Falconer’s Flight, itself a blend of several punchy hop varieties. The latter two are used for some serious dry-hopping action to impart plenty of citrus and grapefruit aromas over what the brewers tell us is a “rich deep amber malt base”. Delicious with a big steak too, apparently.
And at James Squire Brewhouses across the land (draught only)
Style: American Pale Ale
Bitterness: 35 IBU
Mad Brewers Hoppy Hefe
They’ve been having fun at the Malt Shovel brewery in recent times, throwing liquorice at a stout and everything bar the kitchen sink at their Scribbly Gum Lager. Now they’re taking a couple of styles, popping them in the kettle together and seeing what pops out at the end. One is the German hefeweizen style, the other the hoppier American wheat style, wrapped up together and finished with a Kiwi ribbon in the form of some Motueka hops. Don’t head into the bottle expecting to find much in the way of the banana or clove characters associated with a hefe, however. Instead enjoy a clean, full bodied, fluffy-headed beer that’s more about the hops – in particular the tropical lychee and passionfruit flavours of the Motueka – in much the same way that 8 Wired’s Saison Sauvin was more sauvin than saison.
Style: Hoppy Hefeweizen
Portland Hotel Dan's Debut
The answer’s in the question here, with the latest seasonal to hit the taps at Melbourne’s Portland Hotel the first ever commercially released brew from new head brewer Dan Dainton. A self-confessed hop fiend, Dan’s conjured up a hoppy IPA sure to find favour in the current lupulin-loving climate. “It’s a well bittered and well hopped IPA,” he says, “but not over the top and very sessionable. It uses a hatrick of flavour and aroma hops: fresh Simcoe and Centennial from the states and Australia’s own Galaxy as well.” There’s a hefty malt backbone to keep everything in place too – go check it for yourselves to see how well the new boy’s done!
Bitterness: 50 IBU
Portland Hotel Spear Tackle
Technically, The Crafty Pint helped brew this beer, although quite how much credit we can take for pouring in some grain and hops and assisting with the clean up afterwards is debatable… The beer is a one-off created by the venue to mark the 2011 Rugby World Cup, a hoppy US style pale ale given a Kiwi twist at the end with the addition of some New Zealand grown Motueka hops on top of the American combo of Centennial, Simcoe, Chinook and a splash of Cascade. The result is a beer with a faintly fruity hop aroma, plenty of citrus and tropical flavours and a solid bitterness – solid enough to provide a good match for the brutal action on the pitches.
Style: US Pale Ale
Mad Brewers Noir Stout
A second outing here for the Mad Brewers dark winter number that first appeared last year. It’s not quite as out there as their last release, the smoky Scribbly Gum Lager, but does throw some powdered liquorice root into the kettle for something of a unique twist. The liquorice joins all manner of darker malts in the mix – pale chocolate, dark crystal barley malts and roasted black wheat malt – in a thick, nigh on black beer that’s smooth and creamy in the mouth. Once in there, there’s a lovely jumble of dark cocoa, caramel, burnt treacle and roast flavours, while there are aromas of mocha and a hint of liquorice on the nose. There’s a fair bit of alcohol on the nose too (at least in the bottled version Crafty sampled), with the alcohol reappearing to tingle the lips at the end.