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Crafty Pint

Your Guide to Australian Craft Beer / Wednesday 23 July 2014

Sounding La Sirene

Crafty Pint / 03.06.14


For the second year running, the crowds that rocked up over three days to this year’s Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular during Good Beer Week proved themselves to be a sweet-toothed bunch. Last year, it was Queensland’s Bacchus Brewing that took out the People’s Choice title for its Raspberry and White Chocolate Pilsner, while last month the title went to Melbourne’s La Sirène for Praline, with the beer finishing comfortably ahead of the remainder of the 100-plus strong field.

The timing was just as sweet for the brewery’s co-founder Costa Nikias as, two-and-a-half years after we tasted their first batch of Saison (sampled while standing at the back of Costa’s car in a Collingwood side street), La Sirène is planning to seriously step things up. The Belgian beer obsessives have been rather laid back in their approach to releasing beer since launching at the end of 2011 but, with a steadily expanding brewery now installed in Alphington, expect to see much more of their beer far more regularly and widely.

“We took over the brewery site in January last year,” says Costa (above, admiring his winning beer). “It was just a shell, a factory that was originally used to build tanks and trucks – a heavy machinery warehouse. Then, about six months ago, I felt that we weren’t challenging ourselves to reach our potential and that we should focus on making sure that people can get our beers regularly.”

For those new to the La Sirène story, Costa started out as a wine maker, including time spent at the iconic Bass Phillip winery in East Gippsland where he developed his passion for and understanding of organic wine making and the use of barrels, before becoming a brewery consultant. He has since travelled the world installing brewing systems, including one recently set up at the Clifton Hill Brewpub for whom he also developed a range of beers.

In 2011, he launched La Sirène with James Brown, whom he had met when studying winemaking and with whom he shared a passion for Belgian beers. They sourced a unique yeast strain from a French village and from there began creating Belgian-inspired ales, all beautifully packaged in champagne style bottles.

Today, the yeast strain is a hybrid of the original import and another commercial variety and the brewery is under the stewardship of Costa and wife Eva. The plan is to place greater focus on La Sirène, taking it to new levels in terms of output – something that will be music to the ears of beer lovers who have already sampled their wares.


The growing La Sirene range

Among the beers they will be able to get their hands on is the Praline, a decadent blend of chocolate, vanilla and toasted nuts that is based on a Belgian stout and manages to be relatively light on the palate and dry at the finish despite a recipe list that includes Mexican cocoa, organic Indonesian vanilla and local hazelnuts. It’s a combination that proved a winning one at GABS, much to Costa’s delight.

“It’s humbling. I’m rapt,” he says. “It’s great to get that sort of feedback. It shows that our level of creativity is what people want.

“We had done some trial batches and got it to where we thought it was a nice blend. It’s quite a luxuriant beer but not sickly sweet and is the darkest beer that we’ve ever done; in fact, it was the first dark beer we’ve ever done and has set the bar quite high for us now.”

As for choosing what style of beer to brew, he says the intention was to create something suitable for winter and also to combine two of his favourite things: Belgian beer and Belgian chocolate. What’s more, “you will never catch us doing an IPA,” he says.

Following its win, the Praline has been brewed again and is likely to become part of La Sirène’s ever-expanding core range, which is set to feature its straight Saison and Wild Saison plus the returning Farmhouse Red and a new Saison de Miel brewed with honey from the Bellarine Peninsula.

Further down the line, there will be some seriously limited releases too. The brewery has a small but steadily growing collection of barrels inside of which a number of experimental brews are developing. Thanks to his winemaking background, Costa has an in depth knowledge of cooperages and which local wineries obtain their barrels from the finest French coopers. And, such is his passion for working with oak, 50 more barrels are already on order while he is eyeing up a second warehouse adjacent to the current one, ready to expand the La Sirène operation.

Having spent the past few years almost constantly on the road fitting breweries and consulting for others, it seems that the decision to stay at home a little longer – not to mention the recent win at GABS – is creating considerable excitement for the future.

“I’ve been at the brewery full time for the past month,” he says. “And I don’t want to leave!”

Fill Those Boots

Crafty Pint / 29.05.14


A pair of beer-lovin' ladies are ending the week $5,500 better off than they started it. On the morning of the second day of last week’s Australian Craft Brewers Conference, Jayne Lewis of Two Birds Brewing announced the winners of the first Pink Boots Society Australia grants. Thanks to a venture run in conjunction with the Craft Beer Industry Association, Young Henrys brewer Agnes Gajic (above left) and Tanya Harrowell of True South (above right) have been awarded grants in order to further their beer education.

The Pink Boots Society was created in the US to empower women beer professionals to advance their careers in the beer industry through education. The Australian branch of the Pink Boots Society has over the last few years released limited run beers with the purpose of raising funds to allow women in the beer industry to access educational opportunities. And it is as result of this fundraising that they are able to offer the grants – one for a female brewer and one for a female working in a non-brewing role in the industry.

Agnes and Tanya were selected by a panel made up of the Pink Boots Australia committee featuring Jayne as well as Kirrily “Beer Diva” Waldhorn, Tiffany “BeerGirlBites” Waldron, Karen “Red Hill” Golding and Sam “Young Henrys” Füss. They were chosen from six brewer entries and 13 from the wider beer world – with all submissions removed of any identifying information to ensure the winners were chosen “blind”.

“Tanya was an absolute standout,” says Jayne. “It was a unanimous decision. Her submission was just incredibly well written and well thought out. It was exactly the kind of thing we want to encourage; everyone went, ‘That’s hands down the best application.’

“We also liked where things were with Agi and what she wants to do. We thought the grant was something that can really help her transition across into beer.

“She wants to set up a small brewery in a public space in cahoots with someone else who applied on the other side of the grants.”

The plan is for these grants to become a regular offering from the Pink Boots Society. Tanya plans to use hers to help fund a PhD study at Federation Uni into “Understanding the role of Women in the Beer Industry” with the intention that "research such as this could act as a starting point to help to ‘define and dramatically dictate people’s behaviours within companies and communities’ towards a more positive image, of and for, women within our Australian Beer industry.”

As for Agi, the plan is to set up “Beer Creative” – A Haven for Learning and Creating – with a friend who is a designer and home brewer. Their hope is that this small public brewery where people can come and learn how to brew on a full commercial setup "will improve the position of women in the beer industry as we will create an environment and a culture where women feel comfortable learning about brewing and will have access to equipment.”

Jayne says: “We had no definite idea what we were looking for. There was no specific requirement on how the grant had to be spent, the applicants just had to use them to increase their knowledge and to make a positive contribution in general. We will now be working with the winning applicants to make sure things happen the way we want them to and that the money ends up where it should. We want to make sure we get a really good outcome with this first set of grants.”

To become a member of the Pink Boots Society, you can sign up here.

Murray's Dark Beer Month

Crafty Pint / 27.05.14


The Bicep is set to return! Despite Murray’s head brewer’s Shawn Sherlock’s insistence that last year’s release of the beer we initially created with the Port Stephens Brewery for a Media Brew competition at Beervana 2012 was never to be repeated, it will come back as part of Dark Beer Month. With last year’s batch of the Auld Bulgin' Boysterous Bicep, a 10 percent Smoked Belgio Imperial Mussel and Oyster Stout being so warmly received and selling out in just four days we had been nudging at Sean for a repeat. And the lure of seeing what would happen when more than 1,000 oysters and mussels were put into his new hop back – part of Murray’s sparkling new brewery – helped get us over the line.

The beer will be one of four big and really big dark beers released from June through to the month of July, which has traditionally become the brewery’s Dark Beer Month*, with three imperial stouts, including the highly rated Wild Thing, normally on the release schedule. This time around, it is a little different, with the Wild Thing and Bicep joined by the annual release of Murray’s smooth black IPA, Shawn’s Fault, and the first bottled release of Hell of the North, a strong, dark Belgian ale first released in draught form last winter that the brewer rated among the best three beers he has ever released.

“Dark Beer Month will be even bigger than last year,” says Shawn. “It begins on the June long weekend, with the release of this year’s Wild Thing in the bottle and the much anticipated return of my namesake beer, Shawn’s Fault Black IPA.

“We follow up with the early July release of our collaboration beer with Crafty Pint, Auld Bulgin’ Boysterous Bicep Imperial Stout in the bottle. This Smoked Belgio Imperial Mussel and Oyster Stout sold out in four days last year, so we’ve decided to brew a bit more this time so more people have the chance to experience the smoky deliciousness of this unique beer.”

The Bicep was conceived to reflect the origins of the parties involved (one Scottish, one Kiwi and one Novocastrian). Planning is underway for a new beer for this year’s Beervana Media Brew competition that will also reflect all three regions, this time most likely taking a Belgian beer style as a starting point.

“The original pilot batch of the beer won its class at New Zealand’s Beervana Festival with a perfect 45/45 score – much to all our surprise!“ says Shawn. "The judges obviously knew a great Smoked Belgio Imperial Mussel and Oyster Stout when they tasted one!”

As for the Hell of the North, he says: “While we’ve released a lot of Belgian inspired beers over the years, we’d never before released this style. We trialled a small batch on draught last year but now we’re very excited at the brewery that more people can experience this special beer.”

Murray’s Dark Beer Month will also see a number of dark beer-inspired dishes on offer at its restaurant and special events at leading craft beer venues across Australia. Wild Thing in the bottle and Shawn’s Fault on draught will be released on June 7 at Murray’s Brewery, then at leading craft beer outlets from June 10. The Auld Bulgin’ Boysterous Bicep in the bottle follows on July 5 with Hell of the North Strong coming two weeks later. Details on launch events will follow.

Now to book our flight to Newcastle and prepare the palate for a post-hop back treat of rich, roasty, smoky hoppy mussels and oysters…

*No one said beer people could count. Just as Good Beer Week ran for nine and a bit days, so does Murray’s Dark Beer Month cover six weeks…

AIBA 2014 Winners

Nick O / 23.05.14


The state that kickstarted Australia’s craft beer revival and the one that’s doing most to drive it forward are both celebrating following the results of the 2014 Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA). Together, Western Australia and Victoria claimed nine awards, including the Champion Australian Beer which went to WA’s Mash Brewing and their “stoked” head brewer Charlie Hodgson for their AIPA, on a night when many of the more established Australian micros had cause to celebrate.

The annual AIBA competition is one of the largest of its kind in the world and is judged by a panel of almost 40 local and international brewers. Three weeks ago, they gathered in Melbourne to judge more than 1,500 beers – the largest ever set of entries – and it threw up a diverse range of recipients.

The three Champion Breweries of Australia saw a clean sweep for Melbourne breweries; Thornbury’s 3 Ravens, which was only given a fresh lease on life when Mash took the brewery over last year, took the trophy for small breweries, Brunswick East’s Thunder Road Brewing took out the gong for medium sized breweries and CUB retained the title in the large breweries category.

In one of the more amusing moments of the night, 3 Ravens head brewer gave a thank you speech in which he warned he wasn’t sure how long he could talk without swearing, promptly did, then concluded: “We’ve never won a gold before so we’ve earned this. Fuck yeah!”

Meanwhile, Thunder Road’s success, complete with a large number of medals, came in its first ever entry to an awards competition.

Elsewhere there was cause to celebrate for Victorian brewers old and new. Kaiju! has been operating for less than a year (having first started under the name Monster Mash) but they’ve clearly hit the ground running by taking out the Best Amber/Dark Ale with their Hopped Out Red. Meanwhile, having brewed the beer for well over two decades, Grand Ridge won the Best Scotch Ale & Barley Wine category for their Moonshine beer, a category in which their Supershine came second.

Other Australian winners included the Sydney Brewery’s Lovedale Lager as the Best European Style Lager, 3 Ravens' English Ale winning Best British Style Ale, Nail’s Hughe Dunn Brown taking out Best Porter and Moo Brew’s Hefeweizen in the Best Wheat Beer category. Across the Tasman, Marlborough’s Renaissance Brewing continued an impressive run by securing the Champion Small International Brewery trophy for the second consecutive year.


Mash brewers collect their Champion Australian Beer trophy

Also announced on the night was the inaugural Media Award. Sponsored and co-created by The Crafty Pint with the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria with the aim of raising the profile of beer coverage in the media, the trophy went to Matt Kirkegaard, editor of Australian Brews News.

Brewers from the USA did nothing to dissuade the view that the States is at the forefront of the modern beer movement as their brewers grabbed seven titles. Ultimate honours went to Deschutes with their Obsidian Stout being named Champion International Beer. Other awards went to Black Tooth, Rogue, Hopworks Urban Brewery, Boulevard Brewing and Red Rock. Fittingly, brewers from Deschutes and Rogue were in Melbourne for Good Beer Week so will have some nice shiny additions to their luggage for the journey home. Two trophies are also headed for South Korea thanks to the success of the Oriental Brewing Company, while the brewery behind the Schlenkerla rauchbiers took out the Medium International Brewery title.

The full list of winners is…


Champion Australian Beer
Mash AIPA – Mash Brewing (WA)

Champion International Beer
Obsidian Stout – Deschutes Brewery (USA)

Champion Large Australian Brewery
Carlton & United Breweries (VIC)

Champion Medium Australian Brewery
Thunder Road Brewing Company (VIC)

Champion Small Australian Brewery
3 Ravens (VIC)

Champion Large International Brewery
Oriental Brewing Company (South Korea)

Champion Medium International Brewery
Heller-Bräu Trum KG (Germany)

Champion Small International Brewery
Renaissance Brewing Ltd (NZ)

Best New Exhibitor
Black Tooth Brewing Company (USA)



Best Australian-Style Lager
James Boag’s Draught – J. Boag & Son Pty Ltd (TAS)

Best European-Style Lager
Lovedale Lager – Sydney Brewery (NSW)

Best International Lager
Cass Fresh – Oriental Brewing Co. (South Korea)

Best Amber/Dark Lager
Rogue Farms Roguenbier Rye – Rogue Ales (USA)

Best International Pale Ale
Organic IPX Single Hop Ale: Chinook – Hopworks Urban Brewery (USA)

Best British Style Ale (excluding IPA & Pale Ale)
English – 3 Ravens (VIC)

Best IPA
Mash AIPA – Mash Brewing (WA)

Best Amber/Dark Ale
Kaiju! Hopped Out Red – Kaiju Beer (VIC)

Best Porter
Nail Hughe Dunn Brown – Nail Brewing (WA)

Best Stout
Obsidian Stout – Deschutes Brewery (USA)

Best Wheat Beer
Hefeweizen – Moo Brew (TAS)

Best Belgian & French Style Ale
Long Strange Tripel – Boulevard Brewing Co (USA)

Best Scotch Ale & Barley Wine
Moonshine – Grand Ridge Brewery (VIC)

Best Specialty Beer
Paardebloem Belgian Ale – Red Rock Brewery (USA)

Best Packaging
Beer School Hop Pack – Bridge Road Brewers (VIC)

Media Award
Matt Kirkegaard

No trophies were awarded in the Australian Pale Ale, Pilsner, European Style Ale and Reduced/Low Alcohol categories

Guests at Saturday night’s Good Beer Week Closing Party at the Terminus Hotel can sample many of the beers entered in the awards in a special AIBA tasting room. Limited tickets available here.

Defining The Future

Crafty Pint / 21.05.14


The second Australian Craft Brewers Conference kicked off at the Arts Centre in Melbourne this morning with a keynote speech from one of the country’s craft beer pioneers, Phil Sexton (above). The co-founder of Matilda Bay and Little Creatures (among many other things) reflected on beer’s journey to here from its nadir in the 1970s and looked forward to a bright future for beer in Australia. And, three years on from its founding, during Good Beer Week in 2011, the Craft Beer Industry Association plans to step up its role in securing that bright future.

To date, the two conferences have been CBIA’s most high profile achievements but much more is planned for the coming year. Among them are a forthcoming consumer website called What is craft beer? that has been a year in the making and there are plans for an Australian craft beer awards too. Today also saw them announce a new definition for craft beer, one that focuses more on the spirit of the industry than any definition based on ownership, size or similar.

“Craft beer is born of a mindset, an idea between art and science executed by the dedicated skill of a brewer.”

“It was drawn up by us having a look at what’s going on around the world where craft beer associations are trying to wrestle with the issue,” says CBIA chairman Dave Bonighton, of Mountain Goat. “There’s no perfect definition anywhere but because we are a broad church [at CBIA] and want to grow the pie we want to be as inclusive as we can.

“We’re not going to say you need to be big or small or use certain ingredients; it’s about an intention and a mindset.”

The association continues to grow in parallel with the industry, with nearly 20 breweries joining in the past six months; Dave believes almost half of the brewers in Australia are now members. As for the conference, the aim is to repeat last year’s success but “better – to do more”, while Jared Birbeck, of Birbeck’s, is continuing his work looking at excise issues.

“We’re looking to get a national craft beer awards and showcase happening by the end of the year,” says Dave. “We really love the idea of having a series of webinars based around the website too.

“The website is part of our stated aim to grow the slice of the pie. It’s one of the ways we hope to get new drinkers across as one of the fundamental goals is to be attracting newbies.

“It covers topics such as can beer pair with food and getting into the nuts and bolts of what malt is and what hops are. But there’s also stuff for the beer geeks out there already.”

Among that is a forum that he hopes will foster conversation between beer lovers and brewers.

Elsewhere on [which will launch soon] will be:

  • Learn Beer – What Is Beer? Featuring the history of craft in Australia by Dr Brett Stubbs, as well as ingredients, brewing process, serving and drinking including glassware, language etc and an Encyclopaedia.
  • Discover styles – covering 41 styles. Visitors will be able to choose from criteria such as ABV, adventurousness and a food type and a finder will offer up beer styles that may be appropriate.
  • Beer and Food – Recipes from some of Australia’s best known beer focused chefs/cooks, starting with Gerard Mitchell from Beersine.
  • Breweries – a map and links to our members' websites.
  • News posts and events.

The Unholy Trinity's Back

Crafty Pint / 20.05.14


Back in 2011, when Good Beer Week first started out, one of the festival’s founders had another spark of inspiration. As a means of bringing attention to the week and also to highlight the community spirit within the beer world, Barney Matthews, then at Beer Deluxe and now at Matilda Bay, suggested bringing together three breweries united by location by distinct in approach to create a collaboration – back when collaborations were rare as hen’s teeth in Australia.

That beer became the Abbey Collabbey – or Abbotsford Collabbotsford, bringing together Mountain Goat, CUB (in the guise of Matilda Bay) and Moon Dog, who had barely finished welding the dairy vat into their brewhouse and bolting the first chandelier to the rafters. Tomorrow night (May 21) sees the fourth iteration of the Abbey Collabbey launched at Mountain Goat in what has become a Good Beer Week tradition and one of the week’s busiest events; last year, on the Wednesday night the brewery was the number one check-in location for Untappd globally. The Royston, across the road, was number four…

This time around, the beer is their biggest yet, a 10.2 percent barley wine that just nudges ahead of an imperial stout brewed in 2012 for size. The first beer was a Belgian style dubbel with waffles; last year they created a Ryeless Red Rye Ale (they forgot the rye malt on the day…)

“It’s huge,” says Goat co-owner Dave Bonighton (above middle with Karl van Buuren of Moon Dog, left, and Neil Whittorn of Matilda Bay, right). “ We brewed it back in February after a series of emails. It’s 10.2 per cent alcohol but also has a big dry hopping regime with mainly Australian hop varieties.”

As with the 2013 release, they will be pouring the beer in draught form at all three breweries over the course of Good Beer Week but some will be bottled as well. We’ve seen what we believe will be the label and that alone will make it worth the purchase. What’s more, for the fourth year running all profits will go to the Collingwood’s Children’s Farm.

“We hope it’s the biggest beer to ever come out of Matilda Bay,” says Dave. “There was a little bit of discussion about making a 10 percent plus beer there. We are very happy that we did.”

As for how they landed on this choice of beer, he says: “We hadn’t done that star before. We have a long list of things that we would like to brew and we felt that this is the right time of year [ for this kind of beer]. There were so many reasons to do it and we couldn’t think of a single reason not to.”

The first Abbey Collabbey was filmed for The Crafty Pint by the Post Project back in 2011, and the same film crew returned to create a short film all about number four. You can view it here:

Better still, you can taste the beer at Mountain Goat tomorrow night, where they also have a number of special beers lined up, including their new collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery, an Australian spiced Saison called Ridgy-Didge.

The brewers would like to thank the sponsors who help them bring the brew together. They include O-I (glassware), Bintani (hops and malt), Post Project (filming), Visy (packaging) and Graphix (labels).

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