Crafty Pint /
It’s almost two years since Alpha Queen from Boatrocker first appeared in Aussie bars and bottleshops and turned heads with its highly hopped aromas and full flavours. For a debut release by a new brewing company (founder Matt Houghton doesn’t have his own brewery yet so has beer made to his recipe elsewhere), it was pretty ballsy, featuring big US hops and not holding back on the bitterness.
And, while Matt has tweaked the recipe since then, there was no second beer… until now, with the arrival of Hoppbier, a “Beer Garden Pilsner”. Using all German malts and playing with the minerals in the Geelong water to create a water profile like that of Northern Germany, the new beer is a little bit old meets new, with the use of all New Zealand hops that give it some tropical fruit salad aromas.
“When I was backpacking around Europe years ago, I loved the bars of Northern Germany and the beers they served there,” says Matt. “I’d always wanted to make something like that and also love New Zealand hops so thought I’d do something with a shitload of hops thrown in late in the boil and dry hop the beer as well.”
The result was the Hoppbier, which displays fruity nose you’d expect from Motueka and Riwaka hops and a bitterness that’s there but doesn’t linger. It arrives at a good time, with the mercury – and consequently the demand for refreshing beers – on the rise. As for the Alpha Queen, the latest batch is a UK – US hybrid with English Maris Otter malts and a blend of three American hops giving it nice toffee and dark citrus flavours, an enticing nose and bigger bitterness than its new sibling.
Looking ahead, Matt’s search for a brewery and investors continues. Unlike some brewing companies that create a story that leads drinkers to believe they brew their own beer, he’s always been up front about the Boatrocker set up. But it’s a situation he’s keen to change.
“My aim is to grow into a brewery, but to do that we need to get to the right sales levels and we need investors. We want to produce our own beers and make styles – big IPAs and stouts – that we can’t at Southern Bay. Quality control isn’t an issue there, but the equipment can’t be pushed as far as my imagination would like.”
So for now it’s on with the one-man Boatrocker mission (with help from his wife) and plans to have beer number three out in the next six months.
Note: the photos were taken at Dexter’s, a cool little cafe / bar in Clifton Hill with a small, but select craft beer range. Hunt it down on Queen’s Parade or find them on Twitter @dexterbarcafe.
Crafty Pint /
It did seem a little odd – at least it did if you were able to stop admiring what a good beer it was to focus instead on its name: Draught Ale. In a bottle. The brewers knew it was a little odd too, but as victims of their own success they went with it anyway. Until now, two years on from the first kegs of Stone & Wood Draught Ale rolling out of their Byron Bay brewery doors, when they’ve decided it deserves its own name. Which means it’s goodbye Draught Ale, hello Pacific Ale.
“Ever since we launched our ale, people have continually been asking us, ‘What style of beer is it?’,” says Jamie Cook, part of the three-man team that founded the brewery. “As independently minded brewers we don’t want to be limited to brewing beers from an existing style register. There is nothing stopping brewers from developing new approaches and using new ingredients to create new styles of beer that don’t fit the strict criteria of traditional beer styles. That’s the mindset that drives our approach to brewing, and is what led us to develop our ale.
“After a couple of years of living and brewing in this little town and watching people enjoying our Draught Ale here and afar, we are convinced that it has developed its own style, its own special place in the small beer world. So we changed the name, but the beer remains the same.”
He says they felt it “deserves a name that speaks to where it is created, its home, a name that helps it establish its own place and its own beer style”. Hence Stone & Wood Pacific Ale. The beer – a wonderfully refreshing, passionfruit, citrus and tropical fruit explosion that’s a great example of what can be achieved with the Australian Galaxy hop – was only ever intended to be served as a draught beer. But when word spread outside Byron’s bars, it was put into bottles as the brewery’s second year round packaged beer (following the Pale Lager). You’ll still see it labeled as Draught Ale for now, but expect to see the new packaging appear over the coming months.
Crafty Pint /
It turns out the five match series that’s just kicked off at the Gabba is merely a warm up for the real thing; the battle before the war. It’s on Australia Day next year that the gloves come well and truly off – for the third annual Brewers versus Winemakers cricket match.
After victories in the past two years for the winemakers, Red Duck’s Scott Wilson-Browne says: “Brewers with any skill in cricketing, we need you! Winemakers have won the last two matches – due to heavy stacking, or cheating, on the winemakers side. Brewers just wanting a bit of fun, join in. Spectators, beer drinkers – even winos – you’re invited too.”
It’s a family friendly event held at Bress Winery & Cidery with gourmet food supplied by Bress and free-flowing beer and wine. Participating brewers are encouraged to bring a small keg or sample brews. The game is played in a format similar to indoor cricket with a touch of 20/20. Indoor cricket balls are used to prevent injuries and all equipment is supplied.
“We had a great turn out in 2010,” says Scott, “including True South, Cryer Malt and Otway Estate, who are all saying yes again this year. It would be great to see some others on the day.”
Given Crafty was a member of the Goat Army team that took out the Northcote Thursday night Indoor Cricket League Division 4 (of 4) title earlier this year with help from Hargreaves Hill, there’s clearly some cricketing talent in the industry. So it’s time to don the whites, show some pride and take the title back from the winemakers.
Anyone interested in taking part should email email@example.com.
Crafty Pint /
The Yarra Valley is known globally for its wine and, in more recent years, has been developing a reputation for beer too. Once home to a single brewery – Buckley’s in Healesville – it now has four: Hargreaves Hill, formerly of Steels Creek, now brews in Lilydale and operates a lovely restaurant / cellar door in Yarra Glen; Coldstream Brewery celebrates two years of brewing in January; White Rabbit, opened by the Little Creatures team, now brews two beers – Dark and White Ales – in open fermentation tanks next door to the Giant Steps cellar door and restaurant in Healesville; and, of course, there’s Buckley’s.
Each brings a unique approach to brewing and together they offer a welcome alternative to the region’s wineries. This week, they’ve given The Crafty Pint their favourite Australian craft beers of 2010 as voting continues for the Hottest 100 poll, being run for the third year by The Local Taphouse.
As in previous weeks, they’re not allowed to select their own beers (which has made for one interesting submission) even though they can vote for them in the actual poll. You can enter here, where you’ll also find rules of entry. Alternatively, you can use these choices and those of previous weeks to refresh your memories of some of the best beers released in Australia in 2010 and hold on until the very end of the year before voting.
So, in no particular order…
Owner Simon Walkenhorst:
Wig & Pen – Kolsch
Feral – Barrel-aged Saison
Burleigh Brewing – 28 Pale Ale
Red Hill – Temptation
Mountain Goat – IPA (straight from the bottling line)
Simon wishes to point out that he hasn’t been able to include Bridge Road’s B2 Bomber as he’s still awaiting his bottle…!
Brewer Glenn Harrison:
Wicked Elf – Mad Abbot Strong Abbey Ale
Lobethal Bierhaus – Devil’s Choice Strong Golden Ale
Bright Brewery – Stairhouse Porter
Otway Estate – Biere de Garde
Knappstein – Reserve Lager
Brewer Alan Harding:
White Rabbit – Dark Ale
Hargreaves Hill – Pale Ale
Mildura Brewery – Chocolate Porter (First offered at Fed Square Microbreweries Showcase)
Grand Ridge – Gippsland Gold
Jamieson – Raspberry Ale
Alan says he hasn’t had the chance to try many more, stating: “I need a holiday and a driver.” Poor chap.
A poll of the brewery team:
3 Ravens – White
Moo Brew – Pale Ale
Cooper’s – Stout
Bridge Road – Galaxy Single Hop IPA
Temple – Saison
Owner John O'Callaghan:
“I’ve given up drinking other brewers' beer if I can drink Buckley’s,” he says. “However I find the Sauvin hops in Knappstein’s lager very refreshing.”
Hopefully, there’s a few there to bring happy experiences flooding back. Look out for future picks from managers of Australia’s top beer bars as well as looks at the stories behind previous favourites in the Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers polls.
Crafty Pint /
It turns out that if you build it, they will come. After all, if someone had told you a few years ago they planned to open a craft beer bar on the edge of the Yarra Ranges – in the home of Puffing Billy to boot – you’d have wished them good luck and hoped they had the money to lose. Yet Oscar’s Alehouse celebrates its second birthday tomorrow in rude health. Its loyal customer base races through keg after keg of fine Australian-brewed beer (and seems to post comments singing its praises on every Crafty Pint beer story that appears on the Age website) while American owner Brad Merritt watches orders of specialty bottled beers sell out before he has the chance to add them to his blackboard.
While Belgrave – 40km from Melbourne’s CBD – is hardly Broken Hill, the bar’s success, recognised with impressive placings in a number of categories in the recent Beer & Brewer Best Venue awards, is a good omen for the chances of craft beer in Australia spreading beyond the capital cities. Brad, who runs the bar with wife Gypsy, says he’s “in disbelief” at the results and also the support of his dedicated followers. To mark his birthday, he gave Crafty an insight into the Oscar’s story.
On its opening
I played it somewhat safe in the beginning by offering some recognised brands, while focusing on Victorian microbrewed beers. I had Cooper’s Sparkling, James Squire Amber and Little Creatures on tap when I started, along with Old Speckled Hen and Hargreaves Hill Pale Ale. I knew, given time, I could educate some, lose others, and gain a following of local people who had to venture into the city to find good beer otherwise. I had 25 beers in bottle when I opened, and that often exceeds 60 these days; I always have more beer than I can physically list.
How he got into craft beer
I was working my way through university when I first started bartending in Buffalo, NY. I was also involved in live music booking/promotion at clubs in Buffalo and found I had a talent for it. I decided to move to Los Angeles to see if I could make a career out of it. I eventually started my own indie record label, which I ran for five years, all the while bartending to support my business. It was during this time that the craft brewing industry in the US was starting to grow. Luckily, I had the Library Alehouse just a ten minute walk from my pad in Venice Beach. Their menu of ever-changing microbrewed beer on tap was an inspiration to me, although I had no idea the impact it would have on me until many years later.
The origins of Oscar’s
While working at a top Los Angeles interactive agency, into my local bar walks Gypsy, this cute, confident and strong willed Aussie backpacker. She proposed to me (yep, that’s right) after three months living together in LA but the deal was I’d have to move to Australia. Three-and-a-half years later, we land in Melbourne and settle in the Dandenong Ranges and I start working for an online marketing agency within a month with a daily commute to the city. It was great at first but the stress of the job, the long commute and little time I spent with my wife got the better of me.
I took up the hobby of homebrewing as I was not satisified with the beer available in the hills, especially at the local bars. After my fourth kit brew, I was ready to give it up but a friend, Jeff Wyant (currently a brewer at Holgate), convinced me to continue but get into all-grain brewing. My beer went from swill to exceptional. I immersed myself in home brewing study, joined a home brewing club and brewed while my passion for website development and search engine optimisation waned. I wanted to brew on a commercial level but wasn’t ready to open a brewery. So, to raise the capital to start a brewery, I decided to pull all my experiences together – bartending, a passion for beer, customer service, marketing/promotion, booking talent – and decided to open a bar. Two-and-a-half years later, Oscar’s Alehouse opened its doors.
Business is still growing after two years. We advertised locally in the beginning but stopped completley as we were getting the wrong crowd. We made the conscious decision to grow the business naturally by word of mouth and filter out the undesirables. The best decision we ever made was never to carry any VB, Carlton, Tooheys, Hahn and the like. We are a free bar, we have no contracts; we decide what we stock and who we deal with.
Our business is mostly local, but in such a sparse area, local means up to a 15km away. We have a very steady base of regulars and a smaller percentage of people who come from the city to check us out. We’ve become what many refer to as Cheers: a place where everyone knows your name. Our focus (other than excellent drinks) is conversation, a place where friends can meet and enjoy each other’s company without screaming over music.
What else is on offer other than beer?
Light food that goes well with drinks: all Victorian cheese plates, bruschetta, gourmet cheesy toast, bowls of beer nuts and grilled mixed nuts, plus kalamata olives handpicked from an olive grove in Greece established in 776BC.
All Victorian wines, including a Shiraz from a vineyard that just received five stars from James Halliday and a Durif that won best in Australia by the glass. Our cocktail menu combines my ten years in LA with current trends. We also carry hard to find things that deserve representation, like Willie Simpson’s Melomel, a fruit-infused dry mead with a touch of Tasmanian native pepperberry. We love to get our hands on things that push the boundaries.
Here’s hoping the success continues and proves an inspiration to other bar and hotel owners with businesses outside the cities. That said, Brad’s now considering opening a second Oscar’s in Melbourne…
Crafty Pint /
The genie’s out of the bottle: beer cocktails have reached the hills! Just weeks after Crafty revealed Beer DeLuxe had launched a range of beer cocktails, some using beer as an ingredient, others featuring hop-infused spirits, Kelly’s in Olinda has announced plans to introduce a beer cocktail every week in the run up to Christmas. Under the name “Decembeer”, it kicks off with a Lagerita before moving on to the Vote For Pedro, Gingerlee and Dirty Sanchez, using beers from 2 Brothers, Otway Estate and St Arnou in the mix.
Tim Dundon, from the log cabin-like bar and restaurant on the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, says: “We have a massive interest from quite a good cross section of the local demographic – especially the younger crowd – for new craft beers and thought this was a cool way of combining our love of beer, good spirits and cocktails.”
Kelly’s is one of a handful of places in Victoria outside Melbourne – and the state’s microbreweries – introducing craft beers to its drinkers. They’ve stocked the likes of Holgate, Hargreaves Hill, Jamieson, Stone & Wood, Mountain Goat, Matilda Bay, Little Creatures, Lord Nelson, Knappstein and Coldstream as well as the breweries mentioned above and are planning to add up to another ten packaged craft beers in the coming weeks, as well as a range of Yarra Valley ciders.
Given The Local Taphouse St Kilda’s last Ale Stars session featured beer blending and beer cocktails, it seems there’s an interesting little niche growing here. Perhaps it’s something you’ve tried at home. If so, why not let us know and we can share your recipes with the wider world, whether it’s a favourite black ‘n’ tan or an actual cocktail.
As for Kelly’s Decembeer, it kicks off with the Lagerita on December 1 – a blend of tequila, lime juice, agave syrup, which is shaken and strained over ice into a tall glass, topped with lager, stirred gently and garnished with a lime wedge.