With the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand just around the corner, excitement is mounting around the country* as the Aussies prepare to mount an assault on the trophy they last won in 1999. To mark the occasion, the Portland Hotel in Melbourne’s CBD decided to create a one-off brew. It’s something they’ve done in the past, with an English style ale brewed especially for the recent Ashes tour (so perhaps not the best omen for the Wallabies' chances…). This time around, however, they got The Crafty Pint involved in the brew, working (in the loosest sense of the word) with Rob Freshwater, one of the top brewers at Sydney’s Malt Shovel Brewery and the man responsible for the recipes behind a number of James Squire and Mad Brewers releases, such as the Scribbly Gum Lager and Noir Stout.
“We did it with the 22 Yards [ale] on the hand pump during the Ashes and it went down really well,” says Portland manager Joe Baily. “We thought we’d do something to celebrate the rugby and are aiming for a 6 per cent plus ale combining US and Kiwi hops, which we’re calling the Spear Tackle.”
The Portland Hotel, with its wood-clad, 800l brewhouse picked up by James Squire from the UK a few years back tucked in one corner, is what we like to think of as a gateway venue for beer drinkers. The bar, which takes inspiration for its decor from British pubs, pours the full range of James Squire beers that will be familiar to those who might not classify themselves as craft beer drinkers. But it also features several beers brewed in house, including regulars like the Portland Pale and the Highwayman, plus one-offs like the Spear Tackle and last year’s impressive Two Centurions Imperial Pale Ale that are often more challenging.
The Spear Tackle should turn out to be a powerfully hoppy beer, with Rob opting for American varieties Centennial, Simcoe and Chinook alongside some Motueka from New Zealand. At the last minute, some US Cascade was added to the mix too, although whether this was to make up for the boiling hop foam that spilled from the kettle and down Crafty’s legs while adding a batch of hops we can’t say.
It’s due for release on the evening of September 7 at a launch for Portland Hotel members prior to the World Cup kicking off on September 9. If you’d like to be invited along, you can sign up here.
In the meantime, here’s a few photos we took of the brew in progress:
*OK, if we’re being honest, excitement over the rugby is limited to certain quarters, with people in vast swathes of Australia more likely to be enthused by thoughts of the next harness racing season or the V8 Supercars coming to town, but hey, it’s the intro. And you wait until they reach the semis…
A year on from experimenting with high alcohol versions of some of his brewery’s standard beers, Prickly Moses brewer Steve “Hendo” Henderson has turned his attention to playing around with hops. With Otway Estate – the home of Prickly Moses beers – due to host its annual Oktoberfest in a few weeks, he’s lining up a series of single hop IPAs that will be available on tap for that one day only, the aim being to show punters what different varieties bring to beer.
“We do a brewery tour and a beer tasting session [on the day] and when I dragged out the X-series beers last year I expected around 30 people to come in, but we ended up with more than 100,” he says. “It went down a treat so I thought I’d do something again this year to improve on that. Rather than doing massive, high alcohol beers I’m doing single hop beers so I can show people who aren’t into craft beer some of the different ingredients in beer – and that there’s a lot more to it than just throwing it down your neck.”
The aim is to brew five or six beers on the 50l pilot brewery, of which four will be selected for sampling on the day. For each beer, Hendo’s using an identical, simple malt bill (95% pale malt and 5% English crystal malt for those who care for such things) and an American ale yeast. He’ll aim for the same alcohol content in each (around 7.3%), the same hop bitterness (50 IBUs) and add the same amount of hops by weight for flavour and aroma.
Creating single hop beers (most often IPAs in which the hops are allowed to sing) has become increasingly popular in the craft beer world. Danish gypsy brewery Mikkeller has produced a series, while Scots BrewDog released an IPA is Dead series of beers that is still available in some bars and bottleshops Down Under. Earlier in the month, Ben Kraus at Bridge Road released Galaxy and Stella single hop IPAs designed to showcase two of the stars of the Australian hop growing program.
As for Hendo, this is merely his latest experiment following the release of a Wild Hop Ale at hop harvest time this year and an ale featuring Ugandan chocolate and orange peel in recent weeks. It also continues his love affair with hoppy beers, coming fairly hot on the heels of the Raconteur. So far he’s brewed using Amarillo and Pallisade.
“It’s pretty experimental,” he says. “They’re not necessarily beers I’d package, but more a bit of fun to try on the day.”
The day in question is the brewery’s Oktoberfest on October 22. Last year’s attracted around 500 people for the launch of the brewery’s Oktoberfest lager, Bavarian food, oompah bands and lederhosen. You can catch the train from Melbourne or Geelong and be met by an Oktoberfest bus or stay the weekend in Colac, with buses departing the train station at 11am, midday and 1pm, returning from 4.45pm.
Tickets can be purchased here and includes venue entry, a Prickly Moses 1l stein glass, bus transfers from Colac and food and drink tokens.
Back in the days when they were just starting out in the beer world, back when they still delivered their beers in person, Mountain Goat founders Cam Hines and Dave Bonighton struck up a friendship with the manager of Troika, a bar in Little Lonsdale Street that was one of the first brave enough to stock their Hightail Ale. Thirteen years later and they’re back in cahoots, working together to create the Goat’s latest special release.
The then Troika manager, Mark Dundon, left the bar world for coffee, founding Seven Seeds. And last summer, he and Dave began discussing putting coffee into beer.
“Most coffee beers match the espresso, bitter, roastiness of coffee with dark malts, but I’d always wanted to pair the fruitiness of coffee with fruity hops and make a Coffee IPA,” says Dave.
“The beer culture and the coffee culture tend to go together in places like the Seattle and Europe,” says Mark. “I’d always been up for doing something then Dave and I got talking a while back. I said we had some great contacts direct from the origin, including this really nice guy in Nicaragua.”
And so the process began. Mark selected the big-beaned Nicaraguan ‘Finca El Limoncillo’ Pacamara (Natural Process), an “unusual varietal” with tropical, fruity characters such as prune and paw paw. The idea was that, with enough acidity to match with the hops, it would be used in a manner that it could do a similar job to the hops.
A few trials were undertaken, experimenting with how and when to add the beans to the brewing process. It was decided to roast the beans lightly so as to maintain much of their natural character, while Mark agreed to do the roasting on the day that the brew was taking place so the beans could be delivered as fresh as possible to the brewery.
“We kegged off the first batch and put it on at the Goat Bar and a few other brave pubs to test the waters,” says Dave. “The roasters and Mark all came down to Goat and had a few to see how we’d done. It was pats on backs, but we did decide to tone down the roast a smidge for the subsequent brews. It was a treat to taste the evolving flavours as we added the coffee at the different points.”
The result is the first commercially released coffee IPA in Australia, featuring Tassie Galaxy and US Cascade hops alongside the beans. In fact, it’s a style rarely found anywhere. Mikkeller has played around with the concept, highly rated British newcomer The Kernel has released an excellent one, but even in the days of black IPAs and Belgian stouts it’s an oddity.
“When I spoke to the guy in Nicaragua [who supplied the beans] and told him what we’d done,” says Mark, “he just said, ‘What!?!’.”
From this week, you can grab a Seedy Goat longneck and find out for yourself.
Dave: “Nuts and bolts are that we brewed our standard IPA with a slightly lower alcohol content and bitterness, allowing the coffee to take up the slack. We wanted to replace the hops with coffee – i.e. have coffee standing in for what hops would normally do in an IPA. The other thing was we wanted it to cross the whole palate – not just add a bolt-on flavour – so we added coffee at lots of stages thru the brew: a tiny amount late in the kettle (keg version), then at various stages through ferment and post-ferment.”
You can read The Crafty Pint’s take on the initial kegged batch here. We’ll report back on the bottled version soon.
Quick note: to those of you who already receive the weekly Crafty Pint newsletter – move on, there’s nothing to see here. To those who don’t, please read on.
As well as keeping the website updated with craft beer news, features, videos, beer releases and the like, we also send out a newsletter every Friday lunchtime. It’s not a rehash of the website, but all new material, including regular competitions, roundups of the past week in beer, a look ahead at what’s coming, links to some of the more esoteric happenings in the global beer world and, hopefully, the odd chuckle.
The idea is to include information that might not find a home on the site, give those who receive it the chance to win prizes exclusive to the newsletter, remind you of events or new beer releases that might have slipped your mind, tell you when our work will be appearing in other mediums and, more often than not, waffle inanely about the ongoing adventures of The Crafty Keg, The Crafty Pot and others. We think it’s worth writing so hopefully you’ll find it worth reading. Certainly, we hope it plays a small role in helping beer lovers get though Friday afternoon while also building anticipation for the first Beer O'Clock of the weekend.
If you’d like to sign up, all you need to do is enter your email address in the box on the top left hand side of the front page of the website or here. That’s all we ask – an email address. There’s no information grab going on, so rest assured you won’t be hit up with anything other than the weekly newsletters. And if you find they’re not for you, you can unsubscribe with no more than a click.
It’s a funny old world. A few years back, the occasional moments of “What the !#@$ are we doing?” would descend on Mr and Mrs Pint when contemplating the reality of their plan: to give up their lives in the UK, strap a pair of rucksacks to their backs and make their way slowly to Melbourne, where they knew one person they’d not seen in five years, had nowhere to live and no work lined up. A mantra was adopted from Strictly Ballroom, one of Mrs Pint’s favourite films: “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.” Four years later, and we’re talking to the star of said film about beer. Who’d a thunk it?
Anyway, reminiscences aside, the reason we caught up with Paul Mercurio is that, 23 years after he started home brewing, he’s brought out a cook book dedicated entirely to cooking with beer. He’s featured a number of beer-centric recipes in previous books, but never gone the whole hog until now, with the release of Cooking With Beer earlier this month.
“I’ve been wanting to write this for a long time, since back in the late 90s,” he says. “[At the time] I told the publishers I was planning on doing a beer TV show too and was told to get the show up and then come back to them about the book.”
It took a little longer than planned, but the result is a book split into seven chapters that looks to take people right through from training wheels, with “Things That Go With Beer”, to sections dedicated to the BBQ, the oven, desserts (including a hop pannacotta) and so on.
“It’s just a book about using beer as one of a group of ingredients in a dish. For me, it’s something that I’ve loved using and this is about taking beer and the whole perception people have of it and raising that. It’s about not using VB Light in your fish batter; I say at the start, ‘Don’t use light beer or mass, commercially produced beer’.
“The mix of recipes is a little bit eclectic, with a bit of everything: Australia, American, German, Mexican. There’s my own beer mustard, a hefeweizen cheese soup and a slow braised goat shoulder with chili and beer. I give you the actual beer I’ve used but then suggest people head to their local brewery or bottleshop and see what they’ve got so you can use beers that are local. Hopefully, people [who don’t know much about beer] get to learn about different beers and get talking about it.”
His involvement with beer goes beyond using it in his cooking. When we caught up with him, Paul was just back from New Zealand, where he’d been judging, hosting, presenting and drinking his way through the Beervana NZ festival. He’s also hosted the Australian International Beer Awards and has played an important role in raising the profile of beer in Australia through his TV shows and advocacy of it as more than a means to one end, paving the way for the likes of Chris Badenoch to use his own television appearances, a cook book and the Josie Bones restaurant to state the case for quality beer as a match for wine in a fine dining environment.
“I like what beer does to food,” says Paul. “It’s all about finding a harmony with all the flavours – if it tastes like beer then you’ve got it wrong. Get it right and it creates something that’s awesomely delicious.”
Beyond that, series five of Mercurio’s Menus is due to start shooting in October and November while, having been inspired by Beervana, Paul’s planning to get the home brew kit out again and look at getting a beer back onto the market. He’d also love to get involved in setting up a brewery restaurant, but in the meantime will make do with keeping an eye on his homemade salami, which you can read all about on his blog.
Cooking with Beer, published by Murdoch Books, is out now.
The Crafty Pint turns one next month so we thought it only right to hold a party. And we thought that party should involve great Aussie craft beer, lots of beer-themed fun, beery prizes, anything else we could think of that involved great beer and, of course, cake. We also thought we should hold it somewhere a bit special as a thank you to everyone who’s got behind us since we went live last September: the brewers, bar owners and bottleshop owners who have listings on the site, the advertisers that support us and, last but not least, the punters that enjoy reading what we have to say.
So here’s the deal. We’re taking over the Fed Square Atrium in the centre of Melbourne for what we believe will be the first ever sit down dinner to take place in the venue. In partnership with Beer DeLuxe, we’re putting on $5 schooners of tasty Aussie craft beer. We’re bringing the team behind the Festival of the Frothy, the beer trivia event that entertained 165 people at Ormond Hall in 2009, out of retirement. And we’re throwing a big party.
It’s taking place on the evening of October 15, more than a month after the site’s actual birth date but avoiding the footy finals. There will be drinks beforehand at Beer DeLuxe, a sit down three course dinner with table service provided by the bar so you don’t even have to stand up to get your beers, a huge beer quiz using the Atrium’s big overhead screen, loads of prizes and an after party with DJs back in Beer DeLuxe, where we’ll be lining up an awesome array of beers from the country’s craft breweries.
“The last Festival of the Frothy was fantastic,” says half of the Frothy team and Mountain Goat man Tom Delmont. “If you love beer and enjoy a few laughs then get a team together and come along, take part and win some beery prizes.”
Mark Doble, the other Frother, says: “You don’t have to be a beer nerd to have a great night. The questions will be open to everyone, it’s a chance to try some beers and then enjoy some great tunes afterwards.”
Tickets are $65pp, with tables of eight costing $500. This includes a three-course dinner, a drink on arrival and $5 schooners during the quiz. We’re still working on the beer lineup, but will ensure that not only is it special but that there’s something for everyone. We’ll be setting up online ticket sales very soon, although if you want to reserve your seats now you can email email@example.com.
It should be a lot of fun. We hope to see you there!
Thanks to Beer DeLuxe and Fed Square for their help in making what promises to be an great night out possible.