H100: Behind The Pale

January 14, 2011, by Crafty Pint

H100: Behind The Pale

Tick tock. Tick tock. In the world of Aussie craft beer, we’re almost at the point where Bruce Willis (or Leslie Nielsen, depending on your personal preference) bursts into a small room in the basement and discovers a red LCD timer counting down to zero. Except in our case, once it hits zero, no bomb will go off (OK, so no bomb ever goes off in the movies either). Instead, we’ll soon know the nation’s favourite craft beers of 2010 and one lucky voter will win a case of each of the top five beers.

So, as midnight on Sunday draws ever closer and voting for The Local Taphouse’s third Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers ends, time for the final article in Crafty’s short series looking at past favourites. And, given it’s been voted number one in both 2008 and 2009, could it have been anything other than Little Creatures Pale Ale? Quite frankly, no.

We caught up with Little Creatures head brewer Alex Troncoso at the Little Creatures Dining Hall earlier in the week to find out the story behind the beer originally called Little Creatures Live – and as a little bonus heard all about the genesis of White Rabbit’s Dark Ale too, another of last year’s top rated beers.

Little Creatures Pale Ale

First brewed in 2000. Number 1 in 2008 and 2009.

What was the idea behind the beer?
“The first head brewer was Janice McDonald, who commissioned the brewery. The aim was to make a Pale Ale that was our version of a hoppy pale or IPA. If you went back 15 years, people would call it an IPA, but now it’s just an American Pale Ale [as tastes have changed]. They put a lot of attention into the balance of the beer – balancing the bitterness with the malt.

“It used to be made using Cascade, Chinook and East Kent Goldings, then two or three years ago we phased out Chinook as Coors had taken it and switched to Galaxy but kept the balance. The beer has changed a little over time but we’ve never made crazy changes.”

Why do you think it’s proved so popular?
“There’s a story that Miles [Hull – part of the Little Creatures team from day one] tells about when they were first going to open the doors of the brewery to the public. All the bar staff were standing around waiting to taste the beer. When they tried it, they all had blank stares on their faces. It was a gutsy move to make that beer back then – so hoppy and bitter. They used to have a celebration when they sold a pallet of beer in a week; it didn’t happen overnight. There’s a little bit of faith and luck and hoping and praying and then hopefully, eventually, you get there in the end.

“There’s a complexity there, but a lot of it is about the balance. I was judging beer in Singapore and ended up on the panel doing APAs and wasn’t allowed to say anything [about this beer being in the competition]. There were three that tasted pretty much the same but ours ended up winning. The leader of the judging panel was an American who said it won because there was a greater balance than the others. It’s consistency as well – trying to keep the quality up in terms of microbiological control.”

White Rabbit Dark Ale

First brewed in 2008. Number 8 in 2009.

What was the idea behind the beer?
“It started out with me and Dean, the original head brewer up there [at White Rabbit] looking at making something like a Belgian Dubbel. We thought it would be a bit like a Belgian beer, a bit like an English ale and a bit like an American Brown so when we did trials we tried all kinds of English, Belgian and American yeasts.

“We’d made a proper amber ale called The Knowledge at Little Creatures in 2007 and when we were talking about what beer to make we said that the best we’d had in a while was that one and it went from there – although the Dark Ale actually tastes nothing like The Knowledge! We specifically made the decision to have more classic hop characters instead of the big, fruity American hops. It uses all Australian and New Zealand hops that are blended rather than letting one take over. We use the same amount of hops as when we were making the Pale Ale in that brewhouse [before it was brought over to Healesville from Freo], but they are different varieties so more subtle. There’s a bit of richness, a lot of malt character and some roast notes but all kept in balance.”

So, will Little Creatures triumph once again? Find out when the results are announced on Australia Day.

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