Thursday, 21 March 2019

WOLF OF THE WILLOWS

2019: The Year of Local

STATS
  • Brewery Type: Physical
  • Region: Outer Suburbs
  • Tasting Room: 386 Reserve Rd, Cheltenham
  • Food: American BBQ
  • Price: Slightly Pricey
  • Websitehttps://www.wolfofthewillows.com.au/
Scott & Renae McKinnon, started Wolf of the Willows as a contract brewing operation in late-2014. At the time they were entering a relatively crowded market, not as crowded as it is now admittedly, so had to stand out some how. They went about it by having striking branding and one of the better names out there.

The inspiration for the name of the brewery took inspiration from the work of Pliny the Elder, the Roman naturalist, better known in beer circles for the IPA named after him from Russian River. He is credited with the first description of hops, which he described as lupus salictarius, in English "wolf among the willows".

The three beers that became their core range followed over the next year, before they managed to secure a brewing space of their own. Well sort of... They share a brewing facility with Bad Shepherd, located on a back street in Cheltenham. Moving from a contract/gypsy operation to a physical brewery has allowed Wolf of the Willows to massively expand the range of beers that they brew & fine tune their already excellent core range.

As mentioned above, Wolf of the Willows share their brewpub with Bad Shepherd. As such much of the following is recycled from the Bad Shepherd post. As you walk up the stairs to the brewpub their is a large decking area to your right. The tiled bar is in front of you as you walk in and runs a pretty significant amount of the way from front to back of the brewery. This draws your eyes to the stainless steel, which takes pride of place at the back of the warehouse.

As you can see in the picture above (photo credit: City Lane), it's quite a well lit warehouse with a high roof. There's plenty of timber and exposed steel in the construction of the building and this has been incorporated into the fitout, which is quite minimalist and modern. The tables are quite large, which is a good thing as the food is plentiful! The brewpub is known for their American BBQ, it's pretty good although, as it's BBQ, it is a little on the expensive side.


As much as I love their original beer, the XPA, I'm going to review the Lark Barrel Aged Imperial JSP. Partly because the artwork is great & more imporantly because was a seriously interesting beer! It's the first beer in what's expected to be a series, of barrel exchanges between Wolf of the Willows & Lark Distillery in Tasmania - where selected barrels will be sent back and forward and re-used. I'm pretty excited to follow these releases from both producers.

This beer is a malty beast! The character that really surprised me was the smokey ham flavour, that I normally associate with Rauchbiers, which was the dominant flavour and aroma of the beer! Alongside it were layers of malt with heaps of chocolate, roast & molasses. There was some whiskey notes, although I think they could've been stronger with the warming quality the most noticeable indication that it had spent time in barrel - alongside the slight oxidation these types of beers experience.

All-in-all, a really intriguing beer and I will certainly be picking up the next release from this season. It should also be noted that Lark are re-using the barrels that had beer in them and will be releasing a single malt called The Wolf Edition at some point in the future.

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

Thursday, 14 March 2019

BAD SHEPHERD BREWING CO

2019: The Year of Local

STATS
  • Brewery Type: Physical
  • Region: Outer Suburbs
  • Tasting Room: 386 Reserve Rd, Cheltenham
  • Food: American BBQ
  • Price: Slightly Pricey
  • Websitehttp://www.badshepherd.com.au/
Husband & wife team Dereck & Diti Hales threw in their corporate careers and started Bad Shepherd in 2015. Their brewpub is housed in a converted warehouse in the back streets of Cheltenham, not far from the Nepean Highway. The brewpub has become something of a community hub in Cheltenham, attracting beer lovers and local workers alike.

Their brewing facility doesn't just house them however. In 2015 they teamed up with another husband & wife team, Scott & Renae McKinnon of Wolf of the Willows, to build the wonderful brewpub and production facility that has become so attached to their brand.

Bad Shepherd originally made their name making a really interesting core range, the Raspberry Wheat & Hazelnut Brown spring to mind. Their core range has been a little harder to find in recent years as they've focused more on limited releases.

The brewpub is on a relatively quiet street in Cheltenham. As you walk up the stairs to the brewpub their is a large decking area on the front right. The tiled bar is in front of you as you walk in and runs a pretty significant amount of the way from front to back of the brewery. This draws your eyes to the stainless steel, which takes pride of place at the back of the warehouse.

As you can see in the picture above, it's quite a well lit warehouse with a high roof. There's plenty of timber and exposed steel in the construction of the building and this has been incorporated into the fitout, which is quite minimalist and modern. The tables are quite large, which is a good thing as Bad Shepherd's food is plentiful! They've become known for their American BBQ, it's pretty good although, as it's BBQ, it is a little on the expensive side.

There was only ever one choice for their beer in this list; Victoria Pale Ale. This beer is brewed with 100% Victorian ingredients! The hops come from Barrett Burston in Geelong, the hops (Vic Secret & Topaz) from Hop Product Australia's Rostrevor Farm and the  piece de resistance, Melbourne No. 1 Ale Yeast - unused & in storage at White Labs since 1936!

The idea is wonderful, and might I add perfect for the project I'm undertaking this year, however the thing that really matters is that the beer is good. It's a 4.2% summer ale and so accordingly it's quite a light bodied beer, with malt taking a back seat. The hops again don't provide a heap of flavour or bitterness, however there is some fruitiness from the yeast.

I've heard that Bad Shepherd are looking to make Melbourne No. 1 their house yeast so watch this space... I think this yeast could work really well in a big IPA or Imperial IPA.

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

Sunday, 10 March 2019

LOCH BREWERY & DISTILLERY

2019: The Year of Local

STATS
  • Brewery Type: Physical
  • Region: South Gippsland
  • Tasting Room: 44 Victoria Rd, Loch
  • Food: No Food
  • Price: Slightly Pricey
  • Websitehttps://www.lochbrewery.com.au/
Twenty minutes further down the road from Howler Brewing Company you can find another brewery that calls an old bank (& the butcher next door) its home. Loch Brewery & Distillery is housed in a 100 year old, red brick former bank in the quaint town of Loch. They've been producing beer there in 2014; however their journey to becoming a brewery is a bit different to most...

The team behind Loch's first passion was whisky. Trips to Tasmania and the U.K. followed for Craig & Mel, where they learnt more about the art of good Single Malt visiting some distilleries with some breweries thrown in for good measure. On this trip they learnt that to make good whisky you have to be able to make good beer. (The overly simplified explanation of whisky is that you brew a base beer and then distill it.) To use their own words "if you needed 80% of a brewery to make a whisky beer, why not complete the extra 20% and brew some good old fashioned Ales."

That is exactly what they did. They designed their own brewing system and had it made in nearby Langwarrin. The brewery fits snugly into the old butchers shop next to the wonderful brick building pictured left that functions as their distillery & cellar door.

The cellar door is beautifully presented with the copper still taking pride of place in the middle of the main room. The bar greets you as soon open the big glass doors. The walls are covered in shelves proudly displaying their wide range of products & shelves. When we visited there were a number of groups dotted around the place. For those of you with furry friends, there is a lovely little beer garden between the two buildings where you can sample the wares.

Naturally I indulged in a tasting paddle at the brewery. They've got three core range beers & a rotating special release tap. The recipes are all heavily influenced by English brewing & utilize traditional English hops (EKG, Fuggle, Challenger, Bramling Cross etc.).

The beer I'm sharing with you today is the Dark Ale. I had this both on cask at the brewery and in a bottle that I took away with me and both were great. It had everything you'd expect from an English Dark Ale with chocolate malt characters the most prominent, with roast and smoke also both present. There is an earthy bitterness that balances the beer. On cask it's incredibly smooth, as you'd expect. It'd be a wonderful beer on a winter's visit to this picturesque brewery.

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

BURRA BREWING CO

2019: The Year of Local

STATS
  • Brewery Type: Physical
  • Region: South Gippsland
  • Tasting Room: 12 Commercial St, Korumburra
  • Food: Pizza
  • Price: Average
  • Websitehttp://www.burrabrewingco.com.au/
Burra Brewing Co is a brewpub based in the small South Gippsland town of Korumburra, about an hour and a half from Melbourne. Like so many wonderful ideas, the idea for Burra Brewing Co started on a boys trip away, on the golf course, after a few too many beers. Most of the times these ideas are forgotten whilst partaking in even more beers or in the haze of the next day. Some remain as a in-joke; "Remember when we said...". Very rarely they get acted upon.

This is what happened for Phill, Anthony & Luke, now co-owners of Burra Brewing Co. That boys trip in 2013 lead to four years of research & planning before Burra Brewing Co was finally born in 2017. The doors to their brewpub were officially opened by their local MP on August 11th, 2018 to much fanfare in the township of Korumburra.

The town of Korumburra has a population of 3,500-4000 people and is situated 120km south east of Melbourne. It's a highly fertile area with excellent meat, dairy products, fruit & wine being produced in the region. Some of the co-owners are from Korumburra and decided to open their brewery in the township due to the growing food tourism trade.

The building that now houses the brewery was a run down nursery and farm supplies shop on the main street in Korumburra. It's been put through a serious transformation to house the brewpub; the before & after photos are quite remakable. I initially thought it must've been a new build when walking up to the brewery, such is the difference to the surrounding buildings.

Out the front of the brewery is a large decking area, which functions as a beer garden. We visited on a Sunday afternoon, there was a good crowd of people enjoying the beers & the sun whilst sampling a few of Burra Brewing Co's finest. They had a musician playing, complete with a harp - something you don't see at most breweries!

The bar is just inside the door, with prominent colourful tap decals. The whole brewery is designed around showing off the brew house, with plenty of stainless steel on display through windows behind the bar. We'd already eaten so didn't sample any of the food on offer, however what we saw looked really good! They predominantly do wood fired pizzas, although there are also some salads, snacks and desserts on the menu.

I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of beers on offer at Burra Brewing Co. I had an Amarillo IPA & a Maple Porter, amongst others. I've decided to write about their Pale Ale, which I took home in a squealer. I think drinking their Pale Ale is a really good way to measure a new brewery, particularly in Australia.

I have to say I was impressed by the version I had from the brewery, which was well balanced with nice toasted malt characters and tropical fruit hop notes. The bitterness is apparent, but fits in nicely with the overall composition of the beer.

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

BEER O'CLOCK PODCAST - EPISODE 6

Episode 6 - Show Notes 

We're back! The break between shows was a little longer than anticipated given we lost our 2018 wrap up show to a combination of technical difficulties & user error. In any case, we're back for 2019 and with any luck will have an episode up at the start of every month.

We're going to rotate some segments in and out, especially early on while we get into the swing of things - so if there is anything you love or hate, please let us know! The idea at the moment is that the podcast will be (roughly) monthly, and we'll try and keep that pretty regular - at least more so than I've kept the blog up to date recently... Basically every month we'll discuss some of the latest news from the beer world, we'll talk about some beers that we've been enjoying over the last month & we'll crack something interesting from my cellar.

This month we had a heap of news to discuss, given how long we'd been away this was hardly surprising. There is also a a good discussion of our trip to Brunswick to visit Foreigner & Inner North. We chat about Dylan's recent trip to South Korea & about some of the local beers that we've been enjoying recently. Our 6-pack this month is Goses, which turned out to all be fruited, and we finished off with an unusual style; a Yam Beer!


 Show Notes

News Items (1:20)
  • Balter release Hazy IPA - social media hype
  • Modus Operandi smaller cans 
  • Pirate Life x Limeburner Whisky Collaboration
  • Hottest 100 - Wrap Up - Local Community Breweries
  • New Zealand Hottest 100 Results
  • Broo ASX discrepancies
  • Ogdens Brewery - Opening in a heritage hotel in Perth
  • Bridgeport Brewing to close
  • Endeavour Brewing crowdfunding
  • Hahn Ultra Crisp - gluten free - including tasting notes
  • IRI Marketedge Growth Report 
  • House of Malt - boutique malthouse
  • Ellerslie Hop Australia - re-opened after fire
Scouting Report (29:00)
  • The Foreigner Brewing Co & Inner North Brewing
    • Polarizing experiences
What We're Drinking (34:55)
  • Dylan's South Korea Trip
    • Craft Beer Bars in Seoul
    • Quite cheap
  • Garage Project Golden Spiral
  • Mr Banks I Like to Break a Mental Sweat Too
  • The Year of Local Update
What We're Brewing (49:28)
  • Our Mango Gose
    • Needed re-fruiting & time
    • Almost 1g per litre
    • Bottle available - we're interested in some feedback
Desert Island 6-pack (53:28)
  • Goses - fruited, not-fruited, anything goes.
  • The cross overs this month were:
    •  To Øl Santa Goes F&#% It All, Hop Nation The Punch, Garage Project White Mischief  
  • Dylan's 3 individuals;
      • Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose, Red Button POiMA, Omnipollo Bianca Blueberry Lassi Gose,  
  • Noz's 3 individuals;
      • Anderson Valley Briney Melon Gose, Prairie Flare, Magic Rock x Kissmeyer Salty Kiss
  • Honourable Mentions
      • Stomping Ground Watermelon Smash, Doctors Orders Electrolyte, Hop Nation Black Rhino Cherry Lips, Zagovor All Summer in a Day, Deschutes Smoked Gose, Magpie The Ghost
Noz's Cellar
  • The Bruery Autumn Maple
    • A Belgian Brown Ale brewed with yams, molasses, maple syrup & spices
    • Cellared since ~November 2016
    • Thumbs Up
Hope you all enjoy the podcast! Most of our time this year at Beer O'Clock Australia is going to be taken up by The Year of Local undertaking. Keep your eyes peeled as there are a number of posts waiting to be finalized. We'll be back with a new episode hopefully at the start of April. Until then...

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

Friday, 1 March 2019

HOWLER BREWING COMPANY

2019: The Year of Local

STATS
  • Brewery Type: Gypsy (for now!)
  • Region: South Gippsland
  • Brewed At: Craft & Co, Black Dog & Burnley 
  • Tasting Room: 47 Westernport Rd, Lang Lang
  • Food: Gourmet Pub
  • Price: Inexpensive
  • Websitehttps://www.howlerbrewing.com.au/
Lang Lang is a small town located roughly 70km south east of Melbourne. The town entered my consciousness at an early age, as my grandfather was a long term member of the Lang Lang Golf Club. It's an area known for beef & dairy production, and is also the centre of the largest aspargus growing region in the southern hemisphere! All said and done, it's not a town you'd expect to find a craft brewery.

As you drive down Westernport Road, the main drag in Lang Lang, you spot the brewery on the edge of town. It's housed in an old bank, built in 1929 & originally tenanted by ES&A Bank (English, Scottish & Australian Bank) before becoming an ANZ branch after their takeover of the former in 1970. The building stat idle for 5 years before Howler came along two years ago.

They've done a heap of work changing the building into a space to serve beer, and soon to brew their own beer on site. The team are hoping to have a 600L pilot system setup out the back by mid-March and they aren't stopping there! They have plans to have a bigger off-site production facility up and running in the next three years and to spread their beer far and wide.

The brewery is named after the Howler, something of a local legend, a mysterious creature said to inhabit the swamp lands around Lang Lang. It's said to be a bigger, tougher version of the more well known Bunyip from just down the road.

The brewery has become something of a local legend as well, supporting both the Nyora Football & Netball Club as well as the Lang Lang FNC. This community aspect continues into their supply chain, with their kitchen serving as much local produce as possible.

We arrived at Howler on one of the hottest days I can remember in Melbourne. Our dog Jimmy was with us, so we had to sit in the beer garden and sweat it out. Despite the heat; the beer garden was quite pleasant, it's well shaded by umbrellas and there was a gentle, if warm, breeze blowing through. The vibe was really nice with an acoustic guitar player playing & a number of people enjoying their Sunday lunchtime - I got the vibe that there were more locals than craft beer lovers, which is so pleasing in a smaller town.

I was really impressed with the offerings; both beer and food that we sampled at Howler. The Moroccan Pumpkin dip is one of the best brewery foods I've had! Their beers are lower in alcohol than most breweries, with their IPA clocking in at 5.8% ABV; that didn't stop it being exceptionally tasty. It's a great example of why IPA's should be clear & bitter, not hazy.

There are only so many craft breweries out their producing good lager, although that number is growing. That's why I've decided to review Howler's Triple L - Lang Lang Lager. I had this on tap at the brewery and also took a 6-pack away in cans, which look great with the black lids as an aside.

Lang Lang Lager pours a lovely golden colour with a fluffy white head. The head dissipates relatively quickly however, and shortly there is none left behind. The nose indicates some sweetish, bready malts. This carries over into the taste where it is complimented by some lovely grassy bitterness. It's a really well balanced lager and one that was incredibly refreshing on a hot afternoon at the brewery in Lang Lang.

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

FOREIGNER BREWING COMPANY

2019: The Year of Local

STATS
  • Brewery Type: Physical
  • Region: Inner Melbourne
  • Tasting Room: 12/102 Henkel St, Brunswick
  • Food: Pretzels
  • Price: Inexpensive
  • Websitehttps://shop.foreignerbrewing.com.au/
Foreigner Brewing Company launched in late 2016 to little fanfare. Since it's gained a loyal local following and is known only by the most ardent of Melbourne craft beer drinkers. The brewery is a little off the beaten track, tucked away in an industrial estate in one of the less populated parts of hip Melbourne suburb, Brunswick.

The brewery was started by two mates, Mira Koman & Peter Denison, both of Czech origin, who met through a Czech expat group in Melbourne. Both loved beer and naturally they progressed to brewing beers from their homeland at home, before dreaming up & building their own brewery.

And when I say building their own brewery, I mean it! Mira is a boilermaker by trade & literally constructed their fermentation tanks & parts of their brewhouse. They shipped in friend & respected Czech brewer Petr Petruzalek, a man who spent two decades brewing Pilsner Urquell before entering craft, for recipe development; and Foreigner Brewing was born.

The converted warehouse that houses the Foreigner Brewing Co is relatively small on first impressions. There are a few tables scattered around the front of the warehouse where the bar also sits. The brewery is in the back left, roped off from the public but clearly visible. Shelving is stacked high with all manner of equipment. You can even find the grain mill covered by the bathrooms.

The space is quite eclectic. It's busy with hanging plants & seemingly random items placed everywhere, yet somehow it all comes together to create a really interesting space. The vibe on a sunny Friday afternoon/early evening was great, full of people (& dogs) of all walks of life enjoying the start to their weekend. The staff were friendly, knowledgeable and really seemed to enjoy what they were doing and where they were working.

After gushing a little over the venue, I'm now going to gush over the beer. Having owners of Czech origins the beer I was going to review was always going to be a lager of some description, although I was somewhat disappointed not to come across a Czech Tmave.. I picked the Silent Hunter Pilsner - their flagship beer - a true Czech Pilsner.

As soon as the beer was poured you knew you were in for a treat. The colour is a beautiful golden straw, with wonderful clarity and a small white head. The beer has this lovely Pilsner malt sweetness initially that gives way to the grassy/herbal notes that Saaz is so well known for. The beer finishes dry and bitter, just leaving you wanting more!

I haven't enjoyed visiting a new brewery as much as I enjoyed visiting Foreigner in a very long time! There wouldn't be many better spots in Melbourne on a warm summer's evening.

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

Thursday, 21 February 2019

GOLDEN PINTS 2018

Every year UK based beer bloggers Mark Dredge and Andy Mogg put out the cry for beer bloggers to produce their "Golden Pint Awards". Basically it's a celebration of best beers had during the year by people who know the most about beer, or at least think they do!

This is the eighth year I've done this now and it's getting harder rather than easier! Like I said last year, it  gets later and later by the time I get this post up every year! Normally I try and release this in late December (not the following February...)

 Dylan is joining in the fun again, and his selections are included in Italics below my own. Like always these were 100% blind! All awards that we both awarded the same winner was by pure coincidence, and probably just further legitimizes their win! So without further ado, let's get into the 2018 Golden Pints;

Best Australian Draught Beer - Fixation IPA I thought about this category for ages this year. I had beers that blew me away (Boatrocker Wild Apricot springs to mind) but Fixation is a beer that I really struggle to pass up on tap. It's got a classic hop combo; Simcoe, Mosaic, Citra & Amarillo & is one of the best balanced IPA's in the country. It's almost always fresh as Tom & his team push education to the venues they sell to. It's so good that this has become the most likely IPA to find on tap in Melbourne!

Brendale Brewing Industrial Haze

One of the best NEIPAs in Australia comes from a surprising source – tucked away in the industrial town of Brendale, about half an hour north of Brisbane. The brewery itself is a rough and tumble affair, where you drink next to bags of malt and bright tanks. The beer is a cracking example of how to do a New England IPA, with a properly murky haze, low bitterness and wonderful juiciness from a Falconer’s Flight/Citra/Mosaic hop combo. Drank on a hot Queensland day, it was hard to go past this for my favourite Aussie tap beer of the year.

Best Australian Bottled Beer Holgate Beelzebub's Jewels (2013) This beer absolutely blew me away when I had it as part of a blind Quadrupel tasting in March, 2018. It finished top of the pack with all the usual suspects (Westvleteren, Rochefort etc.). If that doesn't tell you how good this beer was tasting I don't know what will!

Wildflower Brewing & Blending St Henry 2018

Wildflower went from strength to strength in 2018, with their St series of beers being some of the real highlights. The pick of the bunch was their St Henry – a barrel aged wild ale that was refermented on 230kg of New South Wales apricots. The result is huge fresh apricot flavours, with punchy, deep tartness and a complex funky yeast profile. It’s a beautiful beer fresh…and it should only get better over time.




Best Australian Canned Beer - Mornington Squid Supremacy The biggest of the Squid's to be released in 2018 (Colossal Squid has now taken that crown. At 8% this is an Imperial NEIPA, that I believe to be the best produced in Australia to date. There is none of the astringency than characterizes so many Australian examples and is instead almost creamy with heaps of pineapple, apricot and mango flavours coming through.

Modus Operandi Vanilla Mocha Stout

The shine started to wear off for me personally when it came to Modus’s hoppy releases; although they undoubtably produce quality hop-driven beers, it was difficult to shell out premium prices for what felt like minor variations on hazy IPAs every couple of months. I’m glad they restored all my faith in their prowess by releasing this beautiful, Victoria only can of milk stout for Good Beer Week. It’s sweet – but not too sweet – with a creamy mouthfeel, full body and a great vanilla/coffee palate that doesn’t overwhelm the base beer.

Best Cask Beer Two Metre Tall Cleansing Ale The beers Ashley produces down in Tasmania are unique. Cleansing Ale is such a wonderful beer and changes every time you have it - due to the nature of what he's doing down there. I had this on hand pump at Grape & Grain, it was one of the least tart versions I've had of this beer, which allowed a little more of the underlying malt to shine through.

Holgate Brewhouse Temptress

Holgate have that kind of old school appeal that lends itself well to having a rotating cask beer on tap at their brewery. There was a sense of fated timing that I ended up down in Woodend when they had their excellent cocoa/vanilla porter Temptress on tap. It’s a beer that lends itself wonderfully to a cask pour, with the creaminess receiving a big boost from the format. I drank more cask beer in 2018 than 2017, but I’m still hoping to get that number even higher this year.



Best Overseas Draught Beer - Equilibrium Straight Outta the Laboratory This beer was the highlight for me of one of the best events Carwyn has thrown; the NYC Cold Freight Showcase. This event saw Carwyn Cold Freight NEIPA's & IPA's from New York direct to Australia. It was a 10.2% Hazy Triple IPA. It tasted nothing like a 10.2% Triple IPA! It was one of the most dangerous beers I've ever come across in my life! It was like thick tropical juice with a good whack of bitterness.

Hill Farmstead Brewery Arthur

Hill Farmstead were one of those breweries I thought I might never get to try in Australia – of course Carwyn had to make a mockery of that! This was the pick of their beers for me, one that I was lucky to try on a couple of occasions in 2018. It’s such a wonderful example of the kind of world class, wild, farmhouse influenced ales America is producing, with a creamy texture, clean acidity and dry, moreish funk working together in perfect harmony.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer - Victory Art Brew Ivan I had a number of incredible bottled beers this years from overseas brewers. I've ended up stumping for this Russian craft beer that I had in an Irish Pub in St Petersburg watching the World Cup. I think it's partly that it signalled the end of a wonderful trip & partly that it's the least well known of the beers I rated highly this year (think Pliny, KBS, CBS, Fatamorgana etc.). It's a huge, smokey stout that hides its ABV superbly.

Chorlton Brewing Company Solera One

I’d heard a few positive rumblings about this brewery, but honestly knew extremely little going into it. The wonderful bottle art/design and a chance finding swayed me into picking it up and I’m bloody glad I did. There’s plenty of oaky barrel character here, with a sturdy body giving way to intense acidity with off-dry, floral Elderflower notes to balance. It’s the kind of wild ale that could hang with the best in the world, and one that has instantly put this brewery on the map for me.



Best Overseas Canned Beer - Garage Project Pernicious Weed I wish all IPA's tasted as good as this beer. Our Kiwi brethren, and in particular Garage Project, are so far ahead of us when it comes to extracting hop bitterness

Finback Brewery Dematerialize

It’s quite easy to be patronizing when talking about NEIPA/hazy IPAs, whether it be due to the inherent limitations of the styles, oversaturation, hype or something else. It’s also quite easy to love a hazy IPA when it’s this good (which, to give Finback total credit, they very rarely are). This is incredibly soft bodied, which allows for the no doubt unholy amount of hops in here to fully shine. It’s big upfront, with a lingering juiciness that most breweries dream of achieving in a beer like this. You’d call the hop character borderline ‘green’, but there’s none of that off-putting hop burn and the beer is balanced enough to keep up with it.


Best Collaboration Beer - Lervig x Cloudwater There's a Beer in my Fridge, and I Need a Drink It was quite possibly the beer with the longest name that I had this year, but I couldn't go passed this collaboration between two of the more hyped brewers on the planet. This is a Double Dry Hopped (DDH) Rye IPA clocking in at 7.2%. It's phenomenal with this rye spiciness underpinning the whole beer, which is laced with resinous dank notes and heaps of mango & peach.

The Wild Beer Co x 8 Wired Brewing Co Black & Blue

Two excellent breweries, a fantastic concept and a special occasion for drinking it made this an easy pick for this category this year. After placing far better than expected in the Merri Mashers IPA competition, this was our celebratory beer. It didn’t disappoint. I love the idea behind it – a raw, un-hopped, un-boiled ale, mashed with peppercorns before being fermented in charred Bourbon casks with wild yeast (hence the name). It’s a surprisingly delicate beer, with zingy acidity and a bit of spice. I love it when a plan comes together.




Best Overall Beer - Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvee Armand & Gaston Rocking up at Carwyn bright & early for Zwanze Day, there was no thought in my mind that the best beer I would have that day would not be a Cantillion beer. But that is exactly what transpired. This was a simply wonderful beer, particularly complex with wonderful, almost puckering, tartness. I'm so glad that I have one of these aging away in the cellar!

Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvee Armand & Gaston

Who expects to go to Zwanze Day and have the best thing they drink be a non-Cantillon beer? Not this punter. Who could complain when it’s as good as Armand & Gaston is though – a celebration of all the best qualities of lambic beer, expressed through all the skill and craftsmanship that a brewery like 3 Fonteinen can showcase. There’s this wonderful burnt rubber funk underneath the tart, smoky, earthy, full-bodied base beer, with a juicy, puckering character that makes it far more drinkable than the complex flavour profile would suggest. A spectacular, soaring masterpiece of a beer, that I will now stop talking about before I tip too far into gushing.

Best Branding - Wayward Brewing I love the look of the new core range, the cans are really striking on the shelf. Shoutout to Co-Conspirators who were only just beaten for the title. They've got a really distinct style that also really stands out.

3 Ravens Brewery 

I don’t know if I necessarily love every bit of art or design that 3 Ravens do, but there’s no denying that theirs has been a remarkable reinvention of what was a fairly plain and dull line-up of labels. It, of course, began with Juicy, but they went further than that in reinventing their whole core range and turning the concepts they began with Juicy up to 11 with beers like the Salted Caramel Shake. They deserve praise for being proactive in a crowded market and one can hope it’s paying dividends for them.

Best Bottle Label - Mr Banks XPA I loved the look of this can. The unique Melbourne buildings depicted amongst the lettering look fantastic! I'm a bit disappointed this, and a number of their other cans, went by the wayside for the generic ones later in the year - although I understand the commercial reasons...

Revision Brewing Company Sparkle Muffin 

It’s a green whiskered cat leaping through outer space with an LSD colour palette. I couldn’t not choose it.




Best Australian Brewery Old Wives Ales I was really struggling to come up with this one - so as I do, I turned to statistics. In 2018 I had Old Wives Ales beers on 9 separate occasions, and all of those occasions ended with a rating of at least 4 stars. They just got the nod over Wildflower, who I thought I didn't have enough beers from & Fixation.

Wildflower Brewing & Blending 

The beer is bloody good, but it’s the whole package of Wildflower that make them so impressive. The exciting release schedule, the consistently high quality of their beers, the locally focused mindset of the brewers, the dedication to continual improvement. They’re building something truly special here, and if they continue their current upwards trajectory they’re on their way to being one of the greats in Australian beer history.

Best Overseas Brewery - Hill Farmstead Until this year Hill Farmstead had been a brewery that I'd always assumed I would never be able to try, unless I ventured to their part of the world. Carwyn made it possible for me to try a few of their beers this year and they were all absolutely incredible! I simply couldn't go passed them for best overseas brewery. I'd also be pretty surprised if this wasn't Dylan's choice...

Cantillon

This feels lazy. It might be a bit lazy. Cantillon are a bit like LeBron in the NBA – everyone knows they’re the best and the product they put out is always close to, if not the best, but it’s more fun to not award them the MVP every year. But this year I feel obligated to. Being able to experience Zwanze Day was a truly special experience, and one of the standout days in what was a pretty amazing 2018 for beer personally. The 2018 Zwanze beer was a spectacular lambic and their regular range remains as wonderful as ever (and would no doubt heavily populate a hypothetical top 10 list of stuff I drank this year).



Best New Brewery Opening 2018 - Burnley Brewing Like I do most years, I'm technically picking a brewery that opened right at the end of 2017. They brew the best lager in the country and I've been impressed with their other canned releases. Their tap room is a great place to visit with wonderful food. I reckon Burnley are a brewery to keep an eye on over the next few years.

Burnley Brewing

Technically opening in late 2017, Burnley only properly got pushed out in 2018 with their canned releases. With head brewer Michael Stanzel returning to Australia after 7 years training in Germany, there’s a fascinating mix of traditional styles done extremely well (see their Vienna Lager for an example) and well executed new world kettle sours and IPAs at the brewhouse. Their branding is on point, beers enjoyable across the board and overall model showing a lot of promise for the future. I’ll be keeping a close eye on them in 2019, both in can form and at their physical location in Richmond.

Pub/Bar of the Year Carwyn Cellars This is an absolute no contest. Carwyn is clearly the number one venue in Australia, and is slowly making it's way onto the international conscience. It's a genuinely world class beer bar located in Melbourne. As I joke regularly to Dylan, it's a good thing it's in Thornbury not Richmond, I'd have no money if it was closer!

Carwyn Cellars 

Zwanze Day, Good Beer Week, a zillion other things I didn’t get to go to (not to mention their generally astounding taplist, even when there’s no official event on). Carwyn is the beating heart of Melbourne’s craft beer scene and it’s impossible to go past them for that reason. There’s nowhere else I’d rather have a few beers in the country.




Beer Festival of the Year Good Beer Week I'm starting to think that this category doesn't need to exist... Good Beer Week wins every year - and I don't see that changing any time soon!

Good Beer Week

Another one that is impossible to go past. There are some other good events popping up nationally that deserve praise, but Good Beer Week is the gold standard, and remarkably seems to get bigger and better every year. Outside of the events the best part about it is how it galvanizes the whole craft community in the city – taplists get special everywhere, limited releases fill the shelves and there’s a general buzz about beer no matter where you go. It’s invigorating.

Supermarket of the Year - First Choice First Choice are retaining their title because they look after their beer better than Dan Murphy's does. I would say that Dan's improved their range more than First Choice in 2018, but it is so tough to give it to them when you see pallets left out in the summer sun for hours & cold freighted IPA's stored on the shelf.

First Choice Liquor

Dan’s continue to have a better line-up of craft beer, but the poor treatment of their beer loses a lot of points for me in the 2018 battle. Finding out of date and poorly stored beer isn’t unusual for a big chain store, but it’s happening far too often at Dan Murphy’s stores and leaves a sour taste in the mouth (not the good kind). First Choice really stepped their game up in 2018, with a focus on including more local breweries and a better range of styles (especially sours and IPA varietals). Both chains have a long way to go before we reach overseas standards of mainstream craft accessibility, and a lot of it will come down to better treatment of the product once the stores get it, but there were encouraging signs.



Independent Retailer of the Year - Otter's Promise For me there are 5 choices for this award. I decided that I should award it based on the shop that I visit most often to buy beers; meaning that the 2018 winner is Otter's Promise. Otter's has a really great range, which caters for whatever you need whether you're after a 6-pack of lager or a $70+ Imperial Stout. I did genuinely consider Beergeek in St Petersburg, who gave me seriously good service on my 2nd last day in Russia!

Otter’s Promise 

Otter’s have such a reliably great line-up of beer regardless of mood. There’s a wonderful ambience in the store, welcoming and spacious with varnished wood and exposed brick while also remaining cool and concise. They get limited releases in consistently and have one of the better ranges of wild/sour beers in Melbourne at any given time. It’s all I could really ask for in a beer store, and it’s a great place to have as a local. Having a few taps is a good addition too – their birthday sour blend with Boatrocker was a cracker.

Online Retailer of the Year Schmooze Craft Beer Subscriptions The rebranded online subscription arm of Carwyn Cellars, Schmooze is impossible to beat for service and reliability. I had an issue with a delivery after changing addresses earlier this year & the guys were so obliging (& threw in so many freebies) to get it sorted. They've got a heap of different options now and I can't recommend them highly enough.

Beercartel

I’ve had my criticisms of Beercartel in the past, but my experiences with them in 2018 were all of a high standard. Fast shipping, with products arriving in good condition. A solid and diverse range, with some genuine good scores to be had (in 2018 I got Cantillon, Fantome, de Molen and Stillwater releases from them, amongst others). The ‘notify me’ feature is great too, and unlike a lot of websites actually works, immediately alerting you when something is in stock.



Best Beer Book - The Oxford Companion to Beer I didn't read a heap of beer books in 2018 as it was such a busy year. So I've reverted to a book that I look at all the time. Garrett Oliver, of Brooklyn Brewery fame, helped to compile this book. In my mind it's the ultimate beer reference book.

N/A

I literally didn’t read any beer books…


Best Beer Magazine - Froth Froth really evolved in 2018. I think the free monthly craft beer magazine has really found it's niche, particularly in the Melbourne craft beer scene. I look forward to receiving it every month and am looking forward to what Emily & the team get up to in 2019.

Froth

The inspiration for one of my favourite canned sours of 2018 (Co-Conspirator’s The Editor), Froth has gone from a fun novelty to a genuinely good read. The diversity in articles with a monthly theme is really what makes it compelling – women in brewing, cooking with beer, homebrewing, state by state news/big releases, science-based articles, new hops and trends. It’s all good stuff, with a nice range of writers from different sectors of the Australian craft beer scene. Great design too.



Best Beer Blog or Website - Australian Brews News I'm actually giving this award to Brews News for their excellent weekly podcast. I listen to it on the way to work religiously on a Monday (now-Friday!) & love catching up with the weekly news from the Australian brewing industry. I'd like to give a shout out to The Crafty Pint for their long form articles this year, that really encouraged a lot of discussion on social media.

The Crafty Pint

I loved The Crafty Pint’s focus on broader issues this year, with some great pieces on topics important to the industry (alcoholism, selling to macros, sexism, copyright etc). I especially enjoyed their deep dives into Pacific Ale and Hop Hog as they reached age milestones. Their continued coverage of small/new breweries on a personal level is a great approach to take to compliment the blander news/marketing coverage on other sites. They’re a great website who had a strong year, which makes them an easy pick in this award.

I'm sorry that this is as late as it is - however life really got in the way this year! As is often the case there were a couple of cross overs between mine & Dylan's awards. This is purely coincidental & probably because we attend a lot of events & drink a lot of beer together. I've just sorted myself out with a new laptop, after over 10 years, so technical difficulties are hopefully a thing of the past. My week is looking relatively free next week so I'm hoping to bang out a heap of Year of Local posts - so stay tuned guys!

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world! 

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

HOP HEN BREWING

2019: The Year of Local

STATS
  • Brewery Type: Physical
  • Region: Yarra Valley
  • Tasting Room: 17/64-86 Beresford Rd, Lilydale
  • Food: Jaffles
  • Price: Slightly Pricey
  • Websitehttp://www.hophenbrewing.com.au
As far as I'm aware, Hop Hen Brewing was the first Victorian craft brewery to open in 2019 when they opened their doors for the first time just before Australia Day. The brewery is located in Lilydale, a suburb at the end of a train line and at the gateway to the Yarra Valley. It's a family affair; started by husband & wife team Mike & Jodie Leonard, with help from their two children.

The story behind the name of the brewery also stems from home. Mike was an avid homebrewer, like many new pro-brewers, and grew hops in his back yard over his chicken coop. It's a lovely symbiotic picture that this draws, the hops shade the chickens while the chickens fertilize the hops.

Hop Hen is set in a huge industrial park in Lilydale. I trekked out there after work in their first week of opening. Google Maps actually has the warehouse location correct within the Cave Hill Industrial Park, unlike many similar breweries, so follow that with confidence.

The brewery is laid out like most converted warehouse breweries in this country. Stainless steel out the back, bar in the middle, tables out the front. I was really impressed with the fit out & layout, which had a modern industrial feel to it and complimented the polished concrete floor. It felt that little bit better put together than most breweries I've been to - although that is possibly because it's brand new.

Onto the most important part; the beer! Hop Hen have 7 taps, of which 4 were filled with their own beer when I arrived. They had an Aussie Ale, an American Pale Ale, an IPA & a Dark Mild. Naturally I had to try the Dark Mild, their just aren't that many brewed in Australia, so I assumed it must be a tried & tested home brew recipe.

The beer is almost perfect stylistically! There is quite a bit of fruitiness from the malt, that is accompanied by some chocolate notes and some earthy hops. The hops provide balance, but very little additional bitterness. It's a beer that I could see being imminently sessionable, which is the point of the style!

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

THE BEER-THUSIAST PACK: DECEMBER 2018

The Beer-thusiast Pack: December

"To follow"

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

THE BEER-THUSIAST PACK: NOVEMBER 2018

The Beer-thusiast Pack: November

"To follow"

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

THE BEER-THUSIAST PACK: OCTOBER 2018

The Beer-thusiast Pack: October 



"To follow"

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!

THE BEER-THUSIAST PACK: SEPTEMBER 2018

The Beer-thusiast Pack: September


"To follow"

Remember it's always Beer O'Clock somewhere in the world!