Monday, December 8, 2008

Rapunzel Abbey Ale

I had the pleasure of taste testing Mountain Goat’s specialty ale Rapunzal during a recent Friday night visit to their Melbourne suburb (Richmond) brewery. For those who wish to have a taste of this delightful abbey ale will have to go to their brewery on any Wednesday or Friday night ‘open house’ as the ale will only be available on premise.

According to head brewer Dave Bonighton “Our aim was to produce a Belgian Style Strong Blonde. This style demands certain ingredients, and we followed the traditional specs. Pilsener Malt, low bitterness derived from Hallertau hops and a Belgian Yeast strain. Traditionally these beers top up their alcohol with 20% non-malt sugar - this keeps them light and approachable so that the malt doesn't dominate and the yeast and alcohol can speak for themselves (Rapunzel's alc is 8.3%).”

“The driving force behind these beers is ultimately the yeast. Those funky, fruity, phenolic esters and fusel alcohols that come from Belgian strains are what makes them so distinctive. You need to let them do their thing which is why the bitterness is low, and the malt profile quite dry. Getting them all balanced is the key.”

“So we end up with a medium bodied, high alcohol, estery, quite drinkable Belgian style Blonde Ale - Rapunzel really named herself after that. Eat with washed rind cheeses and dried fruit.”

As for my opinion, the key to it’s success is the restraint employed that moderate the usual overt sweetness characteristic in this style ale. Rapunzal has a deep golden colour, slightly cloudy with plenty of aromatic fruity esters with yeasty, bready qualities to enhance the experience. The other pleasing quality is the slightly bitter taste again not often found in Belgian styled ales. An experience worth savouring, but hurry as this is a limited edition brew that will only be available for a short time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hosting a Beer Tasting

You and your beer loving mates have talked about it for years after a few jars at the local. The phrase that pierces your soul, “You know, we should run a beer tasting of our own.” So the time has come to bite the bullet and have a go, but where do you start? Here are a few tips for a successful tasting. First and foremost do your homework and the best place to start is using the internet for advice. There are numerous sites to assist you and provide suggestions for a proper beer tasting. I mean where you think I got started!

Getting Started/ the Power of #3
Don’t be a hero; get some help by dobbing in 2 of your mates to form a committee. Three is the magic number. Why? Cause you get three 90-100 ml. tastings in each bottle, so you can cater for 18 people per 6-pack purchase. Preferably divide up the tasks between organiser, finance and communications. Get the numbers right or you’ll be the only person who won’t enjoy the experience and out of pocket as well.

The venue will dictate the size of the tasting. We know you have dreams of doing the biggest Beer Expo ever, but reality bites especially if you live in an inner city flat. It’s best outside with access to a protected area. A natural well lit area is best so you can see the beers' colours. Avoid noisy distractions, such as television or music. Cigarette smoke, cooking smells or perfumes will all interfere with your ability to taste.

Create the mood- Ban the Beer Snobs.
There’s nothing worse than having to be bored by a beer know it all. I recall how intimidated I felt when a beer judge next to me referred to the aroma as “fresh lawn clippings and bubble gum” then asked me what I thought. I snorted so much beer up my nose looking for that damn bubble gum I had to excuse myself, embarrassingly running to the dunny to relieve the geyser going off in my snout. Get everybody on the same page. Talk about the approach to tasting before starting making sure tasters feel free to describe aromas and flavours in creative terms without fear of being put down. The best tastings are both social and educational gatherings. A flavour and colour chart is very helpful to the novice taster and can be accessed via the internet. Frenchman Morton Meilgaard designed the Meilgaard Beer Flavour Wheel in the 1970’s. This is the standard reference that categorizes 44 different profiles into 14 major sub-headings. The James Squire website also offers a great colour chart with familiar beers to work from. You can print up individual copies or put them unto butcher’s paper so tasters have a ‘cheat sheet’ to help them describe what’s going on in their eyes and mouth.

Control your environment by limiting the numbers of samples to five or six if particularly alcoholic or hoppy beers are being tasted, otherwise between 10-12 tastings should do it. Consider scoresheets or provide pads for notes. Some tasters may want to take home their notes while others find value with the added structure. Here is a simple 10 point scoring system.
1. Appearance (2 pts.)- Colour, carbonation/foam, characteristics Note whether the head is dense or thin. Heads are sometimes described as rocky if they are especially dense with dips and peaks forming as some of the bubbles pop. The colour of the head is also worth noting and can range from pure white on Pilsners to light or medium brown on some stouts and porters

2. Aroma (4 pts) - whether it smells primarily of hops or malt. Generally speaking light collared beers will smell more of hops while darker beers tend to have pronounced malt, roasted, chocolate or coffee aroma. Many types of ale have a hard to pin down spiciness or fruitiness from their yeasts.

3. Flavour & Body (4pts.)- General characteristics, Bitterness, Fermentation products, Flavour faults. the initial sensation as the beer enters your mouth. Think about whether it is sweet, bitter or something else. There can be quite a difference between the first taste and the finish. Mouthfeel is the texture of the beer or how it physically feels in your mouth. Beer ranges from silky dry, to thick and chewy, or thin and fizzy. The Finish, note the lingering flavours after you swallow the drink. Often it can be bitter from the hops or a lingering malty sweetness TOTAL Maximum 10 points

Beers should be tasted from lightest in flavour to heaviest, with colour as a secondary consideration. It is often interesting to compare lagers and ales of similar colour and taste characteristics to distinguish the sensory results of top-fermentation and bottom-fermentation Beers should be selected by brewing style, i.e., pilsner, porter, bock, rather than by country of origin. They should be poured into straight-sided clear glasses which allow the natural head of authentic beers to perform. A couple of rinse buckets help keep down glassware usage.

Take a break. Have water and bread or neutral tasting crackers available to cleanse palates between beers. Avoid anything with distinctive flavours. Let the beer be the star. Use the same size glassware for each round of tasting, but make sure the beer is served at the proper temperature (chilled lager (1-3° C) and ale (4-8° C)) and poured with a decent head. A selection of interesting cheeses, fresh breads and hors d'oeuvres are a perfect accompaniment to beer whose bitter finish and malty flavour combines well with every type of food more than any other alcoholic beverage.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Beer Tastings ‘08

Wow, has the liquor industry taken a hiding this year or what! Welcome to our new Federal government with their knee jerk reactions to social issues by slugging on taxes to heal society’s wounds. They seem to pander to ‘special interest groups’ in an effort to correct parental and police problems and in the meantime make the law abiding citizens wear their legislative solutions. So I’m looking for some ‘stand–up guys’, at least in the beer industry, to will demonstrate that we are not the demon drink. I suggest the support of beer tastings at your local bottle shop.

Beer Tastings provide three major benefits; it provides a community based common sense environment to responsible behaviour when consuming alcohol, it gives the taster an opportunity to connect with brewers about their beer, and it’s profitable for bottle shops by an average 10 to 15% increase in over the counter sales.

Adam Thomas from Purvis Wine Cellars in Surrey Hills, Melbourne talks up their beer tastings. “It offers the consumers the ability to go outside their comfort zone and try beers that would normally be beyond their economic reach or product knowledge. With the price of imported and local craft beers what they are, they’re getting a taste and we get a chance to sway them. You need to have the brewers there on the night. The punter spends more time when speaking to a brewer rather than a rep and we get a customer friendly relationship with new found respect for our increasing product knowledge. As a result of beer tastings, beer makes up a third of our business and growing immensely.”

On advertising “Don’t really need to. A few signs in the shop maybe, but it’s word of mouth and building a good database of customers then letting them know it’s on. Many locals have bonded and now carpool down to the shop and also organise designated driver options for transport. We’re lucky to have a tram stop just outside our door, but it’s important the customers know about public transport availability.”

About set-up issues, “Access for unloading stock, plenty of ice, and always use glass over plastic. We’ll need 400 glasses for our next beer tasting and build into the cost s of losing up to 15% of stock. It’s nothing really and the benefit for a beer lover in appreciating beer in glass is enormous.”
In relation to the importance of glassware Chuck Hahn of Malt Shovel Brewery told me recently “Two years ago, we released a special glass that went through the basics of Pouring properly, inspecting the presentation, savouring the visual experience, smelling the hop and malt aromas - enjoying them. The glass compliments tasting properly by swirling around in the mouth before swallowing, and swallowing - not spitting - savouring the flavour and enjoying the expectations that are created by this craft experience. “

On the night advice, “Be adventurous, don’t do what you did before and vary the type of event. We do large tasting 2 or 3 times a year for 250-300 people and a smaller one of 50 beers for 50 people every couple of months. Sometimes we go with the local craft beers and at others we do a European day for example. You can vary the times held say rather than an evening session have one for the after work crowd.”

“The days of free beer tastings are long gone. Oh sure, we still get the individual breweries offering customers a taste, but our organised beer tastings are when we can really make an impact on our consumers. We charge $30.00 for 20 tasting tickets that they hand over to the brewer. At the end of the night, the tickets are counted by each brewery and are paid for their beer. Everyone walks away happy”

Eric Walters, brewer and owner of the Grand Ridge Brewery in Gippsland, Victoria is tireless when it comes to getting the word out about his range of beers. He and his band of ‘beer warriors’ can be found at local bottle shops, regional farmers markets and major food and beverage expos to get the public to try his beers.. Last year he earned the pouring rights at the Royal Melbourne Show.

“The progress of beer tastings in the past 3 – 5 years has been massive. I started 2 decades ago this Christmas flogging my beers at local bottle shops and thought of as weird, but the wine tastings started a palate change in customer appreciation of taste. People now appreciate quality at a higher level and are more willing to expand their education of taste. Their thirst for knowledge has expanded to bottle conditioning, dark ales, strong Belgians, thirst quenching wheat beers, the list is getting longer. It sounds corny but the actual tasting is a celebration for me. After all the hard work that’s gone into that swallow and to have the bloke turn around and say ‘that beer is awesome’ is inspiring.”

Walter went on to say “Face to Face contact now makes up 20% of our total business. From new products like out Natural Blonde Wheat Beer, to our gift pack 6 packs, and guesthouse accommodation and Restaurant at the brewery, all have come about by the punter telling us what they wanted. Every tasting is further market research and branding awareness; it’s very motivating to teach in the forefront of quality beers.

Small breweries have little to no money for advertising, and it’s vital that through beer tastings the beer lovers get an opportunity to try our beers. Victoria and Western Australia have led the charge in the resurgence of craft beer interest. We’re now seeing Queensland and New South Wales getting involved with the beer tasting experience. These local tastings have led to lager audience based events like the Microbrewers Showcase in Federation Square in Melbourne, and The Australian Hotel’s Craft Beer Competition in the Rocks in Sydney.

Speaking of Sydney, Richard Adamson, Head Brewer, Barons Brewing Company agrees “Beer tastings have been a great way for us to give many people their first taste of the Barons beers. It also gives us an opportunity to educate the public on quality craft beer, the process, the flavour, and the styles of beer available; and promote the concept that beer can be savoured and enjoyed for its quality rather than just swilled. We do a lot of beer tasting in bottle shops, which allow us to show our commitment to our customers…supporting them whilst they support us. It’s important for our entire team to have a good understanding of what they sell and that they are comfortable talking about Barons to the general public. Also important, and sometimes forgotten, is the instant feedback received from the people who drink our beer. Nothing beats the experience of having a random punter taste Barons with you, then immediately goes to the cold room and buys a case.”

And speaking of Queensland and New South Wales, I had a chat with Matt Coorey manager for the DrinkX Group who own 5 hotels (3 in Qld. and 2 in N.S.W.) including the Grand Central in Brisbane. “I compiled a report for the group including stats from A.C.Neisen, major breweries and overseas trends. The conclusion was that beer is heading ‘crafty’ and we needed to be on board. As a result we are re-configuring our bars to accommodate 30 craft beers on tap, including training and motivation of our staff so everyone in the organisation is right behind it. This will include beer tastings for our patrons on Tuesday nights. In our main bar where 90% of our customers drink, we will slowly introduce these beers and match them with food. We are also in the process of implementing our seal of approval – rubber stamp policy. Five to six ‘certifiers’ will select from submissions 30 beers to be featured at our platform craft bar, and in the bottle shops. Those beers will have a floor stack for the impulse buyer and highlighted in our special frosted white light fridges that get top shelf space. We’ll keep it to 30 beers so that it’ll always be fresh and offer further submissions an equal opportunity. We’re confident that our rubber stamped journey from bar to bottle shop to train stop to home will be very popular.”

As a personal note, after handing out thousands of beer tastings, I understand the significance and acceptance to the responsible serving of beer. Only through adherence to rules can we alter the younger generation. Getting tasters to smell swirl, and swallow with others doing the same with 65 ml tasters will transform that future delinquent to an epicurean cadet. The fraternity of beer tasters will embrace them to a better drinking environment. And maybe, just maybe some bureaucrats will see the light and stop this condemnation of people who enjoy the finer things in life. And lastly to all you bottle shop managers, who’ll come on board, remember to take care of the ‘beer roadies’. We’re the first to arrive and the last to leave, we’ve poured, talked, and listened to them all. It would be nice if there was something to eat before we hit the cold dark road home.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

European Beer Review ‘08

Almost all of us have an ancestral link to Europe, and with our multicultural population, nearly every country is included. And as here in Australia they have their own version of ‘Fosters’ to meet the local population’s unquenchable demand for premium lager. So when we have a taste of the homeland you have two choices, either purchase their major multinational brewery products when on special or explore unknown varieties and styles at your local specialist epicurean bottle shops. Both have merits and drawbacks but worthy of your attention.

No two nations better exemplify this beer culture duopoly than Belgium, and Germany. Both have brewing histories dating back to the Middle Ages. Both have been affected by conflicts between church and state. And both nations introduced new flavours and styles of beer that continue to demonstrate popularity today.

Belgian Beer

God bless the persecuted monks who fled France during the revolution. Those ‘on the run’ religious refugees behind closed monestary doors began to brew exclusively for fellow monks beer described as "dark and sweet”And due to the fertile fields of the Flanders region began the art of ‘farmhouse brewing’ including lambic fruit beers.The first Trappist brewery in Belgium (Westmalle) officially began operation in 1836. The current Trappist producers are Achel, Chimay, Koningshoeven (the Netherlands), Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. Best-known brand of Abbey beer is Inbev's Leffe. Others include Grimbergen, Tripel Karmeliet, Maredsous, Watou, Saint-Feuillien, Floreffe, and Val-Dieu.(308)

With approximately 125 breweries in Belgium, only Germany, France and the United Kingdom are home to more breweries in Europe. Beer production in Belgium is now dominated by Inbev and by the time of this printing, Anheuser-Busch (A-B) and InBev will have combined to forge the largest brewing conglomerate in the world after the US brewer accepted a sweetened $53.5 billion takeover offer. Anheuser-Busch InBev (A-BI), as the new group will be called, will surpass SABMiller as the number one seller of alcoholic beverages when the acquisition is completed later this year, with 17 per cent of the global market. The takeover brings together the makers of Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck's to create the world's largest brewer, as well as the third-largest consumer products company.

So if you vote with your feet for the premium lager, Stells Artois wins hands down. InBev’s Stella Artois was first brewed as a Christmas beer in 1926, and was so popular that it became an all year round beer. The name ‘stella’ also comes from the Latin word for star, probably linked to the traditional star atop the Christmas tree

According to Adam Thomas from Pervis Fine Wines in Melbourne “We are seeing a big jump in Fruit beers for the spring season as a viable alternative to wine spritzers and RTD’s. The big Belgian beers like Rochford 10 and Chimay Blue have been very popular for winter, but are now giving way to lambics like Lindemens Geuze, Cassis and Peach.. Beers with berries are all the go.”

Lambic beers fermentation, is produced by exposure to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are said to be native to the Senne valley, in which Brussels lies. The beer then undergoes a long aging period ranging from three to six months (considered “young”) to two or three years for mature. It is this unusual process which gives the beer its distinctive flavor: dry, vinous, and cidery, with a slightly sour aftertaste.

Although Lambics flavoured with fruits such as raspberries (Framboise) or cherries (Kriek) are better known, the Lambic connoisseur’s choice will be Gueuze—the noblest of Lambic styles. A traditional dry Gueuze has no fruit flavouring and will be tart, sour, and naturally effervescent. A typical Gueuze will be a blend of one, two, and three year-old Lambic beers from ancient oak vessels which are a breeding ground for the colonies of bacteria strains that give Gueuze its sour character

The Lindemans family farm in Vlezenbeek near Brussels began Lambic brewing as a winter activity, when less farm work was required. The farm produced wheat and barley, the raw materials of the Lambic. Due to the growing success of the Lambic, the brewery became more important and consequently, in 1930, the farm-activities were stopped. It was in that year that they started the production of Geuze and Kriek. The Framboise was launched in 1980 and due to the success of the fruit-beers, they created 2 new beers: Cassis (black current beer) in 1986 and Pecheresse (peach beer) in 1987.

Lindemans Cuvée René Gueuze Lambic. Has a rich golden hue with yeasty sourdough aromatics. Medium dry yet full bodied with hints of tart lemon rind, nuts, and wheat toast. Finishes with a long, tart citrus rind and mineral fade.
From George Stephanopolous General Manager BID Melbourne Office:

With the Australian market now being exposed to such an array of beer styles from around the world, (predominantly Belgium, Germany and U.K), beer pallets have evolved and are craving for new and exciting styles, complexities and sensations from beer. Hence the growth in interest of Lambic beers, (now commonly sought as an alternative to RTD’s), brewed with natural ingredients and fruits such as raspberry, sour cherries, peaches and forest berries. Styles like Lambic fruit beers are growing in awareness and will offer a great alternative through the coming months of summer in Australia as people discover their full, fresh and vibrant flavour.

Trappist brewery Rochefort (Brasserie de Rochefort) produces three ales:
Rochefort 6 (red cap, brown beer, 7.5% A/V. Rochefort 8 (green cap, brown beer, 9.2% ABV).Rochefort 10 (blue cap, dark beer, 11.3% A/V). Reddish-brown colour, with a very compact head and an aroma of figs. It is very similar to 6 and 8, but with intense complex malt, smoke, wood, roasted quality and great texture.

German beer

Germany is the birthplace of lagers and also employed the bounty of the harvest to create seasonal wheat beers as well. But rather than religious persecution, there drawback was government intervention and ownership. German brewers were bound by adherence to the Reinheitsgebot ("purity order") dating from 1516 (and most recently updated in the Vorläufiges Biergesetz of 1993), according to which the only allowed ingredients of beer are water, hops and barley-malt. This law also requires that beers not using only barley-malt (such as wheat and rye) must be top-fermented. Beer has become part of Germany. There’s around 1,300 breweries in Germany, more than in any other country except the United States (approx. 1,500)

The highest density of breweries in the world is found near the city of Bamberg, in the Franconia region of Bavaria. The Benedictine abbey Weihenstephan brewery (established in 725) is reputedly the oldest existing brewery in the world (brewing since 1040). Weihenstephan occupies an exalted site atop Weihenstephan Hill in the Bavarian city of Freising, surrounded by the comparatively still very young Weihenstephan science centre of the Technical University of Munich. Three varieties are available here in Australia worth having a go at are: Vitus: A light-coloured, spicy single-bock wheat beer extra long and cold storage in the monastery cellars making this single-bock a really full bodied with a distinctive mouthfeel. Alcohol content: 7.7% A/V. Hefe-Weissbier; naturally cloudy wheat beer with its wonderful yeasty fragrance and a taste of banana and clove. Alcohol content: 5.4%A/V. Hefe-Weissbier Dunkel: supple, malty and mellow dark wheat beer 5.3% A/V

Erdinger calls itself the world's largest wheat beer brewery. It was founded in 1886 by Johann Kienle, and its beer is the best-known culinary product of the city. Currently, there are nine varieties available:The three best to have a sample of are:Weisbier- a golden cloudy wheat beer 5.3%A/V, Dunkel- a dark brown type 5.6%A/V, ans Kristallklar- a filtered Weisbier5.3% A/V.

Beck’s has savoured success with around 20% value growth outstripping the international premium segment in 2006 when compared with a year ago. It is the number one German beer in the world and sold 7.5 million hectolitres in2007. Beck’s grown by 4.3% (volume) and has achieved premium growth of 13% outside its home market. Beck’s arrived in Australia in 1906 and became their largest buyer within 3 years. The success of Beck’s is based on a few important factors. An emphasis on being a German ‘spitzen Pilsener von Welt” or ‘world class premium pilsener, strict adherence to the German Purity Law, and the inclusion of Hallertau hops of Bavaria, considered by some to be the finest pils hops in the world. Beck’s has clean crisp taste with plenty of back bitterness and a full rich flavour.

English Beer

Then there is English beer, aah the Motherland, whose mere mention begins contradiction, controversy, and the exception to the rule. To start, they don’t have a national lager, and rather than religious or governmental influence, they’re beer customs has evolved from the counterculture era’s CAMRA the campaign for real ale led by now deceased ‘Beer Guru’ Michael Jackson. Aussie’s Barons Brewing head brewer Richard Adamsons was recently in England to assist Danish brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergso create Vikings’ Return, a 4.5% ABV amber ale for J.D.Wetherspoons’ International Beer Festival. He was able to provide the latest report from the British bar. “The most popular lagers on tap are Carlsberg (DEN), Stella (BEL) and Fosters (AUS), but after that it’s the real ales with emphasis on English bitters and ales. Fullers, Marsden, Hobgoblin and Samuel Smith are getting a good nudge by the locals.

Fuller’s London Pride is the flagship brand of Fullers Brewery. Its cask version holds the No.3 position in the UK's premium ale sector and London Pride has doubled its sales over the last five years. A rich, malty flavour, countered with a balance of hops (a mix of Target, Challenger and Northdown varieties), with a slightly fruity finish. 4.7% A/V

Fuller's E.S.B. is a liquid legend; the cask version has been voted Champion Beer of Britain three times. Full, robust, chestnut-coloured ale, ESB has a rich maltiness that gives way to a nice hop after taste. A clean beer that is easy to drink - often too easy and too often.5.9 % A/V

According to the Beer Importers, traditional English brown ale Old Speckled Hen has demonstrated impressive sales figures on tap and in the shops. Rich golden amber ale with warming red tones, Old Speckled Hen is fruity on the nose with rich malty undertones, toffee like flavour with good back bitterness at the back of the gob. The finish is sweet without being cloying and a good dry finish.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Asian Beer Review ‘08

The eyes of the world have been turned towards Asia recently, particularly China with the Olympics. Two things have impressed us most, their modernisation and a heritage of traditional values. This region has experienced dramatic change in the past few decades and no better exemplified than in their beer industry.

The two superpowers of the region China and Japan began brewing at the turn of the 20th century, with a constant clashing of tradition vs. modernisation. Chinese brewing history reads like a corporate business plan with international development (Germany), overseas acquisition (Japan), government supervision (Nationalist Govt.) and seizure (People’s Party of China) and finally privatisation including merger with other breweries to create Tsingtao Brewing.

But progress has come at a cost.Tsingtao Beer has long advertised as being "brewed with mineral water from the Laoshan Spring", renowned for the absolute purity of the water, contributing to its characteristic flavour; however, this now applies only to beer produced in Qingdao,. Originally, Tsingtao Beer was brewed in accordance with the German Purity Law of 1516 but after privatization the recipe changed, so that today Tsingtao beer, like many other beers made in China, contains a proportion of the less-expensive rice as an adjunct in the mash

China may have overtaken the US as the world's biggest beer market besides boasting the largest population on earth. Like most beer drinking nations, China’s consumption is particularly strong in urban areas among 25-45 year olds. Chinese consumers have a very strong affinity with domestic brands, which account for an estimated 96 per cent of all beer consumed, But fuelled by a recent boom in pubs and bars, premium beer is the fastest growing sector, increasing by 34 per cent in 2002 alone.

According to Peter Nixon, Business Manager Marketing for Dan Murphy’s, Asian beer consumption here in Australia follows similar tends. “We are seeing growth across the entire Asian beer category Chinese, Japanese and Indian alike. This is in line with all imported & premium beer growth. Melbourne and Sydney sales are highest followed by other capital cities with no real disproportion in line with population base. It’s the flavour and style profiles that appeal to the Australian palate and climate

Another player is Shanghai Lager that has adhered to traditional recipes of Shanghai China since 1936, produces a classic Asian lager brewed from rice. This develops the crystal clean palate and ultimate refreshment the Chinese relish in their beer. Pale straw in colour, Shanghai has a light and delicate in aroma, crisp and refreshing, with balanced bitterness and refreshing finish. The beer is a perfect companion to hot and spicy dishes, such as Szechuan, as the beer will cleanse the palate after each bite.

The history of modern brewing in Japan dates back to1869 when the government set up a brewery on the Northern island of Hokkaido and a decade later were brewing Sapporo Lager. At one time there were several dozen breweries around Japan including the ‘big 4’ Sapporo, Japan, Osaka (Asahi Brewery), and Kirin. The fierce battle for market supremacy in the early 1900’s led to the Japan Brewing Company merging with Sapporo. After the war, the DaiNippon Beer Company divided into two companies Nippon/ Sapporo and Asahi. The three continue to battle worldwide to be ‘champion Japanese beer’.

If one aspect of brewing can be attributed to Japan it would have to be the ‘Dry’ lager style. To create this drying effect, the mash is brewed at a lower temperature to soak up every drop of residual sugars that become alcohol. The result desired requires an extraction process to get only the first liquid run- off from the sweet wort then a long slow fermentation.

Asahi Super Dry is Japan’s original, traditionally brewed, super dry beer. Rich in flavour it cuts to a clean, crisp edge. It has a delicate, yet rich, full-flavoured body and refreshing, dry aftertaste. Asahi is a super premium Japanese beer with unisex appeal and a distinctive smooth character that is easy to drink. Asahi’s volume share of the Asian beer market isn’t huge; however it is growing at a rapid pace. Ranked in the top 20 Premium Imports, it appeals to urban leading edge consumers. Victoria and New South Wales continue to be the two key Asahi markets constituting over 80% of total volume.

Sapporo Imported Original Draught Beer has a distinctive silver can exhibiting their high tech outlook to brewing. Using state of the art technology, including a ceramic filtration process, creates a smoother cleaner lager. The sculptured conical shaped steel can releases a golden maize coloured brew with very subtle grainy sweet aroma and taste with a well balanced malt flavour.

Kirin Ichiban, the only Asian beer to be brewed here in Australia at the Malt Shovel brewery in Sydney. Locally brewed in small batches under the supervision of an expert Japanese brewer assures freshness. The Kirin is an ancient mythical beast which foretells the coming of festive and joyful events. The word “ichiban” means “first” in Japan and Kirin uses a First Press Brewing Method where only the first liquid drawn from the mash is used followed by a long fermentation period. The use of noble saaz hops provide a floral aroma that’s complemented by a delicate fruity flavour. Full bodied with subtle sweetness and mild bittering notes, Kirin Ichiban is quickly gaining local support in trendy nightspots.

Indochina and the subcontinent have their own tale to tell but the theme scenario is the same as younger, hipper new moneyed beer drinkers have taken over the bar, club and beer garden scene. Like Australia, they want to be seen with a notable international branded stubby but consume the local brew with their mates.

Chang Beer(1995) brewery, in the district of Bang Ban, Ayutthaya Province, is the top-selling brand in Thailand winning over 60% of market share after a hard market fight with the previously biggest brand Singha. In 2006, the company's market share was 49% of the beer market with genuine brand recognition. The eye-catching green logo of 2 elephants facing one another is immediately recognisable to Thais and foreigners alike. The company also has outstanding distribution and the beer is readily available. In fact, Chang has become more popular than Singha in the Thai market for its low price. At the end of the day, it is the branding of Chang that makes up for a fantastic part of this remarkable appeal. Chang Beer's full bodied, smooth taste is truly expressive of the finest quality natural Ingredients. 5% A/V

Singha Lager (1933) continues to be popular for its light golden flavour. Their 3 brewery locations are based on quality water sources. The Boon Rawd Brewery water supply is pumped from wells deep underground, then activated carbon filtered, sand filtered and treated to meet Singha’s exacting standards. Quality grains and hops sourced from Europe and Australia create a yellow-gold in appearance, with a distinctly rich flavour. Singha Lager demonstrates strong hop characters and notes of lemons, flowers and cinnamon. The beer has a fresh and surprisingly biscuity malt character with a rather gentle nudge of Thai sweetness.

Malaysian beer giant, Tiger Beer is brewed by Asia Pacific Breweries, a joint venture between Heineken NV and Frasers & Neave. It’s obviously the major brand of the brewer and it was first brewed back in the early 1940s. The beer has managed to gain immense popularity throughout the Asian Continent, in particular South East Asia.

Tiger Beer is a dry-hopped beer with a rather rich taste. It’s ideal for a long drinking session. My very first reaction was it tasted a bit strong, but after a few large sips, my taste buds eventually got used to the friendly invasion of quality hops and the overly strong taste replaced with a nice and rich one, with a lasting bigger finish. In short, it’s a highly refreshing beer and goes nicely with food, particularly spicy and peppery dishes.

Last month, Australian wine and beer group Foster's exited the Asian brewing business with the US$225 million sale of its operations in Vietnam and India. The firm's Vietnam breweries and local brands will go to Asia Pacific Breweries for US$105 million, and its Indian business including the Foster's brand will be taken on by SABMiller for US$120 million. APB operates 27 breweries in 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific. The Indochina market, which includes Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, has accounted for more than 40 per cent of its earnings in the past three years, the company said. Profit before interest and tax from this region increased by 20 per cent last year.

333 Premium Export Beer or Ba Ba Ba as the Vietnamese pronounce it is a popular rice lager sold around South East Asia and exported to France, the USA and Australia. The beer dates back to 1893 when they acquired the German Label "33” and during the 1970’s the extra 3 was added to its name. The beer is produced by Beer Saigon which doesn’t use a lot of the preservative chemicals used as a lot of the other Asian beers, making it much crisper and easer on the head the next morning. The beer has a 5.3 percent alcohol reading so it gives quiet a kick, especially in the hot Vietnamese sun.

On the sub continent, we viewed the Indian 20 x 20 Cricket and marvelled at their wealth and splendour everywhere you looked, a Kingfisher logo or billboard appeared. Kingfisher lager is a great beer and worthy of your indulgence. A nice golden amber colour with white creamy head, Kingfisher is well balanced malt character and good solid back bitterness. As with any Asian beer, serve it icy cold, sit back, and enjoy.

Another beer from India making an impact on the Aussie market is Taj Mahal Premium brewed by United Breweries in Bangalore. Taj Mahal (meaning the "best of buildings") is dedicated to the famous monument built in 1648. Taj Mahal Premium is a clear amber lager with a very delicate light hop flavour. The crisp hop bitter aftertaste makes this brew a perfect match with spicy foods.

And when is an Asian beer not an Asian beer, when it’s produced here in Australia. Lucky Beer is a highly distinctive concept with their unique ‘laughing Buddha’ bottle. An Asian influenced lager using only 100% Australian premium natural ingredients. Another unique trend is to offer Lucky Beer with a slice of ginger at the bar. They say that rubbing Buddha’s tummy brings you good luck, so why not get a bottle and see for yourself.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Belgian Beer Café

The choices for which bar to drink at is endless, so what do we look for? First and foremost for me is the beer, of which I demand the best selection from around the world and the consistency of service to entice me to have another. I demand the same hospitality and talent behind the bar no matter what time of the day or night. I require a menu with choice and flair, but not so far as to impede on my drinking environment. My demands require a special type of place of which the Belgian Beer Café can meet my needs in most capital cities in Australia.

Top priority for mind in a drinking establishment is conversation, not a combative environment against poker machine bells and whistles or loud brain hammering music. By the very nature of the beast, Belgian Beer Café’s draw patrons from all walks of life and tourists from around the world who have one thing in common, great beer. Most have an outdoor area to enjoy the seasonal nature of beer appreciation whilst enjoying the local sites and sounds.

With over 200 Belgian Beer Cafes worldwide, brewing giant Interbrew knows all about providing the ultimate Belgian beer drinking experience. Here the local white collared corporate urban cowboys are rife, and cosmopolitan sheik is the go according to Owner George Christopoulos at the Belgian Beer Café Bluestone in Melbourne. “Authenticity of the concept/décor is vital to our success, plus having the largest brewery in the world Interbrew providing us with their great selection of beers makes for a unique quality environment.” All the fittings, including a confessional box and marble bar tops, have been brought over from Belgium. The décor highlights the halcyon days of the 1950’s in Europe with old soccer photos on the walls along with kitschy musical instruments. They even imported four Belgian painters to create that “lived-in look”. But beer is why we come here, and indeed, the array of beers on tap is exceptional including:

Hoegaarden Witbier- renowned as “the best of the white ales”, Hoegaarden was first brewed in 1445 in the village of the same name using locally grown wheat. A light refreshing beer that works well for female and younger palates and as an ‘early opener beer for us old crusty beer veterans. The cloudy appearance comes from a secondary fermentation in the bottle or keg. Hints of coriander and Curacao provide a fruity, slightly spicy flavour with little to no back palate bitterness.

Leffe Blond- Belgium’s original abbey beer was founded in 1152 by monks following strict instructions from special recipes. By the 1800’s abbey beers began to be brewed off-premise but still obeyed the brewing traditions which included the extended fermentation to produce this exceptional 6.6% A/V ale. A sunny, golden yellow colour with light fruity, sweet aroma, Leffe Blond is full-bodied, yet not to heavy on the palate. It exhibits a well-rounded delicate malt sweetness that’s complimented by the slightly sour special yeast.

Leffe Dark- An exceptional dark ale almost black robe in appearance, sweetened with brown sugar with a slight bitterness from the roasted barley, which provides the coffee and chocolate flavour profile. It’s silky smooth with full bodied flavour, and hints of fruity sweetness. A natural dessert beer that works well with the Belgian waffles on offer.

Stella Artois- The world’s best selling Belgian beer enjoyed around the world in 80 countries since 1926. Originally brewed as a special Christmas beer (note the star on the coaster or bottle) using traditional malted barley plus noble hops for flavour. Stella Artois has a bright crystal clear pale gold appearance and a delicate hop aroma that requires pouring into a glass to truly appreciate. The pilsener lager has a pleasing hop flavour leaving the palate with a combination of grainy malt flavour, moderate hop bitterness and a slight citric sourness in the finish. Overall a clean bright satisfying beer that’s ideal for summer days.

Bottled beers also available in-house don’t let the side down as well. The Belgian Beer Café’s along with Interbrew have on offer a number of unusual fruit-based ales in Belle-Vue Kriek (cherry), and Belle-Vue Framboise (raspberry), plus the great trappist ales of Chimay and Duvel. The traditional method of serving Belgian beer is employed with every glass. They cut off the head of the beer with a spatula to get rid of the larger bubbles insuring that only the mousse is left at the top.

Afterwards, they immerse the glass in cold water to remove the film residue before presentation. What better way to enjoy these luscious beers than supping on genuine Belgian style menu items? All mains come with chips and mayonnaise, but to get you in the Belgian mood, why not order Mussels cooked in Hoegaarden. Witbier. Flemish beef stews, cheese croquettes, and Belgian waffles are on offer as well as Belgian sausages.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

AIBA Beer Awards 07 in Reflection

There was much shrugging of shoulders and scratching of heads to the finish of the 2007 Australian International Beer Awards. The most controversial decision was the Premier’s Trophy for the Best Victorian Beer awarded to InBev’s Belgian European Style Lager Stella Artois, brewed at the Fosters brewing complex in Melbourne suburb Abbotsford. No dispersion should be levelled on this superb judging panel. My admiration for this year’s assessors is steadfast, truly world class, with special mention to Chief Judge Peter Manders who was not in attendance due to a heart attack that had him laid up, god speed from all of us Peter. So for those who wish to cast criticism of the decision; I have two words “Grow Up!”

Before I offer my opinion, let me congratulate Grand Champion Weihenstephan Kristall a fantastic traditional Bavarian styled hefeweizen wheat beer with an aromatic clove and vanilla like flavour. If there was any surprise it was that a wheat beer won after the five year rein of the big rich dark hoppy beers. But back to my backhander remark, I offer three reasons for supporting the Stella decision. First, for those few misguided purists, the days of leading international beer brands being brewed in their homeland are over. Economic realities require their product to be closer to their beer purchasing public in a cut throat industry. Secondly, we pride ourselves on being the second largest international beer judging event, so the odds are better than good that a non-Australian tagged beer entry will win the ultimate prize. And finally, please correct me if I’m wrong but the old saying among brewers that ‘the best lager is a fresh lager’ still applies. You can’t have a beer on a boat and expect it to taste as clean and crisp if it’s been on a boat over the Indian Ocean for a while.

As a proud Victorian, my biggest disappointment with the event was the sad fact that on a gloriously sunny autumn day, there was no beer festival for the public to enjoy the ‘beer bounty’ that hit our shores from all over the word. Watermelon wheat beers from San Francisco, Dunkels from Deutschland and New Zealand, cherry ales from Belgium and porters from Russia just to mention a few. The strong support of craft brewers from America with no less than 19 breweries entered as part of a group from the Craft Brewers Association brought many unusual beer styles to try while our Australian brewers offered equally exciting beer entries. But in a state that prides itself on international events there was no state reception for incoming brewing executives from the international brewing community, and there was no after event festivities for the Melbournians to be educated and entertained by the world ob beer.

The awards for Australian small brewer were also a non-Victorian whitewash. Congratulations to Champion Small International Brewery winner Colonial Brewing Company from the Margaret River, Western Australian. According to Head Brewer Dean McLeod, “West Australia seems to have a better craft beer culture with amazing support from the public.” Hard to fault his statement with the Feral Brewery taking out Champion Specialty Beer for their Belgian styled Feral White and Champion Ale going to Little Creatures for their American styled Pale Ale. Cheers also go to Canberra based Wig & Pen Brewery & Tavern’s Champion Reduced Alcohol winner Mr. Natural and last year’s Grand Champion Sydney based Redoak for their winning Champion Porter – Redoak Old Baltic Porter.