Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ambassador/Ale Stars Session

After years in the making, finally the out-takes of the Beer Ambassadors trip to the States are available online.  We were supposed to show this last night, but for a few reason, one being time, two being doubts on the audio quality and three being Miro had forgotten to bring the can now understand how Miro 'Just Keep Rollin' Bellini ended up on a fat Mexican dudes couch!

I have edited out the clip with Owen (Moo Brew) and I sampling next years Imperial Stout in the bowels of Moorilla Estate (from oak barrels none the less!).  I just returned from a dirt bike trip on the east coast of Tassie with the Moo guys and will post the vid along with some photos soon.

Thanks everyone who supported us and the Taphouse with their attendance last night.



Sunday, August 8, 2010

A West Side Story

The Beer Hound and Beer-Boy Wonder attended the Draught Masters in Perth recently.

You will be happy to hear that a couple of Beer Ambassadors took out the Victorian state finals for the World Draught Masters. Which meant a couple of flights to the Australian Grand finals, in Perth. (thank you very much Stella Artois!)

But we couldn't spend a whole two days in WA without visiting a couple of Breweries.

We dropped our bags at the hotel and jumped a cab straight out to the Swan Valley but not before a quick pint of Hob Goblin Ale at the Moon & Six Pence, a homely English pub with a lengthy tap list.

Just thirty minutes from the CBD, situated in the Swan Valley, Feral Brewing Company looks like a big old Aussie homestead. A long wide veranda that overlooks paddocks and sheds with a couple of chooks scratching about.

The seats in the taproom were empty, but there was a line for beer a dozen people long. Everyone who could, had taken a sunny seat on the porch. Will Irving from the brewing team, came out to talk (drink) beer with us.

Will took us through the available range, fourteen in total. Their Imperial Stout "Boris" at 11.5% was syrupy and smooth, displaying superb balance. But the Farmhouse Ale won the crowd. The complex blend of spice/citrus flavours and the dry finish of this traditional farmhouse ale was just the right beer to acompany a tour of Feral Brewing operations.

Will took us on a unique tour of their aging barrels. The word "funky" doesn't even begin to describe the range of aromas.

Our cabbie stood us up, so Will kindly offered to drive us to the next destination Mash Brewing the first of a series of WA based brew pubs under the same name (Rockingham to open soon). Where we met Head Brewer Dan Turley and Brewery Owner/Operator Brad Cox.

The Mash team laid down the royal treatment (it is always great to catch a brewery team as they are knocking off). Grant and Dan took us through both their brews and bites. The Westcoast Wheat with the Szechuan pepper squid for the win!

Jacketed tank specially engineered for their Eisbock

The night carried on and the boys were nice enough to crack a couple of bottles of Liefmans Goudeband (a beer we had also spotted tucked away behind the scenes at Feral). Pretty much the perfect night cap. Then we were off home to bed.... after a couple more pints at the Moon & Six Pence. The Twisted Thistle IPA on tap was a little too good an opportunity to go past.

The big day, the Australian World Draught Master Finals. We were down at the Belgian Beer Cafe by 10am and knocked out of the comp by lunchtime.... brilliant! Now the stress is over lets work our way through the menu (in other words, drown our sorrows that we lost the opportunity to compete in Belgium!)

Competition finished up later that evening and the celebrations were in full swing, the winner was Siobhan representing South Australia, and they couldn't have found a better representative. The Westende team put a lot of work into showcasing high end Belgian beer. Venue Manager, Paul Runciman was even kind enough to open a bottle of the Bush Prestige. The Prestige is the barrel aged big daddy of the Scaldis Noel. Not too sweet, not too sour, just rich nectar flavours and texture, very smooth for 13%abv.

Although the night continued, the beer goodies were well behind us. And so ends another Beer Ambassador jaunt, until next time always remember "the best beer is the next beer".

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Road Ahead

Our final destination, Goose Island, was made even more interesting when Randy Mosher invited us down to the brew share that was happening at the Island’s function room. Thirst Fursday (as in 1st Thursday) at GI’s included the ritualistic release of a new Goose beer, this month was the Goose Island Tripel which was tasting fresh, spicy and a touch zesty. It was served in style from a Goose tap head.

After a little tipple we headed over to the crowd which was gorging on a magnificent selection of some craft brews we had not yet encountered on our trip. Some of the more notable bottles were the Old Wooly Barley Wine (Big Time Brewing, Seattle), the Arctic Panzer Wolf Double IPA (Three Floyds Brewery which unfortunately had been cut from out itinerary) and an old favourite from our little sister New Zealand across the Tasman, the Armageddon IPA (Epic).

There was also a worthy selection of local Chicago home brews including an interesting dandelion mead and a pear ale. But the highlight of the night was sharing a glass of Randy’s home brewed Belgian Wit from a growler. Thanks for everything Randy (and we will see you at the Australian National Homebrewing Conference in October).

So thus ends the Great American Beer Adventure 2010, and where to from here? Well the focus will turn to home, Australia, where big things are brewing. Well known craft breweries from the west coast to the east and down to Tassie are planning or have already expanded capacity. There are at least two U.S. brewers down under set to unleash some serious Humulus Lupulus on the Australian palate. The front line is ever pushing forward. More craft beers are claiming taps and a major player will soon open a new city venue, while an old favourite will up the ante. Home brewers will carry the torch and will continue to innovate with big beers that defy an archaic excise tax.

We will continue blogging our beer adventures starting with our latest trip to Feral Brewery and Mash Brewery in Western Australia. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.

Where beer is, we hope to be.

Beer Ambassador’s-at-Large

Sunday, July 4, 2010

¡Viva la RevoluciĆ³n!

North-west of Chicago City proper, Logan Square ia a predominantly Latino neighbourhood with relatively low cost housing.  Not really a place you might expect to find a newly opened cosmpolitan brewpub.  Aptly named 'Revolution' this trendy new bar with a high level of quality food had been highly recommended by our contacts in Detroit and Chicago.

Opened in Frebruary this year, Revolution is a superbly put together venue. They don't yet bottle or keg so everything is served directly from the tank. They share their tap lineup with other local craft and worldly brews and have a well rounded bottle list of 62 beers.

We started with a flight of the six house brews available.
- Workingman Mild
- Bottom Up Belgian Wit
- Iron Fist Pale Ale
- Eugene Porter (which was the favourite)
- Coup de Grace Saison
- The Whip Wheat IPA (notable for its use of the Japanase Sorachi Ace hops)

As we worked our way through the flight, the knowledge of our bartender and the quality of the food became apparent.  We really should have organised this as a six course degustation. But by the time we started matching beer to food we had moved onto the guest beers.  Not as a snub to the house brews, but because they were beers you just couldn't go passed.

First up was the Founders Diablo Noche Black India Ale, which was well balanced, restrained yet a full dark malt character and a good punch of hops, a suitable match for the applewood smoked wings w/ blue cheese potato salad and dipping sauce.  Other interesting appetizers were the bacon fat popcorn, sweet potato cakes and the range of four types of bruschetta (particularly the roasted cauliflower, white bean, arugula & lemon-infused oil).

We'd had some good wings, but these took the cake!

Americans seem to always find a way to get more fat into their food,
but the bacon fat popcorn was surprisingly delicious!

Sweet potato cakes w/ roasted red pepper yogur, a tasty vego option.

Though our stomachs were bulging by this stage, the Dogfish Head Immort Ale (a barley wine brewed with peat-smoked barley, juniper berries, vanilla & maple syrup) seemed like the perfect match to the locally produced Creamy Sexy Blue (Great American Cheese) served with poached apple, candied wallnut and drizzled with honey...a match made in heaven!!

We were wait, there's more!  We had apparently drunk the Dogfish Head barrel dry and this made way for the New Holland Brewing Dragon's Milk Ale, a strong ale aged in oak.  This was the perferct excuse to try the house cherry bourbon cake!

Overall, our experience at Revolution was excellent due to the following factors: the beers were solid and they had a great guest line-up complemented by a big range of quality bottled beers.  The food was awesome, some of the best we'd had on our trip.  Most importantly, the staff were friendly, informative, had a good understanding of the product and were actively interested in their role not just from a customer service aspect (ie. tips) but in delivering the overall beer/food experience.  Revolution stood out as one of the most impressive beer & food centric venues we had seen.

Alas, we couldnt stay there all night.  We had a date with Randy Mosher and a brew swap meeting at Goose Island Brewpub!  Our final Chicago post, yet to come.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Chicago Day 2

A much needed sleep-in meant a late start to out first full day in Chicago.  Our first stop was Taste of Chicago in Grant Park.  Other than the plethora of doughy, fried sugar coated foods, the more interesting fare on offer included caramel & cheese popcorn mix, pork filled banana dumpling, mustard fried catfish, mango cumin fries and frozen hibiscus leaf tea with whipped cream to name a few.  The only beers on offer were Stella, Heineken and Bud.  We needed to find a good bar fast!

We didnt realise the scale of our map and wound up walking through one of Chicago's toughest neighbourhoods, Cabrini Green.  Our destination was the Map Room, but on the way we found a cool neighbourhood bar in North Damen called Big Star, a converted auto garage with a beer garden out front.  The set-up was very similar to Apex bar in Portland, though the beer garden was more for table service only and drinkers were encouraged to sit at the bar.  Enjoying communal tables outside was clearly not part of the equation.  We drank the Lost Abbey Devotion, Lagunitas Pils and one final Green Flash West Coast IPA for our lost comrade, Tom whom we had left in New York.  It was interesting to note that of the 6 beers on tap, 4 were from the west coast. 

Our final destination for the day was the Map Room.  They had around 24 beers on tap and a hand pump (empty at the time).  Our contacts in both Chicago and Detroit and recommended this bar highly.  A long bar with nice high ceilings and a nice roomy area in the rear.  The taps were a nice spread of international and local brews and a good bottle selection (though our first 2 choices were unavailable).  We drank the Three Floyds Hop King, Kostritzer Schwarzbier, Kaimai Porter's Rye Ale (New Zealand) and the Daisy Cutter Pale Ale from local brewery Half Acre.

We were treated to a tour of the coolroom, keg room and the firkin cooler.

It was interesting to chat with Laura (Owner) and discover they have had similar issues with some designs of disposable kegs.  Better designs such as the Key Keg, developed in association with Weihenstephaner have helped brewers like Mikkeller and Brewdog reach markets further afield.  Some brewers we have met have mentioned informally that they are thinking of exporting using the Key Keg.  As this technology becomes more widely used, it will be interesting to see what new draught products arrive in Australia (and what potential there is for Aussie craft brewers to export).

Friday, July 2, 2010


Ray Daniels, Barney & Randy Mosher at the Hop Leaf, Chicago

Our journey through the States has shown us that it is not hard to find a bar with an amazing range of beer. It is hard, however, to find knowledgable serving staff. Bartenders that can make recomendations based on a discussion of flavours or beer styles.  Enter Ray and Randy.  Ray runs the Cicerone program, a course designed to educate and certify beer sommeliers to industry standards.  Randy is an accomplished designer and specialises in the develmopment of craft beer brands.

Together these two are forging a strong focus on craft beer quality.  Not only in how it is produced and marketed, but how it is served and enjoyed along with beer/food matching.  We met up at the Hop Leaf for a bite and some good beers.  Beer standouts were the Lost Abbey Devotion, Three Floyds Alpha King and the Surly Brewing Co Bender.  The Cicerone course has now been modified for European students.  Topics such as the U.S. three tier system have been removed and measurements have been converted to the metric system.  Anyone wishing to pursue the Cicerone qualification should check out the website.  The first level is the Beer Server and can be completed online for free.  The Certified Cicerone will take a little more study, though the study resources are readily available.  Currently the exams are held in the U.S....but who knows, if there is a large amount of certified beer servers in Oz, perhaps there may be a possibility in the future to sit the Certified Cicerone program there! 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

In The Begining There Was Home Brew

This beer adventure has shown us a lot. On the west coast we saw the heights of hop-forward beers. In Colorado, we got to know big bold mountain beers. Up in northern California, we saw first hand how some big breweries like Sierra Nevada retain thier craft roots yet strive for best practice in brewing ops. In Oregon and Seattle, cosmopolitan dining stole the show. Manhatten was slick and fast while Brooklyn was a solid scene and down to earth.
However, we hadn't yet taken a good look at the foundations. The movement that threads all these places and beer styles together, home brewing.
Meet the 2Cicerone's. In a leafy suburban street live Annette and Mike. They are both certified Cicerone's, Annette manages a bottleshop with Michigans biggest beer selection and Mike is an avid homebrewer of more than twenty years. The beer he creates is nothing short of amazing.
Lefe: Mike's fridge with some tasty home brew!
Above: Michigan craft beer aisle at Annette's bottle shop.
We were lucky enough to have his Kolsch, Rye Peppercorn Ale, IPA and his Imperial Pilsner, which was worth the flight tickets all on it's own!
It is hard to imagine two more well connected, knowledgable people on the east coast beer scene.
During the day we went out to the Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery in Ann Arbor, Detroit, brilliant menu by the way, smokey wood fired pizza's went perfectly with the Bam Bier, Bam Noir and Belipago.
At the brewery the full extent of their operation sets you back a little. Not only have they dedicated their brewery exclusively to barrel aged sours, but sour beer gods Cantillon have donated wooden barrels to the brewery.  It seems the sour beer gods approve! 
We ended up at Slows Bar-B-Q for dinner, about as high end as American BBQ gets. Ribs, wings and pulled pork at their finest. Not to mention a cracking tap range!
Back to 2Cicerone's abode where we took a little historic tour through elusive and almost extinct beer styles such as Gose and Berliner Weisse.  The night finished on a cracking Blood Orange Wheat Wine from Michigan brewery Short's.
Left: A sneaky home brewed IPA the following morning.
Above: Mike's home brew kit.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Upstate New York

F.X. Matt Brewery

On December 5, 1933 the Noble Experiment that was Prohibition ended at 12 midnight.  At 12.01am the first beer to be released was the Utica Club Pilsener Lager from the F.X. Matt Brewery Company in Utica, NY.  The brewery started in 1888 by German immigrant Francis Xavier Matt and is still run by the Matt Family today.  This traditional German lagering brewery today produces thier own range under the Saranac label.  It also produces a number of beers under contract, most notably a large proportion for the Brooklyn Brewery, NY.

Before Prohibition, the F.X. Matt Brewery was producing a number of modern-day craft syles including a Porter and an English-style IPA.  Through Prohiition they survived making a range of softdrinks, which they still produce today.  They are also producing conventional craft beer styles such as the Pommegranite Wheat, Pumpkin Ale, Pale Ale, Rye IPA and a great seasonal Imperial IPA at 9%abv which had a huge malt backbone and a very balanced yet aggressive hop character.

Beer can desguised as WW2 grenade.  Release by F.X. Brewing during the war.

The current brewery was commissioned in the 1950's (a brave move post WW2 amongst the prevelant anti-German sentimant).  The lagering capacity of the brewery is quite large.  The most unique difference in the brewhouse here was the Mash Filter.

At one stage, F.X. Matt brewery was one of only 40 or so breweries still operating in the U.S.A.  There was a time where they feared they would have to close, however, the continued on and refused to compromise on quality.  Testamant to this is the number of 'craft brewers' who choose to have F.X. Matt brew many of thier staples and seasonals!  One little known fact is that F.X. Matt brewed that once popular Australian invention Two Dogs alcoholic soda!

Nick Matt, grandson of Francis Xavier, sits as the CEO of the Brewers Associaion and was more than happy to show us around the brewery.   His nephew is CEO of the brewery today.  Great beers from a brewery that will be around for a long time to come!  Thanks Nick for giving us so much of your time.

Nick Matt                                       Francix Xavier Matt

Ommegang Brewery

Close by to Utica, in Cooperstown, is the Ommegang Brewery.  Partly owned by Duvel, the beers coming out of this brewery are remarkable.  On tap at a local restaurant we had the Wit, Belgian Pale, Rare Vos Amber and the Saison.  In bottle, the Three Philosophers and the Ommegedan, a Belgian Strong Ale with brett.  Great beers as you would expect of the Duvel Moortgart Brewery in Belgium.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Brooklyn and NYC

We arrived in Manhattan, NY late in the afternoon on Tuesday.  A long flight from Seattle, a downgrade from some reasonably cheap/clean hotels to a mammoth backpacker hostel, a hot New York summer and a sultry subway meant it was Beer O'clock! 

We headed out to a nice neighbourhood bar near the corner of Amsterdam and 106th (across the road from Mama's Pizza...think the bar was actually called 'Amsterdam 106' may have been 'Amsterdam Dive).  They had a good tap line-up, mostly east coast and international.  But it had a good vibe and the brews were tasting great.

We had heard alot about New York bars.....Blind Tiger, Rattle & Hum, Manhattan it seemed would be the place to see how sharp big city folk would present a beer bar.  Our side trip to Brooklyn Brewery was just that...a side trip.

Our first scheduled brewery visit was late in the afternoon of our first full day.  We decided to check out Brooklyn city first.  We had expected something a little different from what we found.  Instead of gangster rappers shooting each other out on the streets, we found an up-and-coming neighborhood, dog friendly bars and cafe welcoming childrens-prams (Monday to Thursday only thank the Lord).  Its no surprise that real estate was going through the roof and a funky restaurant and bar scene was spreading.

Walking down Court Street we stumbled on Cody's Ale House Grill, it was our first surprise.  A nice old bar with a lot of character and friendly staff.  Staff here say consumption of craft beer over the bar is above average for the area, about 65%.

From there we head for the oldest bar in town, but not without a visit to this cool bottleshop and the growler station.

PJ Hanley's was built by Norweigen settlers in the 1800's.  It was good to see they also had a good tap range of craft beers.  There was a few Coors and the like, however this was a mainstream pub with a great beer garden. 

There was plenty of advice going around about where we should head next.  We decided on Bar Great Harry.  Mo our bartender was a top lady and knew her stuff.  Had some really good taps and bottle list.  Enjoyed a Mikkeller Jackie Brown off tap and a tasty Southern Tier Oak Aged Unearthly.

Brooklyn Brewery was next, and we were well lubricated for it.  Steve Hindy, Owner had given us some time to tour in the afternoon.  The brewery had started a while ago in the 80's when there was not much else in the area.  Many locals credit them with the beginning of the turn-around for the Brooklyn area.

Cat on Malt: Brooklyn Brewery

We were fortunate enough to have Brewmaster Garrett Oliver who took us through a couple of the beers: Seasonal releases Local 1 and Local 2 and the Black Chocolate Stout.

A big day was finished off (and quite quickly) at Spuyten Duyvil in Brooklyn.  A nice space with a cool beer garden out the back.   Not much to say here, as we dont quite remember!

Day two of New York meant another visit to Brooklyn.  Sixpoint Craft Ales a small but rapidly growing micobrewery.  Shane Welch, Brewmaster and Founder took us through a tasting of the beers.  The stand out was the American Brown Ale.  We had a nice burger at Prime Meats (recommended) and headed to a local neighbouhood bar called The Gate.  Not quite the bar you would take some happy tourist snaps in, but friendly none the less and a good beer selection and a beer garden situated right on the corner facing onto the street in a typical Brooklyn neighbourhood.

Barcade was our next stop, a very cool concept.  Walls were lined with 1980's and early 1990's stand up arcade games including the Budweiser Tapper!  Again a good selection and definitley a recommended destination.  Dog friendly if that helps (actually saw two dogs running through the bar sniffing each others butts!).

The night finished up at an iconic Manhattan beer venue, Blind Tiger.  A very well done beer bar catering to a young professional crowd but without the heart & soul of the places we visited in Brooklyn. 

Our last morning in Manhattan was spent enjoying a few pints at Rattle & Hum another beer bar institution.  I would suggest anyone visitng NYC for the beer bar scene to check out the classics but make some time for  Brooklyn.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sleepy Seattle

Pikes Pub & Brewery

We had less than 18 hours in Seattle, a 5:00am wake up call, a lot to see and drink and very little time.  Our first stop was Pikes Pub & Brewery, a cool downtown brewpub with some great inside spaces.

Polished copper kettles and pipes winding their way around the restuarant and hanging over the bar set the mood for some drinks.  Luckily it was happy hour, food included, and we moved through a few pitchers.

The Tandem Double Ale was a real stand out, a dark ale made with Belgian yeast and typical Belgian spices.

The rest of the night was a series of mishaps and long cab rides yet we managed to find a few good brews.

At Hale's Ales we found a brilliant Saison.

At Brouwers Cafe we got stuck into a few, a nicely laid out bar with a giant range of international and local beers on tap and in the bottle.

'Adam' by Hair of the Dog Brewing Company (Adambier) was a stand out. 

Our stay in Seattle was brief, but we managed to squeeze in a few good beers.  It was a shame most things were closing up by 10pm on a Monday night. 

Next stop, the city that never sleeps...New York!