As noted by a fellow blogger, there’s been a fair amount of hype around Pirate Life Brewing. They’ve slowly but surely expanded their distribution around our fair nation from their base in Adelaide, and around a month ago, they finally arrived in NSW. To that end I’m a little slow off the mark, but as I quickly found out, it was worth the wait.
Right from the start it’s evident there’s enough hop flowers used in this beer to make Floriade weak at the knees, with dank resin, grapefruit, orange and leafy scents booming out of the 500ml man can. The taste is equally hop-forward, with a big pine bitterness and some biscuity malts coming through, with the pine flavour lasting long after the sip. It feels light and watery in the mouth, making this a very easy-drinking imperial IPA.
This is one of the hoppiest beers I’ve had in a long time, with no attempt made to cover their glory…which is not a bad thing. And whilst the style is not for everyone, it’s exactly what I look for in an imperial IPA. Akin to Nick Krygios, it’s big, it’s bold, and it’s bitter. Unlike Krygios, it’s full of aromas and flavours, leaving a great taste in the mouth long after its performance. And fortunately for me, I have another of their beers in my fridge – a prospect I’m very excited about.
Drunk: from the can
HopDog Beerworks are a brewery I have a lot of time for, even if their beers are harder to come by in Sydney town. They’re always of a high quality, and the range seems to be pretty spot on. I grabbed the chance recently to try their SuperBeast 2015, an annual seasonal release. It’s my first try of the barley wine style, and on reflection, probably the only time I’ll ever have it during warmer temperatures.
Straight from the bottle, this looks a delicious brew, pouring deep black with a thick tanned head. It’s not big on aromas, but I was able to pick up some roasted, oak and dark fruit smells. But the flavour is the big draw card here. It’s this fusion of dried raisins and berries, grassy flavours, dark chocolate (think 95% cocoa), and a hint of smoke. It’s a very big and warming beer, owing to a high level of alcohol and a massive bitterness, which is enough to strip the bacteria from your throat. It sits thick in the throat, and has the decent bitterness which lingers long after the swallow.
I think it’s fair to say that a barley wine and the New South Wales south coast aren’t a combination which would be seen all too frequently. Cask wine and the New South Wales south coast might be more appropriate. But there’s no doubting that this is a good beer. It’s super strong, and has some big, beefy flavours and bitterness. My one regret is that I haven’t drunk this in the winter time – it just doesn’t have the same warming qualities on a mild summer’s evening.
Drunk: from the bottle
This beer had been staring at me intimidatingly for a long time. A label baring state such as 12% ABV, 4.7 standard drinks in a 500ml bottle was enough to make me break out in a cold sweat. I dug out the courage to have this bottle during the closing days of winter, where cooler temperatures are better suited to the strength of this beer.
Chocolate and nutty aromas arose from the jet black liquid. It has a chocolate taste at the start, before throwing to a big, strong alcoholic aftertaste. It gets better as it warms, but it almost makes the face shrivel the first couple of sips. It’s got a real winter feel as it slides down the throat. It’s big, thick, and warms with its high alcohol content.
My criticism is that it’s so dam boozy tasting! There’s hardly any masking of the alcohol flavours, that it just grabs the scruff of your neck and gives you a good shake. If I’d been necking back a vodka or scotch, this would be something I’d expect, but it’s not something I’d generally expect from a beer. Sure, some beers are stronger, and you might get a bit of an alcoholic taste, but it’s usually melded in with the malt or hop flavours. Not this time though.
This is a good beer, but that is as far as I’ll go with it. It’s just so damn big, when combining both alcohol and consumption size, that it almost has to be shared with another person, or enjoyed right before bed as I did. It’s certainly one for the winter months with its warming effects, but probably not on of the first imperial stouts I’d be reaching for given others in the market.
Drunk: from the bottle
There was some big news yesterday, with Mountain Goat announcing Asahi (aka one of the big boys) were taking a 100% stake in their business. As with all big decisions, there is an argument for each side, and this is no different, with no shortage of punters willing to express their opinion on the matter.
“The bastards have sold out!”
Being small, independent businesses is something the craft beer industry has prided itself on. According to many on the internet forums, they’ve now eroded this identity by joining a big company, especially being one of the craft beer leaders in this country. Sold their soul to the devil, if you will, and let the big companies buy up the competition. As a result, we can expect the parent company to make changes to process or product which may impact the quality and/or breadth of the beer produced in order to keep the bottom line looking healthy.
“They deserve the great financial reward for years of hard toil”
I know shit all about brewing, but I do know it’s a huge effort for minimal reward, especially to produce a quantity which can be sold commercially. So fair play to them, some say, in not only producing the beer but building the brand and followers, they have finally earned a reward that matches the effort they’ve exerted.
They’re both fair and valid arguments. For me, every man deserves their just desserts, so I sit the later category. I also feel safer in the knowledge that there’s already an operating rhythm there with Asahi contract brewing some Goat beer. This, I hope, means the purchase will not disrupt the company too much, so they’ll be able to maintain their brand, including those impressive seasonal releases. I hope. Time will tell. But, unlike some, I don’t mind that I’ll be giving my coin to the big boys – so long as the beer remains at a high quality, than I have no issue.
Sydney’s north shore tends to be a bit of an outpost when it comes to good beer, unless you’re willing to tramp across to the Manly peninsula where breweries are thriving. So it’s a fantastic feeling when events such as The Willoughby Craft Beer Fair, which I attended today, are on. It was also a reminder that the beer festival season was beginning in earnest, with a variety scheduled around our fair land over the next few months.
The street was closed, with brewery tents lined up along the one side, and food tents on the other. The brewery selection wasn’t massive compared to other beer festivals, certainly lacking the representation of some of the more popular Sydney breweries, perhaps owing to the fact that there was another festival on the previous day (and perhaps the mental barrier for the inner west breweries of having to get “over the bridge”. And perhaps they were hungover). But the good beer was flowing nonetheless, with a number tickling my fancy – Mountain Goat’s Seven Seeds, Modus Operandi’s ever-reliable Former Tenant, and Yenda’s Chocolate Vanilla Stout my pick of the bunch. The sun was shining, there was various live music performances, and, being their fourth year, the beer festival machine was fairly slick and it ran well, all of which added up to it being a fantastic day and well run event.
And it was a fantastic way to kick off the festival season – beers in the sunshine are a great thing at the best of times. But with the simple words “it’s only just the start of Spring”, I was reminded by my house mate of the promise of the next few months ahead. For this is beer season in Australia. Winter, whilst great with all its big, dark beers seems to have passed (though I expect a couple more cold days and nights to us of what has been), and we can launch head long into the summer with a great sense of expectation. Because Australia’s climate is made for good, cold beers in the warm weather, and with a predicted El Nino event in waiting, it looks like being a great beer drinking season, if not so much for our farmers.
Exit Brewing and Kaiju! Beer are two brewers I have a lot of time for. Exit have only come on my horizon in the last six months, but I’ve been very impressed with the consistently high quality of their beers. Kaiju I’ve enjoyed for a little longer, and have developed a reputation for hopping their beers to the wah-zoo. It should be a good collaboration, even if the name, Schopsh, sounds like a Russian profanity.
But the name is not just a mis-match of letters, rather a hint to what this beer actually is – Exit Brewing’s Scotch Ale, combined with Kaiju’s trademark, a whole lot of hops. When they share the same brewing facility, I guess it’s easier to think about and team up for these collaborations, but it could also be one of those experiments after a couple of cleansing ales that just worked.
Because it does work. Very well. It looks stunning, pouring a bright copper with a foamy white head. The hoppy scents boom as soon as I open the bottle, pine, resin and some earthy aromas looming large. The hops continue there dominance in the mouth, with some pine, leafy and floral flavours. There’s also a brilliant smoked malt backbone which breaks through superbly, helping to balance the hop flavour. The flavours are rich and all combine well to provide a really funky tasting ale, that also isn’t too bitter given the amount of hops which appear to have been ploughed into the mixer.
It’s created with “lots of malts and hops!”, and it’s not hard to see why. The hops are obvious, and massive on the nose and in the mouth. But dig deeper and there’s the wonderful malt flavour, which seems to complement the hops perfectly. Schopsh is a little different, but it’s also a quality beer, especially for those that loves loads of hops in their beer!
Drunk: from the bottle
Angry Man and Whale Ale have a seemingly permanent place on the shelves at all bottleshops these days, however there’s more to Murray’s Brewing Co then these too approachable numbers. More in fact, which span the expanse of the beer style guide – including some thick and juicy stouts. Cat woman adorns the label of Wild Thing Chocolate, a chocolate version of an imperial stout of the same name. I can’t say I get the connection between beer and cat woman – but that matters little when the beer is so great.
I was only able to try half of this beer as the missus took a liking to it and had her fair share. This is also a reliable indicator of how good it is. It pours a deep black, with a thin light brown head. There’s not a huge amount doing aroma-wise – chocolate, berries and nuts is about it. The flavours are where the party is at though. It oozes chocolate, with some roasted malt flavours and blackcurrants to back it up. There’s a big sweetness, medium bitterness plus some boozy flavours too. What’s more, it’s thick in the mouth, fitting into the stout style like a glove.
Wild Thing is exactly what it says on the label – a chocolate imperial stout, and it is undoubtedly the best beer I’ve ever had from Murray’s. Heck, if the missus keeps going back for a sip of a beer which would not usually be up her alley, it must be good! It oozes big chocolate flavours, is thick in the mouth and looks a picture. I’ve had a number of dark beers this winter, but this is certainly up there with the best of them.
Drunk: from the bottle