So Sunday, being Mother's Day, was spent with my cousin's and aunty from here in Melbourne before I hit GABS for my free session. Having not seen some of the family for 6 months, it was interesting to get a Christmas pressie. Yes, it was beer related, and a great book full of old beer cans, which got me thinking of Fox Hotel, which I have yet to visit, but hope to later in the week to see their beer can display (Sorry, just realised how nerdy that sounds...what am I the beer equivalent to a train spotter? [sorry to my dad, if he ever works out how to use the internet and reads this]...still anyone who has read a few of my posts knows that I am a beer nerd anyway, so what have I got to hide?).
Anyway, to GABS. While I hadn't planned to go with anyone, funnily enough the Beer Deluxe crew were heading in to the event at the same time I was, so with Miro as our leader, we headed around to scope out the place. While they had VIP passes to get upstairs, I took the opportunity to sit down with the booklet and start planning the beers to try, with the free tokens I had. I had enough time to plan and pick up my beers from the bar before Miro came back (bloody beer schmoozer), along with Sarah and Sam to bring the Mountain Goat family together.
Have to say, the beer hall style of the building and set up really works well, even if maybe there is not enough bar space for the heavy traffic that came through on the Saturday. Was great to sit in that environment with lots of light chatter from some areas, stern silent concentration coming from other punters, and others have D&M's over the beers they were having with friends, all with the band(s) in the background. A good environment to feel comfortable in whatever approach you take in the appreciation of beer.
The most amazing aspect of the event this day was that with it being Mother's Day and bad weather outside, crowd numbers were down, and while we had needed 9 people manning the front area of the bar the day before, they could easily get away with 3 today, and even then, some of them looked bored. Even though I may not have been able to enjoy my day on the bar, I think I still appreciate the Saturday more for being what this event should be, an opportunity for all people to come and try beers they would never had tried before and continue to build an understanding of beer in a great atmosphere. That it was sillingly busy just means more people were on that journey, which is great from my perspective. Plus, I did not get caught up in any lines on my day there as a punter. As soon as I took my paddle to the bar, was always served within 30 seconds, and then would wait a minute for the volunteer to get my beers to me.
When it came to drinking, even though the tasters are quite small, I took my time with them to try and get the most out of each, which meant minimising conversation, which probably offended my fellow drinkers. Also, I was just very tired after the previous week, so keeping all my concentration energy for the beers (it's ok, the Goaters know I am a beer nerd too).
So finally, here are the beers I tried, in numerical order from the booklet, with my notes:
14) Renaissance Stonecutter Oak (7%) - a good malt and alcohol balance, with just the slightest touch of alkaline or overcarbonation to take away from the beer. However, it does warm up quite well on the tongue so this aspect disappears ok and it gets a little bit meaty with a decent body to push it along. Classic caramel for a Scotch Ale.
18) 4 Pines Beetroot Belgian Ale (8.5%) - Was interested to see if any beetroot would come through seeing they only extract sugars from the beet, and in smell I have to say I did notice it. However, in taste I did not, but is definitely some alcohol on what I could call a strong Belgian blonde in style.
19) Barry Cranston's Brown Dog (5%) - A Homebrew entry that got my interest, and is quite dark for a brown ale. Is very fruity on the nose and tongue, with a bit of dusty malt on the midpalate the only sign it is a darker malt beer before a fruity bitter finish cleans up at the back. Was getting a similar pineapple aspect to the Stone and Wood Pacfic Ale with this one.
29) Wig & Pen 'This Beer's not Real Craft' (5%) - One Miro let me try of his that to me had a similar level of 'quality' to the Murray's Farmhouse. While this one could have easily been a bit too much with the sourness, but holds it character quite well and get a full breadth of flavour to support the sourness.
30) 2 Brothers Diamond Knott Bloody Oak (9.7%) - My personal favourite from the line up with a big caramel malt character that balanced out and melded well with the higher alcohol that warms very well towards the back of the palate. Simple, but well made Barleywine, and a bargain at only 5 tokens for a 370ml fill.
44) Red Duck Bumble Bee (5.6%) - Sweet honey tingle up front with a dusty feeling towards the back, but then the Bramling Cross hop cleans it up nicely at the back to give sense of nobel hop character so as not to get residual sweetness from the honey. A bit one dimensional, but the honey is at a good level, and impressive after our own failed home brew attempts at this style.
45) Red Hill Sticke Alt (5.4%) - Another beer I would put in the well made category, with a good sense of clean and stable flavours, that flow across the tongue quite well for an overall balanced approach. The notes on this one says it all...'Extended cold conditioning and a cool ferment combine to create a clean, crisp ale with a light hop nose, good malt background and dry finish'. Technically very good.
46) Temple Smoked Weizen (5.2%) - Like other wheat smoke beers I have had, the hammy smoke flavour is quite subdued/'cloudified' by the wheat and they meld together well to make this a good beginners beer for anyone just getting into smoked beers.
49) Moo Brew Belgo (4.5%) - There is some good fruit up front, but it dies off at the back with a slighty yeasty quality in aftertaste. Technically good, but unlike other well made beers here, does not have a bit more kick to it that I might expect from a beer labelled an American/Belgian Ale. Maybe I am just hard on these guys as they make good beer (and love that my surname is Bogan. That reminds me, I met head brewer Owen having trouble getting into the joint). Reminds me a little of the slight disappointment I had from the first batch of Saison they came out with, but have heard subsequent batches have shown improvement. Maybe they like to take it easy first time around before playing with it. I guess when a brewery's production gets bigger, doing bigger batches can make them want to play it safe on first attempt...sorry, that just turned into a bit of an essay...(cough) 'beer is good'...that's better.
59) The Monk Sweet Potato Porter (4.3%) - After our Sunday Roast homebrew attempt, was interested to see if the sweet potato would come through on a darker base beer than on the amber ale base we used for ours. It certainly came through quite well, but not sure if I enjoyed the coffee aspects with it.
Of course I would have liked to have tried more (for some reason I just thought I remembered trying the Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta on Saturday, but not being personally impressed with the lemon and what is termed as 'punget bergamot orange'), but was happy with my selections, even if I did not delve into IPA's. I wanted to keep my palate alright for the first beer and chocolate event I had lined up for GBW this year, which after a short stroll from GABS, I arrived at Mamor Chocolates ready to get into it. However, my partner in beer and chocolate tasting did turn up a little late so we were behind the others going through the selection. Still, it gave me a chance to talk with our hosts and the 4 other people involved in the small event. After the beer hall, it did feel a little claustrophobic, but guess it is called an 'Intimate Beer and Chocolate Tasting' for a reason. The hosts were actually quite entertaining and wanting a lot of feedback from it to help them improve and branch out what they could do with this and similar events, which is good from first timer GBW hosts, and once they heard I work at Mountain Goat and really enjoy pairing beer and chocolate, they were even more interested in what I had to say...and I was happy to say it. They also provided a lot of information to help guide us through the tasting, but also a notes sheet was available for me to fill in with my own thoughts. Was also good to see they had only chosen Victorian beers for the pairing, showing off to those attending the diversity of beers coming out of our own backyard, and hopefully stimulating people to go out and try more.
Anyway to the combos, and first off the bat was the Mountain Goat Hightail Ale. Knowing the beer quite well and seeing all beers were from the bottle, I did notice the aspects that detract from it compared to the keg version, but was happy to see these did not take away from the chocolate combinations put with it. I found with the ginger dipped in dark chocolate that the bitterness of the beer tries to cut through the somewhat oppressive ginger flavour (Sorry to my grandma, who is a massive ginger fan), while the malty character works well with the dark chocolate. Was good to get some contrasting and complimentary sensations in this and many of the other chocolate pairings. The Hightail was also used in combination with a raspberry framboise chocolate, with the fruit and malt bringing out a slight sour flavour overall which was interesting.
Second beer, another Goat, but this time the Pepperberry Black IPA. Such a good beer by itself (especially in the bottle) with dark malt, fruity hops, and a touch of raspberry and spice from the pepperberry. However, with it being such a robust beer, It is a good base to add some other flavours, to which Mamor provided on this night. A rosemary sea salt truffle? Yep, and found the spicy malt aspect of the beer was brought out with the salt well (would you believe it?!). Thinking that had been a pretty different experience, they then upped it, pairing the same beer with a kangaroo salami chocolate, which I found the spice and malt worked well with again, but this time with a smokey character that was also coming from the meat.
Finally getting off Goat (maybe they should have used goat salami?), we turned our attention to what was a forerunner to the Saison revolution in Australia with the Temple Saison. The chocolates; a rosewater cardamon, where the prominent rose/floral flavour of the chocolate reacted quite well with the fruit and yeast of the beer to create this musky character, and a chilli kaitaia, where the chilli wuss in me found it difficult to find refreshment from the heat through the beer. Howard also offered a passionfruit chocolate to me to try this beer against, but found the white chocolate high sweetness did not mix well with the yeastiness of the beer.
Next was the 2 Brothers James Brown Belgian Ale, which I quite like by itself for the beer journey it takes me on (too bad there are so many other beers to try in this world!), and I like how Mamor took two different approaches with the chocolates they paired to see what people would like. For me, the Marzipan was too subtle a flavour to go with the big belgian yeast and was completely overpowered once the beer hit your chocolate coated tongue. However, the orange ginger worked much better for me, with the jaffa quality from the chocolate reacting well with the brown malt and the yeast bringing a nice cleansing aspect at the back.
Red Hill's Wheat took the stage, accompanied by a hazelnut and honey truffle and an orange cointreau. The honey did go ok with the sweet wheat malt, but not enough to bring out anything overly exciting, whereas for me the orange seems to bring a zest to the cloudy wheat to add that other dimension I was looking for from a pairing.
Final act of the night was one of my favourite chocolate beers, the Holgate Temptress, again interestingly paired from two extremes, nut and sour cherry. The dark nut cluster complimented well with the chocolate also in the beer, but did not bring anything more apart from maybe a bit of vanilla sweetness. I could have had the chocolate by itself for a similar effect. However, the sour cherry brandy truffle brought with it a lot of alcohol heat that the chocolate in the beer helped suppress and contrasted well with the sourness of the fruit.
What is really interesting now as I think about the event and all the flavours I encountered over the session, is that I find it very hard to find a favourite, as the contrasts and complimentary get lost in which beers and chocolates I like by themselves. The raspberry framboise, marzipan and hazelnut and honey truffle were all stand alone chocolates I really liked, and of course, the darker beers (Black IPA, James Brown and Holgate) were my favs. However, the Saison and rosewater carmadon was a great combination even someone like my mum (who doesn't drink beer, or any alcohol) could enjoy. Still, if I had to choose one combo as my favourite, I would have to go the James Brown with the orange ginger. I think I have a bit of a jaffa soft spot, and the extra journey the beer put through the chocolate, really emphasised and then also neutralised it.
Still, the richness of all the chocolates did become almost overbearing by the end, and was too much for my friend, who ended up leaving half eaten chocolate and and half drunk beers at the venue (sacrilege!). She ended up leaving with a doggy bag of chocolates, which I heard she then proceeded to eat as soon as she got home...no self control that one (said the beer nerd to the foodie geek). Still, here is a bit of anonymous embarrassment for you Weeny...ok, maybe not so anonymous now. Not to mention she only had one comment to make on her notes the whole night, and happened to be a pairing that was not one set by the hosts. Still, means she is open minded, enough to be friends with a beer nerd, so I shouldn't give her shit... but I will.
Mamor Chocolates for another chocolate fix, and recommending the high tea to the girls I know (not many since I am a beer nerd unfortunately).
Thanks to the Taphouse crew for the effort they have put in for GABS, and to Hanna and Howard at Mamor for an overindulgent chocolate and beer session...and for Weeny for giving me someone to laugh at/with between my periods of serious consternation over beer and chocolate.