Oak and smoke

3 05 2011

About a month ago I churned out a post concerning the Fed Square Microbreweries Showcase in which I waffled on with praise about 3 Ravens Dark, a delicious yet easy-drinking smoky beer with a remarkable but subtle bacon-like finish. Perhaps a very distant relative of something like Ardbeg Uigeadail. Anyway, I was delighted to find some bottles of the brand-spanking-new (but limited) 3 Ravens Double Ale Noir at Slowbeer not too long ago, a barrel-aged version of the Dark. Here’s a blurb/description from The Crafty Pint:

The latest limited release (very limited release) from 3 Ravens has undergone quite a journey. It takes the concept of last year’s first Ale Noir (a Geelong Pinot Noir barrel-aged take on their Dark smoke beer) and adds another dimension. The barrel that was used last time around was refilled with Dark beer which spent ten months maturing. A second batch of Dark was placed into a fresh Pinot barrel for six weeks and then the two were blended. The result is a 6.5% beer that brewer Dave Brough says has “a big oaky, vanilla and earthy phenolic nose”. There’s a thinner body than last year’s as there was less malt to “fatten it up”, he says, which along with the slightly acidic notes and long, dry finish give it a vinous character. As for the palate, it’s “a full bodied Pinot spiced with subtle malt sweetness and peated Scotch notes”. There’s only the tiniest handful of kegs so keep your eyes peeled for where they turn up.

6 Ravens Quadruple Ale Noir Noir.

For some reason I was expecting a ramped-up version of the Dark, but the casking appears to have softened it quite a lot. I can probably agree with the aforementioned “vinous” characteristic though, you can tell there’s something a little different about this beer from the rest of the 3 Ravens offerings.

I still have one of those bottles sitting in the cupboard, I may break it out in the future for a side-by-side with the standard Dark.

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Getting bent in Bendigo

19 03 2011

I haven’t been a whisky drinker for a very long time – “whisky drinker” in the sense of cultivating an interest in the drink, in its varieties, methods of production and so forth, as opposed to merely guzzling it whilst on a teenage bender and then having your high school classmates draw a Hitler-esque moustache and an assortment of male genitalia on your face. (Just for the record, I was neither the victim nor the perpetrator of such deeds…)

Therefore, I haven’t been to many whisky-related events. Last year I attended a small function to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ardbeg Committee at Melbourne’s Der Raum cocktail bar. Moët-Hennessy Australia must have laid down a considerable sum of pesos to provide what was an astonishing amount of complimentary Ardbeg single malt, including a 4.5L bottle of Ardbeg Rollercoaster and an assortment of top-notch nibblies. And it turns out you can make good cocktails from a heavily peated whisky, despite whatever protestations the purists may proffer.

So, it was much to my delight that I came across a whisky event as part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival this year. Regrettably it was the only whisky event amongst a multitude, or perhaps an excess, of wine and beer gatherings; surely this wasn’t indicative of whisky’s popularity (or lack thereof) when compared to other beverages? Plus, it was in Bendigo. A wonderful rural town, and by no means inaccessible, but not since visiting the Suntory Yamazaki distillery in Japan have I gone to such distances for the purpose of having a dram. I attended the Saturday afternoon session of the Whisky Degustation Dinner at The Dispensary Enoteca ($95, but I believe it was worth it), hosted by the affable Graham Wright of The Odd Whisky Coy – check out his website for a brilliant list of whiskies he has in stock. With only 12 places, it was an intimate tasting event. We leisurely plowed through the following over the course of 2.5 hours:

1) Glengoyne 10 43%
2) Auchentoshan 3 Wood 43%
3) Macallan 12yo Sherry Oak 40%
4) Talisker 1998 Distiller’s Edition 45.8%
5) Riverstown Laphroaig 12yo 1998 57.4%
6) Longrow 7yo Gaja Barolo 55.8%

A Saturday stroll around Scotland.

Following this, some generous chap shouted everyone a round of Highland Park 12, which was followed up by another Highland Park, I think it may have been a HP 1990 16yo.

Anyway, Graham furnished the session with a steady stream of whisky history and trivia, enough to satisfy both the recent whisky initiates and the seasoned malt fiends. I was unaware that Macallan and Springbank send much of their profits to charitable causes – all the more reason to drink good Scotch! As for the actual malts we tried, I was particularly impressed by the Riverstown Laphroaig; needless to say, Islay malts are renowned for their smoky and peaty characteristics, but I’ve never come across a whisky with such a colossal waft of tobacco ash on the nose. Remarkable stuff. I also greatly enjoyed the Longrow; it had the expected punch of a young peated whisky, although the nose and palate (presumably) resulting from its time spent in Italian Gaja Barolo wine casks was something completely new to me.  It’s apparently a spectacular wine, although I hear the price tag isn’t for the faint of heart. Of the remaining whiskies for the day, I was sold on the Glengoyne. Very clean, very light. Subtle but delicious.

Proceedings wrapped up at 5:30pm, but with an extra hour to kill until I had to hoof it to the train station I decided to change tack and hit the beer. I went for a Dead Guy Ale from the Rogue Brewery in Oregon, USA.

You know a purveyor of alcoholic beverages takes their trade seriously when they have branded glassware to match the drink.

Don’t ask me for tasting notes, I’m sure you can appreciate the fact that by this point, I simply couldn’t be arsed. Alternative, you could check out the official tasting notes here. What I will say is that I was enjoying this beer so much, I made it back to the train station in time to catch my return train to Melbourne with barely a minute to spare.

In closing, I’d like to extend my thanks to Graham Wright for hosting a solidly enjoyable afternoon and for selecting some excellent whiskies, and here’s hoping it all happens again next year.





The waft of an angel’s armpit

8 03 2011

March. The pious amongst us would be anticipating the imminent arrival of Easter. The slightly less pious amongst us would be anticipating the arrival of an immoderate amount of chocolate and a long weekend. Those of us who absolutely don’t give a shit will find Saint Patrick’s Day to be the only thing in March* vaguely resembling any sort of occasion meriting celebration; any opportunity to provide a pseudo-excuse for being liquored up to the eyeballs is welcome, frankly. The fact that I’m not in the slightest bit Irish (nor are 99% of the people who observe the day either, I suspect) is irrelevant. As it happens, the only hesitation I have concerning Saint Patrick’s Day is the fact that I’m partially colourblind – try to imagine pulling out an assortment of clothing from your wardrobe that you suspect to be green, only to be (repeatedly) told by your housemate, “Nope, that’s brown… brown… brown…”

*(Nota bene: I must also tip my hat and lend my support to the Sydney Mardi Gras and International Women’s Day. Having said this, whilst I may use Saint Patrick’s Day as a convenient pretext for getting blotto, it’s rare that I find myself seeking a convenient pretext to be gay or a woman… mostly rare…)

March also brings the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival for 2011. There are some rather curious events on the calendar (An Evening of Offal, anyone?), but unfortunately, attendance at more than a handful of these will be out of reach for anyone who isn’t raking in some good coin. However, last week I attended the soundly-priced and brilliantly-named The Smelly Gorgonzola at Terra Rossa on Flinders Lane. For $25 per head my cohort and I each received four different wines produced by Campbells of the Rutherglen region, and four different cheeses to match.

A well-rounded lunch.

So, the wine/cheese pairings were as follows…

Bobbie Burns Shiraz / Toma Piemontese, Liquid Gold Classic Rutherglen Topaque / King Island Ash Blue, Classic Rutherglen Muscat / King Island Roaring 40s, Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat / ???… evidently I was enveloped in some sort of booze’n’cheese haze by the end so as to completely forget to note the name of the final morsel, all I recall is that it was an Italian blue cheese. The soft-spoken Italian curd-wrangler introducing his wares was barely audible over the din of the kitchen and other diners.

Whilst I tend to gravitate towards stronger flavours (likely some sort of fallout from eating far too much fiery food), I found the King Island Ash Blue to be particularly agreeable despite its profile being at the softer end of the spectrum of blue cheeses, and not simply due to any sort of affinity with its name.  Turns out it’s called “Ash Blue” as they roll the wheel in the ashes of burnt coconut husks, moreso for the sake of tradition now than any other purpose. Not to say I found any of the other cheeses – or any of the wines, for that matter – to be at all disagreeable. I know bugger-all about wine, frankly, although the shiraz was gentler than I had expected, and lived up to its claims of having “a core of raspberry and black cherry fruit”. Good stuff. The Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat, weighing in at a purse-smashing $120 for a 375mL bottle (all thanks to a perfect 100 score in Wine Spectator magazine, thus placing this drop out of the reach of most people) was sublime. The colossally intense burst of raisins was reminiscent of the Pedro Ximénez sherries I occasionally drink, but had far greater balance and depth to it.

The waitress must have had some sixth sense for habitual elbow-benders in the immediate vicinity, as we were offered an extra glass of muscat belonging to some unlucky sods who had failed to materalise. No complaints there. I’m certainly keen to head back to Terra Rossa at some point in the future, as the venue and atmosphere was extremely comfortable.

There are a couple more events in the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival that I’ll be attending over the coming week… you’ll certainly be hearing about them here once I get my act together.





State of the brewnion

5 02 2011

The Age, despite churning out a lot of tabloid-esque crap of late, published a decent article on the current state (and adventurousness) of microbreweries and beer drinkers in Victoria.

The beer cocktails at Beer DeLuxe in Federation Square include a martini infused with three hop varieties. Another uses Japanese sweet stout and a condensed version of the sweet, malty wort produced during the brewing process of Mountain Goat’s Hightail Ale. They are very much a niche within this niche market. But they’re also a sign of the growing desire in the industry to experiment and educate — and of an eagerness among drinkers to hunt down new beer experiences.

Full article here: http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/restaurants-and-bars/the-amber-revolution-20110131-1aaso.html

Beer cocktails may sound rather heretical to the purists, although I’d be willing to give them a go. Us Victorians have it pretty bloody good when it comes to beer.





One for the road

1 02 2011

I took a break from my usual Australia Day activities of bellowing moronic chants and muttering obscenities about immigrants taking over our way of life – besides, my “LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT” t-shirt was in the wash – and went on a road trip to the town of Daylesford. Foregoing the usual enticement of the region’s mineral spas (as much as I like a soak, it’s not easy to be excited about these things once you’ve experienced the glory of a Japanese onsen), a small group of us checked out a handful of the town’s attractions.

Lunch – in my case, a brilliant but ever-so-slightly inadequate serving of pan-fried gnocchi – was summarily devoured at Breakfast and Beer. If you have a look at the website you’ll see that the beer list is extensive and impressive, although in actuality the fridge (which appeared to also serve as the beer menu) appeared to contain a far smaller variety. Nevertheless, to my surprise they stocked a variety of the excellent Hitachino Nest Beers from the Kiuchi Brewery in Japan. Whilst living in Japan I rarely had the opportunity to try local beers beyond the hodgepodge of Asahi/Sapporo/Kirin/etc., as the Japanese palate generally steers towards brews that are as clear, clean, crisp, and generally inoffensive as possible. There are a respectable number of craft breweries out there in all corners of Japan producing a wide variety of beers, often unique, although for a lack of a large market willing to diversify their beer-swilling habits (and perhaps due to a handful of microbrewers’ desires to keep their products as fresh as possible at the time of consumption) they’re not easily available – at least not in Kumamoto or Tokushima, the two Japanese cities in which I’ve lived. So, imagine my surprise when, at this little restaurant and beer garden in Daylesford, I come across a bottle of Rising Sun Pale Ale from Baird Beer in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Rising Sun Pale Ale

How many Japanese cliches can you (mis)appropriate into a single beer label?

Not a bad drop at all. A great reddish-coppery colour, decent head, with some citric/tarty fruit and a sensible amount of hops on the palate. The finish had a satisfying touch of bitterness, although not quite as bitter as being walloped with a $14 charge for the drink. I suppose this is what you get for ordering straight out of the fridge, but to me it seems a little unscrupulous for an establishment such as this to not have a booze menu with prices. The alternative is to lay siege to the poor waitress with a dozen queries over the prices of drinks that take your fancy, and subsequently wasting everyone’s time and prolonging the unbearable wait until the moment when beer meets mouth.

Anyway, our day continued on with a visit to the Daylesford Cider Company, despite the waitress at the previous establishment mumbling something about their ciders being a “bit shit”. In the parking lot was a battered ute (“pickup truck” in Americanese) bearing the Victorian license plate “CIDER”, so I figured they must take their cider rather seriously. Traditionalists they were, as none of the ciders were carbonated. It was the first time I’d ever tried a still cider (drinking previously-bubbly cider left to go flat doesn’t count… or does it?), and whilst it was certainly interesting, I still prefer my ciders slightly sparkling. Out of the sweet, standard and dry varieties, I preferred the acidic and astringent feel of the dry cider, and picked up two bottles to take home. After the cidery we hit up a local chocolate factory, the name of which I’ve forgotten because I’ve already thrown out the packaging after gobbling down everything I bought within the space of 24 hours.

To bring things back full-circle (when I do this it inevitably leads to alcohol and/or Japan) there seems to be a Japanese pastime of hauling the family or your friends into the car and driving off to some remote part of the prefecture in order to try a bit of the local produce. It’s definitely something I could get used to doing here in Australia.





Books, part 1

8 01 2011

The Y-chromosome-deficient amongst us would have us believe (and undoubtedly themselves believe) that men are incapable of multitasking. Complete bullshit. I can drink whilst trawling the internet for awkward pictures of Kim Jong-Il, I can drink whilst riding a bicycle through a clusterfuck of Japanese bar hostesses and cube-shaped cars, hell, I can even drink whilst pouring another drink. And one of my favourite and frequent pastimes is drinking whilst reading.

This blog was partially inspired by Everyday Drinking by Kingsley Amis, a brilliant compendium of his spirituous oeuvre concerning any and all aspects of the drink; “Wives and such are constantly filling up any refrigerator they have a claim on, even its ice-compartment, with irrelevant rubbish like food.” It contains innumerable cocktails recipes (both widespread and of Amis’ own invention), commentary on drinking establishments, wily ways in which to throw a cheap party, how to deal with both the physical and metaphysical hangover, and so forth. The final portion of the book consists of booze-related quizzes to test the hardiest and worldliest of tipplers. The liquor perhaps got the better of Amis in his later years, but that’s aside the point.

My collection of books concerning drinks and drinking is rather on the lean side, but in terms of quality, is excellent, if I may say so. I’ve acquired a few more over the Christmas/holiday period; one of these, a gift from my lovely partner (she once gave me a greeting card featuring the classic W. C. Fields line, “A woman drove me to drink and I didn’t even have the decency to thank her”), was a copy of 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die by Adrian Tierney-Jones. I’ve always been a little suspicious of these compendiums covering an arbitrary number of, well, whatever it is – 50 places you must visit, 100 albums you must hear (especially anything compiled by a music journo), and so on. But let’s face it, you can never have enough beer. Spanning 960 pages and weighing almost two kilos, this book is elephantine, and the quality is fantastic – beers are divided into styles (and can also be searched by country index and brewery index) and are accompanied by information and anecdotes regarding the brewery, ideal serving temperatures, tasting notes, pictures of the label and/or bottle, historical beer posters and advertisements, and plenty of other general information regarding the brewing process and so forth. It’s exhaustive. The Australian beers featured within are actually quite impressive, and fortunately bereft of Fosters, Crown Lager and the like (click here for a full list of them). If any criticisms can be made concerning the Australian brews, it’s that they were all tasted (and hence written about) by a single person. I haven’t read all the entries for the Australian beers, but the majority I’ve seen so far feature cringe-worthy statements such as “best enjoyed with your mates at a barbecue”, or “best enjoyed with your mates whilst watching the cricket” or some similarly hackneyed nonsense. (“Tooheys New? Best enjoyed whilst rootin’ some sheila in the back of the ute with Farnsy on the stereo.”)

Anyway, that’s really a minor gripe in what is otherwise an imposing and first-class piece of work on one of the greatest drinks known to humankind. Highly recommended. Once I’ve perused this boozy opus in a more thorough fashion I’ll let you know how many of these 1001 beers I’ve actually tried, then I’ll likely drink myself into a depressive oblivion over how little of the beer world I’ve actually explored.