Dogged drinking

21 05 2011

Despite my professed love for beer, I’m pretty much a failure. It’s Good Beer Week in Victoria, a week-long celebration of the current beer renaissance we are experiencing in this country, and I’m yet to turn up to a single one of the official events. I was particularly keen on two BrewDog tastings happening at Chapel St Cellars – a sample of eight different BrewDogs on Tuesday night, which I missed due to certain music commitments, and Sunday night’s BrewDog Abstrakt AB:01 – AB:05 tasting, which is now sold out because I’m slow and stupid.

To compensate for this, I headed on over to Chapel St Cellars anyway, as the miser in me couldn’t say no to free tastings of paired beverages from the Kiuchi Brewery in Japan, particularly known for their range of Hitachino Nest beers. First up was Hitachino Nest White Ale, which had the classic cirtrus’n’coriander hallmarks of that style, but felt a touch too light in body for my liking. This was paired with Kiuchi Umeshu, which was was sensational. Full-bodied and well-balanced, it doesn’t stray too far into the sweet or tart ends of the umeshu spectrum. Great on the nose as well – if you needed any further proof that the ume is a closer botanical relative of the apricot than of the plum, all you need to do is take a whiff of the empty glass. The Kiuchi Umeshu is like sticking your head into a bag of dried apricots.

Next up was Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale, a beer for which I expressed great fondness in another post about a month or two ago. The maturation in cedar casks adds a unique depth to it, I only wish I could say the same for myself after having sat around in a cedar bathtub in Japan for an hour. Anyway, if you’re familiar with the smell of cedar you’ll likely pick up a whiff of it in the Classic Ale. This was paired with Kikusakari Junmai Tarusake, a nihonshu (what we more commonly call “sake” in English) also casked in cedar. For all my time spent in Japan I know a pitifully small amount about this type of drink, as the styles and varieties can be as equally varied and intimidating (although, mercifully, not as pretentious) as anything the world of wine can throw at you. Unto that, I’ll just say that I really liked it. Great mouthfeel, wonderful flavour, perfectly suited to room temperature.

And I liked the Junmai Tarusake and the umeshu so much I decided to buy full bottles of them.

The final round of tastings presented the Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale. Something of an enigma really, wasn’t sure what to make of it, although I’m keen to pick up a full bottle so I can give it another go. Lots of flavours and nuances seemed to be competing for attention in this one. Naturally, this was paired with Kikusakari Asamurasaki, a red rice sake. First time I’ve tried a rice wine that wasn’t clear or white, actually. Not bad, although a little thinner on the palate than what I’m used to. Perhaps I spent too much time in Japan getting blasted on rough-as-guts convenience store nihonshu.

A thoroughly unspectacular photo of my glass of BrewDog Tokyo... but you've gotta try this drink. Seriously.

Not to be let down by my inaction to secure a spot in the BrewDog tastings, I finished off the afternoon by ordering a glass of the notorious 18.2% BrewDog Tokyo, the release of which twisted the knickers of numerous clueless lobby groups. To think that people would abuse this drink is absurd. I’d wager that anyone who orders a Tokyo knows exactly what they’re in for, and you’d be deranged to think you could pound this like a cheap pot of lager. If you wanted to get blotto and destroy your liver, you could pick up a bottle of spirits for the same price as a bottle of Tokyo (and at an infinitely greater number of locations, considering the rarity of the Tokyo), so whatever criticisms these quasi-temperance nannies wish to level at BrewDog are completely illegitimate. Anyway, this is by far the richest and most intense beer I’ve ever come across (and probably will be until I one day try the Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Sink The Bismarck), it’s reminiscent of the dense fruitiness of a dark fortified wine, we’re getting into spicy pudding/treacle territory here. Delicious, astounding stuff. And great value at Chapel St Cellars at $8 for what I think was a 150mL glass. Doesn’t sound like much, but I spent almost 40 minutes on it. I didn’t ask whether or not they had some bottles for sale, although I’m determined to pick up a few if they’re still available somewhere.

So, that concludes it for another post. Let’s hope I’m a little more on the ball next time Good Beer Week rolls around.

Edit (22/05/11): I waltzed back into Chapel St Cellars this afternoon to find that the Abstrakt tasting was actually taking place at 2:30pm, and there happened to be a cancellation. Some sort of beer deity must be looking kindly upon me… a post on that event to come in the near future.

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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.