Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sydney Craft Beer Week


The 30+ breweries that participated in Sydney Craft Beer Week, the 60+ events they managed, forty-seven venues that hosted them and the absolute die-hard squadron of beer geeks in attendance only reflect the unwavering enthusiasm that at least part of the population of Sydney shares their dissatisfaction with drinking terrible beer. For this reason, the feeling amongst the punters for the week was of serious celebration that provided an arrogance-free environment to be discerning about what you were drinking and to relish the short period of time where that kind of variety, quality and volume are available.

As much as my intention was to go to every event that Sydney Craft Beer Week (SCBW) had to offer to show my support as a member of this part of the population, sadly work, sleep and the outrageous shortage of hours in the day meant that I was only in attendance for four. This OutInSydney blogger's account will hopefully shed some light on the experience of hunting down brilliantly crafted beer all across Sydney much to the detriment of his liver and waist line.



The hosts of the first event I attended have been a tucked way Balmain Peninsula favourite for years and a destination for those amongst us who chase a well-poured Guinness. Since Liam O'Keeffe, The Welcome's new Manager and resident craft beer geek took over the pub in May of this year, the speed at which the bar's craft beer range has grown is unparalleled. It seems fitting and very well earned that the Welcome hosted three events across SCBW including Sunday night's 'Beer Mimics Food'; an event dedicated to the brewing and culinary crafts collaborating to make, as the name would suggest, beers that mimic the flavours of recognisable cuisines and dishes.

The menu included creatively brave beers like the 'Umami Shitake Ale'; a pale straw coloured beer with the distinctly rich and earthy taste of mushroom, 'The Amuse-ing Monk Kimchi Saison'; a spicy beligian style ale generously hopped with a oddly pleasant fermented vegetable flavour on the very front of the palate and The Welcome's very own 'The Italian Job'; a powerful 8% porter style beer with distinct flavours of Italian spiced liqueur and orange peel much to the pleasure of the assumption that it would instead taste of olives, tomatoes, capers and anchovies.

Outside of all these beverage-based distractions, the main bar of the Welcome was bulging at the edges with head brewers, distribution company representatives, retailers and some recognisable faces of the craft beer hopeless that become expected furniture at an event like this one.

Many of the attendees had seen a long day's drinking and the rapidness at which their wrists were rotating was clearly diminishing.

However, after a few conversations around the room, the generally understood standout for the evening was Ross Kenrick and Ben O'Donoghue's 'Baby Brenner's Sticky Rib Red Ale'.

This red ale immediately gave off the aroma of barbeque style ribs. Most Sydney-siders have at some point experienced walking past Hurricane's Bar and Grill on an empty stomach this is perhaps the only way to accurately describe the enticing smell of Baby Brenner's. Tobasco style spice, smoked and sweet hickory and a syrupy mouthfeel, Baby Brenner's was one of the least sessionable beers on the menu but aced the accurate representation of its culinary muses.

More than anything else, this event was a showcase of how beer can be more than just the (and hopefully only) yellow liquid stored in bottles at barbeques. 'Beer Mimics Food' seemed like a tip of the cap to many other culinary traditions that have transformed into a melting pot of ingenuity and rather than overwhelming the consumer with choice to the point of confusion - like the milk aisle in the supermarket - the event offered the beer drinker another chance to see just how deep this rabbit hole can be.



With the air choked with suit and ash and clouds of smoke circling over Newtown, there was something vaguely Edgar Allen Poe-ish about Monday afternoon's Dark Beer Dozen tap takeover at the Union Hotel. A dark beer pilgrimage had begun and as the chalkboard menu of in fact sixteen of the darkest beers around was placed with collective awe above the bar, ordering became frantic and fast paced.

The afternoon's menu included beers from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and New South Welsh and Victorian wine country producing styles from dark lagers through the spectrum of Black IPAs, Porters and a number of big and mean stouts.

Some recognisable names like Coopers, 4 Pines and Young Henry's all made appearances but it seemed to be the interest in lesser know producers like the Yarra Valley's Hargreaves Hill Brewing co., Barongarook's Prickly Moses Brewing and Sydney's own Doctor's Orders Brewing that caught a lot of imaginations and experimental attention.

Doctor's Orders 'Iron Lung' Imperial Black Pilsner proved to be an understandable favourite amongst the punters. The carbonation, rather than adding fizz, added creaminess to the brew allowing it's head to mark your sips with fish-nets stocking-like foam lacing all the way to the bottom of the glass. It's balance of dark sweetness from the roasted grains with a lifted and floral nose and flavour of strong and aromatic hops makes Doc's 'Iron Lung' a brilliant example of this not-so-commercially available style.

Some sweet, some bitter but all as dark as British humour, The Union put on a magnificent spread of not just the dark beers that are celebrated but many more that showed themselves as dark beers that should be celebrated.



The Local Taphouse, Sydney craft beer HQ, hosted another event this week that was by far the best chance for newcomers to witness something that has always been one of the most interesting things about the craft beer scene - there is no such thing as a stereotypical beer geek. While the image you have of a beer enthusiast may be of a slightly overweight, definitely bearded twenty-to-thirty-something year old hetero-bloke from the Inner-West, the 'Brewshare' saw amateur brewers from all ages, genders, sexual orientation and nationalities bring in their own spectacularly made homebrew.

Panels were assembled quickly to judge two categories; 'Beer Mimics Food', the winner of which will be going onto brew their beer as a seasonal release with Young Henry's early next year, and 'Anything Dark'.

The panels consisted mostly of other home brewers, the heads of commercial breweries and one slightly overwhelmed and paralizingly happy OutInSydney blogger. As groups formed in various rooms located on the dimly lit, turn-of-the-century decorated mezzanine floor of the Taphouse, the picnic eskies began emptying themselves onto tables while glasses were procured from the bar and the Brewshare quickly became a heady and democratic forum of mutual appreciation.

Young brewing duo James and Ping, who ingeniously generate the names for their beers using the Bureau of Meteorology's Tropical Cyclone Warning Centres categorization and naming system, put forward Zelia, a smoked Rauchbier and Tasha, a sweet, malty and complex oatmeal stout.

Other brewers like Jono Walker and John Skehan's Christmas Pudding Belgian ale was a creative feat of home brewing with distinct flavours of ginger, manuka honey, orange peel, cinnamon, vanilla, banana, boozy fruits and brandy. This brew was well balanced, complex and, even with all the depth of flavour, subtle enough to be dangerously sessionable.

While the beers showcased by this panel included unique brews like Coffee, Vanilla and Oatmeal stouts, Macadamia and chocolate stout and even a beetroot saison, the show stealer was Michael Wallace's Russian Imperial Stout.

This beer's strong fruity nose of stewed plum, dried apricots and cognac has a wicked velvety mouthfeel that rivals many RISs from well-established breweries that will remain unnamed. With an alcohol potency floating around 10%, Michael has created a beautiful and authentic expression of this style of beer. After some Googling, it turns out that Michael in fact won this year's NSW State Home Brewing competition's Strong Stout section with this exact brew. A name and face to no doubt look out for in the future.



Part meet-the-brewer and part beer trivia, Tuesday night's event back at HQ saw Melbourne based brewery Moon Dog host and cater an event with four of their latest and greatest beverages on offer.

Moon Dog was set-up little over two years ago by brothers Josh and Jake Uljans and Karl van Buuren and is situated, as Karl put it on the night, "exactly at the mid point between the CUB brewery and a very classy brothel called The Dutchess".

While the label art is psychedelic and often an Alice In Wonderland-meets-Dali style nightmare, the beers themselves are by far the weirdest and most wonderful thing about Moon Dog. Their first release, just to let the world know that they weren't mucking around, was a cognac barrel aged IPA appropriately named 'Skunkworks' and has been a popular part of their repertoire since.

On Tuesday night Karl, Doc - of Doctor's Orders fame - and the house trivia master and member of the bar staff Tom conducted a strange round robin cycle of beer-related trivia, Qa cognac barrel aged TRUFFLED Imperial Stout.

Not only is this beer, as the style description would suggest, the product on an incredibly complex brewing process - what with the cognac barrels and 4kg of black Tasmanian truffles that are typically sold at $1 a gram - but the 'Jumping The Shark' has a beastly 15.4% ABV. Just for the fun of it, this means that if you were to drink just one 375ml bottle of this brew, then you wouldn't legally be able to drive for up to five hours.

The strong alcoholic content gives this beer a velvety mouth feel characteristic of the Imperial Stout style, the nose has a strong vanilla sweetness to it and while the truffles are not at the forefront of the flavour profile, they tangle with the cognac booziness to form an earthy, silken and warm finish.

Co-owner Karl is the first to admit that, as the name would suggest, this one is a celebration in all things " a little bit over the top" but this only gives a foundation of tongue-in-cheek and humble bashfulness for the waves of well-earned praise to pile on to.

To end the evening - true to form - the final question in the trivia was in fact a blind tasting to pick one of the eighteen beers on tap provided to you at the bar which to my embarrassment, I failed. A lesser person would claim that the failure to identify the beer handed to them at that stage of the evening was due to the enormity of Moon Dog's beers that had rendered their taste buds useless and I am absolutely not above claiming that at all.



Almost as if the unofficial slogan for the night was 'well, if no one else is going to drink it', left over kegs from various events around Sydney seemed to materialize on the Taphouse's menu and in the Taphouse's cellar for SCBW's last hoorah.

Cameo appearances from Prickly Moses with their 'Mosaic IPA', the 'Umami Shitake Ale' from Beer Mimics Food and Doctor's Order's 'Electrolyte' from Doc's Beer and Cheese Sensory Explosion each presented the party goers an opportunity to experience different parts of the week again making the whole experience last just that little bit longer. The non-romantic interpretation of this is that there were a lot of people throughout the night excitedly running to friends with a glass in their hand and saying something along the of the lines of "Oh you weren't there? Here. Try this!

With live music, lines outside and the necessary security due to the throngs of football fans rolling down the hill from Moore Park that night, the Taphouse staff had an absolute monster. In a night where I think I saw one person drinking a rum and coke, beers were guaranteed to run out and as many of them are difficult and if not impossible to find anywhere else particularly on tap, they were sadly gone till next year like footy season.

Jackson Davey
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