December 31, 2010

Beer Taste Off: OZ and NZ versus CA

Our local hop head beer purveyors Purvis Beer in Richmond got in some beer from one of my favorite California brewers - Bear Republic. So we had an impromptu double-blind tasting of Racer 5 and Hop Rod Rye against our local favorites Galaxy and Hopwired.

I labeled four coasters "A, B, C, D" poured a measure of each beer into glasses, noted which beers were on which coasters, and turned the coasters over. Debbie came in and rearranged the order of the beers and the coasters. We sniffed and tasted each one, and then rated them.

There was unanimous agreement among the judges!

Hop Rod RyeIn fourth place was the Hop Rod Rye from Bear Republic. This isn't too much of a surprise because it's qualitatively different from the other three beers. It's darker and sweeter, with a creamy head and less hops. It's a malt driven beer, with interesting grainy tartness possibly from the rye?

Racer 5In third place was Racer 5! Also from Bear Republic, this beer is one of my "go to" beers in California. I first had on draught at Zeitgeist in San Francisco and was instantly smitten. I still love it, but in this tasting it seemed a little closed, without the lovely hop aromas I remember. It's still a lovely beer but it may have suffered in transit.

GalaxyIn second place was Galaxy from Bridge Road Brewers in Beechworth VIC. It's made with (wait for it) Galaxy hops. This was a one off brewing of an American Pale Ale style and it's a winner. I hope they make more. Great hop nose, slight sweetness with a nice pungent bitter middle.

HopwiredFinally the winner was Hopwired from 8 Wired Brewing in Marlborough NZ. This is my new favorite beer. Big dry hopped nose with notes of grapefruit and pine (though they like to claim passionfruit down here) made with local NZ hops this is a big american style IPA with a lovely burst of alpha acids on the tongue.

When I first moved to Australia, I committed the sin of trying to find the things I loved from home in our new environment. I looked for big hop driven "American" style IPAs and I kept being disappointed. I was starting to think that maybe that style just wasn't popular here.

I was wrong. There are brewers brewing in that style, and it is popular with some people, just not broadly popular. We've found a number of great local craft brewers including Mountain Goat and finally a purveyor, Purvis Beer, who shared our love for unsubtle, one dimensional, purely hop driven pale ales.

We've been trying out various local IPAs and "APAs" for a while now. First on our own, then going through Purvis's selection. We had settled on Hopwired as our favorite though we keep trying new beers as we see them. This tasting was to see how my fond memories of my favorite California hop driven pale ales compared to the new favorites we'd found here.

My conclusion? In beer, "local" and "fresh" wins. Even if Racer 5 were better on its home turf (which isn't actually clear to me) it's obvious  that local beers are better - certainly when drunk close to home. So I am overjoyed to have found such great local beers, and a beer supplier who shares my love of hops.

Now off to finish those open bottles - fresh beer doesn't keep...

Hoppy New Year!

December 11, 2010

Auction Rooms

The LineDebbie and I have been on a quest to try a new Melbourne cafe every weekend. This weekend's cafe was "Auction Rooms" in North Melbourne. We've been hearing good things about it, both the food and the coffee. We visited at the height of the weekend brunch rush, and wanted a table inside so we had to wait maybe 20 minutes. This was no hardship as it gave me a great view of the kitchen and a chance to take some photos of the line.

This place seems to specialize in poached eggs, there was one guy poaching eggs pretty much continuously. He had two big pots of water on continuously and would alternate about eight eggs into each one. The kitchen was a little backed up and you could tell people were a little stressed.

PanellaWe got our table over by the cute little sample roaster and each started with a macchiato of the single origin of the day, which happened to be one of our favorites an Ethiopian "Nekisse." This is a hand picked dry processed bean that I think has lovely blueberry and spice notes when handled well. Auction Rooms roasting and brewing did a great job of pulling out the complexities of this bean, my only complaint would be that the cups weren't warmed enough so it was a little cool by the time it got to the table. It's hard to serve such a tiny amount of coffee well, but they did a good job.

We ordered two of the "non-egg" dishes. All of the egg dishes use poached eggs which explains the poaching station, but I'm not a egg-for-breakfast fan and besides it was lunch time. Debbie had the tea smoked ocean trout salad while I ordered a pig knuckle sandwich.

SaladThe salad was a large portion of tender fresh-tasting trout that didn't seem at all smoky, combined with mango, avocado, green beans, potatoes, red onions, lettuce and tomato. It was lightly dressed in a slightly sweet whole-grain mustard vinaigrette that helped bring everything together. A definite winner.

SandwichThe sandwich was slow roasted pig knuckle with pickled cauliflower, bread-and-butter pickle, green beans, and endive all served on a nice crusty bread. I didn't examine it closely but I think there was a sweet seeded mustard, and maybe an aioli or mayonnaise on it. Good, but the most memorable part was the sweet crunchy pickled cauliflower.

MacchiatoAfter the meal we each had another macchiato, but this time Debbie tried the house blend, while I stuck with the Nekisse. We shared a chocolate brownie that was very nice, but not worth a special trip. Overall it was a lovely way to start our Saturday. Definitely a bright star in the constellation of Melbourne cafes.

December 05, 2010

More IPAs

Found two more winners at Purvis

The first is "Hopwired" from 8 Wired. A purely NZ beer made with NZ hops and NZ malt. It's a big IPA in the "New World" style, hop driven with plenty of dry-hop character and hop bitterness in the body. It's from Marlborough, home of world famous Sauvignon Blancs, and they like to claim it has a less grapefruit/pine hop character and more of a passionfruit/sauvingnon grape character. I say grapefruit/pine and I say the hell with it - actually I say "bring it on." It's my current favorite and having found it I am well content.

That said, there's another kiwi APA from Purvis that I just tried that's another winner. That's the "Tuatara APA" and I don't think I can do much better than quote from the label:
Spawned by freewheeling California hopheads, American Pale Ale is the red-headed stepchild of the Classic IPA. Big and extroverted with plenty of bitterness, a great APA shows off some fruit on the nose and the kind of earthy, herbaceous complexity Pinot Noir buffs drone on about when they corner you at a fundraiser. Anyway, we had a thumb through the Tuatara Atlas and discovered that us Kiwis are New World too. So we reckon its time a NZ APA pulled on its Dockers, flashed its iPhone and generally talked louder than anyone else in the bar. Here it is.
It's great. Maybe not quite as much in-your-face dry-hoppedness as the Hopwired, but it's plenty good. I could drink this. Next up I have to try the local brewery "Mountain Goat"'s premium IPAs...

November 29, 2010

Single Hop IPAs

Debbie found me a beer store that carries not only IPAs but a whole range of "single hop" IPAs. Most of them are by the Danish crazy man Mikkel Borg Bjergsø of Mikkeller brewing, but one is a local Australian IPA from Bridge Road Brewers.

The two Mikkeller's I tried this time were the Tomahawk and the Chinook. Both are 6.9% ABV a nice full golden color with big heads. They both had a rich malty mouthfeel, but were significantly different in flavor, obviously due to the different hops.

The Tomahawk seemed slightly less complex, mostly alpha acids appropriate to a bittering hop with less of the fruity citrus notes I look for a dry hopped IPA. It was fairly well balanced with some crispness, and would be a good foil to an oily or spicy food. I'm not so fond of it on its own though.

The Chinook is a hop I'm somewhat familiar with, it's a little spicier, a little less of the alpha acid bitterness, and slight woody and fruity notes. There was some malt sweetness, and overall it's a very drinkable beer.

The Bridge Road was a completely different beer. Galaxy hops are some of my favorites, distinct citrus notes in the nose and start, caramel notes in the middle and finish. This is a beer in the traditional west coast IPA style that I've been looking for, and I think it will become a staple.

Purvis Beer