Category Archives: Australian Beer

RateBeer Roundup II

Back in November we brought you the summary of a tasting hosted by the UK’s leading exponent, Craig Garvie. Having powered through 6,200 beers and sakes, Craig decided to get a regular group together to taste unusual beers and have a social occasion at the same time. Like a book group, except with less Jane Austen. Anyway, mid-January seemed like a good time to do it again, so the BeerCast descended on Craig’s house with a few beers – the infamous Garlic Beer amongst them (which amazingly he liked).

To give you an idea of what was to come, the warmup beer was one of the ‘100 Belgian beers to try before you die’ (from the book of the same name) – Fantôme Black Ghost (8%), an unusually spiced farmhouse ale. Sour and yeasty, it set the tone for the evening, as rare and expensive beers appeared left right and centre. Not to mention beers that score in the uppermost percentiles on the ticker websites. Bells Java Stout (7.5%) and Goose Island Fleur (7%) were up next, both fascinatingly interesting.

There was no time to rest, however, as we moved on to the big guns – possibly the biggest of all American craft beer guns – Three Floyds Darklord (15%). Such is the mystique that surrounds this particular beer, it deserves it’s own individual review – so check back for our thoughts later. In Ratebeer’s recently announced Top 50 global beers, Darklord placed fourth. Just as I was thinking how impressive that was – the next beer up was even higher on that list.

Hailing from Örebro in Sweden, Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter (9.5%) is currently joint top of Ratebeer’s rankings. Out of the many tens of thousands of beers listed, it sits atop the pile with an aggregate score of 4.48 out of 5. Only the peerless Westvleteren 12 stands shoulder to shoulder with this Scandinavian imperial porter, having currently achieved the same score. Whether you consider it to be the joint best beer in the world or not, that’s a pretty impressive achievement.

As expected, it pours a thick, gloopy black with no head. The aromas and flavours of Kaggen Stormaktsporter are almost hard to put into words – it’s extremely viscous, with an oaky, slightly smoked finish. Big alcohol backbone reminiscent of Madeira or sherry, with a sweetness that gives way to alcohol burn. What else is there to say? These beers are so complex everyone has a different opinion – I’m just glad that I got to sample them to add mine to the mix (my score being 4.1, by the way).

From there, the big beers kept on coming. Another astonishingly rare bottle came out next – Lost Abbey’s now-retired Veritas Ale 003 (8.0%) – a blend of three of their other beers, which apparently fetches up to $300 a bottle on eBay. Only sour fans would contemplate that kind of outlay – incredibly tart, sharp and puckering – pickled onions, gooseberries and balsamic vinegar was what I wrote down. Just too sour for me.

We then whizzed through a few more – Mikkeller Funk(e)* or fung’ke e’st r (9.4%), a Brettanomyces aged, yet quite honeylike Belgian-style beer with a bizarre name (apparently it reads as funky easter), then De Molen Stoombier Gedrooghopt Safir (5.6%), and from Australia the 5.8% Cascade Stout. We still had time for more rareness – Firestone Walker Eleven (11%) and Thirteen (12%), two more retired barrel-aged imperials full of sweet syrupyness.

I had time for a nip of one of the few BrewDog beers I’ve not tried – Sink the Bismarck (41%) – the massively hopped IPA slipped me by when it was released, and having tried all the other abv war ‘beers’, I gave it a go. It’s quite something on the nose – enormous alcohol aroma, combined with a massive hop presence. It tastes of burning heather honey, pine air freshner and Dettol. Extremely oily and astringent, more liqueur than beer – it’s incredibly fascinating.

Anyway, time was drawing to a close, and we powered on to yet another limited edition beer – Goose Island Bourbon Country Rare (13.5%), which comes in a single malt-style presentation box. Big pruney bourbon aromas dominate this one, with a massive whisky taste combined with a dark sweetness. It’s so astringent that there’s actually a kick to the back of the throat at the moment of swallowing – a challenging brew, no doubt.

Time to wrap up this post – as ever it could be almost three times in length. Finishing with the strangest beer on the agenda – Baladin’s Xyauyù (13.5%), and not just for the spellcheck-challenging name. I’ll replicate here my tasting notes, written at the time, to try and sum up this Italian monster… Thin viscous browny-red. Grain whiskyish sake aroma. Flavours of raisins? Whisky/cognac palate. Cloyingly sweet. Marzipan. Brown sugar – Demerara.

Massive thanks to Craig for the tasting, and to all those who brought these spectacular beers along.

Lagerboy Speaks

Fremantle’s Little Creatures brewery are primarily known for their ubiquitous (and excellent) flagship Pale Ale (5.2%) – but they do a range of other beer styles as well. The mystifying question is why we in the UK can never seem to find any. After many years of drinking their Pale Ale, only recently have others started to appear here (to my eyes, at least). This started the other day, when a beaming yellow bottle appeared alongside their stock beer – Little Creatures Bright Ale (4.5%)

As Lagerboy hasn’t had a run out for a while, we let him loose on this Australian offering – nobody loves the fizz more than the thirsty Antipodeans. The fact that RateBeer class it as a golden ale (not to mention Little Creatures actually brew a pilsner) we haven’t let get in the way of a good pigeonholing. As far as he’s concerned, if it looks like a lager, it’s on his radar. Being a filtered bright beer puts it more or less up his (heavily carbonated) street.

It pours – as you’d expect – brilliantly clear and gold, and yields a centimetre of head with a small amount of rising carbonation. The aromas are hops, something like corn and a whiff of malt. The hop profile leans towards a pilsner-esque Saazy aroma. On the palate, mild hop bitterness with some malt pushing through, before a metallic lagery aftertaste. Drinkable but undemanding; however shelved next to their Pale Ale there’s really no contest.

Little Creatures website

Cooper’s Best Extra Stout

Australian beer tends to get a bit of an unfortunate reputation, what with all the low-quality mass produced lager that floods the market. But brewers like Little Creatures and Bootleg manage to stand out (just about) from the morass, if you search hard enough. Straddling these two worlds is Adelaide brewery Coopers, who take up an impressive 3% of the Australian national market. That doesn’t sound much, but when two companies claim 95% domination, 3% looks halfway decent. As you’d expect, those other two are the lager-heavy pushers Lion Nathan (Castlemaine XXXX, Toohey’s, James Boag, Hahn) and Carlton & Union Breweries (Carlton Draught, Fosters, Crown Lager, VB).

Coopers were founded by Thomas Cooper in 1862, who saw a gap in the recently founded territory of South Australia for a decent brewer. Adelaide had several producers, but as he noted …”they all use a good deal of sugar and so on for brewing, but we use only malt and hops, consequently, ours being pure, the doctors recommend it to all their patients.” The current MD and head brewer is fifth-generation Tim Cooper, who trained as a medical doctor down under before heading to Birmingham to re-train as a brewer. These days they put out about a dozen beers, with their flagship being the 5.8% Coopers Sparkling – however it was their 6.3% Best Extra Stout that we managed to get hold of recently.

It pours like black treacle, with a tan head that disperses swiftly to leave a thin film of bubbles, and then almost nothing. It’s utterly black, with no highlights to speak of at all. The aroma is roasted malt, alcohol and prunes – very much a winter warmer or autumnal pick-me-up. The mouthfeel is very fizzy and surprisingly quite thin, given the oily blackness of the beer – but the flavours are really good – dark malts, iron, some coffee beans. The aftertaste is coffee and dark bitter chocolate – something astringent like a 70%+ choc – it’s really rewarding on the palate. A very impressive stout.

Coopers Brewery

BeerCast #41 – Pic n Mix (Pt 2)

Hello again! This time it’s the London office’s turn to  fire up the ole garageband and get recording another instalment of the never ending story of wonder and intrigue  that is The BeerCast. We reunited the dreamteam of Andrew Hayes (Key keyboard and bitter consultant), Nick Fraenkel (Chief Japanese and Sanchen adviser) and old stalwarts Andy and Jess of Andy and Jess.

It’s another rollercoaster mystery pic n mix surprise episode with none of the usual theme guidelines to keep us on course. As a result we do off-road a fair bit but it’s all in the pursuit of beery excellence. Oh and garageband stopped twice during recording so look out for special sound effects during the episode – Enjoy! Andy

1. Peter Scholey’s Organic English Beer (4.1%abv)
Ridgeway Brewing, South Stoke, Oxfordshire.
500ml glass bottle

Ridgeway Brewing was formed by a former head brewer from Brakspear. Described as a cuckoo brewer because this organisation does not own a brewery but contracts brews, primarily bottled beers for other breweries on other people’s plants mainly at Hepworth. A few beers have also appeared under the name Ridgeway Brewery.

What They Say“The English Target hops, coupled with its unpasteurised condition, help give this great ale outstanding clarity of aroma and intensity of flavour.” [Vintage Roots]

What We Say
Andrew – I’d drink significant amounts of it in any kind of garden 7.5
Nick – Elderflowers and honey, i’d like it with some burnt bread 7
Andy – Smells flowery but it’s not too sweet 7
Jess – Lots of honey and lemon, lovely 7

2. Riggwelter Black Sheep Ale (5.7%abv)
Black Sheep Brewery, Masham, North Yorkshire.
500ml glass bottle

Established in the early nineties by Paul Theakston, 6th generation of Masham’s famous brewing family, the brewery has grown from strength to strength and in early 2007 it was proudly awarded ‘Brewery of the Year’ by The Good Pub Guide for the second year running. In addition, Black Sheep Bitter was chosen as the North East’s favourite cask ale in the 2007 Best of British Beer Awards hosted by Cask Marque and the Daily Telegraph.

What They Say“Brewed with many generous handfuls of choice Golding hops, it is full flavoured premium ale with a rich fruity aroma. The bittersweet malty taste is followed by Black Sheep’s uncompromising long, dry and bitter finish” [Official Website]

What We Say
Andrew – Surprisingly clean, hits you in the eyes a bit though 6
Nick – Bitter foretaste, not much of an aftertaste, not as complex as it should be 5
Andy – I would struggle to drink a bottle of it 5
Jess – Quite interesting, I’m getting Riggy with it 4

3. Little Creatures Pale Ale (5.1%abv)
Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle, Western Australia
330ml glass bottle

Andrew picked this little gem up in from a wine shop in west London no-less. Beer websites tend to be bobbins but Little Creature’s website is a pleasure to visit, I’d really recommend it – (link). The brewery looks to be run very much in the spirit of the Innocent smoothie brand, with happy looking employees all having a say in the company’s progress and not a one of them sitting doing accounts on the computer. The result? Lovely beers. There’s a lesson there i think..

What They Say“Bag loads of whole Chinook and Cascade hop flowers that we source from Washington and Oregon in the US as well as some local flowers from Tasmania are thrown at this beer, creating an intense citrus and grapefruit aroma and flavour that we balance with a careful selection of specialty malts and a local pale malt made to our own specifications.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Andrew – Lychees, pineapples, I’ll open the second bottle 8
Andy – Smells like a bag of pot pour at your aunties 8
Jess – It’s downright floral, but a nice bitter grapefruit edge 8
Nick – Tastes like lychees and lollies (Chupa Chups) 5.5

4. Gale’s Seafarers Ale (3.6%abv)
Fullers, The Griffin Brewery, London.
500ml glass bottle

Fullers say they donate 5 for every barrel of Seafarers ale sold to Seafarers UK, the leading martime charity. The ale was only released in the bottle on Sep 10th 2009. The press release from Fuller’s says “Seafarers Ale is an extraordinary cask ale, developed as a tribute to Gales’ close association with all who sail the seas. Launched as a year-round beer in April 2009, Seafarers Ale has already sailed past the 1,000 barrels sold mark, resulting in a donation to Seafarers UK, the leading maritime charity, of £5,000” That’s pretty good, but do good intentions translate to good beer tastes?..

What They Say“Seafarers is brewed to 3.6% abv and is a delicious, thirst quenching ale. The secret of the hugely satisfying, refreshing taste of this light, amber beer is in the blend of finest quality English malt, Admiral hops and the unique Gales yeast.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Andrew – It’s not slapping me in the face like the sea, but it has an edge of sulphur i quite like  5
Andy – A little bit watery (pun intended) 5
Jess – Disappointing, thought it would be more robust like a sailor 5
Nick – Smells like sea air, couldn’t tell the difference with Fosters 4.5

No then.

Panellists – (from top left) Andy&Jess, Andrew, Nick

  • Listen to the episode here: BeerCast #41 London Pic N Mix (Pt 2)
  • Subscribe to the podcasts in iTunes or our site feed
  • BeerCast panel verdict
    Little Creatures (29½/40)
    Organic English Ale (28½/40)
    Riggwelter Black Sheep (20/40)
    Seafarers Ale (19½/40)