it has been a while since I’ve been able to get to Melbourne and give it real shake. Sunday night found me in Smith Street Collingwood and on Monday I was able to pop by Beer Deluxe in Fed Square. The beer highlights of each day were both provided by Moondog Brewing.
The Sunday night stroll down Smith Street really needs to be done on Sunday arvo in summer, but if the opportunity is there – take it. A quiet night in Collingwood (except for the Gasometer, which was celebrating its first birthday and was as full as a tick). I got my first look at Two Row Bar, which warrants a repeat visit with company and an empty stomach. Yah Yahs looks fun and the Robert Burns menu is enticing. My crawl ended at Forester’s Hall – a barn of a place upon which plenty of coin has been dropped.
Very quiet and very dark on this particular Sunday evening. I almost had to activate the flashlight on my phone to see the barmaid. I could, however, read the tap head of a beer with one of the longest names I can recall – Anna Falactic and the Adventures of the Epipen Peanut Butter Chocolate Porter. This wasn’t going to be my first peanut butter chocolate porter. I’d had one in LA that wasn’t bad, Nothing wrong with the Aussie version either. Probably better in fact with a less overt peanut vibe and a much richer roastier finish. Definitely one for bottling.
The following evening I had a quick post work libation at Beer Deluxe, which is back in form with a very good tap range and well stocked fridge. There was plenty on offer, but again Moon Dog had an offering that caught my eye – Splice of Heaven Pine Lime IPA. Now my favourite ice block as a kid was the Splice. I’d nibble off the pine-lime coating before getting into the vanilla ice cream. Moon Dog has done an amazing of recreating that exquisite Pine-Lime flavour which is then followed with a lovely resinous finish. Just a knockout beer. Better still, it is eminently quaffable and could be rapidly followed with another and another. This isn’t a novelty beer, but a real keeper.
On a Smith Street, Collingwood pub crawl. Second cab off the rank was the Robert Burns. Great Pub with San awesome fireplace and trophy.Spotted a unique can in the fridge. Very colourful and I thought that would be the extent of the appeal. But the bartender warned me “the whole lid comes off – do you want a glass?”. Not sure what he meant. Envisaged slashing my lips on sharp aluminium – so opted for a glass.
Barman was alarmist or I misinterpreted him. Very safe, albeit the widest mouth I’ve experienced on a can. Beer was good too. A mild pale with an ABV below 4%, good stuff all round.
There’s been plenty of commentary about Toohey Brothers’ Darling Pale Ale and its accompanying press release. Well they’re not Robinson Crusoe when it comes to lowering a prospective drinker’s expectations.
At least Suntory is the most honest – see below. The difference between Great Northern Super Crisp Lager and Suntory’s All-Free? An ABV reading.
Back of the Ferry loves its astronomical events. Solstices are a particular favourite. Tonight is the Winter Solstice. Longest night, shortest day. Given the hemisphere stuff I’m not sure whether the longest night is first or the shortest day is first. Anyway, Sydney’s solstice occurred at 2.38am on 22nd according to a couple of sources. Good enough for me. Tonight’s ferry was the moment to celebrate.
Managed to pick up the very good “Return of the Dread” at Vintage Cellars at Wyntard. Branded as a “Domestic Extra Stout”, this isn’t out of place in the Panteon of Sheaf, Southwark or Coopers. Had that old style dry and roasted flavour. It is a seasonal – so grab it if you can.
Had to do a double take, but it’s real.
Forced to drink at the lamentable Martin Place Bar for a work function. Not expecting anything special or new from the taps. Surprisingly got something new, but it ain’t special. Tooheys Darling Pale Ale is named after an old Tooheys brewery (apparently). Hopefully it didn’t brew anything this bland. I’m giving it go but there’s no smell and no taste – like none.
Today (16 June) is the official date of 4 Pines’ Anniversary. Happy 7th birthday to the Spiritual home of the Back of the Ferry. Founding BotF members Pommy_ch and Lamb0 travelled with this correspondent in inclement conditions on the Back (Side) of the Ferry and sipped a couple of their finest on the way. Pommy_ch and I were then honoured to join the founder of 4 Pines – Jaron – for a celebratory pint at where it all began. Great to have a chat about the early days and to toast what the team has achieved. I was even taken to the first keg where it all began. That keg and others on site, are used to this day to make marvellous beers. Should be heritage listed in the years to come.
4 Pines are modest about what they’ve achieved, but as a local observer and a beer savant – these guys are doing as better as any craft brewer has done in the world. Despite their lofty achievements (awards and stuff), these guys remember their roots, their first customers and their first principles. What I and my family admire is that the core staff at the original locale hasn’t changed and they recognise me and my kids every time I walk in. There’s always a smile or a nod. Hats off guys. The brewers also deliver with amazing stuff almost every second week. Birthday night was no exception. The Black Strap Dark Ale – with no scrimping on the Pedro Ximinez(?) Sherry was a belter and certainly knits a good beer blanket.
Back of the Ferry had never made it to a Great Australasian Beer Spectapular. No excuses, we’d just never managed to get there. Well – no excuses this year. Back of the Ferry was officially accorded membership of the Fourth Estate, and our media passes gained us entry to both sessions. Game on! Having never been, illards and I were daunted only by the restraint that we’d need to show to last into the evening session. Not only were there 118 Festival beers on offer, over 30 brewers had stands operating. Too much choice is barely enough. The layout of the brewers stands, the containers of festival beers and the seating is brilliant. Whilst there’s a tonne of people in attendance, it’s never a crush. The Little Creatures acrobats justifiably got a terrific crowd, but it was rarely four or five deep. The vibe all day was just so positive and whilst there was a surge at the end of the arvo session for last drinks – there was no sense that things were ever out of control. We’d love to say we knew what happened at the end of the evening session, but we were on the Back of a Ferry before closing.
To drink an 85ml sample of each of the 118 Festival Beers would be akin to drinking 23.6 schooners. That’s no really feasible, particularly when it is impossible to ignore some of the offerings available from thre brewer’s stands. I got off to a bold start when I accepted a sample of Devil’s Advocate, Wayward Brewing’s 11% Eisbock. I’ve known Peter, Wayward’s owner, for years in the non-beer life and this was a marvellous gesture – but I was really hoping to ease into the day. I sought out the Gang of Four guys. This is the only Northern Beaches brewer I haven’t sampled and it was good to chat to the owner, Michael. These guys will be opening a cellar door in Brookvale in 2016, which is fabulous news. Best thing was they were serving a Member’s Lager, which was exactly the starting beer I was looking for. The boys are distributing very locally which is great for us Northern Beachies – but they get across the Harbour every now and then with some kegs. Good to meet you, Go4.
There was a 100% turn out from the insular peninsula breweries on the stands and in the festival beers, and whilst we were keen to learn about new brewers, I couldn’t resist sampling Modus Operandi’s well named (in joke) L90 during the course of the day. An Imperial IPA – the L90 was one of my top 5 on the day. Big and fruity without being overly boozy. We had a good chat to the boys from Mismatch Brewing, who’d made the trek from South Australia. Love their logo, and their beer is just as good. They are another brewer looking for a home and there’ll be another reason to visit Adelaide soon. Red Ale’s a favourite style of mine and their version – Archie’s – is a great example of that style. GABS is definitively an Australasian event. The New Zealanders are represented very strongly – both in the Festival beer line-up and the stands. Top marks go to Panhead for their sensational mechanically themed tap set up. Great beers too. Their Whitewall WPA was a lighter ABV beer that was perfect for settling into the day. Great to see ParrotDog there as well.
Whilst we’d ruled out the possibility of doing the 118 beers, I still opening my Festival Beer batting account with beers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Not the brightest start as the beers are in alphabetical order and therefore there is no grouping of styles or sensible ascension of styles. Fair enough really. After all there is 118 beers and I gave up counting the number of styles on offer. And that’s not counting “Speciality Beers”, which is a euphemism for unclassifiable style of beer. I had one of my Top Five for the day, first up. 2 Brother’s Hazella was a ballsy malt bomb made with Ella hops. Keen to see this become permanent. We paddled on manfully through ambers, barleywines, fruit beers, brown ales flavoured like a Snickers, Saisons, Berliner Weisses, Christmas Pudding Porters and Pina Colada IPAs. illiards didn’t take a shine to Two Birds Brewing’s Pina Colada, and said so via @Untappd. They came straight back at him at least thanking him for his view. Gotta love immediate banter. My most “Challenging” beer was All Inn Brewing Co’s Relax Bro – a Barleywine made with peated malt, cayenne and paprika. Maybe this needs to wait a while – but it was like being mugged by a bunch of Qld State of Origin forwards in a cigar bar. Still, that’s the joy of GABS – extending you and your palate. Being able to try something outrageous without being stuck with a $14 pint and thinking – how am I going to finish this?
The most fun for me was meeting the Brewers, who are universally accomodating and willing to yarn. I got to meet Hendo from BrewCult who shared his passion for the brewing vocation. (Hendo subsequently won the People’s Choice – lucky I’ve picked a stubbie of the winning beer (Milk and Two Sugars) from Balgowlah Porters). We had a great chat with Bobby of Quiet Deeds, makers of Australia’s finest Lamington beer. More on them in a future blog. There was a quick hello to Doc, a good friend of BotF, who was working harder than a one legged man in an arse kicking contest. Not so hard that he couldn’t slip us a taste of Beavertown‘s Holy Cowbell India stout. Another entry in my GABS top 5. Also sampled Doctor’s Orders Serum – a typically fine effort. Met the rep from Murray’s who assured us everything is good with one of NSW’s trailblazing Brewers that for mine has gone quiet lately. A number of small brewers got together to have a combined stand, where I tried another of my top 5. Ruben’s Roast was Willie the Boatman‘s contribution. Boatman Pat is one of the nicest blokes in the trade and it was terrific hearing how he created a pale coffee beer. Super stuff. Enjoyable drinking a beer that tastes to different to how you should it should – because of looks.
The evening was almost finished off with the last of my Top Five. Grand Ridge‘s stand had plenty to offer. Their WHOA! (Wet Hopped Oatmeal Ale) was simply fabulous. We were done. Sensational night. No takeaways from GABS, so we picked up a HopDog Alluvial Peach from a nearby bottle for the ferry trip home. I think that’ll be a tradition we’ll continue next year, but we’ll time our run to get a later ferr. Congratulations to all involved – our first GABS won’t be our last. Hard to fault and deserving of all the hype.