Milan – from fashion capital to Craft Capital

This weekend, I discovered quite by accident that Milan has decided to build upon its mantle of “fashion capital of Europe” with its explosion of boutique beers – more than 600 now available from across Italy, according to Maurizio Maestrelli (Milan’s most famous beer journalist who I happened across in Lambrate pub).  I was visiting with some friends because we thought it would be a nice City to base ourselves out of to play some bridge (yes, the card game), away from the British autumnal weather, to find a spot of culture and warmth – we were not disappointed.  Two of us are CAMRA members, whilst a third invests in the CAMRA managed funds (exclusively in the beer market) portfolio – so it wasn’t long before we had done a search online for “craft beers Milan”.  Much to our surprise, the city seemed to be swamped with potential venues.  So amongst our sojourns to other cultural sites like the Pinacoteca di Brera art gallery, we managed to fit in a few hands of cards (30 rubbers actually) in the occasional specialist craft beer establishments.  I completely lost the plot in a few games, but I blame Diablo for his midas touch…

Diablo  Beer Mug

There is a slight snobbery in the UK’s real-ale market, something to do with the fight back against the global lager players, when, since the late ’70s, beer with flavour served from kegs has been re-establishing itself across all quarters of Britain.  Notwithstanding this fine British stance, the Americans were fast on the UK’s heels (40 years on, Sam Adams last year because the first ever beer billionaire), and started the global “craft beer” drive… also flavoursome beer, but fizzy and cold, unlike the flat, warm stuff the Brits so dearly love.  However, as with my previous post about Sharps in Cornwall, what is very different about craft beers around the world (versus, say, an English bitter) is that you don’t quaff a craft ale in quite the same way as you do a lager or bitter.  You sup it, gently – mostly because craft ales tend to weigh in at 6% plus (often stronger), and so they are genuinely now competing for the same wine-drinkers market: a fine alcoholic beverage to accompany the best cuisine.  Unless, of course, you’re British by descent, in which case  you skull it in exactly the same way as you would your beloved real ale (or indeed tasteless lager)… being Brits abroad, we obviously succumbed to the latter ruling and found ourselves quickly appreciative of even the sourest of beers.

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The first bar we tried was in a most unlikely venue, on a main road in an industrial area – Dundas Cafe.  The beers in the picture were a fine introduction to local Milanese cult beers.  Four to select from, without hesitation, I tried them all – helpfully, there was a rather delightful platter or two of snacks to accompany the beer, which the Europeans do so well (and we need to play catch up).  Moving right-to-left, “Seta” by Birrifico Rurale is a modest starter – blanche, cloudy in appearance with a subtle citrus, sweet flavour.  “Reset”, however, from the same brewer was a marked change: honey, juniper, almost too sour, and with a sulphurous overture.  “S Ambroeus” (named after Saint Ambroeus, Bishop of Milan in the late 4th Century) is a classic marmalade and hoppy number – not to be missed.  Finally, last but not least, was the “Dahu Rossa” – a gourmet beer, full of strawberry, yet sour, misty through the glass.  It was definitely time to see what else Milan had to offer.

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We drove down the backstreets of Milan until eventually we found Isola della Birra – an international craft beer pub that has been running since 1994.  Max, the proprietor, doesn’t speak English; we don’t speak Italian; but we settle for his suggestion of French (who’d have thought).  I tell him about and he immediately points out the Australian beer awards that the Italian beers have been walking away with over recent years.  The top local beer in the style of a trappist stout is the Scaligero Canus Magnus, which goes down very well with a large bowl of popcorn.

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Finally, we end up in Lambrate (where I met Maurizio) – it turns out that we’ve missed all the other great craft beer bars in Milan, which gives me a great excuse to come back to visit LambicZoon, Baladin, BQ, and La Ratera (an excellent restaurant too).  Again, there’s a smörgåsbord of Italian delicacies to accompany the plethora of Lambrate’s home-brewed keg and cask beers, which Maurizio reminds me is essential to the drinking experience.  The atmosphere for a Sunday night (the bar is already packed 5 minutes after opening at 6pm) is incomparable, even to the 4 Pines in Manly on a Friday night, with loads of tables as well as standing room all taken – despite the crowd, you can still hear yourself think (about the 4 Spades you’re about to be defeated in) and there’s some cool jazz and rock playing all night.  At 11pm, I take a breather outside on the street, and I’m flabbergasted to count 100 folk have also spilled out from the packed bar with their beers, all milling around, chatting, enjoying the 20 degree October evening.  The beer?  Well, it’s truly exceptional – I would take you through their line-up, but, then, what’s left for you to explore when you come here?  All I can say is that their 8% double IPA was the pinnacle of a great evening – very smooth, slightly hoppy, with a typical citrus finish. On the downside, they only serve pints – that’s what we Brits like to see!

Categories: Beers

Daniel San – Frankies on Manly Beach?

That's its name

That’s its name

The wave of new places hitting the insular peninsula shows no signs of abating. The latest addition to Manly Beach’s burgeoning line-up of bars and restaurants is Daniel San, which is self described as a “Chow-down Bar & Beach-Side Dojo”. Daniel San is on the ground floor of what everyone knows as the Manly Pacific Hotel, which is on the corner of Raglan Street and North Steyne. Now I don’t think that Fraser Short (owner and Bar Baron) has a share in Frankie’s Pizza in Hunter Street – but Daniel San is kind of like Frankie’s with more natural light and a whole lot of Japanese thrown at you. There’s the pinnies, the rock’n’roll wallpaper, the music and the pricey beer – but there are plenty of unique aspects as well.

On the other side of the road - Manly Beach

On the other side of the road – Manly Beach

A big deal of Daniel San is the food. Gees – it’s even had a review by Terry Durack in its first month of opening (12/20). The kitchen is open for all to see, and a cook (chef) was holding court for a number of customers explaining how things are done. The menu is a broad offering of Japanese themed share plates, platters and snacks. Everything we had was very tasty, but if I hadn’t wolfed down my son’s kid’s meal I would have been still more than peckish. That’s the tip. Borrow someone’s kid and order the Chicken and Soba Noodle Salad off the kid’s menu, and you’ll get a decent feed. THe chicken karrage was crisp on the outside and succulent on the inside. Kicking myself for not at least trying one of the Robata Skewers – that’s for next time. These blokes can cook – just cook more.

The Bar

The Bar

The neon themed bar is loaded with spirit and sake bottles. The fridge is loaded with predominantly gold labelled Japanese beers including Orion Draft Beer. I casually ordered a stubbie, but then needed to be revived when the barman equally casually said – “$13, mate”. Was I in Singapore or Manly? I can comprehend a stubbie of <Insert Craft Brewer’s name> IPA mixed with coffee beans passed through a civet – but a macro malt bomb for $13. I can’t believe the Pacific Peso v the Japanese Yen comparison is that bad. Orion is a nice enough quaffer, but it isn’t a $13 beer. I retreated straight to the domestic macros on tap, which included Tooheys New, Super Dry (Hahn – not the t-shirt) and 150 Lashes (surely James Squires’ most available drop by now).

The Pinnies

The Pinnies

Plenty of attention has been given to the fit-out. I haven’t been past this place in the evening (and I’ve never been to Japan), but I’d imagine if all the neon were on, it’d look like a concentrated version of Ginza. The cushions on the long bench are particularly funky being made out of old jeans. The bar staff all wear rock’n’roll t-shirts, which they have to pay for. How they found the retro shirt from the Karate Kid is beyond me – but I guess you can find anything nowadays. Frankie’s still rules the roost for music paraphenalia, but Daniel San has had a go, even if some of it feels a little try hard.

Lotsa a rock'n'roll

Lotsa a rock’n’roll

I’ll have to visit in the evening and get a look at the roof-top bar, which will provide terrific views – but the well heeled have a new place to go in Manly.



RedDot Brewhouse

Boat Quay frontage

Boat Quay frontage

Boat Quay is stretch of bars along the Singapore River. It is conveniently located next to the CBD of Singapore and absolutely heaves on a Friday night. The proximity to water gives hope of cool breezes, but there is little respite from Singapore’s ever present humidity. As one of my colleagues said, you never really get used to it.

The price list - Happy hour ain't that happy

The price list – Happy hour ain’t that happy

With it being so hot, there’s only one option – drink and drink lots. Boat Quay provides an endless range of pub options. When I was in Singapore 6 years ago I was struck by the homogeneity of the tap lists. It was pretty much Kronenberg, Carlsberg, Heinken and of course Tiger. That’s still the case in plenty of places, but now there are brewhouses and craft beer. Illiards tipped me off to Archipelago beer, which I chased down the previous evening. I also paid a visit to the world’s “Highest Urban Microbrewery”, which is up to its 16th seasonal. Occasional correspondent – KiwibackinNZ – had previously written about it here.

Taking on a Tower of Monster

Taking on a Tower of Monster

For my last night in Singapore, I opted for the RedDot Brewhouse, which is in the heart of Boat Quay. Again it uses a pricing mechanism based on the time. Best to drink early in Singapore. Amazingly I bumped into another Back of the Ferry inductee on the night who took care of the bill. So whilst there was little fiscal pain this time, there’s never really a cheap drink in Singapore. If you look at the price list in the photo and do the math, the cheapest option is the 1500ml jug, which still works out at $10 a pint. There were a few blokes giving the 3500ml tower a shot. A number of Asian blokes go red when they drink and one of the fellas tackling the tower of Green Monster was shining like a traffic light. Still, he and his mates made short work of their tower.

Monster Green Lager

Monster Green Lager

The RedDot range is broad and interesting. Along with the usual Kolsch, Pilsener, Weizen etc – there are a couple of oddities. The Lime Wheat and the Monster Green Lager are unique twists for this drinker. The Monster Green is a lager that is coloured green by the addition of spirulina (blue green algae apparently). It really looks like GI Lime cordial, but is an inoffensive, smashable lager perfect for Singapore drinking. The Vienna Seasonal, brewed for Oktoberfest was a real corker with a deep, rich malty backbone. Probably beer of the trip. The back story to RedDot is one worth reading. Next time I might find my way to the actual brewhouse, but I certainly look up RedDot again.

Welcome to Singapore – Brewerkz Orchard

16/10/2014 1 comment

Your correspondent is on a flying visit to Singapore, a place I’ve only visited once before, well before Back of the Ferry began. I remember it as hot and expensive then and upon first impressions nothing has changed.

Due to the supreme efficiency of Changi airport and possibly awesome tailwinds I pulled into my hotel about the time I was supposed to land. More good fortune awaited, and I was delighted to discover that an outlet of Brewerkz was less than a block from my hotel.

It was late, so it wasn’t a big sesh and thank goodness because it would have sent me broke. I’m not sure what the opposite of happy hour is but according to the beer and price list I was in its grip. A Singapore dollar is about one Aussie after you’ve been bent over by the exchange rate sharks. $12 for a 375ml of heady Golden Ale. Faaarrk me. Not a bad beer, but for that sort of dough, you’d want an angel crying on your tongue at the very least. Fiscal constraint turned me to the sampler rack.

Brewerkz’s range is solid. Nothing’s a standout, but the X IPA wa a quality example of the style and held the high ABV well. The Black Raspberry Ale was jam mixed with beer. The fridges offer takeaway, which is good. Air conditioning worked in the hotel.

The first trip in the new daylight saving season

07/10/2014 1 comment

The clarion call had not gone out, but no call needed to be made. The founding firm of Back of the Ferry all ambled onto the stern of the MV Freshwater and assumed the position to enjoy the first ferry trip of the Daylight Savings season.

The weekend’s glorious weather had morphed into the working week and the 6.30 ferry trip provided a sunny start and a pink hued finish. There’s never a bad time to get the ferry, but the first day of Daylight Savings is special.

The event was marked with the creation of Back of the Ferry’s Instagram account. @backoftheferry will feature photos of or from the Backs of Ferries. We figure that our other channels are chock full of beer, plus our wives follow Instagram. No doubt the Manly Ferry will feature prominently, but there’ll be other boats making an appearance, I’m sure.

Categories: Beers

Beer Quotes Print

More great work from our mates over at Cool Material.

We drink beer to celebrate, but sometimes we just need to celebrate beer. A while back, we ran a series of hand-illustrated beer quotes created by Cool Material’s in-house artist Vincent Avila. After numerous requests to make them available to purchase, we decided to do so. This Beer Quotes Print features 12 of our favorites on a 12×16 sheet of 110# matte cover paper. Put one up on your wall, and crack one open in celebration of sweet, sweet beer. Buy one here.

Categories: Beers

Golden gates

06/10/2014 1 comment

When you look up on line what to do and see in San Francisco, there’s that bridge of course, as well as trams, various piers, and a vibrant outdoor street culture (cafes, bars, etc) in various different quarters of town.  I’m struggling though because I dropped into one of the main tourist districts, Fisherman’s Wharf and its surrounding area, where, quite frankly, they seem devoid of decent pubs.   This obviously causes great consternation, but I am not put off.  The quest for beer is too strong an urge just to give up on.  Luckily just up the road I come across Red Jack Saloon where for my first refreshment of the day I dive into a pint of the local amber Prohibition Beer.  It’s 5% strength and has a distinct orange tang to it, so I know I’m definitely in California.

SF Red Jack Saloon

The problem with Red Jack Saloon is that there’s a baseball game going on, which is making for an extremely noisy atmosphere – the local Irish residents are clearly supporting their Boston kinsmen, which the rest of the locals seem to be taking objection to, something to do with the Irish team playing a local Bay team.  I was hungry and they didn’t do food either, although they did have WiFi, which I looked up 8 bars in another part of town that all came highly recommended for their craft beer.. . NB I won’t be visiting anymore than one tonight.  i set off up (and I mean “UP”) through the streets to pay a visit to San Fran’s famous Chinatown for a flounder in black-bean sauce, which settled the stomach after a long flight.  I hopped into a taxi who took me down to the Pi Bar.  First of a few drinks I sampled in here was the Golden Road Berlinerweiss from LA – I tend to make an attempt to try the local beers, but given the last bar with the Boston game going on, I will also have to give the Boston Chocolate Chilli Bock a tasting too.  The Golden Road is a great sour beer, and a good introduction to the evening, which like the beer is turning a little fresh and crisp.  However, before I move onto the East Coast, I sample a very local ale: Anchor Liberty Ale, which despite all the online commentary, is actually more of a style I’m used to back home in the UK – a lovely summer ale, with honey on the palate – not a bit hoppy or IPA in character (always be careful to trust your own nose, not what beer blogs says).

SF Pi outside SF Pi taps SF Pi bar

It’s a long bar that is playing pleasant folk rock in the background, low enough that you can (a) hear yourself think, and (b) overhear conversations at the next table as well as neighbours at the bar.  Jennifer, one of two barmaids serving tonight, is very jovial and can’t be more attentive, especially given it’s quite busy.  Sadly, they don’t to tasting paddles, but because she knows I’ll be trying to sample most of what’s on offer, she kindly suggests that I am served this evening using only half pint glasses.  Very wise.  The menu is almost exclusively pizzas – unsurprising given they have 2 pizza ovens out back – and I’m tempted to indulge.  But, clearly I need another beer to gain enough sense to know what to order.  This is the 5th anniversary of the Pi Bar, so they have just celebrated this week – in recognition of the event, obviously they brewed an 8.3% beer for the occasion, their “Fort Point (Pi to the power of 5 – my keyboard won’t let me type that mathematically).  It’s a superb Belgian beer that they really should keep on tap at all times – a little banana bread to the olfactory senses, chewy, yet smooth and nutty.  Any monk would be proud to produce something like this in the countryside around Gent!

SF Pi list

The list, as you can see, is long enough not to go through entirely.  Of the 12 taps on offer, I’m now going to finish with my promised Boston ale.  And as for the pizza?  Well, one of the joys of being on the Atkins diet is that you lose a lot of weight.  What is odd is that beer is full of carbohydrates, and despite my consumption of Canadian ales over the past week, I have managed somehow to still shed a kilo or two.  My travelling companion in Toronto, Jason, suggested that perhaps we coin the term “Hop-kins Diet”.  Certainly, it may have legs – I’m not sure I do, now that I’ve participated in my 4th beer.  The Bock is toasty straight away on the nose, very deep dark, oaty, with a mildly roasted coffee sweetness.  You absolutely get chocolate (and you’d be disappointed if you didn’t), but I’m not noticing much chilli.  However, it’s a splendid pinnacle for the evening, and my Hopkins diet doesn’t seem to need any pizza now.  Phew!

I think I’m going to enjoy the Bay area this week – in between some business, I’m sure I’ll be able to mix a little beer pleasure.

Categories: Beers

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