The Good Beer Guide to Western Australia

September 4, 2012

Cowaramup Brewery

Filed under: Brewery — Sam @ 11:05 PM
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Cowaramup BreweryThe Cowaramup Brewery is cunningly located just outside the cow-themed town of Cowaramup, which is itself cunningly located on the Bussell Highway halfway between Busselton and Margaret River. It’s set in a rural landscape quite reminiscent of Margaret River’s Colonial, and unusually for local breweries, the carpark features some modest hop bines. Apparently they’re not currently used in the beer thanks to inconsistent yields, but they’re notable for their presence, if nothing else.

The brewery is a family-owned operation, smaller than some of the others in the area, and has a homely, welcoming vibe. There’s a kids playground and outdoor section that’s a little sandy and bare at the moment, but the equipment got a thumbs up from my crack team of playground testers, and should divert the youngsters long enough to sample the beer.

Speaking of beer, they’re $7.50 for a half-pint, $10 for a full, and $12 for a tasting plate of 5 (100 mL) glasses. The food is reasonably priced & unpretentious pub grub, with most mains & pizzas around $20-$25.

Pilsener 5%

4 stars

This is a hardcore German-style pils that took out the coveted ‘Best Lager’ award at the 2011 AIBA. It’s filtered to a brilliant crystal-clear pale straw colour, and has a persistent lacy head. Flinty hops fade into an assertively dry, bitter finish. For an all-malt beer the colour and body are impressively light, but with enough flavour to carry the style. This beer makes an excellent aperitif – thirst-quenching and appetite-stimulating. The German pils was never my favourite, but this is an excellent exemplar and could change my mind.

Cowaramup Tasting BatHefeweizen 5%

2.5 stars

The Hefeweizen is a cloudy pale yellow, with not quite enough carbonation for a bona fide Bavarian hefe. It has a relatively mild wheat yeast character, with some slight banana notes. There’s a smooth mouthfeel with sharp bubbles and a tart wheat backdrop. A little more underlying bitterness than is usual for the style, although not unpleasantly so. Altogether this is a fairly safe and inoffensive beer, but lacking enough interest to make it worthwhile as an experience in its own right. Use it to wash down the fish & chips, or leave it for the smatterers.

Best Bitter 3.8% (seasonal)

3.5 stars

Minerally hops on the nose (it’s dry hopped with Brambling Cross). Perfectly balanced bitterness, I felt the mouthfeel could have had a little more substance to it, but for a workhorse ale it’s probably more important to avoid any hint of heaviness, so I can understand the rationale. There are solid caramel notes and fruity yeast accents to back up the herbal English hop flavours, before drying to a nice bitter finish. Quite a sessionable beer overall, although unfortunately it was served way too cold — I’d recommend buying a couple of the smaller sized glasses and letting them warm up a bit.

This beer is set to be replaced in the line-up with a Special Bitter (to a similar recipe) — I’m quite keen to see what this will accomplish as a slightly bigger beer.

India Pale Ale 6.5%

3 stars

Another crystal clear, deep amber coloured beer with a long-lasting tight head. Intense herbal late hop flavours, although bitterness is not excessive. A creamy mouthfeel conveys a fruit-driven start with strong herbal grassy notes at the finish. I’m left feeling a little dissatisfied by this beer. It’s difficult to put my finger on it, but I think it’s the hop choice – I dislike herbal, earthy hops like EKG used to excess. This is probably more a personal preference, but unfortunately I didn’t enjoy this one enough to mark it more highly. Along with the other ales, this was also served too cold.

As an unsolicited suggestion, I’d personally love to see the IPA and the other ales served at cellar temp via a traditional hand-pump to emphasise the English ale character. A sparkler would also be worthwhile to help tame some of the hop volatiles (although Jeremy would probably disagree on this point).

Porter 5.7%

Cowaramup Growler4 stars

The Cowaramup Porter used to be the Cowaramup Stout, but enough punters complained that it wasn’t stouty enough that the label (but not the recipe) was changed. It’s a clear ruby-brown colour, with a creamy yellow head. Intense chocolate elements yield to a beautifully balanced bitterness. At 5.7%, there’s no detectable alcohol warmth, but it’s not a sweet beer – it ends nicely attenuated with a reasonably dry finish. One of the nicest porter interpretations I’ve had recently – enjoy it on its own, or with the chocolate brownie.

I should make a special mention of Cowaramup’s weapons-grade growler system. Frustrated at the high capital costs of a bottling plant, the brewery invested in a high quality growler setup as a substitute — there are reports of their swing-top growlers lasting months before opening . While the growlers aren’t cheap ($42), the ornate bottles are impressive enough to make it worth keeping one at home for the occasional fill.

In summary, the beer lineup comes across as competent and stylistically coherent. Brewer Jeremy Good loves his English-style ales and this comes through in Cowaramup’s range. Unfortunately the ales are served too cold, and some of the late hop flavour profiles feel a little overdone, but clarity, mouthfeel and attenuation are all excellent and bitterness is consistently assertive, but not over the top. Cowaramup is well worth a stop if you’re in the area, and particularly if you’re looking for something more laid-back than the big-budget tourist traps.


July 15, 2012

Little Creatures Single Batch: Day of the Long Shadow

Day of the long shadow bottle

2.5 stars

Little Creatures has pumped out some excellent limited release beers under their Single Batch brand over the last few years — I was primed to deliver a glowing review of their Big Dipper ‘Super IPA’ last year before it robbed me of my capacity to walk (let alone string sentences together).

Their latest effort is a winter warmer style known as ‘Day of the Long Shadow’ (a reference to the winter solstice) — a spiced, high alcohol style fairly uncommon to Australia as it’s best suited to sipping in front of an open fire. I picked up a squealer ($13 for 1L) from the International Beer Shop, where they’d confusingly listed it as a ‘Belgian Golden Ale’. The squealer was my first mistake — while draught beer can deliver great benefits in terms of freshness, convenience, and economy, it often involves compromises with carbonation level (doubly so for counter-filled growlers & squealers). Something labelled ‘Belgian Golden Ale’ should ideally be delivered in a highly-pressurised glass grenade, not a tarted up water bottle. When it is… well, see for yourself:

Pretty sure there should be more head than this…

Sure, it’s a high alcohol beer, and as a winter warmer they were probably aiming for something somewhat less vivacious than a Duvel, but I’m sure the bottled version is more lively than this. The beer does pour an attractive deep, brilliant, coppery colour, but lacks any semblance of head or lacing. I presume this is a consequence of the squealer, as most online reviews I’ve seen claim noticeable head.

The initial experience confirms the lack of carbonation has damaged this beer’s chances of rating highly. There aren’t enough bubbles to scrub the spice aromas up to the nose (even in a tulip glass), leaving a bit of a sterile and unenticing experience. There’s an obvious Belgian influence through the yeast & dark sugar, but without the usual accompanying acidic CO2 tingle, the flavours come across as a bit muddy and, um, flat. The use of sugars does lighten the body considerably for a beer this size — there’s the normal sweet blandness common to under-carbonated beer, but it’s not particularly heavy or syrupy. Some question whether it’s ended up too thin for a winter warmer, but for a beer destined for the Aussie market it’s roughly what I would have aimed for. It does manage to hide its 8.9% alcohol quite well despite the relatively light body.

Very little of the touted spice flavours are evident, apart from a mild but noticeable astringency at the finish. Again,my experience seems to differ from those of other online reviewers (, BeeradvocateHerald Sun) — I suspect the low carbonation is the primary culprit. The Belgian ale character comes through strongly and is excellent: intense tart, plummy fruit with a hint of banana and sherry notes from the alcohol. The Belgian yeast & dark sugar combine in a familiar pairing, but they seem lost without the normal backdrop of spritzy CO2, and on this point I’m not convinced the bottle would be much better.

The idea of fusing the fruity yeast esters and sugar-lightened body of a Belgian ale with the low carbonation and spice additions of a winter warmer sounds great in theory, but seems to lack something in execution. I don’t know if it’s a preconditioning of the palate causing it to pick out the constituent styles, and recognise the missing components of each, or if the beer just lacks synergy in the interplay of its various elements. Think of it as the equivalent to putting Angelina Jolie’s head on Miranda Kerr’s body — despite being an intriguing thought experiment, you can just tell the resultant whole would be disappointingly less than the sum of its parts.

Despite all my reservations, this is a brave and interesting beer — try it if you stumble across it, but it’s not really worth going out of your way to find it. However, I’d stick to the bottled version – leave the growlers for Pale Ales & Porters.

February 25, 2011

Eagle Bay Brewery

Filed under: Brewery — Sam @ 2:31 PM

Eagle Bay BarA new entrant to the southwest brewery scene, Eagle Bay Brewery has been only been open for 2 months, but the enterprise has been a long time in the making. The farmland has been in the hands of the d’Espeissis family for generations, and around six years ago siblings Astrid, Adrian & Nick decided to combine their collective talents and start a brewing operation. Brewing industry watchers will recall that Nick was most recently involved in starting up the 4 Pines brewery in Sydney.

The brewery is superbly situated in a blocky rammed earth building with an enviable outlook over Geographe Bay. The main dining/bar/kitchen service area is an open-plan room with glass concertina doors opening out to an al fresco dining area forming an open, continuous space. Dry stone and polished Marri cabinetwork throughout give the room a modern and natural feel. The outdoor tables are all well-shaded by either shade-cloth or umbrellas, and would be suitable for sunny or rainy days. There’s a grassy slope falling away to a kids’ sandpit/play area that was well received by my play equipment review team. Children are well-catered for across the board, with colouring-in menus, buckets of pencils, and ample high-chairs, making the place quite family-friendly.

Font nerds would notice the logos and all the printed material are set in the lovely & venerable Futura, a pleasant change from the ubiquitous Arial/Helvetica variants. Beers are mostly $9.50 a pint, $5.50 for a half. Unfortunately no tasting bat is available, which means you’ll probably need a skipper if you’re planning on trying all of them. Bottled beer is not available at present; the brewery staff hope to have this available by Easter.


Kölsch 4.7%

4 stars

The Kölsch is the brewery’s biggest seller, a traditional German pale lager/ale hybrid. The beer is probably carrying a shade too much bitterness for its light character, which made it a bit less approachable for the ladies in the group, however there was minimal hop flavour and slight grainy malt notes underpinning a pleasantly dry mouthfeel. A traditional Kölsch will have also have more prominent fruit character from the yeast, but this rendition probably doesn’t need it. I would have preferred a little more carbonation, but as is it makes an excellent aperitif or casual beer. Pair it with the fish & chips (or chips alone if you’re not that hungry).

Vienna 4.9%

4.5 stars

A pale coppery colour, the additional attention the malt bill receives on this beer delivers a slight (but not heavy) sweetness, which offsets the similarly assertive bitterness. There’s a tasteful undercurrent of european noble hops (Saaz?), and a vague hint of sulphur on the nose. The quintessential Vienna is all about balance and quality ingredients and this version hits the mark perfectly. As with the Kölsch, I would have preferred a little more carbonation, but it’s not that big a deal. Have it with one of the pizzas or enjoy it on its own in the sun.

English Mild 3.5%

3 stars

This one was probably the biggest disappointment. It’s described on the beer list as ‘dark’ and ‘malt-driven’ and it’s neither. It’s not that this is a bad beer — far from it: the generous hint of roast malt , the late hops, the well-attenuated mouthfeel all make it a very interesting quaffer, but it would struggle to qualify as a mild (too bitter), and it’s a missed opportunity to vary the lineup. I would like to have seen more caramel malt, barely-there bitterness, and a more adventurous yeast choice delivering fruity notes like Julian Clary on a trumpet.

Californian Steam Beer (Seasonal)

2.5 stars

I have to confess, this is not my favourite style. Originating in California in the nineteenth century, and resurrected by Fritz Maytag’s Anchor brewery in San Francisco in the 70’s, it’s another hybrid style characterised by fermenting using a lager strain at elevated (ale) temperatures. This example is quite well-executed, in that there’s a hint of banana ester in the background from the high temp, but the yeast contribution is otherwise reasonably subdued. However, this beer was again on the bitter side — basically, think a bitter pale lager that doesn’t have a particularly clean finish and you’ve got it.

Pale Ale 5.1%

4 stars

This American Pale Ale is surprisingly understated in comparison to the over-saturated APAs from most local breweries. A regulation deep orange colour, the ale has a nice round mouthfeel with a contribution from the caramel malt I was missing from the Mild. The citrusy late hops are present, but quite restrained — if you’re a Fat Yak fan you might consider it boring, but I really appreciated the subtle approach. Give it a go with the Ploughman’s tasting plate.

Extra Special Bitter 5.4%

4.5 stars

The ESB is the darkest of the range, a brilliant ruby colour hinting at the chewy caramel malt and full mouthfeel, albeit with the standard dry finish that the Eagle Bay beers universally enjoy. The bitterness level is appropriate for this type of beer, and there are distinctive Goldings hop flavours lurking under the malt, but not to excess. Interestingly, this beer appeared to have the most carbonation of the lot. It would go well with the Scotch Fillet.

Fish & Chips

Individually, all the beers are all quite good to excellent — brilliantly clear, clean and well attenuated; my only real gripe with them is that as a group they lack variation in bitterness and yeast character. Perhaps if the seasonal beer was something like a Scotch Ale or Doppelbock, or the Mild was more malty and estery, it would help break up the unrelenting bitterness. The brewery has only been open a short time and the list will no doubt mature with time.


The food is relatively standard fare, not inexpensive, but quite well done. Mains are around $25-$35, pizzas around $20, and light meals $15-$25; kids’ meals are available for $14. I had the Venison Chorizo, Fresh Chilli & Zucchini Pizza — the crust was excellent and the cheese generous, although the chorizo was cut a little thick and the chilli a bit sparse. The fish & chips were popular with the group, and they were crispy & cooked to perfection. Service was good; the (mostly Duckstein alumni) staff friendly and efficient. The brewery is table service only, an approach the d’Espeissises consciously chose to engender a relaxed, low-key atmosphere. How well this system will hold up in busy periods should the optimistically sized overflow car park fill up is open to conjecture.

Eagle Bay Brewery is a worthy addition to the industry — its view and proximity to Dunsborough will make it popular regardless of how good it is; luckily it’s excellent. Nick d’Espeissis’ beers are technically accomplished and approachable. The relaxed yet upmarket vibe of the establishment is in keeping with the location and likely clientele, and the restaurant execution is first-class. Highly recommended.

Eagle Bay Brewery Outlook

October 17, 2010

Colonial Brewery

Filed under: Brewery — Sam @ 2:32 PM
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Colonial Brewery

Colonial has been around for nearly six years now, having first fired up the mash tun in 2004. They’re still situated in the same sleepy location just north of Margaret River, but there have been some fairly significant changes otherwise. The beer lineup was revamped about three years ago (by Malt Shovel alumnus Dean McLeod), the brewery has just been refitted to expand capacity, the bottling line is gone, and the beers are available on tap at selected venues in Perth (and in growlers from the bar). What hasn’t changed is the relaxed, family-friendly vibe.

Seating is available inside in view of the brewery, or there are benches and a playground outside in a grassed outdoor drinking area. There is a dedicated baby change facility, a nice touch which received much kudos from Yummy Mummy. A folksy band sparked up while we were there — actually it was only half a band; two members didn’t show up. That pretty much sums up the carefree feel of the venue.

Kolsch 4.5%

4.5 stars

I was very keen to try the award-winning Kolsch. I’ve tried it twice before: once when the brewery first opened, and again about a year later. The second time round it was terrible — chronically overhopped and trying hard to be an American Pale Ale, whereas a real Kölsch should be all about balance.

This tasting was a revelation. Apparently the Perth Royal Beer Show judges aren’t as terrible as I thought they were. The mouthfeel is spot-on, with a dry, yet softly fruity finish. I’ve previously criticised local breweries for poor attenuation in their beers, but Colonial appear to have have worked hard on this. There’s a pleasant hint of flowery hop flavour, and just enough malt to act as a vehicle, but not dominate. The colour is probably one or two shades darker than a brewer in Cologne would serve, and the bitterness maybe a touch higher, but this beer is so well-suited to Aussie drinking conditions it doesn’t matter. Is it coincidence that the name Cologne/Köln is derived from the Latin Colonia?

Witbier 5.1%

2.5 stars

Witbier has turned into a local staple beer style, pioneered by Brendan Varis with his Feral White, and deservedly so – the sparkling, fruity, tart beer is a perfect refreshing and different summery treat for people tired of Yet Another Pilsener. This example is not as good as some of the others. The yeast doesn’t appear to have been given any opportunity to work its estery magic at higher temperatures, leaving a relatively bland flavour profile. There are some good grainy, wheaty notes from the raw wheat, but it hasn’t contributed much acidity. This is exacerbated by the low carbonation level — Witbier is a Belgian, it wants fizz! The requisite orange & coriander flavour additions are there, but unable to rescue the beer.

There isn’t anything technically wrong with this one; it just feels as if it’s been dumbed down in an attempt to satisfy a mass market that isn’t there, losing all of its appeal in the process and prompting one to ask what the point was. The tourists will no doubt drink and enjoy it, but I was left quite disappointed.

Colonial Tasting Bat

Pale Ale 4.7%

4 stars

Colonial touts this one as an English style Pale Ale, and they’re not euphemising. I’m a bit of a closet fan of the ‘warm, flat’ beers of the Old Dart, and it’s been frustrating seeing brewery after brewery filling the precious Pale Ale slot on their line-up with poorly executed Little Creatures clones. With a brilliant coppery colour and a beautiful creamy head, this beer is “the most beautiful … that the eye of an artist in beer could desire”. A smooth, full, vanilla malt in the mouth tapers off to a rounded, minerally hop finish. The bitterness level is appropriately enthusiastic for this type of beer. I was left feeling it could have used a little more crystal malt to balance, but as with the Kolsch, this risked making the beer too heavy and brewer Mal Secourable has probably made the right call for the local conditions.

The beer finishes with the spicy hop notes that epitomise the English style — an excellent effort.

India Pale Ale 6.6%

1 star

The tasting notes listed this one as ‘American-style India Pale Ale’. Bugger — that didn’t last long.

Overhopped. Sticking IPA on the label is not an excuse to hop a beer to within an inch of its existence. I’m not sure what the recent obsession is with brewers serving up beers that taste like you’ve licked the inside of a hop bag, because I’ve done this, and it’s not pleasant. I certainly don’t want to pay someone for the privilege.

Bitterness is very high, sharpening to an intense finish. Late hop levels are off the chart – good luck drinking more than a small taster of this stuff; it’s very tiring. As with a couple of other recent examples, I suspect there might actually be a nice beer hiding in there, unfortunately we don’t get to experience it.

Porter 6.3%

3.5 stars

This is a brilliant dark red-brown, with a small but persistent creamy head. It presents a sweet palate with earthy, coffeeish flavours prominent. Thankfully it has quite subdued roast malt flavours — lots of brewers get this wrong — instead, the dark malts deliver viscous, chocolatey undertones to the whole experience. There’s some bitterness present, but this is an unashamed malt-driven beer. It’s actually quite accessible for the less adventurous if they can get past the colour. Definitely not a session beer; stick to a small glass with dessert.

Colonial Pizza


The food was excellent, and the food service extremely prompt. The chips ($5.50) were a classic Belgian-style cornet de frites, although at that price the squeezable plastic tomato sauce packet comes across as pretty cheap. Most of the menu is now focused on wood-fired pizzas, which are a tad expensive at $20-$24, but are quite large and will comfortably fill most hungry adults who don’t have to use the adjective ‘cuddly’ on their online dating profile. They’re rustic, they’re crispy, and they’re delicious.

Colonial is one of the better breweries in the South-West and is certainly a venue that’s well worth the visit if you’re in the area. The beers are all high-quality and mostly rewarding, the food and service are good, and the kids will love it.

June 12, 2010

Occy’s Brewery

Filed under: Brewery — Sam @ 3:35 PM
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Occy's BreweryOccy’s has been around for about 7 years now, conveniently located for tourist traffic on the Bussell Highway between Caves Road and the Busselton bypass. Owner-brewer and evident surf-nut Bill Annear named the brewery after Australian surfer Mark Occhilupo, as well as his favourite surf break down the coast. The brewery/bar is located in a no-frills colourbond shed at the rear of the apparently historic Newtown House. It’s decorated pretty much exactly as you’d expect a pub owned by a surfer to be decorated – copious quantities of surfing paraphernalia and Jack Johnson tunes playing on the stereo. The beer related decoration is not particularly elaborate, but it is useful, particularly the large info posters on the west wall. The numerous warning signs were a little over the top. The venue is geared towards outdoor drinking, with only four tables inside, an extra couple undercover, and twenty or so in the beer garden (which includes a family-friendly playground).

Beers have standard pricing of $3 for for 170 mL, $5 for 375 mL, $9 for a pint, and $15 for a jug. A tasting bat of four beers of your choice will set you back $10, but note that these are generous 170 mL ‘tastes’, so it’s quite good value. The brewery does not bottle their beer for takeaway in the conventional fashion; instead they offer a 2L flagon (approximately equal to a six-pack) counter-filled with your choice of beer for $18. This approach is relatively common in US brewpubs, but I hadn’t seen it here before — it’s a welcome innovation.

Premium Light, 3.4%

2.5 stars

While I’m too much of a beer snob to be a fan of low alcohol lagers, I can understand why, if you’re in a tourist area where everyone has to drive to get anywhere, you would want to include one on the menu — it’s really about being responsible. This example is much too fruity for a lager. It has quite a good balance, notwithstanding a predictably thin body, and there’s some sweetness carrying through to the finish along with just a hint of diacetyl. Cleaning up the flavour (lower fermentation temp, or longer lagering) would result in a highly competent light.

Mexican, 4.8%

2.5 stars

You have to assume this is intended to be a Corona clone, but there’s thankfully a bit more to it than that. There’s a noticeable level of granny smith acetaldehyde against a predictably light body, and this, combined with atypical late hops give a fairly busy finish. The brewery recommend adding lemon to this one (+1 for providing a bowl of cut lemon at the bar for patrons to DIY, rather than making the decision for you). Normally I’m not a lemon-adder, but I succumbed halfway through and it was worthwhile – the citric acid evened out the flavour and generally made this one more agreeable. The bitterness was a tad high, but it would be ideal for a hot day.

Pilsner, 4.7%

3 stars

The initial impression was of a slight appley fruitiness — I know of at least one lager strain that does this if the fermentation temp goes a little high; this may have been the issue here. It wasn’t overly unpleasant, but it did impact the overall cleanliness of the beer, which is not really what you want in a pilsener. Balance is very good – there’s a hop edge to it, with a light but sufficient body. It has a great Saaz hop flavour, good bitterness, and hops carrying through to a dryish, minerally finish. A very enjoyable, quite competent beer – slightly lacking in crispness, but not really that far off the pace.

Honey Wheat, 4.8%

3 stars

No haziness, and below normal wheat carbonation level — I’d mark them down for that , but no-one else seems to be able to get wheat beers right either. There’s a strong banana ester, with notable grainy, wheaty elements. As is also par for the course with local wheats, there’s a little too much bitterness, which clashes with the wheat tartness. The beer has a solid mouthfeel; I found it a little sweet, but on a warmer day it probably would have been spot on. There’s a little more sparkle on the tongue than I expected given the low quantity of visible bubbles. Use it to wash down some fresh grilled fish & chips.

Bitter, 4.8%

1 star

I was really looking forward to this one, as I’ve tried it in the past and it was excellent. It’s a bitter of English heritage, but made with the (sometimes rough but very distinctive) Aussie Pride of Ringwood as the flavour/aroma hop; kind of like a beer version of Andrew Symonds. Unfortunately Roy had gone fishing on this occasion, and I was extremely disappointed by an overpowering butterscotch diacetyl. The beer is a pale amber colour – not a lot of colour, but noticeably darker than the Lager and Wheat styles. Underneath the diacetyl, there’s evidence of some nice caramelly notes, although I felt the finish was a little bland and sterile — a little more malt mouthfeel would have been nice. The hop character was also a little submissive for a bitter, and rather than a strong Australian hop aroma, it exhibited a very odd ‘eggy’ (but not noticeably sulphury) smell that I’m at a loss to explain. Overall it wasn’t terribly offensive, but it was insipid & uninspiring, and well below what this brewery and this beer is capable of.

Occy's BarPolar Beer, 4.8%

4 stars

The Polar Beer is the very low-hopped base for the lime-adulterated Radler (not reviewed). It didn’t sound particularly appealing, but I ended up ordering one to make up the numbers due to the Dark Lager being unavailable, and I’m glad I did — it was easily the standout from the beers I sampled. It’s very pale, very malty, has undetectable bitterness and a rich creamy head. Hopheads would no doubt rather feed one of their own limbs through a malt mill than drink this beer, but I found it pleasantly reminiscent of malt-accented WA mass market lagers from the days of yore, before it became compulsory to churn out crap. Somehow the combination of sweet malt, full mouthfeel and low bitterness really works, and it makes a fantastic thirst-quencher. It’s not a difficult one to match with food, but I’d probably steer clear of hard-core beefy or smoky dishes — a salty & sour Thai seafood dish (squid, prawns or crayfish), or sweet & sour Chinese would be good options. It’s worth noting that low-hopped beers have a reputation for being popular with the ladies, and Yummy Mummy was certainly a fan of this one, to the extent that we had to buy a flagon to take home.

Brown Ale, 4.8%

3 stars

The Brown Ale is a darkly clear ruby-brown colour. Coffee-like roast malt flavours dominate the palate, which otherwise consists of well-balanced flavour profile with nice malty undertones. The roastiness is a little over the top; you wouldn’t want to have this one as a session beer, but the depth of flavour is certainly impressive in a tasting format. As the palate warms up and gets used to the barrage, the quality of the underlying beer starts to shine through; the finish is reasonably clean and dry, leaving a dark malt aftertaste. Ideal for sipping in front of the pot-belly stove on a winter’s day, or as an accompaniment to rich, slow-cooked lamb shanks.

Stout, 5%

3.5 stars

Falling more into the ‘Sweet Stout’ camp rather than the ‘Dry/Irish Stout’ camp, this is an opaque beer with a fairly mild flavour — it surprisingly has much less prominent roast malt than the Brown Ale. The body/mouthfeel is absolutely spot-on, with good malt support and restrained bitterness. Yummy Mummy’s not a noted follower of beer’s Dark Side, but even she thought that this beer was a great asset. As a regulation stout, I’d pair it with the regulation oysters, chocolate, or cheesecake, not to mention the classic Beef & Guinness Pie.


The catering is done by next-door’s Newtown House — you order & pay at the outdoor counter at the other end of the beer garden, and the food is brought to your table. To paraphrase Luigi, it’s not fancy and it’s not cheap. It’s fairly routine (although well-executed) pub grub; not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s being sold at bistro/restaurant prices. The service is good — prompt, friendly & efficient — but I’d recommend sticking to the snacks and heading elsewhere for a more substantial meal.

It’s hard not to like Occy’s – Bill Annear is living the dream, presumably surfing every day and brewing every other day. His beer is modest and capable, not particularly adventurous, but pretty much in line with the expectations of his target market. The place isn’t as trendy as some of the other breweries in the region, but if you’re more interested in a laid-back, family-friendly establishment it’s well worth a visit.

April 16, 2010

Gage Roads Trippel

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sam @ 11:26 PM
Tags: ,

3.5 stars

Gage Roads Trippel

Regular readers will recall I reviewed the Gage Roads Saison a few months ago. The time has come to sample the competing product from the brewing challenge in Palmyra – the Tripel brewed by the self-proclaimed ‘A’ team.

Tripel, a beer style which originated in Trappist monasteries in Belgium, is one of the most popular ‘big beer’ styles – if I had to speculate as to why, I’d say that due to the additional simple sugars used in the brewing process, the style offers a thinner, more drinkable body than all-malt beers of this strength manage to achieve; and the pale colour is attractive and succeeds in not scaring off the significant percentage of consumers that drink with their eyes.

The initial pour offers up a fantastic, classic, spicy fruit nose. It’s possible to rip a decent head (although the carbonation could be a little higher), but it dissipates quickly — at 9.8%, this isn’t unexpected, as alcohol is a noted enemy of head. Some lacework manages to persist a fair way down the glass. A sip delivers a full frontal assault of sweet, caramelly malt, transitioning to a complex, bitter finish. Alcohol is clearly present — it’s not dominant or excessively harsh, but it does have a certain raw character. It’s difficult to describe, but it kind of catches in your throat — there’s a definite awareness of it. For mainly this reason, the beer feels like it needs more time in the bottle for the flavours to fully blend together. It’s a similar story at the finish — there’s hop spiciness, bitterness, yeast fruit, malt sweetness and alcohol all present individually, but fighting each other on your tongue in a display of gastronomic kung fu, instead of mingling together there in a harmonious, non-immolatory-Buddhist fashion. I’m really keen to see whether this changes in a year or so (the brewery recommends cellaring for 1–3 years).

Other than that, there are two main flaws I feel this beer exhibits. One is the attenuation — for this style, I think the finish should be drier. I know, I know, I sound like a broken record, but it’s an issue I feel fairly strongly about and something that breweries regularly get wrong. This beer is a bit more drinkable once the palate warms up to the malt sweetness in the finish, and granted, getting good attenuation out of a beer this strong is challenging, however I think there’s room for improvement here. The second is the yeast character. There’s simply not enough of it. Oh, there are certainly hints there — I got whiffs reminiscent of numerous tacky, touristy cafés in Brussels — but it was sufficiently restrained that at times, I felt I was drinking a Scotch or English Ale rather than a Belgian-style one. It’s likely that, as with the Saison, the fermentation temperature was too low to realise the yeast’s full estery potential.

This is not quite as versatile a beer as the Saison — you could take it to a dinner party, or share it with fellow beer aficionados, but it’s not really barbecue material and it’s sufficiently strong that it’s not for big-beer novices. The noticeable bitterness at the finish prevents me from recommending this as a dessert beer. If you’re doing a cheese pairing, go for a strong one (even Roquefort or Stilton). Otherwise I’d suggest something reasonably hefty like a Lasagna or Chicken Cacciatore. Also, at 6.2 standard drinks per 800 mL bottle, I’d recommend you don’t drink a whole bottle by yourself (like I did, due to Yummy Mummy being out of town) — share it with someone else who’ll appreciate it.

Ultimately, this is not the same calibre as a Westmalle Tripel or Chimay White, and realistically that’s what beers of this ilk are measured against. I’m giving it the same score as the Saison, so it’s technically a tie, but I’ll add to that that this beer was a whisker off being a 4, and will likely reach it in another year, so I’m going to give the honours to the A-team. Their plan certainly did come together (and BA ain’t gettin’ on no plane with that crazy sucka!)

April 1, 2010

Mash Brewery

Filed under: Brewery — Sam @ 9:24 PM
Tags: ,

Mash Brewing Sign

Mash is ideally situated in the heart of the Swan Valley brewing precinct. Its proximity to the Supa Golf & paintball facilities pretty much guarantee its inclusion in in every Buck’s day pub crawl in the Valley. It was as part of a Buck’s day that I arrived at Mash on a sunny Saturday after working up a healthy thirst on the Supa Golf back nine.

The brewery’s located in a large, well-lit, shed-esque building with a substantial undercover al fresco area at one end. There’s a small play area inside for young kids, which is unusual for this type of establishment, but helps give it a real family-friendly atmosphere. As is the trend these days, the brewery equipment is visible behind the bar. Brewer Dan Turley appears to be in the middle of changing the beer line-up — the coasters referred to beers that didn’t exist, and the range had significant omissions. In particular, thanks to the bar being out of the ‘Belgian Killer Ale’, there were no darker beers available at all.

Beers are mostly $7.50 for a regular glass, and $9.50 for a large. A tasting rack of 5 beers is available for $12. With no further ado, here are the beers that were included:

West Coast Wheat, 4.8%

3.5 stars

Nice banana & faint bubblegum esters on the nose flaunt the use of a traditional hefeweizen yeast, although it’s not particularly extroverted in comparison to another example in close proximity (500m or so, if you catch my drift). It’s relatively clear for a hefe, which perhaps explains the decision to change the previous name, ‘Haze’. A more apparent stylistic departure is the carbonation level — it’s far too low, and this results in a fairly uninspiring head. It’s exacerbated by the fact it’s served in the wrong glass (conical rather than a weizen glass), although this is par for the course in most pubs & breweries at the moment. The bitterness level is a little higher than you’d normally find in a wheat beer, but it didn’t come across as unpleasant, and surprisingly appeared to complement the wheat tartness. There was a little chewy malt on the palate, which prompted several of the Buck’s day attendees to complain that it was ‘a bit too sweet’, however I found it acceptable, with a drying finish which revealed a yeast fruit aftertaste.

Overall, a fairly enjoyable beer. It’s not one you could drink a lot of, but perfect as a thirst quencher after a morning of whacking oversized plastic balls with oversized plastic golf clubs, or to have with a summery lunch. My favourite food combination with Bavarian wheat beer is the regulation Bavarian weißwurst (veal & sage sausage) with mustard, but it’s difficult to find good examples in Perth. Go for a cool potato salad, or grilled lamb cutlets with goat’s cheese.

Sgt Pepper Golden Ale, 5%

Overhopped. Very light malt character is completely overwhelmed by intense fruity hops and a strong, bitter finish. I don’t hold grossly unbalanced beers like this in very high regard — the brewer is attempting to make it big, rather than make it good. The less said about this one the better.

Interior of Mash Brewery Restaurant

‘Pale’ Pale Ale, 5%

2.5 stars

A certain Fremantle drinking-hole has all but guaranteed that every WA craft brewery nowadays includes an American Pale Ale in its line-up. This example is brilliantly clear, with low carbonation and an unusual perfumy hop aroma. As expected, hops are dominant on the palate, but these are soft, citrusy and rounded, and there’s a slightly bigger malt profile to bring the ale back to some semblance of balance — it’s definitely a better beer than the Sgt Pepper in that regard. I still feel the floral, perfumy aroma hops are a little over the top; I would personally tone these down a bit to make the beer a little less tiring.

APAs tend to go best with hot food; I’m tempted to recommend a generously spiced chicken tagine with olives & preserved lemon cous cous. The lemon would compete with the citrusy notes to the hops, the moroccan spices would be an interesting match with the more floral hop elements, and the bitterness and chilli would play off each other. At least that’s the theory — let me know if you try it & what it was like. A safer option might be chilli BBQ ribs, or mexican tacos with generous jalapeños.

Not a terrible beer, but well short of the standard set by others in this genre.

Pils, 4.8%

2.5 stars

I was doing my best to clear my palate with water & soggy chips, but the jump from two such heavily hopped beers to the more sedate Pils was quite a harsh one — the initial impression was of sweetish, cidery lolly water; so much so I thought I’d picked up the wrong glass. This was the brewery-recommending tasting order as specified on the low-budget photocopied tasting notes, which clearly haven’t had a great deal of thought put into them.

It’s pale and doesn’t have much in the way of head — it has a similar low carbonation level to the other beers. I’m almost glad I didn’t get to try the Belgian Killer Ale if it was like this; you can’t pull off a Belgian ale with no fizz. Also in line with the others, it has floral hop tendencies, but it also has much more prominent malt character — a fuller, more rounded mouthfeel with some reasonably pleasant vanilla malt elements. The finish, however, is not particularly crisp and this detracts from the beer somewhat.

Overall I felt a bit disappointed by this one — I’ve previously expounded my desire to see better pale lagers from WA’s breweries and this one isn’t it. It’s a serviceable lager that should keep the masses happy and will nicely complement a seafood dish, but again, nothing to really inspire devotion.

Crush Cider, 4.9%

4 stars

I’m not an expert on cider, although I have to confess to having made one or two attempts at brewing one in the past. With that in mind, my untutored opinion is that the Crush cider is excellent. It’s a sweetish cider (but not excessively so) with a very nice full, rounded character, neatly balanced by quite a zesty level of carbonation (unlike the beer). There’s a noticeable and very tasty fresh apple flavour, with no solvent or warming alcohol flavours. A very enjoyable beverage and a nice respite from mediocre beer.

I’m going to unimaginatively suggest pairing with pork — slow roasted belly would be ideal, although a rolled loin roast with crisp crackling, or even some good quality chops would be a nice options.

Mash Brewing Bar


First, a caveat: our group pre-ordered lunch from a ‘Buck’s & Hen’s Menu’, which may or may not be representative of the food in general. There was a choice of beer-battered flathead & chips, a steak burger, or a chorizo pasta; having overdosed on burgers in recent days, I opted for the fish & chips. This meal was passable — the batter was crispy, the salad well-dressed, and the portion size was spot-on. However, the fish was average & overcooked and the chips a bit soggy. In contrast, the guys who’d ordered the steak burger were entitled to feel a little ripped off — the ‘steak’ was a wafer-thin shaving that contributed less protein to the burger than the short-cut bacon. Presumably someone had messed up the kitchen supplies, and rather than front up and say “we’ve run out of steak, would anyone like to change their order?”, they decided to stretch what they had. They’d had our order for several hours prior to our arrival — more than enough time to send a dish-pig on an emergency steak run, if they’d a) noticed, and b) cared. This really doesn’t reflect well on the kitchen.

Perhaps Buck’s & Hen’s day customers aren’t seen as high priority, although I feel this is a little shortsighted — there were a large number of attached guys there prepared to be impressed, and subsequently find an excuse to drag their other half back there in some sort of quid pro quo that involves watching a movie starring Sandra Bullock or redecorating the spare room.


In a word: terrible. The apparently all-female wait staff sported dreadlocks, piercings & tattoos in what looks like an attempt to duplicate the ambience of Little Creatures, but unfortunately they have none of the clinical efficiency of the crew at that brewery. There were two registers at the bar handling both drink and (excruciatingly slow) food orders, however these were not continually womanned despite the significant queues. This resulted in drink order times in excess of 10 minutes, after which you were asked to go back to your table and wait for the drinks to be brought out. If you haven’t memorised your table number (and note that this is not the same as your food service table number), you need to describe roughly where you’re sitting and hopefully the beer is able to find you. The rationale for this non-standard approach completely escapes me, but in some cases we were waiting over 20 minutes for drinks — there’s clearly something wrong if you’re struggling to get a beer in a brewery. The staff didn’t come across as overtly unhelpful, but they were certainly… unhurried during this peak service period.

All in all, I get the impression Mash is trading more on their location and status as part of the Swan Valley brewery circuit and neglecting the basics. None of what’s wrong here is unrecoverable — the beer is clearly a work in progress, and the kitchen & bar probably just need better management. As it stands at the moment though, you’re frankly better off giving Mash a miss and spending more time at the comparatively excellent Duckstein & Feral.

March 13, 2010

The Great Lager Shootout 2010

Filed under: Beer — Sam @ 10:01 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

Little Creatures Pilsner, Wils Pils, Mash Summer Lager, Gage Roads Premium With the end of the Perth’s unusually hot summer fast approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to do a comprehensive head-to-head comparison of the local pale lagers. Assisting me on this onerous task was The Engineer, who regular readers will remember from the Tanglehead 2008 Christmas Ale review, and Yummy Mummy, a working mum of two with a predilection for Duvel. The criteria for inclusion in the shootout were:

  • It must be a craft beer brewed in WA,
  • It must be a full-strength pilsener or pale lager available in bottles, and
  • It had to be in stock at the exact moment I went into the bottle-shop.

Sadly, the ‘available in bottles’ criterion ruled out the Last Drop offering — I don’t think I could have pulled off arriving home with a 5L mini-keg and announcing I was going to ‘taste’ it. Although now I’ve mentally prepared myself for one of Jan Bruckner’s faithful Czech Pilseners, so I’m going to have to head out to Armadale at some point soon.

Mash Summer Lager (330 mL, 4.6%, $13/six-pack)

2 stars

The Mash Summer Lager is marketed as an ‘Extra Low Carb’ beer and is probably skirting the limits of eligibility for the shootout (or even skirting the limits of eligibility to be described as beer, depending on your viewpoint). Suffice it to say that low-carb beers aren’t my favourite style. I won’t go into too much detail about how pointless I think they are — check out these links for more info — however, bear in mind that if you’re into low carb beers, you’re probably not going to agree with my review.

The beer is quite pale, and pours like a soft drink — it’s effervescent and has no head. The aroma is unexpectedly good; probably pushed up by all those bubbles. Sipping the beer gives a sharp, minerally hit from the dissolved carbonic acid, dissipating to reveal a very dry, thin body and (oddly) a slight saccharine sweetness at the finish (perhaps induced by a vague hint of diacetyl). The nonexistent body and high carbonation level is reminiscent of a sparkling mineral water; the instant I noticed this, the phrase ‘urine-coloured San Pellegrino’ popped into my head and wouldn’t leave — a harsh but surprisingly close characterisation. The Engineer described it as a “sucker punch — it gives you an initial flavour of beer, then nothing.” However, he did concede it was ‘better than Corona’ — damning with faint praise?

To be fair, most of my criticism of this beer is targeted at the style, rather than this particular interpretation. Low carb beer is technically challenging to brew, and it’s even more difficult to get it to taste vaguely like beer — the Mash example is far from the worst I’ve had. I found it interesting that both of my tasting companions ranked it second out of the four beers; perhaps a reflection of a wider market preference for bland, inoffensive beers? Still, I can’t bring myself to rank it too highly. It boils down to this: if you love low carb beer, do yourself a favour and track this one down. If you don’t, give it a miss, because it’s not going to change your mind.

Bootleg Wils Pils (330 mL, 4.9%, $24/six-pack)

2 stars

Bootleg is the elder statesman of the four breweries represented in the shootout, having first fired up the mash tun in 1994. If one wanted to illogically extrapolate from the age of the brewing operation to the character of the beer, one would expect their entry to be refined, measured, and sedate. The start is promising. The Pils gives off a noticeable sulphury aroma, flagging use of a traditional Carlsberg-type European lager yeast – don’t just assume someone farted in the vicinity. There’s also a compelling herbal/fruity hop bouquet that combines with the sulphur to give a fairly sophisticated nose.

However, things go downhill rapidly. This beer is a fair bit more bitter than the others, but more germanely, it also has several bucketloads more late hops than the others. To say the hop character is overwhelming is like saying that Lara Bingle likes sporty men with tattoos. It almost completely obscures any other facet of the beer, it’s extremely tiring on the palate (I certainly wouldn’t be able to drink more than one), and it would be practically impossible to pair with food. Die-hard hop-heads would probably manage to enjoy it, but it’s too over the top for most regular folk— Yummy Mummy gave it ‘a definite no’. The most disappointing thing about it is that I suspect there may be a brilliant beer hiding under all those hops, trying to get out. There are definitely situations where big, bold, extravagant flavours are better — Bootleg’s excellent Raging Bull is an example — but this is not one of them.

This beer is intended, according to their marketing collateral, to “… represent the true Pilsener style of the Czech Republic”, but I’m fairly sure no Czech pilsener ever tasted like this.

Gage Roads Premium Lager (330 mL, 4.7%, $19/six-pack)

3 stars

Gage Roads was started by Sail & Anchor alumni and first released their lager in 2005. Over the years, it’s undergone a few revisions and a name change, and is now (along with Little Creatures) well established as a staple local lager on bottleshop shelves.

It’s very pale and quite attractive in the glass, giving off some enticing biscuity aromas. It has a dominant floral hop character backed up by a reasonably solid bitterness. There are some good sweet malt notes to support the hops, giving a fairly balanced beer overall. The tingly release of carbonation in the mouth complements the higher level of bitterness, although it does result in a rather odd swig dynamic — as The Engineer put it “It goes straight to the back of the palate and makes a lot of saliva.” It’s worth emphasising that relatively speaking, this is a fairly big, flavoursome beer, which is a mite unexpected given the perceived volume distribution focus of the Gage Roads Brewery. This, in and of itself, is great; it’s always good to see brewers pushing the mainstream envelope a little. However, it’s also resulted in a finish which is a bit busy — it’s lacking the crisp cleanliness that you’re really chasing in a beer like this, and it would get a bit intrusive after one or two.

I’d recommend consuming this one ice-cold to tone it down a bit, which would make it eminently suitable as a refresher after a day of toil in the sun (doing home renovation or pretending to catch fish). It should also go well with spicy food (Indian or Thai), but probably not the best choice for ingestion in quantity.

Little Creatures Pilsner (330mL, 4.6%, $20/six-pack)

4 stars

The Little Creatures offering was a unanimous choice as the pick of the bunch. It’s a brilliant pale gold with fairly subdued carbonation and a neutral aroma. The bitterness, while more noticeable than that of a mainstream lager, is relatively mild in comparison to many craft-brewed pilseners. It’s a very well balanced beer, leaning a touch to the malty side — it has a full, rounded mouthfeel with generous malt, which delivers a pronounced thirst-quenching character. The finish is very clean, although as it warmed up it exhibited a faint touch of the beeriness you often find in malt-driven pale lagers.

My ideal pilsener is a little bit more hop focused than this one — I’ve expressed my love of dry, bitter beers in other reviews — but that doesn’t detract from Little Creatures’ effort in any way. This is an excellent all round summer quaffer; perfect as a session beer, approachable enough for the unadventurous at a barbecue or other summer social engagement, and restrained enough for pairing with delicately flavoured dishes such as seafood or summery salads. I’d go for scallops, crayfish or pink snapper, as long as they’re fresh and prepared unpretentiously with no cheesy or buttery sauces.


In the past, I’ve been guilty of thinking of pale lagers as a ‘solved problem’; that the key elements of a successful lager were well-known and reproducible, and that the nature and narrow parameters of the style gave rise to an environment of conformist homogeneity. This shootout has demonstrated to me both that the variation within the style is more significant than I’d believed, and that many local breweries can benefit from investing more in development of what would usually be their staple beer. Kudos to Little Creatures for a thoroughly competent beer, but I think there’s still room in the market for a WA über-pilsener… or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part.

February 19, 2010

Old Coast Road PBH Strong Porter

Filed under: Beer — Sam @ 10:07 PM
Tags: , ,

1.5 stars

PBH Strong PorterThe Old Coast Road Brewery, cunningly situated on the Old Coast Road between Mandurah and Bunbury, is a relatively new entrant to the local craft brewing scene, having opened its doors in 2008. I’ve not visited the brewery yet, but based on their distribution arrangement for packaged beer (takeaway from the brewery, or exclusively through the International Beer Shop), I get the impression that the brewing operation is primarily focused on delivering draught beer for the brewery café & function centre. That notwithstanding, it’s clear that a lot has been invested in the presentation of their packaged beer – each bottle in the six-pack has a different label (à la the James Squire Amber), and the labels are collectible, glossy, full-colour renditions of certain historical items — famous sailing ships, in the case of the Porter. The disproportionate effort for what must be a relatively low-volume channel indicates a great deal of passion (or ambition?) on the part of brewer Andrew Harris.

Porters are always interesting specimens to assess. Porter is a ‘dead’ beer style the same way that Latin is a dead language — while people are brewing this style today, tasting a genuine London Porter from its 18th-19th century heyday requires a time machine, and if any of those exist they’re presumably being wasted playing the stock market. We can only speculate, based on sketchy contemporary accounts, brewery records, and generous guesswork, what it would have been like. Perhaps it was smoky from the brown malt? Perhaps it was sour from microbiological activity in the maturation vats? Perhaps the salty London water had an effect on the flavour? What this all means for the modern brewer is that there is a large degree of latitude available in their Porter interpretation – apart from the colour, it’s almost a freestyle event.

As with many modern Porters, the PBH Strong is black and almost opaque. It’s bottle-conditioned — I’m giving you the warning now as it’s not stated on the bottle and you probably don’t want to find out the way that I did. At 5.7%, it’s not really that strong in comparison to many bottled Belgian & English strong ales, however given the draught beer focus, I’ll grant that it’s noticeably stronger than the Tooheys Old or Guinness that the café punters may be expecting. The carbonation is middle-of-the-road and generally appropriate for this beer, but head retention is quite poor and really lets down the presentation of the poured beer. In contrast, the dried fruit and dark malt aromas are quite appetising.

Bitterness is smooth, intense, and laid on a bit too thick for my liking. This is exacerbated by an unexpectedly light, thin malt character and a dry finish — for a beer that’s both dark and heavily hopped, I’d have expected more caramelly malt to balance the bitterness. As it stands, all there is to support the hops is some roasted malt acidity and it’s not enough — the beer comes across as lopsided and inharmonious. Of equal concern, tangled with the heavy hop fruitiness is a noticeable phenolic character — not enough to make the beer undrinkable, but well above threshold level and quite distracting. Phenolic flavour compounds can be generated by bacterial infections or chlorinated water; one hopes it’s something that the brewery can rectify fairly easily.

It’s entirely possible that some of the flaws in this beer originate in the packaging process — it’s relatively simple to churn out bottle-conditioned beers; it’s a bit more challenging to churn out bottle-conditioned beers that have a high degree of consistency and minimal variation. I hate to say it, but if this is the case, perhaps more effort needs to be spent on the beer, rather than the packaging.

I really wanted to like this beer — it’s difficult to to be critical of any product that is clearly the product of a passionate and committed artisan, but be critical I must. The porter holds some promise, but needs a fair bit of work to raise it to a three or four star rating. I’ll give it one and a half for now, but I’ll add a promise that I’ll travel the old coast road next time I head south and try this one on tap.

February 2, 2010

Tanglehead 2008 Christmas Ale

Filed under: Beer — Sam @ 9:59 PM
Tags: , , ,

4.5 stars

Albany’s Tanglehead Brewery has been making a seasonal Christmas Ale since 2006, although the early vintages had a reputation for being a little young at Christmas, and benefited from extra cellaring. The 2008 vintage, the last by original brewer Allan Kelly, has now been in the bottle for over 18 months and Vic Crossland rated it among the best Australian beers he’d tasted in 2009, so I was looking forward to reviewing this one.

Tanglehead 2008 Christmas Ale

First impressions were not fantastic, as the beer immediately started foaming out the top of the bottle upon opening, as if it was fairly miffed it had been locked away all that time & missed out on not one, but two Christmases. It probably wasn’t vigorous enough that I would class it as a true gusher, but it still required some deft manipulation of bottle and glass to avoid a beery mess. To be fair, the bottle had been lying down in the fridge thanks to some questionable fridge-stacking priorities on the part of my co-imbiber, a sleep-deprived new dad I’ll refer to as ‘The Engineer’.

It was clear from the first pour that this was a departure from the spiced, christmas-cake dubbel of the previous vintages. Golden orange (hazy due to the horizontal storage) and the absence of puddingy spices made it obvious this beer was a completely different animal. In the correct glass (a wide-mouthed goblet with the etched ‘foam encourager’ on the bottom), the beer displays an excellent, tight, creamy white head – probably to be expected with the high carbonation level, but a welcome attribute nonetheless.

The nose presents a classic Belgian fruitiness, including a hint of the high-temperature banana ester, suggesting the use of a Trappist-style yeast. The first flavour component that hits is an assertive yet refined bitterness that gradually reveals some more subdued supporting malt elements before morphing into a beautifully dry finish; one that the Belgians would describe as digestible. The mid-palate is wonderfully complex: yeast fruitiness mingling with spicy hop notes on a crisp, dry backdrop. There are no solvent or warming alcohol flavours despite the 8% potency, only creamy vanilla notes that are extremely suggestive of certain archetypal Tripels.

I have to confess that I couldn’t identify any recognisable spices, although The Engineer picked up a hint of ginger. There was a vague touch of astringency that may have been caused by vestigial spice additions, but if so, their flavours were no longer easily distinguishable from the yeast- and hop-derived spiciness.

Don’t be misled by the name — this beer is perfect to enjoy at any time of the year. If a beer is quite bitter I generally recommend it as a good choice for an aperitif (the bitterness stimulates the appetite) and to be honest, with one this good I’d drink it on its own. Pair it with something simple like fresh bread & dukkuh, double brie & water crackers, or the classic sautéed asparagus if you’re entertaining. It’s probably at or near its peak now, but it should hold up until Christmas if you desperately want to try it with your turkey.

A magnificently balanced interpretation of a Belgian Tripel/Strong Golden Ale; if you don’t have a couple in your cellar, get thee to the bottle-shop before they’re all gone. 4½ stars.

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