Monday, September 5, 2011

(B)romantic Weekends: A European Beer Beechworth?


This time a year ago I was getting over (or was it only just getting started with) my Belgian Beer Weekend before exploring more of it and a few other places in Europe. For that weekend and more, I had a good mate in Jaimi tasting beers and recovering when he could along the way. A year later, and I am heading of trains and buses once again for a beer journey, but this time staying within the realms of Victoria heading out to Beechworth, the home of Bridge Road Brewery, a place I have wanted to visit since first trying their Robust Porter and its oak-aged version. Instead of Jaimi, it was Stass who I accompanied, as the winner of a contest during Good Beer Week. This entitled him to tasting, lunch, private brewery tour and a night's accommodation at the pub 10 metres away from the brewery, and I managed to tag along with all of it...

After a Friday night of tasting our bacon-like Hickory Stickery Bock and putting on 30 litres of our second batch of imperial stout (yay!), we made it to Beechworth by lunch on Saturday, just in time to make use of the free tasting a pizza lunch.
Starting with the Hans Kopler Hefewiezen, we greatly enjoyed this german style beer that showed good levels of bubblegum over a refreshing body that was perfect to start on after 4 hours of traveling. We enjoyed it so much we went back for a full sized version after lunch.
While there is quite a slant to Europe in the range of beers available from Bridge Road overall, I was happy to see the attempt to bring in an Australia style to beer seeing it seems to something we are still struggling to find in the industry. However, I found I did not personally enjoy the Australian Ale, with a yeasty finish that reminded me of a Carlton Draught, but without the dehydrating chemical sensation from the mainstream example. It also had quite a dry flavour on the back, but did not entice me to have a session on it. I have said previously that my tastes will not equate well with the general aussie palate, and this just proves it. Still, if you are looking for a 'one step away from mainstream' beer for that stubborn mate or relative that sticks to only the mainstream beers, this is a good start. I was actually interested to see many of these going out the door as six packs, so it has definitely made an impact on the public.
The Pale Ale comes back to a british style with a decent malt body but with some somewhat strong hop character for a pale ale. Luckily, our pizzas arrived by this time, so it was a good beer to have with them.
Next, I was again happy to try for the first time the next beer, a Celtic Red Ale. With a toffee like malt and limited bitterness, this was really my style of beer. While it is quite sweet comparable to the rest of the range, there is a good mouthfeel to go with it, and the hops at the back cleanse so well I found myself wanting to go back to it quickly after each sip. Definitely a standout I will want to try in the bottle now, and for me it went well with the honeyed-lamb pizza.
I have tried the Robust Porter a number of times, and have to say, it tasted a lot more roasted coffee than I recall previously. I think I prefer this beer in the bottle, as it seems to reduce that roastedness to allow the sweet dark malt through more to balance it out more to my taste. Still, I did like the Oak aged version of this beer, with this process diminishing or melding to coffee better with the overall beer. Still, was slightly disappointed and goes to show, sometimes fresh isn't always best.
Finishing the tasting with the Bling IPA, the freshness aspect was shown again with the hop character in this beer being pretty big, and bigger than when I have had it previously. Okay, my tolerance for bitterness is not high, and while the malt is there to try and balance it out, but when even Stass is showing signs of this beer being at the upper level of his own tolerance, we were both happy to still have a few slices of pizza left the cleanse to tongue with each sip. We found it quite similar to Team Harrod's attempt at the IPA is our latest brewing contest with them.
Having tried the Hefeweizen again, we tasted the new Saison Noir which we heard was basically the robust porter but using the yeast of the Saison. It was really all over the place on first taste, with a smell that reminded me a bit like the earthy spice I get from out Wattle Seed beer (which I am happy to say has settled down quite a bit in the sourness we were getting from it early on). The flavour kept changing as well, as it was quite malt dusty while cold, but then as it warmed up the saison yeast was able to bring more fruitiness. By the end it was almost a dark fruit flavour, and much more enjoyable.

It was at this point Ben was available to take us for a private brewery tour. It was great to get behind the scenes to chat one on one with him, and compare bottling systems between his and Mountain Goat. It was interesting to see the industry from his perspectives, the good and bad of being situated in rural Victoria, and the relationship he has with other breweries...big and small.

After this we started getting into the Chevalier range, starting on the Biere De Garde. It had been a few Microbrewery Showcases since I had tried this beer, and was happy to say it reminded me of our Honey Wheat Beer we had made for another contest with Team Harrod. This beer has a fair bit more going on above sweet malt and bubblegum, with a long smooth body allowing fruitiness to come through and almost sweet honey end. The flavours all melded well which is typical of the style and I also enjoyed just seeing the dark colour to it, as I would have equated the taste to a lighter beer.

We ended the day at Bridge Road with the Hefe-Dunkel, a style I particularly enjoyed while over in Germany, with its great combination of both being refreshing but also having a depth of character that you could appreciate. For some reason this time the beer tasted a little old with a dusty malt character coming into it that I haven't tasted in their beer before, and did not end as pleasantly either. The banana and bubblegum were still there, but maybe a bit shorter than I recall, and the body was still good to carry the flavours along the palate. So it was only slightly diminished, but then that could come from just having had it from the bottle, as it may loss a little freshness compared to on tap.

After a quick lap of town, we came back to Transwells Commerical Hotel for a dinner and Stass brought over a large glass of Leffe Blonde. In all the places, I never thought I would find this standard Belgium beer here in Beechworth, and again just reiterated the number of European style beers we had over the day. Having seen a Creme Brulee on the specials board, dessert was a must, before Stass and I sat in front of the fire at the bar with a Robust Porter, and saw a local come in to order a Carlton Draught with a dash of Stone's Green Ginger Wine....hmmm...just got me thinking 'if you don't like the taste, don't buy it'...ah well.

After a well deserved night's rest I awoke, sat up in bed, looked out the window, and was happy to see I was looking directly at the brewery below. What a great way to start the day, looking forward to the prospect of tasting more of the beers just under my window. After some breakfast and a couple of games of pool at 10am (ah the joys of staying in a pub), we walked out of the pub and back the the brewery just as they opened, and remained in front of the fire by the bar for the next few hours.

Seeing it was still morning, we started the day with the Smokey Breakfast Lager (Brew 500) which I have to say I enjoyed more out of the bottle than on tap. I think the smoke just stays a bit too fresh in the keg and takes away from other flavours in it. Out of the bottle I could get more of a honey-like flavour from the maple syrup, and a better balance overall, which was helped by the oatmeal to give it the body it needed to coat your tongue nicely.
To finish off the session and the last beer for us to try, we grabbed the standard Saison. For me the fruitiness is a little subdued for what I would like in a Saison (as seen in the Saison Session I had previously, but was still a nice light-flavoured beer to finish on. Maybe if more could be coaxed out of the yeast to make more of the flavour, and then balance it with a good malt body, it would rival the older, traditional Belgian Saisons, but as a nice step for the general public to help them appreciate this style, I can understand why it came #9 in last year's Critic's Choice Awards of best beers in Australia.

With this and a pizza in us for lunch, it was just a matter of getting some merch (a very well made and warm hoddie for me), a quick stop at the local bakery, and the bus/train back to Melbourne to recover overnight for the week's work ahead.

A massive 'thanks' to Stass for allowing me to tag along and make it is great 'bromantic' weekend, and for Ben, Bridge Road Brewery, and Beechworth, for setting the mood for a relaxing beer filled journey back in a small country town that reminded me somewhat of where I grew up. Finally, I can tick that one off the list of breweries I have wanted to visit here in Australia, and was great to have that European slant to remind me of the good times I had a year ago in that part of the world.



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