Category Archives: Beer review

A thoroughbred, not a camel

Saison a trois

Saison a Trois – collaborative brew by 4 Pines, Boatrocker and Thunder Road

Ask a committee for a horse and you get a camel. But what happens when a committee makes beer?

The delicious answer is Saison a Trois, a one-off variant on the French farmhouse ale style. Released for the Australian International Beer Awards in May, it was brewed collaboratively by the winners of the small, medium and large brewery categories of the 2015 competition.

Chris Willcock (4 Pines Brewing Co), Matt Houghton (Boatrocker Brewing Co) and Marcus Cox (Thunder Road Brewing Company) set to work on 29 February to create the dark, malty, 6.5-per-cent-alcohol ale.

Despite the dark colour and high alcohol content, it remains light and refreshing, with a very clean, fresh aftertaste. Alas, it’s no longer available, but here’s a tasting note for the record.

Saison a Trois
Brewed collaboratively by 4 Pines, Boatrocker and Thunder Road, Saison a Trois appeals for its deep amber-brown colour and persistent white head. The aroma and flavour combine a core of sweet malt with alcoholic warmth, an exotic touch of spice and tingly, refresing citrus character on a buoyant, refreshing palate.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016

New Zealanders launch home brew machine in Australia

WilliamsWarn Brewmaster

In 2011 New Zealanders Ian Williams and Anders Warn launched what they claimed was “the world’s first all-in-one brewing appliance”. Following success of the WilliamsWarn Brewmaster in New Zealand, the inventors have now released it in Australia

Their launch of the WilliamsWarn Brewmaster beat America’s PicoBrew Zymatic to the punch by about three years. However, the two systems operate in fundamentally different ways.

The American machine starts by making wort from grain. The New Zealand machine, on the other hand, bypasses this time-consuming part of the brewing process by using malt extract, which can be made into wort by adding water.

The machine, which controls fermentation, carbonation and dispensing in one continuous seven-day process, costs between $7500 and $8500, depending on configuration. Details of the machine and the wide range of malt extracts available to would-be brewers are on

Beer reviews

Little Creatures Hotchkiss Six Domestic Stout 330ml 6-pack $21
Little Creatures new seasonal brew is an easy drinking stout with a comparatively low alcohol content of 4.5 per cent. The deep colour and roasted-grain flavours come from caramel and chocolate malts. Their sweetness is nicely balanced by the spicy tang and bitterness of Rakau and Southern Cross hops.

Ridgeway Brewing Imperial Barley Wine 2015 (UK) 330ml $8
Barley wines are very strong ales displaying sweeet, malty richness and wine-like alcohol content. Ridgeway’s vintage-dated version offers 10 per cent alcohol, sweet, fruity and malty aroma and a big, warming, malty palate, cut with assertive hops flavours and bitterness. It’s built to cellar and should change in interesting ways over time.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 25 May 2016 in the Canberra Times

Old friendship brings Canberra brews to Sydney

Royal Albert to host five Canberra brewers

On the strength of an old friendship, five Canberra brewers are to take over the taps at inner Sydney’s popular Royal Albert Hotel.

The Surry Hills hotel, winner of TimeOut’s 2015 people’s choice award, specialises in Australian-made drinks (including 60–70 craft spirits) and tap takeovers by craft brewers.

Royal Albert partner Michael Bain says the connection with the Canberra brewers came through long-term friend (and Royal Albert partner), Matthew Farrah, owner of Canberra-based Rogue Wines.

Bain says the tap takeover begins on 16 June, with three taps each for the Wig and Pen, Zierholz, BentSpoke, Pact, and Capital Brewing. A sixteenth tap will go to either a collaborative Canberra brew or perhaps a Canberra apple cider.

The beers, served from 50-litre kegs, will remain at the bar until sold out. Royal Albert’s Facebook page will detail the beers to be served and allow customers to vote on their favourite.

Beer reviews

Grand Ridge Kellerbier (Gippsland) 330ml $6.15
Grand Ridge’s lovely, delicate lager offers spicy, fruity, herbal aromas, partly derived from dry hopping with fresh-picked, home-grown hallertau hops. At 4.2 per cent alcohol, it sits light and refreshing on the palate, while delivering heaps of flavour, partly fruity, partly malty, but mainly hoppy – with appropriately very bitter finish.

Orkney Gold (Scotland) 330ml $4.65
Despite a modest 4.5 per cent alcohol content, Orknew Gold offers rich, warming, malty flavours and a soft, creamy texture. Intense hops bitterness flows in around the malty flavours, and every subsequent mouthful becomes that little more bitter. However, the generous flavour pushes back, giving a rich, bitter, balanced beer.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 18 May 2016 in the Canberra Times

Sour and hoppy beer thrills

Thrill seekers move to sour beer, but hops remain the main game

My Sydney beer spy, Mr Malty, notes a trend among the city’s manliest drinkers away from hops and bitterness towards mouth-puckering sour beers, such as Boon Marriage Parfait.

However, sour beers remain on the fringe for the moment and pose no near-term threat to the hops hegemony. Indeed, the growing obsession with very hoppy beers – and the search for increasingly bitter experiences – raises the question, are hops addictive?

In a Radio Brew News interview, Professor Charlie Bamforth suggested hops were habit forming rather than addictive. He noted his own increased tolerance for the uber hoppy and said, “If the word is not addictive, it is certainly pleasurable and calming”.

At Popular Science, Martha Harbison concluded there is no addiction. Hops can be removed from a diet with no withdrawal symptoms, and the bittering compounds (humulones) don’t affect the brain as addictive compounds do.

Beer reviews

Petrus Dubbel Bruin (Belgium) 330ml $5.35
The label depicts St Peter with keys, and carries the slogan “The key to heaven”. Certainly it’s the key to pleasure: deep, glowing brown colour, topped with vigorous foam; aromas of caramel, dried fruits and spice; and a juicy, smooth, warming palate reflecting all of the above. What a satisfying winter beer it is.

Pikes Oakbank Sparkling Ale (Clare Valley) 375ml $3.50
A golden rule in retailing is stock rotation. Stale stock isn’t good for the consumer, the retailer or the producer. But here we have it, a potentially very good beer from the Pike family’s Clare Valley brewery, bought in a Canberra retail outlet. It’s weeks past its best-by date and looking very sad indeed: flat, flabby just drinkable.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 11 May 2016 in the Canberra Times

Oops, by gum, another Canberra brewer

Clonakilla winemaker Tim Kirk once told me the quickest way to humility was through humiliation (according to St Augustine). And so, eating humble pie, this column belatedly introduces the Tortured Gum Brewery of Hume.

The brewer launched in 2013, a year before BentSpoke, two years before Pact Beer Co and three years ahead of Capital Brewing Co’s arrival this month. Somewhere along the line Tortured Gum morphed out of what used to be U-brew it, a brew-your-own franchise that once occupied the same site.

Tortured Gum Brewery offers 150 recipes for customers to brew on site and also sells its own keg and bottle beers into Canberra pubs, clubs, restaurants, bars and one retail outlet.

Owner Craig McAuliffe says the business is currently split about 60:40 between private and commercial brewing, but the mix is moving steadily to the commercial side.

Tortured Gum’s commercial brews include Black Mountain Porter, Capital Pale Ale, Duntroon Pilsner, Majura Brown Ale, South of the Border Mexican style, and Zingiber (an alcoholic ginger beer).

Pact Beer Co 100 Acres IPA (Australia) 330ml 6-pack 5.95
Pact’s Kevin Hingston launched his new IPA this month in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. Based on a recipe that made Hingston Australia’s home-brew champion, the new brew provides rich, malty flavours with assertive but well balanced aromas, flavours and bitterness of centennial, citra, cascade and simcoe hops.

Boon Marriage Parfait Gueze 2012 (Belgium) 375ml $11.90
Gueze beer takes the palate on a challenging dry, sour, thrilling trip. Be in no rush though as Marriage Parfait carries at eight per cent alcohol. The beer combines mainly old, wild-ferment lambic beer, with a smaller amount of young lambic containing sugar and living yeast, which produce the secondary ferment in bottle.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 27 April 2016 in the Canberra Times

Canberra’s autumn brews

New from BentSpoke and Pact

New autumn beers from Canberra’s brewers include a BentSpoke amber ale, seeped with fresh hop flowers, and a Pact Beer Co hoppy, aromatic IPA.

The BentSpoke’s Richard Watkins put out three brews for the season, Reflector Amber Ale, Dick Tracy Brown Ale, and Fugg’n Chino Porter.

Reflector Amber Ale picks up its pungent hoppy tang as it passes through an infuser packed with fresh Victorian Galaxy hops flowers.

Dick Tracy gives warming, nutty, malty flavours. And Fugg ‘n Chino goes all the way with powerful chocolate malts, laced with Fuggles and Chinook hops.

Kevin Hingston launched two new beers last week: Pact 100 Acres IPA, at Canberra’s Transit Bar and, in conjunction with the Wig and Pen, Pact and Pen Hello I’m Tracy Grimshaw. This is a Currant Affair. Another beer, Pact with the Devil IPA, is due for release at the Great Australasian Beer SpectTAPular in May.

Beer reviews

Riders XPA Strong Pale Ale (Wonga Park, Victoria) 330ml $5.00
This American pale ale style provides a heady mix of warming malt flavours and powerful hops that dominate the aroma, flavour and bitter finish. After a few sips, a slightly harsh hops character accumulates, throwing the nevertheless enjoyable beer off balance. Riders Brew Co belongs to Phil and Gus Kellly, owners of Kellybrook winery and cidery in the Yarra Valley.

Maredsous Abbaye Benedictine Brune (Belgium) 330ml $5.60
Maredsous winter-warming ale pours a glowing, deep-brown colour. The fruity, malty aroma leads to a soft, supple palate with a wine-like eight per-cent alcohol content. The opulent malt flavour and high alcohol combine harmoniously and deliciously. Serve at around 10 degrees to bring out the rich malt flavours and fruitiness.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 19 and 20 April 2016 in  and the Canberra Times

Canberra’s currant affair goes sweet and sour

Pact and Pen's new brew
Pact and Pen’s new brew
Hello. I’m Tracy Grimshaw. This is a currant affair

A new sour beer made by two Canberra brewers goes under the Pact and Pen label as “Hello, I’m Tracy Grimshaw. This is a currant affair”.

Pact Brewing Company’s Kevin Hingston and the Wig and Pen’s Frazer Brown created the sour, redcurrant-flavoured brew for Melbourne pub, The Ale House Project.

The beer is being served during the Ale House’s “This is red” event between 11 and 24 April.

Hingston says with the Melbourne launch now done, Tracy will go on tap at the Wig and Pen, ANU, and the Durham Arms, Kingston.

The beer, styled on Germany’s Berliner Weisse, derives its sourness from the residues of micro-flora, including lactobacillus, living on the surface of cracked grain. The grain, which also nourished the fast-breeding microbes, was added to a mash of wheat and pilsner malts – all seeped at a Jacuzzi-like 40 degrees before being fermented.

Hingston says the beer, while about double the strength of traditional Berliner Weisse, retains the style’s delicate sourness, offset by the sweet redcurrant.

Beer reviews

Thornbridge Kipling South Pacific Ale (UK) 500ml $9.45
Like coals to Newcastle, the UK’s Thornbridge brewery uses hops from Nelson, NZ. The hops give a distinctive fruity aroma to a beautifully harmonious, golden-coloured ale. The lively palate really sings with smooth, sweet malt, offset by flavoursome and lingeringly bitter, refreshing hops. This is a wonderful, balanced example of a beer revealing the full gamet of a unique hop variety’s aroma, flavour and bitterness.

Schlenkerla Oak Smoke Doppelbock (Germany) 500ml $7.98
Schlenkerla brewery of Bamberg, Germany, specialises in Rauchbier – an ale made from malt kilned with beech smoke. The brewery’s extra-strong (eight per cent alcohol) oak-smoked variant provides a slightly more subtle smokey experience. Charcuterie-like aromas and flavours permeate the opulent, malty, bitter palate.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 12 and 13 April in and the Canberra Times

More craft brewers, fewer wineries

Australia’s 250 craft brewers employ 1200

As per-capita beer consumption in Australia declines rapidly, the number of craft brewers continues to increase. IbisWorld says, “Robust demand for craft beer has resulted in the number of craft breweries increasing over the past decade to 250 in 2015–16.

In contrast, reports the Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Directory 2016, winery numbers recorded two consecutive years of decline to 2468 in 2016, down from the all-time high of 2573 in 2014.

According to IbisWorld, Australia’s widely dispersed craft breweries employ around 1200 people and enjoy annual sales of around $377million – about 9.5 per cent of the $4billion beer market.

The higher prices paid for craft beers, says IbisWorld, means industry revenues continued to grow – albeit at a sluggish 0.2 per cent a year between 2011 and 2016 – despite declining per-capita consumption.

Beer reviews

Fuller’s 1845 Ale (UK) 500ml $8

Amber malt and Golding hops set the colour and flavours for Fuller’s 6.3 per-cent-alcohol, bottle-conditioned 1845 ale. It pours a deep, glowing rosewood colour, blanketed with a steady, creamy head. The opulent, treacly, sweet-malt palate melds harmoniously with deep, strong, bitter hops. It’s a warming cold-weather beer, served at around 10 degrees.

Graf Arco Pilsener (Germany) 330ml $4.95

Graf Arco provides a textbook example of the German pils style: pale lemon-gold colour; pleasant grainy, malty aroma, seasoned with a herbal, hop character; and a palate of intense hops bitterness. Sweet malt flavours offset the bitterness to some extent, but the hops bitterness lingers on, clean and refreshing.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 5 and 6 April 2016 in and the Canberra Times

Top beer judge calls for balanced beers

Highly flavoured brews need balance

If you thought the hoppy IPA you downed last night finished all hops and bitterness, you’re in good company.

Little Creature brewer and head judge of the Australian International Beer Awards, Warren Pawsey, has called for balance in beers – especially highly flavoured brews laced with hops, spice or smoke.

He was speaking at The Institute of Brewing and Distilling 2016 Convention, held 14–18 March in Sydney.

In, James Atkins writes, “Pawsey said hopped beers such as India Pale Ales often lack malt sweetness on the finish giving the beer a thin body, which means hop flavour and bitterness dominate”.

Pawsey believes the beers “aren’t train wrecks but many of them could be tuned up to be a bit more balanced”. Pawsey’s solution to the problem, reports Atkins, is in “improving raw materials selection and brewhouse processes”.

Beer reviews

Guinness 1798 Limited Edition Double Extra Stout 750ml $49.90
Perhaps “limited edition” refers to its availabiliy in Australia only through Dan Murphy outlets. It’s a beefed up Dublin-brewed Guinness, black as ebony, with a warming nine per-cent alcohol content. Bitter–sweet malt, roasted-grain and dark-chocolate flavours easily take on the alcohol and hops, leaving a bitter chocolate aftertaste.

Castlemaine XXXX Gold 375ml stubby 6-pack $15
Full-strength VB and mid-strength XXXX Gold arm-wrestle for top spot among Australian beer drinkers. XXXX Gold impresses as it retains good beer flavours, bitterness and balance despite its 3.5 per cent alcohol content. It’s the antithesis of modern uber-hoppy styles, but it refreshes while delivering just one standard drink per stubby.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 30 March 2016 in the Canberra Times

Murrumbateman brewery a Shaw thing

Architect impression, Murrumbateman brewery, opening late 2017
Brewpub to open late 2017

Canberra district is to get a new brewery in the heart of Murrumbateman wine country.

It’s the brainchild of developer and proprietor of Shaw Vineyard Estate, Graeme Shaw. He says a brewpub, with restaurant, will be part of Fairlie, a mixed residential–tourist development on Murrumbateman’s north-western edge.

The project will include 110 houses on blocks of “1200 square metres plus”, says Shaw. And a planned commercial development will comprise a 52-room hotel, a visitor centre, cafes and restaurants, a bakery, a medical centre, and park as well as the brewery.

Housing construction on stage 1 of the residential area, along with site works on stage 2, commenced in early March. And by the end of April Shaw expects to lodge a development application for the commercial component.

Shaw believes the development, on the north-western boundary of Murrumbateman, will be the “first expansion of the village since the 1870s”.

The commercial site sits on the corner of the new Fairlie access road and the Barton Highway. The hotel will be on the right hand side of the new road, opposite the brewery and other components.

The brewery will be prominent and clearly visible from the highway. It’ll be part of a significant tourist attraction supporting local wineries”, say Shaw.

The brewery, targeted at tourists, will produce draft beer for consumption in its bar and restaurant, and packaged beer for the take-away trade and potentially wider distribution.

Shaw expects construction to commence during the last quarter of 2016, with first drinks flowing by spring 2017.

Shaw is currently in discussions with Fyshwick brewer, Christoph Zierholz.

Beer reviews

Rabbit and Spaghetti Brewing Co The Fox Hop and Rye Lager 500ml $11.80–$13
We’d all like to believe in Grange for $10 or – as Naked Wine (owners of this beer label) claims – that their customer-funded business model translates to lower prices and higher quality. It’s a clever, and apparently successful, vertically integrated direct-marketing business. The Fox offers a full, malty flavour with assertive hops bitterness.

4 Pines Brewing Company Pale Ale 500ml 6-pack $20
Drinking our last bottle of 4 Pines on its expiry date tested its durability. The tropical- and citrus-like hops aromas enjoyed in the young brew had faded, leaving the rich, sweet malt flavours to the fore. However, the hops bitterness remained, offsetting the malt sweetness perfectly on the rich, creamy palate.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2016
First published 9 and 16 March 2016 in and the Canberra Times