Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Sauvy Wee Pilsner

Four Pines Brew Bar in Manly, NSW
When I first moved to Sydney I was appalled at the state of the country's micro/craft brewing industry - it felt to me as if New Zealand was light years ahead in this regard. Over the last few years, however, my outlook has been greatly improved and not least because I have discovered havens of beery goodness that I had missed with my first precursory glance at the scene. 

My initial perceptions were not aided by the fact that I had landed in New South Wales - a state whose hotels were (and still are) predominately owned by larger concerns operating several if not dozens of venues. This has resulted in Sydney bearing more than its fair share of characterless pubs bound by contracts to large breweries that only offer characterless adjunct ridden brews. But not all Sydney's pubs were or are still content with being bland - shining lights include Clarence Street's Redoak, The Lord Nelson and The Australian both in the Rocks or more recently Four Pines in Manly and the Local  Taphouse in Darlinghurst. 

It's not just these specialty brew bars and micro-breweries that have started to making changes to the way people view beer offerings. Thanks to their example and those of our craft brew loving Victorian neighbours, most Sydney bars now offer more than the obligatory six lagers (insert generic local or imported brands here) two of which may be low-carb. In my mind it's akin to having a wine list that only offers the now ubiquitous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

My views on brews have me often labelled as a snob, an ale-elitist and a hater of all things lager. Whilst the two former comments may be sooth the latter is indelibly slanderous. There is, in fact, one lager that I truly love and count among my favourite beers of all time - Dunedin's own Emerson's Pilsner.

The ambrosial Emerson's Pilsner
For those who haven't been lucky enough to let this golden nectar pass their lips I will divulge that it has a distinct aroma of grapefruit peel and tropical notes like passionfruit. Despite early slander on the varietal, this brew's enticing nose can be described as Sauvignon Blanc like due to the liberal use of Nelson grown Riwaka hops. Much of this fruit passes onto the palate carried by just a little malt sweetness, but before there's any chance of this drop becoming confectionary generous bittering hops dry out the brew to make it utterly thirst quenching and crisp.
This classic Kiwi Pilsner has yet to find a match in Australia although a very close second is the Knappstein Reserve Lager that again uses a Nelson grown hop (Sauvin hops) to create an almost Savignon Blanc like aroma. I highly recomend that you track down some Knappstein as the bottle of Emerson's pictured above will set you back about $10 a pop and that's if you can find it.

So there you have it  - I will drink lager and enjoy it. Under duress (as in the bar being dry of anything else) I will also go for Little Creatures, Trummer Pils, or Pilsner Urquell. Unfortunately these brews have very little of that citrus and passionfruit aroma remaining (especially the last two) which makes Emerson's so appealing, though pouring it into a glass will help somewhat.



Thursday, April 21, 2011

World Class Gentleman's Cocktails

The Booze Braggart, Sven Almenning, Perryn Collier, Krystal Hart, Marco Nunes, Jay Lambert, and Jeff Lemon
After three days, three states, and three World Class semi finals, I must admit that I'm not feeling my most gentlemanly. A member of the sporting fraternity of bartenders and a Bon Vivant yes, but my weary liver is protesting today in a very ungentlentmenly manner. It was, however, all worth it.

Brisbane's semi final, taken out by Krystal Hart from Canvas, saw smoking guns, liquid nitrogen baths and whisky laced truffles bring the gentlemanly aesthetics of of the early 20th century into the 21st. Krystal combined Talisker 10 year old with a Branca Menta 'Switters' (sweetened bitters), and pear water to dilute, all chilled in a liquid nitrogen bath. The Talisker Pimpernel as the concoction was called, was also served with a poached pear again chilled in the aforementioned liquid nitrogen. Served on a embroidered napkin Kyrstal's delightful potion was a more-ish number delivered with style and flair.

The Talisker Pimpernel - a classy affair
The following day, after a visit to Brisbane's fabulous Cru Bar & Cellar to pick up my favourite Emmerson's Pilsner (more on this in a later post) it was off to Melbourne's 1806 to for the Victorian final. Making the top three was a duo from Fitzroy's Black Pearl - Angus Burton and Rob Libecans as well as the Western Australian state winner James Connolly from Defectors. It was the man playing the away game - Mr Connolly - who proved to be too much of a gentleman for the rest of the competition. 

The royally good Stevenson Cocktail
James' creation - the Stevenson - a kind of Sazerac twist was named after Robert Louis Stevenson who is his poem The Scotsman's Return From Abroad famously said "The king o' drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Isla, or Glenlivet." Indeed, Mr. Connolly's Talisker beverage, laced with an aromatic pink peppercorn syrup, Peychaud's Bitters and a sage tincture and served with a Talisker chocolate fudge treat on the side, did prove to be a royal potation. 

Day three saw me return to Sydney for Reserve's World Class NSW semi-final. Judging duties in my home town were handed over to Everyday Drinking's Ben Shipley who I perched my self next to at Tokonoma's bar for the majority of the event to stay close to the action. The quality in Sydney, it must be said, was out of this world. Performances by Eau De Vie's Luke Reddington and Duke's Luke Ashton were polished and professional and their drinks sportingly good to boot. Ultimately it was Level Six's Tim Phillips who took out the competition with his Royal Autumnal Flip a stately mix of Talisker whisky, a Ron Zacapa honey liqueur, fig conserve, lemon juice and a whole quail's egg.

Well done to all involved in World Class' Gentleman's Cocktail round. I can't wait for the Australian final in June.

Ps. Did anyone notice tht all the winning drinks were made with Talikser? 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Members Only

Der Raum's Life on Mars
So last week Melbourne's Der Raum announced that they're locking their doors. That's right they're now a members only bar.

It ain't a new concept, indeed it's one that has been tried and generally failed, in Australia at least, for some years. Take the now defunct De Nom in Sydney. Membership was offered at a ludicrous $10,000 per year - I'm not sure that anyone paid for a single membership for a bar that, whilst a lot of fun in its day, struggled to serve even a decent Jack and Coke. It was nothing but a publicity stunt and the years have proved that it failed. But I've got a feeling that things are going to work out for what is Australia's most internationally recognised cocktail bar. And here are a number of reasons.

Reason One: They're Open to Negotiation

Whilst members will receive unrestricted access, if you happen to be swinging into town and want to check out the place give them a call. If they can fit you in the bar you'll be welcome.

Reason Two: The Price is Right

Rather than ask their loyal following of cocktail enthusiasts to fork out thousands - like Sydney's Level 6 for instance membership at Der Raum is coming in at a very reasonable $250. The price tag includes a birthday treat- a bowl of punch for you and your guests (members are allowed up to three guests per visit) valued at $260 and well as discounts on top-shelf spirits, discounted cocktails on Mondays, invites to special events and more. Also current Melbourne Temperance Society members get a $50 discount to the new membership fee.

Reason Three: It's for the Right Reasons

Having been to Der Raum a couple of times I know how busy these dudes get behind the bar with their drinks that, although exceptional, can be labour intensive. The doors are being closed to look after their punters and focus on serving such delicacies as the Life on Mars (pictured) from Der Raum's 2010/11 summer menu an eclectic combination of Matusalem Platino rum, capsicum, lime, 'dusted sichuan' and a 'cocoa butter & soy emulsion'. Der Raum's press release tells us that it's "less as a form of elitism and more a simple reinforcement of quality over quantity". Well I can live with that.

All I can do is wish the team good luck! If I lived in Melbourne I'd seriously consider a membership and with 10 years now under its belt I'm sure Der Raum will continue to thrive. Now to find a member to smuggle me in...

Visit their site immediately to secure your membership.