At last, a simple and but clear guide that answers all your questions about beer and food. What’s good beer? And how do l pair great food with good beer? Simply click on each page and enjoy!
Craft Beer or Great beer? – An Australian Perspective
If you live in Australia, if you are young and money is tight, cheap beer is typically the brand of choice. You might spend a few dollars on VB or Tooheys New or even a bit extra on Corona. In the USA, you are likely to drop a few dollars on Coors or a Budweiser. Let’s face it. You know this stuff is not “craft” beer.
Eventually we all smarten up and learn the beer markets in either country are essentially duopolies, so you start to avoid the “bland” beers they sell. You steer away from the blander big brands and start discovering beers with more depth and character. Typically, these new beers are fancy imported brands or cheery brands with funny dogs, weird cartoons, forests and the odd yak or two. You tell your friends about your new “crafty” find. The initial cost might be higher but the quality seems much better. Your mates are impressed. Yep. It seems like you are onto “craft beer”. Or are you?
So what does the term “craft beer” really mean? Our Australian colonial past and culture celebrates underdogs. Conversely, success is often frowned upon and the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” is still alive and well. To some therefore, the term “craft beer” seems to suggest an underdog brewery status worth supporting. To others, craft means quality beer from a quality brewery. But one person’s “underdog” is another’s “tall poppy”. And quality to some may be bitter as hell to others.
Three main words are typically used to define craft beer and these pretty much come from America: small, independent and traditional.
In America, small means big to Australians. The Boston Beer Company which sells “Samuel Adams” branded beers is financially regarded as America’s largest “craft“ brewing company. According to their company reports, they represent just 1% of the American beer market. Their capital value on the NYSE is near $1.5 billion and they produce about 300,000,000 litres of beer a year. But according to the American Brewer’s Association, this is “craft beer”. And they will continue to be “craft” even when they grow more than 2.5 times bigger in size. By then, we suspect their stock valuation might exceed the total value of the $5 billion Australian beer market.
Back in the old world, Europe, few people recognize the term “craft beer”. A qualified Master Brewer and Malster in the Czech Republic will typically have a 5 year degree specializing in brewing. They very often will have worked for one brewery all their lives and in some cases, it’s a generational affair, with generations in one family employed by a single brewery. A monk brewing beer in a Belgian Abbey will reside at the Abbey for his lifetime and typically brew one or two beers – in the name of religion. Ask them if they are “ craft” brewers and they’ll have no idea what you are talking about.
In Australia, the term “craft beer” is widely used by beer producers, bloggers, writers, journalists, festival organizers, and industry pundits. But is there a clear meaning of the term? And is that important? Are beer brands like Matilda Bay and James Squire - brewed by mega-giant breweries like SAB Miller and Lion really craft beers? Are American “craft beers” and craft breweries, shipping old, unpasteurized beers to Australia helping the local industry get acquainted and educated with fresh quality “craft” beer? After all, isn’t better beer from small breweries the name of the game? On the other hand, are local Australian small breweries really producing beer of a sufficient high quality that deserve the descriptor “craft”? Many are. Some are a bit inconsistent. And others, well… you be the judge.
Contract brewed “craft” beers and supermarket branded private label beers are also growing without consumers realizing these beers are produced from a standard mash or a mass produced recipe in larger scale breweries. You will never get to see these “fantasy” breweries. You may even feel a little sucked in when you find out. So do they deserve the term “craft”? Are we merely paying high prices for beers that aren’t much better than mass produced mega brewery beers just because they call themselves “craft”? Where is the value for money for the consumer here?
And if an Australian beer writer or blogger receives free beer as samples or simply prefers “extreme hop bomb” beers – do they better understand the craft beer notion or simply promote a personal taste bias?
Perhaps in Australia we should simply abandon the term “craft beer” because it risks becoming abused and meaningless. After all, Australian market researchers tell us, excluding Coopers, craft beer represents about 2% of beer industry volume. If we take out the CUB and Lion Nathan “craft” brands – Matilda Bay, Little Creature, Squire – we remove 1.2% of the “craft beer“ market. Next, if we remove all the contract beers, 0.3%, we are down to 0.5%. Just for arguments sake, let’s remove all the private label craft beers – we could be down to a share as low as 0.2%. And then there are the beer imports. The conclusion? Perhaps there is no such thing as craft beer in an Australian context – yet.
But there is hope. We think a more simple solution might be to dump the term “craft” beer in Australia altogether and simply refer back to the beer’s true origin; independent microbrewery, large multinational brewery, imports and contract brewed. And a separate category – Coopers.
Our view is that this will encourage beer drinkers to drink independent microbrewery based beers. We think independent microbreweries are better for beer drinkers because they tend to focus on taste and quality. And that is what is needed to help people rediscover what great beer is all about. And microbreweries will serve themselves better by keeping a greater distance from the large breweries who do not have their interest at heart at all. The future of beer in Australia lies in independent microbreweries producing great beer in many styles – for people to enjoy fresh, from a real brewery.
Bringing Back Grafton Bitter
The Grafton Brewery was incorporated in March 1949 as a private company and construction started in September 1950, completed in 1952. Grafton Lager was the first beer and sales started in December that year.
Grafton Bitter sales started in the following year and quickly became a commercial success typified by a robust refreshing character. The Lager and Bitter were hugely successful and Tooths and Tooheys used subsidized rail freight costs from Sydney to bring the brewery to its knees as a way to shut down great beer flavor and competition. The business was registered as a public company in February 1953.
The artificially low cost beers sold in the Northern NSW region by Toohey’s and Tooths to crush Grafton Brewery eventually succeeded and the business was taken over by Toohey’s in April 1961. The Grafton Brewery sign was promptly ripped down and replaced with a Tooheys sign. All the recipes were changed and large numbers of Grafton locals were laid off.
Our brewers and management team at TRB tracked down the last known living brewer and brewing engineer from the 1950′s. Although in his 80′s, he was able to recall in enormous detail most of the ingredients and importantly, the brewing process. Process is the most important aspect of duplicating beers between breweries.
We are extremely “over the moon” with the result and gearing up to launch in Grafton shortly with Grafton Bitter – followed up by a second beer. We are still working on the pilsner style lager version but we will update this to a midstrength beer – inline with local preferences.
We’ve been extremely impressed by the positive “can do” attitude in Grafton and by the support shown us to make this happen. Graftonians are driving this project and we are running hard to keep up with their energy. We have a lot to learn from down-to-earth practical rural communities like Grafton and we will do our best to invest in the local area to return Grafton Bitter back to its rightful place as the PRIDE OF THE NORTH.
We hope to bring everyone more news about this great comeback story in a few weeks.
Growlers: what’s in a name?
Before the use of bottles became a widespread way to package beer (especially after the use of pasteurization in the mid-1800′s), if you wanted to take beer home from the pub, it was usually offered in a growler, which was typically an open top, galvanized pail.
Many different containers where used (including pitchers, other pottery or glass jars and jugs) to transport beer but the most common growler held two quarts of liquid – or about two litres. Often children would be employed by pubs to “rush the growler” e.g. deliver growlers to nearby residents or work sites, as can be seen in the photos below.
During the early 20th century when “nickel beer” in the U.S. was standard, a growler fill commonly cost 5-15¢. The “Bucket Trade” was frequently attacked during the decades leading up to Prohibition in 1920 by the same anti-alcohol “Temperance” forces that would result in the 18th Amendment.
While the origins of the “Growler” term is much in dispute some sources suggest that it was the constant conflict between the two parties – the bartender who’s filling a two quart pail with a pint of beer – and the customer looking for a full pail – which caused the “growling”. Others have suggested that a grumbling sound was created when the sloshing beer released CO2 and caused the lid of the growler to pop up and down.
Today the growler is experiencing a revival of sorts as an ideal way to offer brewery fresh beer to local customers. But growlers today have come a long way from the open top pail! At Thunder Road we offer amber glass growlers to VIP Growler Club members that hold 1890 mls of brewery fresh beer – and there is no short changing at our bar…guaranteed!
Is the Six o’clock Swill Making a Comeback?
Not quite. This phrase was first used to describe Australian drinking customs in the middle of the 20th century. As a result of the Temperance Movement, liquor licensing laws introduced in 1916 forced public bars to close at 6 p.m., leaving just an hour in which to have a drink at the end of the working day.
This created a huge crush at the bar as workers rushed to share a beer before going home for dinner. The resulting noise, crush of bodies, and slops, as beer was spilt in the melee, led observers to describe it as a “pig swill” and the term stuck.
In post war Melbourne it became a tourist spectacle as men in business suits and hats jostled and shouted to get served, a sight of great amusement for visitors during the 1956 Olympic Games. This drinking ritual was a men-only affair as women were excluded from public bars (ridiculous, right?). Excessive drinking in this all-male environment became a way of defining ones masculinity and entrenched stereotypes where men did the work, and wives stayed home to cook. The six o’clock closing rush hour existed in other Australian States but lasted longest in Victoria, where it was not repealed until 1966.
Unfortunately, due to our elected officials inability to grant our public license thus far, we close at six o’clock each day. You can come in and taste some great beer free of charge, but we can’t sell it to you to enjoy on site. (And if we had our license, we’d sure be employing more people, go figure…) But you can, however, buy beer to take home or enjoy outside the brewery. (Yes, that seems odd to us too.) Lately, we’ve been faced with long queues of thirsty beer lovers – especially on Thursday and Friday – wanting us to fill their growlers (1890 ml take away bottles) before our six o’clock closing time. That’s all good with us, but we thought it was a bit humorous that the six o’clock swill seems to be making a comeback!
Great Beer: What Beer Drinkers Want
Market researcher IBISWorld says Australian beer consumption has been on the decline for more than a decade and total beer industry sales are forecast to contract by 1.5% in the period 2011-2012. Bad news, right? Not necessarily.
While it is true that per capita consumption of mass-produced beer is declining in Australia, this only tells part of the story. In fact, this is really a tale of two markets in Australia, one declining, and the other growing quickly.
Researchers like IBISWorld refer to this faster growing sub-segment of the beer industry as “Premium.” It includes boutique craft, independent Australian beers and imported products growing in double digits. Why? IBISWorld puts it like this: “Rising disposable income, international trends, growing health awareness and consumer demand for variety and quality drove the emergence of new premium segments in the beer market.” All good. We put this into plain English like this: Australians are tired of drinking average beer!
At Thunder Road, we believe that quality and freshness is what our customers want. It’s really common sense. When we look around at other food products like bread, cheeses, organic fruit and vegetables and the like, consumers are selecting freshness and quality over mass produced, highly processed foods. Why should beer be any different? Turns out it isn’t. Which is why we feel so strongly about making great quality beers that are un-pasteurized, have no preservatives, are amazingly fresh and delivered cold. After all, that’s the kind of beer we want to drink too!
FRESH IS BEST
Freshness and beer is something that has yet to be embraced in Australia. Sure, big beer brands claim “brewery fresh” in their ads and packaging, but fresh beer means a lot more.
Freshness is something we look for in most things we eat, it’s an oddity it has not been extended to the beer we drink. Milk sits maybe as the only current exception – get it fresh, keep it cold, drink it how it’s supposed to taste. While a similar position to this with beer might sound extreme, it’s an approach we champion. The whole time beer is in the market the clock is ticking, quite the opposite to preservative filled big industrial beers, imported beers and beers boiled during the pasteurization process. What makes fresh beer special, assuming its well brewed beer from the start, is the taste. You simply notice the difference. Its impossible not to taste the difference. But few get that chance. You wouldn’t eat stale food, why would you drink stale beer? Fresh is best with only a few exemptions.
In Russia, beer was legislated as a food product, and as such the populace knows it is meant to be consumed while fresh. This makes sense in a country where Vodka is the main source of alcohol, which presumably has no freshness requirement. Quite the opposite occurs on our isolated continent, where we try to drink beers imported from overseas and wonder why they are so bad, (or don’t wonder anything at all). We rush off to the craft or imported section of the bottle shop or beer tap, and think its clever to pay top dollar for an imported beer from say, Germany, because Germany makes good beer. So why doesn’t the beer taste so special? The answer is simple. These are nearly always un-fresh beers. Often these beers are well within their best before date. (Always check they have one or don’t buy the beer). You will not die from stale beer. But this is not the way they taste in Germany, USA or wherever these are sourced. Go to Germany, go to USA, go to Japan and the beers will be quite different than the beers that arrive on our shores. Many are well made beers. But they don’t taste fresh. These are not fresh beers.
Here’s why. Beer degrades the moment it is no longer in contact with yeast. Yeast scavenges oxygen for respiration and therefore the oxygen cannot oxidize various compounds that have deleterious effects on flavor profiles. A classic case is the oxidation of trans-2 nonenal, which yields a cardboard flavor, which is usually harmful to beer.
A beer that has gone out of date or has been stored improperly (during transport or in warehouses) might taste like sweet cardboard with a generally unpleasant flavor. One reason this happens besides oxidation of the previously mentioned compound and its analogs is the degradation of isomerized alpha acids derived from hops, which happens in a linear fashion unless sped up by oxidation. The sweetness of the unfermented sugars in beer, which normally give beer its sensation of body on the palate, can be overpowering without the balancing bitterness from hops.
Worst of all, pale, low alcohol beers are the most susceptible to these effects. Darker beers have so called reductions, which reduce oxidants and can be measured by the reduction potential of a beer. Higher alcohol can help to preserve beer, which is intuitive.
We do plan on making these beers in the future and hope you can cellar them like a wine. But in the meantime you will be drinking beer that is delivered in a refrigerated truck and stored under refrigeration to keep your beer as fresh as possible in its 90 or 120 day window. None of our beers are available after that date to the drinking public. Fresh is best. Especially if its brewed to perfection from the very start.
“Bubbling away in Brunswick”
“It’s boom time for the emerging craft beer industry.”… A double page spread in The Age Newspaper Epicure magazine about our brewery, Brunswick and craft beer in Melbourne. The article was written by James Smith, here’s some excerpts.
“IF YOU enjoy a good beer, you might want to consider moving to Brunswick. If you’re a beer lover and live there already, then count your blessings, as two breweries, just a few hundred metres apart, have become the latest additions to Victoria’s thriving craft brewing industry. To the west of Lygon Street, Thunder Road has taken over a warehouse and heritage bluestone cottage and released its first beer into pubs in June.”
For Thunder Road founder Philip Withers, who has enjoyed success overseas with other businesses, choosing Brunswick represents a return to his roots. ”I remember having beers with my dad and grandfather, who are no longer around, and they were always really good times,” he says. [...]
In the centre of the brewhouse floor at Thunder Road is a striking wooden bar lined with 30 taps, through which they plan to one day pour 30 of their own beers; surrounding it is a money-is-no-object brewery of the kind to make engineers go weak at the knees – plus a 400-litre pilot brewery that is an exact replica of the main brewhouse. [...]
”I used to spend weekends in the State Library reading about the history of brewing,” he says. ”I’d look at the old brewers’ journals and read every page. In 1889, there were 307 breweries across Australia; the number steadily declined.”[...]
Withers’s research led him to Keith Deutscher, the author of The Breweries of Australia, who gave his opinions regarding the demise of Australia’s old breweries. ”He said they went bust because they were undercapitalised, couldn’t control the quality or were lousy marketers,” Withers says. ”We thought if we could avoid those three things, we could create a worthy history.” [...]
Signs are that they are steering well clear of all three. Withers has invested heavily in the set-up (by microbrewery standards, at least), imported a brewer with a reputation for creating the cleanest of beers, [...]
He found his brewer at the end of a mind-boggling coast-to-coast tour of 83 American breweries in 14 days, when he was blown away by a beer at Chuckanut Brewery in Washington state. Chuckanut owner Will Kemper informed Withers he had developed his state-of-the-art brewing technology with another brewer, Harvey Kenney, who had since gone on to work at breweries in Europe and South America. Before long, Kenney was bringing his highly scientific and technical approach to Melbourne. [...]
The goal at Thunder Road is to create ”brilliant, beautiful, clean, bright beer”, and anyone who has sampled its first release, the Full Steam Pale Lager, can vouch for its brilliant appearance; glowing in the glass like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, it’s of a standard that would be right at home in a Munich beer garden. By launching with a lager, Thunder Road is making another of its goals clear: to win over those Australians still drinking mainstream brands.
”It’s important to respect the 98 per cent of beer drinkers who don’t drink craft beer, because they are the ones we need to convert,” Withers says. ”They deserve to have as close to what they enjoy already but better. We would love people to all be drinking IPAs but some are going to be scared off.”
As Withers says: ”We’re all driven by a desire to put a finished product into people’s hands to make them smile.”
Second in charge is much more fun
But combine a flustered boss & hard working crew with great music from the Detonators, Australia’s hardest working pub band, things just come together…sort of!
Drink “brilliant” beers
Don’t buy boiled beers! Bad beer is the enemy. Boiled beer is the killer. Our aim is brilliant beer. Perfect beer. Cold beer at all stages.
And cold beer from brewery to glass is one of the many ways to keep the enemy away, assuming the beer was brilliant beer when kegged!)
Specifically, a real enemy of brilliant beer is temperature fluctuations and heat. We work hard to make sure the beer is brilliantly clear, and when beer is cooled and heated repeatedly, or even once, this clarity can be compromised. We call it ‘chill haze’ when beer is made at low temperatures, is allowed to heat up to ambient, and upon cooling down to serving temperature, ‘throws’ a haze.
Consumers do not like the look of a haze, especially when expecting a clear beer. Finally the taste perception of a hazy beer is almost always fundamentally negative, unless the beer is unfiltered. Then a lot of these negative aspects no longer come into play as yeast will protect the beer from oxygen and the lack of filtering means any sort of haze will not be noticed. We find this to be a relatively careless approach.
To make things worse, heat accelerates reactions in beer we don’t like-bitterness perception degradation (weaker, less bitter, increasingly disharmonious character of bitterness perception), oxidation which gives a stale, cardboard flavor, and difficulty in maintaining correct carbonation levels. Its a signal of a commitment to excellence to use only refrigerated trucks and refrigerated shipping if an imported beer . It speaks volumes about the care we put into our beer.
That’s why the best craft breweries from anywhere in the world never ship their beers to Australia – the cost of refrigerated transport is prohibitive.
So next time you spend $16 + for an expensive bottle of imported beer, think twice.
Look for fresh local Australian beers that promise nothing but refrigerated transport from brewery to tap. Also, if you must buy bottle beer, …don’t bother with any beer unless you can find the brew date or best before date.
More about this later…