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What's Brewing Down Under? Part II

Added: Thursday, December 1st 2011

This is a two-part feature. Part I looks at the general craft-brewing scene in Australia

Three Ravens

At the conclusion of Beer Expo, I went on an exhilarating tour of more breweries in the Melbourne area in the company of David Lipman. We started at Three Ravens in the up-market residential Thornbury area of the city, the brainchild of brewer Marcus Cox and partners Matt Inchley and Ben Pattison. They supply cask-conditioned beer to one local pub, the Sherlock Holmes, run - elementary, my dear Watson - by a British expat. But the bulk of their production is in bottle-conditioned format. Marcus uses Pilsner and Maris Otter malts and darker grains for colour and flavour with Fuggles, Goldings, Hallertau and Saaz pellet hops in brewing kit built in New Zealand.

The range includes a 5.2% Blond, with fine, floral Saaz notes and juicy malt, 4.6% Bronze with spicy hops, sultana fruit and a dry, hoppy finish, and 55, a 5.5% beer with a massive peppery hop aroma (40 bitterness units), orange and tangerine fruit on the palate and a rich fruity and spicy finish. White (5.2%) is a Belgian-inspired wheat beer with a coriander and peppery hops character, balanced by toasted malt on the nose, spices in the mouth and a bittersweet finish with continuing coriander and citrus notes.

Dark (5.2%) is ruby coloured and uses smoked malt from Bamberg. It has a smoky, woody aroma with notes of vanilla on the palate and finish. Uber Special, weighing in at a powerful 6.5%, uses brown sugar with Challenger hops added to Fuggles and Goldings. The beer has a powerful aroma of acetate, with banana fruit in the mouth and long, sweetish finish. Finally, Black (5.5%) is an English-style stout matured in bottle for six months. Pale malt is augmented by roast barley and Munich malt, with oatmeal making up 10% of the grist. The hops are Fuggles and Goldings and the beer has a chocolate and coffee aroma with a smooth, silky palate dominated by dark fruit, chocolate, coffee, bitter hops and a hint of charcoal from the roasted grain in the finish.

Two Brothers

In sharp distinction, the Two Brothers Brewery is in a down town area of Melbourne, on an industrial estate. Founders Dave and Andrew Ong (Andrew, pictured right) have a spacious warehouse that houses a bar as well as brewery. They welcome blue-collar drinkers from the surrounding units, who drop in after work for a cold lager but Dave and Andrew hope to entice them on to more flavoursome beers. Two Brothers has an impressive modern plant but it can accurately be called 'a Mickey Mouse brewery". The kit comes from a failed brewery in New York City. The Disney Corporation bought the site because it needed a warehouse facility there. Disney helped the brothers load the brewing kit on to giant trailers during the night as the local authority wouldn't allow them to drive the trailers through the streets during the day: photos on the walls trace the hectic midnight dismantling of the brewing equipment.

Two Brothers opened in 2008 and produces ale as well as lager. The kit was built in Canada and has a mash kettle that doubles as the copper for the boil with hops following clarification of the wort in a lauter vessel. Two- thirds of the annual 100,000 litre production goes in kegs to pubs, the rest is sold on the premises, with beers served from conditioning tanks where the beer is carbonated.

The standard lager is Taxi (4.7%), brewed from Pilsner malt and Saaz hops. It has a corn aroma, light citrus fruit and gentle, floral hops. Chief at 6.3% is a complex beer in the Vienna Red style, brewed with Pils, Vienna, Munich and carapils malts and Perle hops. It has a rich biscuity malt nose with tart orange fruit. There is juicy malt in the mouth balanced by fruit and gentle hops. The finish is bittersweet with malt and fruit dominating. Growler (4.7%) is fermented with English ale yeast and is made with pale, crystal, chocolate and wheat malts. The hops are German Perle and two American varieties. It has a rich malt loaf aroma with a powerful hint of chocolate, which comes through strongly in the mouth with a bready/yeasty note and light hops. The bittersweet finish has sultana fruit and gentle hop bitterness.

Rusty (4.7%) is in the style of Belgian pale ale, brewed with Pils, crystal and Vienna malts and hopped with Saaz. It has a powerful aroma of burnt fruit and spicy hops, with a fruity and hoppy palate and a long finish that is balanced between juicy malt, dark fruit and hops.

Red Hill Brewery

The Red Hill Brewery is in an idyllic location in the Mornington Peninsula region of Victoria. This is wine country and the hills and slopes are smothered in vines. The local wine makers, as snooty as their European counterparts, strongly objected to a vulgar brewery in their locality and David and Karen Golding had a long battle to win planning permission. They finally won and now the wine makers drop in for a glass of beer when they have finished treading the grapes. As well as wine, the Mornington Peninsula is a major holiday area close to the coast and Red Hill attracts many visitors to the rustic location that includes a log cabin restaurant serving excellent food.

With a name like Golding, David and Karen had to grow hops. They have possibly the smallest hop garden in the world (left) where they cultivate Goldings, Hallertau, Tettnang and Willamette. David was a keen home-brewer. His interest in beer was intensified when, with Karen, he lived in England for several years, located in Hertfordshire and also in Chiswick, London, close to Fuller's brewery.

David (left) keeps a spick-and-span brewhouse, based around a similar American system to Two Brothers: a mash kettle that doubles as the boiling copper and a lauter tun. Rain water is collected on the roofs of buildings to supplement local water. The water is exceptionally soft and David adds salts to harden it for some of his beers.

Red Hill has been in operation for four years and all the beers are bottle conditioned and sold to bars and hotels in the area. Golden Ale (5%) is a warm-fermented Klsch-style Germany beer that uses pale and Pilsner malt and 10% wheat. Only German hop varieties are used and the beer has a spicy hop and biscuity malt nose, with light citrus fruit, malt and hops in the mouth, and a spicy hop and fruity finish.

A 5% Wheat Beer is exceptionally fruity, with banana to the fore. It's brewed with Pils malt, wheat and Tettnang hops. Pale Ale (5%) is dry hopped with Hallertau and fermented with a Klsch yeast strain. It has a big lemon and orange fruit aroma and palate, with juicy malt in the mouth and a long fruity and hoppy finish. Scotch Ale (5.8%) is highly complex: Maris Otter pale malt is the backbone, with the addition of brown, crystal and carapils. The hops are Goldings and Willamette. The aroma and palate are dominated by ripe sultana fruit and peppery hops.

Finally, a 6.5% Belgian Blonde is big in every way. It's brewed with Pils and Vienna malts and white sugar. It has an enormous peppery hop nose from a blend of the local hops, with chewy malt and fruit in the mouth, followed by a long bittersweet finish with plum fruit, malt and spicy hops. It was the perfect companion for the restaurant's speciality: a ploughman's lunch that would keep most English ploughmen going for a week.

The next part of Roger's Oz adventure visits Cooper's of Adelaide