Updated on August 23, 2015
We’ve been known to steal things from New Zealand on occasion—Russell Crowe, Pavlova, Phar Lap. It’s not like we’ve never given anything back. After all, we let them use David Wenham in Lord of the Rings. But now we’ve given New Zealand back a far greater gift to make up for it all—the honour of being the inspiration for the one-off brew, Rusty Crowe’s Pavlova Pale Ale.
It’s the brainchild of a bar, a blog, and a brewery. Or rather, the people behind them. I don’t know the origin story, but I do know that the folk from The Scratch, 250 Beers, and Newstead Brewing Co got together one day to peel kiwifruit, scoop passionfruit, and chop strawberry. They added Riwaka hops (also from NZ) and yeast and beer magic (I like to think they did some kind of ritual dance around the fermenting tank), and out came the Rusty, sitting comfortably at 6.1% ABV.
Like the kindly people they are, they didn’t keep the beer to themselves. They took it to the Beervana beer festival in Wellington, New Zealand, where they won the Media Brew award. (And this even though they thought it didn’t taste as good there as it did back home!)
After Beervana, there were 3 kegs left. One of them for The Scratch. One of them for Newstead Brewing Co. And one to be locked up in a time capsule so that the people of 2115 know that the people of 2015 made great beer. (That last one is a lie. I don’t know where the final keg is for.)
And on Friday, I saw The Scratch post on Instagram that they were tapping their keg. So I walked over to give it a shot.
It was a clear light golden colour, with little head. There was strawberry and huge passionfruit on the nose. From my first sip, there was nothing overpowering, none of that ridiculous novelty beer-ruining sweetness of many fruit beers. Rather, it had all those weird and wonderful aromas and complex flavours you get in a really bright fruity IPA, with some slight bitterness at the last. One of the beer’s fathers, Darren from 250 Beers, had told me that they added oats to make it creamy, but I didn’t pick up any of the creaminess. In fact, almost the opposite—I found it to be quite crisp and palate-cleansing. I’d been expecting pavlova-like creaminess, but I can honestly say I wasn’t disappointed. It was a fine brew.
The entire keg was gone in a few hours. Word travels quickly, and award-winning beers don’t last long. But Rusty’s memory will live on.
P.S. For an insider perspective and pics of the brewing day, see this post by 250 Beers.
P.P.S. While I was sipping my Rusty, there was a guy sitting at the bar with a bunch of flowers next to him. I like to think he bought the flowers pre-emptively for when he got home and his wife was annoyed that he stayed late at the bar.
Updated on August 27, 2015
I’m not usually an impulse buyer. But when I walked past a bottle shop on Tuesday and saw them advertising 4 Pines Baltic Porter, I couldn’t resist.
It’s one of 4 Pines’ Keller Door limited releases, and it’s been haunting my Instagram feed for a while now. I thought it must have been haunting my vision as well, with some sort of hallucination or mirage, when I saw it written in the window at Spiros, the humble-looking bottle shop at Paddington. But I blinked and did a double-take, and it turned out my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. I headed in and found that this unassuming little shop was a craft beer haven. The fridge was full of obscure and delightful beers from around Australia and the world. Unfortunately I was too dazzled to take a photo (that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it), but believe me when I say it was impressive. I stuck to my guns and got my 500mL Baltic Porter, and made a mental note to come back here with more time, money, and a bib to catch my drool.
The side of the bottle is enticing indeed:
“A gypsy show behind the iron curtain, in a bottle. You will be greeted by a slightly aggressive tutu wearing circus bear juggling ignited knives & riding a tricycle. A smug Cossack stands in the corner dousing himself in gooey chocolate syrup, looking on.
Smooth and warming with a rich, sweet body, this blend has been partially aged in French oak whisky barrels for 6 months to give it a unique complexity of light vanilla & earthy minerals.”
Now, I didn’t recognise those flavours. But that evening, I surprised my wife with a dark beer that smells like a red wine and tastes like a black coffee. Even with a partially-blocked nose, I was flooded with aromas and flavours that kept getting bigger as the beer warmed up, and left with a silky finish lingering on my tongue.
If you haven’t tried one yet—do. I won’t promise that you’ll get light vanilla and earthy minerals, or even red wine and coffee. But I will promise that every drop that passes between your lips will be life-giving.
Oh, and enjoy the great artwork on the label. You will indeed find a juggling bear on a tricycle and a gooey Cossack. I’m keeping the bottle.
Posted on August 7, 2015
Big news, everyone!
Well, it’s not that big. But it’s not tiny, either. It excited me.
Medium news, everyone!
A mate of mine did me the favour of procuring the URL schoonerversity.com, to replace schoonerversity.wordpress.com. Isn’t he a legend?
No longer will you have to slavishly type in a mammoth 29 characters to get to your favourite beer blog. You may kick back and type in a leisurely 19 characters, and you will be whisked away to your online utopia. (Or, you know, you could let autofill take care of it. Either way.)
To all of you who have set Schoonerversity as your homepage, make sure you change it to the new address (you know who you are). To all of you who’ve got schoonerversity.wordpress.com tattooed across your chest, don’t worry—one day you’ll get really old, and be able to fold the wrinkles to cover the ‘wordpress’ bit.
To all of you who are just normal, semi-sane readers: just note the change in address, because I’ll be posting exclusively at schoonerversity.com from now on.
Thanks for tagging along, my beery friends. Hope you’re enjoying this as much as I am.
Updated on August 27, 2015
Let me tell you a few stories about watermelons.
I like gardening, and a couple of years ago, I tried to grow watermelons. And perhaps this is obvious to everyone except me, but when you’re growing watermelons, you have to water them a lot. Like, a LOT. I watered my patch every day, with many litres, and even then, I only managed to grow one fairly small watermelon. As it turns out, watermelons are full of water.
When I was about 18, a mate of mine (who always liked to do strange things with alcohol) told me about this trick where you cut a small hole into a watermelon, up-end a bottle of vodka into it, and empty the entire bottle into the melon. Apparently, after letting it sit for a bit, you can cut open the watermelon, cut it into slices, and eat it like a normal watermelon. Except, you guessed it – it’s full of vodka. Alcoholic watermelon. A watermelon full of vodka.
Yesterday, Newstead Brewing Co tapped their one-off keg of Phase 4 Watermelon Belgian Quad. So last night, my wife and I headed over there for date night.
Here’s their description of it:
“7kg of caramelised watermelon laden over an intense quadruple backbone. Belgian yeast add a subtle bubblegum and estery nose, which gives way to sweet watermelon and spices. An alcoholic warmth floods the palate, with raisins and cherry at the back.”
Here’s my description of it:
“It’s a watermelon full of beer. It’s a beermelon.”
Seriously. It smells like wheat beer, but then the taste… you know how when the watermelon has been in the fridge a little too long, and it gets really dark pink, and a bit sludgy, and it hasn’t gone bad but it’s kinda begun to ferment and it’s super sweet and also has a bit of tartness to it? Add a little wheat-beeriness to that, and it’s exactly what it tastes like. My wife adored it. And while it isn’t exactly what I’m looking for in a beer… it was certainly an experience.
So it was a good night. We spent a while talking with Karl behind the bar, who was very excited and knowledgeable about good Quads, and regaled us with heroic tales of heading to Belgium to buy beer. And with his help, we tried a few other tipples, including Bad Beans Brown by Rocks Brewing Co, which had everything good about burnt coffee, but somehow nothing bad from it.
So, Newstead Brewing Co – cheers for the evening.
P.S. There was an orange on one of the counters. The whole time. I want to know why the orange was there. I never found out.
Updated on August 6, 2015
Now for the two beers from the weekend that that still make my mouth water when I remember them. (Which is often.)
Bright Stubborn Russian – Choc Coffee Russian Imperial Stout 16% (VIC)
I wasn’t prepared for this. The aroma was chocolate, perhaps even chocolate cookies. But as soon as this passed over my lips and into my mouth, it was like nothing else. I felt like I was wading through a pool of it. It was unbelievably thick, syrupy, like treacle or molasses. It drinks like a liqueur as much as it does a RIS. I tasted chocolate and peanut before it sank down to the depths of my stomach, into the darkness where it belonged.
But here’s the thing–even when it was gone, it lived on. Have you heard that when someone loses a limb, they sometimes have phantom sensations–a sore finger, or an itchy knee? Well, for minutes after my last sip, my mouth was coated, as though the phantom of The Russian lived on, haunting my mouth, my tongue, my tastebuds. I appreciated that Russian long after he’d taken his last breath. And I dream of him still.
Modus Operandi Total Eclipse – Lark Whisky Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout 9.8% (NSW)
I think I ask too much of barrel-aged beers. See, I love scotch. I’m beginning to get into bourbon as well, but I have history with scotch, and our love runs deep. I try to always have a peaty Islay in the house for when I need some warmth and sophistication. The result of this is that whenever I get the chance to have some whisky barrel-aged beer, I’m hoping/expecting to drink some glorious hybrid of beer and whisky. A Chimera that straddles all the richest malty goodness of beer, and all the deep golden fire of whisky. Alas, that usually isn’t the case. And as I said, perhaps the problem is mine–that is quite a high bar, and perhaps an unreasonable fantasy. (Though I do have a memory of a beer called ‘War and Peat’, by Bacchus, I believe, that once blew me away with such flavours.)
The Total Eclipse met my unreasonably high expectations. It didn’t contain the peatiness or smokiness of an Islay, as I imagine the Lark Whisky of Tasmania doesn’t (I’m yet to try many of the Australian whiskys available). But as I filled my mouth to capacity with this legendary brew (something one does not do with a legendary whisky!), I was embraced with the floral sweetness of a Highland scotch. The fires burned, the heart sang, and a memory was forged. My Chimera joined me for that part of the evening, and he was a fine companion indeed. And before he left, lifted away on the wind of a last sip and a final sigh, he whispered, “Hope for me, and hunt for me, and one day I will join you again.”
I miss you already, old friend. But you’ve given me back my hope.
Thus ends Weekend of Darkness for another year. Here’s to twelve months of developing my palate for next year. Beer homework is such hard work.