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.
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.
Continued from Weekend of Darkness, Part One – The Weekend.
I won’t write about the one beer I disliked this weekend. Good breweries don’t deserve to have their hard-working, beer-sharing name smeared because someone didn’t like one of their beers. I’ll just say that I could see what they were trying to do with it, but in my humble opinion, they missed the mark, and what could have been great, wasn’t.
As for the eleven I enjoyed, I’ll give some minor notes (in no particular order). I don’t have a very advanced palate, so I’ll just do what I can.
White Lies/Croft Brewing Dead Bellboy – Smoked Vanilla Porter 5.8% (QLD)
To my nose, there was sweet sticky vanilla extract. To my mouth, smoked almonds. A delightful experience.
Epic Beer Epicurean – Coffee & Fig Imperial Stout 8% (NZ)
The aroma was rich with figs—I felt like I was in Turkey. The flavour didn’t carry quite as much as the aroma promised, but it did have some bitter coffee in the fadeout.
Brewtal Brewers Oaked Bloody Good Stout – Barrel Aged Oatmeal Stout 7.1% (QLD)
The dark brown head already hinted that there was going to be a lot in this drink, and there was. I don’t know if ‘woody chocolate’ is a thing, but after this beer, I hope it is, because that’s what I was tasting, and it was good. Sweet brown sugar hung around for a bit, but then it trailed off into bitter cocoa, with the wood turning to glowing embers in my chest.
Wig & Pen Russian Imperial Stout 7.7% (ACT)
This was much sweeter and lighter than I expected—almost like a stout with some butterscotch schnapps added.
Moondog Brewing Ogden Nash’s Pash Rash – Redskin Imperial Stout 8.8% (VIC)
When I was 18, a friend of mine infused a bottle of vodka with Redskins, and it tasted like Redskins with a hint of vodka. This was similar—Redskins with a hint of stout. I could understand someone being disappointed if they were expecting a heavy stout taste, but great if you were looking for Redskins. Also great if you wanted to drink a beer and feel like a kid at the same time. It was light-hearted, and didn’t take itself too seriously.
Rocks Brewing Choc Oats and Rye Stout 6% (NSW)
There wasn’t a whole lot of depth to this (I suppose that wasn’t helped by drinking this after some of the other, bigger flavours), but it was a smooth, pleasant sip. Went down easily.
Hopdog Beerworks 6TenK II – Bourbon Oaked American Porter 6.2% (NSW)
I only had a sip of this one, and while there was nothing negative about it, it also didn’t win my heart. See Weekend of Darkness Part Three for more on my expectations of barrel-aged beers.
Boatrocker Ramjet 2014 – Russian Imperial Stout(VIC)
Warm and sweet, with dark fruits—plum and fig, perhaps? My overall impression of this was like drinking a sticky dessert wine, or a port. Take a deep sip of port, dwell on the sweetness on the tongue, enjoy the warmth down the throat, and you’ll have some idea of the Ramjet experience.
Newstead Brewing/Brewtal Brewers Mulled Warrior – Spiced Imperial Stout 9% (QLD)
Little spicy, little peppery, little bitter. I was expecting this mullet stout to be to stout as mulled wine is to red wine, which it wasn’t quite. But enjoyable.
Mornington Peninsula Russian Imperial Stout 9.5% (VIC)
I felt like a pirate drinking this beer, heading below deck and trying to get cozy on a winter’s night with a half-a-bottle of dark rum.
Wig & Pen King of the North – Cask Imperial Brown Ale 11% (ACT)
This was all silk and sultanas.
I feel that I probably did some of these drinks an injustice—when you have a fairly barbaric palate and you taste ten dark beers in a relatively short period of time, you surely miss a lot of the subtleties. But what can I say—that’s why I’m at Schoonerversity!
Stay tuned for the final installation: Weekend of Darkness, Part Three – The Beers I Loved.
Most universities have weekends off. But not Schoonerversity. At Schoonerversity, even on the weekends, there’s no rest for the wicked. And that’s never truer than on the Weekend of Darkness, at The Scratch.
As of a week ago, we live just down the road from The Scratch, an awesome craft beer bar in Milton. While Scratch has been our favourite and go-to bar for a while, it’s now our local. And it’s a good neighbour.
This weekend was the second annual Weekend of Darkness, those blissful 54 hours where The Scratch offers only dark beers on their taps. Forty dark beers from all around Australia and New Zealand (well, except for one from USA). Porters, stouts, black IPAs and dark Belgian ales. Chocolate, coffee, smoke, oak, fig, whiskey… so many flavours going on, sometimes all in the same drink. And the staff provided their own dark flavour as well, with their Addams-Family-esque costuming for the weekend, and their doll heads and mannequin torsos adorning the place. They’re an odd lot. In a good way.
There was food available over the weekend (all dark and rich and smokey, of course), but we were saving our wallets for the dark drink. We took along some cookies that my wife baked, appropriate to the weekend–dark cocoa, choc chip, hazelnut meal, a double shot of espresso, and some applewood smoked salt. Dark and delicious, and sharing many of the characteristics to be found on tap. The only problem was the temptation to gorge myself on them and destroy my palate. Luckily, discipline prevailed, and the beer was prioritised.
I managed to get my hands on the WoD programme a few days early, so I was able to mark the brews I was keen to try. I put a little star next to each description I liked. Turns out, that did not cut the list down very much. But it did give me some focus, so when my wife and I turned up on Saturday afternoon, and made it to the front of the queue (people lined up out the door to take part in these dark times), we had some idea of what we wanted.
Between meeting up with a few groups of friends on Saturday, and managing to sneak in a quick sip on Sunday night, we tasted fourteen of the taps on offer over the weekend. (It’s a good thing they offered them all in ponies!) One I disliked. Eleven I enjoyed. And two that I could write epic poems about, to be sung by mutant minstrels in a post-apocalyptic world in centuries to come.
Updated on August 27, 2015
I’m generally a man of simple tastes.
Go into my wardrobe, and you’ll see a stack of t-shirts – a bunch of black shirts, a bunch of navy shirts, and a bunch of shirts that are barely distinguishable from black or navy. Most days, I’ll wear one of those plain t-shirts, a pair of jeans, and some plain shoes. It’s basic, and it works. Foolproof is my style… most of the time.
But that’s not my whole wardrobe. You’ll also see a button-front shirt covered in a print of Atari consoles. A grey shirt with pink paisley cuffs. A t-shirt depicting a steampunk Icarus falling from the sky. A few stand-out items, attention-grabbers, pieces worthy of comment.
I like simple and easy and repeatable a lot of the time, but I also love a bit of adventure. A risk that might dash me on the rocks, but will hopefully pay down dividends of a great evening and memorable stories.
I’m the same with my taste in beer. A lot of the time, I’m happy with a crisp pale ale, a straightforward amber ale, a smooth ESB. I’ll buy a 6-pack I don’t need to think too much about, because I know I’ll crack it open, and I’ll enjoy it from first sip to last. It’s not remarkable, but it’s reliable.
But I’m not content to just stick to these kinds of beers. I want a Red IPA that’ll roughhouse me. A Russian Imperial Stout that’ll knock my teeth out. A whiskey barrel-aged ale that makes me dream of mahogany and pipe tobacco. I like to spend the night with a beer you wouldn’t take home to meet your parents. A beer you’re still telling stories about a month down the track. Remarkable beer. Unforgettable beer.
Yesterday, I wore jeans and a black t-shirt. Today, I’m wearing jeans and a navy t-shirt. But I think tomorrow I’ll wear something exciting.