It seems disloyal to rave about Aussie craft beers from my home in the beer capital of New Zealand but full credit to the brewers from across the ditch who swept in to Wellington last week with a swag of top brews from the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA).
They were here to take part in the Brewers Guild of New Zealand International Beer Awards and the Beervana festival, and they matched Logan Brown restaurant course-for-course at a wonderful lunch and tasting session co-hosted by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria and Cryer Malt. I’m not sure how I slipped into this event since I’ve only ever made two batches of beer in my life (and these were hop-doctored IPA’s based on off-the-shelf brew kits). I put it down to my enthusiasm for craft beer and the people who make it. I really like spending time with brewers – they’re smart, good fun and they don’t take themselves too seriously.
Brewers are also very collegial. It was a lively event with lots of mutual admiration and none of the tiresome trans-Tasman rivalry that accompanies so many other Aus/NZ events. Still, I was interested to know how the two countries compared. The objective view, from NZ malt king David Cryer, is that while craft brewing took off much earlier in New Zealand, Australia has more than caught up.
My own experience last year in Melbourne was that whenever I asked for a craft beer in a café or bar I was presented with a standard brew from Little Creatures, which was rather like finding nothing more interesting than Monteiths. The Australian brewers I met at the Logan Brown lunch told me that situation, which was largely due to trade arrangements with the big breweries, is changing rapidly. They say boutique brewers are now well represented in bars and on ‘wine lists’, particularly in cities like Melbourne. And so they should be. Like wine, a well considered beer match adds an extra dimension to a dining experience.
And that brings me to lunch. Shaun Clouston and Steve Logan have been matching beer with their menus for some time now, and it shows. I won’t taunt you with a blow by blow description of the Logan Brown lunch – just two of my favourite courses:
First up, Logan Brown’s buttery paua ravioli (left of photo) was matched with this year’s Champion Australian Beer, Alpha Pale Ale from the Matilda Bay Brewing Company. Its full malt flavour was perfect with the rich beurre blanc sauce and the citrusy hops perfectly aligned with the lime and coriander flavourings. The paua got a little lost but the rest was so good that I can’t say I missed it.
The tuatua fritter (right of photo) was partnered with Bridge Road Brewers India Saison (a collaboration with Norway’s Nøngne Ø brewery and an AIBA gold award winner) Shellfish loves hops and this is a bright hoppy beer, with the same hint of citrus that sits so well with orange and fennel.
Mid-menu, I fell upon Shaun’s wild boar and muttonbird pie. It was the best thing I’ve eaten in ages and was made even better with a double match – a dark barley wine from Bootleg Brewery and a malty red ale from Holgate Brewhouse. Interestingly, the latter was one of three beers on this menu brewed in collaboration with the previously mentioned brewery in Norway. Australia and Norway? Intriguing. I should have asked.
Some of these beers were available for tasting at Beervana, one that wasn’t was an off-menu bottle I was lucky to try at the end of the Logan Brown lunch. It was one of only 250 bottles produced and it was brought to our table by the man who brewed it: Simon Walkenhorst of Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company, in the Yarra Valley. The original brewery was burnt to the ground in Victoria’s 2009 bush fires; a new, better brewery was built six months later and it has continued to produce some of Australia’s best handcrafted beers. The big black bottle we opened was the Russian Imperial Stout, 2012. It won a gold at the AIBA that year and my lunch notes describe it as deeply delicious. It was all chocolate and coffee, roasted malt, smooth as velvet and made to be aged, just like a wine from the Yarra.