Hopping Around the World
- Photographer James Morgan
- Author Josh Elias
- Tasting Panel Dave Bonighton, Chris Menichelli
- Location Alquimie HQ
Dave Bonighton (DB), head brewer for Melbourne based microbrewery, Mountain Goat and beer enthusiast Chris Menichelli (CM) join us to talk about style, substance and deliciousness in beer expressions from around the world.
In the antiquated and halcyon days of drinking at the pub, beer was a cask aged, continuously fermenting, black-coloured liquid of varying carbonation. As Dave Bonighton, founder of Mountain Goat brewery, states: “The first beers that were brewed were porters and stouts. Maltsters had no control over the toasting of malt, so they (the beers) tended to be brown or black.” Times have changed. Amongst a throng of beer categories, local bottle shops often have offerings of IPA, APA, imperial, saison, Trappist, pale ale and pilsner, to name but a few. Despite this, in an unfortunate twist for the laymen among us, there is no standard as to what each of these categories looks, smells or tastes like. On this concept, Bonighton continues his earlier sentiment: “Once maltsters got a bit of control and could lighten the malt, even if a beer was copper or amber [in colour], it was still pale compared to a porter. The name ‘pale ale’ was always a comparison thing—anything that isn’t black is considered to be a pale ale.”
Starting from a basic and reasonably standard set of ingredients—water, malt, sugar and hops—beer culminates with some fancifully varied results. The toasting of malt can alter the colour, flavour and texture of a beer. The type of hops, their region of origin and the time and quantity at which they are added to a brew are also all “game-changing” elements. Comparing the production variables of beer to those of wine, Chris Menichelli says, “Unlike wine, [beer has] no varietal typicity. There is no expectation as to how vintage varies … there is nothing prohibiting the introduction of extra ingredients, such as herbs and spices.” Menichelli owns and operates Slowbeer: Australia’s first 100 per cent craft beer retailer, located in Richmond, Melbourne. Stocking over 1,000 different beers—of all styles, origins and attributes—he undoubtedly possesses some authority when it comes to the rudiments of beer categorisation.
In search of “sessionability” (the qualities in a beer that make it suitable for session drinking), Bonighton and Menichelli joined us in tasting a selection of beers from around the world. The results froth as follows…
What it Means to be English…
Historically, British beer was served out of cask. British beers also have an incredible ability to carry flavours and structure at lower alcohol levels. Speaking of his drinking experiences in London, Bonighton recounts, “You’d drink a pint [and it would be] 3.5 per cent or 4 per cent (abv). The real ales are lower alcohol.” The first beer of our tasting is the Moor Beer Company ‘Revival’ [ →A ], which is brewed and bottled in Somerset, South West England. At four per cent alcohol by volume, it is fresh and hoppy on the nose: not overly fruity but rather, very earthy and spicy, a character that is very typical of English hops. Bonighton points out, “When you encounter an English pale ale, you can assume that the company is probably using English malt and English hops.” Despite their notable quality, English ale is seldom transported due to the difficulty and sensitivity associated with shipping a cask. As a bottle-conditioned beer however, Revival is part of a new wave of English beers that are being shipped around the world, without detriment to quality. Bonighton notes the level of skill associated with this sort of bottling technique: “Bottle-conditioning is really difficult and the result is a slightly different bead and a slightly more intense carbonation—a pin prick carbonation rather than a full ‘zing’—with a bitterness that creeps up on the palate. This beer would be well suited to a ploughman’s lunch: a nice cut of cheese would help to bring out the grassiness.”
Of Art, Wine and Beer…
The next beer that we enjoy—the Moo Brew ‘Pale Ale’ [ →B ]—is brewed through the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania. The museum itself is situated on the Moorilla property, which was also the original location of the Moo Brew brewing facility. However, as demand for the craft beer grew, a second brewing location was established—literally only minutes from MONA and the Moorilla estate. One man owns this little dynamic empire in its entirety—David Walsh. According to Bonighton, Walsh is an avid beer nerd with “encyclopaedic” knowledge. The synergy of cultural activities behind this pale ale translate into a beautifully designed bottle with carefully crafted contents: “This beer is very much a beer for wine drinkers … it is a big, vibrant and fruity pale ale, which provides an easy bridge from aromatic wines into craft beer.”(CM) An advantage to the Moo Brew brewery location is its proximity to nearby hop farms. Whilst breweries receive a supply of dried hops for most of the year, “the magic time of year is the end of summer—the harvest time for hops; when you can literally pick them (hops flowers), drive down to the brewery and then process them in the beer.”(DB) This beer is round on the mid-palate with lots of flavour. It is well textured.
From the small town of Bamberg…
Bamberg is a modestly sized Bavarian town of 70,000 people, yet it is home to 11 breweries. This high number can perhaps be attributed to the popularity of Bamberg’s local beers—a range made entirely with smoked malt. The Bamberg style beer that we sample is the delicately named ‘Aecht Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier’ [ →C ]. This particular smoked beer producer (Schlenkerla brewpub) is famous for their märzen—a far darker variety than the subject of our tasting. The smoky flavour of the lagerbier comes across as that of a sweetly smoked ham; it is is a deceivingly “sessionable” beer. “The more you drink it, the more you pick up beyond the smoke; you find the smoke is but a layer within its maltiness. This beer is driven by the malt—the hops are just there to stop the sweetness, they are a structural counterpoint.”(CM) Beers such as this make for fantastic food matches, as they have been tried and tested for generations. “It is hard to match a fruit-driven pale ale or a highly hopped IPA. I sometimes find myself going to the traditional beers when suggesting food matches to customers.”(CM) Pork knuckle, bratwurst and a litany of pork-based dishes would work perfectly with this beer.
Every year, Duvel—the established Belgium brewery—change the variety of hops used in their unique product, labelled as ‘Tripel’.[ →D ] The 2013 permutation—the rendition we have for sampling—features Sorachi Ace, a Japanese hops variety. “These hops typically have flavours of lemongrass or lemon curd and they are quite subtle in this particular beer.”(CM) Despite being 9.5 per cent alcohol, this beer has a lightness of body. “Duvel beers always have a massive carbonation to help break up the high alcohol content. It drinks like champagne; it doesn’t taste like a high alcohol beer.”(CM) The palate has flavours of green pepper and lanolin with some melon characters on the finish. Compared to a lot of other Belgium beers, it finishes quite dry. “This beer would go well with Asian salads; a Thai beef salad or something else.”(DB) Rich and dense, this is not a “sessionable” beer.
As we pour the Anchor Brewing Co. ‘Liberty Ale’ [ →E ] into our glasses, Bonighton is giddy with excitement. “This is the beer that made me a brewer, this is an epiphany beer! I was attending college in the USA for a couple of years … studying economics. I was drinking crappy lager. Then, one day I had my first whiff of this beer and I was like, ‘man, that’s not what I know beer to be.’ The beer had so much character and yet it was so drinkable at the same time. That was around twenty years ago. It set me down a path.” More analytically, he continues: “It straddles the English and American styles; it is neither and yet it is both. It feels like a New World beer, yet it is still earthy. It is spicy and sweet at the same time. The back palate is crisp and zingy—it snaps.” Menichelli affirmed the complexity of the beer: “When you smell it on the nose, you get both the malt and the hops. That is not often the case.” The alcohol in this beer is soft and very balanced—it is highly “sessionable” and great on its own.
On The Road…
Confessing his own bias, Bonighton indicates that he knows Ben Kraus from Bridge Road Brewers “quite well.” In spite of this, he casts the same critical eye over the beer at hand: Bridge Road Brewers Beechworth ‘Pale Ale’ [ →F ]. In the glass, the beer is a bit cloudy. “This is a beer with a yeasty bottle condition … there is a smooth finish, which is a great achievement because bottle-conditioning is a technique that can rip a lot of the sweetness out of a beer.”(DB) The beer has flavours of pine needles and green passionfruit with a smooth texture.
The next beer in our lineup is an India pale ale brewed by Tuatara [ →G ], a brewery located in the Kāpiti Coast District, just outside Wellington, New Zealand. “This is an English interpretation of an IPA. It has English hops as opposed to the New Zealand hops you would expect from an NZ beer.”(CM) The result is a very soft IPA with a lower alcohol (five per cent) than others on the market. This is a beer that continues to challenge the idea of what we should expect from beer categorisation.
“Bottle-conditioning is not unlike the traditional method of fermentation for sparkling wines. Adding a little more sugar to the bottle at the bottling stage allows the live yeasts to create carbonation through the fermentation in bottle. The result is quite cloudy: it’s a living thing and it is quite difficult. We’ve all made the home brew that has exploded.”
The Baird Brewing Company—based in Shizuoka, Japan—is making some eccentric styles; pushing the boundaries of what brewing can be. Founded by the husband and wife team of Bryan and Sayuri Baird, the Baird Beer range includes beers with added atypical ingredients, such as Japanese figs and yuzu (a Japanese citrus). The beer we taste is the Baird ‘Wabi-Sabi IPA’ [ →H ], which according to the Baird Beer press release, includes “deft additions of whole leaf Shizuoka green tea.” Assessing this inclusion, Menichelli muses, “Adding fruit and spices can be quite jarring and disjointed from what we generally expect and desire from a beer. However, in this case, the addition of the green tea adds an earthy element that promotes the malt. It is quite complementary.” Bonighton concurs: “It is such a subtle use, if you didn’t know there was green tea in it, you may not pick it up. It harmonises so nicely with the beer.” He elaborates on this point by giving a little context to his experience with Japanese beer: “I was lucky enough to judge the Japanese craft beer awards [sic] and I was blown away by the flavours they are able to get into the beers—flavours I had never tasted before, let alone put into beer.”
We conclude our tasting with two fuller bodied examples born out of co-operative brewing projects. The first is Falco ‘American IPA’ [ →I ]: made by travelling Danish brewer, Evil Twin Brewing (Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø) and Two Roads Brewing Co. from Stratford in Connecticut. Brewed at Two Roads Brewery in the USA, this particular beer is not as brash as one would expect. “This has a lot of finesse for a seven per cent APA, there is no brash bitterness and the palate is evenly rounded.”(CM) Co-operative beers allow for an interesting cross-pollination of New World and Old World ideals. This is similarly the case with ‘My Antonia’ [ →J ]: a beer brewed by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware (USA) and Italian brewer, Birra del Borgo (based in the province of Rieti in the Lazio region). The beer—an imperial pilsner—was first made using the Birra del Borgo brewing facilities in 2008. However, since 2010 the beer has also been produced at the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery for the purpose of domestic distribution. We taste the Italian-brewed version. Made using a method of continuous hopping, the goal is to glean a more rounded texture and bitterness from the hops. “Sometimes he (Birra del Borgo brewer, Leonardo DiVencenzo) adds the hops every minute, to make a more rounded or even product. It is a very modern beer. It is hopped like an IPA but it is still a lager style.”(CM) Bonighton adds, “It is quite soft for a nine per cent pilsner. I’d probably drink more of this than I probably should.” It would be interesting to try the version brewed in the USA next to Italian version that we tasted, just as an experiment. Go ahead … do it. A
Hopping: New World Fruit vs. Old World Spice
→ New World styles tend to use dry hopping and hop later it the brewing process: to produce a blast of aromatics in the beer.
→ New Zealand hops varieties, such as Nelson Sauvin, have intense fruit and tropical characters.
→ Columbus hops (aka Tomahawk) from the USA have a citrus edge.
→ Goldings hops are a family of British hops known for their sweet, spicy and floral aromas. The more notable subcategory is known as East Kent Goldings.
→ Hallertauer hops originate from the German region of the same name. They are known for their grassy and spicy character. Famous subvarieties include Mittelfrüh.
→ Czech hops, such as Saaz, are used for finishing beer. This variety is also commonly used in bohemian style beers and pilsners.
Edition two can be purchased online here.