A tale of two breweries

When Girl O’ Sea first suggested a trip to her birthplace, Corowa, for a couple of days around Melbourne Cup time, All Ale The Big V’s immediate thoughts were of fortified wines. I pictured myself being chauffeur driven between Rutherglen wineries as I sipped my way through muscats and topaques (still not sold on the new name) and VPs (that one does work for me). With Girl O’ Sea “in the family way” it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. Then a bit of a look in The Beer Lover’s Guide to Victoria’s Microbreweries revealed that we could pop in to a couple of microbreweries as well. All of that and Girl O’ Sea gets a walk down memory lane? I believe the term we are looking for is WIN/WIN my friends.

As has been mentioned elsewhere AATBV hails from northern climes and I haven’t really had a chance to explore regional Victoria, other than the service centres (what was wrong with ‘truck stop’?) of the Hume, so pointing the Kingswood in the direction of our first stop, the Tooborac Hotel, was exciting.
Tooborac is situated 95 kms to the north of Melbourne and just to the south of Heathcote. The Tooborac Hotel, located on the Northern Highway, was built in 1857 and was once a Cobb and Co stop off point. The brewery, which is located in the blue stone stables at the rear of the pub, even comes with its own rifle slots. If you were to ever get involved in a siege then a brewery probably wouldn’t be a bad place for it to happen.

A grand old pub

The Carlin family owns the pub but it was the brewer, Damian Nippard, who was on hand to show AATBV around. Nippard was previously brewer at the Scottish Chiefs in Geelong and has been at the Tooborac for only a few months. The brewery equipment was bought in from the Rifle Brigade Hotel in Bendigo and has a capacity of about 600 litres. Nippard’s first batch of beers was only produced in September.

Damian hard at work

At present there are only two brews on offer: the Stonemason’s Pale Ale and the Woodcutter’s Amber Ale. The amber ale was the pick of the two for me. A mouthful of malt as you would expect from an amber but also with a surprising amount of hops (Pride of Ringwood and Goldings) kicking it along as well. Nippard describes it as “a brewer’s beer”. For me the pale lacked the same personality but I expect it’s a bit more sessionable and that is an important consideration for a brewpub. Better to have their own stuff flowing in the bar than something from the big boys.

At present the two beers are only available on tap at the pub but there are plans in place to release them in 640ml bottles. Nippard told AATBV that future releases would be a stout, already called the Blacksmith’s, and perhaps a hefe.

While the prospect of sitting on the shady verandah of the pub with a cold beer in my hand did seem to be a better option than facing the 35 degree day in a 40 year old car without air-conditioning we did have other commitments. And so on we went to the Murray.

After an evening spent sampling the nightlife of Corowa (we almost got locked in at the Hotel Australia when it closed at 10pm) and enduring an uncomfortable sleep in a cabin at the caravan park (the cheapest option is rarely ever a good option when it comes to accommodation) we rose to find a considerably cooler Cup Day.

Bets placed we headed back across the river in search of liquid refreshment. Although visiting Bintara Brewery was the main game on the day Rutherglen is one of AATBV’s favourite wine regions so stops at All Saints and Pfeiffers were required. Both produce wonderful wines and the memory of those fortifieds rolled around on AATBV’s palate for days.

Bintara Brewery is a part of Vintara Estate and is located 13kms to the east of Rutherglen on the Murray Valley Highway. Michael and Lisa Murtagh, both from old Rutherglen families, own the estate. Michael holds the dual roles of brewer and winemaker, amongst other things. He was out on the tractor working in the vineyards when we drove up the dusty driveway to the very modern looking building that houses the cellar door, restaurant and brewery.


Bintara H.Q.

Unfortunately the restaurant wasn’t open on the day we visited but I expect it must be a nice place to sit back and enjoy some lunch. Luckily for us Michael took some time off from his viticultural duties to give AATBV a look through the brewery and to pour a couple of cold glasses of the local product.

The brewery has a 1000 litre capacity and at present Bintara is releasing 4 beers: an Asian style wheat beer, a pale ale, a pilsner and an Irish stout. The wheat beer, made with 30% rice and Saaz hops, and the pale ale were on tap when we visited. The pale was the much nicer of the two.

Michael seems proud of his brews but the focus of the operation is obviously on wine. It appears that the brewery is there mainly to enhance the cash flow of the business especially with bulk sales of the stout to a local soup maker. The brewery equipment is even seconded during vintage to be used in the winemaking process.


Bintara head honcho - Michael Murtagh

We bid farewell to Michael just in time to hear our tips come very close to last in the big race and Girl O’ Sea steered the Kingswood towards the Hume for a quick trip back to Melbourne.

It was only on our return that I found out about another local microbrewery, the Buffalo Brewery at Boorham. We’ll have to visit them on another trip. It’s a tough life this blogging caper.


The Fed Square Microbreweries Showcase

It has been a hectic few days so my apologies for not being quicker in posting my thoughts on the showcase held this week at Fed Square.

All Ale The Big V had a great night on Wednesday meeting brewers, marketers and distributors, all the while trying to find out some interesting tidbits for you dear reader. I need to thank everybody who was so generous with their time and samples.

The intention had been to visit every stand but the logistics defeated me. Next time perhaps.

What did we learn?

  • Temple have a big announcement in the offing. Will Ron finally be getting his own brewery?  And if so, where will it be?  Lots of secret squirrel work happening with that one.

Temple's punk rock protege Pat O'Shea

  • 3 Ravens bought along a ginger beer that also includes kaffir lime leaves.  Matt, the brewer, told us that it was a bit of a work in progress at the moment.  The ginger gives it a real kick and it will be a great thirst quencher on a hot day. It was also our first chance to check out the new names for some of the range.  The Bronze is now called the English and the Blond will be called the Golden. The new names also come with classy new labels which are an acrylic of some kind and are slightly raised in parts which give them a very tactile element.  We were also lucky enough to get a taste of the special bourbon barrel version of the Dark smoke beer which is on tap at Beer Deluxe.  It is very limited so get in there to see if any is left.

Matt and Marcus from 3 Ravens

  • Sweetwater brought their new Summer Ale and Porter down from the high country.  Pete told us that he is using summer saaz and galaxy hops in the summer ale with some of them being grown locally in the Ovens Valley.  His aim was to produce a sessionable beer for the warmer months.  I’m prepared to put my body on the line and see if he succeeded.

Sweetwater's head honcho Pete Hull

  • Bright Brewery are also going for a sessionable beer – a lager.  It’s not a beer that will change your life but it will go down a treat on a hot day.
  • Holgate have a mid-strength English ale on the way.  For the moment it will only be on tap.  Perhaps an option for those who have been talked into being the dedicated driver for the trip to Woodend?

There are other scribbles in my notebook which may hold important information but unfortunately the generosity of the “tastes” being given to me affected my already poor note taking skills.

I’m looking forward to chasing up a lot of the contacts I made on the evening and hopefully that will result in some more interesting tidbits appearing here soon.  Keep your eyes out.

Everybody needs their Happy Place.

Down the side of a normal looking house in a cul-de-sac in suburban Rosanna lives Melbourne’s only residential microbrewery.  While it’s not unusual for a bunch of mates to be hanging out in somebody’s shed, the name of the game is normally the consumption of beer not its production.  But that’s not the plan for the 5 mates, Trav, Mick, Rob, Jamie and Fenton, who are Kooinda Boutique Brewery.  A look in the door of this shed doesn’t reveal a pool table or an old Holden in bits.  Not even a shadow board on the wall.  Just wall-to-wall stainless steel, a workbench, a desk and a tele that you wouldn’t want to watch the news on let alone the Grand Final.

Kooinda is relatively new to the market and only released their first brew, a pale ale, last November.  It may only have been in production one year but getting to the position where they could start brewing took five years of planning, building the brewery and even manufacturing some of the brewing equipment.  A proactive approach when dealing with their local council helped them get all the necessary permissions without too much fuss.

When All Ale The Big V visited Kooinda HQ the first batch of their Hop Hurricane American style IPA was in the process of being brewed.  Never having had the chance to watch brewing happen at this level it was interesting to see the physical labour involved.  Big Mick seemed to be constantly lost in a cloud of steam as he stirred away at a bubbling mash.  Fenton was Mr Perpetual Motion as he carried away spent grain, measured out hops (Chinook, Amarillo and Cascade for all you hop heads out there) and made sure the timer was set for the next addition.  Unfortunately for Trav he had to take a break from the steam filled brewery to look after the nosy blogger who had come to visit and any cold beers he drank were purely for marketing purposes.

Mick likes to stir

Mick likes to stir

Trav told AATBV that the plan for Kooinda was to produce “out there beers” made with passion.  The boys are fans of the American craft beer scene but think that the Australian industry is about 10 years behind what’s going on over there.  They intend to help us catch up by producing beers that lack not for flavour or character.  Judging by the amount of hops going into the Hop Hurricane it certainly won’t want for personality.

Plans are afoot to expand Kooinda beyond just releasing a new beer though.  Trav told us that they view Mountain Goat as a good yardstick for what they want to achieve and they are in the process of locating a new site for the brewery that will allow them to increase output to 8 hectolitres a batch from the current 4.  The hope ia also to be able to open a bar on the site that will have an emphasis on beer and food matching.  And the good news for beer retailers is that those crappy six-pack holders are almost gone and will soon be replaced with a sturdy, easy to carry model.

Trav and Fenton look like proud fathers.

Trav and Fenton look like proud fathers.

I’m not sure which mob it was but I’ve been told that Kooinda means “happy place” in at least one Aboriginal language.  Judging by the smiles on the faces of the crew from Kooinda Boutique Brewery when All Ale The Big V visited last week we think that these blokes at least may have found their happy place.

7 out of every 10 cartoon dwarfs prefers Jamieson’s Raspberry Ale

The modern advertising world loves a scandal.  If you make something a bit risque or edgy then the hits on the website or the views of the video on YouTube go through the roof.  Hopefully it goes viral and the brand exposure out does any negative press that you may get.

Victorian micro Jamieson Brewery seemed to have decided to give this strategy a go.

The Herald Sun and The Tele have both reported that Jamieson’s new marketing strategy for its Raspberry Ale, devised by advertising agency The Foundry,  has run foul of the folks at Disney.  Apparently Walt’s old mob were not impressed that the campaign features a character named Ho White who hangs out, semi naked and looking positively post coital with a number of dwarfs who have names such as Filthy, Smarmy and Randy.

A modern interpretation?

A modern interpretation?

The campaign received some advance publicity on B&T which reported that it would revolve around a website called anythingbutsweet.com.au. The site was expected to go live on the 7th of October and it may have done so but right now it is has been disabled.

All Ale The Big V decided today to prove that all of those hours at uni learning how to be a journo were not wasted.  We would find out exactly what was happening.

First up we rang the brewery and were told, “Sorry but all of that is being handled by The Foundry. Speak to Michael, he’ll be able to help you.”

Then we rang Michael McConville the senior account manager at The Foundry.  The best we got was a “Sorry but I can’t comment on that.”  He sounded like a man who was a touch incredulous at the fuss that had occurred.

Surely Disney would clear things up.  The nice lady in Sydney told me that it was being handled by the Hong Kong office.  Unfortunately dear reader All Ale The Big V‘s budget doesn’t extend to international calls so we sent an email.  5 hours later there has been no reply.

So just to sum up what we have learnt from a day of research – “No comment.”

I hope that clears it up for everyone.

Some observations though.

Here is a cached page of what the campaign was going to be.  If anybody can get their hands on one of those shirts then let me know because I don’t think they will ever see the light of day commercially.  The Foundry have also removed Jamieson from their client list on the site.

And this is how the Hollywood North Report told the yarn. I love the headline.  So do they have an Aussie sub who is still laughing about how they got to write that or is it just unintentionally funny?

Finally to the angry mob that has formed on the Tele’s comments page.  This is just one of many that accuses Jamieson of stealing childhoods from kiddies.

How dumb and cheap does Jamieson’s have to be. No wonder kids are so screwed in the heads these days. Now from birth they will see things like this, which is to say the least irresponsible.

It will be interesting to see how many I sell in the shop tomorrow.  I’ll let you know.

Bazza wouldn’t drink Pure Blonde

All Ale The Big V was a party to an interesting moment today.  For a few days now we have been pondering that most iconic of Victorian beers, Foster’s.  The rest of the world may see it as our national drink but it has almost no profile in its country of origin.  All Ale The Big V knows of no one who drinks it and can’t remember the last time we saw it on tap.  As a matter of fact we can’t even remember what it tastes like.

Being the dedicated lot that we are All Ale The Big V decided to rectify this today and pulled in to the first Liquorland store that we passed.  A quick scan of the fridge revealed just a solitary longneck of the beer that, according to the Foster’s Group, typifies “Australianness”.  The only Australianness it typified in that fridge was a Pommy backpacker lost in the Blue Mountains: cold and lonely.  $5 seemed little to pay for piece of history.

The eyes of the girl behind the counter lit up as we walked up to pay.

“Look we’ve finally sold it,” she yelled to a co-worker.

This did make All Ale The Big V question just how long it may have been in the fridge so we checked the use-by-date. 04 May 2010.  Still plenty of time to go there, which is a good thing as that, coincidentally, will be this blogger’s 40th birthday.  We don’t want that coming around to soon.

Upon questioning, the very helpful Liquorland staff told us that Foster’s had been discontinued at their store due to poor sales and we had purchased the final bottle.  No more cans, stubbies or longnecks to be had.  They weren’t sure if other Liquorland stores would continue to stock it.

Even Foster’s Group seem to have given up on the beer in Australia.  In a recent release of sales results reported in the Herald Sun, 12 separate brands are listed but the flagship brew is not one of them.  The beer’s website, an embarrassing spectacle, is based in the US.  Check out the videos if you dare.

A historic relic?

A historic relic?

So now that final bottle sits on our desk and we’re wondering whether we should save it for posterity?  Perhaps save it to show our children? How will they ever be able to understand Bazza McKenzie if they don’t know what a Foster’s is?

Bazza McKenzie - personifies the Foster's drinker

Bazza McKenzie - personifies the Foster's drinker

Maybe we’ll just save it for the 4th of May next year.

40!  Somebody get us a beer will ya?

And as Bazza would say “Get one up ya!”

Apparently there is more to Hawthorn than just footy

When All Ale The Big V was a young fella the beer he and many of his friends chose to drink was decided by one factor: price.  The pitiful amount of money that we were getting from our first jobs, or from the government, meant that whatever was cheapest at the bottle-o was the beer being drunk that night.  Some of our more entrepreneurial friends hijacked their dad’s home brew kits and would turn up at parties with long necks of something that was alcoholic but certainly didn’t adhere to any German Beer Purity Law.

In Melbourne, three mates from the eastern suburbs, Darren, Hamish and Pete, had also begun experimenting with homebrews and probably sat around wondering what it would be like to have their own beer on the shelves at the local bottle-o.  Well, after a number of years refining those homebrews, travelling overseas and building careers in areas like marketing and finance, they now have that first beer.  The Premium Pale Ale is the first release from the self appointed “Flavour Merchants” at the Hawthorn Brewing Co. and it was worth the wait.

Beer buyers certainly won’t have any problems finding the Hawthorn Pale Ale on their local bottleshop’s shelves as the packaging, designed for the company by advertising heavy hitters Leo Burnett, is striking.  Darren Milo, the company’s Director of Marketing, told All Ale The Big V that this relationship came about in part because they have friends at the agency but also due a desire on the part of Leo Burnett to enjoy the creative freedom that comes from working with a start up and being involved with the brand design from the beginning.  The 6-pack and label design were recently named as finalists at the Melbourne Advertising & Design Awards, which was great exposure for a new brand in an increasingly crowded market.

The award nominated packaging

The award nominated packaging

Great packaging is all well and good but ultimately we buy beer for what’s inside the bottle.  Darren told All Ale The Big V that they were aware that most new microbreweries coming into the market are releasing pale ales as their first beer but he feels that is a simple economic decision because that is what is selling at the moment.  With their pale ale, the boys at the Hawthorn Brewing Co have tried to go for something a bit different. It is malt driven and filtered with a restrained hop bitterness provided by a mix of Old and New World hop varieties.  It’s a nice change to drink a pale ale where you are not whacked over the head with hops.

The beer is brewed for the Hawthorn Brewing Co by the team at Mildura Brewery under the direction of Hamish Reed, Hawthorn’s Director of Brewing.   Darren described Hamish as “an absolute natural” when it came to brewing and said he had been responsible for tweaking the pale ale’s recipe to get it ready for commercial release.

Darren told us that at the moment they won’t be putting the pale ale into kegs but they are hoping that it, or a future release, might one day be on tap at your local.  Plans are in place to bring in one or two new beers sometime in 2010 with an amber ale and perhaps a pilsener most likely.  Here’s hoping they are as good as the pale.

Remember when beer ads were entertaining?

Talking about television advertisements may seem like a strange place to kick off a blog about Victorian beer but I hope to make this blog a bit different from the usual.

While I may not be the greatest fan of most things that come out of Fosters I do generally appreciate their ads.  As a matter of fact I have always been a fan of beer ads, even as a kiddie.  ( I know it’s pathetic but I needed some excuse to include this old XXXX ad.  The King!  That’s Wally Lewis not Wayne Carey.)

Now sing along with me:

I can feel a XXXX coming on

I can feel a XXXX coming on

Got the taste for it

Just can’t wait for it

I can feel a XXXX coming on.

Yes it may be a crap beer but they have always managed to tap into the parochial nature of Queenslanders.  You were made to feel like a traitor to your state if you drank anything else.

Despite being Victoria’s bitter VB’s ads have always tried to encapsulate a more pan-Australian ethos.  Although it must be noted that it was one that rarely included women other than as the presenters of frosty cold ones to their husbands or patrons across the bar.

When John Meillon wasn’t at the Oaks in Neutral Bay, holding up the bar that now carries his name, he was telling the nation how a hard earned thirst was best sorted out by a long cold Vic.

For decades John read out the rhymes that could have been written by the kids of the ad agency’s creative director and we all thought of beer.  Riding or sliding = beer.  Walking or talking = beer. Taking a bow or feeding a cow = beer.

But then in 1989 John upped and left us for that great happy hour in the sky.  The ads continued with his son, John Jr, voicing them for awhile and then computer technology caught up and they were able to manipulate old John’s recordings to produce some new ads.  Eventually these were dropped and Aussie character actor Richard Carter stepped into the role.  Richard’s voice is very similar to John’s but near enough was not good enough.

Times have changed and beer ads have now become events.  George Patterson Y&R, Melbourne set the bar high with their Carlton Draught ads including A Big Ad (2005) and Flashbeer (2006) and followed it up with the fantastic VB Orchestra in 2007.  Of course in the sane and logical world of corporate Australia they were then given the arse by Fosters.  Clemenger BBDO Melbourne got the Carlton account and their stuff has been OK, sort of, and VB went to Droga 5 in Sydney.

You might remember the Raise A Glass campaign from around ANZAC Day this year which was Droga 5’s first VB work.  The ads featured some nice old blokes talking about mates that they had lost and how they remembered them with a beer. Fosters pledged to give a “percentage” to the RSL and Legacy.  According to their website the final amount was $1.1 million. The cynics at Crikey and All Ale The Big V questioned how appropriate it was to try and make money out of combining respect for the fallen and alcohol consumption.  The argument some may put forward is that it was assisting a charity.  If Fosters was so keen to do that then perhaps a simple donation may have been more appropriate.

I was prepared to forgive Droga 5 for the Raise A Glass campaign but then came the much hyped new ad The Regulars.

For all of the talk that proceeded this production I was expecting something that would be on par with the George Patterson Y&R ads but what we got falls well short.  I chuckled as the groups went along but there was nothing there that will make me remember it in 10 years time.  It takes the piss well, even if it does border on meanness, but that’s about all it does.  I think they might have fallen into the Waterworld trap. Just because it costs a lot of money doesn’t mean it will necessarily be any good.

And what was with Laurie Daly being featured in one of the last shots?  Does anybody outside of Queensland or NSW even know who he is?  Wouldn’t it have been better to use a cricketer?

I wonder where they will go from here?  Anybody else think that the next round of ads, whenever Fosters can afford to pay for them, might be a bit more boutique?