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Beer reviews: Salubrious spring sippers

Eat | Drink | Explore

Spring’s warm days and cool nights encourage drinking a variety of styles of beer, from the refreshing lunchtime pilsner to a hearty after-dinner stout. John Krüger reviews a selection of recent SA releases to suit any occasion.

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Coopers – Vintage Ale 2017

This year’s Vintage Ale continues along the same lines of a 7.5 per cent ABV (alcohol by volume) ale in a 355ml bottle, ready to drink now or cellar. The fruity, cloudy Coopers yeast remains, and the brewers continue to have some fun with new hop combinations with each release. This year, Denali and Calypso hops impart fruity flavours and spicy aromas to the brew.

This vintage is also different in that the grist has been tweaked with the addition of Caramalt. As a result, the ale pours with a redder hue than previous vintages and the toasty sweet malt is reinforced. I think it’s a great addition.

Although most bar staff enthusiastically roll or twirl every bottle of Coopers they can get their hands on, I insist this beer be decanted into an appropriate glass, sans-yeast, to really enjoy a more focussed and enjoyable combination of flavours. It’ll be an interesting beer to taste in a few years but is still very drinkable right now.

Food match: The beer’s caramel sweetness – and, once aged, its sherry qualities – complement well-browned salty Greek lamb skewers with plenty of minted tzatziki.

Vale Brewing – Knee Slapper

A new Pilsner from Vale comes right at the time when warmer days require thirst quenchers. The real test of a brewer is producing a decent lager, and head brewer Jeff Wright can have a go at just about any style and do it well.

The Knee Slapper pours perfectly clear and golden with a bright head. It has a light grassy hop aroma with a background of straw and light malt.

The first taste is clean malt but the aftertaste slowly builds with bitterness on the back of the tongue. The refreshing clean bitterness reminds me of a true German quality pilsner and it’s tasty enough to have one full size 375ml 5 per cent ABV can on its own or slide into a session if you can find it on tap in a sunny beer garden.

Food match: Although this style naturally goes well with pork knuckle or bratwurst, it would also complement robust Asian dishes like the smoked duck at Empress Restaurant at Toorak Gardens.

Fox Hat – Full Mongrel

Regular followers of this column might remember a winter stout feature in InDaily featuring a much loved Phat Mongrel from Fox Hat. Now comes the no-holds-barred version. If you thought Phat Mongel stout couldn’t get any better, hold onto your hat and have a crack at the Full Mongrel.

Forget an after-dinner port, this stout was made for brandy balloons, smoking jackets and fireplaces. It pours a little like used motor oil and produces a thick reddish brown head. It smells of tar, fresh charcoal and a surprising waft of sweet biscuits. It has a masterful blend of roasted malt, mild coffee and sweet dark toffee flavours.

Technically, the style is Russian Imperial Stout and, at 10 per cent ABV, the 375ml can equates to three standard drinks. The alcohol reminds me of apple schnapps and the stout is full bodied but not too sweet or dry.

It might surprise some that the bitterness levels come in at a reported 100 IBUs but you’ll only taste that when you wake up the next morning. This is balanced, indulgent and very rewarding.

Food match: Try a selection of dark chocolates from Oak Tree Truffles in Stirling in between sips. Add an Affogato with Frangelico if you don’t have to work the next day.

Western Ridge – Galaxy Warrior Mosaic

Although the fine print on the 330ml can cheekily mentions “Yet another F*****g Pale Ale”, this bad boy from the Barossa seems more like an American IPA. It’s 7 per cent ABV and 70 IBUs of bitterness packed into one deceivingly pretty little silver can.

It pours with an orange colour and I’m guessing some hop haze. The aroma gives a hint at what is to come: hops. Lots of hops. At first, there’s some vegetal umami tomato flavours from the Mosaic, then the Galaxy and Warrior hops invade the tongue with grassy weedy spice and resinous fresh pine. Then there’s a sweet wave of honey malt and dark wheat toast before the hops start a second assault.

This is a beer for the hopheads and they will definitely not be disappointed. There’s so much fresh hop character and presence, it should be packaged in titanium instead of aluminium cans because it’s a beast! It may not suit drinkers of bland lagers.

Food match: A dessert of chilled summer berries refresh the palate along with some candied citrus and home-made honeycomb to match with the beer. Add some Adelaide Hills chèvre for extra acid zing.

Left Barrel – Alpaca Amber

Pouring a deep rich amber colour decanted off the sediment, this beer’s everlasting head smells of toffee and spicy hops. It is a delicious, generous and well-balanced brew.

Although described as a Farmhouse ale, there’s none of the barnyard aromas associated with traditionally funky farmhouse ales. There’s a mouth-filling malt body that doesn’t become cloying and is quite complex, with hints of golden syrup, toasted almonds and quality brown rum. A few sips will guarantee you’ll want to finish the whole glass.

At 5.3 per cent ABV in a 330ml bottle, it’s the perfect lunch or dinner beer. Delivered fresh from the Adelaide Hills, these beers may be small batch and harder to find, but are well worth looking out for.

Food match: With just enough bitterness to stand on its own, but plenty of nutty malt flavours, it would be outstanding with a vegan cauliflower and cashew curry.

John Krüger is an Adelaide-based photographer and home brewer with a passion for good beer. He’s on the Royal Adelaide Beer and Cider Awards committee, and a beer judge with the awards.


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