Victoria’s High Country. The Alpine Region. ‘The Hills’. The MCC Member’s Winter Playground– whichever phrase you use to describe that area on the map which has all the topographical wavy lines indicating anything in the state bigger than Mt Dandenong – there’s no denying it is a special place.
But in these days of hustle and bustle and commitments to work and family, how does one refresh the soul, quench the desire and sate the thirst for the charms of The High Country? Well, if Mohammed can’t get to the mountain, wait until someone brings the mountain to Mohammed, of course.
That someone would be Ben Kraus, owner, head brewer and chief bottle washer at Bridge Road Brewers in Beechworth.
Nestled snugly in the foothills of the aforementioned hilly bits, Beechworth is the perfect point from which to begin an Alpine holiday adventure. With Ben as the driving force, it is also the perfect point at which to bring a touch of the country lifestyle to The Big Smoke. Well, a few touches actually including some very pleasant surprises.
Premier Melbourne beer venue Beer Deluxe has been looking to establish its credentials as more than just a place to taste the best beers and the limited release specialties from Australia’s new band of brewers. With space in the upstairs level perfect for intimate and engaging encounters with beer and food matching sitting underutilised, the stage was set for something special.
Ben suggested that, not only could he offer his fine range of beers for a dinner, but he could also offer the rare treat of using the occasion to launch this year’s The Harvest Ale. Now in its third year, The Harvest captures the spirit of artisan and regional brewing by showcasing an experimental hop variety in green or wet form in the beer. Packed with fresh hop bitterness, aroma, flavour and style, this is a beer that many brewers release to a waiting and expectant audience. How does a dining room full of true believers sound?
“Well, you’ll be wanting some quality tunes to round out the whole regional experience, won’t you?” said Ben. “How’s about I secure the musical services of the High Country’s own Lee Rossiter to serenade the diners as they move through a carefully chosen selection of Bridge Road beers?” Done and done.
As the DemTel man would say; “But I know you want more!”
Ben also offered to provide the food for this beery feast in the form of the very capable High Country gastronomic icon, Anthony Simone from the chef’s-hatted restaurant, Simone’s of Bright. An Italian-High Country inspired spread was promised featuring regional and seasonal produce including plenty of homemade treats. The scene was set for a night of beautifully crafted food, beer and music all set around the ephemeral backdrop of Victoria’s cradle of all things fine.
Oh, Ben also secured the services of one of the beer world’s wittiest and most amicable hosts, Prof Pilsner from Beer Blokes. At least, I’ve heard he’s good. The full house sign went up almost two weeks before the event indicating that the whole concept of food and beer matching at a high level has come a long way from the icy-cold macro lager paired with a packet of chips.
To say the night was well received and that the culinary delights played in perfect harmony with the fruits of the grain and hop would be like saying Megan Gale goes OK, if you know what I mean. The subtlety of some of the dishes and the spicy highlights of others all married beautifully with the Bridge Road offerings. As Chef Anthony Simone explained, the dishes were crafted with the intention, not of cleansing or cutting (although in several cases this was skilfully achieved), but to work in harmony with Ben’s brews. And everything from the delicate Chestnut Pilsner through to the Robust Porter had its respective charms highlighted by simply allowing the hop flavour or the richness of the malt or the zing of the yeast to sing alongside the food. Nothing was left hanging out to dry and nothing was overwhelmed. Food, as is often the case, is at its best when it is done simply and done well.
A quick Beer Blokes Poll early in the night showed an even split of ‘foodies’ and ‘beeries’ and the unveiling of the 2011 The Harvest Ale was the night’s high point for most in both camps.
For those without much experience of specialty beers The Harvest Ale provided lashings of hoppy brilliance skilfully woven around a malt backbone just sturdy enough to carry the weight but not so big as to overpower the whole. For the beer nerds, it just drew a thousand ‘Ooohs!’ and ‘Aaahs!’ and nods of heads as it was sniffed and sipped. As this brew is a once-a-year thing and different every year with each new hop variety one can only insist you seek it out and judge for yourselves.
If this dinner proved nothing else to those who were there and to those who wonder just how the whole beer and food matching thing works it’s this; it doesn’t need to be convoluted or complicated. The beer does not have to be the next big extreme hop-fired tongue shredder or the boldest, blackest double imperial stout. The food can be simple and rustic and almost peasant-like in its intentions. As long as it is put together by both food and beer providers and some thought is put into it – it will work. Well, ‘thought’, ‘skill’, ‘consideration for the guest’ and a very generous side serving of ‘love’, and it will work.
The end result showed that there was probably more than just a little old-fashioned hard yakka involved as well. Whatever the individual ingredients, the result was unanimous – The High Country is home to some very special talents and bringing them to The Big Smoke was like a gift from the heavens. While the High Country may not exactly be heaven, I reckon you can just about see it from there.
And, by way of making those who weren’t there feel even worse about missing out, here’s the menu;
On Arrival – Chestnut Pilsner
Sicilian spiced popcorn
Home made salami
Smoked beer malt sourdough
First Course – The Harvest Ale
Cured Harrietville fresh water salmon, cucumber carpaccio, crushed kipflers with toasted sesame seeds, hop jelly and citrus oil
(N.B. The hops used in the jelly are the same as those in the Harvest Ale)
Second Course – Chevalier Saison
From nose to tail; cotechino, sausages, coppa del testa, pork cracker and black caviar lentils
Third Course – Bling IPA
Aged Alpine Angus Prime eye fillet, charred onion rings, pickled tongue salad, bone marrow butter and hickory smoked jus
Galaxy hop sorbet
Dessert – Robust Porter
Textured Bridge Road Brewers Porter with golden oats, sunflower seeds, raspberries, rosemary flowers and iced chocolate
Cheese – Chevalier Biere de Garde
Poached Paradise pears filled with Milawa blue cheese and walnuts