Twice a year, in March and October, Federation Square gives itself over to beer for the Microbrewers Showcase. For the reasonably-priced ticket entry fee of $25 you can sip your way through 20 x 60ml samples of Victoria’s favourite craft beers and ciders and often uncover a new ‘test’ brew or two along the way.
Frequented by the brewers themselves, it’s a great opportunity to mix and mingle, to sample each other’s offerings and to get that valuable face-to-face feedback from beer lovers and enthusiasts, it’s also a must-not-miss event for Victorian craft beer fans.
Last week’s showcase was no exception with more than 140 craft offerings from 24 brewers and 10 cider companies present. Personally, I always leave wishing I have sampled more broadly and I’m looking forward to the next one in another 6 months to track down the brewers I missed this time round. Getting there an hour early in time for the trade tasting, you would expect to cover the lot but you cannot help but spend valuable sampling time in conversation with the brewers who passionately talk up their trade without tiring all evening.
Sampling a fine Weizen first up from Cavalier (Mar 2011 People’s Choice Wheat Beer) it was great to hear from the team at Cavalier, which recently turned 1-year-old, that they are already outgrowing their microbrewery space in Fitzroy and are well supported in their home suburb and beyond.
Adjacent to Cavalier was Forrest Brewing Company with a fine line up of four quality beers dispensed through two ice filled sideways keg coolers. Nestled in the heart of the Otways, 30 minutes’ drive from Lorne and Apollo Bay, they have already become a favourite finishing place for mountain bikers or pit-stop for tourists in need of a stretch and refreshment break. Their oatmeal stout is made with 5 different malts and a quarter oatmeal giving a nice rounded body and subtle stout flavour profile. Or you can enjoy their 35-40 IBU single cascade hopped Pale Ale which is a favourite of locals and tourists alike.
The passionate trio from Mood Dog Brewing, Melbourne’s very own beer punks, are forever experimenting with new beers and beer-making styles. Jake had hidden behind their mobile bar a 20L keg of 16% Imperial Stout made with a ultra-high gravity tolerant yeast and lots of Summit 17.5% Alpha Acid Hops and a great variety of malt including Maris Otter, Pale, Brown, Kristal, Chocolate and Roasted Barley. Still very fresh and full of complexity discussions ensued with Josh over staggering the release of the latest experimental brew so everyone can appreciate its subtle and not so subtle flavour variation over time.
Their Skunkworks cognac-barrel-aged double IPA with twice the hops, malt and yeast, and alcohol was first brewed for Good Beer Week in 2011 and was being actively sought out by beer geeks and taste adventurers at the showcase. Generous labelling and passionate brewers share a combination of malts including Pilsen, Pale, Caramalt and a bouquet of hops including Summit, Citra, Chinook, and Amarillo. A trained taster could easily spend half the night dissecting that sample alone.
Across the thoroughfare from Moon Dog was Red Duck and a delightfully contrasting White Garden modelled on a Berliner Weiss with a generous helping of Rhubarb and Raspberry Jam, one third wheat malt and two thirds pilsen malt and some East Kent Golding’s hops. Expecting Scott to have taken his last winter break in Germany to get the idea for this gem, I was amazed to learn it all came from tasting a great bottle of Berliner Weiss and pulling it apart, reconstructing it and adding his very own Red Duck spin on it.
Before long Canute the Gruit emerged, a wonderful dark medieval ale with scorched malts done by hand on the day of brewing. It was infused with 20 Kg of stinging nettle harvested from the family farm and steeped in a bucket of boiling water like a tea, a block of hawthorn berry juice from the neighbouring fruit farm, brewed with a mix of ancient spelt grain, oats, unmalted and malted wheat, roast barley, chocolate malt and a 3 hour mash with ‘no hops’. To say I have tasted something similar would be an absolute lie and tea was coming to mind as I tried to think what could even taste remotely like this wonderful beer.
Recently opened, Temple Brewing in Brunswick were pouring their new Midnight IPA made with citra, magnum and dry hopping, use of dark wheat malt for colour and a lot of pale malt for easy drinking. Brewed with the use of a hop back, you benefit from the rich aroma and it tasted just like a ‘jig in a glass’.
Stalwarts 3 Ravens captured a crowd as the first brewer off the Flinders Street entrance and I was proudly informed that their 750ml Noir Stout was a 2012 International W Design Awards winner. Just desserts for patience after storage for a year in a French oak barrel with bourbon swirl the limited release 200 x 750ml bottles are now prized beer collectors’ items. Enjoying their wonderful 55 American Pale Ale, made with 5 hops Glacier, Galaxy, Amarillo, Citra and Southern Hallertau, 5 malts Rye, Barley, Wheat, Oat and Corn and 5.5% abv, I was informed it was originally brewed for the 5th anniversary of 3 Ravens. 3 Ravens was founded to keep thirsty engineers in good beer and it’s extremely pleasing to hear that Adrian their brewer is now planning an upcoming 10th anniversary IPA which will include 5 hops in the boil plus 5 saved for dry hopping.
The granddaddy of Victorian craft brewing was exhibiting their vast range and the new addition, Grand Ridge Whoah wet hopped oatmeal ale, which was a very refreshing new brew. Moving further into the middle, Bridge Road Brewer Ben and his team were sampling their recent single hop IPA series Summer IPA which was a light refreshing IPA with a subtle start and dry hoppy finish. The Bridge Road Chevalier Saison was also being sampled and it’s all about the yeast and it certainly delivered. Saison was a popular variant at this year’s showcase with a Saison also available from Mornington Peninsula, Mountain Goat and Temple Brewing as well.
Across from Bridge Road to Prickly Moses for the Raconteur IPA and finishing up with recent newly arrived King Valley Brewing Co Yowie Lager and time was called. Four hours well spent sampling Victoria’s craft offering and yet again I failed to cover even half of the wonderful brewers or a cider company. I’ll just have to get back again in another 6 months to sample the rest or maybe catch a few more again at Good Beer Week or the Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular.
The Fed Square Showcase does just that, presenting a range of quality craft beer and cider; and it’s clearly evident to anyone who goes just how passionate and proud of the product these craftsmen and women are in Victoria. Whether you are a beer novice looking to try something new, a craft beer or cider lover or a total beer geek there is something for everyone at a reasonable entry fee at the Victoria Fed Square Showcase.