It seems like only yesterday that our brewing collective of women, known fondly as The Women of Beer, were collaboratively milling, mashing and fermenting our Hildegarde’s Biere de Garde farmhouse ale at the Matilda Bay brewery. So, there was a “time sure does fly” moment six months when we set the date to do it all again, and on Saturday 18th April the girls were back at it.
The setting for our 3rd collaboration brew was the delightful Red Hill Brewery based in the picturesque Mornington Peninsula. This time the beer was to be a decadent, chill-in-the-air inspired vanilla milk stout, brewed for launch at The Fox Hotel during Good Beer Week for the “Girl Power at The Fox” week-long tap takeover.
Many would think there may be a high level of deliberation in selecting a style to brew. In fact, our thinking is very much aligned, proving that women in their numbers are definitely more than capable of making a joint decision!
So, a stout it was to be, with Red Hill Brewery owner, Karen Golding, suggesting a milk stout would be guaranteed to provide some well-needed comfort from the Melbourne cool which comes along with the month of May. Beer Girl Bites, Tiffany Waldron, had a contact at Heilala Vanilla, so it was unanimously agreed that our milk stout was to evolve into a heavenly vanilla milk stout
Recipe development for our stout was ably assisted by a few good beers at The Royston, with the final combination of ingredients agreed and noted in the professional manner we Women of Beer are accustomed to… the back of a menu. This valuable A5 sheet of paper was to be our guiding bible on the day and survived the many hands and eyes keen to glean an insight into how we would go about creating our special stout.
Milling started at 8:30ish on the Saturday morning, with a grain bill of over 220 kilograms, consisting of five malt varieties and supplemented by good strong coffees and freshly brewed teas (and freshly baked cookies by the WOB offspring!). Mashing commenced shortly after, requiring some real womanpower and a little patience ensuring the masses of milled malts didn’t get jammed. All was going swimmingly until we added the oats, which caused a few minor blockages up to the mash tun and then a major delay in the wort transfer from the mash tun to the kettle. Possibly the longest transfer I’ve experienced but according to our master brewers, will result in an exceptional extract!
During the transfer, the general public flocked into the brewery, often curious as to why there were so many women amongst the tanks donning wellington boots. And whilst the male visitors were pretty impressed, it was the wives and girlfriends who offered up the most generous of comments. The women visiting the brewery genuinely admired what we were doing and I think some secretively wished it was them wandering around in their gum boots and mucking in. It was a wonderfully positive response and just proved how far along we have come in beer and the perceptions of what beer can be amongst both men and women.
Meanwhile, collective members Jane Lewis (Two Birds), Sam Fuss (Old Salt Brewing), Chloe Lovatt (Matilda Bay) and Aine O’Hora (CUB) were devising strategies on how and when to add our very special vanilla to this very special stout. Nicole Carr from Heilala (pronounced Hey-la-la) Vanilla provided our incredible vanilla. Heilala are one of the only vanilla companies who handle the entire processing of their vanilla from paddock to paste. The aromas emanating from the brewhouse every time we lifted the lid from the jar of pure vanilla paste were truly intoxicating and enticed many from the crowd who were enjoying the delish burgers from Babes on the Grill, towards the brewery. For many, this vanilla totally transformed perceptions of what real vanilla actually smells and tastes like. The intensity and the sweet, woody characters were almost bourbon like, and the flavour, whilst sweet upfront, had some bitterness to it as well. Each of these characteristics had to be taken into consideration when determining when and how to add this spice into our beer.
But first the hops had to go in and after a long transfer, our wort got to boil and Karen surprised us with some of Red Hill’s homegrown and recently dried Willamette hops which were supplemented by Goldings hops – just to keep it in the Red Hill family! It was then time for our Heilala vanilla, which was added just post the hops into the boil. It’s no secret that hops were used in ancient medicine and can relax those who may struggle with sleep, but it was only when the hot liquor took a hold of the pure vanilla and released it via the steam from the kettle to the masses that we realised the incredible properties of this special bean. A wonderful sense of peace and calm came over the brewery which is no surprise given vanilla is actually way up there on the list of herbs & spices that can heal.
The romance was then over, as there was a tonne of cleaning out to be done with various gals getting their hands dirty, including me who as per usual was given the job of cleaning out the mash tun. Soon the brewery was back to its sparkling state, our liquid transferred, yeast added and then our latest brew was put to bed for the night, happily bubbling away.
It was an amazing day, wonderfully hosted by Karen and her team at Red Hill who sure know how to put on a good shindig. The greatest part about the day was not only chatting to the visitors who were curious, intrigued and I think, really impressed that a bunch of girls gather together to make beer, but of course also getting the opportunity to spend the day with an amazing bunch of very passionate women.
Our, yet to be named, vanilla milk stout will be available at The Fox Hotel, Collingwood during Good Beer Week and the Women of Beer will be at The Fox on Sunday 19th May from 3pm, stouts in hand!