As a beer lover, I regularly buy the US beer magazines that I find in the newsagents here in Wollongong.
I’m not entirely sure that’s a good idea because it just ends up giving me a serious case of beer envy. That’s because I read about so many amazing – or downright weird-sounding – US beers that I know I’m likely never to try.
And those magazines seem to have hundreds of beers that fit that bill. So much so that I reckon it’s probably a good thing that I don’t live over there as I’d probably go broke buying every beer that took my fancy.
Some beer geeks will fly over to the US for the sole purpose of tasting these
beers and I do envy them. However much I may dream about it, the reality is I’m far too old to be able to justify a lengthy, boozy and expensive jaunt across the US visiting as many breweries as possible.
And then there’s the problems of being a grown-up – having a mortgage, a wife and a child. It’d be an exceptionally hard sell for me to say to my wife ‘‘hey, lets buy three plane tickets to the US and spend two weeks visiting a stack of breweries so I can get drunk at all of them while you drive me there and look after our child’’.
So I’m left with whatever beers are imported here. That’s a very small percentage of the total of US beers, and many of those that do make it all the way down here come with a largish price tag that can make a purchase hard to justify.
But occasionally, good fortune shines upon me and I’ll find myself sitting at a table looking at a selection of quite special US beers in front of me. And that includes beers I know I’ll never get to taste again.
That table was in Harts Pub in The Rocks and I’d been spoiled with an invite to sample the bottled booty Harts brewer Scott Morgan and his boss brought back from a visit to a brewers conference in San Diego. While there were there, the pair got to visit a swag of breweries and get given a few samples. Oh, to be able to travel to the US, visit breweries, drink beer and call it work.
Fortunately, they didn’t drink all the beer they got. And, even better, they were gracious enough to share some of them with a few other people (I truly doubt whether I’d be so gracious. If I went over there and was asked on my return ‘‘did you bring any great beers back?’’ I’d likely reply ‘‘no, sorry. Couldn’t fit them in my baggage’’ all the while knowing there was a box full of them at home that I would never tell them about).
Among the half-dozen they brought back there were a few that really caught my attention.
One of them was Rogue’s Voodoo bacon maple ale, which I’d been fortunate enough to try at last year’s craft beer week in Newcastle and never thought I’d try again. I was excited to see the lurid pink bottle on the table as it’s both a truly odd and yet spectacularly made beer. Made in cahoots with a business known as Voodoo Donuts, who apparently that business makes a bacon maple doughnut – I don’t know why, they just do.
It tastes exactly like I’d imagine a sweet bacon doughnut to taste like – and that’s much better than you’d expect. While I’m not sure I could drink an entire 760ml bottle of the stuff, I heartily applaud the incredible craftsmanship that went into making the beer.
Another that caught my attention was also from Rogue, a Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale – made with soba. Unusually, there’s a slight salty, seaweed, kelp-like flavour that’s not unappealing. At least I thought there was – I’ve since read other reviews of this beer and not one of them said anything like ‘‘hey, it tastes like seaweed. But in a good way’’. Granted I’d had a few beers before sitting down to this tasting session and my notes on each beer were getting steadily less intelligible (a fact not helped by the US brewers’ love of high-alcohol beers) but I will swear to that kelpy flavour).
Green Flash brewery’s Palate Wrecker would have been the highlight of the night, if for no other reason than it’s an IPA that really lives up to its name – it was tested at a very bitter 149 IBU. But it wasn’t the highlight.
That tag had to go to Parabola, a cellar-door only release from Firestone Walker. It’s a barrel-aged Russian imperial stout which sells for about $75 in the US. That makes it easily the most expensive beer I’ve ever tasted – and, unless I’m invited to some other beer tasting by a very rich benefactor, it’ll be the most expensive beer I ever will taste.
With deep, rich flavours of whisky, oak, vanilla, chocolate and more, it’s truly an exceptional beer. The sort of beer you sit down and savour on a cold night – and at a big 12.5 per cent, you’d have to drink it slowly.
Finally, I also thank Scott for driving me back home to Wollongong. God knows how I would have gotten home otherwise – especially on a work night.