Wolf Of The Willows XPA

Total Score: 7.2/10 Lemon1 Biscuit1 Coriander1 Nonicpint1

I was told by Ant (co-owner/manager of Plonk) that this new up-and-comer Wolf Of The Willows was one to look out for, and coming up to my 500th review I’ve been a bit selective with the beers I’m drinking (prepare to see some outlandishly BIG beers being reviewed with another massive drop for #500). So here we are reader: Wolf Of The Willows XPA – which stands for “Extra Pale Ale”. Extra pale in colour or extra hops? We’ll soon see [actually I just read a Q&A on Crafty Pint where the brewer answers: Extra in both pale colour and hops – correct answer WOTW].

Poured from a 500ml bottle into a nonic pint.

A: Clear light golden body with a big 2cm billowy white head. My preference (as you well know by now) is for non-filtered brews, especially with Ales. 5/10.

S: Zesty lemon hops provide a solid, though not exciting, backbone for some light biscuity malts. There is a hint floral lavender and a touch of pepper as well, however the overall aroma is one of a light and crisp Pale Ale. 6/10.

T: Crisp and clean up front, followed by that biscuity middle and finished with zesty lemon hops. The finish is as dry as the Sahara which would make any Japanese Lager brewer jealous. There is a note of herbal hops, something between coriander and sage floating around in the background. I don’t get the passionfruit the label describes – but that could be due to the fact that I just had a sample of my homebrewed Galaxy dry-hopped Pale Ale beforehand which is a passionfruit assault on the senses. A second sip reveals a clever subtlety and more earthy characters. 7/10.

M: Mid to light bodied with a medium, creamy carbonation. The carbonation really works well with the dry/moreish qualities of this brew. 8/10.

D: It’s not often an old beer pro like me realises that there was actual yeast in the bottle by the end of the pour… I was surprised by this fact due to the clarity of the first half. I was also surprised by how the palate changed from lemon to grapefruit as the glass drained (though this can be explained by the flocculation of yeast in the second pour which added the sour yeast characters). This is not your ordinary Australian Pale Ale, and some will say it needs more hops, but ultimately for me it is a nice change of pace, and it goes down real easy. 9/10.

Food match: A rare cooked wagyu beef steak with celeriac mash and roasted asparagus with a creamy garlic and thyme jus.

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Stone & Wood Pacific Ale

Total Score: 8.15/10 Peach1 GreenApple1 Pineapple1 Nonicpint1

Stone & Wood have, with Pacific Ale, produced a modern Aussie classic brew that will no doubt be a part of the great Aussie beer canon for years to come. I did this review 3 years ago and it still feels apt today. However enough reminiscing, it’s time to dig into the indefatigable and gregarious (for its alcohol content) Stone & Wood Pacific Ale!

Poured from a 500ml almost-a-pint bottle into a tulip pint glass.

A: The body is an oddly inviting murky light yellow, looks like cloudy apple juice. The fluffy white head dissipated from 2cm to a 0.5cm lacing. All-in-all not a bad looking Ale. 7/10.

S: There’s a really strong peach and nectarine aroma wafting from this brew that says “sit down, take a load off, enjoy!”. That hit of hops aside there is a sweetness that can likely be ascribed to the malts used but this Ale isn’t giving much away in that department. A great start so far nonetheless. 10/10.

T: Hops are very noticeable straight from the get-go, however they don’t assail you like some hop driven brews do. The malt provides a base but the hops are the star here. The flavour is a sour apple which provides an interesting contrast to the expected sweet peach. Stone fruit and apple is the main theme with this Ale, and not a bad theme at all in my opinion! [I’ve also noted since I first reviewed this beer that there is a touch of Pineapple in the flavour profile as well] 8/10.

M: A bit lighter than expected for the style but still alright. The carbonation I found is a little too excited though. 6/10.

D: A great job overall! Only thing that feels lacking to me is the alcohol strength (which would be perfect at around 5% ABV), and consequentially the flavour is slightly weaker. Otherwise I would have awarded this a B+, as it ticks almost all the boxes of a great brew for me. Excellent session/starter beer. 8/10.

Food match: Zesty food would pair great with this beer like Tapas or Greek cuisine. I could imagine this beer would go down great with a Haloumi platter and some lemon potatoes!

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HopDog Cosmic Highway Pale Ale

Total Score: 6.9/10 Orange1 Nut1 Earth1 Nonicpint1

New on tap at The Durham (Canberra) is Pale Ale from DFNACB (Doc’s Favourite New Aussie Craft Brewer) HopDog. The anticipation of HopDog actually not delivering the goods on one of their brews is driving me crazy – every brewer has a lacklustre Ale, a black sheep if you will, but I’m still yet to be unimpressed by HopDog. Maybe Cosmic Highway is that brew?

Poured from tap into a 425ml Schooner.

A: Hazy amber body with a half centimetre white head that stands up quite well. Just like a nice hazy glass of orange juice. 8/10.

S: Even smells like a glass of orange juice (OJ that is made from concentrate and sold in the PET section of the supermarket) not detecting any malts but they’re in there somewhere. 7/10.

T: The Motueka hops (a NZ Saaz cultivar hop) give it a real bitter orange juice flavour. Apart from tasting a great deal like a glass of orange juice with bitters it’s not a standout brew, a bit one dimensional, and coming from HopDog that’s a big surprise. If I close my eyes and swirl it around my mouth maybe there’s a hint of earthy/nutty characters in the background. 6/10.

M: Mouthfeel is superb though, medium bodied with a mid to light carbonation. Spot on for what I love. 10/10.

D: I think I’ve finally found HopDog’s black sheep [hooray! 😦 ]. There is a fantastically drinkable brew in Cosmic Highway despite the lack of flavour complexity, it manages to quench ones thirst, which is what a good summer beer should do. For the ABV (4.8%) it feels big, but ultimately I’m left wanting more (lucky then that HopDog has a beer for almost every imaginable occasion – unless you want a Lager which they don’t brew). 7/10.

Food match: Light BBQ Aussie style with minute steaks or sausages, potato salad, coleslaw and garden salad.

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Coopers Sparkling Ale

Total Score: 7.55/10 Peach1 Lemon1 Barley1 Nonicpint1

Ahhh, Coopers! This beer and me go way back, notwithstanding the fact that we’re both from SA (South Australia), I started my beer drinking education on two beers; Guinness Draught & this, and for a while I didn’t see any need to drink anything else.

Anyway enough nostalgia, time to see if Coopers stands the test of time when it comes to tasting. I poured this fine Ale from a 375ml “stubbie” into a standard pint glass.

A: This was a feisty one! The bone-meal coloured head started out at 2cm before settling to a foamy 0.5cm covering. The body is a cloudy amber/orange shade and tells me I’m in for a small meal (due to the yeast sediment). 7/10.

S: Zesty aromas of stone fruit with a hint of apple. The hops are there but it’s a faint waft. This is the smell of a finely balanced Pale Ale – there should be an even hop to malt ratio here… we’ll see. 7/10.

T: This Ale, much like its Coopers Pale Ale brother is fairly dry, balanced and crisp, however the big difference between the two is the heavy body and detectable alcohol content of this one. You can taste the stone fruit flavour and a graininess on the back note. The hops don’t really leave any aftertaste and if it wasn’t for the name and the appearance you would think it has little in common with its style (English Pale Ale). In fact this brew demonstrates a very Australian quench slaking flavour that is quite un-British. 8/10.

M: Champagne fizz is the most notable element here. Other than that the body is medium to heavy and if you don’t upset the yeast you tend to find “yeasty chunks” floating in your glass… you have been warned! 6/10.

D: Yes I’m quite satisfied drinking this as a summer beer, it’s got three things I like in a beer I would take to a Barbie (BBQ): easy to drink, thirst quenchability (it’s a new word for Webster’s), and alcohol content. 8/10*.

Food match: The above mentioned Barbie conjures images of steak sandwiches, sausages, and potato salad. If you need something else: a tub of coleslaw from Woolies will do the trick.

*You may chalk it up to nostalgia that I’ve rated this beer so highly but it does still deliver that classic Coopers quench consistently and well.

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Abita Restoration Pale Ale

Total Score: 6.7/10 Biscuit1 Lemon1 HopFlower1 Nonicpint1

Abita, who in my opinion really ought to release two new beers (one called “This” and the other called “That”) have really impressed me without knocking my socks off with their Turbodog. Needless to say I went out and bought a six pack of the Restoration Pale Ale and drank all bar one (for this review) thinking it would be a great American Pale Ale… *spoiler* it’s not. But please do stay on and read why not.

Poured from a 355ml bottle into a nonic pint.

A: Hazy tangelo body with a boisterous, granted given a hard pour, cream coloured head that soon dissipates to 1cm. Looks fantastic as far as APAs go. 8/10.

S: Smells fantastic too! With fresh hop flowers upfront followed by a tasty big biscuit base middle. There is a nice spring water aroma as well (Abita have a deep well spring at their brewery). 8/10.

T: Here’s where the news is not so great: Toasted biscuit malts front to back with a citric and floral hop finish. The bitterness is mild, as is the sweetness, frankly it needs more of both to tango with the big boys (Sierra Nevada, Karl Strauss, Founders, Bridgeport, etc… you get the picture!). 6/10.

M: Mid to light bodied and a tad on the watery side, carbonation is nice and dense though. 6/10.

D: So what we have here is a failure to communicate err, an easy drinking APA, which is fine sometimes, but MY personal preference is for a nice hoppy APA with some sweet malt balancing it out. So if you’re looking for a slightly wishy-washy APA you will likely enjoy this, good for you, give yourself a nice pat on the back, how did that feel? Good? Good. Btw I gave it an extra point here because of its sessionability. 7/10.

Food match: Tacos. Not sure why I said that, I think I just feel like tacos right now, plus this beer will work with tacos [can’t stop saying or thinking about tacos now].

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Brewfist & BeerHere Caterpillar Pale Ale

Total Score: 6.55/10 Bread1 Peppercorns1 Orange1 Nonicpint1

Finally I get to review a brew from a second Italian craft brewer, the first being the outstanding Birra Del Borgo, the stakes have never been higher – will our challenger Brewfist topple the craftweight champion of Italy? I’m betting my money on Birra Del Borgo (they are an awesome brewer after all). My logic for reviewing new brewers usually dictates that I start with a heavy ABV Ale such as an IPA, as it takes real skill to brew high ABV beers, but this time I was drawn to the labels psychedelic Alice in Wonderland caterpillar. Do not disappoint me Brewfist (and BeerHere!).

Poured from a 330ml bottle into a nonic pint.

A: Presents a cloudy mandarin body with a frothy cream coloured head. There are yeast particles floating around the glass, excellent! 9/10.

S: Funky and spicy upfront, a mixture of yeast and rye aromas. There is an acidic citric note as well (welcome hops!) that adds a grapefruit sheen to an already intriguing aroma. 8/10.

T: Flavour really lets it down a bit – it’s sourdough bread, rye spice, hints of sweet malt, with a dry bitter orange peel finish. Lacking all the depth and finesse of a good American Pale Ale. Definitely could benefit from a dry hopping to add a more hoppy dimension. 6/10.

M: Mid to light bodied with a creamy carbonation. 8/10.

D: Overall this is not even in the same cricket stadium (to recoin an American phrase) as Birra Del Borgo, maybe I should give their Spaceman IPA a try before I totally dismiss Beerfist? [shut up me, you know you will] Well anyway it’s not all bad news. At least it has a unique flavour (due to the rye) – one that I’ve never encountered for this style. Yay Beerfist. 5/10.

Food match: If we’re going to go all the way Italian a nice fettuccine all’arrabbiata would suit this beer.

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HopDog Chai Fighter Pale Ale

Total Score: 8.55/10 Clove1 Orange1 Tea1 Tulipglass1

Good golly Miss Molly there’s been some damn fine beers being brewed in old Aussieland, and HopDog are one of Doc’s favourite new brewers… Yes, yes, I’ve only tried An American Werewolf In Belgium – but damn if it didn’t blow the socks right off my feet and into the laundry basket… hmmm, that gives me an idea for ‘rocket-propelled basket-homing socks’ (patent pending). Anyway HopDog had me with Chai Fighter the moment I saw the cheesy pun on the label, it went into the shopping basket I didn’t have time to read what it was.

Poured from a 330ml bottle into a Duvel tulip.

A: Full naturtrüb* orange/light brown body (I gave the yeast at the bottom of the bottle a good agitation) with a thick creamy white head, looks an absolute treat! 8/10.

S: It’s just as you would imagine as the offspring for a Pale Ale and a Chai tea, the spices are heady cinnamon/clove, the hops are citrusy (a new word for OED) and there is added orange peel floating around in the background, muscling right in on hops territory. 8/10.

T: Ooooo, this is why HopDog do it for me – this is f@%king experimental stuff! Victor Frankenstein would be pleased with this. As advertised: Cinnamon/aniseed/clove, orange peel, caramel malt, with a finish that is pure black tea tannin. The bitterness is spot on APA and the flavours are having a party in my mouth [and yes – everyone is invited]. A second sip reveals an intriguing note of mango, which could only be the hops. 9/10.

M: Mid to light bodied, probably the biggest complaint is that it could benefit from more body, with a light but sharp carbonation. 7/10.

D: So I’ve reviewed over 400 beers now†, which at a guess is around a third of the beers I have ever tasted, and HopDog have twice pleasantly surprised me with beers that I’ve never even thought of let alone tasted before (except the American Werewolf which I compared to Little Creatures The Quiet American). Needless to say this is quite a feat and I hope I haven’t exhausted the crazy brews they make because I am TLF (Tripping the Light Fantastic) with this fine Ale. 9/10.

Food match: I think I’ve found the perfect match for Tibetan/Nepalese cuisine…

*Naturtrüb: Pronounced “Na-twa-twoob” is the German term for “cloudy”, I use it to denote a beer that is particularly cloudy with yeast sediment floating around.

†I’ve been slowly uploading all my beer reviews to IHM, at an estimate it will be another year before they’re all online!

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