bands / bars / beers / BLOG / the beer life

Beer Bar Band Bests 2013

Twenty Thirteen was a momentous year for me. I ran a marathon, purchased my first ever brand new car (yay, more debt), travelled overseas for the first time in my adult life, attended Beervana, and delighted in my first taste of the revered Westvleteren XII.

Jenn and I also visited Western Australia for the first time, we completed in new fun run events including the Yarra Valley Grape Run and Arthurs Seat Challenge, we started home brewing, we consumed countless new beers including the highly regarded and rare Nail Brewing Clout Stout on tap at The Royston, picked hops at Red Hill and attended to a Red Hill Secret Stash weekend at long last, still couldn’t keep ourselves away from the Mountain Goat brewery, and we became a little obsessed with Game of Thrones.

At the moment, 2014 is a blank slate. Unlike previous years, we have started this year with no firm plans or desired achievements for the next 12 months. We’re not signed up to any runs and we don’t have any list of resolutions. We have a vague plan for a road trip up Australia’s east coast penciled in, and we have tickets to two gigs over the next four months. Otherwise, I’m really not sure what 2014 holds for us.

Nonetheless, I have a feeling it will be a good year, maybe even better than the great year that 2013 was…and that will be hard to top.

The future of this blog and the “Beer Bar Band” concept is uncertain. I’m not yet sure where I want to take my writing, media and social endeavours in this domain. I’d like a new way of framing and directing my online output, and I’m keen to focus more energy on Australian Brews News. However, before I make any serious changes, I want to better understand the future direction of online and offline channels for this type of content so that I can have the best impact supporting local beers, bars, bands. Afterall, I do this for free in my own time. Hence, stay tuned.

Looking back on 2013, here’s my personal picks for the Best of 2013 in Beer Bar Band land:

BEER

Best Brewery (Australia/New Zealand)

Garage Project (Wellington, New Zealand) – I join with Dave Ellis, the Sessionable crew and many others is heralding Garage Project as an easy pick for the best brewery of 2013.

James with a beer at the Garage Project tasting room

Happy days tasting Garage Project beers at their brewery and cellar door in Wellington.

Every beer they produce is not only interesting and characterful, but also delicious and superbly balanced. Their deft use of chilli and numerous other crafty and new world beer ingredients always results in wonderfully constructed and drinkable beers. From afar they may seem like “extreme brewers”, but up close all their beers are very approachable and widely appealing.

Garage Project were the highlight of Beervana 2013, and when we visited their little brewery in Aro we discovered exactly the type of attractive setup, friendly service and happy experience that you hope for from the craft beer community. Quirky, cool, funky and offbeat…Garage Project puts it all into really good beers, from pilsners to barrel aged imperial porters.

Tanks inside the Garage Project brewery

Brewery love at Garage Project.

Runner up…

Mornington Peninsula Brewery (Victoria, Australia) – MPB really hit the mark in the mouth this year. Since opening in 2008 they have been building a solid core range, which is now a standout of to-style Aussie brews, demonstrated by their Pale Ale, IPA, Brown Ale and Porter. Mornington’s imperial range – IPA, Amber, Stout, and the Imperial Coffee Brown Ale released for GABS – are all deliciously wonderful and refined. I’ll even go as far as saying that their Imperial range are “wow beers”.I’m not so much into their Wit, Sorachi Kolsch or Hef, but that’s just my own style preferences. Nonetheless, their long list of very good specialties released this year and their consistency of loveliness saw MPB shoot up very high on the ladder of Australian brewery goodness.

Look out for craft beer cans from Mornington in 2014!

Best New Beer of 2013

A bottle and glass of Red Hill whisky barrel aged imperial stout

Grandly gorgeous, the Red Hill Brewery Double Barrel Aged Imperial Stout in 500ml bottles.

Red Hill Brewery Double Barrel Whisky Aged Imperial Stout – …just because it gave me every thing I want in a big bold black beer. Silky smooth deeply complex delightfulness. This beer wins on Imperial Stout/whisky fan-boy merit.

New Beer Highlights of 2013:

  • Auld Bulgin’ Boysterous Bicep Smoked Belgo Imperial Mussel and Oyster Stout – Murray’s Craft Brewing and The Crafty Pint
  • Jumping the Shark Imperial Stout – Moon Dog Brewing
  • Summer Ale – Mountain Goat Beer (primarily because they are the first Aussies to package a sessionable craft ale in a traditional 375ml can)
  • Killer Sprocket Amber Ale and Riverside 44 Amber Ale – good local Amber ales were becoming far too rare in recent times, so these two meaty and smooth Ambers were very welcome additions to the local market this year
  • Leader of the Pack IPA – Black Dog Brewery
  • Aurora Borealis – collaboration between Bridge Road Brewers and Nøgne Ø

This year, my votes for the Local Taphouse Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beer poll reflect that, in 2013, I finally settled on Imperial Stout as my personal favourite beer style. So, my votes went to:

  1. Red Hill Double Barrel Whisky Aged Imperial Stout
  2. Mornington Peninsula Imperial Stout
  3. Murray’s Auld Bulgin’ Boysterous Bicep
  4. Moon Dog Jumping The Shark
  5. Mountain Goat Summer Ale (scores a “yay” vote for the 375ml craft beer can love)

As always, voting for only 5 Aussie beers is a painfully difficult task. Yet again there were too many wonderful beers from 2013 that I want to mention and give props. I simply minimised the pain by not thinking about it or analysis it too hard, and just quickly punching out votes for the favourites that first came to mind. These are the standout beers that made the biggest impression on me in 2013.

Auld Bulgin' Boysterous Bicep beer review for International Stout Day 2013

Auld Bulgin’ Boysterous Bicep Smoked Belgo Imperial Mussel and Oyster Stout, sadly super limited but we were able to score 2 bottles.

Best New Bottleshop in 2013 (Melbourne)

Grape and Grain Liquor Cellars, Moorabbin – the super enthusiastic and friendly John Tei has taken a fairly decrepit and wine focused bottleshop and transformed it into a craft beer paradise for Melbourne’s south. This year saw good beer dominate the shop space and their sales. Last year, their craft beer stock was limited to two fridges and some small shelf space. A few months into this year, craft beer started outselling macro beer on a weekly basis, and now the beer geeks on Melbourne’s south flock to Moorabbin for new releases and a great supply of local and international brews.

The shop has (already in-progress) plans to install an in-store cafe bar and nanobrewery, which will help transform the slightly derelict precinct around the store, across from Moorabbin railway station. The local council has grand plans to transform the shopping strip into the vibrant hot spot for local retail and business, and Grape & Grain will be the flagship. You can see the potential there, and we’re all looking forward to the next stage of development.

Grape & Grain also win through their effective social media communication for promotion and sales, a similar ethic to the very successful Slowbeer (which remains Melbourne’s best overall beer shop across the long-term). Want a limited beer put aside for you? Just tweet @TheGrapeGrain and they’ll let you pick it up when convenient for you. Brilliant modern service, which more and more places are using, but it’s not embraced to the friendly, responsive and effective extent shown by the likes of Grape & Grain and Slowbeer.

BAR

Best Bar of 2013

The front room of The Alehouse Project

Cosy characterful design at Alehouse.

The Alehouse Project, Melbourne Australia

It’s a long way from where I live, but it has everything I want in a bar that makes every visit there worthwhile. Alehouse Project provides the taps, food, space and vibe that make a good beer session so enjoyable and easy.

Much to my delight, their tap beers are clearly listed with style and price on a chalkboard behind the bar. It annoys me muchly when there is no clear signage showing what beers are on tap and how much they cost, which is far too common around Melbourne bars.

Kegs lining a wall at The Alehouse

Loads of beer love.

The Alehouse’s 12 direct pour tap beers are always diverse, covering a broad spectrum of styles and price. Their food is excellent beer food but also excellent food by itself.

Brick walls, wooden tables, old couches, window seating, rugged art, quirky wall stuff. It’s a comfortable and characterful bar, with three rooms and a beer garden to choose from when seeking your corner to disappear into…with a tasty beer.

The Alehouse Project regularly holds special events, such as their HopFest/Hip Hop Hooray IPA festivals, that generate added excitement for their tap line-up.

Ultimately, the bar just feels good and the beer is great, praise confirmed by them winning Best Pub in the Time Out Melbourne Bar Awards 2014.

The Alehouse Project lightbox sign

The Alehouse Project in Brunswick East, making good beer easy.

Runner up

Hashigo Zake, Wellington New Zealand – damn, Wellington is spoiled… with wonderful bars like Goldings Free Dive, Little Beer Quarter, the Malthouse, The Hop Garden and Bruhaus all within walking distance of each other. However, it is Hashigo Zake that stole my heart first, during a New Zealand holiday back in August. This underground bar with many nooks is a place I’d love to disappear into daily. Centrally located, but protected from the city noise. Many taps and uncommon beers. Craft beer knowledgeable and intelligent. Eccentric yet simple. TARDIS like. Red and black.

Interior view of Hashigo Zake bar

I could hideaway in Hashigo every day.

BAND

Best Australian Album Release of 2013

I See Seaweed vinyl albumI Sea Seaweed – The Drones

Many music reviewers and critics praised this album as the finest work yet from The Drones, reinforcing the often spoken claim that this band gets better with every album they release. I agree. Epic yet raw, rich but earthy and real. Musically and lyrically harsh in a wonderful way of creativity, talent and intelligence. Play it again, and again, and again… you’ll go through all the emotions.

Runner up

Not Art – Big Scary

An eclectic offering of evolution, art and more true talent from this young duo’s with their second full album. It grows on you, it surprises you. Lovely, fuck yes and rock on Big Scary.

Gig of 2013

The Drones at The ForumThe Drones at The Forum, Melbourne – Boom. Typical Drones. Loud and raw, with extra awesome from the energy provided the by Forum space.

Runner up

Espy NYE – Every year this is a winning way to bring in the new year with over 6 hours of live Aussie music. This year was the third year out of the last four we have spent New Year’s Eve at The Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda. We caught Something For Kate, The Basics, Lurch & Chief, House of Laurence and The Dark Alleys rip up the final hours of 2013 in loudly rocking good style. Due to set clashes, we missed out of Dallas Crane and Bodyjar. Nonetheless, a brilliant night.

Honorable mention: Something for Kate / Grinspoon at The Ferntree Gully Hotel – It was great to see these rock acts hit up an outer-suburbs pub…and they score this mention here because of the service because this opportunity is now lost. Yes, it seems the Ferntree Gully Hotel have ditched their bandroom (“The Middle”) in favour of some kind of lame cabaret venue. ewww and sigh.

AND FOR 2014…

The craft beer economy is beginning to boom in Brisbane, and the BrewVegas festival in March 2014 will showcase exactly how good Brisbane’s beer scene can be.

During May in Melbourne, Good Beer Week promises to be the best yet. I’m really excited about how GBW is penetrating different corners of our culture. The inclusion of music events during 2013 made me very happy, so there is much anticipation about who will jump into bed with craft beer next. I’m excited.

Further, the ever expanding Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular (GABS) – now officially part of Good Beer Week – will surely be the highlight. GABS made excellent progress with their layout and logistics in 2013… and while it seems there may be TOO MANY beers available in 2014, I know the organisers will be working hard to improve further on all aspects of attending and enjoying this incredible concept of a big crafty beer event. Gold.

Event poster for Craft Beer RisingCraft Beer Rising – Saturday, 22 February 2014 The Crafty Pint presents a new way to spread and escalate the love for Australian craft beer. Craft Beer Rising 2014 will be the first national day of celebration in honour of the Aussie beer world. The aim of the day is essentially a metaphoric fireworks display of beer enjoyment (most likely via a social media trajectory), encouraging everyone to buy, drink and share local beer. Save the date!

Speaking of local…

My hometown of Belgrave is on the cultural rise, with festivals, venues and community activities coming to life in exciting ways. Oscar’s Alehouse is growing, Sooki Louge (the reborn Ruby’s, which needs a full post to itself) has hit the ground running, the End of the Line Festival is an event like no other, Grunge Cafe restored cafe excellence to the town, and more good stuff – under the banner of beer bar bands – is on its way to Belgrave!

There will also be a very special Good Beer Week event centered in Belgrave this year. All I can say is that…when the event is announced…GET ON BOARD!

Breweries to watch: Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company (VIC), Riverside Brewing Company (NSW), Young Henrys (NSW), BrewCult (VIC), Nail Brewing (WA).

Bands: I’m not quite in-tune with what releases are pending in 2014, but I’m looking forward to the new Papa vs Pretty album, White Dear Park, and my retro 90s love will make me very interested in the new Presidents of the USA album. The Jezabels have a new album out this month – The Brink – which should provide more upbeat rock tracks for my running playlist. Who else has new music coming?

Wish for 2014: More free WiFi across cities (which may already be coming to fruition) and at bars and breweries.

Happy new year.

Bare feet, guitar pedals, streamers and a 2014 foam hat

One thought on “Beer Bar Band Bests 2013

  1. Cant argue with any of this. It truly has been a great year for beer. The only other thing I am looking forward to musically at this stage is the new album from Mogwai and *fingers crossed* a new Interpol album.

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