beers / BLOG / macro brewery

Beer: Sail & Anchor’s The Bloke

The seasonal releases from Sail & Anchor continue to surprise. So far, the brand has released four relatively bold and definitely enjoyable beers that break the mould of market-driven products from supermarket beer brands.

They haven’t been amazing beers, which generate beer geek hype or praise, but these crafty brews achieve what other large and corporate-influenced brewing companies fail to do with their “special releases”: they hit the mark with appropriate and well made styles that are unique and/or suit the season.

Sail & Anchor’s seasonal efforts are less likely to appeal to the mass market, so it seems that they haven’t been brewed to keep the corporate accountants happy, and that gains my “craft beer seal of approval”.

Yes, I’ve enjoyed the four releases so far. To me, they represent good craft beer, as opposed to “here’s another boring golden lager that we’re trying to pass off as craft beer and worthy of a special limited release.”

It’s a strange phenomena, given my dislike for Sail & Anchor’s regular range of gateway craft beer attempts.

A bottle of Sail & Anchor The Bloke red ale.

Sail & Anchor and Karl Strauss Brewing collaboration beer, “The Bloke”.

The latest release, a red ale called “The Bloke”, is a collaboration with Karl Strauss Brewing Company from San Diego, USA.

Karl Strauss Brewing has a chain of brewpubs across southern California, and I believe their packaged beers are contract brewed.

The collaboration is somewhat surprising – a massive public retail company working with an independent craft brewer – but then again, it’s not surprising at all, considering the existing business relationship and the inception Karl Strauss Brewing.

Woolworths, the mega supermarket company that owns the Sail & Anchor brand, has an exclusive distribution licence over Karl Strauss beers in Australia, which are sold through Woolies’ Dan Murphy’s liquor barns and some BWS stores.

I knew nothing of Karl Strauss beers before they appeared in Dan Murphy’s last year. I soon discovered that they were a welcome crafty arrival. Tasty good beer.

The Red Trolley Ale and Tower 10 IPA are great beers, full bodied and flavoursome. The relatively cheap price of Tower 10, a 7% American IPA, presented a wonderful opportunity for craft beer lovers on a budget. It seems the price has been bumped up a little in recent times… maybe Woolies finally realised that they were selling a rather big beer (comparative to anything else they stock) too cheaply.

More importantly, there’s a poetic story behind this collaboration – which the media release with The Bloke trumpets – one that’s not entirely PR bullshit. Chris Cramer, one of the Karl Strauss Brewing founders, was inspired to start his own brewery following a visit to the Sail & Anchor brewpub in Fremantle, during the late 1980s.

Back then, craft beers and microbreweries were few and far between. At the time, the Sail & Anchor was the flagship of Australian craft beer, with its in-house brewery (known as Anchor Brewing) and as the home-base of the Matilda Bay Brewing Company, it’s owners. Hence, the Sail & Anchor is often regarded as modern Australia’s original craft brewery.

James out from of the Sail and Anchor pub in Fremantle.

I finally made it to the Sail & Anchor in March last year.

Chris Cramer has recalled that the similarities between Fremantle and San Diego, and the success of Matilda Bay’s beer and brewpub operation played a big part in the inception of Karl Strauss Brewing.

The beer world has changed significantly since the 1980s. The Matilda Bay Brewing Company is now owned by Carlton & United Breweries (Fosters/SABMiller), and their original Fremantle brewpub – Sail & Anchor – is now the property of Woolworths.

Despite brewing no longer occurring at Sail & Anchor, the link between it and Karl Strauss Brewing is true, reported on several occasions long before there was any business relationship between Woolworths and Karl Strauss Brewing.

Although…did Chris have ANYTHING to do with this collaboration? I have no idea.

Today, the Sail & Anchor pub in Fremantle is more a case of big business marketing. Half the taps are dedicated to the boring and bland Sail & Anchor core range of mass produced supermarket beers: their Kolsch/Pale/Golden/Amber Ales. meh. The other taps provide an excellent mix of big and small craft beers from local and international brewers. Most of all, the history of the building is undeniable and is showcased throughout, with many reminders of the brewpub that once was, some 30 years ago.

A glass cabinet of old Matilda Bay beers at the Sail and Anchor pub.

The glass cabinet of Matilda Bay Brewing history at the Sail & Anchor.

It includes a glass case filled with original bottles of Matilda Bay and Anchor beers circa 1984-1988, worthy of a beer geek pilgrimage.

I visited the Sail & Anchor for the first time last year, and enjoyed staring that cabinet for quite some time, because many of them have been lost to history.

It’s a great reminder that some of the “craft beer revolution” that we claim of recent years has all happened before.

I wish I could have experience the pub in its Matilda Bay heyday. It’s a great pub, still an excellent drinking venue, but it feels a little sterile now. I suspect it had more character during the 1980s.

An old bottle of Matilda Bay Brewing Co Dark Lager

Long gone, Matilda Bay Dark Lager.

Nonetheless, I had a nice moment or three there.

Back to Sail & Anchor beers of today, which are brewed at Gage Roads, a large contract brewing facility located a couple of kilometres down the road from the Port of Fremantle.  Gage Roads is partly owned by Woolworths.

So far, the brand’s seasonal releases have been – Winter 2013: Jack Tar (imperial stout); Spring 2013: Devil Dodger (IPA), Christmas: Changing Tides (barleywine …age this one until next Christmas).

The Jack Tar I bought myself out of curiosity sparked by the sight of an Imperial Stout in Dan Murphys. After winter last year it’s price was discounted, so I bought a few more bottles to see how it develops with some cellaring.

I received bottles of Devil Dodger and Changing Tides as freebie samples, and have since bought more of the Changing Tides, because it’s now a bargain, selling for a mere $6 from Dan Murphys. That’s $6 for a 640ml bottle of a 11% barleywine that should age well over time, and hopefully be very good for drinking next Christmas.

Again, I received a bottle of this new release, The Bloke, as a freebie sample from the PR company.

I love red ales, there’s not enough of them around in Australia.

The Bloke is richly red. It’s sweet up front and has a good malt depth, providing plenty of flavour to explore in the mouth. It finishes with hoppy edges that aren’t too sharp, providing a decent length and enough enticement to keep drinking more. With a medium body, the beer is easy drinking

The accompanying media release with this beer goes on a bit about “toasty, nutty, toffee” and caramel flavours. It didn’t get so much caramel, toasty or nutty in the mouth, but it is certainly toffee sweet without being astringent.

Sail & Anchor and Karl Strauss Brewing logosThe other essential specs on this beer are:

IBU: 60

ABV: 6%

Malts: Ale, Melanoidin, Caramunich, Medium Simpsons Crystal, Naked Golden Oats, Cararoma, Cararye

Hops: Cascade, Galaxy, Ella, Chinook

Well timed for autumn, it’s a great beer for the season. And at under $8 for a 640ml bottle, it’s good value. So if you do your beer shopping at Dan Murphy’s…get into it.

Just don’t ask me about the name, I have no idea why they called it “The Bloke”.

Music match for this beer: High Hopes (2014) by Bruce Springsteen.

A full glass and a bottle of Sail and Anchor The Bloke red ale.

Malty, red and nicely put together.

Record Store Day Australia, share your plans with #RSDAusAnd don’t forget Record Store Day this weekend, Saturday 19 April (aka Easter Saturday)!

Share the love for physical music. Head to your local record store and buy an album. Support local artists and local businesses.

Long live the album, the real art of music!

Let’s forever enjoy the collection of music that makes a whole, reflecting a time, a story, a start-middle-end. A record.

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