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Mikkeller 1000IBU: Strong Medicine

Mikeller 1000IBU (beer)

Unrated: novelty value only

Mikkeller – Denmark’s ‘gypsy brewer’ – is famed for a number of things, but his achievement of making what is supposedly the world’s hoppiest beer is now seared into my memory. And palate.

With a theoretical rating of 1000 International Bitterness Units (IBUs), Mikkeller 1000 IBU has a reputation that makes it irresistable, in the same way that a dangerous mountain or really spicy food is alluring because of the challenge it promises. I like hops, even very strong double IPAs, so I scurried down to The Scratch in excitement, like a moth attracted to a fiery green hop-lamp. Needless to say, I got burnt.

I’ll let the photos describe the experience for you.

It looked like this:

And I was like:

BITTER

Because it tasted like:

I guess sometimes memorable accomplishments aren’t always pleasant. Having guzzled almost half a litre of this stuff, I feel like I have more hops in me than the average brewery.

Much like Rex Attitude, this an a beer for extremophiles. Try it once, at the end of a session, and savour the craziness even as your palate dries and your eyes start to water. Don’t even think about trying to enjoy anything afterwards.

BONUS FACT: This was the 4.9% ‘lite’ version. Apparently they do a 9% one which is inexplicably named ‘ultramate’.

Maaaaate.

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First look: Underbelly (the bar)

** Editor’s note – Underbelly has sadly, er, gone under since the publication of this post.

Underbelly –371 Queen st, Brisbane (under the Tank Hotel)

It’s probably a bit early to pass final judgement on Brisbane’s newest craft beer joint – the paint is literally still drying on the walls – but here are some first images if you didn’t make it opening night.

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How was it, you ask? My first impression of this place is that it’s got a superb selection and friendly service, but falls down a bit on the ambience side. The name ‘Underbelly’ seems to be a reference the pub’s location in a basement rather than any gangster themes (mercifully).

Drinking in a basement doesn’t offer much in the way of sensory pleasure – it’s rather dark and noisy – but for many, the vast selection of beer and cider will make up for it.  There are a few bars in Brisbane where you can get a selection this good and a nice ambience, but these are all suburban spots like The Scratch and Bitter Suite; Underbelly is surely the best place to get rare cider and beer in the city. Within the CBD, Super Whatnot and Brew offer vastly better vibes and a few tasty beers, but their selection has nothing on Underbelly’s giant black menus. With the demand for novel beer rising steadily in this city, I won’t be surprised if the punters are prepared to overlook the racket and lame pop art to access offerings from distant brewers like Mikeller and BrewDog.

At this stage, Underbelly is only open Monday to Friday – I suggest you nip in and have a cheeky midweek brew, and see what you think.

EDIT – chatted to a lass last night who was pretty sure that Underbelly’s art is from IKEA…

Tank Hotel on Urbanspoon

Research adventure: beer in Africa

Right, so Australia’s last beer giant (Fosters) got taken over by a South African company recently. Philistine went to Africa to research the invading army, and their beer habits.  First, I tried the brews that most the world’s 50-million saffas generally chug on the average weekend, while charring meat on open fires and guturally discussing rugby or soccer (indeed, they are more like us than we imagine).

In spite of the burgeoning craft beer market, these three are still the main contenders. The battle between Castle and Black Label plays out with all the passion of hobos fighting in a parking lot – and about as much skill. Both are typical bulk-brewed domestic lagers designed for heavy drinking rather than flavour; it’d be tricky to discern these from XXXX or Toohey’s New in a blindfolded taste test. Amstel is slightly better, mainly because it tastes entirely different to the Corona-esque dross that is served in clear, Amstel-branded bottles on our shores.

Also popular but a bit more remarkable is Castle Milk Stout – the only other stouts using lactose I’ve ever seen are niche products rather than mass-produced, so it’s quite exciting that this stuff is so popular in townships in South Africa. It tastes pretty damn good, with a pleasant balance of sweet, complex malts and ashiness on the finish.

Milk stout is usually the limit of the interesting stuff you’ll get in most bottle stores; the booming craft beer scene is yet to penetrate the mainstream. However, with only a little hunting, it’s possible to snag all kinds of new material. Most still taste a bit like lager in some way or another, but there are some very interesting contenders emerging. Here’s four that I managed to round up in an afternoon:

This was quite the bro-tastic start to the tasting session: a beer made by the Van Hunks. Their initial club for vintage VW combi vans and bodybuilding eventually hit a rut, until one of them took up homebrewing. This is the result:

OK, not really. ‘Van Hunks’ is actually a Cape Town legend about a farmer that out-smoked the devil.  With a name like that you might expect a smoked beer; instead the local Boston Brewery has opted for a truly spicy brew that shows very little pumpkin flavour but plenty of nutmeg and cinnamon. Strange stuff, but it’s very well made and quite drinkable.

‘Bone Crusher’ by Darling Brewery is inspired by the hyena, but unlike a hyena it doesn’t gobble rotting carcasses or leave weird greenish shits all over the bush (seriously, they do this).

Instead, it is one of the most flavourful, balanced white ales (witbiers) that I’ve ever laid lips on. Coriander and orange peel go into this beer, and it’s bottle conditioned. On the nose it’s richly floral, then mildly sour on the palate and finishes with a delicious spiciness.  Darling is a tiny, dry country town that is home to South Africa’s own version of Dame Edna. I’m hoping the local brewer has the means to get a few of these to Brisvegas, as I expect they’d sell well among beer snobs and heavy metal fans alike.

Distinctly less refined but also memorable is Robson’s  wheat beer, made in Durban. This stuff is the cloudiest, sourest beer I’ve tried in ages, and I’m still not sure if that was the intended result.

It also froths with unholy vigour; I stumbled while holding this beer and the slight bump was enough to turn it into a spouting foam-rocket. The last few mouthfuls of this went into the sink, mainly because they were grey and full of sharp-tasting yeasty gunk. Whether this stuff is the result of brewery infection or a very acquired taste, I was surprised to find something like it in a conservative seaside bottle store.

By contrast, Berne is very pretty – and very sessionable. This is an ‘amber’ lager so it has a bit of malt and toffee on the palate, as well as hints of yeastiness and a lot more carbonation than your average lager. Not a huge jump from the mainstream in flavour here, but it’s carried off well and might get people a bit more interested in craft ales. However, at the princely sum of 24 Rand ($3) for 500ml it’s over twice the price of Castle, commonly served in 750ml ‘quarts’ (don’t say ‘tallie’ in South Africa; it’s a euphemism for ‘penis’). Unlike the Australian market, there really is no price comparison between craft ales and factory stuff for Saffas. Still, the diversity of options is growing rapidly, with cool breweries operating all over the country.

One last thing: craft beer in Malawi is hilariously behind the Saffa scene – or way ahead, depending on how you look at it.  Beer fanatics will be fascinated to read about the soupy millet weirdness that is ‘Chibuku Shake Shake’, but I’ll leave that tale to Canadian bloggess, Nina Lex.

Philistine is back in Oz next week, possibly to write some abuse about the increasing prevalence of mounted deer heads in bars.

Also – a very special St Patrick’s Day beer…

How many of you are likely to drink some green beer this weekend? This one only features at The Scratch and the secret ingredient is pretty damn interesting. Also, it involves no colourant – it’s pale green, naturally. Tweet me if you think you’ve got this one figured out.

A fate better than death. Much better, really.

The Hideaway – 7.5/10

When you die, supposedly you see a long dark tunnel with a light at the end of it. That theory is probably bogus, but you need not miss out. Fortitude Valley now can offer a similar experience in real life.

Walking down the seedy end of Brunswick Street is a bit like dying. The numerous $1 peep show joints and urine-stained sleepouts are really grim places – but as of late last year there is a light at the end of this rather dark walkway. That light is The Hideaway.

Go towards the light.

The rewards of venturing into the valley’s grubby end are huge. The Hideaway is a café by day, bar by night and it has a pretty unique look; imagine a funk musician decided to renovate your granny’s lounge but kept the furniture, and you’re getting close. You’ll quickly forget Brunswick’s harsher realities in this setting, with a combination of friendly service, good music and very decent beer to carry you through the night.

Tap beers tend to be local craft brews but the selection in the fridges goes well beyond Queensland – the highlight of my visit was a ‘Torpedo’ IPA from Sierra Nevada brewery in California. The ferocious ‘Red Belly Black’ (Imperial Red Ale, 10%) from Bacchus was almost as good, although it put me firmly in hangover territory by my fourth beer.

I didn’t get to sample the coffee or food on my visit (these are daytime things, I think) but the music is certainly taken pretty seriously here. I visited on the opening night of the ‘resonate’ series, currently hosted by country-goth gurus The Westerlies and featuring a series of skilled musicians over the course of the month. The venue works well for music – the acoustics are decent, and the space is deep enough that those close to the stage can be really absorbed in the music but conversations can continue at the other end of the bar.

A glance at the ‘what’s on’ page reveals that all kinds of entertainment goes on in this place, ranging from blues to ska to soul and even a burlesque show this Friday. For those more interested in food and drink, there are occasional tastings earlier in the week, featuring brewers and home-made snacks. Boredom is apparently not on the menu, whatever day you step into this place; I wouldn’t be surprised to find it really quite busy on standard drinking nights.

The Hideaway may be aptly named but it is really is worthwhile to weave your way past the homeless alcoholics and pregnant strippers to give it a look. If you’re a train commuter, it’s even easier – just hop off at Fortitude Valley station, turn right and avoid eye contact for thirty seconds and you’ve arrived.

(Now, go towards the light.)

The Hideaway on Urbanspoon

Super Whatnot

Super Whatnot – 48 Burnett Lane, Brisbane

8/10

Two of my favourite things in this city are, surprisingly, related to bits of government legislation. No, really. The emergence of the Small Bars license and the council’s Vibrant Laneways Program are doing all kinds of great things right now. Critics sneer and whinge that this amounts to some kind of Melbournisation of our city. I suspect Melbourne didn’t invent laneways or small bars, and even if they did, they’re a great invention and their growth in Brisbane is fantastic – and I have proof.

Super Whatnot is the beautiful progeny of two juicy bits of burueacratic goodness; an excellent small bar, hidden in a laneway. Also, it serves the majestic beers of Ross Kenrick (Bacchus Brewing co.) on tap, and is run by a dude who, if he did have a superpower, would choose to be able to shoot clouds out of his hands. Needless to say, Super Whatnot is an interesting place. The decor is a funky mix of high-quality fittings and exposed masonry, and the range of cocktails and wines seems decent. Here’s an interior shots from the bar’s facebook page.

Food is also pretty special here; the newly-released menu riffs on a roughly mexican theme but pulls in clever ingredients to deliver novelty that makes it quite unlike the stuff you’d expect from Guzman y Gomez or Mad Mex. Portions are small but beautifully presented, and prices are modest so if you’re hungry I recommend getting two meals. That said, there are some relatively rich snacks that could be enough to resolve  serious peckishness. The cuban sandwich and fried chicken are particularly incredible dishes; flavours are an exciting mix of crispy saltiness, rich manchego cheese and delicious acidity to balance it out. Some at my table found the cheese a bit too, er, ripe but this wasn’t an issue personally.

Now for the negative. My main grumbles with this spot are the product of its own fame, and will probably pass with time. Like Harajuku Gyoza, it is a bit cursed by its own excellence – crowding becomes an issue here from Thursdays onwards, and the clientele are currently heavily characterised by shrill yuppies in suits. I think the heavy customer load wears on the staff a bit – they’re polite, but also rather haggard and laconic. Definitely no joyous clouds will be shot out of hands until shit calms down in this place.

Last night’s visit really underlined how popular small bars can be, but also how much we need more of them – I stepped into SW at 6pm and couldn’t find a place to sit, and all the taps had already been emptied. With no bottled beers under $9 (and many rising well beyond that), we moved on without touching a drink. Missing out on Cunning Ninja (black IPA, delicious, 10%abv) is quite a painful thing; at least the staff seemed to be handling the situation better than I’ve seen in other establishments.

Minor quibbles aside, I have great faith that as this bar settles into the Brisbane bar scene and the swarms subside a bit, it’s going to endure as one of Brisbane’s best bars. If this is the way of the future, bring it on – I can’t wait ’til we have more bars like this in Brisbane’s burgeoning laneway scene. Judging by the punter response, we certainly need them.
Super Whatnot on Urbanspoon

Mundo Churrasco

Mundo Churrasco – 63 McGregor Terrace, Bardon

7/10

I have the meat sweats.

No, that isn’t some kind of dire STI. The meat sweats are a morning-after symptom of eating at Mundo Churrasco, unless you’re particularly restrained. When you have consumed as much flesh as I did last night, every exhalation and every hint of perspiration evokes smoky roasted meat. In the better moments, this is excellent and seems worthy of growing a ferocious beard and sourcing a house of concubines. More often, I shudder faintly and wonder if this is a bit like a meat hangover, or possibly the onset of colon cancer.

Consequences aside, eating at Mundo Churrasco is a excitingly carnivorous experience. The restaurant is styled on a Brazilian BBQ – you pay the flat rate of $38.50, sit at your table, and the waitstaff will start to bring huge hunks of sizzling, freshly barbequed meat over. These are colossal cuts of beef, lamb and pork – a few were bigger than my head. Smaller food items like chicken and spiced pineapple are brought out sometimes too, they help space things out. This goes on until you say stop, or until are literally waddling and small blood vessels are starting to burst in your eyes and nostrils. Guess which option I went with.

The Brazilian barbeque format is unusual. This is the first restaurant where tongs have been a standard item alongside knives and forks – they’re there so you can grab hunks of meat as they’re sliced off their skewer. You also get an ‘indicator’ to show if you want more meat, or are having a break. This eating format has a lot of novelty to it and really delighted a lot of people – there is something quite exciting about the arrival of each skewer, sizzling and bovine and immense. The meat is high quality, the service is friendly and the ‘banquet’ feel is conducive to large parties.

Mundo Churrasco does have a few downsides, mostly related to price and ambience, but these aren’t critical to the dining experience. Booze arrangements aren’t ideal if you’re on a budget; at a rate of nearly $40 just for food, BYO would be great but instead there is a bar which offers a range of pretty standard beers and a few Spanish lagers like Alhambra. These are priced fairly but it is a bit alarming how easy it is to spend over $60 on a meal that feels more like a buffet than haute-cuisine. The meat is quite heavily brine-marinated too, which is generally delicious but could bear a bit of innovation. The sides served with the meat are pretty bland and decor and lighting doesn’t add much to the experience at all, though with the general focus on gorging oneself, this is less of an issue than restaurants where you might take it easy and soak up the ambience.

My verdict is that this isn’t a ‘date’ venue unless your relationship is well-established and you both really, really like meat. I’d favour it more for group dining, particularly if you’ve had an afternoon of modest drinking or heavy exercise. Save your pennies, loosen your belt and check it out, but don’t go for the romance.

Mundo Churrasco on Urbanspoon