I keep a list at the back of my mind of things that I won’t even TRY cooking at home. ‘Sashimi (fugu)’ tops the list, followed by ‘sashimi (normal)’ and ‘croissants’. I recently added ‘cocktails’ to the list, after an enraging series of failures to get even a basic mojito right – much to the detriment of my duty-free stash of oversized bottles of spirits. I don’t try making cocktails because they’re very hard to do well. Thing is, I can’t make ’em, but nor can half the supposed cocktail barmen I’ve ordered from here in Brisvegas. Getting a cocktail just right requires a lot of skill in balancing complementary flavours, and I only know a couple of places in town (like Bowery) that you can reliably get a good cocktail irrespective of what and when you order.
Thus, I was interested – and a bit apprehensive – when I heard that both Super Whatnot and Laneway had released new winter cocktail menus recently. I love good bars like a one-eyed cat loves its kittens, and I so wanted these two to get it right. Winter’s a great reason to come up with new ways to get drunk, and I’ve already seen mixed results in the beer scene, with Stone and Wood pushing their very hyped, very average ‘Jasper Ale’, and Two Birds releasing a vastly superior ‘Sunset Ale’ just in time for the chilly weather. Those two releases had a clear winner, but I wondered: which of the new menus would be better in the cocktail scene?
In these situations, the only sensible thing to do is put as much of each menu in your belly as you can handle, and let them fight it out. So I did.
I started with Super Whatnot, ordering what looked to be their most interesting menu item – the ‘Cobianchi Treacle’. $20 gets you a mix of rum and two kinds of bitters, mixed through a spiced pineapple reduction. I really should’ve taken a hint from the name…
Cobianchi treacle is served in a glass like the kind that your parents got as a wedding present, which is still around thirty years later both because of its sheer battleship-like construction and your mum’s propensity to actively hide it when guests come around. This also describes the vibe of the cocktail – formidable and about three generations back in flavour. It’s a dad-tastic mix that leads with rich, treacly sugariness but offers no acidity or lightness to ease things up a bit. Instead it continues into a mix of spice and marmalade, and finishes thus, leaving the drinker feeling like they have had had, in our dear departed Kevin07’s words, a fair suck of the syrup bottle. Or something.
I finished the drink slowly, feeling like SW had brought a rusty shiv to a culinary shotgun fight. This saddened me: not only is this an awesome bar, their bathrooms are, like, the best thing in at least Queensland. LOOK AT THIS CRAZY SINK.
I left, wallet hurting, vowing to return and cough up for the next best thing on the list.
I scurried onward to Laneway (linked to culinary heavyweights Urbane and the pleasant Euro bar), which was kind enough to treat me to a sampling of their new menu. Mysteriously, they decided to theme their range around train stations in Brisbane. I’m baffled. Trains are awesome, and they let me get around and drink far more delicious things every night than cars ever did, but they are the LEAST SEXY THING. Here is an actual train station; note the quality art and sensual signage.
Fortuately they do make rail travel feel cooler than it actually is in their smartly-designed menu. The cocktails are quite memorable, albeit definitely not designed to please the daquiri crowd. I sampled three and was happy with two, and respectfully fearful of the other, mainly because of its maritime sparseness and potent abundance of Plymouth Gin. The ‘Eagle Junction’ is a Gimlet-style cocktail, which means it’s essentially a mix of gin and cordial. I’m told this relatively old style of cocktail was traditionally taken by naval officers to ward off scurvy. The use of in-house pineapple and sage cordial certainly makes things interesting, but with the only other ingredient being (abundant) gin, this drop is a rough lover that will kiss you with walrus-like captain’s bristles before handing you the edible flower that nestles at the bottom of each glass. Not quite my thing, but its companions ‘Windsor’ and ‘Ferny Grove’ had far more depth and subtlety.
‘Windsor’ sparkles like sherbet on the lips before blossoming into elderflower on the palate, and finishes like a good home-made lemonade. Complex stuff, and very drinkable. I don’t recall similar experiences at Windsor station though. Ferny Grove was perhaps the most interesting – a ‘Terra Rossa’ cocktail that is apparently bottled. It smells like peaches but is only very subtly fruity and sparkling; the finish is extremely dry and earthy, almost like the smell of raw cinnamon. Must be the Quandong liquer.
I left Laneway feeling happy that most punters would find something on the list to enjoy, at least after a couple of hits and misses. It was time to hit up Super Whatnot again, and hope that round two would be a bit less of a grandpa experience. The ‘Smokin’ Paloma’ jumped out at me, promising a very creative twist on the traditional paloma – they use smoked salt, as well as orange liquer and grapefruit juice in addition to the usual lime and tequila.
This was just the ending to my night that I needed – it had bite, the salt worked well and the addition of complex citrus didn’t disappoint. It’s quite likely that this will beat any margarita you’ve ever sampled, but not because it’s flashy – the salt’s smokiness is very subtle and while the citrus goes down a treat, it doesn’t blow you away with novelty. Instead it’s just a solid, well-balanced cocktail that you won’t regret purchasing.
If you like new and clever things, go for Laneway’s menu – you might struggle through some of the drinks, but you won’t be bored. For me, they were the night’s winner, and definitely worth the trek down Mary street.
With that said, if you like safe and delicious things, go for Super Whatnot, but give serious thought to the (awesome) beer taps unless you’re a hardcore cocktail fundi, and remember: if a drink says ‘treacle’, know that they mean it.
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:
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’.
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.
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 Scratch– 8/10
Milton – 8/1 Park Road
I had the pleasure last year of checking out The Scratch on its second day of business, and was charmed from the moment I first laid eyes on their chalkboard: “CRAFT BEER DIVE – OPEN NOW FOR CHEEKY LUNCHTIME BREWS”.
Milton is home to the XXXX brewery as well as a handful of shinily trashy bars; The Scratch is a brave poke in the eye to the well-established banality of Milton’s drinking and dining scene. To call it a dive is probably fair, but it’s the best thing to happen to Park Road in a long time. Indeed, despite its darkness, rather cosy size and unfortunate location on that traffic-addled road, it may be that this dive is in fact the first bar in Milton that is not an utter shithole.
Instead, the Scratch is a true labour of love – as is demonstrated every time one of the owners emerges from behind the bar with free beer samples for the punters to taste and stories of the brewery it came from. Chat to any of the three blokes that run this establishment and you will witness true passion for beer in all its forms, as well as for many things that only vaguely resemble beer (ever tried barley wine? or a stout milkshake? yummy).
You will probably also be exposed to brands and even beer types that are entirely new to you. Discovery of the day for me was certainly the exceedingly high quality beer that a place called Brew Boys in South Australia puts out, which is beautifully labelled and delicious.
The one seeming drawback of a session at The Scratch is that it will generally cost a bit more than a night on the average Carlton rotgut, but after about four beers from this place it dawned on me (hazily) that the extra dollars spent (around $8-$20 per stubbie) do tend to translate into more standard drinks. This is not a place to visit on an empty stomach, as many of the arcane brews on offer have high alcohol content and some are truly powerful. Fortunately the interior is pleasant, so there’s no drawback in taking things slowly.
The Scratch does have the ‘dented op-shop finds’ look that is becoming rapidly cliche, but they carry it off quite well and it’s still infinitely preferable to the gauche ‘chrome ‘n glass’ vibe that is favoured by bogan establishments. They’ve also made some quite decent finds – ‘Warne’s Pleasure Book For Girls’ joins the general adornment of dark wood, retro board games and widely-scattered toy soldiers. Onya, Shane.
The games are a nice touch. ‘Barrel O’ Monkeys’ is enragingly hard after a few hours in The Scratch, but definitely enriches the visit for a lot of people. For the peckish, a selection of very tempting artisan cheeses is on offer, though I was a bit too fixated on the liquid side of my adventures to sample the range. Another perk of this place is the ‘bring your own food’ policy, though the general culinary dross in this area might make it tricky to find a worthwhile snack.
At its best moments, The Scratch transcends its location and puts forward some really new beer experiences, in ways that I haven’t experienced even at worthy competitors like Kerbside and Bitter Suite. I’m glad it’s already getting the love it deserves; here’s hoping it sets a few much-needed precedents in the city’s inner-west. It’s an easy stagger from Milton train station so you really have no excuse but to go and have a look.
Somewhere, someone is still drinking VB.
Yes, in spite of the wide proliferation of tasty microbrewery beer, there are enough stalwart punters still choosing VB’s industrial tang and fermenty, sour finish that the brand survives. And yet, surely the moment will come where even the most snaggle-toothed and alcoholic of greyhound racers will have had a go at something nicer than VB. Will this be the beginning of the end for this brand?
Probably not. I think the end has already begun for those guys, and they know it (although, being just one of the of beers in the Fosters/SAB-Miller paddock, the end isn’t really an end as much as the loss of one sheep from a flock of hundreds). Like the toppling of obscure dictators in sandy places, I am sure the end will be a drawn-out and ultimately pretty embarrassing affair. Perhaps, on some distant night, an angry mob will fire kalashnikovs into a secluded foxhole outside Geelong to destroy the final carton of VB; there will be riotous partying in the streets for days afterwards.
The first signs that VB suspected impending doom came a couple of years back, when they trotted out ‘VB RAW’, which tasted a bit like Becks or Stella Artois but liked to spruik its purity. The marketing (which had a seemingly bottomless budget) gave me a sense they were going for a kinda macho, aspirational vibe – as if to say, ‘this is healthy and tasty yet VERY manly; drinking this doesn’t make you a poof’. RAW wasn’t bad, just a bit forgettable, and it disappeared off the shelves without fanfare within a few months of release. Here’s a shot of this extinct beast, in all its maxtreme glory.
The quiet failure of RAW left CUB with the problem of those rather tasty non-VB beers threatening the ol’ ‘Bitter market share. Presumably the guys who came up with RAW went back to the drawing board, and after much hard work have come up with a second shot at propping up the brand. I think they must’ve learnt a few lessons: the lycra crowd drinks San Pellegrino and protein shakes, and Corona in a pinch, so they’ve wisely opted not to go for another shot at that market.
Instead they’ve made a beer that tastes a bit like VB again, but made it mildly better with some crisp hop flavours and a lot less of the sour hobo-breath aroma that makes the original so infamous. It does go down pretty easily – Victoria Pale isn’t complex but it also isn’t offensive. This slight uppng of the ante won’t shatter the VB stigma, but then, the bottle doesn’t even say VB on it. Not only has it dodged that particular albatross, it also looks pretty fantastic – dumpy and retro, ditching the front label in favour of clever embossed text right on the glass.
It’s a bit sad that this is the only thing that will help this beer stand out. Going on flavour alone, I would bet that this beer fades into the annals of history much like the RAW before it. But hey, people have to see beer before they buy it – and this pretty midrange offering has the old-school visual appeal that James Squire tries so desparately to achieve (but doesn’t). Perhaps that’ll keep it in the game – after all, when your baseline is VB, everything is an improvement.
Next up: the dumpling craze.
Rex Attitude (beer)
Unrated: novelty value only
How did you feel when the Vic burnt down a couple years back? English doesn’t have a single word for my sentiments, so we’ll borrow from German: Schadenfruede: ‘joy at the suffering of one’s enemies’. The sweet smell of schadenfruede and ash accompanied my stroll to work for weeks after that fire.
The use of german is apt, because I relive this feeling every time I visit the Brisbane German Club. It was this grubby establishment that introduced me to one of my favourite drops: smoked beer (or Rauchbier, as some brewers still call it). By drying malt over an open fire, and then using it in the brewing process, you get BEER THAT TASTES LIKE FIRE. Or burning bogan establishments (‘victory’ indeed). The classic is ‘Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier’, which at about $10 a pint is the closest thing that a person can drink to smoky bacon that isn’t, well, bacon grease.
To my delight, I discovered that smoked beer is actually not that hard to find locally. Sunshine Coast Brewery does a really excellent smoked beer, as does the 3 Ravens Brewery – both taste less like bacon and more like proper smoke.
Twitter is a good place for beer dorks since one can talk direct to brewers. Thus, I was told by @Yeastieboys a couple months back that their ‘Rex Attitude’ Golden Ale is the smokiest stuff on the market. It’s made of peated malt: the same stuff that makes some of the world’s more potent scotch (e.g. Laphroaig’s Quarter Cask) taste like burning swampwater. Then at a recent tasting, local beer guru Matt Kirkegaard apparently described the stuff as tasting ‘like pissing on campfire’. Mmm.
Naturally, I was sold, and scurried down to Archive’s cellar to secure a bottle.
Here it is:
Exciting as it is to look at (as one friend said, “That looks like Trogdor”), Rex Attitude is a brutal experience and I’m not sure if I mean that in a good ‘let’s be heavy metal about this’ way. I have had single malt whisky straight after waking up at 5am and this was even less pleasant than that. In some ways it is still exciting as a novelty and it was drinkable, but a bottle is too much for one man.
On the pour Rex Attitude is deceptively pale and modest; unlike other smoky beers there is no visual cue for the coming devastation. However, the smell is incredible. On opening the bottle, the rich, smoky aroma is intense – very pleasantly scotchy but with a chemical hint that makes me imagine that the paint peeled on nearby walls and eyes watered around the table. One friend could smell it being opened from three metres away, and more than one guest got a bit of methane/ammonia on the nose. Yes, this may indeed be the scent of a burning pit-latrine.
On the palate it attacks ruthlessly, refusing to deliver even a hint of the malty richness that is typical in many smoke beers. It does deliver a strangely dry, intense, inorganic chemical flavour that I’ve experienced once before in old french wine. To be precise, this is the taste of oil paint, right in your mouth. We were all toddlers once, and lessons are learnt at that age.
The finish is lingering in ways that I’ve seldom experienced, too. The ashes of that burning pit-latrine linger at the back of your throat long after the surprised soldier has been carted off to hospital.
In summary: check this out for lols, if you like a challenge, but don’t even think about buying a six-pack. It is not an entirely joyous challenge, but it is much more fun than drinking bacon grease or having a toilet explode under you.