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Finding the perfect beer for all occasions

Publish Date: 24 Nov 2017

Authored by: James Smith

In a piece first published in the Dec/Jan issue of Halliday Wine Companion magazine, beer authority James Smith explains how to pick the ideal brews for various occasions to impress even the staunchest of wine lovers.

Beer flight

Stocking up on beers for an event used to be far simpler, but now even the shelves of mainstream retail giants are populated with pale ales, IPAs and amber ales. If you’re willing to trawl a little harder, you can serve up some unexpected and delicious experiences. 

Belgian-style beer

Beer bubbles

If your occasion demands something sparkling, it’s a chance to explore the outer fringes of the contemporary beer world. Many brewers are taking inspiration from styles and techniques that, until recently, had been kept alive by a tiny number of believers in Belgium and Germany. Within a broad church of styles often loosely (and controversially) termed ‘sours’, you can find beers with defining features that include lactic and acetic acid, lively carbonation and a drying, vinous tang. 

Serve a Berliner Weisse or gueuze in a Champagne ute and see how it’s received – then reveal it’s beer and also typically half or a third of the strength of wine. Regularly packaged local beers are still relatively lean on the ground, but there are some standouts: 

  • Boatrocker Miss Pinky: a raspberry Berliner Weisse, available nationwide.
  • La Sirène’s Avant Garde range: an evolving series of delicately conceived beers, some featuring wine grapes.
  • 3 Ravens Wild Ravens range: mixed-ferment, barrel-aged and blended beers, again sometimes featuring wine pomace.
  • Boon (Belgium): produces superb gueuze that are generally easier to find than most.

The Great Outdoors

If your summer shindig is at the beach or park, you’ll want refreshment and the portability/crushability of cans. Thankfully, these are at the heart of the beer world these days, with beers based around the lifted tropical aromas of hops grown in Australia capturing drinkers’ affections. 

Stone & Wood’s Pacic Ale pretty much created a new variation on the pale ale theme and plenty of successors are now available. Three fine beers that tick the boxes marked tropical, refreshing and canned are: 

  • Balter XPA: this Gold Coast brewery’s beers surpass the hype garnered by the famous surfing foursome who helped launch it.
  • Philter XPA: a new drop named 2017’s Craft Beer Awards Champion Pale Ale.
  • Green Beacon Wayfarer: with a second production brewery up and running, this Brisbane producer’s excellent beers are more readily available.

Barbecue alternatives

The sun’s beating down and you’re grilling food, so few people will complain about an Esky full of lagers or pale ales. But, should you want to get a little fancy, there are other directions to pursue.

  • IPAs (India Pale Ales) are generally bigger in booze and far hoppier than pale ales. They’re one of the fastest-growing styles in Australia and, when done well, with good reason. The marriage of potent hop aroma, flavour and bitterness, balanced with malt sweetness and a touch of booze, is a happy one. The big flavours and bitterness can face up to charred, hearty meats without fear of being overwhelmed – and cut through fat too. Among those doing it best locally are Pirate Life (IPA and Mosaic), Fixation, Akasha, Feral and Modus Operandi. 
  • A Flanders red-style ale will introduce a little complexity. Popularised by Rodenbach, these oak-aged red ales serve up acidic characteristics, malt sweetness, dark fruits and more; great with rich meats. Holgate Brewhouse’s Wild Red Ale is arguably the best local version, while Rodenbach’s Grand Cru is a relatively widely available classic. 
  • If aiming to complement the grilled food, try matching the caramelised aspect with something like Mornington Peninsula Brewery’s Brown Ale (now handily canned too) or the smokier elements with Wolf of the Willows Johnny Smoked Porter. 

Stout

After hours

If your event is heading late into the night – into fortified wine or cigar territory – there are beers for that too. Typically, you’ll want something fuller, boozier and heartier. 

  • You might do this with a strong ale or barley wine. Grand Ridge’s Moonshine still stands the test of time three decades after it was first brewed; Hawkers’ 2016 Barley Wine should have mellowed since its launch; and Artisan Brewing, from Denmark, WA, offers the highly rated Off Piste. 
  • Big Belgian ales – think Chimay Blue, St Bernadus 12, Rochefort 10 – fit the bill too. Artisan has the gold-medal winning Quadrupel, while any vintage of The Little Brewing Co’s Christmas Ale, even if they’re never brewed again following a change of ownership, are worth picking up. 
  • Finally, there’s the nec plus ultra: imperial stouts – decadent beers crying out for blue cheese and pontication. This year’s vintage of Nail’s 750ml Clout Stout is due out in summer, but there’s a host of diverse, quality versions in 330ml bottles too – choose from Feral’s Boris, Hargreaves Hill’s R.I.S., Red Hill’s Imperial Stout, Batch Brewing’s Tank 6 and Mornington Peninsula’s Imperial Stout.

Next article: Seven brewers to watch

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