Sunday, May 13, 2012

Good Beer Week

Beer and Cider Sorbet Masterclass
Disclaimer: I did not pay for this masterclass, Good Beer Week invited some bloggers free of charge. The opinions reported below are based solely on my thoughts at the time of my visit.


Beer, cider and ice cream. Ice cream, cider and beer. Definitely three of my favourite things. Although until last night’s Beer and Cider Sorbet Masterclass at St. Peter’s Bar and Restaurant in the city, I had no idea they made such a wonderful threesome.  

The event took place as part of Good Beer Week and was hosted by beer prodigy Kirrily Waldhorn (more commonly known as Beer Diva), Ricketts Point Artisan Ice Cream and Napoleone & Co. Cider. Kirrily has been in the beer industry for about 13 years. This chick knows her brews like the back of her hand, which makes it even more difficult for her to pick a favourite.
“Picking a favourite beer is like picking a favourite child; sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s not!” she said.
The evening was split into two parts: a beer and cider appreciation sitting and a hands-on ice cream making class with Som Sayasane, owner of Ricketts Point. Guests were treated to a glass of Napoleone apple cider upon arrival, served in a champagne flute. Apparently Kirrily never serves beer or cider in a traditional glass, and from now on, neither will I. The flavours of the delicate apple cider were better suited to the thin vessel, which forced us to sip slowly rather than guzzle. 

“Do you drink beer or cider out of the bottle?” asked Kirrily, who was more or less met with a “yes” from everyone.
“How about wine?” she queried.
While I could think of a couple of times I had consumed wine straight from the bottle, I still knew where she was going with this.
“Eighty per cent of taste comes through our noses,” Kirrily continued, “If there is one thing I want you to take away from this, it’s drink beer, drink cider, out of a glass… it’s the best way to appreciate all of the flavours.”

It is truly amazing how the presentation of your drink can alter your preconception of what it will taste like, and therefore the entire experience of consuming it. As for cider served with ice at your local, if the drink is the right temperature, it shouldn’t need it. Then again, most people are used to drinking cordial cider, like Rekorderlig, which has masses of sugar and practically no fresh fruit (in fact it’s made from pear and apple wines), so ice blocks are a good idea to water down the sugariness of it all. 

Napoleone is a family owned business that grows their own fruit, so they have total control over the quality of what goes into their bottles. It shows. After the apple cider, we sampled the pear cider — made with two varieties of pears — a beautifully crisp drink with a wonderful aftertaste of fresh pears. It wasn’t overly sweet like many pear ciders, and it tasted like it was made with barely overripe fruit. 

A cider, made from five different apples, aged in American oak and then back-blended with fresh apple juice was pulled out of the fridge next. I loved that the blend was an experiment, “something we got our winemakers to do to keep them from getting bored.” Supposedly, it was meant to be a touch spicier and darker than the first apple cider we tried. It was a touch sharper, although we found it difficult to tell the difference overall.

Next it was time to move on to the beer, which went wonderfully with the bowls of crisps, pork scratchings and nuts. The tasting component wasn’t just Kirrily spouting information — although she did that incredibly well. Instead, it was interactive. The crowd was a mix of brewers and novices who wanted to learn more about beer and cider. Everyone asked questions and Kirrily’s knowledge was astounding. Every now and then she’d throw in a bit of history and some facts. For example, did you know that people are the only animals who don’t reject the taste of bitterness outright, and that women are more perceptive to bitterness than men? It makes sense then that beer, or coffee for that matter, are an acquired taste. We need to train our palates to appreciate them. 

But it wasn’t just about drinking. Kirrily also put our pouring skills to the test. Most people pour their beer with the glass on a slant. Kirrily’s advice? Don’t. Pouring a beer is all about the foam. As she pointed out, “there’s nothing worse than getting a beer that is flat.” Any beer aficionado will tell you that the head of a beer is an important taste component and a crucial part of the drinking experience. The best way to pour a beer is to leave the glass flat, create the foam first, and then fill up the glass. You should be left with a firm foam that sticks to the sides of the glass as it’s emptied.

The four beers we tasted came from Grand Ridge Brewery. The first was the Natural Blonde Wheat Beer, a light and summery Belgian-style brew made with coriander and orange peel. The citrus seeped through noticeably and the slight honeyed flavour balanced out the subtle bitterness. Kirrily recommended drinking it with fresh seafood such as scallops and prawns, Vietnamese food made with coriander to draw out the ingredients of the beer, or even goats cheese.

The Brewers Pilsner came next, a fruity lager brewed with Saaz hops that creates a floral aroma. It was quite sweet with a malty taste and overall very easy to drink. It was interesting hearing Kirrily talk about our prejudice against lager. Apparently 90 per cent of the beer we drink in Australia is a lager, and many beer snobs associate it with the likes of Carlton, Crown, Fosters, Melbourne Bitter and VB. The brewers Pilsner was far superior to all of them.

The Hatlifter Stout was my personal favourite. A stout should be served around room temperature, and getting this wrong can ruin the drinking experience. The Hatlifter is a very dark, creamy drink with a strong coffee aroma, chocolate undertones and a hint of liquorice. It is the perfect cold weather brew. Kirrily suggested marinating meat in stout before chucking it on the barbeque. Not only is it tasty, it has been scientifically proven that it lessens the amount of carcinogens from barbequing. Even so, I preferred her other suggestion: pour stout straight over vanilla ice cream!

We finished with Moonshine dark scotch ale. It was incredibly warming, like cognac or port. I love the idea of enjoying this variety as an after dinner drink. It’s very sweet and slightly fruity and would go wonderfully with any form of dessert. Kirrily suggested using it to poach fruit, which I will definitely try. Perhaps some rhubarb, seeing as it’s in season and is downright delicious. 

After the Moonshine, it was time to put our kitchen skills to the test. I’m not going to lie, by this point any cooking skills I can usually lay claim to were severely compromised from the appreciation session. Anyway, Ricketts Point prides itself on authentic, high quality ice cream made with fresh ingredients using original recipes. They supply their product to Melbourne’s best restaurants, bars, cafes, gastro pubs and hotels, and they work closely with leading wineries and producers.

We were shown how the pros at Ricketts Point make ice cream, using very specific to-the-gram ingredient measurements. We split into small groups and mixed together some powders, dissolved them in warm milk, added cream, egg yolk and then some of the Hatlifter Stout, before putting the mixture into some ice cream machines.  

The two machines take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to make ice cream, but Som gave us a demonstration using dry ice and a mixer which only took a few minutes.

Both varieties of ice cream were divine, but the quick method didn’t quite match up to the machine. Both had a slightly fizzy tang from the stout. The best way to describe the flavour is that it had a similar aftertaste to a spider. The ice cream produced using the machine was incredibly smooth and silky. Som suggested adding a shot of coffee or some chocolate to the recipe to bring out the flavours of the beer… or simply adding more beer to taste!

After we’d made a mess and left a pile of dirty spoons in the kitchen, we regrouped to finish off the session. The guests were ecstatic that ‘finishing off the session’ meant eating a scoop of cider sorbet in a glass, followed by mini cones of stout ice cream topped with crispy specks of brown sugar.

Som carried out the finale on a clear tray: flawless cider sorbet ice cream sticks shaped like mini Magnums and hearts. No prizes for guessing which shape I chose! 

Som like it cold!

As everyone said their thank yous and goodbyes, Kirrily gave them a goody bag of four varieties of Rickett Point ice cream and sorbet, a mixed four-pack of the beer we had sampled and an apron.

The group stumbled out of the restaurant into 11.7°C. Some went for dinner, holding their bags against their chests to shield them from the cold, others waited to be picked up while they polished off their sorbet sticks, jaws chattering. If nothing else, this Good Beer Week event helped to prove my theory: it’s never too cold for ice cream or too early for good quality beer. 

What's your favourite beer or cider?


  1. What a fun sounding night. I have to agree with your comments about how to pour a beer - I lived in Belgium for six months (they are beer fanatics there) and the emphasis was always on a big head on the beer which enhanced the flavour.

  2. It was a blast! I adored the beer in Belgium, although I was only there for a week or so. Come to think of it, you're absolutely right about the importance of a big head... Although after the fourth or so glass I'm sure they begin to care less ; ) !