On The Shelf – Birra del Borgo Hoppy Cat Caskadian Dark Ale

By The Gentleman

 

Oh god, I knew it was going to come to this one day. Beer and cats. You should all know that The Lady is mildly obsessed with cats, and by mildly obsessed with cats I mean she’s actually on the career path to being a crazy cat lady. You may see her run past your house one morning chasing a cat yelling “why won’t you love me?!”  Given her love (obsession) of cats it was really no surprise when she got me the Birra del Borgo Hoppy Cat Caskadian Dark Ale for my birthday. It was probably the most excited she’s even been around beer and probably the most ambivalent I’ve ever been around a beer. Cats man, always with the cats.

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I have to admit that I’d never heard of Birra del Borgo before or noticed their funky bottles. The brewery was officially opened in 2005 in a small village in the province of Rieti, Italy, on the border between Lazio and Abruzzo in the nature reserve of the Mountains of the Duchess. Starting with only three beers the brewer has grown, as all good things do, to produce 36 beers. Birra del Borgo focuses on British and Belgian brewing styles, but as the brewer has grown and developed they have started to develop what they call an “Italian way to craft beer” which focuses on the unique ingredients of Italy and the country’s strong culinary tradition to craft some more unique beers, like the Hoppy Cat Caskadian Dark Ale.

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The first thing that stood out to me about the Hoppy Cat, aside from those pesky cats, was the unusual shape of the bottle. It has more in common with a wine bottle than a beer bottle with its shape, a long neck with a rather chubby base. It certainly has a different feel in the hand when you are holding it. As much as I might try to deny it the label is also quite good. The green of the label is reminiscent of the colour of hops and the font is very creative with its use of a hops plant, fish and a hook as letters on the label. There is also a cheeky cat, but for me I much prefer the use of the yellow eyes on the black background. It is quite striking and reminds of the posters for Cats the musical. It’s a playful label that doesn’t overdo the cat focus.

Hoppy Cat

The beer itself is described as a black IPA made with roasted malts and special American hops with a 5.8% ABV and a 55 IBU. It pours a dark brown but with a lightness which makes it almost reminiscent of coca-cola or as the description suggests an almost coffee like colour. There was minimal decent head, which also has a slight brown, caramely colour to it but again I think this might be more down to poor equipment than a sub par beer. It smells strongly of hops and malt and these flavours dominate the pallet. A lot of people have described it as having a slight chocolate flavour but I couldn’t pick up on it. Instead I got a bit of smokiness, a relatively sweet bitterness (I know that sounds weird but hey, I’m drinking a cat beer) and some spicy pine notes that give a bit of a numbness to your mouth. It was an interesting beer that was quite drinkable despite being a relatively strong beer.

Hoppy Cat

The Lady’s cat obsession aside this was quite a good beer. It came in an interesting bottle, had a creative label and was a decent pour with some strong malt and hop flavours. It was probably more drinkable than I expected given the deep dark brown colour, but that’s only a positive. Everyone wants a beer that’s easy to drink at the end of a hard day and maybe a cat to pat.

Hoppy Cat

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On The Shelf – Clare Valley Brewing ‘Miss Molly’ Grape Cider

By The Lady

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So, The Gentleman and I were strolling through one of my favourite liquor stores Parade Cellars in Norwood when we stumbled upon a beautiful woman. Naturally, I turned to The Gentleman and said “I need this woman in my life!” So, we picked up this beautiful, lovely looking sailor girl off the shelf and took her home. The woman in question is actually Miss Molly – the pinup girl character featured on the label of Clare Valley Brewing Company’s Miss Molly Grape Cider.

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Neither of us had ever had a grape cider, so we were curious as to how it would taste. Miss Molly had a very light colour, similar to a white wine. I suppose this is not surprising as it is, in fact, also made with grapes! It is almost like the love child of cider and moscato, so we felt like it would be great for somebody who wanted to start transitioning from cider into wine. Miss Molly was not as sweet as some ciders, a pleasant surprise which resulted in all the fruity flavours being illuminated and enhanced. Miss Molly would be great for an afternoon when you have a hankering for a light drink rather than something rather strong or boozy (an adult kind of pick-me-up!). Alternatively, if you prefer lighter, less alcoholic tasting drinks, Miss Molly would be the drink for you! In the future, perhaps when the weather gets warmer, we would love to use some Miss Molly Grape Cider in some sort of Sangria or another Sunday afternoon-type cocktail.

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The label design is simply gorgeous in addition to Miss Molly  being a rather enticing mascot for Clare Valley Brewing Company  while she stares at you, inviting you to have a taste. I love the colour combination of black, white, cream accompanied by the striking red sunset in the background behind Miss Molly as well as her deep red lips. The bottle cap was also a dandy design addition, with their brewery name being shaped into the silhouette of a charging bull. We here at The Cocktail Challenge adore refreshing, thoughtful and creative label design, so we’re looking forward to checking out some of the Clare Valley Brewing Company’s other drinks  which possess similarly dapper labels including their Red Ale, the Bulls Eye Australian Pale Ale, and the King Kong Stout.  All in all, Miss Molly was a lovely Sunday afternoon drink which The Gentleman and I look forward to sampling more of in the future!

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On The Shelf- Sixpoint Brewery Bengali Tiger IPA

By The Gentleman

 

Half the fun or should I say struggle of On The Shelf is in not only finding cool brands to feature on The Cocktail Challenge but finding cool brands that we can actually get our hands on. So many times we’ve come across something kind of special only to discover that it isn’t available in Australia or is unable to be shipped here. Luckily Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery is not one of those brands and I was able to order a selection of the brewer’s fine ales.

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The Bengali Tiger IPA is one of Sixpoint’s core brews. It comes in a can, but not a dainty Coke sized can but a big 473 ml pint can. Holding the Bengali Tiger reminded me of being in France and going down to the corner store to buy street beers with my brother. Every beer there came in the same style can and for a Euro or two you got a whole lot of beer. In Australia, despite being a mighty beer swilling nation, the pint can has never really taken off for some reason, which is a shame.

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Looking across the Sixpoint line there is a degree of uniformity I like. The design of each can is essentially the same, except each beer has it’s own colour scheme and logo. It’s a very clean and effective design style. On each can the name of the beer and the brewer name are bold and really stand out so you can see easily on the shelf what it is you’re looking at and who it is by. The Bengali Tiger, as expected, utilises bright orange on its can and has a little tiger logo that is all symmetry and simplicity. It is a design that really works and shows how important organisation is in design and how effective repetition can be.

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Opening up the Bengali Tiger you get a strong hit of citrus. Pouring it out, the beer is quite a hazy orange colour that generated only a bit of head. It had quite a hoppy bitterness to it and it felt very thick in the mouth, I guess from the relatively high alcohol volume of 6.4% and the high level of hops and malt. In the after taste I definitely got some of the pine and general citrusy feel with a bit of an almost numbing sensation in the aftertaste, probably from the pine. Looking into the beer a bit more I can now better understand why the beer cocktail I made with it tasted the way it did (more on that later in the week).

 

For my first Sixpoint beer the Bengali Tiger IPA was encouraging. It looked good and tasted pretty good too, I definitely enjoyed the citrus/pine mix, and with it’s presence expanding in Australia it could be the next Brooklyn based brewer to follow in the footsteps of Brooklyn Brewery and come to capture the attention of Australian beer drinkers. It certainly cuts an impressive figure that should help it stand out on the shelves.

 

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On The Shelf- Acme California Pale Ale by North Coast Brewing

So after running the On The Shelf section of the blog for a little while now you’re probably starting to notice a trend, girls. I like hand-drawn pin-up style girls. I have a Bill Ward and Gil Elvgren book as well as a set of original Vargas girl playing cards. For the most part they are tastefully done, classic images of a different age. It’s just a style I’m a fan of, so whenever I see a bottle that uses that style of label I’m going to buy it or someone is going to buy it for me which was the case with North Coast Brewing’s Acme California Pale Ale.

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For starters it was a really nice beer. It has won a bunch of awards at beer events, if that means anything to you when selecting a brew. The site describes it as easy-drinking and clean-tasting beer and that is certainly true. Normally that is the sort of hyperbole I don’t buy into with beer, but it was surprisingly so with the Acme California Pale Ale. I also find few beers refreshing, but the Acme was. In fact, I think I’m fast discovering that Pale Ale’s are my favorite sort of beer. The beer had a great color and it wasn’t too heavy to drink, particularly as I had with a meal.

The Acme label itself, according to the North Coast website, is one of the oldest with a heritage dating back to the 1860s in San Francisco. It’s cool to see a label acknowledging the history in that way. There are actually two beers being made under the Acme brand at North Coast, the California Pale Ale and the California India Pale Ale.

Down to the label. The focus is the Acme girl. Classic marketing girls get me every time. There’s also a great reason to use it given the heritage nature of the Acme label. She’s got a great smile and I love the way her hair flies out as she’s swinging through the air. It’s quite an odd picture when you think about it, why is she swinging on a rope drinking a beer? Then I think to myself, why haven’t I swung on MORE ropes while drinking a beer?

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I like the way she swings and drinks so easily, and in one of those weird marketing ways it signifies how easy the Acme California Pale Ale is to drink. It goes down so well you could drink it while swinging on a rope.

This is a seriously good package. Not only is the label eye-catching and well designed, particularly given the heritage nature of the label, but what’s inside the bottle is just as good.

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On The Shelf- East 9th’s Fog City Red Sangria

Standing at the bar of local establishment The Colonist the girl asked me what I wanted to drink. Scanning the fridges that lined the wall I was struck by the image of a girl, draped in a white sheet with her hand entwined with that of a tentacle of unknown origin against a dark red/maroon background. I didn’t even know what it was, but I just pointed at it and said to the girl “That one.” In response the girl said something about how it was new and she hadn’t tried it yet, but I was just captivated by the image on the bottle. It turns out I’d ordered a bottle of Red Sangria and was to be treated to a drink as delicious as it was beautiful.

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The Fog City Red Sangria is made by Australian brewer East 9th. They operate under the ethos of the free movement from San Francisco, popping up across Melbourne to let lucky customers sample their latest offerings. The Red Sangria is “made from the ripest of red wine grapes and blended with natural citrus fruit flavours”. Pouring it into the glass it had an amazingly dark and deep red colour.

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My previous experience with sangria was limited to a homemade variety at a friends party. The balance was terrible and drinking it was a courtesy to the host all the while my liver and taste buds were screaming at me to stop. As a result I approached this bottle of Fog City with some caution, but it was completely unnecessary. At first the drink was very dry, but after letting it sit on my tongue I was treated to a sweet, fruity flavour that was very nice and quite refreshing. After that first mouthful the rest of the very large bottle was gone rather quickly.

 

Even today, after having the bottle for sometime, the gaze of the girl still captures my attention as she sits on my shelf. Who is she? What is she doing? I want to know more about this person and she’s just a drawing on a sangria bottle! I think that’s when you know you’ve crafted a truly remarkable label for a truly remarkable drink. On The Shelf it goes!

 

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