88 Shoreham Road, Red Hill South, VIC 3939
Not so very long ago in Australian history, on the day that the Federal Government announced it’s yearly budget, the newspaper headlines would scream ‘Beer and Cigarette prices to rise!’ You see, that was the most important thing, regardless of whatever reforms were being introduced. To the average Australian what mattered most was the cost of booze and cigarettes. Then in the 1980s, under the Hawke Government, an escalating tax was introduced which increases excise rates every February and August. This took the pressure off the Government on Budget night, and essentially forced manufacturers to either put up their prices every six months, or reduce the amount of alcohol and tobacco in their products.
Initially the impact of this legislation was minimal, but now twenty-plus years down the track it has major flow on effects to the brewing industry. Take for example, Victoria Bitter (or ‘VB’ as it is known), which is Australia’s largest selling beer. In fact, those of you who have watched the DVD features on Quentin Tarrantino’s Inglourious Basterds may have noticed a short amusing feature where ‘Rugged’ Rod Taylor extols the virtues of VB. Four years ago, VB had an alcohol content of 4.9 percent; today it has been reduced to 4.6 percent, verging on the threshold of becoming a mid-strength beer.
If there is a slight irony to this, it is that former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, whose Government implemented this excise, was a previously a world record holder for downing a yard glass. From Wikipedia:
His academic achievements were complemented by setting a new world speed record for beer drinking: a yard glass (approximately 3 imperial pints or 1.7 litres) in eleven seconds. In his memoirs, Hawke suggested that this single feat may have contributed to his political success more than any other, by endearing him to a voting population with a strong beer culture.
Now, why I bring up all this history, is that these tax excises can be carried by the larger brewers, such as CUB (Foster’s Brewing Group), but is crippling to the majority of micro-brewers around the country. Today I am looking at the Scotch Ale produced by Red Hill Brewery, which is a micro brewery located on the Mornington Peninsula. Scotch Ales, to me, have always been fighting beers. Usually they are strong (around 8.5% Alc/Vol), and they’re the beer that tips you over the edge for the evening, and quite often lands you in trouble.
But Red Hill Brewery’s Scotch Ale isn’t quite like that. At 5.8% it isn’t as strong as a traditional Scotch Ale, and taste wise it hasn’t quite got the kick in the tail that is normally associated with a robust Scotch. Now this is an assumption on my part, but I am pretty sure that this lower alcohol content and strength of character in the taste, comes down to keeping the price competitive for the average consumer. As a comparison, one of Australia’s other Scotch Ales, made by Grand Ridge is around 8.5% Alc/Vol, but, and here’s the real kicker, a six-pack retails for around AU$36.00. Considering that you can pick up a slab (that’s ‘Case’ for American readers) of Heineken or Budweiser for AU$40-45, you can see it is a hefty price tag to carry. A slab – 24 beers – of Grand Ridge Scotch Ale retails for around AU$136.00. You have to be a very keen drinker to shell out for that. Red Hill’s Scotch Ale retails for a competitive AU$20.00 for a six-pack.
So Red Hill’s Scotch Ale is not an angry beer, unlike many of its ilk, but depending on your palate, that may not be such a bad thing. The label describes the beer as such:
The colour of burnished copper, strong with a caramely sweetness. Balanced with our own goldings and Williamette fresh hop flowers.
Tasting it, the first thing that hit me was the sweetness and the fruit flavours, almost like cherries, and then, rather than caramel, a dark chocolate flavour finishes off. This beer is not burnt or smokey like a stout; it’s more like a ‘Rocky Road’ in a bottle (without the marshmallow).
Being a dark and robust beer, I would have initially suggested that this is a beer that would go exceptionally well red meat (particularly on a cold, dark miserable night), but the sweetness make me think it could be pushed a bit further. It may make a fine companion for roast pork – especially if you’re decadent enough to baste the pork in maple syrup and coca-cola (I know – dentists would not approve). Or alternately, next time, rather than a dessert wine, maybe try a Red Hill Scotch Ale; then chased down with an aged Tawny or a long black (for those who are driving).
All in all, Red Hill Brewery’s Scotch Ale is a fine and versatile beer. I don’t know is it is truly a ‘Scotch’; after all I didn’t feel like picking a fight with complete strangers after downing a few, but it is rich and full bodied, and coupled with the right food, I am sure it could take you to wonderful places.
The Red Hill micro brewery opened in 2004, and specialises in producing three main beers, being their Golden Ale, a Wheat Beer, and the Scotch Ale. They also produce a selection of seasonal beers, such as their Christmas Ale, Imperial Stout, Belgian Blonde, Bohemian Pilsner, and Weizenbock. If you’re in that part of the world, (Down Under, and in Melbourne) they are well worth a visit.