While Subiaco’s New Normal may be the first kitchen to commit to minimal waste, all West Australian produce, or a constantly changing menu featuring wild-foraged ingredients, the combination sets them apart as one of the most delicious and progressive restaurants we’ve seen.
We spent an afternoon in New Normal’s kitchen speaking to head chef Charlie about how the small team go about making simple dishes taste so great.
A New WA
“Probably over 50% of our ingredients come from our main supplier, and the rest come from small farms and farmers markets. Many farmers such as Torbay Asparagus prefer to go through a market than come up to us each week, but some will come in and deal with us directly. We’ve currently got a lady coming up every thursday droppping pork and macadamia nuts from her farm. We deal directly with Cooladerra for our olive oil out of Frankland river, and Wagin duck comes tuesdays and thursdays.” Charlie said.
"We find a lot of herbs wild. Our sous chef Vince is really good at finding things. You can be walking or driving by somewhere and think you can see something, then come back and check it out a bit later. Then sometimes we're directed or we call out for it. A few weeks back on instagram we were looking for quandongs and kumquats. A lot of people have abundant fruit and just throw it out because birds and pests come for it."
Charlie admits that for many great chefs, attention to local and seasonal produce is just good cooking. For New Normal, however, attention to WA produce is taken a step further and the entire menu is comprised of Western Australian produce. The singular exception being some of the spices they use. "When we opened up we said we were going to let our spices come from where they come from. WA doesn't really have a lot of spices growing. You can't get fennel seed, you can't get coriander seed. That's the only thing I would say that we source from outside of WA."
New Normal’s menu reads as small groupings of ingredients scribbled onto the large blackboards which feature in each corner of the restaurant, but this effort toward transparency does not imply that the dishes aren’t well considered and contemporary.
During our visit we tried dishes including heirloom carrots, a dish of spring peas, Shark Bay cuttlefish, Torbay asparagus, and Pressed lamb. Each dish simultaneously storied, understated, and crafted.
“We've just been through winter where everything is quite dull, and now it's springtime, peas are coming in for a couple of months, the suns out, and everything is getting more colourful.”
Behind their pea dish is a water made from the juice of pea pods and emulsified with butter, alongside a powder from the spent pea pods. The peas are cooked in leek, garlic, chilli and oil, and finished with garlic flowers, sol, goats curd from Geraldton, and wagyu fat smoked by Adrien’s continental. The heirloom carrot dish is similarly detailed, and features a chickpea puree similar to a hommus but without tahini (which Charlie notes is difficult to find or grow in WA) a North African sauce of coriander stems, chilli and cumin gives it kick alongside whole chickpeas and coriander.
Minimal Waste Cooking
While showcasing the diversity of West Australian produce, each dish at a New Normal also represents their commitment to minimising waste. In their carrot dish, this is as simple as washing and soaking the carrot tops in order to incorporate them back into the dish. For the pea dish, incorporating the pea pods back into the dish was a more labour intensive process of juicing and powdering the pods.
"Often things are reused into the same dish, but a few cross into different dishes. For example our asparagus dish uses a ricotta made of the buttermilk left over from our homemade butter."
"There's a bit of trial and error, especially with the stuff which you usually throw away. There are a few attempts which don't work out, but once it does work, you know you have another use of it."
While they commit to their ideals harder than most kitchens, what makes New Normal work is a backbone of great cooking from their talented staff. Charlie has been in Perth for ten years, having spent his time here as head chef at Gordon St Garage, Fraser's and Balthazar.
Many great kitchens will incorporate local providence and talented chefs are always looking at new ways to work with ingredients. New Normal may not have pioneered their particular approach, but they have singled out the ideas and put them to work in creating great food in a beautiful restaurant.
New Normal are open Tues–Thursday 5pm–late, Friday 12:00pm-late and Saturday 4pm–late. Keep up to date on their instagram.
While it’s not uncommon for artisans to claim their products are unlike anything else, occasionally we come across delicious flavours we’ve never quite experienced before. Bee Lane are a new small business dedicated entirely to the unique flavours of introducing a long cold smoking process to Australian tomatoes.
We spoke to Bee Lane’s owner and operator Bronwyn Lane about bringing a new product to market and her fascination with smoking and tomatoes.
Learning the art of smoking
Bronwyn does not come from a culinary background and first learned how to cold smoke entirely as a hobby. "I was taught how to smoke food by a man who is now close to eighty. One of the things he taught me was how to smoke tomatoes. I stayed concentrated on tomatoes because I found the product exceptional and the process very interesting.” she said.
"Cold smoking is very different to hot smoking as the product is smoked and dried without cooking."
"I played around with it for around four years and tweaked the recipe in a number of ways to produce a contemporary product, including the use ofextra virgin olive oil. I eventually began working on prototype smokers specifically for the tomatoes.
As she developed and honed her skills in smoking, positive feedback from peers along with the realisation that nobody else was making what she was making pushed Bronwyn to bring the product to market.
"I’ve got friends who are chefs, and one in particular kept introducing people within the industry, saying ‘you’ve got to try this’. I was pushed slowly but surely to do something with it. I was thinking, it’s such a different and unique product that if I don’t do something , it’s going to disappear’,”
Unique produce in Perth
"It’s always good to be the first with a new product, but sometimes it’s easier to be the second, because the rules have already been established.”
From prototype smokers through to introducing people to a product they’ve never tried before, Bronwyn finds herself very much inventing the rules as she goes along.
The products have spoken for themselves, and each of her three products have won Gold awards at the Perth Royal Show and Champion two years running. Bronwyn mentions that once people try the tomatoes, they are usually hooked very quickly.
"The best R&D you can do is at farmers markets. That’s where you get to hear exactly what people think of your product. The people who come to my stand are the ones who are already adventurous. There are of course those who sit on the fence, but once they taste the tomatoes, they are usually sold. In two years I’ve encountered maybe four or five people who have tried them and not enjoyed them, probably less than 0.1%.”
In helping with the growth of the product, Bronwyn credits the modern craze for anything smoked and an increasing return to traditional cooking methods. Saying, "it’s getting back to basics. Smoke has been used for millennia to preserve food. People are really getting back to good, basic products.”
Making cold smoked tomatoes
The process of cold smoking tomatoes takes over twenty hours, and a range of variables make each batch slightly different from the last. Bronwyn doesn’t look to use any one specific varietal of tomato, and although she acknowledges subtle variations in the flavour profile from batch to batch, she says that the smoke is the key ingredient.
"There are only four ingredients in the original product: tomato, extra virgin olive oil, and a little salt and sugar. People don’t know what to expect, so watching their reaction to that first taste is always great."
"I’ve tried smoking capsicum, mushroom, zucchini and eggplant. They are all okay, but none are a patch on the tomatoes. There’s something that happens with the tomatoes that is completely unique, creating a flavour profile that is very intense."
While the smoking process can become increasingly technological and scientific, her preparations are decidedly bespoke. Bronwyn cores, removes blemishes, and cuts each tomato into wedges by hand. She is currently on her third smoker, with a newer, larger prototype in the works with the assistance of an engineer who is helping with the design. While she expresses a fascination in the scientific and analytic side of food, with the possibility of creating her own tomato lab down the track, at this moment, much of her efforts are spent introducing the product to as many people as she can.
"I’d never been directily involved in small business before so it’s been a massive and steep learning curve.” she said.
With a product as simple, unique and delicious as the Bee Lane cold smoked tomatoes, we know it’s just a matter of getting it into as many mouths as possible and we look forward to watching Bronwyn and her business develop.
After a long week of new events, shoots and articles, we try to keep our sundays pretty quiet. This Sunday we tried to make learn a few tricks on the new aeropress we won at the WA Aeropress championships (From a raffle, not from being good at making coffee), passed through our local farmers market and our favourite local vintage store before stopping in to Little Cheese Shop to make a cheese board.
Geoff is a wizard for pairing wine with cheese. We had been looking for a chance to break out a beautiful bottle of Brave New Wine Klusterphunk, and Geoff's recommendations all paired beautifully, the highlight being a goat's chevre made by Kris Lloyd of Woodside Cheese Wrights and seasoned with lemon myrtle and green ants.
If you haven't had green ants before-- and we hadn't-- they are a little flavour explosion of citrus and spiciness. We can't recommend it enough!
Our Cheese Board
Brave New Wine 'Klusterphunk' Chardonnay
La Tur Soft Ripened mixed milk cheese.
Yallingup Cheese Co. x Little Cheese Shop Nut Brown Washed Rind Brie
Kris Lloyd Artisans Anthill
Rolf Beeler 28 Month Extra Affinage Gruyere
Knutsford Gourmet Pink Peppercorn Lavosh & Poppyseed Crisp Breads
Aeropress: Our Favourite Recipes So far
Seb from Laika Coffee Roasters, incidentally the co-host for the Aeropress championship, was happy to hook us up with some locally roasted coffee and a simple recipe:
Pour 50g of water and swirl the Aeropress
at 0:30 pour to 150g, continue swirling
at 1:00 pour to 250g, swirl and cap the plunger on the aeropress
Plunge at 3:30
We've also been experimenting with a lower yield inverted method recipe based on how we like to make French press coffee.
Pour 50g of water, stir for 30 seconds.
Pour in remaining 150g
Rotate and plunge at 3:00
We recently got the chance to visit East Perth's Whipper Snapper Distillery to try the new cask strength release of their Upshot Whiskey. We spoke to co-founder and head distiller Jimmy McKeown about the path from their humble Moonshine through to their newest seasonal release.
Turbo charged Upshot
"We designed Upshot to be really approachable, even to be a gateway into drinking whiskey for a lot of people. I think we’ve achieved that, it’s sweet, nicely balanced. It’s not too much of a shock.” said Jimmy, “But there are a lot of whiskey drinkers, myself included, who want something with a bit more heat and a little more depth, that’s where the cask strength comes in.”
While just as sweet and balanced as the standard Upshot, the cask release turns everything up. To us it felt more complex, powerful, and benefited from a strong but very slow burn. We love drinking Upshot on long summer afternoons, but it’s bolder cousin feels better suited to keeping cold, dark nights in check.
"It’s much more volatile, in a way it matures faster, and the oak breaks down more quickly. At two years it wasn’t exactly where we wanted it, even though it was the exact same spirit as the Upshot. Being higher ABV, it needed extra time to develop and mellow out a bit of harshness.” said Jimmy.
Crafting a seasonal release
"I tried the Upshot recipe back when I was in the US. We tested it and liked it. A lot of the stuff coming out these days involves a bit more educated guessing."
The standard Upshot is diluted to 43% ABV before ageing in new oak barrels, and receives no further dilution at the bottling stage. The process gives more oak character to the whiskey, and ultimately requires much more barrel space and a lower yield than the industry standard of barrelling at a higher percentage and diluting later. This also meant that the barrel strength release could not simply be taken from existing Upshot barrels. A new set of barrels had to be reserved exclusively to age the new release at its 64% ABV.
"We went with a traditional ABV, we went to Scotland and asked what was traditional there, where, as a rule of thumb, it’s casked at 63.5% which for us became 64% by the time it had finished ageing.”
As the distillery steadily grows and becomes more familiar with their core range, so arises more opportunity to create special releases which exemplify West Australian agriculture and providence.
"We’re here to make good whiskey as number one. Now that Upshot is out and doing well, we want to make sure our special releases all have enough time and no financial restraints to get the product out. There's wheat whiskey, the Quinoa project, the single malt on their way too. It’s all about getting the flavour right."
Upshot Cask Strength comes out this Saturday at the Whipper Snapper Distillery, 139 Kensington St, East Perth.
As Antipodean Encounters: Western Australian Artists and Taiwanese Culture and Tea Ware Exhibitions hit the Midland Junction Arts Centre, we got in touch with Lee Woodcock, one of the contributing artists to the Tea Ware exhibition and a regular teacher of pottery at MJAC. We spoke to Lee about the exhibition and his arts practice, and got a little hands on trying to make our own ceramic bowls.
Midland Junction Arts Centre
Midland Junction Arts Centre is a beautiful heritage listed building managed by the Mundaring Arts Centre for the City of Swan. During their relatively short operation, MJAC have been a welcoming platform to a range of artists new and developed. They have a wide range of exhibitions and ongoing workshops and development programs.
The Antipodean Encounters and Teaware exhibition opened August 11th, with an accompanying workshop run by Lee where participants were invited to learn to make their own teacups. Next in this program of events is the Tea Dao workshop with Henri Lebedev, an exploration into the culture history of growing, brewing and tasting tea, with a guided tea meditation to follow. The workshop takes place on Saturday the 25th of August.
The Tea Ware Exhibition
"Tea and the sharing of tea is celebrated by many cultures in very diverse and often ritualistic ways. Tea drinking habits can be found worldwide. After water, it is the most widely consumed drink in the world. In conjunction with Antipodean Encounters: Western Australian Artists and Taiwanese Culture, MJAC is celebrating the teaware and the art of ceramics."
Jenny Kerr, Claire Ng, Melissa Statham Ellero, Bernard Kerr, Lee Woodcock, Emma Vinkovic, Dee Parker, Alison Brown, Rie Yamauchi, Megan Evans, Amanda Harris and Denise Brown.
The Tea Ware and Antipodean Encounters exhibitions look to find a link across cultures through the enjoyment of everyday rituals.
Lee bases his artistic practice around the unpredictability and sense of terroir associated with a wood fired kiln.
"I make all of my clay myself, and try to source as much as I can from nature." he said, "The type of wood, time of year, placement, everything is a variable in a wood fired kiln. I expect about 50% of what comes out of my kiln to come out as I expected it to. It’s nowhere near as predictable as an electric kiln. You can’t be too connected to what’s in the kiln, you can think everything’s going perfectly, and still you’ll never find out for sure until you open the kiln."
Lee’s kiln spans around two hundred cubic foot and fits three hundred pots. When it fires, it runs for between seventy five and one hundred hours, all of which must be carefully monitored. He called his style of pottery "a never ending cycle of chopping wood, glazing pots, getting the kiln ready.”
Lee's teacup workshop on August 11th opened the Antipodean Encounters project, introducing a number of participants to the craftsmanship of clay as they made their own teacups and tumblers.
"I think people have a very strong connection with their morning tea or coffee. I make cups which fit into your hand, I find that connects you to what you’re drinking. when I make a teacup I grip it so it sits in your hand, it’s so nice to drink out of a style which warms your hands and fits nicely. "
As a self-taught artist, Lee started throwing pottery with a wheel he made himself. "I twist and bend my mugs, intentionally distorting them. It’s more traditional to try and be symmetrical, and beginners usually focus on roundness. I’m more interested in making triangular and square forms in the rim of my bowls."
Lee has been teaching for four of his five and a half years of pottery. "I’m lucky, I ride bmx and do gardening.” he said, “Most of the skills came fairly quickly."
"At the moment I’m doing a wheel throwing course across four wednesdays. We do three weeks of throwing then a final week on glazing. We’re looking into workshops on more sculptural works as well."
"We work on throwing with confidence, the hardest thing for beginners is the fear of the pot collapsing. We start without too much pressure to go as tall and thin as you can. They can refine their skills with practice, but getting the confidence on the wheel is the biggest part. “
Lee finished our interview by teaching us how to throw some rudimentary bowls on an electric wheel. We were surprised by the level of coordination and precision required, and came away with a new appreciation for the levels of craftsmanship behind many of the objects we encounter on a day-to-day basis.
We recently collaborated with High Spirits Distillery to create a cocktail program around their Gin and Vodka with an emphasis on simple, accessible cocktails. Head over to High Spirits social channels to see the cocktail rollout. Today we want to talk about how you can start making quality cocktails with barely a trip to the shops. Here are our favourite cocktail tips, tricks and ideas:
Use items already in your kitchen
A trip to your local hospitality supply store will give you well priced bar essentials like bar spoons, jiggers and cocktail shakers, but what if it’s 6pm and you want that Tom Collins pronto?
We’ve all seen the DIY approach to cocktails exemplified through expensive converted mason jars, but the jam jar in the back of your fridge is just as perfect a cocktail shaker after a quick rinse, and the lid, cocked slightly ajar, becomes the perfect strainer.
If stirred cocktails are more your style, we honestly can’t tell the difference between cocktails stirred with a fancy bar spoon and those stirred with a takeaway chopstick. And what about all that cocktail ice? Even if you’re missing ice mould, any tupperware container half filled with water will give you a great chunk of cocktail ice the next day: Wrap it in a tea towel and drop it a few times outside for great shaker ice, carve it into long strips with a serrated knife for impressive highballs, or crush it with a rolling pin for drinks needing pebbled or crushed ice.
Master the garnish
Don’t be put off by melon ballers and channel knives, all you need to make beautiful garnishes is any small, sharp knife and a bit of practice. Start with citrus twists, cutting small lengths of peel and trimming off the jagged edges. A coin or semicircle of citrus standing on the rim of the glass is perhaps the simplest of all garnishes, and still looks great. Just cut a wedge, coin or semicircle, and cut in a small slot for the glass.
It’s worth looking at glassware the same way you would garnishes. It’s true that the right glass will elevate the taste and feel of a drink, but there’s no reason you should abandon the cocktail you want to make just because you don’t have the “correct” glass. We love hunting through op-shops and antique stores for interesting and unique glasses, but as you start out, you’ll be surprised at how adaptable the wine and water glasses at your home will be for the majority of cocktails.
How do I shake? How do I stir?
Shaking a cocktail dilutes, mixes, aerates and cools your drink. Some pretty in depth testing by Dave Arnold suggests that you hit a point of diminishing returns after shaking for more than twelve seconds. What matters is that those twelve seconds are of hard shaking. Technique doesn’t matter, just make sure you don’t let go of your shaker.
Stirring is usually applied to cocktails without a fruit juice element. As alcohol bonds immediately, stirring a cocktail simply dilutes and cools it. When stirring, try to stir in a quick circular motion, agitating the ice as little as possible. Around 50 rotations or 30-40 seconds of stirring should suffice. If you’re making your cocktail for yourself, taste your bar spoon to determine if your cocktail needs more stirring.
For both shaking and stirring, be sure to use plenty of ice- around 2/3 of your vessel should be filled with ice. It’s also good practice to keep your glassware in the freezer while you stir or shake.
Where do I start?
To start making cocktails tonight, a good amount of citrus and simple syrup will play with almost anything in your liquor cabinet. Never buy simple syrup, just heat equal parts sugar and water over a stove, stirring until clear and fully combined. For some of the cocktails in our High Spirits program, we found ourselves running out at the last minute, and would mix a cup of water and a cup of castor sugar in a blender on high for a couple of minutes. The result is cloudy, but similarly delicious in cocktails.
By now it’s time you started learning some cocktail recipes. Like all recipes, cocktails are just a combination of balancing flavours, and the best way to get a handle for balancing flavours is with those is with three classic ratios:
Great to start out with and to introduce friends to new cocktails. Highballs let fizz and citrus take centre stage, with just enough alcohol backbone to keep the drink from feeling flabby. Many highball cocktails can even have the shaking stage omitted, and for the High Spirits cocktail program, we exchanged the shaking step for a gentle stir once the drink is built, in order to make the drink as easy to make as possible, without any specialty equipment required.
Sours are really popular on cocktail bar drink menus, and might be closer to what you have in mind when you think of making cocktails. A shaker or at least a shaking vessel is a must for sours, which need a lot of motion to coax together alcohol, sugar and cirtrus. Some sour recipes will use egg white to give the drink a fluffy head and a syrupy thickness. Others will also use a fine-strainer (a tea strainer often does the trick) to get rid of pesky ice shards (Sometimes you want ice shards, we're not going to tell you how to drink your drink, so if you're on the fence, try doing a side by side with one fine strained cocktail and one regular one)
While not technically a category, a lot of classic cocktails are derived from one original recipe for a stirred drink we now call the Old Fashioned. Here's a ratio which can make many a delicious and sophisticated drink. Stirred drinks are almost always a blend of alcohol and alcohol, only softened by their interactions and the gentle dilution and chilling from the stirring. High quality spirits are key.
Follow High Spirits to see more of their cocktail program.
Emma and Dan of No Mafia fame have been running Balthazar for just two years of its twenty years in the Perth restaurant scene. Tucked away in a beautiful heritage building just across the road from Elizabeth Quay, the restaurant is one of the few venues in Perth where superb food, wine and service are amplified by an atmosphere which is completely welcoming and inclusive. We spoke to Emma about creating an experience where everything clicks beautifully into place.
“Our focus is on accessibility. We really want it to be a place which you might come to for a special occasion to spoil yourself, but also might come down to just for a glass of wine and a little snack on a tuesday afternoon after work.” said Emma.
While they aren’t looking to cast aside the legacy of the venue, the new Balthazar looks to put its best foot forward to champion great food, wine and service for everyone who appreciates it.
"We welcome everyone. You can come in wearing jeans and a t shirt, you can come in a suit and tie. We have all kinds of people in all walks of life enjoying this place. We're open minded, and so long as you're here to have a good time, we're happy to have you.”
Whether your visit is under the bright window light of the lunch rush, or a dinner under soft and subtle down lights, the brilliant food, wine and service at Balthazar are all presented without pretension or judgment. We were given the impression that it would be impossible to make a ‘wrong order' at Balthazar, because everything on the menu is given the same dedication, love, and thoughtfulness.
Perth’s Best Kept Secret
"It's a lot of people's favourite spot, our focus in the last two years has been in keeping with that. We have people who met here twenty years ago, or people who came on their first wedding anniversary and continue to come every year. We want to keep the special element of this beautiful building. It's more than just a chef or a waiter or supplier, it's about everything coming together.”
Emma called Balthazar “The true definition of a restaurant,” to her, transporting customers from the moment they walk into the door. “You're not in Perth anymore, you're somewhere else, and where that is doesn't really matter.” she said.
"Our cuisine is european focussed but with a huge Australian backbone. We use lots of local producers. You can start your journey in France with some beautiful champagne and local oysters, and you can finish in Scotland with whisky. "
After our first visit to Balthazar, we wanted to tell everybody we knew about them, and their $50 weekday lunch special, on an indefinite layover from Eat Drink Perth, is an excellent way to get acquainted.
"A young couple can come down on a date night and won't have to break the budget, however if you want to, we'll let you. The option's yours. We always have a really delicious pasta or gnocci, or parpadelle which you can just have on its own, but if you want to splash out and get the eye fillet, you certainly can.”
No Food Without Wine
"we've always got great well priced wines by the glass, and if you want to buy a bottle we have a huge range between fifty and eighty dollars, and if you want to go all out and drink some premier cru, grand cru or chablis, you can go all out.”
Emma and Dan’s love of wine shines through in Balthazar, where the entire staff are given extensive wine training and introduced to some of West Australia’s best winemakers.
"We're doing wine training, every week we're trying wines. All the staff here are able to recommend something amazing. The guys get to try amazing wine every week. All the staff get to meet producers, not just hear or read about them."
"When taking over we were all about changing the software, changing the music, the wine list, the menu. Our main change was to focus on local producers, and if it wasn't going to be local we wanted to know it was a family producer. We wanted to know where things came from, and that there was integrity in the product we were serving."
Skye Faithfull designed the creative and extraordinary dishes which make up Balthazar’s menu, and has just this month passed on the role of head chef to Luke Wakefeld in what Emma called “A beautiful handover,”
"Luke is really focussed on local produce and has some amazing contacts. He's a country boy so has some amazing contacts with producers.” Emma said.
As Perth continues to push through a stormy winter, it’s lovely to have venues which are cosy in any weather. We couldn’t recommend Balthazar enough for how great food, service and beautiful wine come together to create a restaurant experience which leaves you feeling warm, welcomed and wanting to return again and again.
Australian Whisky is quickly developing a reputation amongst the best in the world, in no small part because the lack of any traditional whisky making practices has freed up new distilleries to employ their own intuition in creating boundary-breaking whiskies. We went to Melbourne and spoke to brand ambassador Paul Slater of Starward distillery. We believe Starward are amongst the pioneering distilleries in establishing Australia’s reputation for brilliant whisky, having created groundbreaking whiskies, at the heart of which are local ingredients and our Australian climate, itself about as far from the conditions relied upon to age Scotch, as can be.
Starward began production in 2009, and their first product Solera hit the market in 2013. "In hindsight it’s great to look back, but it was hard in the early days,” says Paul, "we buckled down making a lot of whisky, and tried not to get distracted in white spirits and things like that.”
Following Solera, Starward released their Wine Cask release in 2015, and in 2016 they outgrew their original site in Essendon Fields and moved to their current site in Port Melbourne.
Starward distillery produce spirits under two brands. Amongst the two staples which make up the Starward label: Solera and Wine Cask. Single releases are produced under the New World Spirits label, including single barrel releases, a white whisky, and a gin.
“Ninety percent of our output is under the Starward banner,” said Paul, "last time I checked, we’re near five thousand barrels."
Starward’s initial Solera release is aged in charred Australian apera (previously called sherry) barrels. It takes it’s name from Starward’s solera system, a system modelled after sherry and port systems which are blended amongst ages and vintages to ensure consistency. For Starward, this is implemented by way of a five thousand litre tank between the barrelling and bottling of their whisky. The modern solera system ensures consistency in all bottles of Starward, and also means that every apera barrel used in the production of Solera is present in some form, in every bottle produced.
“We take a small amount out of each barrel, do a mini blend to get the right combination of barrels, and we get it pretty consistent. Consistency is a big thing for us.” Said Paul.
"From the early days, we’ve learned how to get the same result using different barrels. Filling to different capacities and for different amount of times can give a similar flavour profile. There’s no formula or spreadsheet, it’s just using your nose."
Starward’s second expression, Wine Cask, takes advantage of the distillery’s proximity to great Australian wine in Victoria and South Australia. Paul said that the Wine Cask expression was originally based on “Barossa shiraz, as the archetypal Australian wine,” but over time they have been able to branch out and grow their inventory.
“If it smells good, the whisky should take on that character. As we add more different barrels, the more colours we have for the whisky.” Paul said.
Whiskey in Melbourne
The conditions under which Starward Whisky ages could not be more different from the Scottish whiskies it competes against. Harsher, hotter and less predictable Australian climates contribute to more batch variation and a higher rate of evaporation called ‘angel’s share’. They do not consider this a disadvantage, however, as the more complex conditions enable their whisky to be aged quickly and to a great deal of complexity.
In order to further take advantage of their shorter ageing time, Starward’s whiskies are watered down to 55% ABV before going into barrels, considerably lower than the Scottish standard of 63.5%. Since the vast majority of spirits are further watered down to between 40% and 50% ABV before bottling, the resultant Starward spirit has had much more barrel contact than its Scottish counterpart.
“There are a lot of water soluble sugars in oak, and the lower ABV across a short maturation time means more sweet stuff out.” Said Paul, “A higher barrel entry would be a whole lot cheaper to mature, but this yields a better result for us.”
Starward are able to further distinguish their product by taking advantage of a great deal of Australian provenance. Locally sourced Barley is malted off-site and local rainwater runs as mains throughout the distillery.
While each of Starward’s expressions have had their share of international acclaim, Paul says it’s also important to them that their product can remain a product for the Australian population. This includes striving for consistency amongst their products so that, “someone can try a bottle now and then in two years pick it up from a bottle shop and get the same product they remember enjoying.” and this ethos also continues into their pricing, which has remained stable and accessible throughout their production. "We want to make whisky people won’t be shy about drinking.” said Paul.
It’s no secret we’re pretty big on cheese here. But from the outside, it all looks pretty complicated. We wanted to know what makes Stilton different from Roquefort, what makes brie so soft and blue so, well, blue. So we spoke to Geoff, the owner and operator of Little Cheese Shop in Bayswater, to talk about how cheese is made and how it all gets so different along the way.
Age and Culture
All cheese essentially sits somewhere on a continuum of its ageing: Cheeses like bocconcini, creme fraiche and buffalo mozzarella are known as fresh cheeses, and can only be up to a couple of days old. Bries and camemberts are known as surface ripened, the exterior having grown a mold coating over around three weeks of ageing. Hard and semi-hard cheeses like cheddar, gouda, parmesan, comte and gruyere are the product of anywhere from between two and eight months for semi-hard, and between six months and two years for hard cheeses.
Some cheeses along this spectrum are specially treated to create different styles, including washed rind cheeses and blues. "Washed rind cheese, is washed in brine or an alcoholic solution like beer, wine, cognac or fruit essences.” Geoff said, "With blue they add a blue culture to the milk. The curd is split, the cheese is folded into hoops like a mature feta, they wash that cheese, and around four weeks into that process they pierce the cheese with rods, and all of the dormant blue cultures, the penicillins, are exposed. The blue strains react to the air, moisture and humidity, and the blue starts forming at that point.”
Ageing hard cheeses is an art in its own right. The practice known as affinage uses specifically controlled climate or specially picked caves and cellars, ageing cheese to a required standard. Notably, cheese maker Rolf Beeler does not make his own cheese, but works as Affiner for young cheeses.
"A lot of artisan cheese makers will feel how it’s ripening. When I went to Stone and Crow cheese company we had six cheeses all from the same day, we put a cheese corer into each one and nearly all of them were different. Some had a really dry crust, some weren’t mature enough yet, one was a different flavour profile, they just needed to be balanced differently from there."
"Jack from Stone and Crow doesn’t just go ‘okay that’s nine months, out to the market,’ he’ll put them out when they’re ready.”
Milk and Livestock
Most cheese is made using either Cow, sheep or goat milk. Each milk type lends different qualities to the cheese, with goats cheese on the creamier, funkier end, and cows milk being generally conventional. Within cow’s cheeses, each cow species lends different butter fats, ph levels, protein and milk solids levels, leading to certain cheeses.
"Some cheeses, like cheddar, normally use only dairy or jersey cows. Comte is normally made using montbelairde and simmental cows.” said Geoff, “A lot also comes down to what the stock is fed, In Europe the new milk is very intense because they feed their stock such green grass.”
Food availability creates a harvest cycle of sorts. In Europe and many esteemed Australian dairies, cheese is made using spring milk, which is more lively and floral from the wide availability of green grass. Historically, hard cheeses are designed to be ready during the winter months when food becomes less available and creates a dip in milk production and quality.
Local Cheese Makers
"I think Australia is building a brand. The regions, like wine, are establishing themselves and their name. Along with all of the nuances of that region. During WA cheese week we aimed to expose people to what WA was doing from a cheese point of view.”
Geoff proudly represents a mix of local and international cheeses in the fridge at Little Cheese Shop. Local cheese makers Cambray Cheese, Yallingup Cheese Co. and Kytren Dairy are all well represented, and amongst them interstaters including Woodside Cheese and Stone and Crow.
"I keep it balanced between local and international.” said Geoff, "The cheese represents what the environment is doing. In winter you might prefer a curry or stroganoff over a light salad, and there’s more people wanting those big hearty, earthy robust flavour profiles in their cheese."
"It’s all about what you like, there are avid devotees to lots of different foods. Customers are often surprised that we have such a great range for such a small fridge. They’re often surprised too by how much local produce we stock. We like having those conversations and providing our knowledge as to why we’ve sourced those particular cheeses.”
On both a local and international level, Geoff is keen to stock cheeses which represent quality and craftsmanship, It’s about the belief in what they’re trying to create. It’s not just about putting it out.” he said, "There’s a process, how they manage their milking, what steps they do by hand from milking to ladling to packaging."
"True normandy has to be hand ladled in small barrels. Some camemberts are still put into wooden boxes by hand.”
What’s with all the names? And what should I get?
Many cheeses which seem very similar may have different names, and a large part of what separates a parmesan from a parmigiano reggiano are legally protected names which must hit certain qualifications of process, geography and result. In the case of parmigiano reggiano, the cheese must be from one of five Italian provinces, and must follow a specific set of quality criteria before it is aged. Outside of the European Union, the name parmesan can be used to describe any cheese made in the style of parmigiano reggiano.
So what cheeses should you put on your cheeseboard? The simplest answer is to pick one from each of the three largest categories: One soft cheese, one hard cheese, and one blue.
"Look at what you’ve enjoyed before and the brands producing those cheeses.” said Geoff, "Everyone’s different, but it’s great to push the envelope. You may have a really nice fortified wine at home, and try a blue cheese even if they’re not usually your pick. Or if you always have cheddar, we can look at changing that.”
Looking at your favourite producers may help too. If you really enjoy, say the Yallingup Cheese Co. St Julian, you may come to love their Ashed Brie. The ingredients may not be exactly the same, but each will be made along a similar cheese making ethos.
In short, there’s room on your cheeseboard for experimentation, and trying out a washed rind brie or a rubbed goats cheese doesn’t mean you can’t also have your go-to cheddar.
Little Cheese Shop also hold regular events which show just how beautifully cheese can pair with spirits, beers and wines. Their events can become a great starting point for ideas to build your cheese board upon.
Visit Geoff and Little Cheese Shop at 89C Whatley Cres, Bayswater WA 6053 from Tuesday-Sunday, or stay up to date with them on their Facebook.
Australian craft beer is a wild and seemingly impenetrable world of new styles and breweries. The recent surge of craft beer in cans has led to lower packaging and transportation costs, meaning better and more widely available beer at your local bottle shop, but some beer is so special, so small batch, or from such a young brewery that it might not make it to packages at all. From special keg-only releases to great prices on your favourite brews, we spoke to Elliot Moore of Mane Liqour about how growlers can open up a new and exciting side of craft beer.
Growlers, much like craft beer, can be daunting at first glance. They require an initial outlay for the purchase of the growler, the unit size is significantly larger than a standard bottle of beer, and the alcohol percentages and price points of many tap offerings can feel prohibitive. But it’s exactly the things which make growlers impractical for day-to-day drinking which make it exciting for special occasions. Many growler fills are of keg-only beers, which you may never get to try again, and make a great alternative to a bottle of wine at parties.
So What are Growlers?
Growlers are reusable beer bottles which can be brought to certain bottle shops and breweries to be topped up with draught beer. Most come in 2 litre sizes alongside 1 litre ‘Squealers’, and should be finished the night they are opened. How long a growler lasts in the fridge is dependent on where it’s being filled: Many bottle shops now purge their bottles with carbon dioxide, allowing the beer to last up to several months, however from breweries and bars which simply fill straight from their taps, the growler should be consumed within a few days.
Growlers at Mane Liqour
Mane Liquor were the first bottle shop to start a growler station in a retail space. Elliot recalls a trip to New Zealand for the Beervana beer festival as the genesis of Mane Liqour’s growler station back in 2011, when he and co-owner Josh saw local bottle shops filling up plastic bottles with beer off tap. "We asked why they did it and they said that a lot of smaller breweries were producing beer which was keg only. It made sense since it can get very expensive to package your smaller runs as a brewer. They wanted to do a different brew every couple of weeks, and keeping it in kegs is even more profitable.
“It really impressed us, we were trying to get into that game as well. We'd wanted more unique stuff in our shop and thought that would be a great way to do it. We went back to Perth, approached racing and gaming, because nobody was doing growlers back then, and explained the concept. Racing and Gaming said that as long as the department of health agrees, we’ll let you do it. Which surprised us. We were expecting it to be more difficult.”
Mane Liqour’s initial growler station filled 740ml plastic bottles, starting with two taps of Feral’s brewpub exclusives. “People seemed to love it. We quickly decided that we needed a more professional system, and upgraded to our current system.” Says Elliot.
Now, six years later, they run six taps and fill one and two litre glass bottles, which can be bought in store, or brought from other breweries throughout Australia and the world.
"The idea is to bring beer to people which is usually unavailable anywhere else. Blasta is a brand new brewery, when he hadn’t even finished his brewery yet and was making beer out in different people’s breweries while his came online, the only way to get his beer was to go to a few different pubs. Our system let people check out his beer, buy it, and take it home."
Filling your Growler
Elliot says one of the great advantages for Growlers is that you can try before you buy, which is especially helpful for esoteric beers and special releases which can become polarising or expensive. Knowing that you’re going to love a beer before committing to an unconventional sour, or a $40 per litre barleywine is a great way to open up craft beer and make new styles and breweries less daunting.
Mane Liqour list their current beers and prices on Facebook and Untappd. They also keep a consistent range of styles across their taps: "We’ve broken up our taps to different styles, tap 1 and 2 are more approachable, easy going styles. Things like Nail MVP, Northbridge Brewing Co., affordable, really easy drinking. 3 and 4 are usually a step up, more aggressive IPAs or really cool saisons and brown ales. Tap 5 is always sour, and tap 6 is always something big, a big barley wine, a huge stout or porter. We’re trying to give every drinker something to choose from."
Visit Mane Liquor at 237 Great Eastern Hwy, and check our their tap list on Facebook.