There are a lot of great beers out there and some beers are so memorable that the mention of that beer fills you with happy feelings from memories of drinking it. Maybe you remember where you were when you had it, the way it tasted and the way it looked or maybe you just remember thinking “damn, this is really special”. You might be thinking I sound like a love sick fool and you’d be right, some beers just do that to me and, like anything you fall in love with, you want to learn more about it, you want to get to know it better and so here’s the first in what I hope will be a semi-regular series – ‘Beer Story’, a look into beers I love, the stories behind their making and interviews with the brewer/s. The first Beer Story comes from Boatrocker Brewery in Braeside, Victoria and it’s one of their limited editions – Boatrocker Ramjet
10.2% ABV | Barrel Aged Imperial Stout | Limited Release
Entrance to Boatrocker Brewery – May 2014
A bit about Boatrocker Brewery – owned and operated by Matt and Andrea Houghton. Matt, like many brewers, started out home brewing, did some traveling and returned home inspired to go from home brewing to commercial. Matt and Andrea’s dream to own their own brewery was realised in 2012 after initially contract brewing. You can read more about Matt and Andrea and their brewery here at their website or here at The Crafty Pint.
Matt Houghton, co-owner and brewer, pouring beers at the brewery during their Palate Cleanser event at Good Beer Week 2014
Ramjet 2013 is an imperial stout that spent three months in ex-whisky barrels from Victoria’s New World Distillery. “Called Ramjet after the engines that used an extra fuel source to go further,” The Crafty Pint – Boatrocker Ramjet. The first time I had Ramjet was during a beer event – East versus West: Round 2 which was held as part of 2013 WA Beer Week. It was Josie Bones (VIC) going head to head with Five Bar (WA) in a three course battle for glory and gloating. Round 1 had been held a few months earlier in Melbourne for Good Beer Week which you can read about here. That first taste of Ramjet 2013 made a big impression on me,
” … Boatrocker’s beer had that “oh my god” factor, with every sip you were impressed and craved more of those toffee and crème brulee flavours …”
East versus West Round 2 (November 2013) – Whiskey Baba with Malted Chocolate Cream, Blood Orange Curd and Liquorice with your choice from three whiskey sauces by Julia from Josie Bones
Since then I have been lucky enough to drink Ramjet at the brewery a couple of times during Boatrocker’s Palate Cleanser events during 2013 and 2014 Good Beer Week. I also grabbed a couple of bottles to stash away before they all disappeared. [Yep, sorry, if you had been reading this and put Ramjet 2013 on your beer shopping list then I’m afraid I have some bad news, as far as I know it’s all gone. On the bright side, there will be a 2014 release] The last time I had a Ramjet 2013 was on New Years Eve when I opened my second last bottle; the beer was still sensational but in a whole new way. Those toffee and crème brulee flavours I had originally tasted in November 2013 had settled into an amazing balance of rich and varied flavours. Here is an interview I did with Matt recently about Ramjet, how the original brew came to be and where we can expect 2014 to take us …
Interview: Matt Houghton, Boatrocker co-owner and head brewer
How do you approach creating a new beer recipe?
We firstly think about what beer we’d like to brew, and when we think we’d like to drink it. We then start discussing what aspects of the style we like, whether full bodied or lighter, bitterness levels, etc. Matt & I [yup, both brewers are Matt!] then discuss our options with raw ingredients, and what yeast profile we’d like, and then start building a recipe around that. We then do a pilot brew of around 60L, just to see if we’re in the ball park. Once we’ve tasted the pilot, we discuss what changes we’d make, if any, and then scale it up to full batch size. At the end of the day, it’s all about what we’d like to drink.
When did you brew Ramjet 2013?
We brewed Ramjet 2013 towards the end of May. We had been discussing an Imperial Stout for some time, and we had some tank space coming up, and thought, why not?
Why did you want to brew an imperial stout?
The style is, quite simply, fantastic. There are so many options available to the brewer in terms of roastiness, bitterness, sweetness, abv, wood aged etc. And rather selfishly, we wanted a dark beer for us to drink in the winter months!
Was Ramjet always planned to be barrel aged? What do you most enjoy about the process of barrel-ageing?
When Matt and I were discussing the imperial stout, a wood character was one of the first things discussed, although we originally mooted the idea of bourbon barrels. Personally, the depth of character that barrel ageing can bring to a beer is truly astounding. Not only does the previous occupant impart its character to the finished beer, so too does the type of wood and size of barrel. Barrel ageing really can take the beer to another level. It’s quite fascinating tasting a beer that has been ‘wood-aged’ with oak chips, to the same beer that has been barrel aged. There is actually no comparison.
What made you choose the whisky barrels from New World Distillery?
Before Matt came to us, he was working at the New World Distillery. When it comes to sourcing locally made Whisky, there are not that many options, and with Matt’s contacts, it was a natural choice. The guys at the distillery are great. There is a lot of mutual appreciation for each others products and what we are both trying to achieve. Their whisky is just fantastic and complements beer so well. We’ve found that with not only Ramjet but a number of other beer styles (upcoming releases in 2015), the whisky and barrels from New World Distillery are second to none.
How did you come to decide on 3 months of barrel ageing?
With barrel ageing, there is no set time limit. The beer is ready when the beer is ready. We tested the beer at regular intervals, and when the flavours were just right, we removed it from the barrels. Ramjet 2014 for example, spent about 6 months in barrels. There are a number of factors, so the best bet is to let your tastebuds decide.
Where there any surprises during the brew for Ramjet 2013?
The biggest surprise was how much we could push the brewhouse. The amount of malt that goes into a 10% abv + beer is a lot. We really had to work our system hard. Aside from that, there were not really any other surprises.
It feels like there is a lot of love for Ramjet, many people speak very highly of it and it came in at #37 in the 2013 The Critics’ Choice Australia’s Best Beers. When you first released Ramjet, what were your expectations on how it would be received?
We had no idea that people would like the beer so much. When we brew beer, we don’t do it for recognition or to try and win awards. We brew what we want to drink. Thankfully people want to drink what we want to drink. When we first released Ramjet, it was a little young, and needed more time in the wings, and in hindsight that is what we should have done.
What is one of the most interesting or fun events you’ve had Ramjet be a part of?
That’s a tough one… There have been a few. The East v West dinner with Beersine comes to mind but unfortunately I wasn’t there so from personal experience the dinner at Merricote where we had a 6 course meal matched to 6 of our beers was incredible. The Ramjet was matched with a cacao cigar, with tobacco infused chocolate and an ‘ash’ from cabbage and hay!
If anyone has any Ramjet 2013 bottles, when do you recommend they open them?
If they haven’t already done so, I believe you can expect to get a little more time out of Ramjet 2013 if stored well. There has been a definite ageing, but all in the right direction, as the oxidised notes are working very well with the barrel character of the beer. I’d say at least another year or two.
What food would you match to a Ramjet 2013 now?
I’m very much a fan of savoury foods with Ramjet 2013, and as a way to finish a meal, some excellent blue cheese with water crackers and I’m a happy man. I’d err on the sweeter blues rather than the sharper more mature ones.
Did you make any changes to Ramjet for 2014?
The Ramjet 2014 has had only minor tweaks to the malt bill. The beer itself is higher in abv (10.6% compared to 10.2%), and we believe has greater ageing potential than the previous vintage. The biggest change that will be apparent is the barrel character. This is something that will be different for nearly every Ramjet. Ramjet 2013 had barrels that previously held red wine (before the whisky), and that note definitely comes through. This year there was a mix of ex-red wine & pedro ximinez barrels, so there will be a natural change in character, but delicious nonetheless. The other change to Ramjet 2014 that will be noticeable, is that we are ageing the beer after packaging longer. This comes at considerable expense in terms of space at the brewery and from a cash-flow point of view, but it also means that the beer won’t be released before it should. You really can’t rush these things.
Pedro Ximinez barrels at Boatrocker Brewery – May 2014
I would like to thank Matt very much for his time in answering my questions. If you are in Melbourne for Good Beer Week this May and Boatrocker holds their Palate Cleanser event again I would strongly urge you to get tickets and get them quickly. The beers are fantastic, the food is great and Matt and Andrea are wonderful hosts. If you would like more on Ramjet and Boatrocker –
Beer Review: YouTube
Beer Year, Day No. 127 – Boatrocker Ramjet Beer Review by ‘Legless Goanna’
Brewer Interview: Podcast
Ale of a Time – Podcast ‘sode 25: Matt from Boatrocker
Read: Blog Post
From Beer to Eternity: Boatrocker Brewery Show
Read: Blog Post
64 Bottles of Beer on the Wall: Boatrocker Brewery – Ramjet
The Crafty Pint: Starting a Brewery – The Boatrocker Story