Disclaimer: I was a guest of Coopers at the lunch.
If you’re South Australian you’ll know that every winter Coopers launches its Extra Strong Vintage Ale. This is a beer that’s produced to age and every year Coopers’ head brewer, Dr Jon Meneses, plays around with the formula so no two years are the same.
Of course, any new product is always launched with fanfare and each year Coopers hosts a big wintery beer themed lunch to wet the new baby’s head. I’ve been lucky enough to go along the last couple of years and the lunch is always a generous treat, with the dishes matched to the current and back vintages of the beer.
This year, lunch was held at the Edinburgh Hotel in the Pavilion – a large room with floor to ceiling windows which overlooks the verandah and garden. Even though it was a pretty miserable day the room looked amazing: light filled, warm and inviting.
We started with five spice duck spring rolls served with a Pale Ale and lemongrass dipping sauce – and a Celebration Ale, of course. This was a lovely canapé but gave us no idea of what was to come.
Our first glimpse of the full menu came when we sat down. It was a hearty menu and each of the courses made use of a Coopers beer. We also had a tasting mat set out for our beers – this year comparing the current release with the 2012 and 2010 vintages.
We started with the new release 2014 Vintage Ale, paired with a huge bowl of Sparkling Ale seafood chowder. This was served with the most enormous chunks of bread I have ever seen (and given how much bread I eat, that is saying something!). The seafood chowder was incredible: tons of seafood (South Australian Spencer Gulf prawns, Kinkawooka mussels and squid), a rich, thick chowder and plenty of black pepper. It was no surprise that, at the end of the meal, the Ed’s chef said they were considering making it a permanent fixture on the menu.
A slight pause, a palate cleanser of pear sorbet served with a shot of Celebration Ale and then we were headlong into the main course. A huge (beef and Vintage Ale, of course!) pie with plenty of sides. The pie was lovely: the beef was soft and tender and the caramelised shallots added both sweetness and the most subtle crunch. I managed to polish off the pie but I was economical with my choice of sides … opting for just some broccolini and asparagus.
By this point, I’d realised it was extremely important to save some space for dessert. No beer this time – just an amazing Haigh’s chocolate tart.
Oh, but wait … I’m supposed to be talking about the beer! The 2014 differs from previous years in that this year Dr Meneses has upped the hops content to create a more bitter beer. The bitterness drops off with age and, as more people are keeping their Vintage Ales longer, the balance between bitterness and the fruit sweetness changes. That lack of bitterness is why the older vintages start to appear almost sherry like. Of course, the team at Coopers does have to produce a beer which is also drinkable NOW (not everyone is patient …). As someone who really likes more bitter beers anyway, I found the 2014 really enjoyable. In the short term the hoppy character balances out the alcohol and keeps the beer refreshing and I think it will be really interesting to see how this beer ages. It is very drinkable now so I wonder how many people will have some left in future years?
I’ve been lucky enough to attend three Coopers Vintage Ale lunches now and the 2014 has set the bar very high. The lunch was amazing but this year’s Vintage Ale is also pretty special too.
The Coopers Extra Strong Vintage Ale is available now for around $75 a carton. Quantities are limited.