Miro Bellini, photographed by Michael Carlson.
Melbourne-based Miro Bellini is the Australian Ambassador for Brooklyn Brewery, and one of the co-founders of the infamous Good Beer Week. Off the back of this year's successful event, we sat down with him to talk about what makes Barrel Aged Beer special, why he loves Spiegelau, and what's ahead for the Australian Craft Beer industry.
by Erin Ogilvie
How did you start in the world of craft beer?
In 2004 I was doing tastings for Matilda Bay and Cascade, and discovered a real love for it. I liked being the guy that people asked about beer. When someone would say, “Oh just speak to Miro, he’s really into it”, it was really rewarding to be able to say, “Yes I can tell you about this.”
I then went to the Belgian Beer Café for five years where I ran staff training. Rather than just leading people through a tasting and only talking about the brand’s history, I started running tastings that included beer styles, glassware, service, ingredients, and history. It has been a rocketing ride through an explosive industry since then.
Two highlights have been helping to found Good Beer Week in 2011, and becoming the Australian ambassador for Brooklyn Brewery in June 2015. Among other things, Brooklyn is known for their barrel aged beers, and have years of experience experimenting with barrels.
In many cases, a barrel-aged beer has been aged in a second use timber of some sort, so it’s come from another winery or distillery. Generally, they come from distilleries; bourbon barrels, for example, must be fresh use every time, so they have to char it, use it once, then move it on. Once you get the barrel from the distiller, you hammer out the bungs and see what booze is left in there.
Brewers might be inspired by the flavours; for example, with a rum barrel, they may think the flavours are similar to big, dark, Belgian strong ale. I think the real art is to make the barrel’s features integrated and part of the beverage; you want it to all come together harmoniously. You might drain out the excess, and then you fill it up and let it sit. At our brewery, many of them will spend anything from 4-6 months [in barrels].
What makes barrel-aged beer special?
The barrel represents lots of things for craft brewers. First of all, brewers like to look at history; beer was in wooden barrels for a long time. The barrel becomes an ingredient: it brings flavour and texture. Craft brewers love to innovate. We’re playing with another flavour and making something more intense or curious. We want to bring a different flavour to the beer that will intensify its curiosity or exemplify different characteristics of that style.
We make a crochet rouge rosé with a strong Belgian blonde ale, and we put it through two different kinds of wine barrels. It was a beer that looked and behaved like a beer, pretending to be a rosé. And that’s something that you couldn’t achieve without the flavour of the barrels.
How does Spiegelau’s Barrel Aged Beer Glass compare to the style of glass you’d normally use?
I'd normally just grab a wine glass for a barrel aged beer, and I’d pour it in smaller serves but top up frequently. You need a big, bulbous wine glass because if it is slim [like the Tall Pilsner], it would just punch you in the nose. But this glass does something a wine glass doesn’t: the expression of the barrel, the timber and the alcohol come through superbly. Like your other glasses that really show off the style, the beer is displayed in a lot finer detail when it’s in this glass.
Why are you a Spiegelau supporter?
I'm a massive fan of Spiegelau. I can remember the first time I was scanning a catalogue! I was setting up a gold medal tasting for one of the biggest beer awards in the world, and had to choose one glass to showcase many styles. I settled on the Stemmed Pilsner. I was nervous because we would be pouring for all the Brewers to show them exactly why these beers had won gold. That glass worked a treat, and it's still my favourite all-rounder glass.
Glassware matters to me because it makes such a difference. If the brewer really cared about expressing something beautiful, and I really cared to go out find the most delicious beer I could, why on earth would I serve it up in a way that could lessen the experience? The right glassware gives you the means to really indulge in and enjoy a beer.
You mentioned Good Beer Week as one of your career highlights. What motivated you to start the festival?
Some friends and I went to the States, and visited 30 breweries in four weeks. We visited breweries like Sierra Nevada, Stone, Rogue, and the hospitality we were shown was second to none. Everywhere we went, we were treated like long lost sons. When I got back to Melbourne, I thought: if one of those people came over, could I show them around like this? We have these great places but they are hidden.
At the same time the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA), the second biggest beer awards in the world, had lost one of their major sponsors. There were a bunch of ideas that coalesced about celebrating Melbourne at a time when lots of brewers were already in town. We planned to put on one event and asked the industry for some beer to pour at it. We got more beer than we could handle and thought maybe we could do some other events with it. Over the next 12 weeks we suddenly had 40 events. Then the next year it was 100 events, then 140 events the next year, then 200, 250, 280.
What do you hope to achieve next in the craft beer world?
Making more people feel welcome to try new beers and explore their taste buds. There’s a real pressure in Australia if you buy a $20 glass of wine, that you should appreciate it. If you’ve got an 18-year-old whisky from Scotland and you didn’t like it, you might feel pressure that others will say, “What a peasant!” But beer still has this wonderful thing where anyone can turn around and say, “No, I don’t like that.” It’s great that you can respond like that with beer, and I really hope that never changes. I hope we just find more and more ways to celebrate beer.