There are two things to look for in a beer, says Miro Bellini. First, when you drink a glass, does the lower third taste great? "A nice beer gets nicer as you drink it. A little warmth shows its true character." Second, when you finish it do you want another? "It's like everything in life, if it's not compelling then why are we here?" Bellini, 33, started his journey in beer as an aspiring ad creative doing product tastings for an assignment at Melbourne's Young and Jacksons.
Since then he's ridden the craft beer boom, working as a beer sommelier, international judge (at Tokyo's International Beer Cup,) and, in 2011, he co-founded Good Beer Week, a festival of tastings, masterclasses and beer-focused happenings that has grown into more than 270 events. Bellini lives with his girlfriend Sophie Harley and their Pomeranian-cross, Lewis, in Elwood.
Cabbage, pickles and mustard. Photo: Penny Stephens
There's always a hot sauce for late night snacks or making breakfast more exciting (today it's Quetzalcoatl Ghost Chile from CaJohns Fiery Foods) and rice is a pretty big deal around here – I've been weightlifting for three years but now I'm doing proper competitive stuff and my coach likes me to eat rice. Sophie's brother runs a pig farm on Bruny Island and we use his mustard for BLTs or with roasts. And in terms of spices we use a lot of cumin, coriander, zaatar, cinnamon and fried shallots as a garnish on salads and shin ramen noodle soups (with a couple of eggs, broccoli and peas).
Always on hand: proscuitto. Photo: Penny Stephens
You'll find lots of pickles (I like McClure's) because it's a big part of beer pairing (they're great with bitter beers and for cutting through fat) and I eat fermented cabbage with everything – it's a medicine for me for the amount of fat and protein I eat and it keeps my gut healthy (along with my fish oil tablets). And today we have some prosciutto from Sophie's brother, from an ex-breeding sow named, awkwardly, Sophie.
Last night's dinner
We had panko-crumbed chicken breast, with a salad of barbecue-charred broccoli mixed with some other steamed greens, feta, lemon and olive oil.
I'm in the booze industry but I have five alcohol-free days a week. I tend to drink amber ales and amber lagers because they're beautifully simple and a really good expression of malt and hops. As for wine, I'm a rosé-drinking weightlifter. But I had a head-spinning moment a few weeks ago when we roasted a chook and had it with a real oaky chardonnay. I have to confess: I don't think I could match a beer as well as that with the chicken. Pre-dinner we love bitter drinks, perhaps an Applewood Distillery Red Okar Campari negroni.
Ornate Japanese Beer opener. Photo: Penny Stephens
We've collected some great knives over the years, including a $9 cleaver from Victoria Street in Richmond, which still hasn't dulled, and some Japanese knives we picked up when I was there in 2013 as a beer judge. Our Benriner spiral slicer gets a big workout, as does our flat wasabi grater, which we use for ginger. And we picked up a great jewellery-style bottle opener in Japan from a brewery I worked at.
I'm the sous chef, Sophie is my creative director. But in terms of food-drink matching, What to Drink with What You Eat, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, is an exhaustive list. It'll tell you what tea to match, what beer, sake or wine with food.
My fave knives. Photo: Penny Stephens
My Japanese paring knife. It's just the nicest thing in the kitchen, it's perfect. I use it for fruit or any time the big knives won't do. It does great detail work.
Most unforgettable meal
When Soph and I first started dating she made me a gin-and-tonic chicken salad. The chicken was poached in the botanicals and it had lime and cucumber and different fruits. It was a perfect summer and I can remember sitting out in the courtyard where she was living – it was love at first bite.
For special occasions I make gravlax, but I like to theme it. The first time I did it we had a summer party so I made a gin-and-tonic version. So, with the kilo of salt and sugar the salmon was packed in I had some gin and juniper berries as well. This Christmas the brief was south-east Asian so I soaked the fish in soy sauce blended with coriander, chilli and ginger for 30 hours.
Stoney passion: nectarine. Photo: Penny Stephens
I'm an absolute glutton for stonefruit. I can't stop myself around them. In the middle of summer I'll eat myself sick on cherries. But right now we've got nectarines.
Smoke as a spice. Sophie's mum bought me a ticket to a class on American-style smoking in January and now I've got one myself out the back. You don't know kranskys until you've tried them slow-cooked over smoke.