It's hot and meaty and tastes of beer. It's The Butcher Club's Victoria Bitter sausage and it goes on sale this Sunday.
The banger is an unlikely pairing of beef, pork, and VB lager, and the result of an equally unlikely deal between a brewing giant and a suburban butcher.
Launching in 22 Butcher Club stores across Victoria, the special-release snorker came about after a chance meeting between Peter Robinson, co-owner of The Butcher Club group, and Carlton and United Breweries chief executive Peter Filipovic.
The two were seated at a meat-heavy luncheon of The Beer and Beef Club, an approved but unofficial Carlton appreciation organisation, at which Robinson supplied the beef.
"The conversation got around to beer, naturally, and a VB cologne CUB was involved with," says Robinson.
"I asked Peter if it [the fragrance] made any money, and he said, 'no, but it made headlines'."
The two then started talking sausages, particularly a VB-flavoured sausage.
"We make beer, not sausages," Robinson remembers Filipovic saying. A handshake was made, and the Vic Bitter snag was underway. That was November 2020.
Robinson and his team worked tirelessly with their sausage seasoning supplier – ironically named Corona – to come up with a blend of spices, seasonings, and meal.
"Some of the blends had undertones that we felt were taking away from what we were trying to achieve," says Robinson. "We were asking ourselves, 'how do we enhance the beer flavour?'"
His team tried various meats. They initially thought lamb would be a natural choice, but the flavour was too strong. A beef sausage was toyed with, but a blend of pork and beef seemed to hit the sweet spot, carrying the flavour of the beer and spice blend without overpowering the VB.
Then came the beer dilemma. "We wanted to use a good whack of VB in the sausages, so we needed to use a special blend of meal [mainly rice flour] to hold the beer in the sausage as we didn't want the precious fluid to spill on to the barbecue," says Robinson.
Samples were sent to the CUB office and a final recipe was approved. There was one more problem, however. Although The Butcher Club has more than 20 stores, not one of them had enough sausage-making capacity to cope with the one-tonne-a-day banger production required.
Clayton South smallgoods manufacturer Casalingo stepped up. They had the means to make 12,500 sausages a day and the space to store all required kegs of beer. For every 10 kilograms of meat, the recipe requires two litres of VB.
"The problem is that beer is brewed to produce a head," says Robinson. "If fresh beer from the keg is used in giant mincing machines, the sausage mix will froth up." Instead, each night before making a batch of snags, almost 200 litres of VB is poured into giant vats, chilled and allowed to go flat.
The use of the VB brand sees The Butcher Club pay a licensing fee to CUB for the logo and name. "But at a fraction of the normal cost," says Robinson with a laugh.
VB marketing director Hayden Turner says, "We sold the VB in bulk to The Butcher Club [for the sausages] and we can't wait to try them. A VB with a barbecued snag is one of life's simple pleasures."
He says this venture will also provide his marketing team with a "springboard into similar ventures to lend the flavour of VB, and potentially our other beers, to a range of foods".
"We know this kind of food pairing is something consumers are interested in, and we're keen to explore it more."
Peter Robinson is not worried he is selling a sausage that's around 15 per cent beer by weight. "Almost all of the alcohol evaporates while cooking on the grill," he says.
"Plus, Victorian butchers have a special exemption from licensing laws if a sale is under 1.5 litres … and you can't drink a sausage."
To be honest, I was expecting the worst. Past experiences of beer-flavoured sausages have been sloppy, meaty car crashes where an over-enthusiasm for ale sees the flavour of meat hijacked by hops. But The Butcher Club VB sausage is different.
It cooks to a deep, burnished copper hue. The natural casing gives the sausage a sharp "snap" when bent. Fresh off the grill, there's a whiff of booze, and the interior reveals a medium grind with flecks of red, perhaps capsicum – a nod to Calabria. The texture is meaty and juicy, not greasy.
It has some European spice notes and Mediterranean herbs. It's a good snorker. The amazing thing is the sausage changes the taste of VB, revealing its bitter flavour, and the lean aroma of Pride of Ringwood hops, normally hidden by VB's malty sweetness. This is a culinary marriage that will be consummated at many barbecues around the state. I now pronounce you, beer and sausage.
The VB sausage is available until the end of February. Visit thebutcherclub.com.au for store locations.