Rob Kabboord might be a chef but he knows his beers. Born in Amsterdam, he has spent the last 20 years trying to become an Australian, but he can’t seem to be to shake his Dutch roots.
You can now find Rob rattling the pots and pans in the recently hatted Surly Goat in Hepburn Springs, near Daylesford. Prior to that he could be found in the Chancery Lane kitchen, a role that followed the four years he was chef de cuisine at the three-hat Sydney fine-diner Quay, bringing Peter Gilmore’s vision to life on the plate.
In an earlier life Rob and his better half, Bronwyn Kabboord (who you might know as the manager of Du Fermier in Trentham), ran Merricote in Northcote for a very successful run of more than six years.
Much as he loves (loves!) food, though, you could say beer is his true passion. He and Bronwyn have travelled right across Europe in search of the beer restaurants and beer-and-food-matching expierences, and Rob is the founder of The Floating Swine, a moveable feast dedicated to the joys of sharing a brew over a meal. The next instalment of the Swine makes landfall for Good Beer Week, with Rob and Surly Goat owner and chef David Willcocks presenting a five-course menu with matched beers for Good Beer Week on Tuesday 23 May.
Rob is a firm believer in keeping things short and sweet. And yet he also believes that if you are taking the time read this, he should at least bestow a piece of wisdom directly to, you, the reader. “Don’t try to teach a pig to sing,” he says. “It’s is a waste of time and it really annoys the pig.”
While you work that one out, here’s a few of his thoughts on what he likes to drink
The last three delicious things I drank were…
In no particular order, from Boatrocker brewery, Tennessee Red (2021), from a magnum no less. This delicious Flanders red, aged in whiskey barrels from Jack Daniels, was awesome and a solid pairing to the cheese course of the night.
A grenache by Charlie Mann of Charles Oliver, Jus d’ Amour, from the Shay’s Flat vineyard in the Pyrenees: autumn in a glass. I enjoyed it with my first harvest of pine mushrooms for the season and a little roasted pork scotch.
A tin of Sailors Grave Leviathan, a modern twist on a classic kolsch. A lean, clean malt profile with aromas of bread crust, mountain wildflowers and hay, gently bittered by Saaz and Motueka hops.
When someone hands me a drinks list, I say ‘thank you” before making my way often with some haste, to the beer section. My better half then usually takes over the selection process, and depending on the size of the list there may be a few moments of silence at the table. This works out well: the time she spends examining the list is the perfect moment to order and consume a beer.
My favourite things to pour beer with at the table are… With the grey and cold weather letting us know that winter is coming, I’m leaning more towards the larger Belgian style beers. A Flanders red aged for several years (such as Boatrocker House Red) with a hash brown, garlicky aïoli and smoked salmon roe from the Yarra Valley. Some boiled potatoes lathered with a cheesy sauce and perhaps a little tarragon sprinkled over the top with a bière de garde (like Sobremesa ‘Vibes on Toast’, for example). Then there’s one of my absolute favourite beers at the moment, the 2018 Autumn Parlay from Ed and Fiona Nolle at Dollar Bill Brewing, just outside of Ballarat. Made with tempranillo grapes, with a tint of citrus and cherries, but maintaining a very tight lactic acidity, it’s pink and light bodied, and an absolute killer beer with a little smoked or cured fish by its side, best served on Melba toast with celeriac remoulade.
As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Victoria is… Tucked away behind the Wesley Church is arguably Melbourne’s best bar, Caretaker’s Cottage. Not only does the team there play wicked tunes, they somehow manage to figure the mood of all the patrons perfectly. They’re also able to find a drink for everyone, from a fancy cocktail to a delicious brew with plenty of choices in between.
There’s no better value on drinks list or in a bottle-shop in this state than Bar Merenda in Daylesford. Not only do Andy Ainsworth and Clare O’Flynn run a no-BS wine bar (with a truly cracking beer selection) they’re champions of value and locality. Wines from near and far and beer list to match. Drink wine made down the road with a plate from their very talented kitchen team, Ollie and Bree. “Hyperlocal” is a word I think off when people ask about Merenda, but “very good value” is the next thing across my lips. I feel like I’m splitting hairs though: Winespeake just down the road is the best one stop bottle-shop (that you can drink in) in the state. Daylesford is one lucky place.
My favourite place to buy booze is Beer Cartel, an online beer retailer. Living in rural Victoria makes it harder for shopping in bricks and mortar establishment. Their team do an awesome job and have a large selection, from smaller unheard-of American breweries to the stalwarts of Belgium. But if I’m in town, then Purvis Beer in Richmond and Cult of the Vine in Brunswick are my go-tos.
I’d love to see us planting more… heritage apples for baking and cider making. I’d like to see more of varieties such as Calville Blanc d’Hiver, Belle de Boskoop, Rambour Franc, or, last but certainly not least, Sturmer Pippin. I’d also love to see more really good grappa being made here in Victoria.
My guilty pleasure in the fridge/drinks cabinet/at the bar is… a CC & Dry. Don’t tell anyone.
The Victorian spirit I’m loving most right now is Boatrocker’s Birrativo. A spin on a classic aperitif, where the old and new world meet. A distilled beer used for the base spirit, aged with native Australian botanicals such as anise myrtle, mountain pepper berries, sandalwood and classic bittering agents such as gentian roots. It’s wonderful mixed simply with soda, as a spritz, or in a Boulevardier.
The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been diversity. The drinking public is more informed then ever and are drinking more diversely. People are supporting smaller, independent brewers and not just the IPAs that they make, being willing to take a chance on the lesser-known styles and makers with more diversity in style.
For me, the most inspiring person in the Victorian drinks world is anyone that can sling a good drink. That makes for a rather large list. It includes sommeliers that love to show their pairing skills, and who aren’t scared to use a sake, non-alcs or beers as a pairing (you know who you are; keep up the good work). It’s winemakers that redefine terroir in Victoria and bring fresh views to the region. It’s distillers that make great hard liquor from gins to our own Victorian whiskies and vodka.
But, having said that, my heart is still telling me that Matt Houghton from Boatrocker Brewery is the man to spruik. Starting from his garage 14 years ago with hope and a dream of being a brewer, Matt and his better half, Andrea, are now the proud owners of Victoria’s premier barrel room in Braeside. If you’re into naturally soured and barrel-aged beers then this is the place for you. Last time I visited, there were more barrels to the never-ending line up. Matt also started distilling and making things like Bier De Vie and Birrativo, which are not new, but definitely new to Victoria and even Australia.
Catch Rob Kabboord on the pans on the regular at The Surly Goat; if you get in fast you might also snare a seat at his Floating Swine Goes to Hepburn dinner on 23 May, which is part of the spectacular 2023 program of Good Beer Week, goodbeerweek.com.au.