The Story Of: La Sirène Praline

May 28, 2024, by Will Ziebell

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The Story Of: La Sirène Praline

The Story Of... is an occasional series looking at beers that have made an impact or become cult favourites over the years. Ahead of the inaugural Praline Day celebrations, we invite the team at La Sirène to reflect on the luscious stout that was unlike anything they'd brewed when it won the People's Choice at GABS in 2014.


Like many GABS beers, Praline was never designed to stick around. It was brewed as a one-off and didn't look, smell or taste anything like the usual offering from the saison specialists at La Sirène. Sure, the beer was still influenced by Belgium, but in this case it was Belgian chocolates not farmhouse ales that formed the inspiration for a dessert beer, not something designed to quench a thirst. 

For Costa Nikias (pictured above enjoying an early batch of Praline at their original Alphington brewery in 2014), he only expected to brew the beer once, and recalls the moment the beer left the brewery bound for the Royal Exhibition Building. 

“I remember the day and I went, ‘Thank God we don't have to do that ever again,’" Costa says.

“It’s been a surprising beer to maintain in our core range since then. We’ve tried to look to not do it but things border on riotous and we’d let a lot of people down.”

While the beer has remained a favourite among the brewery team and many of their fans, it's a different beast to the vast majority of their lineup, where the focus is typically on funk and wild yeasts. And it's the beer's point of difference that can lead to more difficult brew days. 

“Our malt bills for our beers are very simple: it’s barley and wheat," Costa says. "[Praline] has seven different grains in it, which is very not La Sirène, but it’s what we’ve got to do to get the flavour profile.”

 

Of course, Praline would go on to spend time in barrels.

 

The adjuncts bring their own complications too, not least the cacao nibs.

"That's a climatically affected product that's grown and then fermented, so we have to manage the variation in that cacao," Costa says.

“That’s challenging in and of itself; the hazelnuts are pretty standard but the price of vanilla now is ridiculous.”

The beer has also enjoyed success overseas, including the UK and the part of the world that inspired it in the first place. 

“This beer goes global," he says. "We sprinkle this beer all over the world. It’s even popped up in Belgium.”

As of the inaugural Praline Day – timed to mark ten years since the beer's debut – he says: “We’re typically talking about things of the more natural and funky kind, so it’s nice to be able to focus on this one left-of-centre beer for us and give it its own day along with its variations."

While there are events at many venues, the main one is at their venue in Reservoir. The move to their new home, which occurred late last year following the sudden end to their longstanding tenancy in Alphington, has continued to delight Costa and the team. He says they've been delighted by the embrace from locals and the manner in which the warehouse works as both a production site and a hospitality venue. 

Better yet, he says the location offers more for their beers to work with than their original brewery on the fringe of Darebin Parklands. 

“It’s a better site for what we do," he says. "The Merri Creek is 200 metres on one side, we’ve got 47 hectares of the man-made Edwardes Park Lake on the other side, and then, behind us, we’ve got Edgars Creek. So it’s three different macrobiotic influences playing out.”

Ahead of their big day surrounded by microbiomes and dessert beers, we invited the team to go back in time for The Story Of: Praline...


 

Where did the idea for Praline come from, not least as it was so different to everything you'd been producing at the time?

La Sirène was founded on our passion and love for creating and championing saison as a style in Australia. When faced with the task of making something unique for GABS in 2014, it was a pretty natural progression of ideas. 

Belgium was an inspiration for much of what we did as a brewery so the idea just sparked from there. We loved Belgian beer and we loved Belgian chocolate – we just brought them together and the rest is history!


Was it inspired by anything else you'd tried?

Pretty simply, we were inspired by a Praline chocolate! As a beer, we wanted Praline to give that same feeling of richness and decadence – and maybe to evoke a bit of nostalgia.


How did you land on the final recipe and ingredients?

It was a fairly intuitive thing really: we spent some time thinking about and trying some of our favourite Praline chocolates and it just flowed from there. Hazelnuts for that nutty edge and a bit of texture, and vanilla and lactose for that smooth creaminess – all against that canvas of a dark and roasty malt base.

 

The evolution of Praline from the 2014 GABS People's Choice trophy to dessert accompaniment to cans.

What were your expectations when it was entered as a GABS Festival Beer?

Well, it was a lot of work to create, so our number one expectation was that it'd be a once-off! After having to source toasted cacao nibs, enough hazelnuts, and after scooping vanilla seeds straight from their pods one-by-one with a spoon, we were very comfortable with the idea that it would be a once-off! 

It was our first visit to GABS and we expected people to enjoy it as a very brief deviation from our usual Saison brew.


And your thoughts when it took out the trophy?

We were ecstatic, of course! 

It's a really humbling experience when your creations are recognised and appreciated. So our first thought was one of excitement. After that, we realised this meant we were onto something that people really wanted. 

I think people enjoyed it because it was familiar, but also really different to any other beer they'd tried before. One of the things we often hear is that it's got those rich and creamy chocolate flavours, but without being overly sweet and heavy. It wasn't long before it then became part of our regular lineup.

 

Settling in at the La Sirène bar at GABS in 2017.

Can you take us through some of the Praline variants you've released since then?

There have been a few! Some will make a brief return for Praline Day this year, which we are really excited about, as well as some making their debut.

The 8 percent ABV Imperial Praline comes to mind: this was the first variation we put into bottle a number of years ago. We've also made Praline with coffee before, not to mention our Dark Star series of Praline aged in Starward whisky barrels. Most recently we did the Praline du Framboise with raspberries, and a very brief batch of Praline du Kriek in kegs.

The line up for our ten-year Praline Day celebration will include:

  • Original Praline
  • Imperial Praline
  • Praline Espresso (with Seven Seeds coffee)
  • Praline Coconut Crème
  • Praline Chilli & Cinnamon
  • Praline Choc Orange
  • Imperial Praline du Framboise (with raspberries)
  • Imperial Praline du Kriek (with cherries)

 

Two Praline variants on tap when La Sirène held their opening night after moving to Reservoir.

Do you have a favourite from all of those?

Well... we don't like to make favourites! But since you've asked, it's Coconut Crème for Costa, and special mentions for Framboise (raspberry) and Chilli Cinnamon amongst the team!


And what can people expect from the inaugural Praline Day?

It's really a celebration of the beer – the black sheep of La Sirène – and all the memories it holds for so many of us! It's a beer that has developed a cult following over the years, so it's a chance for a lot of existing Praline fans to come together and celebrate with us. 

Equally, Praline is constantly winning over new fans and we look forward to welcoming new people to come and see what all the fuss is about!


Praline Day takes place across a number of venues on June 1, with the main event at La Sirène's Reservoir home. Details here. You can read other articles in this series here.

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