Around 2014, we'd often hear refrains along the lines of: "Everyone's got an IPA these days." Yet it didn't take much investigation to discover that, a few exceptions apart, this was far from the case. Sure, there were plenty of one-off or occasional draught only releases hitting taps, but in terms of breweries with an IPA as part of their core range? Not so much.
However, taking a lead once more from the States, it wasn't long before reality started catching up with the hype. Just as in the USA, where IPA has become the biggest selling style within the craft beer sector, more and more Aussie brewers are upping their orders with hop suppliers and creating their own contemporary updates of one of history's most storied beers: the India pale ales with origins in 19th century England.
If you were looking for confirmation of the increasingly central role such beers are playing in Australia, the arrival of Fixation Brewing Co in late 2015 was as good as any. A joint venture between the Stone & Wood Group and former Mountain Goat sales guy Tom Delmont, it not only launched with an IPA but announced plans to brew nothing other than variations on the style.
This was more than a case of canny operators looking at market trends and jumping in with both feet, however – of all the genesis stories we've come across in our time in the Aussie beer world, few have been as serendipitous as this.
Less than a fortnight before avowed IPA fanatic Tom was to learn that his then employer, Mountain Goat, had been sold to Asahi, thus abandoning the independence that was so important to him, he'd wandered into Stone & Wood's Byron Bay home. Not knowing his way around, he walked into the office rather than the public area and found two of Stone & Wood's founders, Jamie Cook and Ross Jurisich, there. They got chatting about beer, the local industry, trends and so on, before going their separate ways.
What he didn't know then was that, following a trip to the States in early 2015, Jamie, Ross and co-founder Brad Rogers had been discussing the potential for an IPA brand in Australia. Thus, the chat with Tom fresh in their minds, when news of the Goat sale reached them the pieces began to fall into place. Just weeks later, Tom and his family were in Byron Bay overseeing the first brew of Fixation's flagship IPA.
Tom continues to travel to northern New South Wales for brew days, working closely with the brewers on recipes, with the first bottles of the IPA hitting shelves in May 2016.
The original plan for this bit of hoppy serendipity was to go slow, ensure every keg was consumed soon after leaving the brewery and build an audience slowly. Within months, it was clear that not only were their suspicions for IPA's potential in Australia bang on but that a hop hungry audience was going to need them to speed things up. And fast.
As production increased, quality was maintained, with Fixation's beers all collecting gold medals and the brewing company itself winning trophies, including Champion Medium Craft Brewery at the 2017 Craft Beer Awards and the new Consistency In Excellence medal at the 2018 Australian International Beer Awards.
Then, in September 2018, the next stage – and potentially the most exciting – in the Fixation plan was revealed: a brewpub called The Incubator in Collingwood's Smith Street. It's a home for the brewery and also a place for its brewers to experiment on a 600 litre system with ten taps destined to pour all manner of IPAs, from the hazy to the high ABV and from the fruity to the rye.