Tomorrow, fireworks will fill the skies of the United States of America as Independence Day is celebrated. Locally, many venues will doff their cap to the occasion by turning over their taps to some of the finest American beers sent to these shores, often with suitably artery-bursting food and boot-scootin’ tunes to match.
Not wanting to miss out on a party here at Crafty Towers, we thought we’d use the occasion to cast our gaze around the local beer world for a US-themed Crafty Six: six of the best US-inspired Aussie brews coming out of the country’s small breweries.
It didn’t take long to realise that there are #$%^loads of them, hardly surprising given the role the American craft beer revolution has played in stoking the fires of brewers the world over – not to mention the epiphanic impact of Little Creatures Pale Ale on both drinkers and future brewers here. So, how do you whittle a list down to six?
Well, we decided we could easily chop down our list of potentials by being a little contrary and ignoring all American pale ales and American IPAs. There are so many good ones that the chances are you have a favourite anyway (or, more likely, several). Thus there’s no place for the likes of Burleigh’s 28, Bright’s M.I.A, Bridge Road’s Bling (or the Little and Bling Bling variants), Moo Brew Pale, Hawkers Beer Pale or IPA, Grifter’s Big Sur, Feral’s Hop Hog, Riverside’s 55 or 77 or their former brewer’s Hopsmith as Akasha, Brewboys Hoppopotamus, Mash Brewing’s Copy Cat, Little Brewing’s Fastidious Bastard, Lobethal Double Hopped IPA, Bootleg’s Speakeasy, Mountain Goat IPA, Big Shed's F-Yeah APA, Mornington Peninsula Pale or IPA, Shenanigan’s Winston, Smiling Samoyed's IPA, The Monk’s Chief… Ummmm, you get the message.
Instead, we tried to look at some of the other styles credited with originating or being popularised in the US. Usually, that still means hopped up versions of styles and still left us with many, many beers to pluck from, even discounting the likes of cream ales / California Commons (there aren’t many here yet) or American style lagers, including imperial pilsners.
So, after much debate at Crafty Towers, here are six from around the states and across the style spectrum that we reckon would lend themselves to a cracking July the 4th party.
Pirate Life Throwback – Session IPA
Is it even a valid style category or just marketing wank? Even if it’s the former, what, actually, is it? A hoppier, more bitter (unbalanced?) APA, a lower ABV IPA? Or something else? What if you introduce the XPA nomenclature that’s been doing the rounds too, one that represents some quite different beers in the minds of different brewers. Then, most recently, there have been the gentle digs: Mash Brewing’s fine Sarcasm Session Double IPA (9.5 percent ABV) or the GABS 2015 beer from Exit Brewing, the also fine Double Session XXXPA (9 percent ABV) that is being consumed as this paragraph is written (for total immersion in the subject, of course).
Whatever the answer is (if there is even a question that needs answering in the first place), when Pirate Life’s Throwback first passed our lips, it felt like the most session IPA-ish of all session IPAs that had come our way. It has hops from start to finish; as we said in the write up on their page: “Crack open a tin of the honey-coloured ale and you're hit with fruity hops. Pop it in your gob and, guess what: more hops, of the grapefruit, lemon sherbet and oily, resinous kind. And then the bitterness comes sliding in and sticks around admiring the view of your tonsils a while.” And it has a low enough level of booze – 3.5 percent ABV – that ensures it’s the sort of beer that, if you’re a hop lover, means you can have a good time, all the time, without suffering the consequences.
Feral Razorback – American Barley Wine
Just because we’re not including APAs and IPAs doesn’t mean we’re averse to going nuts with hops here. OK, so we’ve opted against any double IPAs and imperial IPAs too, but could we really have a list like this without a beer from WA legends Feral?
Brendan Varis (and lead brewer Will Irving) have done as much as anyone in Australia to promote the use of American hops, not just in terms of pushing the envelope but in terms of working out how to use them to their optimum.
There’s not a huge amount that comes out of their two breweries that doesn’t feature some combo of American hops, yet few feature as many as this former trophy winner. Barley wines are flirting with the limelight this winter – Mountain Goat’s Barrel Breed is the new Champion Australian Beer and Boatrocker’s Banshee won a gold, but both take the original barley wines of the UK as inspiration. Razorback, which is brewed all year round although never packaged, is very much of the US, so much so that the first time we had one at Feral’s Swan Valley brewpub five or more years ago – fresh into kegs that week – we swore the head had a green tinge to it…
Modus Operandi Former Tenant – Red IPA
There’s a common theme running through Americanised red ales, brown ales or amber ales. And it’s a theme that many of these beers share: hops. What most of those brewed well Down Under lack that this one has is something that probably played a large role in it being so awesome. Because, ultimately, if you’re going to brew American-style beers, having an American brewer at the helm of your brewery seems like a good place to start.
Modus Operandi’s North Carolinian brewer, DJ McCready, arrived in Australia having worked in recipe development at US canned craft beer pioneer Oskar Blues and it became very obvious to those who visited the Mona Vale brewery that this guy hadn’t wasted any of his time in the lab.
From day one, from top to bottom, the beer list at MO was nigh on impeccable but it was their pair of US IPAs, Zoo Feeder and Former Tenant, that really had the hopheads nodding with approval – something later confirmed officially when the brewery took home a literal boxful of awards at the 2014 Craft Beer Awards. With praise from punters, praise from judges and, for what it’s worth, praise from Crafty – Former Tenant was one of our picks of the best new NSW beers last year – if you want an outstanding example of a locally-brewed American IPA, you need look no further than this (you'll find it regularly at venues including the Modus Operandi brewery, Royal Albert Hotel, The Welcome Hotel and The Grain Store).
Quality alternatives in the red / amber / brown and hoppy field are plentiful too, with Murray’s Angry Man Brown, 2 Brothers’ Grizz & Growler, Riverside’s 44, Akasha’s GABS beer Fire Within, KAIJU!’s Hopped Out Red, Noisy Minor’s Admiral Ackbar, Moon Dog’s Henry Ford, Nail Brewing’s Red Ale, Prancing Pony’s India Red Ale, BrewCult’s Get Down and Keep On Truckin’ and Dainton’s Red Eye Rye among the top drops to check out around the country.
Green Beacon Wayfarer USA – American Wheat
American wheat beers aren’t seen too often in Australia – at least not tagged as such. That beers which could be classified as American wheats tend to keep their style under wraps is most likely down to the confusion that can easily arise. Say the phrase “wheat beer” and most people instantly think of the hefeweizen of Germany with their prominent yeast-derived characters: sometimes candied banana, sometimes clove, sometimes both and more besides. They’re a class of beer that is highly divisive: we know many beer drinkers who appreciate pretty much all styles going but baulk at hefeweizen.
American wheats, on the other hand, still use a high proportion of wheat as part of the malt bill, which can give beers a refreshing, dry and crisp character, but favour American yeast strains – typically “clean” or “neutral” and adding little in the way of the fruity, spicy esters of their European counterparts. Popular beers such as Two Birds Taco and Mountain Goat’s Summer Ale (and particularly its predecessor Skipping Girl) both feature high proportions of wheat, for example.
As for Green Beacon’s version, it actually is tagged an American wheat and maybe that’s why, when presented with their four cans when they first came out we cracked it open last. Kolsch, pale and IPA were all sampled before we poured out the pale yellow liquid of the Wayfarer from its Stars and Stripes can. But it was the Wayfarer that had us contacting the brewery to offer congrats as it’s the sort of light, fruity, crisp and refreshing beer that Brisbane’s beer lovers should ensure is in their Eskies come BBQ, beach or picnic time. And did we mention its Stars and Stripes can? We did? Good.
Temple Brewing Company New World Order – American Stout
Shortly after his RIS had picked up a gold medal at the Australian International Beer Awards a few years ago, we were chatting to Hargreaves Hill brewer Glenn Harrison about his love of dark beers. He joked that he’d love to open a dark beer brewery that put out nothing other than the black stuff.
Since moving to Temple Brewing Company last year, events have suggested it’s just as well he didn’t, what with a swag of medals at this year’s awards topped off by a trophy for the Anytime IPA he inherited then tweaked to unleash a new level of hoppiness. What’s more, if you call into the Brunswick venue and the Power Stance is pouring, give that a crack as it’s one of the best Aussie brewed pilsners we’ve tasted.
In keeping with his love of dark beers, however, when he created his first new recipe for the brewery he opted for a stout and, in a break with the traditional stout and RIS he’d been brewing in the Yarra Valley, he took inspiration from the US. Thus, as well as the layers of deeply dark characters – roast coffee, tobacco, liquorice and molasses – there's a prominent hop-derived character – citrusy and spicy – from the addition of a hefty amount of American hops late in the brew. It’s not that easy to find but it is now bottled and well worth the effort.
KAIJU! Beer Where Strides The Behemoth – Double Black IPA
OK, so having said we’d avoid having any IPAs in this list (well, straight down the line IPAs, at least), we seem to have ended up with a session IPA and a red IPA. And now we’re ending with another variant. At the end of the day, the wanton abuse of traditional hopping regimes is one of the defining characteristics of the American craft beer revolution. The current prominence of IPA and then all manner of IPA variants – black, white, double, etc – can be credited to the US too. And in Australia there’s no brewing company with which you would associate the phrase “wanton abuse of traditional hopping regimes” (and a love of all types of IPA) more than KAIJU! OK, so they also have a thing for Japanese monsters (and heroes as we discovered at the Good Beer Week World of Beer Masterclass), but the brilliant artwork depicting their Kaiju (and hero) also comes from the States courtesy of Mikey Burton.
The beer that probably represents the pinnacle of their schtick to date is Where Strides The Behemoth, a beer that, as a double black IPA, pretty much ramps everything up to 11 (including its ABV). Their single black IPA Cthulhu is arguably better still but its abuse levels aren’t quite at the wanton level so it doesn’t get the nod. Mornington Peninsula has a double black IPA out this month too and, now we think about it, we’ve still got a bottle or two of Australia’s first, Our Dark Secret from Nogne O, Moylan’s and Hargreaves, in the fridge; wonder if the bitterness has subsided yet…
If you like a bit of Belgian yeast with your black IPA, you can always look out for the fifth B2 Bomber from Bridge Road, out soon to mark its 10th anniversary, or Doctor’s Orders Prescription 12. If you prefer your IPAs white then the Doc also has a new batch of his Plasma out right now, while Murray’s has a black IPA out this month too and, if you’re around Swan Valley, you can’t miss out on Homestead’s Black Swan either.
If you’re looking for somewhere to get a taste of the USA, there are plenty of July 4th festivities listed on the Crafty Pint’s Events Diary.
Photo at top taken at Pony Bar in New York's Upper East Side.