Bridge Road Brewers' Ben Kraus has proven to be one of the Australian beer world's most innovative characters, particularly in recent years. Whether it's been collaborating with leading international brewers, releasing twin versions of a beer aged in different barrels, experimenting with new Australian hop varieties, purchasing a foeder or getting an Australian brewed saison ranged in Dan Murphy's nationally, it seems barely a couple of months go by without a new project coming to light.
Yet this time around, it's one of his more old school and unsung beers that's turned out to be the hero. At this year's Sydney Royal Beer & Cider Show, Bridge Road's Robust Porter – one of the first releases from the Beechworth outfit – was named Best In Show.
"It's pretty different to see a porter win a competition," says Ben (above right), who missed out on collecting the trophy in person as he was at Blizzard Brewing Company in the Victorian Alps taking part in the latest High Country Brewery Trail collab brew.
"In the last 18 months, we've adapted some of the malt bill from the Dark Harvest [the annual release originally brewed with Mikkeller] for a smoother profile [in the Robust Porter] and added some vanilla and some oats. It gives it a broader appeal.
"It's performed really well this Winter, particularly in Melbourne, selling twice the previous year, and feedback has been really good."
The judges in Sydney agreed with punters, naming the beer Champion Bottled Beer as well as Best In Show, with the reworked Bling IPA also collecting a gold for Bridge Road.
Redoak continued its success at the awards with its Aussie Lager named Champion Draught Beer and Best NSW Beer.
The only other golds awarded in what has a reputation as the toughest of all Australian beer competitions were for Grand Ridge's cult classic Moonshine and Hope Brewhouse's Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout [read about Hope in this article from last week].
Chair of Judges Neal Cameron said he was very impressed with the overall quality of the exhibits judged.
“The options of beer and cider available to the everyday consumer have increased dramatically, however now we’re also seeing the quality increase across the board. It’s a good time to be a beer or cider drinker in Australia.
“Each judge is an expert, earnt from years of professional experience, and although we didn’t see a rise in the number of gold medals awarded this year, there were an enormous amount of silvers and bronzes, which shows the overall quality continues to improve."
In the cider side of the competition, Tasmania's Franklin Cider Company's Frank's Summer Pear Cider took out Best In Show.
As for Bridge Road's win, Ben says the aim in entering was to try to pick up some golds to help raise the profile of his beers in the Sydney market. Presumably, collecting two of only five awarded and taking out the biggest trophy of all should see to that.
You can view the full list of medalists here.