With well over 100 brewing companies calling Victoria home and many of those firing out new releases every few weeks, we're well past the point where the Crafty Pint team could possibly hope to sample them all. Well, not unless we mastered cloning, didn't have to do anything other than drink and could be permanently hooked up to a row of IV drips (perhaps with a few backup livers on hand).
So, in compiling this year's Best New Beers list, we not only enlisted the assistance of the pros who'd formed our panel in 2016 but also invited retailers and others with a good handle on the craft beer scene from across the state to add their input to a long list for consideration. And what a long list it was, with 84 different beers receiving at least one nomination.
By casting the net wider, it also brought into play some of those brewers whose beers are rarely seen in and around Melbourne or, indeed, some of the other larger centres – the likes of Shedshaker and Bandicoot, Blizzard and Black Dog (whose Estate Hopped Golden Ale, with wider availability, we suspect may well have made the ten below).
Equally, it meant multiple appearances for many breweries and brewpubs, some of whom don't appear below but warrant mention due to the sheer number of beers they had nominated. Among them was Bad Shepherd, whose returning Double Choc Hazelnut Brown, Almighty IIPA and new Reserve Road Draught all received multiple votes (with the last of them as good an entry into the "craft brewers adding a lager to their lineup" field as we tasted all year).
Preston brewpub Tallboy & Moose also landed a few beers on the list, little surprise given the quality of beers Dan Hall is producing on their Frankenbrew setup, as did Bridge Road, Moon Dog and Dainton (all three with seriously diverse entries), while La Sirène appeared three times, each for beers in its increasingly fascinating Avant Garde range.
But whittle them down to ten we did, with several beers making their way into so many people's affections that their selection was a no-brainer.
It's a ten that, taken as a whole, offers a real snapshot of where beer has been – and is heading – in 2017, both in terms of the styles of beers and also the businesses behind them: from a multinational owned brand to a tiny gypsy operation that's only released a few hundred bottles and pretty much everything in between.
So, without further ado, here, in alphabetical order, is The Crafty Pint's Best New Victorian Beers Of 2017...
3 Ravens – The Juicy Family
This time last year, in an article for James Halliday's Wine Companion Magazine featuring seven breweries to keep an eye on in 2017, this site's founder included two long-established businesses alongside five young 'uns. One was 3 Ravens (the other, for the record, was Feral, although when predicting they'd become bigger outside WA in 2017 it wasn't with the expectation they'd be sold to Coca-Cola Amatil...).
With 3 Ravens, the reasoning was that, as interest in sour beer styles continued to grow, the in-house expertise and groundwork head brewer Brendan O'Sullivan and his team had been putting in would pay off, while a couple of excellent IPAs they'd released in 2016 also made them worth watching. In the end, while several of their sour and mixed ferment beers were nominated (ACID also secured enough votes to sneak into the ten but we limited it to one appearance per brewery), it was the offspring of one of those IPAs that helped make the veteran Thornbury operation one of the most talked about of the year.
Leading the way was Juicy IPA, the evolution of a beer that had appeared in draught form late last year and, helped in no small part by great label design, became one of the standard bearers for 2017's haze craze. Multiple versions were released and, while straight Juicy garnered most votes, Extra Juicy (the double IPA) and Lemon Juicy also registered more than one. With new projects and collaborations seemingly launched every month, there's little reason to doubt 2018 will be another fine year for 3 Ravens.
Blackman's Brewery – Juicy Banger IPL
Were there still any doubts as to just how good a brewer Renn Blackman is, we'd like to think 2017 was the year they were dispelled. More medals were collected, his beers continued to fare well whenever featured in one of our Getting Blind With Crafty sessions and the seasonals and one-offs continued to impress.
At the heart of the Torquay brewery's mission in 2017 was a desire to put more focus on lagers, highlighted by the release of three new beers under the Lager Collective banner. All three received at least one vote but it was the first of them, quite rightly, that was the star. Juicy Banger made our mid-year list and remained fresh (and banging) enough in people's memories to score well at the year's end too thanks in part to its clean and crisply bitter underbelly but, we imagine, mostly thanks to the hearty dollop of grapefruit and citrus loaded on top.
CoConspirators – The Matriarch
Yes, this entire list is made up of juicy, massively hopped, hazy beers! Only kidding; as Marsellus Wallace once said, that's just the alphabet fucking wit ya. Alongside the Juicy Banger, there are three NEIPAs in this ten, however (plus a fourth beer you could argue is of a NEIPA-esque nature). Is that a fair reflection of the year in beer, particularly when focusing solely on new releases? Our panel thinks so.
The Matriarch comes from the foursome going by the name CoConspirators. They're the second gypsy operation to graduate from the Merri Mashers homebrew club (following Old Wives Ales) and have won over vast swathes of their hometown with full-flavoured, well-judged beers, eye-catching branding and no little enthusiasm and charm.
Their take on the NEIPA style wasn't the only CoConspirators beer nominated but it was the one that garnered the most support, with the stern woman of the title delivering a mountain of tropical and citrus aromas and flavours that found favour wherever she landed.
Dollar Bill Brewing – Grand Cru / Grand Cru MG
Only a few hundred bottles of each of Dollar Bill Brewing's beers have been released to date but it seems that every person whose input we sought for this list who'd tried one had nominated them, sometimes at the very top of their list. When we cracked a bottle of Grand Cru at our panel discussion, those who hadn't tried it before were more than happy to see them included.
The Grand Cru and Grand Cru MG (Methode Gueuze) are both beers that have been years in the making. Created by Ed Nolle and his homebrewing foil of 20 years, Miguel Sanchez*, the former is a lambic style blend of two- and four-year-old barrel aged and inoculated beers; the latter is also a blend but this time of two- and four-year-old wild fermented beers, the wild fermentation taking place at a natural ferment winery on the Mornington Peninsula.
Both are wonderful beers, each garnering the same number of votes and, dare we say it, good enough to be presented alongside the best beers of their style from Belgium with lion's head held high. You can read more about Dollar Bill here (and it's quite a tale) although, before you do, we suggest you try to hunt down any remaining bottles of these beers if, indeed, there are any left.
*Miguel Sanchez is a nom de plume as explained in our article.
Hawkers – Stout
There was much debate about how to fill the final spots in the ten, with several beers receiving the same number of votes. A couple were from breweries that already had beers in the ten, while arguments were made for beers as disparate as Two Birds' Passion Victim and Boatrocker's Time Lord, with the latter, a blended lambic style ale, joined by the Braeside brewery's Wildecherry, Jungle Jive, Roger Ramjet, October Beer, Fat Santa and Stout in the long list.
In the end, Hawkers got the nod due to sheer weight of numbers. All three of its Stout, IIPA and XPA received multiple nods while three of its four barrel aged imperial stout variants (although not the one we rated the best when writing their entry for this site, funnily enough) also made the long list. The Stout was chosen by the panel as the beer for the list, in part because it was a lovely beer, but also as a reminder in this age of wild experimentation that, often, an unsexy style brewed within the parameters of that unsexy style, and done well, can be just as rewarding as any new, shiny thing.
It's been an big year for the Reservoir brewery too. With 4 Pines, Feral, Pirate Life and Vale/Fox Hat all selling, Hawkers has cemented its position as one of the largest independent breweries in the country, and that's without including the beers it brews for others. New core beers were launched in cans, the Rover sub-brand first appeared in old school stubbies only to reappear in tinnies this month, its IPA is available in one of the UK's biggest chains and all manner of beers are developing in a wide array of barrels. Expect more of everything in 2018.
Holgate Brewhouse – Sour Brett Ale
In our 2016 list, Holgate's Wild Red Ale was the only beer selected by every panelist before we sat down to agree the top ten. This year's vintage of that beer also made our long list, but the beer released as part of the Woodend brewery's sour ale series while WRA 2017 took shape, Sour Brett Ale, found more favour.
No barrels were involved here, instead two Brettanomyces yeast strains were nurtured in one of the brewery's smaller tanks while lactobacillus and pediococcus went to work souring a simple base beer before all were combined. The result was a delicate balance of fruit, funk and acid, one that improved over time too.
The beer collected a gold medal for best in class at the International Beer Cup in Japan (and had Paul Holgate's fellow judges making a beeline for his stall at the accompanying festival); it was one of four medals collected there by a brewery closing in on two decades of operation unafraid to venture into new territory.
Hop Nation – Jedi Juice
When you call your brewery Hop Nation, you'd best make bloody good hoppy beers. Thankfully, Sam and Duncan from Hop Nation (and, these days, their ever-growing brewery team) have been doing that over and over again. Jedi Juice is the third NEIPA to appear in this ten and is their boldest venture into that murky region of the beer spectrum.
Initially brewed for GABS and loaded up with potent hop varieties Riwaka, Idaho 7 (in hop hash form), Nelson Sauvin, Citra and Mosaic, it has since graduated to cans (offered by some interstate retailers with a limit per eager customer). It's easy to understand its popularity when you're met with the riot of juicy fruits within.
As we said back in May: "More NEIPAs like this locally and the craze may be here to stay."
Mornington Peninsula Brewery – Old Pumping Station
Can a Best Of list really earn its spurs these days with a barrel aged imperial stout in its midst? While haze and acid may have captured the hearts and minds of many brewers and drinkers this year, there were still plenty of big, black beasts doing the rounds through the winter months. Of those to come out of Victoria, the Old Pumping Station from Mornington Peninsula Brewery was the one that wowed the most.
The first release in the Mornington Artisanal range (look out for write ups on the second and third before 2017 is out), it took the brewery's always sublime regular Imperial Stout, aged it inside locally sourced shiraz barrels, popped a cork in the top of 750ml bottles, named it after a famed local surf spot and invited a local artist to design the label. All well and good, but what about the beer?
It was sensational and a fine way for Kristian Martin (pictured above hosting a Crafty Cabal event in the Barrel Room) to kick off his barrel program.
Mountain Goat – Back To The Brewer Double Steam Ale
It was a big year for Mountain Goat. The Melbourne icon celebrated 20 years in October with a series of parties and the release of a celebratory beer called Back To The Brewer. They also bade farewell to one of the brewery's two founders, with Cam Hines moving on two years after he and co-founder Dave Bonighton made the decision to sell to Asahi.
Back in May, the brewing team at Richmond also continued its habit of collecting trophies at the Australian International Beer Awards by retaining Best IPA and adding the hotly contested Best Pale Ale trophy too, showing once more that the beers coming out of their North Street* home remain on point even if their packaged equivalents from Asahi's Laverton facility are often pale imitations.
But back to Back To The Brewer... Maintaining the past tradition of marking a big anniversary with a bigger version of a flagship beer (see Double and Triple Hightail from years ten and 15 respectively), here they took their biggest seller, Steam Ale, invited all past head brewers back to the brewery and turned it into a tropical hop bomb (the NEIPA-esque beer referred to above). The result was a fine celebration of two decades of brewing, with the beer getting more votes than any other on this list.
*We originally wrote Crown Street, the site of their previous brewery. Must have been getting nostalgic...
Sailors Grave – Peach Melba Pavlova Cream Sour
As one panelist put it: "Maybe I've drunk their Kool Aid, but I just love what they do." And she's far from alone in her fondness for what Sailors Grave has been doing for little more than a year now.
As an insight to just what it is that they're doing, take a look at the beers produced at their Orbost butter factory that received nominations here: a smoked oyster stout shot through with sunrise limes, a beer inspired by the Japanese fermented milk drink Calpis, a dry-hopped tangerine and cumquat Berliner weisse and farmhouse ales variously featuring wild weeds, bergamot and carrot seed flowers...
And then there is this beer, a suitably nutty (actually, they had a beer called Nuts too) melange of styles with which to close out a list looking back on a year decorated by the nuttiest melange of styles we've yet encountered. Just released for summer, the Peach Melba Pavlova Cream Sour looked to combine two classic desserts in a beer and did so with such style it was one of the most selected beers by our contributors.
You can check out the other lists in our end of year roundup here, and, if you're feeling suitably inspired, why not vote in this year's GABS Hottest 100 Aussie craft beers?
Thanks to our panelists and everyone who sent in their picks from the year, including the Victorian Crafty Pint contributors and staff from The Terminus, Foresters, The Catfish, Slowbeer, The Local Taphouse/Stomping Ground, Bendigo Beer, Flight Bar & Bottleshop, Goldmines Hotel, Coach House Ales, Amber Craft Beer, East Of Everything, The Mallow, Otter's Promise, Beermash, APOD, Hops To Home, Freddie Wimpoles/Fifth Province, Carwyn Cellars, Hop Temple and the Mount Macedon Hotel. (Hope we didn't forget anyone...)