We live in an era in which much traditional media is dying a slow, drawn out death and a new form of media, in which journalism is less important than eyeballs, page views and clicks, is taking over. As respected guardians of the art of journalism scramble to survive – weighing up the risks of a paywall versus going cap in hand to readers, begging them to become subscribers – new sites spring up that are happy to churn out lists, controversy, stories based on celebrity tweets, recycled articles from others and, dare we say it, fake news – all while selling what they still peddle as editorial to anyone flashing the cash in return for a "story".
It's a situation we see and hear many bemoan. But, you know what? Take a look at the most read articles on The Crafty Pint this year and it's lists (or at least as close as we come to lists) and news with shock value that lead the way. It could all be quite disheartening for an operation that treats editorial as sacrosanct and believes (naively, if not stupidly) that the pendulum will one day swing back in favour of truth and honest storytelling were it not for the fact that our chosen specialist subject is beer, glorious beer.
In a tumultuous year of high profile sales, a handful of closures and far more openings, heightened talk of independence and ownership and so much wonderful beer, The Crafty Pint published more than two thousand news and feature stories, beer reviews, events, brewery, venue and bottleshop listings. Below is a collection of the ones that most captured the public's attention and that we enjoyed bringing to you.
OK, let's get them out of the way first.
The various Results, Analysis and Infographic articles for the annual GABS Hottest 100 Australian Beers – not to mention the first Kiwi running of the H100 Beers – always stirs up plenty of interest and discussion and will surely do so again in 2018 with more of the top rated beers from past years now under new ownership.
When it came to the results of the country's largest professionally judged beer competitions, the long-established Australian International Beer Awards saw Stone & Wood, Balter, Green Beacon, Pact Beer and White Rabbit take out the major local trophies while the Independent Brewers Association's Craft Beer Awards had Dainton Family Brewery, Fixation and Wheaty Brewing Corps among the big winners alongside 4 Pines, who collected a trophy for which they're no longer eligible.
Since we first started running them several years ago, The Crafty Pint's Blind Tastings have remained one of the site's most popular features, providing a different, more consumer focused, take on assessing the country's top beers. This year, most eyes landed upon the two-part look at the country's most popular craft beer style: pale ale. Our first tasting in 2018 will feature "session sours" so if you brew one or have one you love drinking that you'd like included for consideration – and here we're talking Berliner weisse, gose, other kettle soured beers, fruity or otherwise – then drop us a line or list them in the comments below.
Given almost two years had passed since Mountain Goat's sale to Asahi, there may have been some wondering whether the rash of small brewery buyouts seen elsewhere might skip Australia. But, as we – and others – predicted a year ago, 2017 was instead the year that the global players, in particular AB InBev, started to flex their muscles.
The company responsible for producing one in every three beers consumed on the planet first entered the local market with its flagship US brand, Goose Island, then followed up with the purchase of 4 Pines and Pirate Life within 69 days of each other. In between times, Coca-Cola Amatil added Feral to its portfolio, while Dixon Hospitality took a brief pause from buying venues to snap up Hawthorn Brewing for its new Salt Brewing division and SA soft drinks company Bickford's bought Vale Brewing and sibling brand Fox Hat after the owners put them on the market.
In terms of Crafty readership, it was the acquisition of Pirate Life that was most widely read, although the audience for both Feral and 4 Pines' sale articles wasn't far behind. On the back of all that, our 2015 Big Issue feature on ownership popped up as one of the most read stories this year too, suggesting people really do care who owns what. Given how much has changed in the 26 months since publication, we'll be revisiting it in the first part of 2018.
Goodbye. Or not, as the case may be...
Aside from the high profile sales above, there were plenty of other cases of brewing companies changing ownership or putting out feelers for new owners or significant investment in 2017. And then there were a few that didn't survive the year, with HopDog BeerWorks the latest to be put up for sale by its owners this month.
While it's rarely, if ever, discussed when people talk about any impending squeeze or rationalisation within the craft beer industry, there have been small brewing companies – often gypsy or contract operations – that have come and gone with hardly anyone noticing for years. Indeed, when people talk about whether Australia can handle 400-plus brewing companies, it pays to look at the makeup of those 400-plus brewing companies. Take out the brewpub operations and smaller brands and labels only interested in their own venue or localised market, plus the breweries with no desire to become a national brand and you'll find a far smaller number actually competing for most drinkers' cash.
That said, competition is intense – and getting more so – and there have been casualties. Of those to fall in 2017, it was the story of BrewCult and founder Steve "Hendo" Henderson's unguarded interview with us (reminiscent in terms of honesty to the one we ran with Nail's John Stallwood last month) that really captured readers' attention.
Of a similar, yet different, ilk was our story on Rocks Brewing's decision to put its brewery and venue up for sale (and subsequently take them off the market) and West City Brewing's decision to seek a buyer.
The Secret Brewer
A new feature series introduced in 2017 was The Secret Brewer. This allowed anonymous brewers to raise issues in more detail and depth than they might otherwise if their name was attached to the article and allowed us to then seek responses to their concerns from others in the industry.
It's something we'll be continuing through 2018. From this year, however, it was the look at the Price Wars – sub-$200 kegs and the like – taking place across ever greater swathes of the country that drew the largest audience; it was revisited later in the year too. The previous topic – gypsy/contract brewing – was also among the most read stories of the year.
Our ongoing Big Issue series covered an array of topics this year, from the rise of cans to branding to the shortage of experienced brewers affecting many businesses across the country. But it was Kerry McBride's hard-hitting look at exploitation in the beer industry that was the most widely read as she brought some quite shocking tales from across the country to light and offered advice on how to look after yourself when looking to get started in a career.
Earlier this year, writer Nick Oscilowski travelled to Chicago as a guest of Goose Island. The decision to accept the offer, which came via CUB, wasn't an easy one, both due to our focus on Australian craft beer and also the question of ethics: would it be a case of pay to play and, if so, other than scale, was it any different than, say, the free beer samples that turn up at Crafty Towers every week or, conversely, the bar shouts we host for supporters in the industry around the country each year?
In the end, after much discussion inside and outside the team, we agreed that Nick could go with agreement in place as to the stories we intended to write. While there, he spent time touring the brewery in the company of key figures and also visited a number of the city's beer bars and brewpubs to see how local beer people viewed the company since its sale to AB InBev in 2011 shook up the American beer industry.
At the time, AB InBev about to bring Goose Island here as its first significant foray into the Australian craft beer sector after merging with CUB's parent company SABMiller, meaning this was a chance to tell the story of what was happening on what we termed beer's frontier, where global players and their newly acquired craft brands were intersecting with small, independent operators and the retailers that support them.
To date, the trip has led to The Golden Goose, which told the story of the iconic Chicago brewery, where it had come from and where it sat now as the jewel in the crown of AB InBev's 30-plus global craft purchases, as well as how people in the local industry felt about its imminent arrival in Australia. Then there was Where It's At, the most in-depth article we've published in more than seven years of The Crafty Pint – our attempt to piece together many of the threads and issues in the beer world globally to understand where we are and where we're likely to be heading (plus an excuse to put together an infographic of the timelines of craft beer in the US and Australia). We've since followed up with a double-header Day In The Life on two barrel rooms – Goose Island's 15,000 barrel affair and Boatrocker's at two percent of the size.
On a more light-hearted note, we also took a deep dive into the history of Mountain Goat via its founders and many of those who worked for and with them as the Melbourne brewery celebrated 20 years in October.
Let's Get Political
You could argue that most of what's above is political in one way or another. But 2017 was also a year in which the local craft beer industry arguably came into contact with politics more than ever before. The Craft Beer Industry Association became the Independent Brewers Association (IBA), although not before Lion had made a pointed exit and not long before it lost a few of its larger members.
In its new guise, and with the newly formed Inner West Brewers Association (IWBA) in Sydney as a handy sidekick, it published an economic evaluation study that highlighted the positive impact of the local craft beer industry, elements of which made their way to parliament when Anthony Albanese (pictured above at Batch Brewing Co) secured cross-party support for a motion calling for fairer treatment for craft brewers on tax. Meanwhile, the founders of the IWBA set out to fight for a better lot for its members with the intention of passing on any wins to the wider beer world.
With an independence seal due to be launched with accompanying campaign in February, following examples in the US and UK, and discussions around issues such as ownership and tax only likely to increase in volume, expect to the debate around beer become almost as important as beer itself for some.
More Than Beer
This year we published many articles highlighting wins that small brewing companies have enjoyed in arenas usually locked out by the major players, led by tale of Colonial Brewing Co's Bombers Beer, brewed for Essendon FC, who sent a few players along to assist with packaging.
Elsewhere, you had Stomping Ground's partnerships with Melbourne City FC and Melbourne Airport, Six String's beer for the Central Coast Mariners, Singapore Airlines taking on Cheeky Monkey, Green Beacon and BentSpoke, leading gig venue Forum Melbourne getting right behind local craft beer and Gage Roads securing pouring rights at the new Perth Stadium. There were more examples too, each showing the opportunities that are out there for small brewers.
One of the most rewarding aspects of working in the craft beer world is the unlikely scenarios it occasionally throws up. Once such scenario involved the guy above, an Italian research scientist called Lorenzo Albanese. His team's work featured in the article Cavitation Salvation, by guest writer Dan Sandy.
Lorenzo is looking to see whether a process called cavitation could help reduce brew times, water usage, energy consumption and waste byproducts in brewing. Within the article, Dan wrote that: "Lorenzo is no bearded, beanie-wearing brewer"; upon reading the article, Lorenzo rocked up to his lab with beanie and bottle of homebrew and sent us the above photo. Saluti!
Other widely enjoyed articles including Guy Southern's look at the Haze Craze, the results of the 2017 Beer Cartel Australian Craft Beer Survey and various The Story Of, beer travel and Crafty Crawl articles.
Here's to the next two thousand posts in 2018!
You can check out which articles were most read in 2016 here and look out for our peer into the future in Through The Looking Glass II on New Year's Day.