In terms of literary forms, I can’t say I rate the list very highly. From biblical genealogies to Buzzfeed articles, I generally steer clear of them, preferring other genres of writing such as travel narratives, experimental fiction, erotica, military history or bush poetry.
Apparently, however, people don’t share such writing on their social media, but they don’t mind having a bit of a share when a list pops up. So, instead of writing a sonnet – as I might have liked – about the best new Tasmanian craft beers of 2017, I’ve caved in to popular demand.
There was an additional problem in approaching the task at hand. Having personally spent much of the year either in southern Europe or in the bush, there was a disgraceful amount of catching up to do. Of course, many of the beers up for consideration simply couldn’t be found so many moons later, but I gave the prospect of drinking everything that was suggested to me a red hot go. As a result, I’m very tired and I have some bruises I can’t explain.
Thankfully, a form of compromise exists with these Crafty Pint lists because plenty of experts on Tassie craft beer (who actually were around for most of the year) were also asked to submit their top picks of the year. This would be helpful if there was any hint of a consensus but, as they came rolling in, it swiftly became clear all these experts had a very different top ten, perhaps unsurprising when the state is now home to more than 20 brewing companies.
For a little while, the lists had precisely no two beers in common but, by combining the official suggestions of bar and bottle-o staff with the very many unofficial contributions solicited over the course of some weeks, we’ve got a list.
Is it definitive and unarguable? Probably not. Will you begrudge it? Possibly. But here, in alphabetical order, it is.
Bruny Island Beer Co – Stoutfast
Bruny Island Beer Co, the spin-off from Bruny Island Cheese in the south of the island, released Stoutfast earlier in 2017, a reimagining of last year’s popular Whey Stout (brewed with whey). This version featured all Tasmanian-sourced ingredients such as raspberries, blueberries, and leatherwood honey – creating a luscious and fruity concoction that weighed in as a perfectly healthy 7.9 percent ABV breakfast treat. So luscious and giving is it, in fact, that it's a beer best shared, as The Crafty Pint's founder did at the end of an evening on which some very good beers from some very highly rated brewers had been consumed; Stoutfast topped the lot.
It was a year in which brewer Evan Hunter put out some truly diverse beers, with the 2017 version of the Metric Stout (which made the 2016 list) deserving a mention for delivering a no-holds-barred imperial experience, while, for the truly adventurous, there was 99 Oysters, as out there an oyster gose as you can imagine that was brewed with Sydney’s Bucket Boys using produce from an oyster farm that also calls the island home. That’s probably not one for breakfast, mind you...
Hobart Brewing Company – Imperial Porter
Set up in prime real estate in one of Australia’s fastest-growing beer neighbourhoods, Hobart Brewing Company is making sure its product matches its locale. A wide selection of HBC beers made the shortlist, reflecting the energy and imagination of head brewer Scotty Overdorf (above left) at the end of a 2017 full of new brews (including some fine barrel aged releases), collaborations and the transition of some their favourites into cans.
The Imperial Porter got the nod for their best new beer of the year, however, reflecting a mood among many of the contributors that it’s been a terrific year for dark beers in Tasmania. With the brewery's venue used as a central venue for Hobart’s mad midwinter arts party Dark Mofo, it’s probably little surprise HBC produced something black and bold, with the Imperial Porter exactly what it should be: suave, rich, pleasurable and delicious.
Hobart Brewing Company & The Winston – Grapefruit IPA
The team at Hobart Brewing Company threw another ripping party in October, hosting Hoptoberfest at their venue. There was a stack of live music and hop-driven beers, including the latest iteration of the much-loved Colorado IPA.
In a cool collaboration with the mighty Winston pub's brewing offshoot, they also tapped a zesty, lively Grapefruit IPA, a perfectly refreshing beer to bring on the springtime. All the fullness of Chinook, Mosaic and Tassie Cascade hops complimented the juiciness of homegrown grapefruits. Yep, The Winston’s Kris Miles (pictured above) has his own grapefruit tree; living the dream.
Last Rites – We Sell Dreams Eureka SMaSH
The Eureka hop started out in life with the name “Experimental Pine Fruit” and Hobart brewery Last Rites decided to exploit that resiny bitterness in a single malt, single hop pale ale. Plonking a bucketload of Eureka against a backdrop of Vienna malt, they ended up with a ripping, robust pale ale, complete with a lively cloud of tropical and citrus aromas and flavours.
It’s been a prolific year for Last Rites, who decided to change direction and focus on turning out more regular short run releases alongside their core range, often with odd, lengthy names, and putting all of them in cans as well as kegs (as with Tom's Dirty Garage above). Their double stout, Tell Us The Time, Tom, could equally have made this year’s list. But, if one of your dreams is a delicious hop-driven beer (and why the hell wouldn’t it be?), then you'll be pleased to know Last Rites is continuing to brew them.
Little Rivers – Let’s Get Tropical NEIPA
Can you do a writeup on new 2017 beers and not include a New England IPA? Of course you can, but Little Rivers’ take on the in vogue style has made an impression on drinkers and vendors alike. It’s not very tropical up in the North East of Tassie, but Let’s Get Tropical showcases the best fruity hop flavours, with a gorgeous mouthfeel and, of course, that glorious orangey haze that for some reason we’ve become obsessed with.
Little Rivers’ neighbourhood has gone through the roof this year, as the sleepy North East has become one of the world capitals of mountain biking. I dare say it’s been a good year for Little Rivers too, and this New England IPA is up there with the best of the brewery’s releases to date.
Morrison Brewery – Batch 400
Morrison Brewery celebrated the big 4-0-0 with a luxurious Russian imperial stout aged in French oak whisky casks. Rolling up at 10.2 percent ABV, this was a perfect winter warmer, replete with notes of coffee, chocky and vanilla. Constructed from eight different malts, this was a super rich stout – why not when you’re marking a milestone?
It’s been another great year for Paul Morrison (pictured above) and co, with the brewery putting out a number of interesting limited releases including Ellen, a pomegranate Berliner weisse also brewed for a special occasion – the birth of a baby Morrison, this time Paul's niece. It occupies a completely different part of the beer spectrum to Batch 400 but was also delicious – indicative of his ability to think through a recipe and nail it.
Ocho – Reserve Imaginary Ale
Ocho has had no problem backing up its successful debut year, with a variety of the brewing company's beers appearing in the pundits’ lists in 2017 as well. But the Imaginary Ale was definitely a champion beer of the year: a stylishly delicious blend of barrel aged saison and a golden sour that brought together a range of zesty tartness, lively fruit and yeasty funk.
Only 300 of these 750ml bottles were released in late spring, so it’s not the easiest beer to get your hands on (especially as I emptied a couple during my research sessions) but it’s worth trying to. Imaginary Ale came out alongside a Bière de Garde as part of Ocho's opening Reserve range salvo, which might also have gotten a guernsey here; it's a malty farmhouse ale aged in French oak and bottled with Brettanomyces. There's a few more bottles of these to hunt down and they’ll likely cellar rather well.
Ocho’s understated brewer Stu Grant continues to apply his great beer brain to carefully creating delicious beers, and one can only suspect there will be many more to come.
Shambles – Cool Runnings Whole Coffee Stout
The Shambles brewpub on Hobart’s Elizabeth Street – a ever-developing paradise for lovers of good grub and good booze – continues to pour some fine beers through its lovely copper taps, and this year’s pick of the shambolic brews was the Cool Runnings coffee stout.
Shambles Brewery enlisted the help of some cold-brewed single origin coffee from a neighbouring roaster and combined it with the second runnings of their imperial stout. They also tossed in the rarely used coffee berries (cascara) then charged it with a C02/nitrogen blend and sent it to GABS. The result was a thoroughly enjoyable stout, smooth on the palate but rippling with strong roasty qualities, bringing together all the best traits of stout and coffee.
Spotty Dog – Portland Pale Ale
Fast proving to be Tasmania’s West Coast style specialists, both Spotty Dog’s Portland Pale Ale and West Coast IPA were very highly rated by contributors. There is a bit of a technicality with the Portland Pale Ale: it was first released at the 2016/17 Taste festival, Hobart’s food-and-drink shemozzle over the new year period, where it picked up a gong. But, since it didn’t make it out in time for last year’s list, it deserves a mention here.
That said, if such a minor technical discrepancy bothers you, Spotty’s West Coast IPA is without a doubt a worthy replacement. As with the Portland Pale Ale, the WCIPA delivers those ripe West Coast flavours and aromas, making for a perfect tinnie for summery days down here at the bottom of the world. So, whether it’s the Portland Pale (which scored a top ten placing in our APA blind tasting) or the West Coast IPA, you’re getting the south’s best of the west: fresh and hoppy, eminently drinkable and full of flavour.
Van Dieman – Max
It’s been a big year for Van Dieman, one that ended in fine style with the achievement of a long-held goal to create beers brewed from ingredients sourced entirely on their own farm. Max and Edward were released in November; with the exception of the barley (which took a short drive into Launceston for malting), the estate ale ingredients didn't travel more than a few hundred metres from where they were grown and sourced to where they were bottled.
This genuinely farmhouse saison has been brewed with lemons – also from the family orchard – and the result is a wonderfully balanced beer. It’s a saison with poise, and one of which brewer-founder Will Tatchell is rightly proud. These estate ales were among a mass release of six new bottles from Van Dieman in late November, followed shortly by the canning of its Motor Mouth IPA (which made the 2016 list). It’s fair to say it's been a busy backend of the year out on the White Hills farm.
So there you have it: the Tasmanian beer equivalent of a roll call of names on a cenotaph or a high school honours board. As every other state’s top ten compilers have noted, these lists are getting harder and harder to do – which, of course, is indicative of Australia’s ever-increasing wealth of bloody good beer.
Nick Carlson at The Abbey, Byron Simm at Tandy’s Alehouse and Luke Dempsey at Saint John Craft Beer were primary consultants for this year’s compilation, but there were a number of others – brewers, bartenders, and drinkers – who generously offered their thoughtful recommendations, with Luke in particular putting a lot of work into making sure this is a logical and comprehensive list.
We know taste is subjective, but I am also pleased to publicly applaud the brewers who are achieving brilliance with their beers. Maybe I don’t mind writing these lists so much after all. But what if I performed it as a sea shanty next year instead? [If it's while wearing a dress, atop a mountain, high on cooking brandy, you're on – Editor]
You can check out end of year Best Of lists from other states here. And, if you're feeling suitably inspired, you can vote in this year's GABS Hottest 100 Aussie craft beers.