Other than the poll's founders, there will be few people who have been as close to the annual Hottest 100 Craft Beers poll as Pete "Prof Pilsner" Mitcham. He was a regular at The Local Taphouse in St Kilda when the poll first started out as a bit of fun for regulars and staff and has since worked with the team there on all manner of events as their empire has expanded to include GABS and Stomping Ground.
These days, he's part of the annual Brews News live podcast as the results are counted down and, when the poll completed its first decade last year, he was asked to write a book looking back at its evolution too. While the book hasn't (yet) eventuated, the research and much of the writing did. So, with voting now open for the eleventh time, we invited Pete to offer his (abridged) take on something that's become a highlight of the year in beer for many brewers and beer lovers.
As the eleventh iteration of the GABS Hottest 100 Craft Beer Poll opens, it’s well worth making the effort to look back at the poll’s humble beginnings, the rocket-like trajectory that it took and some of the controversies that has seen it become a staple of the Good Beer calendar. I may also have a crack at the few knuckleheads who still can’t quite grasp how it all works...
At a tram stop on Carlisle Street, near the corner of Chapel Street where St Kilda East and Balaclava meet, there sits a beacon to weary – but mostly thirsty – travellers. The Local Taphouse, once a dingy, unloved and somewhat dangerous watering hole frequented by drinkers more focused on protecting their pots than detecting their hops, would change the way in which many of us think about, and drink, beer.
The Local Taphouse embraced all that was exciting and different about the third wave of "craft beer". Inspired by the experience of the burgeoning craft beer scene in the United States and driven by a passion for sharing the experience of enjoying the finer things in life, the Taphouse team was constantly looking at ways to break free of the ordinary and to create new lenses through which to look at beer.
It was in this spirit that the original concept for what would become the GABS Hottest 100 Craft Beers poll was conceived. The strong and steady growth in appreciation for good beer saw the twenty taps at the venue change constantly to the point where founder Steve Jeffares thought it might be a cool thing to see which particular beers captured the hearts of the staff, their friends and the regular drinkers who called The Local Taphouse their watering hole.
Fast forward ten years and much has changed. The premise of the poll remains the same and the spirit of the poll has not strayed from its original intentions, that is, to share the love of good beer, to promote and grow the community that creates and supports good beer and, most importantly, to have a bit of fun.
From a modest tally of 150 voters in that first year, the poll has taken on a life of its own. The total tripled in year two and again in year three and grew to a number so large that the exact total is a closely guarded secret, known only to Steve Jeffares and the bloke who writes the rather impressive computer code through which the poll is filtered. Even Alan Turing and his Enigma Machine would struggle to uncover an accurate figure.
The results of the first Local Taphouse Hottest 100 Australian Craft Beers poll were released on January 26, 2008 – a year after the venue opened its doors. What began as a bit of fun for staff and friends has become something much more.
The past ten years in the Australian beer scene have arguably seen more change to the landscape than had been seen in the preceding century. The growth in the number of breweries has rocketed, as has the variety of beers being produced. Boundaries are continually being pushed and the very concept of what beer should look and taste like are constantly being twisted and tweaked. The rise in social media has seen quantum changes to the ways in which we seek, source, drink, analyse, recommend and share our thoughts about beer.
The GABS Hottest 100 Australian Craft Beer poll has been there along with us on that journey. It has seen things that we have long since forgotten. It has heard things that were never meant to be made public and exposed things that were meant to stay hidden.
It has "Time Capsuled" moments and memories and stored them so that future generations of Australian beer drinkers may look back with equal parts fondness and bemusement. The poll has tracked and, in many cases, created some of those most audacious and rewarding trends in beer and has then sat back and assessed the impact. It will hopefully continue to track the path of this bright, stellar body we know and love as beer as it snakes its way through the galaxy of alcoholic beverages we are navigating.
Given where we are now, it may come as a surprise to many that the first H100 heavily favoured lagers – including a couple of [GASP!] mainstream offerings – but this was a time when lagers were not only economically dicey for small brewers but also seen by the craft nerds as everything that craft was not. It’s interesting to look at last year’s poll to see that lagers are again finding favour alongside that other erstwhile symbol of commodity beer: the can.
You can check out every year's top 100 from 2008 onwards here – the first year saw Little Creatures Pale, Murray's Icon 2IPA and Mountain Goat Hightail on the podium.
Perhaps the greatest virtue of the H100 is its ability to thrust a beer or its brewer into the spotlight, if only briefly, and that, in this age of social media, they can then leverage that "success" into cold hard sales. And here is where I personally find the poll most entertaining: I have a somewhat warped fascination in reading the feedback that follows each poll and which, with every passing poll, becomes ever more entertaining. It seems that some will never "get it" so to them I leave with this...
The GABS Hottest 100 Poll is, in fact, a popularity contest. It is not called “Australia’s BEST beer” or “A comprehensive list of only the finest beers that you should drink to the exclusion of all others poll”.
When I read comments like: “I boycott this crap thing cos it’s just a popularity contest for shit overrated beers” I smile contentedly, crack a Stone & Wood Pacific Ale and realise that the world really is wonderful.
There is so much more to the poll than can be fairly captured here. Maybe someday someone should write a book about it.
You can cast your votes in the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers of 2018 poll here.
And you can check out past H100 coverage on The Crafty Pint here, jog your memory with the hundreds of new beers we've written about in 2018 here and look out for our state by state by territory Best New Beers of 2018 features as we get nearer to Christmas.
Photo at top was the first appearance of a Crafty Pint podium, back in 2014.