Beer in Australia is improving exponentially every year. Perhaps it’s the fear of impending crises that does it: we faced Y2K, then the Mayan calendar concern of 2012, now Trump. Perhaps "Brew every beer as though it’s your last" is imprinted on the minds of paranoid brewers.
And, with climate change an ongoing threat, Queenslanders in particular live in a constant state of fear (read: complaining) about rising temperatures. So we brew and we drink as though the sun could crash into the earth tomorrow (that’s how global warming works, right?).
The past twelve months have seen the hyping up of beers to the point of driving each other to insanity; there's been a controversy that split the community in two; we've welcomed a new collab beer every other day; the beer scene in Far North Queensland continues to grow while the Sunshine Coast now has more breweries than there were in whole of Australia a few decades ago. The past twelve months have also brought a new brewery run by half-experts, another that’s part Toowoomba, part Denmark, and one full of criminals hiding out under a bridge.
And, like everywhere else in Australia, 2018 has brought more NEIPAs than anybody knows what to do with.
So, at the end of a year that's also featured locals Green Beacon, Black Hops and Moffat Beach claiming 50 percent of this year's Champion Brewery trophies at the Australian International Beer Awards and The Indies, BrewDog announce their plans for Brisbane and the state government launch a strategy for craft beer, here are The Crafty Pint's best new Queensland beers, arranged in alphabetical order. Some are still available, while others will never be seen again, existing only in the memories of the blessed few who got the opportunity to drink them at the time.
It's been compiled in a couple of stages: we invited dozens of retailers, writers, gurus and geeks across the state to vote for their personal favourites and then used that long list of more than 70 beers as the basis of a panel discussion to agree on the final ten. The panel that agreed this completely subjective list was made up of Tilly Milne, Becca King, Georgie Levi, Ben McLeay, Lisa Bailey, Davin Bailey and Mick Wust. Feel free to send any complaints and death threats to whichever of these people you like the least.
The Top Ten
Aether Brewing - Witching Hour Blackberry Sour
How fortuitous that the first beer on this list is a fruited sour! When collecting votes for this list from industry folk, we found fruited sours to be up there with NEIPAs as the most heavily represented category.
Released in early January, Witching Hour (pictured above centre) was one of the first new Queensland beers released in 2018… and eleven months on, its name is still on everyone’s lips. It had everything it needed: the malts were balanced, the blackberry was tart, and the tingle was tingly.
Aether nailed this summer smasher, and brought it out at the perfect time to cleanse our palates for the barrage of brews to come.
Ballistic Beer - Sleep When You’re Dead series
“The Sleep When You're Dead series are hop loaded beers, 100% cold shipped and sold within 8 weeks of production.”
It’s a bold stance for a brewery to take. But Ballistic has put its money where its mouth is, taking on the combined costs of copious amounts of hops, cold shipping in a country hotter than Mount Doom, and the risk of refunding stores and venues that don’t sell the beer by the Dead Date. They're really backing fresh beer, and they're really backing themselves.
And it’s paid off. Each SWYD release is in high demand, and every single beer in the series has been excellent, stuffed full of hops without going into unbalanced-hop-chaos territory. All four released in 2018 received votes – the India Brown Ale, the New England IPA, the Double IPA and the Grapefruit IPA. We couldn't choose just one, so we decided not to. The entire SWYD series gets a place on the list.
Balter Brewing - IIPA
So. Much. Hype.
People driving across town to snag a single can. Punters who missed out clamouring: “Where can I get some?? When’s it coming back??” Admins on Facebook groups having to delete posts, simply due to the sheer number of them.
As with so many Balter beers, this wasn’t a gimmicky, blow-you-away type beer. It was just a damn good beverage. Seasoned head brewer Scotty Hargrave just applied the same highly-skilled yet down-to-earth approach that he does to everything, and the result was a IIPA that delivered exactly what it promised: liquid gold full of pineapple and citrus, with more brawn than their other offerings, and yet just as drinkable. It even gained a following among those who wouldn’t usually touch a IIPA, introducing a new wave of people to the joys that hops and stronger beers can bring.
This beer also wins the award for best mullet.
Black Hops Brewing - FIENS (French Imperial Eggnog Stout)
Many breweries start with a standard core range, then develop more experimental limited releases for their anniversary celebrations. But how do you go about being experimental when the first beer you brewed commercially (which remains part of your core range) was an Eggnog Stout?
For their second anniversary, Black Hops released FIENS, a French Imperial Eggnog Stout. It’s still got the brandy, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg of the original, but it’s been cranked up to 11 percent and fermented with French saison yeast. Like a mogwai that’s metamorphosed into a gremlin, this iteration of the Eggnog Stout has sharper teeth, crazy eyes, and a penchant for mischief.
Brouhaha Brewing - Till Death Do Us Tart Nectarine Sour
Brouhaha’s sours captured the imagination of puckerheads throughout South East Queensland, but one stood head and shoulders above the rest in this vote: Till Death Do Us Tart kettle sour, a marriage between a souring culture of local yoghurt from Maleny Dairies and 160kg of sweet nectarine puree.
Matt Jancauskas brewed this beer to commemorate his wedding to Meg, so we can only assume Meg is the sweet nectarine and Matt is the sour yoghurt... If their wedding was anything like this beer, it will have brought a smile to the faces of those present and will be talked about for years to come.
This beer also wins the award for Best Beer Name.
Newstead Brewing - A Long Story Wheat Strong Ale
A Long Story was one of the first special batches to come out of Newstead Brewing’s production brewery in Milton. Against all conventional wisdom, they chose to go with 100 percent wheat malt – and broke their lauter tun in the process as a result.
But after troubleshooting, finishing the brew and ageing it in Old Forester bourbon barrels, they finally came out with something special. Layer upon layer of flavour, with the dried fruit and caramel sweetness sitting at one end of the see-saw, vanilla and coconut on the other, all teetering on the fulcrum of the bourbon. No one flavour overpowers the others, but they’re all there, swaying and shifting as the beer warms.
While it’s neither a NEIPA nor a fruited sour, this is the beer that garnered more votes and excited exclamations than any other on this year’s list; the brewery's Imperial Yirg also rated highly.
Ornith Brewing Co - Red-eared Firetail Red IPA
Bursting out of the gate with two beers over 8 percent ABV, this Brisbane gypsy outfit certainly didn’t waste any time living up to its motto: "Small Batches. Big Tastes.”
Ornith Brewing had punters at Beer InCider doing a double take with its Scotch ale that gave an unexpected bitter bear hug, and its lemon myrtle pale ale collab with Catchment Brewing. But the beer that industry folk remembered and voted for months later is the Red-eared Firetail Red IPA.
The rich ruby liquid offers up piney and citrusy aromas, but the real surprise is that, while the hop flavours are clear and full, they’re carried along by a river of toffee and caramel. This red IPA is a malt bomb like we rarely see in this hop-crazy era, and it was enough to ensure this small batch of big beer gained a big following.
Patch Brewing - Mandarin Ale
This beer is so juicy it makes the "juicy" description of NEIPAs seem like a misnomer.
Patch is the sister brand of Archer Brewing. While the Archer core range is all about clean, on-style beers, Patch is the sandbox for experimenting with fruit beers. Though they’re all quite different – some more smooth, some more sour, some on a pale ale base, some more saison-y – they’re not named as different styles, simply given moniker of "______ Ale", leaving the flavours to do the talking.
The Mandarin Ale is the best kind of citrus overload. There’s nothing subtle about it – close your eyes and you can almost imagine someone squeezing fresh mandarins into your mouth. (Don’t really close your eyes, though, because it’s delightfully opaque in its orange haziness.) The flavour is sweet and rich with a touch of tang, and ends with a zing of zest.
Patch haven’t taken any half measures in bringing us a fruit beer that’s refreshing and drinkable, but full of enough vitamin C to keep you healthy til next winter.
Range Brewing - Pretty much everything
It was always going to be interesting seeing how Range would operate. With no core range and almost no beers ever to be repeated, some people swore it was a recipe for success in the current climate, while others predicted it was a model doomed to fail. While it's obviously still early days for the brewery, the spread of votes they received shows they didn’t just hit the ground running; they hit the ground Usain-Bolting.
Their Citra Mosaic IPA and their Sour Blueberry both received multiple votes, but a number of their other IPAs, DDH (double dry-hopped) pale ales and fruited sours also had people swooning. So, instead of choosing one of their many one-off beers, we’ve decided to give the whole brewery a spot on the list.
Good job, Range. Keep exploring. Keep evolving.
Slipstream Brewing - Brut IPA
Upon seeing that Slipstream’s Brut IPA received multiple votes, one cynical member of our panel quipped: “Props to the brewery that can make a Brut IPA people actually like!”
But, even if you don’t share his aversion to the style, he has a point – Slipstream’s take on the Brut IPA attracted more fans than others’, and that ain’t nothing.
Slipstream’s catch-cry is "Hops are the heroes", and they’ve toyed with a few variations on the hop-focused Brut style. While they’ve all been well received, the original Brut IPA seems to be the most popular still. Perhaps it’s the the way they leaned into the wine-like characteristics of the style with Hallertau Blanc. Perhaps it’s the way the high booze hid so stealthily amid the sessionable dryness. Whatever the reason, it’s one more example of head brewer Ian Watson’s finesse.
While no single NEIPA made the top ten list, a few received votes (Brouhaha’s would have made the list if it weren’t for the Nectarine Sour stealing the spotlight, and Brendale Brewing’s Industrial Haze made the shortlist), and a million more were brewed and enjoyed by many throughout the year. This IPA trend is now two years deep in Australia and, as the novelty factor wears off, the quality across the board is improving.
It’s hard not to sound like a broken record with this one, but the Brisbane beer community seems to have something in its DNA that dampens the rivalry and strengthens the collaboration. Perhaps we’re better at friendship than we are at business, and will one day collapse in a Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest, Hunger-Games-type market. But we’ll die doing what we love: brewing stunning collabs like Imperial Yirg (Newstead Brewing & Brewtal Brewers & Bunker Coffee) and BNEIPA (ten Brisbane breweries came together for this one).
Even though these are becoming the bread and butter for many breweries, they rarely get a look-in when it comes to a list like this. It’s not easy for a 3.5 percent ABV pale ale to shine next to a hop-laden IIPA, or a stonefruit-pummeled kettle sour. The fact that any of these beers received votes is a testimony to the brewers who made them. So, in a state where summer lasts for nine months, these unsung heroes deserve a mention: Balter’s Captain Sensible, Black Hops’ Send It, Archer’s Easy Ale and Moffat Beach Brewing’s Social Jam.
Thanks to all who took the time to cast votes. NB: The lack of representation from FNQ and other regions of the state is partly because we didn't receive any responses from those we invited to take part outside Brisbane and the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. You can read about what's happening up north here, however.
You can find the rest of the state and territory-based Best New Beers features here. And you can cast your votes for the beers you love the most in the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers of 2018 poll here.
For more on how we put these features together, head here.