Progression and new birth seem to be the common themes for South Australia in 2018. Growth in the sense that there were more than 230 new releases in 2018, which is 80-plus more than 2017. And it wasn’t just the list of beers that grew, with a number of breweries expanding – some into larger venues, some upgrading their existing homes – among them Little Bang, Shifty Lizard, Sweet Amber, Left Barrel, Forktree, Mismatch and Pirate Life.
The year has also seen Big Shed break ground at their new brewery/taphouse site, while Sparkke’s brewpub is likely to open around February 2019 and Swell is putting the finishing touches to a venue in McLaren Vale. Lady Burra secured the tenure for a larger Tonsley precinct brewery, which will help the brewery keep up with demand in the city. Pikes upgraded their Clare Valley site, with a sophisticated new restaurant, Slate, built next door to the brewery, while near neighbours Clare Valley Brewing Co opened a new cellar door too.
BrewBoys changed owners, while Al Turnbull at Lobethal continued to expand his in-house malting operation, creating a 100 percent gluten free beer with house-malted sorghum, and the Wheaty Brewing Corps increased its capacity with the addition of "Fermentation Alley" at the rear of the Thebarton pub.
New birth came in the form of the new breweries releasing their beers into the wild or officially firing up their brewhouses for the first time. Silver Bark sprung up from nowhere in a Mount Barker garage, with eight different styles and boxes of beer stacked high. Other new breweries making use of their backyard to launch their beers were One Barrel (who launched with 18 beers at the 2018 Adelaide Beer and BBQ Festival), Project Ale and Reckies.
South Coast opened a brewery and cellar door in Willunga, across the road from Vale Brewing’s old brewery. Uraidla’s brewery joined their sister hotel next door, where head brewer Oscar Matthews has been using the knowledge gained brewing for his uncle at Slo Brew in California for nine months. Victor’s Place, a winery, kitchen and brewery, took up residence at the gateway to McLaren Vale and has continued to impress, and the Yorke Peninsula gained a new craft beer option with Watsacowie launching very early in the year with several satisfying beers. Meanwhile, Simple Brew Co, SK Beverages, Thug Life, Toy Soldier and Kenny (owned by Adelaide Crows player Rory Atkins) entered the fray with contract brewed beers.
There were sombre moments for the South Australian beer community too. Luke Muir had only just begun his brewing journey at Victor’s Place when his cancer returned. He was a former cellar hand at d’Arenberg winery who loved to homebrew small batches of beer and, alongside Alan and Joey, had launched Victor’s Place in order to serve quality drinks alongside great local produce.
Marco Bona, from Libation Army, passed away in early October 2018. "Marco Hour" saw dozens of SA breweries and venues donate kegs, time and money, ultimately raising more than $20,000 for his family.
When it comes to selecting the best new SA beers of 2018, as always, agreeing on a top ten was incredibly difficult, with South Australian breweries improving their beer quality to ever greater heights. A large number of industry people (not connected to SA brands), voted for their top beers before a panel deliberated on the long list and made the tough decisions.
The final decision came in the form of two top breweries, which received multiple votes for more than one beer, eight individual beers and a list of honourable mentions.
The lads from Royal Park enjoyed a cracking year, producing not one but four beers that featured in the initial round of voting. Boozy Fruit took Australia by storm, winning the GABS People’s Choice award and instantly changing their brewing schedule to pretty much: Boozy Fruit, Boozy Fruit and more Boozy Fruit.
While we are knee deep in NEIPA territory, Big Shed’s second hazy release came in the form of a brewer’s series beer called The Hazing. Drinkers were torn between which NEIPA was their favourite, with the tallies coming in even.
Roll on winter and, while visiting the dark side, the Big Shed crew decided they would add a substantial amount of coffee to an imperial stout and name the beer, Shirt Front. The resulting beer was a smooth, rich and decadent stout that would keep drinkers awake for days on end. The final beer that drinkers talked about at great length was the final version of Dr Shedlove, a collaboration with Doctor's Orders. This year’s version came in the form of a white stout, with 50kg of earthy beetroot and 100kg of parsnip added to the mix. Owners Jason and Craig deserve the end of year break after a highly successful year.
Ministry of Beer
For such a little brewery, located in a shed on a farm in the Barossa Valley, the beers being produced at the Ministry of Beer are little short of great. Three beers from this small brewery received numerous votes. Brewer and owner Brett Reimann is well known for The Old Timer and the 2018 release impressed again: a 12-month oak-aged golden sour, released in such small quantities it sells out almost instantly.
The second beer to receive kudos for Brett was a re-working of the former beer, a six cherry sour that utilises the golden sour base beer. The six different varieties of cherries were sourced from the Adelaide Hills and added to a French oak barrel to create a kriek like sour. Nearly every brewery in Australia is making a NEIPA and Brett’s version scored well too, with perfect balance and just enough hop juiciness, all while keeping the mouthfeel soft and bitterness low.
Clare Valley/Boston Brewing – Guava Berliner Weisse
When Western Australia’s Boston Brewing revealed they would be making the trip to SA for the Adelaide Beer and BBQ Festival, the Clare Valley team jumped at the chance of a double collaboration. On the first leg, the Clare brewers flew west to brew a Guava Berliner Weisse.
It's a 4.2 percent ABV kettle that contains a generous amount of guava pulp. The malt bill was left super simple and light so the fruit could shine through and shine through it did, adding a sherbet like flavour to the already zingy Berliner Weisse base beer. The beer also rated a mention in our WA roundup.
Mismatch – IPA
After beginning life as a contract brewing company with tank space at Big Shed, Mismatch has now moved into its own place, where they promptly added an IPA to their core range. It's not the first IPA they have produced, with Evil Archie's Red IPA a popular beast among hopheads.
Last year, Mismatch did trial recipes for what would become this IPA, asking punters for feedback along the way. The final product is a stunner, chiming in at 7.5 percent ABV, balanced, bold and teeming with hoppy flavour.
Mephisto – 1.21 Gigawatts Imperial Hoppy Lager
Another backyard brewery setup, Mephisto favours German style beers with a twist. Pete Wellington’s operation is incredibly small, yet he has four solid core range beer to his name and, in October 2018, he hosted Mephisto's very first tap takeover at the Franklin Hotel, which included three limited release beers.
1.21 Gigawatts impressed drinkers with its huge hoppy aromas and flavours, with Pete drawing sensational fruity characters from Nelson Sauvin hops, balanced by a clean, simple malt bill and a dry finish.
Pikes – IIPA
In 2018, Pikes launched a new limited release range, complete with their very own scaly bottle art. To date, three beers have been launched under this label, a chocolate hazelnut porter brewed for GABS 2018, a mandarin Berliner Weisse that used the rinds from estate grown mandarins and an 8.1 percent ABV IIPA.
While both the porter and Berliner Weisse were tasty beers in their own right, it was the IIPA that really impressed, proving ridiculously easy to drink for such a boozy beer. Fresh pineapple flowed throughout, from the aroma to the flavour, supported by some mango and passionfruit.
Libation Army – Fluffy Jeff
Libation Army launched their first beers in late 2017, bringing their take on Belgian style beers to the SA market with strong yeast-derived characters to the fore. Fluffy Jeff is a white IPA that mixes the solid bitterness of an IPA with the wheat and yeast characters of a witbier.
Quite a few Libation Army beers were mentioned in the voting but the standout was Fluffy Jeff. Marco Bona made great beer and his memory is set to live on through the Libation Army company.
Wheaty Brewing Corps – Watermelon Gose
The Wheaty Brewing Corps are no strangers to these annual top ten lists, brewing great beers while experimenting with different styles and flavours. The Watermelon Gose is an adaptation on the already extremely successful Black Lime Gose: juice from 130kg of watermelons were added to the Black Lime base beer, alongside lime zest, coriander and Murray River salt flakes.
Light and refreshing, a tad salty but with some sweetness from the watermelon, the beer launched in Adelaide’s summer, meaning it didn’t stick around for long.
Little Bang – Dark Arts
While we're talking about breweries that release a ton of new beers every year...
The Little Bang guys yet again released close to 15 new beers in 2018, including a 20.2 percent ABV ice-distilled barleywine. However, it was a chocolate stout that stole the show.
When a brewery receives a request for a collaboration from the State Theatre Company, you might assume they'd be after something on the lighter side, something easy to drink over a session… But you would be wrong. Instead, Dark Arts is the opposite: thick, black and boozy at 7.5 percent ABV with a colossal whack of cocoa nibs (roasted in 3kg batches in Ryan and Fil’s home ovens) that ensure this stout tastes just like a chocolate thick shake in a glass.
Woolshed – Bunyip 2018
The Bunyip is on the rise – not the mythical creature but the 2018 Bunyip Imperial Stout from Woolshed. Last year’s vintage managed to notch up an honourable mention but this year the Bunyip is a worthy top ten recipient.
A rich and full flavoured stout that's not dissimilar to engine oil in appearance: thick and blacker than black. Dark chocolate, currants and raisins are present, balancing nicely alongside a decent amount of roast. It finishes a touch sweet and creamy, warming the innards of the drinker.
There were several honourable mentions the panel believed were influential throughout the year and just missed out on a top ten spot.
Barossa Valley – Vitamin B(eer)
Brewed for GABS 2018, this Barossa Valley beer was a strong ale co-fermented with cranberry juice and late additions of goji berries, acai berries and spirulina. The end result is a jammy, toffee like, slightly tart beer that's sticky and just a little bit different; plus, it's kinda good for you.
Clare Valley – Brut IPA
Brewed in collaboration with Portland’s Migration Brewing, Clare Valley's version of the Brut IPA style let white wine aromas and flavours shine through, with some lychee and a touch of orange in the mix. Nelson Sauvin, Hallertau Blanc and a smidgen of Vic Secret ensured the beer was hoppy, all while finishing ultra-dry and crisp.
Wheaty & Tiny Rebel & Doctor's Orders – Whey Puft
Whether any beer they create is a traditional style or something unusual, Jade and the Wheaty crew always execute it to a high standard. During Good Beer Wheaty 2018, Gaz from Welsh brewery Tiny Rebel and Darren from Doctor’s Orders jumped into the brewhouse to brew up an imperial milkshake porter. This beer has a lot going on: vanilla, a creaminess and some roast, combined with a slight tartness from the blackberries.
Uraidla – Afterlife IIPA
Joining the Uraidla Hotel next door, the Uraidla Brewery opened its doors in early 2018 and got to work pumping out a core range as well as limited releases. Among the latter was the Afterlife IIPA, a punchy affair with stone fruit and tropical flavours derived from Azacca, Ekuanot and Simcoe hops used in the kettle, mid-ferment and post-ferment.
Once again, South Australian breweries have had another successful year, pushing limits and brewing some great beer. Thanks to all the bottleshop staff, sales reps (not associated with SA brands), beer geeks and writers who contributed their votes and opinions. See you all in 2019.
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.
About the author: You can follow Matt King on multiple social media platforms, including via his blog The Craft Beer King.