The growing prominence of mid-strengths, fruit sours and even low bitterness juicy IPAs suggests the ever-expanding mass of Aussies who prefer their beers crafty place great value on characteristics such as refreshment and easy-going quaffability.
So, could we see a rise in the popularity of hard lemonade, asks avowed fan Hannah Louise Grugel? After all, it's a drink that can tick the boxes marked sessionable, flavoursome and sweet...
Hooch Lemonade Brew is ubiquitous in bars across the UK and Mike’s Hard Lemonade has proven popular with American drinkers in recent years. Originally made with vodka for the Canadian market around 30 years ago, Mike’s was given a malt backbone in order to avoid hard alcohol taxes a few years back and has maintained its position as a dominant player in the flavoured malt beverage category.
Back in Australia, while ginger beer has attracted a fair amount of attention in recent years, a few local brewers have also released hard lemonades for the domestic craft beer market. Among them is Armidale-based The Welder’s Dog, which exploded into the GABS Hottest 100 of 2018 with three entries, the highest their Farmhouse Ginger Beer.
Yet, when it comes to sales, it's their Pea Blossom Lemonade that leads the way. It's been a social media hit too, thanks in no small part to its Instagram-friendly bright pink colour (see above).
“We love doing things a bit differently and hitting markets that are maybe a little less saturated,” said head brewer Phil Stevens. “We had seen some demand for them locally and [have] seen them sell really well. We had also put a lot of time and research into the fermentation process of our ginger beer, which allowed us to develop the recipe fairly quickly."
South Australia's Woolshed Brewery took into account the qualities of their local region when creating their Utopia Hard Lemonade (pictured below). Coming in at a hefty 8.1 percent ABV, theirs is the hardest lemonade on offer in Australia. By comparison, the Nipples Are Nipples Lemonade from fellow South Australians Sparkke registers a far more session-friendly 3.5 percent ABV.
Woolshed head brewer Jackson Beavis says: “Being from the Riverland, the wine grape and citrus-growing powerhouse of the state, there was a real opportunity to make something new to showcase the produce of the area.
"It was the first product of its kind at the time, and offers a unique combination of both worlds.”
He describes Utopia as "a super refreshing and lemony wine spritz", one he says is "great for drinking over ice", adding: "Because we make it in small batches, it rarely hangs around long, so it is kept super fresh, which is one of the best things about it.”
But, given this is a website focused on the Australian beer scene, are drinks like Utopia, Nipples Are Nipples and Pea Blossom beer? Or are they something else entirely?
Speaking of the brewing process for the last of these, Phil says: “In a general sense, it’s almost exactly the same – we have a hot side process, it goes into a fermenter, then to bright, then to package.
"In a more specific sense, it's obviously very different. We have to get the acidity right, the fermentables are very different – different yeast and nutrients, less margin for error with off flavours – the list goes on.”
While he doubts there are enough examples around to define a style, he says, "in a general sense it is something that resembles lemonade that contains alcohol. What few examples there are span the whole broad range of this definition.”
Given craft beer drinkers' fondness for new things, and their reputation for polygamy when it comes to their choice of tipple, Jackson believes such beers could appeal more widely than their current niche within a niche, certainly as a seasonal alternative when the mercury is peaking. What's more, with Woolshed's offering gluten free, he says they've found it to be "very beneficial for people who love craft products but can’t necessarily drink beer.”
As for their lurid pink drop, Phil says: “Thus far people have been really great at taking it for what it is, and I think this speaks to the craft beer market's open-minded approach and love of finding things new and unique. It's our job to communicate that this isn't an RTD, and that it's made more or less the same as beer, in a beer brewery, with the same level of care and attention that it takes to make any other craft beverage.
"It's certainly fun and it's definitely a great alternative to heavier pale beers for people looking for something lighter. It also has a really great appeal across craft and non-craft lovers and both with women and men.
"It would be great to see a style evolve with these kinds of beverages being made with the authenticity and attention that we are putting into it.”