Best New Beers Of 2019 – So Far

There's never been a period in history when so many new beers have been released with such regularity. Indeed, if you were to attempt to define what we're living through in the beer world right now, other than "madness" you'd likely focus on this relentless desire for new, new, new.

It's equal parts exciting and daunting. Exciting as you never know just what unlikely turn some brewer is going to take with their beer or which of the thousands of beers in fridges and on tap around the country is going to provide your next "Eureka!" moment. Daunting in many ways too: for the brewers who feel compelled to come up with something fresh week in, week out; for the drinkers who can be overwhelmed – maybe even put off – by the morass; for retailers (and writers...) trying to keep on top of things.

For the team at The Crafty Pint, it also makes the compiling of our annual mid-year reflection piece arguably more important than ever – creating a reminder of what's been impressing in the first half of the year before they're pushed from our collective minds by the thousands more to come before December 31. It also makes it tougher because how can you realistically hope to be across thousands of new releases from hundreds of brewing companies?

As in the past, we've looked to draw a picture that's as accurate as can be hoped by leaning on the help of others. We invited around 350 people around the country – writers, retailers, beer geeks, reps and so on – to nominate their top five from their home state or territory (although, again, not NT at this stage; as we wrote at the end of last year, there's a growing beer scene there, but not one to yet warrant a best new beers list of its own) plus their top three from interstate. The beers had to have been released commercially between January 1 and June 30, 2019; they had to be an entirely new release or a new / wider release of a beer seen before (eg a can release following a previous trial on tap); or a new vintage of a past release.

We then took the responses of those that got back to us and looked to make sense of them, not just tallying total votes, but assessing aspects such as reach and distribution as well as how they'd fared at home as well as away (if, indeed, they had interstate distribution). From this, we compiled an overall list plus the top performers in their home regions.

Of course, however you approach these things, it's never going to be perfect: just as there are thousands of wonderful songs that will be heard by nobody beyond the musicians and their mates, there will be killer beers that only those who drained the kegs at a brewery or brewpub will have experienced. Likewise, many of the very best beers out there aren't new, but instead honed to perfection by brewers over years. At the same time, as a snapshot of the beer landscape in Australia right now, we reckon this is a pretty sweet encapsulation, taking in lots of hops, plenty of haze, a bit of oak, some odd ingredients, and breweries both big and small.

Before we get to the beers, however, one interesting aside we picked up this year was how many of the most popular beers with wide distribution fared far better with voters outside their home state than those within, the beers in second and fourth being the main exception. There were also a few that did so well on home turf, you wonder how they'd have performed if more punters had been able to experience them.

Anyway, which of the 361 beers to receive at least one vote were adjudged the top of the crop in 2019 – so far...


The Top Six

 

Well, the image at the top of the article kind of gave things away a little, but those three – along with the three beers above – garnered more votes than any of the remainder of the top 20 below, which formed something of a cluster. 

You could argue that, in some cases, the breweries here have an unfair advantage due to distribution and resources. But, even taking just the top three, when you've amassed as many champion brewery titles as they have between them over the past four years, the evidence they make great beer is irrefutable.

Below the top six, you'll find brief interviews with the people behind the beers filling the podium positions.


1 Stone & Wood Counter Culture: Killer Kween

2 Green Beacon Uppercut IIPA 2019

3 Balter Hazy IPA

4 BentSpoke Descent 19 Imperial Stout

5= Indian Ocean Oaklore Barleywine / Batch Brewing Co Campos Milk Stout


Stone & Wood Killer Kween

 

Read our take on the beer here.

They might be best known for their Pacific Ale but you wouldn't want to suggest Stone & Wood are resting on laurels. Whether it's the rise of new beer brands like Fixation and Forest For The Trees under the wider Fermentum banner, the opening of new venues like their Byron Bay home (above) and forthcoming Brisbane taproom, or new releases like those under the Counter Culture banner, there's plenty in the locker.

Killer Kween was the first Counter Culture release, garnered more social media attention on our channels than any other beer we've written about since launching in September 2010, and, were it not for our policy of limiting breweries to just one beer in the top 20, would have been joined by the can release of Counter Culture: Sticky Nectar.

Here's Sam Martin from new product development.


How did the beer come about?

Our brainstorming for this beer occurred around the same time that Bohemian Rhapsody was hitting theatres. We were about to land on a Freddie Mercury-inspired character with the use of one of their favourite songs, Killer Queen, but instead opted to explore what a strong female character might look like, resulting in our modern day Kween. 

Part of this "flipping the norm on its head" idea came from the deck of card design itself; in most (if not all) universal playing card decks, the male card characters are holding swords, while the female characters hold hearts. Our Killer Kween challenges this by piercing her sword straight through the beer’s key ingredient.   

In regard to the liquid, [head brewer] Caolan Vaughan had just returned from the US and was inspired by a couple of sparkling rosé style beers and decided to put his own spin on it: a highly effervescent, blush-hued imperial Berliner Weisse with more than a tonne of raspberries.  


What do you think of it personally?

I think the thing the Counter Culture team liked about this release the most was the overall nailing of the brief: the beer hit the quality and style markers while also strongly matching the super distinctive brand concept and story. The beer and brand appealed to a wide range of drinkers – more than we’d imagined! 


And what are your thoughts on the quality of Aussie beer in general at this moment in time?

It’s a great time to be in beer! Our drinkers are highly engaged, curious and their beer knowledge is growing on a daily basis. 

It is also great to see so many breweries who have their own unique story and brand that are appealing to specific drinkers in the beer segment. Basically, no one’s churning out the same beers with the same story!


Green Beacon Uppercut IIPA 2019

Johann van der Walt of Green Beacon (right) with Scotty Hargrave on the night their breweries collected AIBA Champion Brewery titles in May.

 

Read our take on the beer here.

Green Beacon release seasonals under the same banner each year, but they tend to change from year to year too. Sometimes they've changed style from one year to the next; other times, it's just been a change of hops or a shuffle within the style category. It's into the latter slot that Uppercut 2019 fits and, given the response, you wonder if they might be tempted to leave alone for 2020.

By now, the Green Beacon story should be reasonably well known. Actually, strike that, given the owners' best efforts to say as little as possible and just let the beer talk, you might not know a great deal about the story of the brewery and the people there. What you will know is they make bloody good beers all the time.

Here's the man mostly responsible for that, head brewer Johann van der Walt.


How did this year's version of Uppercut come about?

We always strive for balance and drinkability in every beer we make, whether it's an IPA or a barley wine. We didn't want to make a modern NEIPA or a classic West Coast IPA. People, in general, believe that NEIPAs should be thick, sweet and custard-looking and West Coast IPAs to be extremely bitter. The best examples of these two styles for me would be Pliny the Elder (Russian River) and Focal Banger (The Alchemist). Both these beers are very well balanced with high drinkability. They're not thick, sweet, custard-looking or extremely bitter. 

Looking at the different aspects of these two styles, we asked ourselves what we liked from both and we put that into Uppercut.


What do you think of it personally?

It was the first Uppercut to come out of our production brewery [previous versions were brewed at their original brewpub site] and I am very proud of the result and our current brewing team who works endlessly trying to improve everything. This Uppercut had the soft bitterness, juicy aroma/flavour and light malt flavour of a NEIPA crossed with the brightness, bit of dank and lean body of a WCIPA.


And what are your thoughts on the quality of Aussie beer in general at this moment in time?

Australian beer in general is great. There are world class beers being made in this country. 

Should I mention how proud I am to be a brewer in Queensland? It wasn't that long ago when people, including Queenslanders, thought that great beer only comes from down south or from the USA. Some of the best beers in this country come from Queensland and that is a great achievement.


Balter Hazy IPA

Balter's Stirling Howland and Scotty Hargrave hosting a pre-release tasting of their Hazy for Crafty Cabal members.

 

Read our take on the beer here.

Whether you look at their growing fanbase of drinkers or the opinion of expert judges, Balter simply keep on nailing their beers. While the IIPA garnered much of the attention last year, in 2019, head brewer Scotty Hargrave saw his personal favourite, the Strong Pale Ale, win an AIBA trophy while their entry into the world of hazy IPAs, Hazy, proved a winner too.

It's since been joined by a New World hopped version (Hazy DC) and a bigger version (Dazy), while the Handsome Elvis Nitro Milk Stout picked up a stack of votes from around the country in this poll too. But Hazy won the day.

Here's Scotty to tell us more.


How did the beer come about?

We’d discussed doing the style as a team, particularly Stirls as he’d tried a few that he thought were cool, but I’d tried a few and I found them really variable. Particularly local ones, it almost seemed like, unless we were at the fermenter two days before it was going to be packaged, then you missed out.

I probably dug my heels in a bit and we held off for quite a while. I just wanted to get my head around it and, rather than just brew something that was going to fall apart like a lot of others seemed to, I wanted to really nail it.

Originally, we had Citrapalooza [pouring in] the taproom and some festivals and it really walked across the bar. I brewed it three or four times on the pilot system and we knew then that if I had to brew it that much then it deserved a spot in cans. But I had to be happy we could brew the beer to last in cans and that the yeast was really healthy so it would stand up.


What do you think of it personally?

I’m really happy, particularly with how well it held up over time. I took a four-pack over to the US for the Firestone Walker Invitational in June with only a few days left on the Best Before. They were still really hazy but there weren’t giant chunks of shit floating in there and they hadn’t lost their vibrancy. They were four months old, so it wasn’t as explosive as it may have been in the first week, but they were certainly very smooth and rounded and juicy.

I knew that I had some folks that I wanted to put them before. When I was in LA doing a beer with Matt Brynildson from Firestone, we had one in my hotel room that night and it was just good to have the confidence to pull a beer like that out in front of a brewer like that and know it wasn’t going to be a stinker. 


And what are your thoughts on the quality of Aussie beer in general at this moment in time?

For the most part, the whole industry is more or less in step and marching further ahead from a quality front. There’s always going to be some variability with the likes of people jumping into packaging too quick before they really understand their discipline. But if you look at my role with The Indies on the tech advisory committee, the ratio of medals to entries has gone up.

Sometimes the judges feel like we’re giving away too many medals but we’re not dropping our standards to give more medals – there’s more medal worthy beers which is a good sign.

Our industry is much bigger now and, from the outside, it looks a lot more grown up. So I think most people’s expectation is that our beer should be as reliable as the large mainstream breweries and what they strive to do. Even if it’s shit, it’s reliably shit.


As for the rest of the beers in the top six, BentSpoke's epic Descent 19 – a barrel-aged imperial stout, of which we had this to say – was another, like Uppercut, that was enjoyed equally on home turf and interstate. It was also a reminder that, while the Canberra brewers have made their name with predominantly hop forward releases, there's much more to be found in their canon. This beer marked the launch of their Bending Spoke series so look out for sours and more to follow.

Indian Ocean's Oaklore (actually released right at the end of 2018 but after we'd compiled the votes for Best New WA Beers of 2018 and only reaching most retailers in January) and Batch's Campos Milk Stout shared some common traits despite being very different beers brewed on opposite sides of the country. 

Both were collaborations – the former between the Mindarie brewery, The Dutch Trading Co and former Temple and Homestead man Ron Feruglio; the latter with Inner West Sydney roasters Campos. And both garnered all of their votes within their home state: Oaklore, an English-style barleywine spent six months in ex-Heaven Hill bourbon barrels, had a tiny release yet still garnered the most votes of any beer in WA; Campos received twice as many votes from NSW voters as Killer Kween.


The Rest Of The 20

 

Such was the breadth of beers put forward from across the country, there were many clustered on similar votes. Indeed, with just one or two votes separating the remainder of the top 20, we've decided to run them in alphabetical order.

There's a mix of returning favourites, tweaks on classics, new bangers and IPAs aplenty. It's worth noting in this age of hectic release schedules just how many breweries received significant numbers of votes across their beers yet not enough for a single release to make this article. The likes of Boatrocker, Sailors Grave, Otherside, Range, Beerfarm and Ocho – plus a fair few brewpub operations – have many admirers, they just don't necessarily agree on what the brewers do best.

Anyway, here's the remainder of the top 20 and, below that, the top-ranked beers from around the country.

  • Akasha Wooden Leg IIIPA (one of many Akasha beers with multiple votes)
  • Blackman's Super Hop IPA
  • Bridge Road B2 Bomber Mach 9.0 (a special mention for the stunning Beer Glamp Pilsner from The Crafty Pint team too)
  • Capital Brewing Big Drop IIPA
  • Feral Brewing Imperial Biggie
  • Hawkers & Bale Breaker Tom Needs New Friends IPA
  • Heroes & Villains Dark Moment Baltic Porter (read about this WA operation here)
  • Modus Operandi Future Factory IIIPA (shout out to their Born To Rum, which fared well too)
  • Philter Haze IPA
  • Red Hill Pancho Mole Imperial Stout
  • Rocky Ridge Imperial Ace (one of 14 Rocky Ridge beers to gain at least one vote)
  • Venom Double Hazy Golden Ale
  • Wayward Coffee & Donuts Stout
  • Wildflower Zibeerbo

Around The Country

Western Australia

1 Indian Ocean Oaklore
2 Rocky Ridge Imperial Ace
3= Feral Imperial Biggie / Heroes & Villains Dark Moment
5= Otherside Sabbath / Imperial Harvest


South Australia

1 Prancing Pony The Piper West Coast IPA
2 Little Bang Undercover Fashion Police 5 NEIPA
3= Barossa Valley Peanut Butter Chocolate Milkshake / Clare Valley Double NEIPA / Pirate Life Mango Lassi / Wheaty Brewing Corps & Fixation Funky Menace India Saison

Special mention, too, for Uraidla Brewery in the Adelaide Hills, who scored votes for many of their beers.


Tasmania

1 Van Dieman Giblin X Imperial Stout
2 Du Cane Peak Pils (read about them here if you've not heard of them before)
3 Spotty Dog Fog City RIPA

The Tasmanian vote was split so widely, it's best beyond those three to mention the brewing companies who were nominated for multiple beers: Bruny Island, Hobart Brewing Company, Moo Brew, Ocho, Shambles and Two Metre Tall.


Victoria

A bit of a cop out here, perhaps, but with so many beers picking up multiple votes, it feels like it would have been an injustice to pick out just five, so...

1= Bridge Road B2 Bomber Mach 9.0 / Hawkers & Bale Breaker Tom Needs New Friends / Red Hill Pancho
4  Big and hoppy beers, with Blackman's Super Hop IPA, Venom Hazy Double Golden Ale, Boatrocker DDH IIPA, two from Mr Banks and Stomping Ground's Robert Double IPA all up there in terms of votes.
5  Another combined entry, this time for brewing companies whose individual beers might not have come close to the top five but who had many beers with fanciers: 3 Ravens, Dollar Bill, La Sirène, Molly Rose, Moon Dog and Sailors Grave.


New South Wales

1 Stone & Wood Counter Culture: Killer Kween
2 Batch Campos Milk Stout
3= Akasha Wooden Leg IIIPA & Modus Operandi Future Factory IIIPA
5 Wayward Coffee & Donuts / Wildflower Zibeerbo

Special mention to regional operations Hope Brewery (particularly their Sabro Single Hop Hazy) and New England Brewing Co for scoring votes for multiple beers.


Queensland

1 Green Beacon Uppercut IIPA
2 Balter Hazy IPA
3 Black Hops California Love West Coast IPA
4 Currumbin Valley Brewing Grape Bubblegum Sour
5 Range Brewing – Various


ACT

1 BentSpoke Descent 19
2 Capital Brewing Big Drop IIPA
3 Wild Polly Pale Ale


Thanks to everyone that helped compile the article, particularly as it becomes a bigger task every year. NB: All votes had been cast by early July – it just took a little while to get around to making sense of them and writing the article between visiting eleven places in the UK in four weeks with the family in tow...

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