Balter have been voted Australia's best brewery in the biggest ever survey of craft beer drinkers. More than 23,000 people took part in Beer Cartel's annual survey, now in its fourth year, with their votes placing BentSpoke and Stone & Wood in second and third place respectively, followed by Bridge Road and Black Hops.
The broad-ranging survey was launched in 2016 and has seen the number of respondents rise each year, with the results offering a snapshot of the local beer scene and the attitudes of drinkers. Other notable outcomes this year were a rise in preference for beer in cans over bottles and a growing awareness of the Independent Brewers Association's efforts to promote independent Australian beer through their independence seal. With the first Indie Beer Day set to take place on October 26, the IBA will be hoping to see the figure rise again in 2020.
Reassuringly, an impressive 93 percent believe the quality of craft beer in Australia is improving and 87 percent encourage family and friends to try it. And, for us at The Crafty Pint, we're delighted to be Australia's favourite craft beer news source for the fourth year running.
Reacting to news of Balter's success, which comes on the back of the Champion Large Australian Brewery title at the Australian International Beer Awards in May and top spot for their XPA in this year's Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers, co-founder Stirling Howland (above right with head brewer Scotty Hargrave) told The Crafty Pint the ongoing support they're receiving is "mind-blowing for us".
He said: "I feel like we're in one of those hot streaks at the moment with this sort of stuff. It feels really nice and it's super encouraging for our team."
While acknowledging such things "don't last forever", he put it down to sticking to their goals: making beer they want to drink that they think other people will want to drink and doing it to the highest quality they can – while aligning their beers with "a compelling brand that's engaging and lovable".
The past year has seen the Gold Coast brewery release a series of well-received limited releases, most notably their Hazy, Dazy and, just this week, Hazy/DC IPAs, while also replacing the Pilsner (that had plenty of fans at Crafty Towers) with the more broad appeal Lager.
"We never try to be anything we aren't," Stirling says, "and we don't try to project that. We know what we are good at and are opening the gates a little bit more with each release. For us, it's about doing what we do really well; it seems to resonate with the people in our beer community and we're bloody stoked to see the brand staying relevant. For the public to hold us in such high regard is an honour."
At a time when the beer world here, and in many other craft beer markets, is home to a torrent of new releases and fads – where no ingredient, idea or IP infringement is seemingly off limits – one of the other notable findings in this year's survey stands out. The Beer Cartel team have highlighted that core range beers still account for the majority of respondents' purchases, with more people favouring four- and six-packs over cases and single bottle or can purchases – and preferring cases of 24 beers over the increasingly commonplace 16-packs.
It's a picture Stirling relates to, with Balter's phenomenally popular core range beers – led by XPA and Captain Sensible – central to their rise, as, for example, Pacific Ale has been to Stone & Wood's.
"There's a lot of crazy shit in the craft beer world [and] I'm open to innovation and trying new things," Stirling says, "but our big thing is quality – it's sustained Balter and that has to be paramount for the beer industry to survive.
"Some people might see [our approach] as boring, but I see it as something that will sustain the industry for a long time. Really well-made beer should never be classed as boring.
"An IPA doesn't have to be fucked up and flamboyant. It just has to be great. I love drinking really well-made West Coast IPAs – just like good music, this stuff is timeless."
Elsewhere, there were plenty of familiar faces among the state and territory winners when it came to brewery venues and beer bars / pubs. In the former category, there was a fair bit of change from 2018: Capital moved into top spot in ACT, Beerfarm claimed the title of WA's favourite, and Little Bang – with whom we've just locked in a special event in December – were the pick of SA's beer lovers.
There was only one change when it came to venues, with The Dutch Trading Co pipping Petition in WA, and elsewhere Brewski, the Grain Store, Old Canberra Inn, Carwyn Cellars, Saint John Craft Beer and The Wheaty retaining the love of their locals.
GABS remains the country's most popular beer festival, ahead of the BeerFest series of events, Adelaide Beer & BBQ Fest, Beer InCider and Perth Craft Beer Festival, while Good Beer Week is still the top beer week, ahead of the now-defunct Sydney Beer Week, Brewsvegas and WA Beer Week.
Other trends include the swing towards cans from bottles as preferred packaging – cans up from 30 to 38 percent, with 35 percent of respondents indicating no preference. Take a look at the New Beers section on The Crafty Pint and you can clearly see where most brewers are heading too.
Rich Kelsey, a co-founder of Beer Cartel and driving force behind the survey, said: "It's been crazy just how quickly the change from cans to bottles has happened. We looked at a photo of our shelves from just five years ago and it was 99 percent bottles; now it's 90 percent cans. Over the next few years, we expect to see that preference go up again.
"When you start looking at the big guys like Little Creatures and they're putting beer in cans, you know that's where the market is going."
For context, Mountain Goat – the second small and (then) independent brewery to go into cans after the Australian Brewery – only launched their first batch of Summer Ale tinnies in late 2013...
Rich says the rise in respondents was in part down to more beer businesses and festivals getting behind the survey and encouraging people to take part, as well as a growing awareness of the survey itself.
As for the other findings, he said: "It's interesting to see awareness of the independence seal continuing to grow and I'm sure [the IBA] would like to see it grow more."
He also felt the results – particularly when it came to buying habits – offered a useful reminder to his team, where much of their focus is on customers seeking something new all the time.
"It's good to get this data and see what's really happening across the majority of people," he said. "People are still supporting core range beers and realise it's important for breweries. The 'new beer all the time' model isn't going to work for everyone; there's a lot of time and money and effort that goes in [to such an approach]: packaging, to what it's going to be called, to barcodes."
While The Crafty Pint remains the country's favourite beer news source, it appears the imminent relaunch of our free app, which now features improvements, more venues and integration of our Crafty Cabal beer lovers scheme, is timely. Untappd leads the way in most used beer apps, while Now Tapped has moved ahead of ours into second place. Of the six percent of respondents who listen to beer podcasts, Radio Brews News remains the most popular, ahead of Ale of a Time, Beer Cartel, Sessionable and The Beer Healer.
You can find all of the above, plus more and further detail by heading to the Beer Cartel Survey on their website here. Congrats once more to the team there for the huge effort they've put into the survey. You can't help but feel it's this sort of dedication that contributes to an encouraging 85 percent of respondents stating they're "excited about the direction craft beer is heading".
Check out the full survey results here.