Tasmania. Known to most as the Apple Isle or for its breathtaking natural beauty (and more recently, a little museum in the northern suburbs of Hobart). However, over time Tasmania is increasingly becoming known as a worthy destination for the Craft Beer Tourist™.
The growth of the craft beer industry over the past decade across Australia is well documented. And, statistically speaking, the growth in Tasmania is up there with the largest and most rapid. This time ten years ago, as we ticked over into the 2010s, there were seven breweries across the small state of just over half a million people: one brewery for roughly every 72,500 people. Fast forward ten years and there are now 37 brewery labels – including gypsy operations – in a state where the population has only increased to around 535,000.
That puts the brewing companies to inhabitants ratio at around 1:14,000; for comparison, Victoria is around 1:34,500 and New South Wales 1:40,000. Add in the success of the state's hop-growing and breeding industry and it's little wonder Tassie has started generating interest in its beer industry from not only those on the mainland but also internationally; in April, world-leading hop scientist Dr Tom Shellhammer called into the Fresh Hop Beer Festival, for example.
While there are plenty of breweries and beers to go around, the Tasmanians appear to be a thirsty lot. The majority of the 32 nominations received for the best new beers of 2019 didn't even make it out of Tasmania, so if you want to try some you better head down!
Before we get to the top six for 2019, there are two honourable mentions.
Bruny Island are no strangers to this list and, while you won't see a single new beer of theirs in the final list they received three separate nominations – all for very different beers: Metric Stout 2019, Black Pudding and Fresh Hop Harvest 2019. Head brewer Evan Hunter continues to innovate, making the extra ferry trip across to Bruny Island an unmissable part of any travel south.
Gypsy operation Spotty Dog also enjoyed a big year in 2019. Founder Klimt Donohoe was a part of a consortium of local indie brewers who banded together to take the contract as primary supplier for the 2019 Taste of Tasmania, making all beer available at the event independent. They also released a swathe of keg only small batch brews to complement their two canned offerings. Three of these beers – Family BA Imperial Stout, Fog City Red IPA and Chico Simcoe IPA – plus the Monterey Mist collab with Ocho and Miner’s Gold made the list. There are rumours 2020 will be an even bigger year for Spotty Dog so watch this space...
THE TOP SIX
Ocho Rainbow Hills Double IPA
Ocho brewer and founder Stu Grant recently took on the head brewer job at new operation Miner’s Gold in Beaconsfield, a mining town in the state's north famous for launching one former opposition leader’s career. Keeping Ocho as his side project allowed him to explore and create new combinations to his heart’s content, with the first batch of Rainbow Hills brewed on Miner's Gold's new brewhouse.
The beer is the evolution of his much-celebrated Golden Double IPA, and a reminder to all that successful evolution can take place without wiping the slate clean every time. It was a busy year for Stu: as well as getting the Miner’s Gold operation off to a flying start he also released the Prism series of barrel-aged, fruited sour beers. This was a two year labour of love – beers brewed in July 2017, fruited in March 2018, bottled November 2018, and finally released June 2019 – of which the Apricot variant, in particular, received several nominations for best new beer.
To have a brewer nominated for both a double IPA and a wild ferment project is a testament to both Stu’s creativity and technical nuance, ensuring innovation in brewing is alive and well in Tasmania.
Van Dieman Unpredictable Spring
The past year marked Van Dieman’s tenth year of operation and the family-owned and run brewery has picked up a swag of awards across the year. These include being awarded the Champion Tasmanian Brewery at the 2019 Indies, picking up a number of medals at the AIBAs, plus founder and head brewer Will Tatchell picking up Beer & Brewer’s award for Best Brewer.
They also had seven beers nominated for this list, more than twice that of any other brewery, which reflects the prolific output the small operation manages. Unpredictable Spring is a blend of one-, two- and three-year-old spontaneously fermented ales brewed with his coolship. The malt and hops Will used are all grown onsite too, resulting in a beer that is truly an "Estate Ale", while output was limited to just 800 bottles. If you see one, you know what to do...
Fox Friday H-Town Hazy IPA
After launching in early 2016 in the slowly gentrifying Hobart suburb of Moonah, Fox Friday have more recently been developing a reputation as the brewery bringing the Haze to Hobart. They received three nominations – all for hazy IPA variants – with the most readily available, H-Town Hazy IPA, proving the most popular.
The brewery was taken over by new owners Benn and Sarah in 2019, and they've wasted no time in pushing the operation forward and expanding their footprint across Tasmania. Look out for a more detailed update on their progress on this site early in 2020.
Du Cane Peak Pils
With the market constantly demanding new and often wacky beers with as much fruit or dry-hopping per litre as the liquid can possibly handle, the humble pilsner doesn't often get a look in. Taking its name from the famous Du Cane Range in the Central Highlands region of Tasmania, brewer (and former mountain guide) Will Horan’s beers have been well received by beer enthusiasts and bushwalkers alike. A former homebrewer whose career in brewing started courtesy of a winning entry in a competition at Saint John Craft Beer back in 2015, Will works at Launceston’s Morrison Brewery and brews Du Cane on the same brewhouse – because who doesn’t like to go to work on the weekend?
The Peak Pils (as well as its sibling, the Hut Pale) are clean, drinkable expressions of their styles and proving increasingly popular as a transition beer for those new to the world of craft beer, or for those ready to rest their palates after attempting to make sense out of the latest and greatest hype release.
MOO Brew NEIPA
Proving Tasmania is not immune from the Haze Craze, Moo Brew enter the fold this year with their take on the NEIPA. Better known as a brewery that, for the most part, sticks to their exceptionally consistent core beers with only the odd special release on tap – as well as their much-anticipated annual stouts, 2019 saw Moo spread their wings a little and join the party with a series of short run can releases.
Whilst the NEIPA – a soft and creamy affair – has got the nod here, mentions also for their Red IPA release for the Dark MOFO festival, and their Belgian Pale Ale (which featured one of the best promo videos we’ve seen for some time).
Morrison Cognac Barrel-Aged Double IPA
Rounding out the list is Morrison Brewery’s Cognac Double IPA. Widely celebrated for their English and Irish style beers – you’ll find hand pumps in a number of venues across Tasmania pulling nothing but Morrison beers – here the family-run operation opted for a bold, American-inspired double IPA they aged for twelve months in a French Cognac barrel. Coming in at 11.1 percent ABV, this complex beer was welcomed across Tasmania during a cold snap in August, proving to be the perfect cockle-warmer.
Morrison are also increasing their output and presence across Tasmania with a number of large format can releases appearing in 2019 to complement their core range.
Don't forget you can have your say in the country's biggest public poll, the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers, by voting here.