I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of complaining about 2020.
Don't get me wrong – I'm not downplaying the difficulty and hurt and frustration it's brought to so many people. It's just that we’ve spent all year talking about how difficult this year has been, and for good reason… but I'm taking a break from that. I say it’s time to start talking about all the great things that have happened in 2020.
This year, Taylor Swift finally started making good music, we got the chance to enjoy Hamilton with the original Broadway cast, and we couldn’t look away from the amazing car crash that was Tiger King. This was the year I discovered auctioneer beats, American Hedgehog Warrior, and marble racing, and there was more sourdough bread than I’ve seen in my life. We all finally learned how to wash our hands and use QR codes, and I released a frantic striptease video to launch my career as Magic Mick.
And, in the face of adversity, the beer industry proved its mettle and showed itself to be a bastion of resilience and compassion and creativity, rather than deteriorating into the apocalyptic wasteland we all feared, with cans melted down into aluminium ammunition and kegs repurposed as body armour.
An annual statewide wrap-up is difficult in any year, but especially so in one where we struggled to look beyond the thresholds of our own houses. So, with the disclaimer this article might not be as comprehensive as in previous years, here’s a taste of some of the wins of Queensland beer in 2020.
If you’re looking to commiserate 2020, you’ve come to the wrong place. Queensland is the Sunshine State, so let’s get sunny, dammit. It’s time to celebrate.
Five Standout Queenslanders
Ballistic Coup de Grâce Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout
In an article dedicated to optimism, it’s appropriate to list Coup de Grâce first because I didn’t hear a single bad word – or even an indifferent word – about this beer.
This year, Ballistic Beer leaked news of the Bunker, their new project focusing on mixed fermentation, barrel-aged and wild ales. Brewer Jake Harrison, who’s spearheading the project, is already playing gleefully in his fermentation fantasy land and preparing to debut some aged and blended sour beers in 2021. But, in the meantime, Ballistic released their first barrel-aged beer in 2020 – and it wasn’t a sour at all.
About three months after lockdowns began in Australia this year, Ballistic released Coup de Grâce from 12 months in lockdown, and freedom tasted delicious. Complexity was the name of the game here: I could list all the things I tasted when I drank this, but you’d think I was describing a gathering of rummy pirates getting together to cook fruit cake and eat grandma’s sweets.
We may describe some hazy IPAs as being opaque, but Coup de Grâce is a void that devours light itself. I originally described it as a black mirror, which may seem a little on-the-nose for 2020. But, while Netflix’s Black Mirror is all about pessimistic prophecies of the future, this beer is a gleam of hope for more good things to come.
Newstead & Weihenstephan Luftschloss Pilsner
In March, Newstead Brewing brewed a Pilsner in collaboration with the oldest brewery in the world, taking centuries of experience and tradition and mixing in Aussie Ella hops and modern mashing techniques. Why on earth did this get so little attention?
Oh that’s right – because a certain C-word threatened to huff and puff and blow the whole thing down.
But Luftschloss translates to "air castle", and no air castle deserves to fly under the radar. So here’s the story.
The collaboration had been in the works for months, with Newstead’s brewing team developing the recipe with Weihenstephan’s Matthias Ebner. Everything was ready to go according to Reinheitsgebot, the Bavarian purity law that dictates what ingredients can and cannot be used to make beer. Matthias had flown to Brisbane for Brewsvegas, and was ready for the brew day on March 13. But Friday the 13th is unlucky for some, and on that very day, Matthias was advised to fly home before Germany’s borders closed.
But Newstead pressed on. As they put it: “Both knowledge and talent [were] in the kettle before Matthias took the call!” They abided by Weihenstephan’s fermentation requirements over the following weeks. They sent samples to Germany for Weihenstephan to test and review – after all, you don’t become the oldest brewery in the world without guarding your reputation closely.
Weihenstephan gave their stamp of approval for the beer to be released with their name on it, and Matthias gave the following feedback: “Well done, very well done. We are very happy with the product… You really matched the idea we had. It’s totally ‘old world meets new world’, the perfect match of the idea to bring two interpretations of a style together in one can.
"It is a typical pilsner body, crisp, easy and slightly malty, but not too massive, a nice color (even we didn’t had any turbidity, the beer was very very clear) and a typical pilsner aftertaste and bitterness, which was very homogenous and balanced. The smell was very (but still subtle) fruity and the first taste perception was fruity paired with a mild and easy carbonation. The aftertaste was bready-malty paired with the very balanced bitterness - not to much - but present. I would brew with you any time again.”
Our own Judd Owen’s description is equally prosaic: “It was a cracker. Just a really well made pils. Soft but bitter. Clean as shit. Bit sweet. Really enjoyable lager.”
Range Fahrenheit IPA
While we’re quoting Judd (one of my personal favourite hobbies), here’s what he said when this beer came up in a Crafty team discussion: “I’ve been trying to start a rumour that Fahrenheit IPA won all the awards because it was the only IPA Range released with a name anyone could remember.”
With other Range beers from 2020 being named things like Yo-yo Enthusiast, Tropical Dance Explosion, How To Teleport, Triangular Dreams, Purple Monkey Dishwasher and Tax Invoice, you can see where he’s coming from. (And I’d wager not many of you can pick which of the above isn’t really a Range beer released in 2020.)
It must be said that hype is a powerful ally of Range. They’ve had people queueing outside the taproom at midday on Fridays, itching to get their hands on new releases; the online allocations of a number of their beers have sold out within minutes of release; and social media is regularly awash with the spectrum of colours that is their gorgeous label art and the orange glow exuding from many of their hazy IPAs.
But the fact remains: Range’s Fahrenheit IPA took out Champion Australian Independent Beer and Champion IPA at the 2020 Indies awards, where the brewery also took out Champion Small/Medium Brewery. These accolades helped put to rest any accusations that Range are "just" about the hype.
This year has seen Range expand their brewing capacity (again), invest in a centrifuge as part of their continual quest to improve their processes, and open a venue in Melbourne.
Range are growing. Range are thriving. Range are consistently making damn good beer and have a sizeable fan base. And, for 2020, we’ll sum all of that up under Fahrenheit IPA because it’s the only one of their beers with a name we can remember.
Sea Legs Abby Made This Hazy IPA
Early this year, Sea Legs and Hawkers collaborated to make two IPAs: an IPA named This, and a hazy IPA named Abby Made This. The hop bills were almost identical: they’re both chocked full of Sabro, Loral and Cashmere, but variations in the malt and yeast made for two different beers within the IPA category.
This was created to suit the preferences of Jon Fuchs and Hamish Mcarthur (head brewers of Sea Legs and Hawkers respectively), who have a taste for IPAs with higher alcohol, more bitterness, and no haze; in other words, it’s more like the kind of IPA we were all drinking up until a few years ago.
Abby Made This was a juicier beer with lower bitterness, a tropical dream that’s all mango and coconut and silky smooth – and hazy. It also had a number of punters asking: “Who’s Abby?”
In January, Sea Legs took on a 23-year-old trainee brewer named Abby Heslop. While she comes from a winemaking family and studied viticulture at university, some time spent in the US and a few brewing electives during her winemaking degree sparked in Abby a love of beer and a desire to make it.
“I’m quite a creative person and I love science,” says Abby, “so to be able to mix those two together… you can be creative with beer.”
Though she’d only been at Sea Legs for a couple of months at the time of the collaboration, Abby had proven from the get-go that she had a keen attitude, a strong work ethic, and a passion for learning. So when she requested that they make one of the beers a hazy – her preferred style – the other brewers got on board.
There’s a lot to be said for Abby’s confidence and proactive approach. As Sea Legs co-founder Dave Machin says: “She’s definitely got opinions, and good ideas. There’s no fear coming in, no hesitation – if the idea’s there, she’s going to bring it up.”
However, this act of giving Abby the reins on a brew when she was still fresh to the game is also illustrative of how quickly and respectfully Sea Legs welcomed the trainee into the team.
“I wasn’t expecting this much freedom,” Abby says. “It’s really great to be able to come to the table and bring my ideas forward and be heard.”
Abby Made This belongs on this list as a great beer in and of itself. But it also represents something bigger.
In a state where the word "beer" used to be synonymous with "middle aged men drinking XXXX Gold", a hazy IPA called Abby Made This is a shining symbol of the next generation of beer in Queensland. It’s a young style full of young hop varieties, made by a young brewer at a young brewery. It’s a sign that the future of beer is bright indeed.
Green Beacon Fathom Silfra
Last year, we gave Green Beacon’s entire Fathom range a spot on this list, so we don’t need to go into detail on the brewery’s barrel program here… but this year, we’re highlighting Silfra, a mixed culture, sour golden ale aged in shiraz barrels for 18 months.
They say good things take time and, with Fathom, Green Beacon have indeed been patient. From all the way at the other end of our vast island home, our own Guy Southern says: “The whole range has over-delivered, and the project had a long view with some stock being two years old.”
With Silfra, Green Beacon have pulled off a smooth balance of oak, acidity, and Brettanomyces, as well as more tannins than a soulful German winter song and an offbeat Wes Anderson film combined.
Guy describes Silfra as, “a halo for that range” – and he should know, as he’s often called the Angel of the West.*
BREAKTHROUGH BREWERY - MOFFAT BEACH BREWING
Matt and Shaz Wilson have been run off their feet for years trying to keep up with the demand for Moffat Beach's beer in their little corner of the world; their spot looking over glistening Moffat Beach remains one of the most picturesque places in Australia to enjoy a beer from the source.
But their Seaview Terrace location isn’t the only thing they’ve got going for them. In 2018, they took out Champion Small Brewery and Champion Session Beer at the Indies awards, which gained them the attention of people who hadn’t yet visited their Sunshine Coast brewpub.
So why are we calling them Breakthrough Brewery this year?
Perhaps it’s because at the 2020 Royal Queensland Food, Wine and Beer Awards, Moffat took out Champion Brewpub and Grand Champion Beer (with their Moffs Summer Ale), as well as Champion Session Beer and Champion IPA. And then, because apparently the pool of competition in Queensland was too small for Moffat, they decided to go up against the rest of the country and take out Champion Australian Independent Brewpub and Champion Session Beer at the Indies awards, too. You know, just for a laugh.
Or perhaps it’s because, after getting their beer into cans near the end of last year, this year they built a production brewery and taproom in Caloundra West so they can get their beer into more mouths than they could ever fit at the beachside venue.
Of maybe it’s because they literally had a breakthrough at their brewpub when someone doing a burnout flipped their Torana into Moffat’s alfresco dining area.** (Too soon for a "breakthrough" joke?)
Take your pick, but Moffat Beach Brewing Co certainly earned this accolade for 2020.
Things Worth Noting
Breweries Surviving and Thriving
This year could have seen the closure of a number of smaller breweries that have no financial backing behind them. But, as far as we’re aware, only one Queensland brewery fell victim to this fate in 2020. (RIP White Brick.)
Meanwhile, a number of breweries continued to not only stand on their own two feet, but keep moving forwards. Here are just a few examples.
With their unique brewing schedule and more than 2,000 different beers under their belt, Bacchus Brewing have never done things like everyone else, but this year they jumped on board the tinnie train; a crowdfunding campaign gave them the thrust needed to make the move into cans.
Brewtal Brewers – Scratch Bar legend Tim Goulding’s brewing operation – finally canned West Coast Thrash and Brisbane River Brown, both of which have a cult following in Brisbane. The canals in Venice may have run clear this year, but the Brown Snake was as turbid as ever, and so was Brisbane River Brown.
Another success in the face of adversity is Milton Common. After splitting off from Aether Brewing, Jimmy Young rebranded the Milton site as brewpub Milton Common at the end of 2019. This year, he started brewing label Common Ground, and, with ex-Brouhaha brewer Benny Lugg at the wheel, scooped up a handful of medals at the Indies. Not a small feat in a year like 2020.
Black Hops One Step Closer To World Domination
After opening the doors of their Burleigh Heads HQ in 2016, then their Biggera Waters brewery and taproom known as BHII in 2019 – not to mention a number of capacity upgrades along the way – Black Hops took the opportunity in 2020 to expand yet again, this time as far north as the big smoke.
Unlike the first two breweries, however, BH Brisbane wasn’t the result of a build but a buyout: Black Hops purchased Semi-Pro Brewing and moved into the East Brisbane venue. It’s now a capital city outpost for Black Hops – a touch point for the brand in Brisbane, a brewhouse for 1,000 litre batches of limited releases, and a taproom to water the locals.
It was an amicable acquisition in a tumultuous time, with both sides pleased; Semi-Pro owners Mick Guy, Siena Perry and Shaun Stubley have even remained on with the Manila Street site under the new ownership, with Mick as site head brewer for Black Hops.
This year Black Hops were also voted Australia’s best craft brewery in Beer Cartel’s Australian Craft Beer Survey, and announced that they’ll be open a barrel room and taproom called AWOL in Burleigh Waters in the near future.
We believe they’re partnering with Elon Musk to open BH Mars in 2026. You heard it here first.
The Show Went On
Brewsvegas managed to carry on through most events before You-Know-What, and Crafted Festival was able to go ahead in November. Small wins, perhaps, but wins nonetheless!
Please Sir, Can I Have Some More?
Want more to celebrate in 2020? Among the myriad of the happenings of the last 12 months or so – in fact, despite some of them – Queensland has seen brewery openings aplenty.
On the Gold Coast, Miami brewpub Precinct Brewing, under the guidance of Bine’s Scott Imlach and ex-Stone & Wood brewer Jeremy James; in Brisbane’s Woolloongabba, Easy Times Brewing is on the cusp of putting their own beers through the taps; in Stafford, Happy Valley Brewing with ex-Newstead Brewing & Bravo Brewing’s Jarrett Bravo working the stainless; in Northgate, Fick Brewing; in the Sunshine Coast hinterland town of Nambour, Stalwart Alehouse & Brewery; in Mooloolaba, Blackflag Brewing, run by a crew hailing from Taps Mooloolaba… and of course, there’s also Lost Palms’ second location in Sherwood; Sauce Brewing’s Cairns brewpub; 27 South, an outfit rocking a rose and hibiscus saison; and the aforementioned Common Ground Brewing and Moffat’s production house.
Is this an exhaustive list? Probably not. Is it an impressive one? I think so.
IN 2021, WATCH OUT FOR…
- Summer GABS on the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast helping us not waste any time in trying countless crazy new beers.
- Madocke Beer and Currumbin Valley Brewing finding homes on the Gold Coast where you can visit and drink on site.
- Existing breweries opening new venues, with or without extra brewhouses. We’ve seen it with a handful of breweries over the past couple of years, and it’s only going to pick up speed as the market for good beer grows and brand recognition of successful breweries increases.
- Perhaps we’ll see the end of people saying: “I just want a beer that tastes like beer.” Honestly, it’s excusable from people who have only ever known pale lagers… but for people who have enjoyed the innovation and vast spectrum of beer flavours to then say this in the face of fruit and lactose? I’m not angry; I’m just disappointed. (Thank you Jakkii Musgrave for being the one to call out this atrocious behaviour that many of us have taken up.)
* Please note that no one has called him that, ever. But it would give me great joy if people were to start calling him that from now on.
** Thanks to the bollards in front of the venue, there were only a couple of minor injuries from the accident, and less damage to property than there otherwise might have been - although it caused Matt and Shaz more stress than they were expecting that day!
You can read our look back at 2020 from a national perspective here, check out our thoughts on the year in beer in Tasmania and NSW, and look out for more state and territory-based roundups over the coming days.