A lot has already been said about the year just gone, and much of it less than complimentary. We've become accustomed to the "new normal", complete with 2020's buzzwords: isolate, unprecedented, quarantine, lockdown, restrictions, cluster, pivot to name just a few. And pivot businesses have, reinventing themselves and their entire business plans just to stay afloat.
We've witnessed the creation of online stores, free delivery services, the canning of tap beer, and drive-thrus at breweries, all in an attempt to keep local alive.
We've juggled with ever-evolving regulations and guidelines: can we stand and drink or do we need to sit? Can we go to the pub or do we need to stay at home? And will we really need to wait eight hours for a COVID test.
It's no secret the hospitality and beer industries are among those to have taken a significant hit. Yet, while this year has been bloody hard, there has been one constant, a rock in beer lovers' lives ... good beer. And now it's time to look back at some of the very best to come out of SA in 2021, as well as capture some of the standout moments.
As always, the top five beers listed below were collated by gathering votes from industry professionals. South Australian breweries released, yet again, a record number of new beers for the state in 2020, with more than 35 different breweries receiving at least one vote for their beers.
So, sit back, crack a beer, and bask in SA's best of 2020.
Five Standout South Australians
Little Bang Rabbit Hole/ Tangent Series
Two beers were released under the Rabbit Hole/Tangent* banner in 2020 and they were both sensational. It just goes to show that, when it comes to sours, patience and time wins out in the end. Beers two and three in the series both underwent ageing in three different barrels before being blended to create the complex, final product.
Number 2 utilised the barrel characteristics of grenache, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon to impart flavour to three different styles inside: a Flanders red, a golden lambic style beer and an oud bruin. A brilliant, vibrant ruby red sour was the final result, awash with jammy, sticky, red wine, funk and oaky flavours.
Number 3 took on similar elements, except this time the same base beer – a sour blonde – was left for nine months in grenache, chardonnay and pinot noir barrels before blending. It picked up its bold, vibrant colour from the red wine barrels, and displayed an array of dark berries and sour funk with a savoury ending.
Little Bang’s barrel program is beginning to build momentum and is one to keep an eye out for in 2021.
*This series originally went under the Rabbit Hole banner before becoming Tangent due to a name clash with another business.
Mismatch Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout
Mismatch showed they have well and truly settled at Lot 100, and even though 2020 proved to be a difficult year, the Adelaide Hills brewery seemed to find a new level. The well executed limited releases pushed out by Mismatch this year reached double figures, with one in particular receiving nods of approval from across the nation.
This was their second barrel-aged release and their first using bourbon. For this 12.75 percent ABV monster, the Buffalo Trace well and truly left its mark, imparting the beer with huge bourbon aromas and flavours. They integrated incredibly well with the Russian imperial stout base, combining strong bourbon, chocolate, and vanilla to create a seriously silky, rich, decadent beer. Among other new releases gaining recognition were their Hazy IPA, Double Hazy, DDH Session Ale and their Track collaboration Ever And A Day IIPA.
Uraidla IPAs and Pale Ales
We've said this before in the 2019 wrap up but it seems Uraidla have done it again. When feelers were put out to compile this list, nearly every single response contained a Uraidla beer. Not for any particular beer either; instead Uraidla received several votes across seven different beers, making it very difficult to pick just one.
Among the favourites was Mystic Horizon, a Californian IPA in which all the hops were thrown into ferment cold side, producing a super low bitterness while leaving huge and clean stone fruit flavours and aromas.
Cosmic Labyrinth was a New World pale ale that drank like an IPA. A little lighter in ABV than Mystic Horizon, and with a toned-down bitterness, made for a beer that was super easy drinking. A trial yeast, one said to bring out expressive stone fruit characters, coupled with Nelson Sauvin, Citra and Sabro meant this pale teemed with hoppiness.
Harmonic Distortion went down the tropical fruit path, using a clean yeast and Idaho 7, Simcoe Cryo and Azacca hops to layer juicy flavours alongside some pine and grapefruit. A touch more bitter than some of the other Uraidla releases but balanced perfectly and super clean.
Future Light, a mini pale registering just 2.9 percent ABV, also featured highly. Many people commented on the solid body and amount of flavour achieved in such a light beer, pairing an East Coast yeast alongside Blanc, Cascade, Loral and Sabro hops to create a soft and sessionable beer for hop lovers.
Ministry of Beer Peach Sour
Brett and his beers created in a little shed in Barossa consistently feature in these annual roundups. In the past, Ministry of Beer have received kudos for the Old Timer golden sour, 6 Cherry Sour, a barrel-aged saison and a NEIPA. In 2020, it's a different soured fruit that has tingled the tastebuds of many South Australian drinkers: a Peach Sour.
Absolutely teeming with peaches, added to a deliciously sour blonde aged on French oak for 18 months using Brett’s house mixed culture. The peaches impart prodigious syrupy, juicy peach flavours, while the distinct acidity complements the fruit, followed by some oak and a little funk. Seriously peachy and very well made.
After locking down a solid core range in 2019, the Shapeshifter team released a string of limited release bangers in 2020 – and all from contract brewing. Several beers received votes, with Zeitgeist Oat Cream IPA inching out the Double Time American Pale Ale.
The Zeitgeist was one of the first oat cream IPAs to hit the South Australian market and it seems that SA's drinkers loved it. Heavily hopped with Citra and Nectaron (formerly HORT 4337), the Zeitgeist carried a soft, fluffy body that featured just enough lactose without making it too sweet. The hops imparted pineapple, passionfruit and a little peach. A perfectly executed oat cream IPA.
- Beer No Evil River of Insanity – Releasing four new beers in quick succession after only appearing on the scene in early July, contract brewing label Beer No Evil have impressed already. In particular, it seems, with their first release, River of Insanity, a single hop Mosaic IPA. Look out for Paul and Jules Sparkes’ new beers in 2020, as they have launched with a bang.
- Loophole Astral Project – Loophole have demonstrated that they brew great beer, winning the best SA brewery award at the 2020 Indies. Aside from a solid core range, some great limited releases and a brilliant barrel-aged saltwater porter stout, it's the Astral Project that's their most intriguing. Melding the beer and wine world into one, head brewer Tom O’Reilly collaborates with the winery on which the brewery is located, Cape Jaffa Wines, utilising grape skins and barrels to impart unique flavours and funk within his sour project.
Breakthrough Brewery: Shapeshifter
As mentioned above, Shapeshifter have outdone themselves in 2020, producing some very well executed beers that are both interesting and current.
Considering they are still just contract brewers, Shapeshifter have lifted the bar in terms of quality and adaptability, with their collaboration with Queensland’s Range Brewing adding to their long list of feats for the year.
Shapeshifter will be definitely one to watch as they emerged as a high-quality brewing outfit in 2020.
Standout moments of the year
In the 2019 wrap up article, we mentioned there was steady growth in SA with only a few breweries starting up. However, in 2020 – despite it being a pandemic year – more brewing companies launched beer into the wild for the first time than they did last. It's great to see the continued growth of the state's industry in 2020 with Moana Brewing, Snapper Point, Beer No Evil, Ogre, Six Twelve and Doc Brewing Co all going live.
Take Home Wheaty
It only took a pandemic, but it's now possible to enjoy Wheaty Brewing Corps beers (pictured above) from the comfort of your own home. Many South Australian drinkers had been asking for a while: “When are you going package your beer?” and, even after the lockdown restrictions were lifted, the Wheaty continued canning their beers, ready to be picked up every Friday. They've also invested in a new canning line so expect to see even more in 2021.
The Pivots & Pick-Me-Ups
Looking to the positive side of COVID-19, businesses were able to take a look at how they did business. Initially, they had to adapting short term, however some continued with their "pivot" ideas to increase business and give punters greater access to their product. The lockdown period also gave venue owners time to revamp and renovate, breathing fresh life into many establishments.
As well as the pivots, many businesses looked beyond their four walls too, aiming to help others in times of need. From the start of the 2019/20 bushfire season and through COVID, the team at Prancing Pony could often be found running fundraisers, showcasing their impacted peers' beers, or even fighting on behalf of Adelaide Hills producers to keep cellar doors open, while the likes of Big Shed and NOLA Adelaide held events in support of Victorian brewers during that state's second lockdown, and the Heaps Good Indie packs helped shine a light on the wider industry in a tough year too.
In 2021, look out for ....
- We can most definitely look forward to another torrent of limited release beers, with many most likely to be showcasing different hops.
- The quality of South Australian beer is always on the rise and with that comes greater experimentation, including the use of barrels more regularly.
You can read our look back at 2020 from a national perspective here, check out our thoughts on the year in beer in Tasmania, NSW, Queensland and WA, and look out for more state and territory-based roundups over the coming days.