Best New Queensland Beers Of 2021

We've cast an eye over the year in beer in Western Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales so far. Now, in the fourth part of our annual series, we head to the Sunshine State.


You all laugh at Queenslanders and say we’re a backwards people. But I swear we’re not.

Yes, we close the borders at the drop of a hat, but that’s not our fault – we all grew up with our dads yelling: “Hurry up and shut the door! You’re letting in flies!” But just because we’ve reduced, "How’s it going?" into a single three-syllable word, and we make a distinction between our house thongs and our "good" thongs, doesn’t mean we’re never ahead of the game in anything.

Helios Brewing continues leading the way in sustainability, winning Environmental Sustainability in Business at the 2021 Lord Mayor’s Business Awards. On the Gold Coast, Hard Fizz opened Fizz HQ, the world’s first hard seltzer brewery. (Look, I’m not particularly proud of that one, but it still proves my point.) And Sobah Beverages – Australia’s first Aboriginal owned and led brewing company – are working to open Australia’s first non-alcoholic brewery, also on the Gold Coast, after crowdfunding more than a million dollars this year.

Something interesting I noticed this year was the step up in quality lagers being made in Queensland. Craft breweries are shifting from, “We need to have a lager on tap for your macro-swilling friend” to “We want to produce lagers of excellence alongside our other high quality beers.” Granted, this is happening in the rest of the country as well. But since Queensland has a special reputation for being the home of mass-produced yellow fizz, I feel like we deserve extra credit for levelling up.

The 2021 Australian International Beer Awards seem to be a handy way to highlight a few noteworthy Queensland lagers: gold medals went to Felons’ Crisp Lager, Hemingway’s Prospector Pilsner, Green Beacon’s Nightlife Dark Lager and Heads of Noosa’s Bock and Summer Dusk. On top of this, Green Beacon’s Grappler came fourth out of 37 lagers the Crafty team blind tasted earlier in the year, and Heads of Noosa’s lager-only approach is paying dividends, with their Pilsner even making our list of standout beers below (although this writer is partial to their amber lager, Summer Dusk).

But enough jibber-jabbering and dilly-dallying. There were so many good beers released in Queensland in 2021 that I’m in danger of listing off every one just to hedge my bets. And so before that temptation takes hold, let’s skip to naming a shortlist of beers that stood out for some reason or other.

I'll level with you – we plan to keep calling these lists "Best New Beers" for the sake of our Search Engine Overlords (SEO), but we’re well aware that there’s nothing authoritative about these lists, in part because we haven’t tried all the new beers out there.

So feel free to comment with all the gusto of a raucous argument at the pub based on nothing but opinion. I welcome heckling, hate mail and being pelted with empty beer cans – anything that declares your love of your favourite Queensland beers and breweries.

To stoke the fire of your fury, here’s our shortlist.


STANDOUT BEERS

 

We've had more beers displaying more variation to pick from than ever before. Here, in alphabetical order, are some of those that stood out from the crowd in Queensland in 2021.


Ballistic Bunker Project – Shapeshifter Farmhouse Ale

This year saw Ballistic reach up high with new outposts in both Bundaberg and Whitsundays, and dig down deep with their Bunker Project barrel program. One of the first two beers released under the Bunker label was Shapeshifter, and it sits in the middle of a Venn diagram of "complex mixed culture farmhouse ale" and "tropical hazy pale ale".

Between the five-way blend of Brettanomyces strains and the smattering of late Eclipse, Hallertau Blanc and Motueka hops, Shapeshifter juggles a modern citrus and tropical vibe with a bit of the tart pineapple and horsehair business you’d expect from a dry Brett saison. A shapeshifter indeed.


Balter - CryoMofo

Balter ran a four-part IPA series in 2021 that acted as a kind of West Coast v East Coast playground for head brewer Scotty Hargrave. But while all four beers were masterfully made, CryoMofo received the loudest praise across the country.

Blah blah, “modern West Coast IPA”, blah blah “Cryo Mosaic as the hero”, blah blah “balanced and refined and playful and juicy”.

Just let it be said that this beer tastes like Tutti Frutti Chapstick, if Chapstick tasted as good as it smells. (Author’s note: it doesn’t.)


Black Hops - AWOL Pink Mist

Pink Mist is not a new beer; the Black Hops crew have been brewing it since before they opened their first brewery in Burleigh. Apparently you could serve up a raspberry saison to punters at a Gold Coast burger bar or barbecue restaurant in 2015. Who’d have thunk it?

But 2021 was the year Black Hops opened their AWOL barrel taproom to the public and released AWOL Pink Mist, an old favourite made new by spending six months in oak. It’s not the only AWOL beer worthy of attention, but since it received a gold medal at the Indies it can stand proudly as the standard bearer.


Happy Valley – Mississippi Brown

Remember that moment in Jaws when the shark hunter says: “I don’t know if he’s very smart, or very dumb”? You could say the same thing of people who open a brewery in the midst of COVID in 2020, then the following year release not one but two brown ales in a state that’s hot, humid, and suspicious of anything not a lager or variety of pale ale.

But when punters keep talking about Happy Valley’s Mississippi Brown even in the height of summer – and also wax lyrical about how the Stafford brewery hasn’t put out a bad beer since opening – it’s clear there’s nothing dumb about Happy Valley.


Heads of Noosa – Pilsner

If you thought a beer had to be barrel-aged or fruited or surgically enhanced with hops to make this list, think again (and check out last year’s list, you short-memoried goldfish).

Towards the tail end of 2021, lager-only brewery Heads of Noosa started bottling their pilsner. It was already beloved in their taproom; now it’s well-received and lauded wherever it lands.

And for good reason; it’s an excellent representation of the style. Noosa and Central Europe may have somewhat different climates, but this traditional Bavarian-style pilsner goes down well in the Sunshine State. Our own Brad Gellert describes their take on the style as "clean, crisp and bares all" – kind of like if a streaker at the Gabba had impeccable hygiene.

 


Moffat Beach - Shadow of the Moon

Moffat. Stop it. You’re better than you have any right to be.

This has been another stellar year for the Caloundra brewery - their new production house and taproom has settled in, their new cans are looking smashingly good, they took out Champion Medium/Small Brewery at the Indies (and Champion Queensland Brewery, and Champion IPA, and Champion Session Beer).

And this collaboration with HPA shone in the darkness of 2021: a strong pale ale made with Eclipse hops, showing off all the mandarin zest and pine needles you could ask for.


Range - Weightless Trio

From the first, the Range crew professed a focus on hoppy, dark and sour beers. Yet it’s clear that hop-forward beers hold a special place in their hearts (and the hearts of their customers), and any discussion of Range is all "DDH this" and "hazy that". So this year I’m skipping straight past Range’s IPAs (YES RANGE MADE SOME GREAT HAZIES THIS YEAR, BIG SURPRISE) to highlight their first batch of barrel-aged imperial stouts.

The Weightless trio included a blend of Buffalo Trace and Heavens Hill barrels, a Speyside Bourbon Cooperage-aged stout conditioned on toasted coconut and raw cacao nibs, and a Maker's Mark batch with roasted hazelnuts, vanilla beans and cold brew coffee. They’re not hazy IPAs, but they are delectable drops. Perhaps the magic ingredient is opacity.


Sea Legs - Homestead Series

“They’re not just throwing 30kg of raspberry into a kettle sour… they’re really thinking about how flavour works.” So says our Guy Southern of the sours in Sea Legs Brewing’s Homestead Series. 

This applies to their Mulberry, Apricot and Rosemary beer, where the berries bring the colour, the apricots bring a defined stonefruit character, and backyard-grown rosemary rounds off the edges. It’s true of their Oaked Cherry & Vanilla imperial sour, which used second runnings from their 2021 RIS. And it’s spot on for the sour with fresh juice from locally grown pineapples and warmth from home-smoked jalapeños.

 


Slipstream - California West Coast Tour IPA

A honeymoon spent visiting breweries in the US was the original inspiration for Slipstream Brewing, and it seems the honeymoon period isn’t over – they're still reliving the romance by exploring regional ingredients and flavours in this series of West Coast IPAs.

The first stop on the road trip was California, bright and bitter and brilliant with citrus and pine, but showing a little tropical fruit as well. Think of it as three parts classic WCIPA to one part modern IPA; there’s a balance and drinkability that contrasts with the paint stripper quality of some WCIPAs from the early 2010s. (There’s also a QR code that leads to a California-inspired playlist, if you’re not traumatised by QR codes yet.)

There seems to be an Australia-wide resurgence of West Coasts, and I for one am damn pleased about it. On that note, special mention for Ballistic’s SWYD West Coast IPA and Working Title’s Salvation.


Working Title - Devil’s Double

"American Double Red"… ya, OK, the rest of us will just call it a red IPA, thanks.

Honestly, this position on the list could have gone to any number of Working Title beers: one of the other three launch beers made in collaboration with four Brisbane beer venues; Moonlight & Pretzels, the salted caramel pretzel pastry stout made for GABS; Mi Casa, the chilli, lime and watermelon XPA with a matching fermented hot sauce by Village Pickle; Salvation, the West Coast that actually received more votes than Devil’s Double when we put the call out for this article.

But I’ve been given the authority to settle on this final list and dammit I’m going to abuse it in order to keep reminding people how good red IPAs are. #keepingredipasalive #supportredipa

Special mention to Sea Legs Fluid Transitions Red IPA and Black Hops Afterburner on that front too.


BREAKTHROUGH BREWERY

 

Mark Howes on the stainless at Newstead Brewing’s Doggett St location, cooking up whatever small batch beers he feels like, while Luke Shield provides killer design and sarcastic commentary. Is it 2013? Have the last eight years been a strange dream?

Close. It’s Working Title Brew Co, and they’re a strange team.

Anyone who’s been around for more than a minute knows that Mark and Luke are part of the inner circle of the Brisbane brewing industry, but that doesn’t mean it’s always been easy. The rapid growth of the industry is fantastic for punters, but it can be chaos for those doing the work. Working Title has been a chance for these two hooligans to go back to square one and brew up some fun ideas. They’d squeal with delight if they weren’t so snarky.

Launching with four collaboration beers may seem like a power move, but when you consider the street cred and contacts these two have in the Brissie scene, it was actually a completely normal thing to do. (Shout out to the champs at Brewski, Netherworld, The Woods Bar and Saccharomyces for putting up with Mark and Luke for the interminably long time you’ve known them.)

Once a week, Mark is allowed to unleash his brain on social media, so he posts a wall of text that dives into some aspect of the brewing process. It’s a good reminder that he’s as sharp as Stefan’s Skyneedle – a big ol’ beer geek who knows an awful lot about what he’s doing, and you can taste that in each tall tinnie of Working Title beer. Even the weird ones. (Maybe even especially the weird ones.)


STANDOUT MOMENTS

 

Barrels, Barrels Everywhere!

Queensland in 2021 was like that scene in The Hobbit where the Dwarves ride the barrels down the river. Except instead of Dwarves, they're brewers. And instead of barrels, they're... well, they're still barrels.

Barrel-aged. Those two little words *[or one hyphenated word as I prefer it, Mick – Editor]* we see on a beer – sometimes shortened to just BA – represent an investment in time and energy and space that gives little financial payoff to a brewery, and always carries the risk that something will go wrong. But the brewers do it because they’re passionate about their craft, and they believe the satisfaction they get from the final result – and that we all get from the final result – is worth it.

Black Hops’ AWOL and Ballistic’s Bunker projects are the obvious gladiators in the barrel arena, dedicating entire venues to their impressive barrel programs. Both of these opened in 2021, giving punters to chance to visit and stroke the barrels where the precious liquid is sleeping.

But this year saw a plethora of other breweries playing with barrels as well: Newstead Brewing running a Barrel Bar at GABS, showing off a number of oaky creations; Aether’s Oak & Organisms series in 2021 ranging across a breakfast stout, a beer-wine hybrid, and a black truffle Belgian witbier; Green Beacon's consistently high quality Fathom series; Felons Barrel Hall with 10,000 litres of different beer styles in barrel at various stages of ripeness; and while everyone else is making their barrel-aged beers seem as classy as possible, Your Mates show up with Barry, the bloody legend – you can’t spell "Rumball Imperial Stout aged in Beenleigh Artisan Distillers rum barrels" without "bogan".


Openings? In this economy?

Brouhaha’s new brewery in Baringa, which will increase their production capacity many times over and free up the Maleny site for making the kinds of beers that made our Best New Beers list in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019; Ploughman, the little venue in Alderley that lost its lease and evolved into a little brewery in Enoggera; Madocke, the brewery that grew from a Gold Coast garage to a two-storey Belgian brewpub; Revel embedding themselves into Brisbane history at Morningside’s Rivermakers (pictured above); Bravo Brewhouse bringing better beer to Kedron-Wavell Services Club; Mouse Proof Brewery in Toowoomba helping drinkers see their place in the agricultural ecosystem; Brewtide, in the sexy Craft’d Grounds precinct at Albion (with Gavin Croft on the tools and their story coming to Crafty any day now); Valley Hops, perched majestically on the rooftop of Cloudland; Parched opening in West End just before the year closes out…

Seriously. It’s ridiculous. Did you people miss the memo that we were meant to binge eat and work from home in our underwear this year?


READER’S PICKS

 

Look, Mick, did you have to do such a thorough job on this? (Compiling these Readers' Picks sections is the preserve of Crafty founder James Smith.) I've been making my way through the highlights submitted by Queensland readers and much of it has already been covered...

That said, there's a colourful selection elsewhere, including events big and small. The Gold Coast leg of the Summer GABS might have been hampered by a COVID lockdown, but there's been praise for the unhampered Sunshine Coast version, while the simple fact that the main Brisbane GABS got over the line was warmly welcomed, as was the effort Blackflag went to with their half pipe stand. On the smaller scale, fans of the funk sang the praises of Zwanze Day, which returned to the Queensland capital for the first time in five years at Saccharomyces.

We'd include the shout out for Moffat Beach's Welcome To Summer Block Party too, but it was put forward by the man who organised the event. Actually, given that man is Craig Williams, who won the unofficial "Most Outrageous Outfit" and "Best Hype Starter" when hosting their Indies party, we'll give him his head; "For me, it was amazing to actually be able to run an event again, and to see a crowd come together and enjoy great beer," says the former Mr GABS.

When it comes to beers, those nominated by readers (which don't feature above), showcase diversity aplenty: Moffat's trophy-winning Trilogy IPA; Helios' Kronos 2021 imperial American porter; Fonzie Abbot's Alter Ego Doppelbock; Black Hops' Hop Swap collab and AWOL Feijoa Sour; a hazy and a fruit / gin sour from Currumbin Valley; Your Mates' ginger beer Tilly; Aether's El Jefe Mexican lager; Sea Legs' Peach Lassi Gose; all manner of Range IPAs...

As for the afore-mentioned Mississippi Brown from Happy Valley, Mark Hill had this to say: "One the best brown ales I have ever tasted. It has become my go-to beer every time I visited this great little independent brewery. Cheyne and Jarrett are awesome and so easy to talk to and get the latest rundown on what is currently brewing and happening at the brewery. One of the best things to happen in Stafford, for a very long time." Safe to say he's one of Happy Valley's growing band of fans!

When it comes to venues and retailers that impressed, there were nominations ranging far and wide, although a couple that earned more love than the rest: Brewski's My Beer Dealer offshoot (versions I and II) and the Sneaky Baron in Maroochydore. Congrats also to Wayne Wheatley, winner of the NZ Hops mixed pack and a year's Crafty Cabal membership as the lucky reader picked from the metaphorical hat.

To close this section, we're sure Donna McLean speaks for many with her 2021 highlight: "Being able to go back to having a beer with mates in person, rather than through a screen." Here's to much more of that in 2022. Speaking of which...


IN 2022, LOOK OUT FOR…

Blackflag's new Coolum brewery is just one of many new projects set to open in Queensland in 2022.

 

A bazillion more openings

The beer scene is growing so quickly, I’m surprised Auntie Sharon hasn’t shown up to pinch its cheeks and tell it to slow down.

In 2022, we’ll finally have a place to rock up and drink Currumbin Valley while Smokey chews our ears off about the source of the water in our beer, and lists off the fruit he’s growing to put in future sours.

The good beer gap between Brisbane and the Sunny Coast is set to shrink, with Straddie Brewing, Hip Hops Brewers in Brendale, Scarborough Harbour Brewing Co, and Blackflag’s Coolum site all working to help cement the beer connection between city and surf. And Yepp Brewing will soon be opening their doors too – but that’s a little further north than the Sunshine Coast.

Meanwhile, Archer Brewing’s working on a hangar in Wilston, and Four Fires Brewing up Toowoomba way should be opening in 2022…

I hope you’ve all asked Auntie Sharon for some spending money for Christmas. You’re gonna need it.


An influx of people to Queensland

When the Queensland borders opened in December, the 21 breweries of the Sunshine Coast held simultaneous parties to welcome people back into the state. While we don’t want to be naïve, we’re hoping that’s a microcosm of the Queensland tourism and hospitality industries over the next 12 months as people either return home or visit the funnest state in Australia. (You know it’s true – we are shaped like a big party hat, after all.)


Thanks to Crafty contributors Guy Southern, Jakkii Musgrave, Judd Owen and Matt Aitken for assisting with the compilation of this article, and to all those who pitched in with their highlights too. Many of the photos are courtesy of Guy (@goodtimescraftbeer) and Jakkii (@slybeer) too.

You can find all entries in this series here.

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