Time for one more Best Of 2021 feature before we reach Christmas, as we join Matt King for a look back over the past 12 months in South Australia. If you've missed those published to date, we've been to WA, Tasmania, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria to date. Territories to come!
It's been yet another busy year in the South Australian craft beer scene where following the downbeat nature of 2020 for many, the people of SA vowed to look for the positives while continuing to adapt to the ever-changing restrictions imposed upon them.
The state opened up – to an extent: not to the world or the entirety of Australia, perhaps, but drinkers did at least start to venture out to venues in greater numbers and nightlife began to pick up again, albeit while seated and most certainly not dancing. By closing our doors to the rest of the world, we were granted a few extra freedoms and, although we weren’t affected by the numerous and lengthy lockdowns or high volume of COVID cases seen in other states, venues were still hampered by restrictions – and the need to keep on top of them as the goalposts moved.
While there was little growth in new venues or breweries in 2020, the past 12 months saw the upward trend return alongside expansion and experimentation from already established breweries. The number of new and limited releases skyrocketed to unbelievable heights; it feels like drinkers could have tried a new SA beer every day for the entire year and still missed out on some.
In the Clare Valley, the brewing company of the same name awoke from a slumber, back brewing some of their favourites from yesteryear and serving them largely from the Clare Valley base they share with Jeanneret Wines. Pikes starting canning their beer after installing a new canning line in 2021, a move that's seen them put out a series of limited releases that continue to be quality examples of the chosen styles.
As the year ends, a slice of the Adelaide Hills has taken up residence in the city for summer, with Prancing Pony opening a pop-up venue in the heart of Rundle Mall. Decked out in true Pony style, you'll find high wooden tables, eclectic vintage suitcases, walls covered with photos of memorable Pony moments, old comfy leather couches, and heaps of beer taps too. Back in the Hills and recent arrival Union Bridge, based near Cudlee Creek, has started selling beer through a variety of outlets. Mismatch enjoyed a big year too, part of a multimillion buyout by Mighty Craft, combining their consistently solid core range with exciting and diverse limited releases, and picking up trophies at both the Australian International Beer Awards and the Indies.
Myponga residents Smiling Samoyed might have had a quiet year on the release front but instead spent time focusing on their venue; now the town's reservoir is open to the public, there's even more reason to take a day trip to visit them on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
In the city, Little Bang continued to tantalise palates with their barrel program and installed two oak foeders, from which they've released a Kriek to date with a Flanders red to follow in the new year, all while building on their Tangent series of quirky blends and entering the non-alc space with Spacer. Big Shed went back-to-back in The Crafty Pint's Pint of Origin Blind Tasting Championship with The Hazing during Good Beer Week and ramped up their limited release schedule. That said, it's doubtful anyone matched Pirate Life on the new release front in the year they opened a brewpub in Perth too.
Vale and offshoot brand Fox Hat enjoyed a fine 2021, claiming Champion Large Brewery at the Adelaide Beer and Cider Awards for the second year in a row, largely on the back of their ever-excellent stouts; Phat Mongrel, Full Mongrel and Bearded Mongrel have consistently been at the forefront of craft beer drinkers' minds come winter for a few years now. Champion Small Brewery went to Barossa Valley Brewing, who continue to be a reliable go-to for SA drinkers and in 2021 launched a single hop IPA series, the first of which encouraged drinkers to compare beers brewed with wet hops and T90 pellets. The brew team have also been playing with more barrels, releasing a blonde sour that displayed a refined and complex balance between blonde ale, oak and sour.
Several newbies introduced themselves to the state's beer fans this year. This included mobile canning business, SA Canning Solutions, created by former Big Shed brewer David Watts, who identified a gap in the SA market, as evidenced by his quickly filling calendar.
The highly impressive Kick Back (pictured above) opened in Aldinga Beach, while The Big Easy Group opened their first brewing venture, Bowden Brewing, complete with slick venue in the trendy suburb of the same name. Woolstore opened their doors to the public in Mount Gambier, after a trip to the breweries of Margaret River inspired owners Kylie and Chris Ind inspiration to start their own. And among the other startups gracing taps and shelves for the first time this year, mostly contract brewing or using small systems in the comfort of their own homes, were Mary St, Little Pete, Whipps Cross and Jacka Brothers; they might not be well known at present but will start to gain more exposure in the new year.
Other new venues to open in 2021 included Shapeshifter, who built a home in Findon with a huge bar area up front, room for their own brewery out the back, and room for continued growth. Ministry of Beer, in the Barossa, have taken up residency in the main street of Lyndoch five years after launching and having grown to the point they required a space in which to serve their beers. A banging new bottleshop, Sideways Liquor, opened its doors in early October in the suburb of Prospect, stocks a wide variety of craft beers, gins, spirits and wines.
Good beer has reached into more parts of SA in 2021 too – including in many barbers shops... Barossa Valley created a session beer specifically for the Born Barbers Collective in Cross Road and Suburban have worked closely with a local barber to supply a portable tap system pouring their beer to name just few. Quite a few wineries across the state have commissioned independent breweries to make them a beer for their venue, while some distilleries are getting in on the act too, with the likes of Prohibition Liquor selling their own crafty beer. Then there's Triple M entrusting the guys at Big Shed to pump out a lager bearing their name.
In the Riverland, craft beer veteran Brad Flowers teamed up with the folks from Woolshed Brewery to reinvigorate the historic Overland Corner Hotel in one of the best stories to come out of the pandemic. The old, allegedly haunted, building is now a wonderful and thriving craft-centric country pub that's popular with locals and travellers alike.
And, last but very much not least for this opening section (into which we've rolled the Standout Moments too), a special mention for the almighty Wheatsheaf Hotel which celebrated 18 years of operation as a quality boozer, these days with mostly their own beers on tap too. Jade and the crew continue to spoon with other top brewers (and many other collaborators) while finding creative ways to keep things relevant and exciting. After much pestering from their loyal supporters, they finally put Wheaty Brewing Corps beer into cans for takeaway too. Here's to the next 18 years of beers at The Wheaty!
There's been plenty to choose from in 2021, and here's a taster of those that impressed palates and entertained punters over the past 12 months, presented in alphabetical order.
Big Shed – Double Boozy Fruit
The Boozy Fruit train rolls on, with the Big Shed crew doubling the recipe in 2021 to throw this beer back into the spotlight (not that it never really left). They'd received many requests for such a beer since the original starred at GABS in 2018 and chose 2021 as the year to give fans what they wanted. Weighing in at 9 percent ABV, Double Boozy amplifies those big, sweet, tropical juicy fruits alongside a little sweetness and next to no bitterness.
As reader Adam Forbes put it: "Bigger, badder and boozier than the original, and that was a big crowd-pleaser!"
Loophole – Timely IPA Juicy
Situated on the Limestone Coast on the site of Cape Jaffa Wines, Loophole have been steadily building quite the portfolio, with a core range embellished by a constant stream of limiteds that includes their eye-catching Astral beer-wine hybrid project. But, in 2021, it was the fourth entry in their Timely IPA series, Juicy, featuring Eclipse, Idaho 7 and Sabro hops, that resonated most and showcased their class as a brewery.
The beer melded juicy orange citrus with a hint of creamy coconut and lime, delivered amid a silky mouthfeel with a little sweetness and a dash of bitterness – all balanced to perfection.
Mismatch – Triple Crush and Bourbon Barrel Aged RIS
Consistent: a word that is frequently used when Mismatch are mentioned. The quality of beer that leaves their Nairne brewery is always of a high standard and their limited releases are typically fun and super tasty, and of their 2021 releases two really stood out.
Their Bourbon Barrel-Aged RIS is no stranger to our annual Best Of articles and this year’s was no different, with bourbon notes woven through a silky and lush imperial stout. Their second mention for 2021 is for another sizeable offering, the 10 percent ABV triple New England IPA Triple Crush which appeared at the start of the year. A thick, boozy mouthfeel with a little malt sweetness is the setting for an onslaught of juicy tropical fruits, particularly fresh pineapple and passionfruit. Two big beers with equally big fanbases.
Shapeshifter – Event Horizon and Aliens Exist
Ever since their inception in 2019, Shapeshifter have been winning fans in droves. Initially, the plan seemed to be to release a small core range with complementing limited releases, yet after three years of success and the opening of a venue in Findon, the plan has changed; now a new beer is released almost every second week. Most importantly, the quality of these releases has been notably high, with Event Horizon and Aliens Exist standouts.
The former was their first attempt at a barrel-aged beer, with a Russian imperial stout spending time in ex-red wine, ex-Fortis single malt whisky, American oak barrels from Starward. The result wasn’t a whisky-soaked stout, but instead an example of the barrels working in harmony with the rich dark chocolate, espresso coffee and gentle roast of the base beer.
Aliens Exist was a New England Oat Cream IPA at 7.5 percent ABV with a softness of mouthfeel that allowed the juicy stone fruits to truly pop. "A step above the rest this year," says reader Benjamin Ortmann. "Mixing it with some of Australia's best in Range and Mountain Culture."
Suburban – Blue Skies, Green Skies
Suburban Brew have well and truly settled into their Goodwood Road home now, with their one year anniversary taking place in September. Tony Dichiera and the team still focus largely on their core range but did release a few new beers in 2021 as well.
These including an East Coast IPA called Blue Skies, Green Grass. A real drink-in-the-sun beer, this fruit salad of juicy fruits meets subtle pine and resin was supremely drinkable, with a bitterness that was refined but noticeable.
Swell – Double Black Diamond RIS
Another brewery that really upped their limited release game in 2021, often launching two at a time, is Swell. The McLaren Vale brewers released hazy IPAs, IIPAs, fruited sours, session ales, oat cream IPAs, gluten free beer and a fair few stouts.
A number of those could have warranted a place here, but it was their Double Black Diamond RIS that crossed the line to take the win. A very welcome arrival in the fridge in the depths of winter, it possessed a thick, motor oil like mouthfeel, dried fruits, solid roast and bitter chocolate notes, all making for an enjoyable, warming stout.
Uraidla – Alpine Glow Red IPA
Another brewery that's no stranger to these articles, Uraidla have been banging out excellent beers since their inception in June 2018. They've played around in a variety of styles, and are keenly focused on creating low ABV, high flavour beers, even if craftier drinkers tend to flood back for their IPAs.
Their Alpine Glow red IPA was a real standout in 2021, with Mosaic, Sabro and Galaxy shining amid the red caramel and toffee malts with lactose adding a touch of sweetness. And while they're not new beers in 2021, Uraidla enjoyed great success with their Cosmic Labyrinth and Future Light at the 2021 Drink Easy awards, both landing in the top ten best Australian drinks and the former named best beer.
This was a tough one to decide, with several contenders deserving of the nod. However, we plumped for Watsacowie, a brewery that's taken things to the next level in 2021.
Located in Minlaton, in the heart of the Yorke Peninsula, Watsacowie have been doing great things from their regional base, where their brew shed is packed most weekends with a swag of regulars and thirsty travellers.
Head brewer Drew Coleman learned the trade while working at Robe Town Brewery, quickly taking a liking to the Nordic kveik yeast strains in particular, and using them to fine effect in many of his beers. In addition to his brewing duties, Drew also painted the art piece on the brewery’s shed door and is responsible for some of the label work too.
Owners Brendan and Roxanne Phasey have created a tight-knit, beer-loving community around Watsacowie, an impressive feat considering the population of Minlaton sits shy of 1,000 people. Thankfully, their beers are also shipped across the state, allowing more drinkers to enjoy their super-interesting, flavoursome creations.
Other notable mentions include the aforementioned Kick Back and Bowden, who both enjoyed great startup years. Kick Back's home just behind the footy oval near Aldinga Beach delivers a finely-honed all-round package: their branding is eye-catching and clean; their beers are tight and cover a variety of styles; the food is delicious and they cater for kids with a huge outdoor area and games aplenty too.
As for Bowden, they too have brewed some fine beers this year, often teaming up with other independent local companies such as Lobo Cider and Never Never Gin. Their kitchen follows a Mexican theme, with Masa taking over to bring their street food inspiration to pair with the beers. After enjoying a great start in 2021, we look forward to watching them grow in 2022 and beyond.
When it came to readers' highlights from the past 12 month, on the brewery front much of that was shared among those listed in the Standout Beers above, notably for Big Shed, Little Bang, Uraidla and Shapeshifter, although there were shoutouts for the aforementioned Robe Town, SixTwelve, Prancing Pony and Western Ridge too.
Aside from the beers name-checked above, Bowden's Montel Carlo Monster was praised by Nathan Adams as a "big, high ABV stout that faithfully replicated the biscuit while being incredibly drinkable", Lee Waters found Swell's Taranaki Dreaming "top notch" with "a depth of flavour full of citrus, lime and hit of pine", while Loophole's Dreipa Sly Fox was "something a bit different and a great introduction to IPAs if you’re not a hophead," according to Jamie McAllister, and Michael Scott found Sparkke's Stacks On Maple Blueberry Pancake "amazingly delicious. So much like pancakes I’d have it for breakfast."
Final say on the beer front, however, has to go to Nicholas Deller, who said of Mismatch's Crows Mid Ale: "Unlike the actual Adelaide Crows, this lived up to the hype and finished strongly."
Other highlights included many of the events that survived the cancellations that took out a fair few over the year, from NOLA's Festival Of (NOT SO) Darkness and Barossa Beer & Cider Festival to the first HomeBrewed back in February, even if the nominee for that event, Simon Locke admits: "My recollection is still pretty hazy!"
Robin Houghton chose to highlight one of the state's tiniest operations too: "Seeing a nanobrewery, Lone Gum Farmhouse, pick up a coveted Australian beer media award – a Step Brewers Steppy – as nominated by an SA panel, demonstrating a commitment to pushing the well-deserving little guys into the spotlight."
In 2022, Look Out For…
Ministry of Beer
Now that Ministry of Beer have their own venue and more barrels to work with, they're set for their biggest year yet. Brett has huge plans for his newly planted fruit trees and great ideas for barrel-aged sour beer releases in the future. You'll be able to read more about it in an article on this site in the coming days too.
Shifty’s New Venue
Willunga-based Shifty Lizard have team up with Caravino to bring their beers to the city in 2022. Wright Street is the location of Hard Days Night, which will open in late January. Caravino, who own a retro cocktail van, food truck and coffee van, have relocated these services inside the venue with Shifty Lizard’s beers set to pour through a permanent bar.
Earlier in the year we showcased Lachy and Taryn Mutton from Little Rippa in Mount Gambier. In 2022, they will open a million dollar brewery and venue on their family property. Both chefs by trade, the new operation will feature a full commercial kitchen and will be family-friendly to the point the kids can even enjoy a spot of baby animal feeding. Definitely one to look out for next year.
I'll Have A Para-Chilled One
The Prairie Hotel in Parachilna (pictured above), just north of the turn-off to Brachina Gorge (the spot where most lifeforms on Earth today first started taking shape 600 million years ago), has long been bringing SA craft beer to travellers passing through the Flinders Ranges. They've also had their own lager brewed for them by Pikes for some time.
Call into the stylishly renovated venue now – one that's a million miles from your typical outback boozer – and you can't miss the stacked microbrewery to the left of the main bar. Look out for a story on the future plans of the Fargher family on this site in early 2022.
Another interesting planned opening in 2022 is that of Brightstar Brewery, due to set up in the back streets of Thebarton. South Australia’s IBA rep Steve Brockman is behind the venture, and plans to create a brewery focused on traditional lagers. The build has already begun and the plan is to open early in the new year.
Non-alcoholic beers look set to continue their growth trajectory in 2022 across Australia, with Little Bang and Big Shed already on board that train in 2021. Little Bang’s Spacer and Big Shed’s Desi Driver both joined their diverse lineups, with the latter available in some Drakes stores across the state too.
It's just one of many ways the SA craft beer scene has bounced back in 2021, with many established breweries experimenting more with barrels, wild yeasts and foeders as they continue to push boundaries. There are a number of small brands popping up again, a sign of confidence that more and more South Australians are starting to think about their beer choices and that palates are evolving. With more venues and breweries already in the pipeline, 2022 looks set to be another exciting year.
Until then, stay safe, have a Merry Christmas and New Year!
Thanks to everyone who assisted Matt in putting this feature together. You can read all other articles in the series here.