BentSpoke have gone back-to-back in the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers poll, with their Crankshaft IPA holding onto top spot in the 2021 countdown. The Canberra brewery's flagship beer finished ahead of the perennially popular former winner Balter XPA – and was one of five BentSpoke beers to make the list.
They'd already proven themselves consummate campaigners in 2020 – appropriate given their home in the country's capital – and showed it was no fluke this time around. Balter once again proved themselves to be impervious to the fate that's befallen many of their indie peers in this poll over the years; their XPA was one of five beers to make the Hottest 100, with their Hazy the next highest at 13.
There would have been a period of what Sir Alex Ferguson used to call "squeaky bum time" on the Sunshine Coast when the top three was approaching and Your Mates Larry hadn't appeared. The pale ale has been inching up the charts since debuting, and this year made a first podium appearance in third – a fine achievement for a brewery not that well known outside its home state outside these countdowns.
For those keeping an eye on how Stone & Wood would fare following their high profile sale to Lion/Kirin, there was no dramatic fall, even if they did exit the top three for the first time.
FIND ALL TOP 100 LISTS & POSTERS HERE
Arguably the biggest story, however, is found at number six. Better Beer, a "zero-carb" lager launched in November by ASX-listed craft drinks accelerator Mighty Craft in partnership with Instagram comedians The Inspired Unemployed and a Torquay-based producer of hard seltzer and hard coffee stormed into the top ten.
Over its 14 years, the Hottest 100 has grown significantly in terms of reach, votes, and marketing value for brewers that fare well. And that's been matched by a tendency for beers with the greatest market share from breweries with huge social and mailing list audiences – and, of course, high profile H100 campaigns – to dominate the upper reaches. Now it seems you needn't have spent long in the market – or indeed have a brand many have heard of – to compete, with the vast Instagram following of The Inspired Unemployed's Jack Steele and Matt Ford landing them between two H100 high achievers: Capital and Black Hops, the breweries with the most beers (six each) in the 2021 top 100.
Better Beer might only have 46,000 followers on Instagram, but The Inspired Unemployed have 1.3 million. In comparison, BentSpoke have 25.6K, Stone & Wood 78.3K, Balter 76.4K, Capital 36.8K and Black Hops 30.7K.
It's the latest fillip for a brand that has commanded widespread media coverage in recent weeks, both for the rate of its growth and scope of its ambitions – they're targeting three million litres in the 2022 financial year, which would dwarf the annual output of most independent brewers in the country – and for the legal battle the company is in with Brick Lane over claimed similarities with that company's Sidewinder range.
As for the poll as a whole, it once again attracted a record number of voters – a 20 percent increase on last year. And there was a record number of brewing companies involved too: 281 brewers nominated more than 2,200 beers.
The top 100 was dominated by familiar faces and popular styles, but with a few notable inclusions. Pale ales / XPAs / Pacific ales in their various forms were again by far the most common presence – close to half of the top 100 – followed in number by the diverse category that is IPA.
Reflecting the rise of no- and low-alcohol beers, three made the top 100: Heaps Normal's Quiet XPA landed in the top 20, with Sobah's Pepperberry IPA and Brick Lane's Sidewinder Hazy Pale also representing the fast-growing sector. A record three ginger beers made the grade too, just one shy of the number of sours to feature.
A couple of high ABV "hype" beers snuck in: One Drop made their H100 debut with Double Vanilla Custard Pancake Imperial Nitro Thickshake IPA at 67 and Deeds' Once More Into The Fray bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout snuck in at 94. Meanwhile, a couple of beers that had taken up residency in the top ten over the years slipped out this time around: Bridge Road Brewers' Beechworth Pale and KAIJU! Krush.
At the bigger end of the industry, the country's largest and longest-established independent brewing company, Coopers, enjoyed their best outing in years, with their Original Pale Ale almost crashing the top ten and three others appearing in the top 100. Only Black Hops (6), Capital (6), BentSpoke (5), Balter (5), Your Mates (4) and Ballistic (4) landed as many or more beers.
CUB/Asahi edged Lion/Kirin 11 beers to five, while the brands owned or with investment from Mighty Crafty featured six times in the 100.
When it comes to interstate / territory rivalry, Queensland romped home with 30 beers in the Hottest 100, followed pretty much neck and neck by New South Wales and Victoria (if you allocate Little Creatures and Colonial's beers to WA, where both businesses were born, even though most of their beers are now brewed in Victoria).
With Bridge Road's Beechworth Pale Ale having dropped to number 14, it saw Victoria's brewers fall from the top ten, unless you include Better Beer: the Torquay Beverage Company is based in Victoria while their beer is brewed in New South Wales.
Once again, when it comes to beers per capita, Australia's capital was far and away the standout as Capital and BentSpoke secured no less than 11 spots between them (one of those shared with Mountain Culture) and you could include Heaps Normal there too, even though they're now eyeing up locations in Sydney. Meanwhile the brewers of Tasmania and the Northern Territory once again missed out. Only Darwin's One Mile Brewery from either place have broken into the 100 in recent years: they scored four H100 beers in 2018.
"It's been fantastic. It's absolutely gone off," GABS owner Mike Bray told The Crafty Pint, citing "improvements to the consumer voting process" that made voting a more visual experience as one of the key changes his team had implemented in the third poll since they acquired GABS and the Hottest 100 poll from its founders.
"All in all, it's been a great one," he added. "Over one-third of the beers are new entries to the list.
"I think it was a welcome relief for some people – a nice distraction [from the pandemic]. A lot of people were back into self-isolation, slowdown, not-a-lockdown, so there was more time to sit and reflect and put some time into the voting."
He also praised the campaigns run by many brewers, who blanket-bombed social media platforms and mailing lists, and often took their chase for votes further still.
"Many of the campaigns were witty and creative, which is in the spirit of what we were looking for," he said.
As for the outcome, for the most part the top 100 in the 2021 poll isn't too different to the 2020 lineup – particularly in the upper reaches – which wasn't too different from the 2019 lineup. It's testament to the ability of those brewing companies and their marketing teams who keep performing well to rally their troops year in, year out, and to the importance they place on a high ranking.
Better Beer's appearance at number six – the highest new entry of the year – is only likely to harden the opinions of the poll's critics, yet it's merely the most potent manifestation of the Hottest 100's evolution over the years. While we have no doubt there are still voters who spend time working out which five beers they've loved most over the previous 12 months, even a cursory look at the beers regularly appearing at the top shows how closely they reflect the beers the breweries behind them are asking people to vote for. This suggests it's increasingly a case of fans supporting their local / favourite brewery and voting for beers in the order the breweries suggest, as much as it is a case of people voting for the beers that have wowed them.
But, as we've said in the past, the answer is in the poll's name. It's never been about finding Australia's best beers – whatever "best" means – rather than its hottest.
THE HOTTEST 100
- BentSpoke Brewing Co - Crankshaft IPA
- Balter Brewing - Balter XPA
- Your Mates Brewing Co - Larry
- Stone & Wood Brewing Co - Pacific Ale
- Black Hops Brewery - G.O.A.T.
- Better Beer - Better Beer Zero Carb
- Capital Brewing Co - Capital XPA
- Ballistic Beer Co - Hawaiian Haze
- Capital Brewing Co - Coast Ale
- Young Henrys - Newtowner
- Coopers Brewery - Original Pale Ale
- BentSpoke Brewing Co - Barley Griffin
- Balter Brewing- Balter Hazy
- Bridge Road Brewers - Beechworth Pale Ale
- Beerfarm - Royal Haze
- Pirate Life Brewing - South Coast Pale Ale
- Gage Roads Brewing Co - Single Fin
- KAIJU! Beer - KRUSH! Tropical Pale Ale
- Black Hops Brewery - East Coast Haze
- Heaps Normal - Quiet XPA
- Heads Of Noosa Brewing Co - Japanese Lager
- Brick Lane Brewing Co - One Love Pale Ale
- Little Creatures - Little Creatures Pale Ale
- Moon Dog Craft Brewery - Old Mate
- Philter Brewing - Philter XPA
- Mountain Goat Beer - GOAT Very Enjoyable Beer
- Feral Brewing Co - Biggie Juice
- Brookvale Union - Ginger Beer
- 4 Pines Brewing Co - 4 Pines Pacific Ale
- Big Shed Brewing Concern - Boozy Fruit
- Hawke's Brewing- Hawke’s Patio Pale
- Bright Brewery - Alpine Lager
- Grifter Brewing Co - Pale
- Blackflag Brewing - Rage Juicy Pale
- Green Beacon Brewing Co - Wayfarer
- Stomping Ground Brewing Co - Gipps St Pale Ale
- Akasha Brewing Co - Hopsmith IPA
- Dainton Beer - Blood Orange NEIPA
- Revel Brewing Co - Strawberries & Cream Sour Ale
- Coopers Brewery - Sparkling Ale
- BentSpoke Brewing Co - Sprocket
- Capital Brewing Co - Hang Loose Juice Blood Orange NEIPA
- Coopers Brewery - Coopers XPA
- Your Mates Brewing Co - Sally
- BentSpoke Brewing Co - Cluster 8
- Black Hops Brewery - Neverland
- Balter Brewing - Eazy Hazy
- Ballistic Beer Co - Hawaiian Haze IPA
- Capital Brewing Co West Coast NEIPA – Mountain Culture Collab
- Coopers Brewery - Coopers Pacific Pale Ale
- Bodriggy Brewing Co - Speccy Juice
- Colonial Brewing Co - Colonial Pale Ale
- Grifter Brewing Co - Serpents Kiss
- Sunday Road Brewing - Cryotherapy
- Deeds Brewing - Juice Train
- 10 Toes Brewery - Pipeline Pale
- Burleigh Brewing Co - Bighead No-carb Lager
- Hop Nation Brewing Co - J-Juice
- Range Brewing Co - Lights + Music
- Black Hops Brewery - Hop Swap
- Black Hops Brewery - Black Hops Pale Ale
- Your Mates Brewing Co - Macca
- Balter Brewing - Captain Sensible
- Capital Brewing Co - Trail Pale Ale
- Hawke's Brewing - Hawke’s Lager
- Burleigh Brewing Co - Twisted Palm
- One Drop Brewing Co - Double Vanilla Custard Pancake Imperial Nitro Thickshake IPA
- Cronulla Beer Co - Next Level XPA
- Sobah Beverages - Pepperberry IPA
- Jetty Road Brewery - Jetty Road Pale Ale
- Brouhaha Brewery - Strawberry Rhubarb Sour
- Stone & Wood Brewing Co - Cloud Catcher
- Blackman's Brewery - Juicy Banger
- 4 Pines Brewing Co - 4 Pines Pale Ale
- Brick Lane Brewing Co - Sidewinder Hazy Pale
- Hop Nation Brewing Co - Rattenhund
- Sunday Road Brewing - Enigma Ale
- Otherside Brewing Co - Anthem IPA
- Bad Shepherd Brewing Co - Peanut Butter Porter
- Ballistic Beer Co - Mexican Hot Chocolate Stout
- Black Hops Brewery - Hornet
- Little Creatures - Pacific Ale
- Your Mates Brewing Co - Eddie
- Dainton Beer - Jungle Juice
- Bodriggy Brewing Co - Utropia Pale Ale
- Young Henrys - The Unifier
- Hawkers Beer - West Coast IPA
- Mismatch Brewing Co - Mismatch Session Ale
- Gage Roads Brewing Co - Side Track All Day XPA
- Little Bang Brewing Co - Face Inverter
- BentSpoke Brewing Co - Red Nut
- Tumut River Brewing Co - Ginja Ninja
- Eumundi Brewery - Eumundi Alcoholic Ginger Beer
- Deeds Brewing - Once More Into the Fray
- Akasha Brewing Co - Mosaic IPA
- Ballistic Beer Co - Low Ha
- Capital Brewing Co - Rock Hopper IPA
- Wayward Brewing Co - Raspberry Berliner Weisse
- Willie The Boatman - Nectar Of The Hops
- Balter Brewing - CryoHaze