After taking a tour of New South Wales yesterday, our review of the year in beer heads to Victoria. You can find all entries in the series – including our look at some of the major trends and themes that have played out nationwide – here, while below you'll find our take on the highs and lows of 2022 in Victoria, brought to you by Will Ziebell.
Grand Sale, Grand Sale, Grand Sale
It goes without saying that the past few years have been tough for pretty much everyone involved in beer and hospo, and 2022 failed to bring the bounceback for which most were hoping, as we’ve explored elsewhere. And it's also fair to say the year in Victoria ended with a bit of a wobble.
While the worrying situation facing La Sirène has come about through no fault of their own, Costa, Eva and their team remain unsure what the future holds after asbestos dust was found at two of the buildings at the Melbourne Innovation Centre. And there’s no doubting their plight added to a feeling of uncertainty for many in the state’s beer industry.
While the two major breweries have been relatively quiet on the purchasing front (although Asahi did buy Collingwood-based soft drink maker StrangeLove in October), 2022 has seen its share of sales. Good Drinks, which owns Gage Roads, Atomic, Matso’s and more, looked to bolster their presence in Victoria with the purchase of Stomping Ground in August. Then Dainton Beer quickly made good on their promise to increase their number of venues when they took over The Public Brewery in Croydon in October.
More recently, the pioneering Red Hill Brewery (pictured) announced their intention to seek new adventures almost 20 years after pouring their first beers on the Mornington Peninsula, while Tooborac Brewery & Hotel and Future Mountain have also been put on the market as 2022 draws to a close. Read into those tea leaves what you will, but selling a business might not always be bad news, particularly if you decide to give away your bar for free.
Grand Ale, Grand Ale, Grand Razzler
You could write a novella on the goings-on in 2022 at Moon Dog alone. They shocked even themselves when they won the Champion Large Brewery title at the Indies – a sign that two years of improving processes under the guidance of head brewer Kevin Tewierik was paying off – then looked to double down on the runaway success of their Fizzer seltzers with the arrival of the Razzler range.
Clearly, owning one venue with a fountain isn’t enough either, as they’ve now got their eyes set on the former Franco Cozzo site in Footscray. The iconic sign outside is set to stay if they gain approval; whether the unique furniture still inside will be part of their second massive venue looks less likely.
All in all, it was a year that ended on a high and one that felt like a suitable tribute to Mark “Wags” Wagthorne. The much-loved sales boss – who’d previously worked for breweries including Mountain Goat and Temple – lost his battle with cancer in March, is survived by wife Nicky and their three kids, and left a huge impression on all who worked with him and had the pleasure of his company over the years.
Here, There & Everywhere
For all the wobbles mentioned above, breweries keep opening and making inroads into more bars and retailers, while craft-focused venues and bottlos keep cropping up too. But here we’re talking about a more visible sign of craft beer’s presence in Melbourne: street posters.
It might not be a high-tech marketing tool or entirely new for the industry – Good Beer Week and GABS have gone hard each May for years – but the frequency with which beer posters have supplanted, or at least shared the stage with, gig and festival bills around Melbourne shows how much some indie breweries are looking to cast their net ever wider.
We couldn’t let this article pass without mention of Hawkers. They’ve been shoe-ins for our Best New Victorian Beers lineup since they launched, sometimes with so many great beers we can’t even pick one to focus upon, and arguably enjoyed their most successful year to date in 2022.
The Reservoir brewery was named Champion Large Australian Brewery at the Australian International Beer Awards in May. Like Moon Dog at the Indies, they didn’t take out any individual beer trophies on the night but their strong medal tally feels fitting for a brewery that’s always had a quality-first focus and consistency across the board.
Were we to have included them in the beers you'll find below, there's a good chance we'd have nominated their 2022 barrel-aged series as a whole; just as well they're good: at a recent event for our Crafty Cabal beer club members (pictured above) founder Mazen Hajjar revealed they now have 50,000 litres of liquid ageing in barrels alone. Yes, that’s a lot of big, dark beers in a hot and (often) dry country.
Get Out & Drink
We’ll have a closer look at the changing nature of beer festivals in our Western Australian entry but it was wonderful to witness the return of the truly unique Blobfish festival to its former glory after two years were wiped out by the pandemic. Likewise, Bridge Road’s long-running High Country Hop and Bright Brewery’s Darker Days were both fantastic events in the state’s north; the former added a technical symposium (at which Firestone Walker legend Matt Brynildson will deliver the keynote in 2023) and impressive fresh hop collabs; the latter secured Bob Evans of Jebediah fame as their headliner.
And, to turn the gaze inwards somewhat, we couldn’t have been happier to see the love that venues, brewers and punters still had for Pint of Origin when it went ahead without Good Beer Week in Melbourne for the first time in May. We look forward to giving everyone the chance to take another trip around the world of beer via some of the city’s best pubs and bars from May 12 to 21 next year.
Light 'n' Easy
Low carb beers aren’t new, with Ballistic among the higher profile indies to add one to their core lineup in 2021, but a number of independent breweries in Victoria have recently got on board in quick succession. Brick Lane brought out Hi-Fi Dry in early November, while Wolf of the Willows served up their own easy-drinking lager, Crisp, as Bad Shepherd took a hoppier and hazier approach with Low Carb. We can’t help but feel more are on their way too.
BEERS OF THE YEAR
Blackman’s Brewery - Just Another Series
Over the last few years, Blackman’s have explored the use of a single hop variety in beer with their Just Another series; in 2022, they took that idea in a new direction. Just Another is dedicated to unusual hop pairings and has seen the Surf Coast brewery mix Citra and Motueka, Simcoe and Topaz, and Mosaic and East Kent Golding (EKG). In typical Blackman’s fashion, each release to date has been impressively dialled in, balanced and a wonderful exploration of hoppy goodness.
Brick Lane Brewing - Trilogy of Fear 2021
It might represent a fraction of their overall output but Brick Lane know how to use barrels. For anyone who’s followed Jon Seltin’s career from Bright to Hawkers to Brick Lane, that will come as no surprise: he’s been making excellent barrel-aged beer for a long time.
Now in its second year, the brewery’s Trilogy of Fear series included wood not often seen in Australia brewing, such as sugar maple, amburana and cypress. The series was rich and boozy and picked up multiple gold medals at The Indies, while Asylum made it into the top ten beer list at the Drink Easy Awards where the Spanish cedar-aged Smoking Gun enjoyed a podium finish.
Good Land Brewing Gezellig
It feels safe to say that if you spend a bit of time brewing at Brouwerij De Molen then you’re likely to pick up a thing or two when it comes to barrel-aged stouts. And the evidence coming out of Good Land Brewing shows that Jimmy Krekelberg was paying close attention when brewing in the Netherlands, with the Traralgon brewery's Gezellig picking up a champion trophy at this year’s Indies. The bourbon barrel-aged stout’s name translates to cosy and it was the beer equivalent of sinking into a sofa by a fireplace thanks to the layers of oak, chocolate fudge, burnt sugar and dark fruit.
Hop Nation's Hazies
Last year we were singing the praises of the clarity and tradition found in Hop Nation’s Rattenhund but this year we wanted to note Hop Nation’s many impressive hazy IPAs. Get The Gist was designed to be a delicious example of the style and it certainly impressed the country’s top beer judges when it took out the trophy for the Best Modern IPA at the Australian International Beer Awards. But two recent innovations have been particularly delicious too: Experiment 102 – part of the Bract Brewing Programme featuring new Kiwi hops – and What’s In The Box? – one of Australia’s first to feature the thiol-packing Phantasm.
Love Shack Red Ale
A mid-strength red ale from Castlemaine? Excuse me, but what year is this? Castlemaine’s Love Shack approach everything they do with the irreverence of upstarts but their beers couldn’t be more perfect for drinking by the pint in an old-school boozer. Their 3.5 percent Red Ale is no exception: as flavoursome and rewarding as any beer twice its strength.
Molly Rose's Fruit Beers
Away from the arms race centred around smoothie sours, pastry sours, and imperial fruited sours, there are plenty treating their fruit rather more delicately. The aforementioned Future Mountain and La Sirène have continued to release some fine collaborations with local producers and Boatrocker, who maintain a nifty habit of turning out quality beers in seemingly whatever style they turn their hands to, are in the same bracket; the Wildeberry 2022 we tucked into just last week was a year-end highlight with depth and breadth to its acidic, fruity nature.
Few in Australia put them front and centre as often or with the same finesse as Molly Rose, however. Their recently-released, grapefruit-heavy yet Passiona-like Organic XX has won plenty of admirers yet evidence suggests founder Nic Sandery is more of a stonefruit man. His 2022 collab with his winemaking partner, Callie Jemmeson of Pacha Mama Wines, the BBAWM (Beer By A Winemaker) White Peach & Grapefruit Ale impressed, while Nectarined, a farmhouse ale fermented on, you've guessed it, won the soon-to-open-a-new-venue Collingwood brewers their first AIBA trophy.
Mountain Goat Hightail XXV
The Richmond brewery's 25th anniversary seemed to pass without too much in the way of fanfare, and these days it's their broad appeal Very Enjoyable Beer that ends up in most drinkers' hands. Yet their quarter century can't be overlooked for at least one very good reason: the release of Hightail XXV.
They'd put out Double and Triple versions of their OG beer to mark past milestones, but neither was as fine as this Cognac barrel-aged beauty. You might not want to knock it back like you would their biggest-seller, but those who sampled its delights will readily confirm it was a Very Enjoyable Beer Indeed.
Ocean Reach & Free 3D Hands Bionic WCIPA
It’s always a lovely thing when a beer comes along that has both a fantastic story and is delicious to drink. Ocean Reach’s collaboration with fellow Phillip Islanders and registered charity, Free 3D Hands, is such a beer. The charity’s aim is to provide low-cost hands and other assistive devices for people in need; they've also worked on bionic arms which respond to muscle movements in order to move.
It’s something Simon and Alex Bismire from Ocean Reach wanted to help with so they brewed a fundraising beer. While fundraising collabs have a tendency to be easy-drinking pale ales or lagers, the collaborators instead wanted to brew a beer that could “punch you in the face” – the stunningly hoppy, bitter West Coast IPA was the delicious result.
Watts River 6 Celebration Ale
They brew to the beat of their own drum at Watts River and, while you don’t see their beer travel too far beyond the Yarra Valley, the Healesville brewers have made excellent beer since day one. To mark six years since their brewery opened, the Watts River family brewed a sumptuous Belgian ale featuring local truffles. Enjoy it with some cheese and not only would the experience be perfect but you’d probably have to keep an eye out for a guillotine along with the rest of the nobility.
Wolf of the Willows Lark Imperial JSP & Persistence III
Speaking of doing good things with wood over a long time, Wolf of the Willow’s Barrel Exchange Project turned five in 2022. We called this year’s vintage the most luscious yet, while their similar close collaboration with The Gospel distillery, Persistence III, was once again a masterclass in balancing dark roasted flavours, boozy richness, and drinkability.
There's plenty more worthy of a mention, including the strong lagers coming out of the Europhiles at King River, Bridge Road's New Sky IPA series, the barrel-aged and wild ales from Ida Pruul, Hargreaves Hill's barrel-aged R.I.S., Fixation's Red Runt (a big favourite of the Cabal members who shared their annual highlights with us), and more, but we've already kept you a while so...
It took a long time but finally the hop lovers at KAIJU! opened a taproom of their very own. As bright and breezy as the most cheerful of their can designs, it's home to a pilot brewery and pizzas as good as those on offer at any brewery in the land.
With CoConspirators at the end of 2021 and Temple, Foreigner, Inner North, Alchemy and Thunder Road all calling the suburb home, you could argue Brunswick might have already had enough breweries. But Gales still managed to carve out a niche of their own courtesy of and artfully-designed brewery on a quiet street that was quickly embraced by locals. With Bridge Road's brewpub set to open there next year, it feels like Brunswick’s craftiest days still lie ahead.
Thirty Eight O Six
Anyone entering the brewing industry now does so when there are more breweries in existence than ever before, yet get the location and offering right and you may well find the locals are keener than you could possibly imagine. Berwick’s Thirty Eight O Six is such a brewery, opened by two locals in October and filled with punters ever since.
Melbourne's southeastern suburbs have long been home to some of the local industry's pioneers but, these days, the area can claim to be something of a craft beer wonderland. mates’ opening in Mordiallic earlier in the year added further credence to that fact, joining the likes of Bo Gurks and Alice Rebel's in bringing thoughtfully-curated goodies to Bayside residents.
Harold’s Food & Liquor
A bottleshop with a difference, Harold's Food & Liquor founder Cameron Smart decided to make it a one-stop-shop for customers, offering an array of booze-friendly snacks and meals at his Elsternwick joint.
Natural Science & Liquor
From Food & Liquor to Science & Liquor and yet another excellent new bottlo with a keen focus on serving the Blackburn community with a fine rotating lineup of beers, wines and spirits.
The Keys Leisure Centre might sell a lot of craft beer but there's a whole lot more going on too. With a lovingly-built bowling alley, arcade machines, multiple bars and a huge beer garden all part of the offering, this good times destination in Preston has been plucked straight out of the America of the middle of the last century, but made tastier.
Given the new owners are still mixing the more mainstream with the crafty on their taps, don't head to the Kyneton Hotel expecting to be overwhelmed by a dazzling array of out there beers. But seeing this vast old boozer given a fresh lease of life with most of its taps pouring beers – local and international – you'd be happy to tuck into is a fine thing.
BREAKTHROUGH BREWERY: SOBREMESA
Every so often a brewery, fermentary and blendery comes along that instantly has corners of the craft beer world talking. Sobremesa Fermentary & Blendery is just such an operation, with the tiny business launched by Casey Grieve and Hannah McErlane (pictured in the montage at the top of the article with their trophy) designed simply to brew the kind of beers they love.
Fortunately for fans of saisons and barrel-fermented and aged beers, the beers they love are also excellent. Although their first release came out in early 2020 – having started life some time earlier – in 2022 they increased the frequency and breadth of their offering.
Many of their beers could have made it into the section above: farmhouse pilsner Anomaly excited beer drinkers with a style they didn’t know they wanted; their first core range beer, Soul Flower, is one of the funkiest and funnest park beers you can find anywhere. But their Vibes On Toast (pictured above) deserves a special mention too.
The barrel-fermented bière de garde topped the top beer list at the Drink Easy awards in November and finished third in the overall list of best Australian drinks. As one of the judges at that awards, I can honestly say that when that beer came across our table the entire panel was very happy to see it – and it was just as exciting to see Casey and Hannah take to the stage when I found out they were responsible for it.
Both Casey and Hannah are incredibly humble individuals but Casey’s words on accepting the award really capture their approach: "Hannah and I started this business two-and-a-half years ago to make beers we like to drink without compromising on taste, flavour or production techniques – and we'll continue to do that."
How was 2022 For You?
Bright Brewery launched more than a decade and a half ago. Over the years, owner Scott Brandon and his team built one of the finest brewery venues in the country, while more recently they've enjoyed something of a renaissance on a wider scale too. They've expanded their footprint across the country, ran the seamless Darker Days festival in the depth of winter, and are on a never-ending quest to brew more sustainably, and make Bright feel like the best small town in the known universe.
National sales manager Evin Craney has played a key role in their growth and within the world of sustainability, and last month he joined the board of the Independent Brewers Association.
How's 2022 been for you and Bright?
The year has been both our largest year in terms of our wholesale business but also our most challenging. Coming out of the rolling lockdowns in Victoria, much like our industry counterparts, we have seen some big challenges for both our wholesale customers and our consumers. Whilst we have been incredibly lucky to have set new records and brewed more beer than ever before over the last 12 months, it has been into a market that still finding its feet after the brutal effects of COVID.
For me, personally, after almost a decade in the craft beer industry, 2022 has been possibly my best yet. Mainly for becoming a father for the first time, but I've also been incredibly fortunate to work for a business I love with a team who genuinely make coming to work something I am excited to do. Along with being able to go to the pub again!
I have also been able to travel and spread the word of Bright Brewery all over Australia, and was honoured to be elected to the IBA board of directors.
Any standout moments?
It's hard to narrow down: this year we expanded into four new markets, had the return of our Darker Days festival – the biggest yet, and even managed to sneak some doggos into GABS thanks to our partnership with RSPCA Victoria. But our biggest moment was probably seeing Alpine Lager jump 118 spots in the GABS Hottest 100 to come in at number 32 and voted the best indie lager in Victoria. It was such as surprise to us that we had actually stopped following the countdown at that point!
Which beers from Victoria have you enjoyed most in 2022?
Other than my never-ending obsession and enjoyment of Bright Brewery MIA IPA, this year I have been really impressed by the ever-growing quality of the beers coming out of relatively new breweries like Braeside Brewing and Hop Hen. I'm also a huge fan of Australia’s coolest uncool brewery, Burnley Brewing, and everything from the team at Banks Brewing is sensational. I have also put down plenty of SURE Lager whenever I could find it.
What can people expect from you and Bright in 2023?
After the past few years, it's hard to guess what’s ahead, but based on everything here at Bright, we plan to continue to grow and, like most breweries, have the classic “big plans” on the table. The one thing for certain is that we will continue to brew some of the best beers around – I am not biased, obviously. We will continue our partnerships with RSPCA VIC as well as Protect Our Winters Australia, and we look forward to whatever hair-brained scheme we're sure to develop between now and next December.
Personally, I look forward to working with the IBA for the betterment of our industry as well as the continued focus on rolling out a national PakTech recycling scheme that I’ve been working on with industry partners since 2021. You can also guarantee that I will – as has been the case for ten years now – be found at The Catfish with a pint of IPA and a bourbon bacon cheesesteak in hand on the regular.
And what's your one wish for Aussie beer in 2023?
I am hopeful for an easier year for our industry – not just for the breweries but also our partners in venues and stores. The last few years have taken their toll and so much has been worn on the back of those pouring the beers as much as those making them. Much like raising a child, it takes a village in craft beer to make this great industry work.
I wish for nothing but continued success for the whole industry and, maybe if we could be so lucky, some ACCC investigations into market conditions.
You can find other articles in The Best Of Beer 2022 series here.Thanks to the wider Crafty Pint team and the industry gurus who have helped in the compilation of this series.