The Best Of Beer 2023: Queensland

December 17, 2023, by Mick Wust

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The Best Of Beer 2023: Queensland

We continue our trek up Australia's east coast for the third instalment of our Best Of Beer 2023 series, having stopped off in Victoria and New South Wales to date.
You can check out our nationwide review of the past 12 months here, or scroll away as we look back at some of the highlights of the year in Queensland's beer scene.


Standout Moments

Festivals Out In Force

  

In a year in which breweries have been struggling and we’re all getting a little less cavalier with the tap ’n’ pay function of our cards, it’s nice to see beer festivals haven’t disappeared.

Crafted Festival on the Gold Coast (pictured above right) has been improving year on year. A beer festival right next to the beach… why did it take so long for someone to come up that idea? Between the number of stallholders, the amount of food available and the live music on offer – plus the popular beer yoga – Crafted is becoming quite the experience.

Up on the Sunny Coast, MooloolaBARS was a different kind of beer festival: a decentralised festival/bar crawl hybrid. Eleven bars along the Mooloolaba Esplanade showcased drinks from 18 local breweries and distilleries, with a few tastings and talks thrown in for good measure. Not a bad way to get up your 10,000 steps.

Tell crafty drinkers of 2013 about a beer festival dedicated entirely to lagers, and you'd have been met by groans and fake gagging sounds. But we’ve all gained some perspective since then and, on the back of a couple of lager-focused festivals in Melbourne in recent times and the Crafty-curated Lager Lounge at Range's Juicy, Lagerpalooza (above left) was our reward. 

The all-inclusive ticket option meant a day of roaming the grass behind Felons, trying every helles and pilsner and IPL and rice lager and festbier and new world lager and Märzen that caught your eye. It’s got room to grow (I reckon the footy grand finals kept some people away), but this year’s inaugural event proved the concept.

Speaking of all-inclusive tickets, Juicy nailed the brief again with a stellar lineup of breweries and no need to buy beer on the day. And GABS is as flashy and full of marshmallow-potato-lavender-pickle-donut beers as ever.

Looks like beer festivals aren’t going anywhere in a hurry.


BrewCon Hits The Goldie

BrewCon closed with The Crafty Pint-hosted debate: Has craft beer jumped the shark?

 

After a few years of pandemic-related cancellations, the Independent Brewers Association (IBA) finally got to run another conference for the indie beer industry. The ninth BrewCon was the first to take place in Queensland, welcoming members of the brewing industry from across Australia and overseas to the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre in August.

It offered attendees the most diverse and high-quality program to date, with the keynote speeches from demographer Bernard Salt and US Brewers Association CEO Bob Pease both insightful and well-received. While numbers weren't at the level the IBA would have wanted – another victim of the current economic slump – the program and Expo were slick, professional affairs that showed the maturing industry in a good light.

BrewCon ended with the Indies awards, returning as an in-person event after three years of streaming from a Melbourne studio, with judging taking place in Brisbane a week earlier. It was an understandably rowdy affair, given many in the building hadn't seen each other in the flesh since pre-COVID days, and one on which there was plenty of success for home state brewers.

It goes without saying that Moffat Beach Brewing cleaned up: Champion Australian Independent Medium Brewery, Champion Traditional Pale Ale for their Passenger Pale Ale, Champion Reduced / Mid for Social Jam, and Champion Queensland Brewery. But they were far from alone.

Aether Brewing doubled up with Champion Modern India Pale Ale for their IPA and Champion Juicy-Hazy Pale for their All Australian Pale Ale, while Belgian beer specialists Madocke, who brew just a few kilometres from the venue where the Indies took place, were named Champion Australian Independent Small Brewery, and Felons claimed Champion European-style Ale for their Belgian Tripel. JS


One Brewery Closes, Another Two Open

 

It was a rough-as-guts year for many, and plenty of businesses collapsed under the impossible weight of being a brewery in 2023. Ballistic went into voluntary administration before being bought by the Catchment group, Asahi shut down Green Beacon’s production facility in Geebung, Newstead Brewing moved out of their OG brewpub on Doggett St to consolidate and focus on their Milton location, Lion closed the Tiny Mountain brewpub in Townsville, Parched in West End was sold to new owners and became Brew Barons, Sauce closed their brewpub up in Cairns, and Burleigh Barrels ceased trading.

But, even in the face of this, the openings kept on coming, and you know I like to do a wrap-up of openings.*

In no particular order (should they be ordered chronologically? By size? By the splash they made? I’m too excited!)…

Archer in Newmarket, Hiker in Salisbury and Future Magic in East Brisbane, who all opened at the beginning of the year after not quite getting their doors open in 2022; Boxer Brewing, up on Tamborine Mountain with ex-Green Beacon head brewer Johann van der Walt at the helm of the brewhouse; Wild Barrel, making funky drops in the Sunshine Coast hinterland; Brouhaha New Farm, a pop-up bar that’s temporarily closed for renovations with the aim of becoming a permanent venue; Hoppers, which took over Fonzie Abbott’s brewery digs in Albion; Hip Hops, at the The Sheds in Brendale; Hodfellow’s in Geebung, with its funny name and impish little logo; Red Dog’s Riverfront location, expanding their footprint (pawprint?) in Mackay; Goanna Brewing throwing their hat in the ring in Mackay as well; Crimson Finch bringing their stylish offering to Yeppoon; 10 Toes’ new production brewery in Buderim; Coolum Beer Co at the Sunny Coast, which opened in the lead up to Christmas; and Perentie Brewing, the all-lager brewery halfway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, which opened just in time to be a 2023 baby.

Then there are those breweries whose stories we’ve been following for a bit longer who now have their own spaces: Sobah opened their sizeable non-alc brewery (above right) – the first in the country – complete with café, a gallery showcasing the work of Indigenous artists, and retail space; after a bumpy journey, the Currumbin Valley crew finally got themselves a taproom (above left), decked out in upcycled materials and oozing local flavour; and Working Title opened their brewpub in Newstead, where they’re washing down spicy Asian fusion dishes with triple IPAs and sparkling wild mead and barrel-aged monstrosities.

On the venue side, Range opened up The Bethnal, the barrel-and-events space beside their brewery, and neighbourhood bar Patio in Paddington, while the Netherworld crew has been applying the finishing touched to the monster-filled purgatory that is Lost Souls Karaoke.

Sorry if I missed anyone. It's been a big year...


Standout Beers

Balter's Mouth Holiday Series

 

Three beers made with three US brewers. Such a simple concept. Such stunning execution.

When the Cloudburst Hazy IPA came out in May, I wondered whether it would make this end-of-year list. Then the Green Cheek California IPA showed up in the middle of the year and blew it out of the water (for my taste – the stripped-back nature of Cali IPAs really does it for me). And when the Figueroa Mountain West Coast Pilsner dropped in October, I reckon it may have taken the spot of my beer for the year.

Even when faced with beers from a consistent brewery like Balter, it’s easy to make assumptions about beers before tasting them: “Another IPA boasting tropical aromas?” That’s doubly true in the case of something like the Green Cheek release, with the all-too-familiar combo of Citra and Mosaic. So it’s always nice to have your expectations exceeded.

If you’ve got some time to spare, watch the behind-the-scenes videos to see Balter’s Scotty Hargrave gallivanting with the American brewers: with Steve Luke from Cloudburst Brewing, with Evan Price from Green Cheek, and with Kevin Ashford from Figueroa Mountain. You’ll get insight on how the brewers met, how they chose the beer style they’d brew, how they chose the hop varieties… all wrapped up in plenty of cheerful banter.

I’m sure Scotty does actual hard work sometimes. But from the looks of these videos, his job is mostly about chasing his whims and crossing off his wish list of collaboration brews. There are far worse ways to spend your days on Earth.


Felons' Barrel-Aged Beers

 

Metres from the Brisbane River, under the rhythmic thump of live music like a monstrous heartbeat, it has been slumbering: thousands upon thousands of litres of beer, just waiting to be released from their oaken prison. And in 2023, Felons Barrel Hall had its first fugitives.**

Eight releases in total arrived this year (in two batches of four), each in champagne bottles with Felons-branded corks. One of our writers reckons Nectarine Queen was the cream of the crop this year; this site's founder won over a handful of wine drinkers with Dark Distant Light; while I’d say the Flanders-style Red Sky At Night was my pick of those I tried. And, at our Crafty Cabal barrel-aged beer and cheese pairing event, there was a spread of favourites across the range.

It’s fair to say the whole barrel program is going gangbusters. Quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality when it comes to beer, but Felons’ Barrel Hall has both. I always get a smile when I remember there are walls of barrels in the middle of Brisbane City, containing a veritable treasure trove of beer. But it’s even better when the beer comes out.

Shout out also to the Felons x Fox Friday Hazy IPA. As one of our writers said: "For someone that’s already yawning as another hazy can opens, this was disarmingly delicious. Smooth, plump and well constructed."


Heads of Noosa Black Japanese Lager

 

Dark lagers have made a bit of a comeback in the last few years; maybe it can be traced back to 2019, when 4 Pines’ Schwarzbier took Champion Beer at the AIBAs, maybe it's just part and parcel of the rise of lager in all its many forms.

In 2023, we can look at Heads of Noosa, an indie brewery that makes lager, lager, and nothing but lager, who are best known for an easy-drinking Japanese-style lager that suits the Sunny Coast climate, and understand how a black lager leapt from special release into their core range. 

Queenslanders may usually be dark beer averse for ten months of the year (curse our sweltering sunshine!), but HoN’s Black Japanese Lager seems to have broken through.

And I, for one, am not even a little bit upset about it.


Helios Dionysus 

 

I think I have to give this space to Dionysus, the oat cream DIPA that took head brewer Jake Harrison out of his comfort zone but ended up impressing him as much as it impressed Helios Brewing's fans.

If it weren't for the number of people I've had rave to me about Dionysus, however, I'd have given this space to Borealis, the spicy and powerfully bitter German pils that Helios aged for a whopping 200 days, or their Classic Series Dark Mild, since it’s a style you never see in Australia and their version picked up a gold medal at the Indies. Jake’s been nailing some truly traditional styles this year.

Buuut he also spat in the face of tradition when he brewed a red ale, soured it on cherries, and aged it on French oak… then bastardised it by adding lactose. So don’t give him too much credit.


Aether Biscoff Porter

 

They may be winning trophies for their straightforward core range (see above), but the brewers at Aether aren’t resting on their laurels between awards ceremonies. They’re cooking up silly beers like this Biscoff Porter, loaded up with 450kg of Biscoff biscuits as well as vanilla and lactose.

This was Aether’s GABS beer, and it took home the People’s Choice award at the festival. For good reason, too: it somehow managed to show off notes of caramel, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar and vanilla ice cream, all without smothering the flavours of the porter base.

They also offered it alongside a soft serve so you could make your own spider, which certainly didn’t hurt.


Special Mention: Working Title's Ongoing Outrageous Output

 

And receiving a participation certificate I printed off on my computer at home is Working Title.

Having to do things like "hire staff" and "pay rent" hasn’t stopped brewery founders Mark Howes and Luke Shield from making several 11 percent ABV IPAs, putting new yeasts and hop products into their mouths more than my baby puts toys in his mouth, or running an entire batch of beer down the trunk of a pine tree.

Panic Room ticked all the boxes for my ideal double West Coast (one of those boxes being "strong enough to be a triple"), but Holy Smoke Manuka Smoked Red Lager deserves a nod for a) being boldly brewed despite the fact that there’s almost no market for this kind of beer, and b) being the most moreish smoked beer I’ve ever tasted.

The boys also acquired a foeder this year, which is just a huge barrel – big enough to stick Luke into when he misbehaves so he can think about what he’s done. But they’ll probably just use it for beer. Mostly.


Breakthrough Brewery: Hiker

  

A brewery opens up in a warehouse in Salisbury and gets lots of attention? What is this, 2017?

It’s not an architecturally-designed taproom in the city, and it’s not changing the world. But Hiker Brewing Concern, owned and run by Daniel Venema (ex-Catchment and Ballistic) and Phil Sharp (ex-Black Hops), is a brewery at the end of an industrial cul-de-sac on Brisbane’s south side that’s just doing everything well.

Hiker turned heads at GABS festival with their Hold The Pork Sweet & Sour Rice Lager, the collab they made with Brisbane Amateur Beer Brewers. It’s full of smoked pineapple, Szechuan peppers, and enough food colouring to give it that radioactive red colour of sweet & sour sauce. Drinkers’ reactions ranged from: “My favourite beer at GABS!” to “Tastes like rinsing my mouth at the dentist”. Although perhaps my favourite was: “I hate drinking this, but I love the aftertaste. My taste buds are so confused.”

Their Wee Little Light Scottish Ale was supposed to be a one-off to provide variety upon opening the brewery, but when it garnered praise from punters aplenty and picked up a gold medal at the Royal Queensland Beer Awards, Dan and Phil quickly decided to add it into the core range. (It went on to take gold again at the Indies, too.)

Cloudscapes Hazy IPA is another beer that was supposed to be a one-off, but stirred up enough fans that it was brewed again and again. Hiker then turned to other limited hazies… but the people clamoured so loudly for more that Hiker returned yet again to brewing Cloudscapes towards the end of 2023. Time will tell if it too becomes a year-round option.

Beyond the beer, Hiker are keen for their home to be a welcoming and inclusive community space that gives anyone a good time; the entertainment they’ve hosted at the taproom goes beyond just acoustic musicians to include Irish dancing, acrobatics and pro wrestling. They also hosted Aussie Beer Voyage’s end of year awards livestream, and kicked off their Huff ‘N’ Guzzle Trail Run concept at the end of the year.

They’ve got a playground for little kiddies, while the big kiddies can play table tennis or pool. They’ve got beer ageing in barrels. And they’re only just getting started.


How Was 2023 For You?

For me? Well, since you ask, it's been quite the ride! I won Best Media trophy at the AIBAs, I had a baby, I released my first book – The Beer Drinker's Toolkit – then immediately wrote another one...

Hmmm? What's that? I'm meant to ask someone else this question? Well, that's embarrassing.

In that case, we'll turn to...

Atlanta Bell of Brisbane Brewing Co

 

Atlanta heads up the marketing at Brisbane Brewing Co, and has been doing so for almost five years. But, as with many marketing types, she's usually the one behind the camera. So we decided to drag her out from behind the curtain and into the spotlight for a moment (with her enthusiastic permission, of course).

BBCo has just ticked over 18 years of operations, but the past year or so has been a shake-up in terms of brand refresh and redesign, canning their beers and developing a line of spirits, and looking strategically forward as the 2032 Olympics draws closer; the brewery is named after the host city, after all, which is surely prime in terms of marketing.

And it turns out the marketing manager is somewhat involved in all of this, so Atlanta's had plenty on her plate.

She also won a Pink Boots scholarship to attend BrewCon this year – but I'll let her tell you more about that...


How was 2023 for you and BBCo?

It's been very busy! 

An area of growth for me: earlier in the year, our brewer suggested we release a beer with a recipe written by AI. That idea really sparked my interest in AI. In the marketing world, there's quite a bit of talk about AI potentially taking over our jobs, but I think the real focus should be on how we can smartly use it. It's about understanding tools like the Adobe suite, ChatGPT, and Midjourney, and knowing the right prompts to get the most out of them. Embracing AI is not just about leveraging its capabilities but also understanding its limits and making sure we use it responsibly. 

Reflecting on the Pink Boots scholarship: The opportunity to meet and talk with other women in the industry was fantastic. The best parts were the chats about our roles, skills, and our love for beer. Coming from a background in marketing and design, it was enlightening to be among so many knowledgeable people in the beer industry. It’s broadened my perspective and deepened my appreciation for our community’s collaborative spirit and potential.

Representing Pink Boots at [BrewCon] was pretty cool! It really drove home the need for more women and non-binary voices in the broader industry discussions, not just on niche topics. Like the saying goes, “You can't be what you can't see.” This scholarship is a big step towards that change, and I’m really grateful to be a part of it.

The conference really changed my outlook on our industry, with a big focus on how to keep independent beer thriving in the future. The key ideas I came away with revolved around diversifying our offerings, enhancing customer experiences, and reaching out to a wider audience.

Difficulties: Keeping up with the algorithm! Creating social content that is interesting and engaging, on the right platform, that is seen by the people you are making it for, at the right time, can be a challenge. Those fun, spontaneous videos you see on brewery social accounts? They probably took at least two hours to make. I've been managing social accounts for seven years now and the only constant in the landscape has been change. 

BBCo: 2023 has seen the culmination of several long-term projects for us. In March, Brisbane Brewing Co celebrated its 18th year of brewing (Read The Crafty Pint's feature on their story from last year here). Our passion for beer remains strong. We continue to offer a new beer on tap every week at the brewery and are expanding the wholesale side of BBCo with our canned core beer selection. Our two venues – the brewery in West End and Brewpub in Woolloongabba – remain key attractions.

Responding to the growing demand for a variety of products beyond beer in our venues, we've been hard at work developing a line of Brisbane Brewing Co RTDs, as well as introducing a spirits sub-brand, Reservoir. Brand development and design are key areas of interest for me, so to be part of those projects has been a dream come true. It's been quite the whirlwind year!

 

Atlanta on the brewdeck for the IWD 2021 collab brew, and at BrewCon on the Gold Coast.

Which beers from Queensland have you enjoyed most in 2023?

I can't go past our most popular beer, BPA (Brisbane Pale Ale) for a nice tropical, well-balanced pale. I love the packaging too!

Outside of our beers, I enjoy Brouhaha’s Strawberry Rhubarb Sour – I was lucky enough to help make a batch for International Women's Day a couple of years ago.


What can people expect from you in 2024?

From me, you will be seeing more video and behind-the-scenes content from our social accounts as we see the rise and rise of authentic video. I have a photography background, so to post content that hasn't been polished for hours is hard to get my head around – but if it gets a few laughs and entertains our audience, it's completely worth it.

Brisbane Brewing Woolloongabba will be undergoing a renovation of the upper level of the building which will include a rooftop bar, multiple function rooms, and a second kitchen. With the Gabba stadium around the corner and the Princess Theatre next door, it's a pretty exciting area to be in and I'm looking forward to seeing the transformation of the venue. We'll be launching our RTDs in can; you can already get them on-tap at the venues.


And what's your one wish for Aussie beer in 2024 and beyond?

I would love to see an elevation in the beer category in Australia from 2024 and beyond. At BrewCon this year, I saw a really interesting panel discussion on the subject of "Beer Australia: Why We Need a Compelling Category Story." Cicerone Paul Daly spoke about attracting people seeking a premium experience to beer, which was a real lightbulb moment for me, especially as a former restaurant manager. 

Sure, you can enjoy a beer while camping or cooking on the barbie, but what about toasting a special occasion with a beautiful lambic, or savouring a steak with a Flanders red ale? Wouldn't it be wonderful to see more high-end restaurants offering pairings of degustations with one of the over 100 styles of lesser-known beer varieties? 

There is a significant opportunity to enhance dining experiences and commemorate special occasions with beer, and I'd love to see more of that in 2024.


*Even if I do occasionally miss one - sorry for last year’s omission, Billy Cart Brewing!

**Not counting the tap-only, barrel-aged lager they’ve been serving up pretty much since opening. But it’s a different beast to these longer-aged drops.


You'll find all articles in the series here. Coverage also provided by James Smith, as indicated.

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