The Best Of Beer 2023: New South Wales

December 14, 2023, by Crafty Pint

https://craftypint.s3.amazonaws.com/crafty/learn/Insight-icon-230620-122146-230706-154349.png
The Best Of Beer 2023: New South Wales

All aboard! Time to leave Victoria behind and head north to New South Wales for the second instalment of our Best Of Beer 2023 series. Who and what stood out from the crowd over the past 12 months?

You'll find our examination of the big moments and trends of the year on a national scale here, with the whole of The Best Of Beer 2023 taking shape here.


Standout Moments

Mountain Culture Storm The Hottest 100

 

There had been plenty of well-deserved hype around Mountain Culture and their remarkably and consistently good beers long before January 2023, but their ascension to top spot in the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers poll was another milestone in their rapid rise.

Increasingly, it’s one that looks to mirror some of the biggest success stories of the past couple of decades: that of the breweries that bring something new to the scene, cause a buzz that has the keenest in the scene hunting down and shouting about their beers, paying visits to their OG homes, then watching as they explode into a more mainstream consciousness, building bigger breweries, venues and brands along the way. 

It took one of the original trailblazers, Feral, well over a decade to ascend those heights (admittedly starting out in a very different landscape), Pirate Life used the BrewDog blueprint to do something similar far quicker, before Balter came along and refined the process to its Platonic ideal. It was as recently as 2019 when the first beers poured at Mountain Culture’s cute Katoomba brewpub and, despite there being a global pandemic in the meantime, it doesn’t feel too soon to talk about them in the same breath; they’ve even appeared in the AFR seeking significant outside investment.

When it comes to their stonking H100 debut – straight in at number one with their flagship Status Quo pale ale – it was another step in an immaculately-executed rise, coming just as they’d been ranged nationally by the country’s two largest retailers, both major sponsors of GABS’ various endeavours.

That win has been followed by more high profile moments, including their recent collabs with the unimpeachable legends at Sierra Nevada and Firestone Walker, while the frequency, creativity and quality of their beers – not to mention their marketing department, where there seems to be an inexhaustible well of inspiration – continues unabated.

Mountain Culture’s H100 win was a triumph for both of those elements too: the brewing team and those tasked with bringing those beers to the attention of drinkers eager to be entertained. The poll has long rewarded those who devise the best promotional campaigns around their flagship beers – at least at the upper end: brewers can choose which of their beers you can vote for, and have been encouraging their fans to vote in a certain manner in ever more innovative ways.

For the 2022 poll, it felt like the Blue Mountains crew took all of the best ideas from others then raised the stakes: QR codes on cans; voting parties at their venues; endorsements from famous locals; video after video popping up in feeds; and an excellent campaign message: Change The Status Quo.

Once again, the stakes have already been raised with new GABS sponsor East Coast Canning opening the door for more breweries to add QR pitches for your vote to their cans. Influencers from outside the beer world are posting images of the freebies they’ve been sent, brewery websites have landing pages directing you to the H100 voting page or inviting you to give them permission to vote on your behalf, video content has evolved from someone sitting in the brewery with can in hand to scripted, multi-episode cris de coeur.

For Mountain Culture, their second campaign is tagged: "Sequels That Are Better Than The Original" – although you have to wonder how you better debuting at number one. 

The machinations of the Hottest 100 are a far cry from the early years of the poll, and if you’ve got a favourite beer from 2023 that isn’t a core range pale or IPA and are still eager to play the game the old way, then get ready for the release of the next 100, or maybe the 100 after that, for a chance to see where your number one placed.

Then again, the beer world today is a far cry from craft beer’s early years and, well-documented current challenges notwithstanding, is a broader, more diverse and higher quality place as a result. If you want to unearth something new and exciting, you very much still can, or if you just want to enjoy the fact you can pick up a delicious pale ale almost everywhere you turn, you can do that too. Indeed, with Mountain Culture, you can do both at the same time. JS


Sydney Beer Week To Return

 

It’s been a funny few years in the world of festivals, even if you discount the fact there were periods where they either weren’t possible at all, or risked being torpedoed at the last minute by a flaring-up of you-know-what.

A few of the longstanding, larger events have fallen by the wayside, while elsewhere this area of the beer world has been twisting itself into new shapes: Blobfish’s winning walk on the wild side; smaller, all-inclusive, brewery-led affairs like Juicy and Retro Beer Fest; the uber-niche beer and food pairing Smile, Enjoy!

Over the years, we’ve had plenty of people bemoan how tough it is to run a major beer festival successfully in Sydney – some of the most successful brands from other states have tried only to limp away licking their wounds. GABS has been the exception to date, but 2023 brought fresh hope for the city’s beer lovers.

In October, Pete Anstey (above right) from the Oscars Hotel Group, which includes the crafty CBD rooftop at Sweeney’s among its portfolio, and Josh Quantrill (above left), formerly of BrewDog, Capital and Beerfarm, now at 4 Pines, announced they’d acquired Sydney Beer Week from its previous owner, Dave Phillips, and will be bringing it back in October 2024.

Their main reasons for doing so centre around pumping up support for the city’s venues, and in turn those venues’ support for a greater diversity of beers and brewers. It’s a noble cause as, barring notable exceptions, hospo support for independent brewers across Sydney pales in comparison to both the quality and breadth of its brewing scene and the bar / pub cultures in some of the country’s other major centres.

Sydney Beer Week's new stewards have got more than a decade of successes and failures, of lessons learned and people burned, to lean on, and their intention is to keep the event manageably small. Given the glories of early beer weeks on the one hand, and the challenges of running such events in a way that’s even close to sustainable (hence Good Beer Week’s latest postponement and Brewsvegas’ abandonment years ago), we wish Pete and Josh and whoever sails with them all the best. JS

(Before then, if we can indulge ourselves with a wee plug, last week we announced Local Beer Day on February 24, 2024. It’s a national day celebrating local beer, local brewers and local venues designed to inject a bit of joy into the hard-hit beer and hospo industries, and (re)connect people with their local beer businesses. Details here.)


Newcastle’s Arsenal Swells

 

New South Wales’ second largest city has always regarded itself as a great beer city, and with good reason. Yet, for far longer than anyone might have imagined, Newcastle remained steadfastly absent of any craft brewing scene of note.

Sure, Murray’s – one of the country’s most groundbreaking breweries of a decade or so ago – has been operating out of Bob’s Farm on the way to Port Stephens since 2009, and brewing has been taking place in the Hunter Valley longer still. Yet, prior to FogHorn opening their doors in April 2015, with former Murray’s head brewer Shawn Sherlock at the helm, the city itself was a brewing desert.

It still took a little time to warm up after Shawn and his team had broken the seal too, but it’s safe to say it’s less a case of broken seal than burst dam nowadays.

While 2023 has been coloured – or drained of colour, perhaps – by the litany of voluntary administrations, sales and closures, it’s quite eye-opening how often new openings or reinventions appear in this end of year series. Newcastle’s scene hasn’t been immune to the downturn, yet the past 12 months have seen Thirsty Scholar open, Akasha take over The Edwards with a promise to start brewing on-site, and Grainfed welcome customers for the first time too.

The last of these is worthy of special mention given there are some who’d have put money on Grainfed being the first to start brewing in the city. Lachlan MacBean released his first Grainfed beer more than a decade ago, and has kept them coming ever since, mostly appearing on tap within two or three hours of his adopted hometown. Having prioritised family over the intervening period, it’s only right that the brewpub, which celebrates the best of the local region through its decor, has been opened by him and his family without taking on huge debts or investors. It’s a delightfully slow-paced approach to take.

The Class of 2023 join a brewing scene that had already started to swell, with the likes of Shout, Method, Rogue Scholar, Good Folk and Modus already brewing in Newcastle and requiring our updated Newy Crafty Crawl to come in not one part but two. There's even a local yeast outfit operating out of the university that aims to tame wild yeast so brewers can make full use of it. 

Jeez, I’m overdue another visit… JS


Standout Beers

One Drop Liquid Motueka

 

In a world where there’s literally thousands of new IPAs released every year, finding one that brings something different and wonderful is a special thing. 

Motueka is a hop that’s beloved by brewers but doesn’t command the same attention / worship from consumers as some of the big US varieties. For Liquid Motueka, One Drop utilised a couple of brand new hop products to fully highlight one of Aoteroa’s finest in a gorgeously-crafted DIPA that ranks as arguably the best bit of haze you’d have had the pleasure of encountering this year. JO


Wildflower x Mountain Culture Village 2022

 

Strangely enough, not only could both collaborators here rightly command their own top five list, this isn’t even their only 2023 collaboration worthy of plaudits. 

Village 2022 is the second release of a complex and remarkable beer that’s a blend of two- and one-year-old wild ale. As good as the last two releases of Village have been, in 2024 we’ll likely see a Village blend composed of three beers of different vintages made in the tradition of Belgian lambics. Mon dieu/mijn God!

If we were minded to include a second barrel-aged and blended beer in this list, any number from The Barrel Shepherd would have been up for consideration. The tiny Bellambi-based operation is producing beers as beautiful as the ethos that drives them and the labels that adorn them. 

Check out their pomace blends if you’re already a traveller along this path. Or, if you’re a newcomer to funkier realms – or want to welcome a friend inside – then grab Otto, their barrel-aged kolsch; if there’s a better, gentler introduction to this world being produced in Australia, please send a case to Crafty Towers post-haste. JO


Slow Lane Like A Chimney

 

Lichtenhainers may not have been a popular style for well over a century, but that didn’t stop Slow Lane from throwing down a pitch perfect modern recreation of this Frankenstein’s Monster of a beer. 

This triumvirate of wheat, smoke and lactic acid was a cocktail of lemon and elderflower cordial flavours with a woodsmoke aroma that was surprisingly refreshing and made Like A Chimney just all-round good fun.

As a side note, multiple entreaties were made by the wider team for Slow Lane's collab with One Drop to appear in this article, but that would just be greedy. JO


White Bay Every Shade Of Green NZ Pilsner

 

White Bay have been at the forefront of the lager renaissance ever since they launched on the Balmain Peninsula in 2020, and scored an appearance in the equivalent article last year for their impeccable Gantry Crane Czech pilsner. They've continued to explore many facets of the world of lager since, with their stop in New Zealand one that caught the attention of the Crafty team in the first half of the year.

Every Shade Of Green is something of a curio these days too. It was hopped with NZH-103, one of the varieties being trialled in NZ Hops' Bract Brewing Programme (which we touched upon in The Year In Beer). And, while NZH-102 has gone on to become Superdelic, this one was dropped; according to this article in The Pursuit Of Hoppiness, brewers didn't think it offered anything they couldn't get from existing varieties.

I guess that just means the existing NZ varieties got the goods, as here The Lost Hop contributed copiously to Every Shade Of Green, serving up sweet mango, juicy mandarin and rip honeydew melon with crystalline clarity within a beer with a head as fluffy as a long white cloud and a finish that was clean more than bitter. JS


Dangerous Ales Fightin' With Lightnin'

 

Why have one hazy IPA loaded with thiols in an end of year feature when you can have two? 

As a relatively new arrival on the scene, you might expect brewers to take a while to work out how to bed them into their recipes. Indeed, I found myself wondering whether thiols might be a "just because you can doesn't mean you should" situation. Then I tried Fightin' With Lightnin' Thiolized Hazy IPA (to give it its full name). After that, there was no question, only an answer: Yes. Yes we should.

As a beer taster in an era when hazy IPAs seem to have passed the point of ubiquity, I was beginning to approach the next one (and the next) with a tad of indifference. But three sips in, I knew this was my beer of the year. The intense bittersweet, tropical and citrus flavours blend seamlessly in this rich, full-bodied beer that somehow manages to be refreshing at the same time. It doesn't walk the line between intensely-hopped and tongue-tinglingly sweet so much as gallop along it, stopping only to shoot a few empty cans off a fence.

The beer saw Dangerous Ales claim their first trophy in a year littered with gold medals. Fightin' came out on top in the hotly-contested Champion Juicy-Hazy India Pale Ale category at the 2023 Indies, suggesting brewery founder Damo Martin's career as a chef (the brewery's home in Milton has a Chef's Hat) comes in handy when working with new flavours and textures on the brew deck.

A note on the photo above: Damo isn't in it. He wasn't in the room when this beer was announced as the trophy-winner, leaving his father-in-law and their mates to collect it for him. Presenting the award was US Brewers Association CEO Bob Pease, one of the most respected figures in the American beer scene, who was promptly hoisted into the air – undoubtedly a first in his many decades in the industry. BKC 


Breakthrough Brewery: Reckless


In 2022, Bathurst was in dire need of a brewery and Reckless Brewing needed a home. Fortunately, the regional city and brewery didn’t just solve each other’s problems: they made life better for craft beer drinkers too. 

Launching in Sydney in 2019, Reckless' first few years were spent making beer across Sydney, but when they discovered Bathurst's old flour mill was looking for a tenant, Grace Fowler, Jarrod Moore and Alice Wilson leapt at the chance to secure the heritage-listed Cargo Flour Mill. Better yet, having previously housed Two Heads Brewing, the space was ready for a brewery. Thus, after fitting it out as they wanted it, they opened to the public in September last year and found locals who couldn't have been more willing to support their beers and hospitality. 

To top it off, since securing their own stainless, Reckless beers have quickly made a mark at the nation's top beer awards. In May, their XPA was named Best Australian-Style Pale Ale at the Australian International Beer Awards; in August, they won Champion Porter/Stout trophy at The Indies for their Stout. Doubling up with different beers in the same year is no means feat and shows their approach to making beer is anything but Reckless. 

In an industry in which new releases appear constantly, it can be difficult to find any one constant between the sheer number of styles any one brewery makes. But with Reckless, their beers always walk a finely-balanced line between being packed with flavour and incredibly drinkable. Well, maybe some found a bit less of the latter in the case of Bogan Fuel, but they certainly nailed the rum and coke brief. WZ


How Was 2023 For You?
Vince Soyres Of Frenchies

 

Frenchies launched in 2017 and have long been one of the country's most idiosyncratic breweries, founded by brewer Vince Soyres and chef Thomas Cauquil, both French expats.

Vince's approach to beer is as varied as they come thanks to a desire to move between traditional Euro styles, the many faces of lager, barrel-aged beers and more heavily-hopped, modern craft beers. Meanwhile, their home sits inside a modern shopping mall and combines elements of German beer hall with feel of a French bistro. 

It's been a big year for the brewery too. In October, they completed work on a significant expansion which saw them fire up a new production facility and double their capacity. They also made changes to the food offering, shifting away from the French-inspired cuisine of their early years towards more traditional brewpub fare.

On top of that, their calendar of events is always one to watch, including the popular Brewer's Got Talent, which has helped homebrewers turn pro, the ever-growing Oktoberfeast, and a celebration of all things fresh hops in the shape of the Fresh Harvest Beer Festival.

As they prepare to celebrate the end of a notable 2023, we asked Vince (pictured below): "How was it for you?"


How was 2023 for you and Frenchies?

This year has been a big one for us to say the least – and another rollercoaster for me! Coordinating the launch of our second brewery, and doubling our capacity while the market is slowing down and breweries are tanking, was mind-bending.

Once you are set on a project like this, you can hardly pull the plug and back off. So we had to really throw ourselves into this project 100 percent, making sure production stayed on track while we put a lot of our brewers’ time into sourcing, installing and setting up the new space.

On the other hand, we had to fill up the sales pipeline and pace it so that we used our new brewery close to its maximum capacity within a month of having it commissioned: we literally doubled our output in that period. August to December is always our busiest time of the year, but we have never experienced such a high. 

Our five new 6,000 litre tanks, as well as existing ones in the bistro, have been full up ever since – with our own beers and seltzers, as well as contract drinks, which range from beers and seltzers, to RTDs and non-alcs, such as mineral waters and energy drinks.

Even though sales have exceeded our predictions, we now realise this was needed as interest rates have gone up so much in the last 18 months, since we got the COVID relief loan. Staying afloat in this situation means that we need to stay busy year-round and find strategies to achieve that, which I think we’ve done a pretty good job of so far.

 

 

On the production side, we are now working out where our bottlenecks are and are continuously adding on new features to streamline our operations. 

We also added some new brewing legends to the team just as we were gearing up with the new brewery. These include head brewer, Sam "Macca" McDonough, who has taken over my role in production in record time and is developing new brews to the highest standard, especially under our The Cool Kids collab series with Hopsters.

Garth Jones has joined as a brewer too and, while it felt a little chaotic at the time, with so much happening at once, we couldn't be happier with the beers coming out of the new system and the new team.

The events we’ve been hosting, from our homebrew beer comp, Brewer’s Got Talent (which is coming back with a bang in February 2024), and the Fresh Harvest Beer Festival, which featured our local South Sydney brewery mates, to Oktoberfeast, have been our biggest yet, too. 

So overall, for Frenchies Brewery and I, it has been a stressful but exciting year that is ending on a real positive note!


Which beers from NSW have you enjoyed most in 2023?

There is an East Coast IPA from Bracket that was probably the beer of the year for me. I don’t recall the name but I had it at our Fresh Harvest Beer Festival in May. I’ll have to ask Mike what he was pouring that day!

There’s also a Double IPA from One Drop that I had at GABS, but again I can't tell you the name. It's always a little bit foggy after GABS.

 

A bigger brewery and a change of direction in the kitchen were among the moves at Frenchies in 2023.

What can people expect from you and Frenchies in 2024? 

We’re ramping up The Cool Kids series and will be releasing a brand new IPA every month. Sam is taking total creative control of these beers, and adding his special touch to them, where they’ll all continue to showcase the newest and coolest hops going around, as well as the latest brewing techniques. We’re also working with a talented new designer, who is bringing a fresh new feel to the series. 

We have a lot of collabs in the works as well, where we’ll focus on bière de garde and French styles and are looking at bringing a Margarita seltzer to market. We are using real lime juice and spices to keep the same complexity and depth as our Aperitivo Seltzer, and the focus here is on bridging the gap between seltzers and cocktails.


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

Lagers have made a strong comeback over the last two years, and we hope to see more diversity among lagers, and also in all those beer styles that have slowly faded away since the haze craze. 

While collaborations are becoming more and more popular when it comes to special releases, we hope to see some exciting new beers coming out. 

But our biggest wish is that beer lovers’ curiosity continues to develop and lead them to the bière de garde!


The above roundup was written by James Smith, Judd Owen, Benedict Kennedy-Cox and Will Ziebell, as indicated. You'll find all articles in the series here.

https://craftypint.s3.amazonaws.com/crafty/learn/Insight-icon-230620-122146-230706-154349.png

Discover more Insight & Analysis articles

If you enjoy The Crafty Pint, you can become a supporter of our independent journalism.

You can make a donation or sign up for our beer club, The Crafty Cabal, and gain access to exclusive events, giveaways and special deals.

Canberra Fest 2024 B
Frigid Cloud 2 B
Lallemand 1
Bintani- Updated Behind The Brew- E