GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers of 2023: Analysis

January 27, 2024, by Crafty Pint

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GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers of 2023: Analysis

The nation's beer lovers have spoken and Mountain Culture Status Quo sits atop the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers of 2023, with Balter XPA and BentSpoke Crankshaft completing the podium. A total of 1,877 beers from 436 brewing companies were entered into the poll, with 63 of them featuring in the H100 around 60,000 people registering to vote.

You can find the full top 100 here or on the GABS website, but if you're keen to delve a little deeper, read on for The Crafty Pint's analysis of this year's results.


Get Out The Vote

 

To quote one of this year’s returning high-flyers, GABS campaign season is the time of year when your favourite breweries become the most annoying breweries. Balter’s GABS video cheekily spoke to the reality, that when the year comes to an end, you can expect to be bombarded by messages from breweries encouraging you to vote for their beer. 

There has been commentary for years about how the poll is "just a popularity contest", or how it's skewed in favour of breweries with the biggest reach, yet still it feels like such campaigns are beginning to rival America’s thirst for loud and lengthy elections. 

QR codes have moved from outer packaging and onto cans (which is now far easier thanks to GABS sponsor East Coast Canning’s printing tech), while Brick Lane’s voting booth inside their new venue was a novel way to encourage people to vote but, more widely, in the lead-up to countdown day taprooms are typically filled with coasters, posters and other reminders on how to vote. 

As soon as voting starts, you'll find brewery websites making it harder to let you buy beer, instead suggesting you vote first, while this year Stomping Ground even offered to vote on behalf of website visitors if they entered their email. 

For both GABS and the wider world of marketing, video matters more and more, with TikTok pushing Instagram. Balter’s fun skewering of voting was joined by Modus’s Cerveza Chronicles (which saw that beer place in 67th), Wolf of the Willows’ series of pup videos for their Wolf PUP Hazy Pale Ale, which landed at 98, and Moffat Beach's founder and head brewer Matt Wilson will be delighted theirs saw the Sunshine Coast finally add a Hottest 100 appearance (two in fact, with Passenger Pale at 25 and Moff's Summer Ale at 95) to their lengthy list of bling. And, of course, following the debut triumph last year, Mountain Culture continue to produce some of craft beer’s finest content; their 2023 campaign featured a series of videos about sequels that are better than the original.

As ever, debates will rage online about whether or not it’s too much, or if the marketing is worth it, but it feels like GABS is a microcosm of craft beer that’s dialled up to its most intense. And, given the current challenging marketing conditions, expect to see more videos, more limited-print cans, and more of your favourite breweries pestering you in the months to come. Will Ziebell


It Doesn't Hurt To Ask

 

As the above entry makes very clear, the lengths and expense many breweries go to in order to land as high in the poll as possible only grows with every passing year. And, while you don’t have to keep too close an eye online to know the asking / begging / persuading risks turning some drinkers off, you also don’t have to look too far to understand why breweries keep at it.

Just like last year, we looked at the breweries who landed a solitary beer in the Hottest 100 to see if that was the beer they promoted to fans. Of the 42 beers that fall into this category, we identified 27 instances where brewers asked fans to vote specifically for that beer; five more pushed that beer as one of a number from their range.

That leaves just two where the brewers were pushing a different beer, and eight where we can see no mention of the GABS poll at all. This doesn’t mean there was no promotion – they might have pushed for votes in-venue, for example.

Perhaps the strongest argument to be made in favour of taking this approach can be found in five of the newcomers to the Hottest 100 in 2023. Hiker and Helios from Brisbane, Seeker from Wollongong, Margaret River Beer Co from South West WA, and Shout from Newcastle – all of whom have loyal local support but limited wider reach (although Seeker do get around a fair bit) – debuted with the beer they asked their fans to make their number one. James Smith


A Mightier Shade Of Pale

 

Beers that are pale and hoppy in one shape or form have long made up the majority of beers in the Hottest 100, just as they have dominated sales within the wider craft beer category. And, as the poll has become more commercialised, and brewers have looked to maximise marketing potential by pushing the beer they want to be their highest-volume seller, it’s a situation that’s only become more acute.

We reckon you can include a H100-high 78 out of 100 in that broad category: pales, summer ales, Pacific ales, IPAs, hazies etc. We’ve included Blackman’s Juicy Banger here – it’s a lager but one hopped like an IPA – and you might argue 150 Lashes’ relationship with hops is rather fleeting, but either way that’s close to 80 percent of the highest-polling beers sharing common ground.

What's more, the entirety of the top 20 is made up of pale, hoppy ales of one form or another.

Speaking of lagers, their steady rehabilitation continues, with a rise of two to 14 in the top 100. JS


The Numbers Game

 

There are plenty of familiar faces among the breweries to hit the hundred on multiple occasions – something nobody has achieved more than five times this year, presumably in part down to the record number of brewery entries. And there are plenty of multinational-owned brands among that lineup too.

Five Beers: 

  • Balter (6 in 2022)
  • Coopers (5)

Four Beers:

  • Capital (4)
  • Mountain Culture (5)

Three Beers:

  • 4 Pines (3)
  • BentSpoke (3)
  • Little Creatures (3)
  • Range (2)
  • Stone & Wood (2)
  • Your Mates (3)

Speaking of familiarity, 73 beers in this year’s top 100 were there last year too; of the 28 that didn’t feature in 2022’s countdown, a handful have appeared in the past and are making a return.

When it comes to multinational-owned brands versus indies, things remain pretty much as they were: the 22 in the former column are split 11 CUB/Asahi (4 Pines, Balter, Green Beacon, Mountain Goat and Pirate Life), ten Lion/Kirin (Fixation, James Squire, Kosciuszko, Little Creatures, Stone & Wood and White Rabbit), and one for Coca-Cola Euro-Pacific Partners (Feral).

And things remain pretty consistent when it comes to the state-by-state-by-territory breakdown too, where both the NT and Tasmania haven't troubled the scorers:

  • NSW: 27 (27 in 2022)
  • QLD: 24 (26)
  • VIC: 21* (19)
  • WA*:  8 (8)
  • SA: 8 (8)
  • ACT: 7 (8)
  • WA / VIC*: 5 (4)
  • NT & TAS: 0 (0)

*As we have done in the past, we mark CBCo and Little Creatures as WA / VIC as both started out brewing in WA but now produce the majority of their beer in Victoria.


Points of Difference

 

While a comfortable majority of beers sit in the hop-forward and sessionable camp, there’s still more booze to be found. In total, 25 of the top 100 beers sit at or above 6.0 percent ABV, which is up from 21 in 2022 although down from a highpoint of 31 in 2020. The biggest of all was Range & Garage Project’s Lights & Music triple IPA (56) at 10 percent ABV (it was the strongest beer last year too), while equal second in the heavyweight stakes are 8 percenters, Banks Brewing's Cake Eater (86) and Helios Brewing's Dionysus (85).

Beyond size, there are also a few notable points of difference, with One Drop once again laying claim to the most unusual entry in the poll courtesy of their double-fruited sour We Jammin' (up 60 places to 40), featuring mango, guava, banana and Tahitian vanilla. Last year, that beer appeared in the H100 alongside their One Drop Double Vanilla Custard Pancake Imperial Nitro Thickshake IPA.

A special mention for Bad Shepherd, whose Peanut Butter Porter not only appears in the poll again, but has risen eight spots to number 91. It was, once again, one of very few entries you’d lump under the broad bracket of “dark”, and none of those made the top half. The other we counted are Heads of Noosa’s Black Japanese Lager (58), and three old-timers from bigger breweries: Little Creatures Rogers (77); White Rabbit Dark Ale (59); and Coopers Extra Stout (87).

That was still two more than anything tagged sour, with that trio made up of the aforementioned One Drop entry plus Rocky Ridge’s Rock Candy (79), and Brouhaha’s flagship Strawberry Rhubarb Sour (84). WZ & JS


Where Did All The Gingers Go?

 

The lead-in to this summer has seen an explosion of ginger beers from brewing companies big and small unlike anything we’ve witnessed in around a decade. And in the 2022 poll, alcoholic ginger beers hit an all-time H100 high of six, but they're absent from the 2023 countdown.

There's good reason, however: it's not a split in the ginger vote was split. The poll organisers decided only to include beers featuring beer's four core ingredients – water, malt, hops and yeast – so any beer that didn't meet those criteria were excluded.

GABS managing director joked that they'll have to start a Hottest 100 for ginger beers. JS


You can view the full results here.

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