Marking Ten Years Of The Best Beer Media

March 6, 2024, by Mick Wust

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Marking Ten Years Of The Best Beer Media

Entries for the 2024 Australian International Beer Awards close on Friday (March 8). Alongside the brewery and beer trophies, this year will see the Best Media trophy awarded for a tenth time.

Anyone covering beer in any form of media – online, in print, radio, TV, blogging, podcasting, on YouTube or other social platforms – is invited to enter here.

Here, current trophy-holder Mick Wüst looks back at the first decade of the Best Media award in the company of the past winners: their favourite stories, reflections on the beer world, and the stories they'd love to read.


Beer media is a funny thing when you think about it. It’s not making beer, packaging beer, or selling beer. At a glance, people in beer media can seem like weird hangers-on to the beer industry: like oxpeckers, those little African birds that perch on oxen and rhinos, or remoras, those sucker fish that attach to sharks and get protection and a free ride.

But beer media in all its forms – whether that’s news websites, magazines, blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels or any other way that people talk about beer with the world – serve the beer industry in all kinds of ways.

If you talk about a beer release, you stir up passion and help punters to find new beers to try.

If you talk about beer people, you show that the industry isn’t a faceless machine, but a collection of humans.

If you talk about beer businesses, you show how these people work hard to not only create good beer, but to do a million other things to get it into drinkers’ hands.

If you talk about beer trends, you help to place certain beers in their context, answering questions like why do they exist, how did they come about, and how are they changing.

If you talk about beer culture, you zoom out to see the bigger picture so people can see what they’re a part of – the good and the bad.

If you talk about the economics of beer, you reveal the lifeblood that keeps the beer industry alive, and the things that may threaten its existence.

If you talk about the problems in the industry, you give a voice to those who need it, you call to account anyone who might be harming people or the industry as a whole, and you shed light on all of this for those who weren’t even aware of the issues.

Ultimately, by telling stories – in any form – you're creating a live history of a moment in time which, given what's been going on in the Aussie beer world over the past couple of decades, feels like a worthy pursuit in itself.

 

Where once it was books and print media, now beer is discussed and dissected in all forms of media.

 

And all of this isn’t just useful for punters. Most people who work in the industry are run off their feet; talk to any brewer and they’ll tell you they’re so busy they rarely get to go out and see what everyone else is doing. Beer media keeps them informed and engaged with what’s going on outside of their four walls, and people are better off for it.

Maybe I don’t need to convince you that beer media is valuable; after all, you’re reading a beer website right now. But it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate how a strong and varied beer media benefits the industry. If you look into those oxpecker birds and remora fish, you’ll find that they keep the larger animals clean, comfortable and healthy; it’s a two-way relationship.

And those hangers-on to the beer industry who publish and broadcast and post about beer and everything to do with it? Well, they make the beer industry stronger and more creative than it could ever be without them. Brewers make better beer. More people buy beer. And when we see each other’s humanity, I like to think we all treat each other a little better as a result, too.

Why did I just spend 500 words being preachy? So you’ll see why the Best Media trophy at the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBAs) is a fantastic thing.

In 2013 (and earlier), this award didn’t exist. Prior to the 2014 awards, The Crafty Pint's founder James Smith got together with the people running the AIBAs to create and sponsor this new category. It was done partly to recognise and celebrate where beer coverage in Australia was at, partly to encourage those involved to keep doing a better and better job of it, and partly to encourage more to get involved. [It also meant I would never be eligible to enter, hence would never have to face losing! – Editor]

In case you’re wondering how the judging works, rest assured there’s no conflict of interest – while The Crafty Pint sponsors the award, the winners are chosen by an independent panel of writers and other media-related people (not all from the beer world). They look for passion, knowledge, originality and quality, and award the trophy to the person whose entries shone the brightest that year.

Among the winners from the past ten years, there’s a healthy mix of people: a few who wrote for Brews News, a few who write for The Crafty Pint, and a few who write blogs and make podcasts. (We haven’t had a winner with video content yet. Come on, YouTubers – throw your hat in the ring!)

And even in this list of just eight people, not everyone has the same approach to writing/podcasting about beer. I think that’s beautiful. It means every angle is covered, the various beer media complement each other well, and there’s something for everyone. It makes for an interesting ecosystem; it’d be boring if everyone was the same.

Without further ado, I present to you the winners of the Best Media trophy from its first ten years, with their reflections on the industry they've observed and helped shape.


2014 – Matt Kirkegaard

Parallel to his role as beer journalist, Matt enjoyed introducing people to the breadth and depth of beer with his side business BeerMatt.
Parallel to his role as beer journalist, Matt has enjoyed introducing people to the breadth and depth of beer via side business BeerMatt.

 

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the Aussie beer industry who doesn’t know who Matt Kirkegaard is: he spent the last 20 years writing about beer in Australia.

While he’s contributed his insights and opinions on the state of beer in Australia to many news publications, the real feather in his cap is Australian Brews News. Alongside its accompanying podcasts, this long-running online magazine covered brewing industry news on both the craft and the macro sides of things. Matt’s always prided himself on his willingness to dig into the good, the bad and the ugly in Australian beer.

As you can imagine, doing that for two long decades – not to mention running a small business in a constantly evolving industry – is a hard slog. In February, Matt closed up shop at Brews News and hung up his hat on writing about beer; he’s overdue for a well-deserved break.

Many in the industry will feel the absence of Matt’s voice. But the impact he’s had on the beer scene will still be here.

Matt won the inaugural AIBA Beer Media trophy in 2014, and a decade later shares these parting words:

"I was thrilled to win the Beer Media award and I am grateful for the initiative by The Crafty Pint to create an award that celebrates beer writing and sustain it over such a long time.

"It's an important award within the AIBA program because the vibrant and healthy brewing industry that the awards celebrate can only flourish if it also has a media that can educate and enthuse consumers about good beer in all its forms, while also being willing to challenge the industry by asking hard questions and being willing to hold it to account when its actions don't match its words."


2015 - Luke Robertson

Luke Robertson in his current guise: brewery owner at Shortjaw in New Zealand.

 

Luke Robertson is a good beer citizen.

From starting beer blog Ale Of A Time as a university assignment in 2010, which eventually grew and included a podcast – and won him Best Media award – to writing for a number of illustrious beer publications including Brews News, Beer & Brewer, Good Beer Hunting, and yes, The Crafty Pint; from writing a book about Australian beer to working as a content producer for the Independent Brewers Association (IBA) and Good Beer Week. And, woven in amid all that, being a good beer educator and advocate wherever humanly possible.

Oh, and that was just while he was on Australian shores. At the end of 2021, Luke moved back to his hometown of Westport on New Zealand’s South Island to run Shortjaw Brewing, where he’s using all NZ ingredients and connecting with people in ways the local brewery has never done in that community. And they love him for it.


My favourite story I worked on is...

I always loved writing the "GABS comments" blog posts making fun of people's awful comments about the Hottest 100.

In terms of actual stories, one of the last stories I worked on for Good Beer Hunting. It was soon after the 2019/2020 bushfires, exploring the personal and financial impacts of the fires. It was just before COVID, so a pretty intense time in history… To even get that one finished was rewarding. It also won an international reporting award at the North American Beer Writers Guild awards.


To me, the biggest surprise about how the industry has developed is...

When I won the award in 2015, the concept of a hazy IPA was alien and to the best of my knowledge no one in Australia was doing one (as we know them now). That's not even a decade ago. Now, the thought of the beer world without "hazy" in it is pretty unfathomable. I don't think anyone could anticipate what was to grow out of those first few New England IPAs.

I also think the sense of irreverence that modern beer has bought to drinking has had a knock-on effect to other drinks. The industry spent years trying to put itself on a pedestal next to wine, but if you look at the big trends in wine in the last five years – brighter labels while celebrating drinkability and fun, for example, I believe wine took cues from our playbook.

 

All hail the haze!

A big difference between reporting on beer and just drinking beer is...

There's a lot more work in reporting on it. It probably takes the fun out of the beer itself, but I've always been someone that likes to know everything about the things I like (or dislike)…

Funnily enough, leaving my corporate job to write about beer full-time definitely ended up costing a lot more money over the years than just drinking it.


I'd like to see more people talking about...

Beer in general. I'd love to see a blog renaissance. It felt like there was more useful discussion happening around amateur blogging than we have now. There was more room for personality, opinions, and general chaos…

It’s great we have established media outlets like this one, but I miss the amateur [nature] and naivety of the blogs of that era.


A story I'd love to see is...

One thing I don't think we celebrate as an industry enough is the creation of a new drinking space with brewery taprooms. If you look around the customers at most taprooms on a busy weekend, you'll see an eclectic mix of people in an environment that's not a pub, nor a cellar door. It's not all hyper-geeks and hipsters, but rather families, couples and pets. Anyone that runs a taproom will tell you that most people aren't there for the beer, but rather the environment.

Like hazy beer, this space didn't exist until very recently… I think we can easily lose sight of what we have now, that barely existed before 2010.


2016 – Glen Humphries

 

Between his job as a journalist and his books [15 and counting], Glen Humphries’ writing covers a number of topics. Music. Sports. History. Music history. Sports history.

And beer. And beer history.

While beer has been a topic of four of his books and a number of his pieces for Illawarra Mercury, it was the beer blog he kept for six years that won Glen the 2016 Best Media award. Beer Is Your Friend was a passion project that gave him the chance to poke his nose into all corners of the beer world – without the constraint of "being appropriate for the publication".

Glen drinks less alcohol nowadays following a heart attack in January – a lifestyle change that includes inserting more alcohol free days into his weeks, and bringing more non-alc beers into the rotation.

But, for any aspiring beer writers out there, Glen – with his 30 years’ journalism experience – offered these wise words in a previous Crafty Pint article: “Quit pissfarting around and just start writing.”


My favourite story I worked on is...

I did a piece about Use By dates, and how US beers tended to have theirs magically extended when they hit our shores.

This story stuck in my mind because it created a few small waves in the local beer scene and even got picked up by a US beer website, who quizzed the American brewers.


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To me, the biggest surprise about how the industry has developed is…

Good beer is everywhere these days. Everywhere! The kids don’t know how lucky they are, etc etc.

I live in Wollongong and back when I was writing Beer Is Your Friend, there were only a few bottleshops that stocked interesting stuff. There was no point in going into the bottleshops owned by the supermarket chains, because there would be nothing there. But now I can go into those supermarket chain stores and find some cool stuff.


A big difference between reporting on beer and just drinking beer is…

That’s an easy one. The latter is way more fun than the former. The latter doesn’t involve any taking of notes, analysing things and then having to sit in front of a computer and try to write something someone else might want to read. Reporting means going to a brewery and having to sit down and ask a lot of questions – when you probably just want to relax with a beer.


I'd like to see more people talking about…

Dodgy beer lists at so many restaurants. Even those who claim to have "craft beer" on the menu… they have pages of wine offerings but just five beers: usually Coopers, Young Henrys Newtowner, Stone and Wood Pacific Ale, Asahi and Peroni.

Their logic is they don’t sell much beer so there’s no point in widening the selection. I’d suggest they don’t sell much beer because they haven’t widened the selection.


A story I'd love to see is…

If I had to offer a story idea, it would be about snob-free drinking. Not sure if beer snobs are still a thing these days, but it really shit me to see people who felt their choice of beer somehow made them a better person.

What other people are drinking doesn’t affect you at all. So just quit freaking out about it.


2017 & 2021 – James Atkinson

 

Clearly no one told James Atkinson it’s rude to double dip. He’s the only person to win this trophy twice, and he’s managed to do it with two quite different kinds of beer media.

In 2017, James was the editor of Brews News, and his writing there was recognised as being top shelf. There’s his first Best Media award.

Fast forward to 2021, when James was releasing the second season of his podcast, Drinks Adventures, where he tells stories from across the world of good booze from across the globe. And it’s at this time that James pulled the trophy a second time, largely because of his impressive documentary-style episode about the pioneering Stone & Wood.

In his years as a journo and 17 seasons(!) of Drinks Adventures, James has shared a myriad of stories of beer in different publications and formats. I’m expecting him to start working in another unexpected media soon – perhaps graphic novels showcasing the evolution of brewing, or beer reviews done entirely in the form of tattoos.


My favourite story I worked on is...

The beer docos I have produced for the Drinks Adventures podcast, on the rise of Stone & Wood (2019) and Chuck Hahn's 50 years of brewing (2021). I wish I had more time to devote to creative projects of this magnitude!


To me, the biggest surprise about how the industry has developed is…

The carnage of the last 12 months. We all knew that the boom in brewery openings over the last decade was unsustainable, but no one could have foreseen the combined impacts of COVID, rising cost of goods, and a retail environment that is extremely challenging due to factors including cost of living pressures.


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A big difference between reporting on beer and just drinking beer is…

One of them is definitely work! 


I'd like to see more people talking about...

The importance of freshness in beer. With a lot of consumers having cut spending on beer, I am seeing a lot of old stock on shelves. 

I'd like to see craft beer retailers tighten up their ranges, focus more keenly on stock rotation, and make a virtue out of what is fresh in store. I'm sick of spending so much time trying to read barely legible date codes that may or may not tell me when the product was brewed!


A story I'd love to see is...

That the federal government has announced plans for genuine, visionary reform of beer and spirits excise. This should start with a temporary freeze at the current rate to take the pressure off industry while more meaningful reforms can be considered.


2018 - Will Ziebell

 

I work with Will. He’s kind of fun. And he’s kind of a nerd. I like both those things about him.

He started submitting articles for The Crafty Pint in 2016, bringing his history degree to bear with an article on the early days of hop growing in Tasmania’s Derwent Valley.

After a while, Will went full-time with Crafty, and has broadened his focus beyond history. Now you’ll also find him deep diving into trending beer styles, covering health issues in the beer industry, and trying to understand Tik Tok. (Before you ask, yes, technically Will’s on Tik Tok, but please don’t encourage him.)

But Will still likes to throw a little bit of history into many of his articles: for his readers, and also for himself. If you’ve got a spare hour, hit him up about the history of pilsner and watch him light up as he waxes lyrical about Austro-Hungarian train lines and the democratisation of drinking from glass.


My favourite story I worked on is...

Easily the story about managing a chronic health condition while working in craft beer. It's not often that I write in first person or with a particularly personal angle, but it was an idea I'd had floating around for a little while that became a reality when Bakes and I were chatting over a Negroni at BrewCon.

It received a lot of really lovely responses with a number of people reaching out about their conditions, including several type one diabetics from overseas. 


To me, the biggest surprise about how the industry has developed is...

The "draught-style" beers from indie breweries that are made to sell alongside beers like Carlton Draught. It works for some breweries but you have to wonder if trying to beat the two biggest breweries in the country at their own game is really a pathway to sustainable growth when you don't have those efficiencies.



A big difference between reporting on beer and just drinking beer is...

Drinking beer is fun! Writing is hard. 

For me, writing about beer takes place in front of a laptop and involves a lot of phone calls and meetings. So basically it looks like most jobs out there and isn't nearly as sociable or as lovely as enjoying beer with friends.


I'd like to see more people talking about...

How difficult rapid brewery expansion is for employees and how, when breweries sell, those staff don't get a giant pay cheque for their sweat.


A story I'd love to see is...

I'd love to spend 4,000 words exploring what happened to hoppy brown and amber ales in Australia and what's wrong with everyone for not drinking them.


2019 – MC Jarratt

When she was given the chance to explore the CUB Heritage Room, MC found a beer ad made just for her.
When given the chance to explore the CUB Heritage Room, MC found a beer ad made just for her.

 

When Marie Claire Jarratt began her science degree in 2010, she couldn’t predict she’d go on to complete a PhD in experimental quantum physics.

When she started her PhD in 2014, she didn’t know her move to Sydney’s Inner West would prompt her to start a beer blog called New South Ales.

When she started her blog, she didn’t know it would lead to her writing for The Crafty Pint and receiving the 2019 AIBA Best Media trophy* for her balanced and hard-hitting piece on sexism in Australian craft beer.

When she won that award,** she couldn’t have guessed that in 2023 she’d be on a different stage accepting Champion Brewery trophies at the Indies as part of the brew team at Brick Lane. (This is after having done stints with Batch Brewing, Asahi, and Two Birds.)

MC is also a Certified Cicerone, a beer judge, and at time of writing has just started in a role as Technical Brewer at Lion's XXXX Brewery.

“I’ll be working on maintaining, developing and continuously improving our brewing systems and processes – perfect for a science nerd like me!” she says.

A previous Crafty Pint article profiling MC referred to her as a polymath. I prefer to call her a friggin’ powerhouse.

Check back in with her in a few years. She’ll probably have invented faster-than-light lager.


My favourite story I worked on is…

The Collaborators series on Voyager Craft Malt. As a Sydney native, it was quite close to my heart to write a story on a local producer in regional NSW…

[Stu Whytcross and I] discussed everything from mental health in regional communities to the nitty gritty of malting, the latter of which laid the foundation of knowledge for my future brewing career. I got to brew with Voyager Malt at my most recent role at Brick Lane, so it's nice to have that come full circle.


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To me, the biggest surprise about how the industry has developed is...

The rise of seltzer, low carb and low alcohol beers. We all thought it was a fad, but they're here to stay. I'm interested to see how it develops over the next few years as consumers look to more health conscious options.


A big difference between reporting on beer and just drinking beer is...

The backstory. I got into journalism because I wanted to learn more than what I could just see at a brewery taproom. There are so many interesting stories behind beers, breweries, and people, just waiting to be found out.


I'd like to see more people talking about…

Diversity in the brewing industry. The stereotype of bearded craft beer lover is so old hat. I've had the opportunity to work in organisations with such a diverse range of people, who aren't really ever portrayed on social media or in articles. 

I want to see more variety in the people on my Instagram feed!


A story I'd love to see is…

There was an article I never got around to writing about terroir. Along with Voyager, there are also other local maltsters, hop growers, and breweries foraging for wild yeast from Australian plants, to make what could be a uniquely Australian beer. 

The USA has their West and East Coast IPAs, Belgium's got the Trappist beers, and Germany's basically invented a style per major city… I want to see and read about what else our country's talented brewers can make from our unique environment and native flora.


2022 – Clare Burnett

 

When you hear a beer news podcast and the host has a cheery personality, a Yorkshire accent, and a wide-reaching knowledge of the Australian beer industry, you might not immediately assume that person is also working on a PhD in literary studies and transcontinental history. But that’s Clare Burnett for you.

At the end of 2018, Clare left the UK and her job as a business journalist and moved to Australia. When it was time to settle down and get a job, she didn’t waste any time – within a few days of landing back in Brisbane (after six months of travelling), she sat down with Matt Kirkegaard to interview for the role of senior journalist at Brews News.

Clare found her feet in the beer industry quickly, aided by her previous experience in business journalism and the way brewery owners were willing to share the challenges and issues they faced – a transparency she found refreshing.

Between writing articles and co-hosting two podcasts, Clare’s work with Brews News spanned from in-depth state-by-state analysis of how brewing industry is going to chatting on the podcasts with brewers and other industry personalities about what the beer world looks like from their unique angle.

All of this led to Clare taking out the Best Media award in 2022 for her work at Brews News – while she was doing her PhD on the side. What a machine.


My favourite story I worked on is...

If I could be cheeky and spread the net wide, I would say anything I worked on relating to sustainability, whether it was packaging or CO2 recovery… [it’s a] testament to the heart of the industry to be running on tight margins and still care about the environment and their impact on the planet.

Oh, and holding the big brewers' feet to the fire on the regular was pretty fun too!


To me, the biggest surprise about how the industry has developed is...

Its ongoing resilience. In other industries, for instance, administrations are a death knell, but that's not the case in beer, even if it is painful. People in the business of beer seem, and have always seemed, willing to evolve and change.

There have also been huge moves in the industry to be a bit more cognisant of audiences outside the perceived standard beer drinker – Australian beer has worked hard and successfully to shake off its 80s beer advert roots, that's for sure.


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A big difference between reporting on beer and just drinking beer is...

You have to put all your prejudices away, or as much as you can, when you write about beer. 

When you're drinking it, that's personal and it's up to you what you like. When you write about beer, you have to keep one eye on what might be beneficial for the industry and what will help it grow, even if it's tough to talk about.


I'd like to see more people talking about...

What the future of beer in Australia is, given that Gen Z seem to not be major drinkers. How are we going to adapt and change for a new audience who might still like beer, but not in the quantities we used to drink?


A story I'd love to see is…

Probably anything on advertising in beer and alcohol generally. I always found that fascinating, and then the Hard Solo – sorry, "Hard Rated" – stuff popped up at the end of last year. This isn't the last we'll be seeing of this issue.


2023 - Mick Wüst

 

Then there’s this handsome fellow. You’ve already read his story recently.

I don’t have a PhD, or a podcast, or chase down incisive exposé type journalism. I went from writing a silly blog to writing for The Crafty Pint, where I continue to be silly wherever I can squeeze it in. I also write more serious stuff, but for the most part, I think people engage better with what they’re reading when they’re having fun.

To my delight, I won the award in 2023 by saying: “How cool is this brewer who sees different colours when he drinks beer!” and “Can I interest you in a nine stanza beer write-up inspired by Greek epic poetry?

I also wrote a book to help people learn about beer and laugh at the same time, rather than get bored or bogged down with jargon. My mum thinks it’s good.


My favourite story I worked on is...

I’m going to cheat and share two, and you can’t stop me.

My two-parter on kveik. When I first heard about this Norwegian super yeast that broke all the rules, I looked for an article that explained what’s so amazing about it, what it can do, where it came from, etc in a way a non-brewer like me could understand. I couldn’t find an article like that, so I wrote one.

My two-parter on pastry beers. When a friend wanted to find out more about pastry beers, I couldn’t find a clear and helpful resource I could point them towards, so I created one. I was already familiar with pastry beers, but hadn’t truly grasp how they turned the rules upside-down for brewers and changed the game for bartenders.

 


To me, the biggest surprise about how the industry has developed is...

How beer is evolving in such different directions, and brewers are going to great lengths to make incredible beers on totally different parts of the beer spectrum.

The intense geeking-out and resource-heavy approach to creating flawless lagers. The extreme creativity and ridiculousness that go into pastry beers. The single-mindedness of a brewery focused on traditional European styles. The mad-scientist-level obsession that goes into wild beers and barrel programs.


A big difference between reporting on beer and just drinking beer is...

When you’re reporting on beer, you drink what you have to drink when you have to drink it (even if you don’t feel like it).

When you’re just drinking beer, you drink what you want, when you want, how you want. Which is way more fun!


I'd like to see more people talking about...

…what we can do differently as individuals to address the problems in beer, rather than just passing the responsibility to "The Industry". Every one of us needs to step up, even if that means we don’t get to make the naughty jokes we want, or have to pay a bit more for our beer (without complaining).


A story I'd love to see is...

One that peeks into the brain of a brewer who’s come from a totally unrelated field, and brings a different approach to making beer. How does a distiller approach making beer differently to other brewers? Or how does a chef go about it? Or a chocolatier?

Maybe it could be a whole series. Maybe I’ll write it.


*Technically, Crafty's founder collected the trophy on MC’s behalf while she was overseas, holding a photo of her to make it clear he was only a proxy.

**MC even got to hang on to the trophy for two years, since the full 2020 AIBAs were cancelled due to COVID and replaced by a mini online version.


There's still time to enter the Beer Media category at the 2024 AIBAs (provided you're reading this no later than March 8. They've even waived the entry fee after some gremlins in the submission process in 2023, and would love to see entries from outside the traditional beer media platforms.

ENTER HERE

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