The Year In Beer 2012: Victoria

December 17, 2012, by Crafty Pint
The Year In Beer 2012: Victoria

Where else to start our end of year round up for 2012 than in the place where The Crafty Pint started just over two years ago – not to mention the place that has taken the craft beer baton and run with it like no other. Victoria is home to more breweries and brewing companies than any other state while Melbourne’s pubs, bars and (increasingly) restaurants are craftier than any other city in Australia.

Where once the biannual Fed Square Victorian Microbreweries Showcase and the annual Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA) were the key events in the calendar, now beer lovers are spoilt for choice. The former continues to expand and sell out every time, while the latter marked 20 years this year with a collaborative brew between Feral and 2 Brothers. Joining them in the calendar this year were the likes of the Ballarat Beer Festival, whose success spawned Beers By The Bay and the forthcoming Great Australian Beer Festival in Geelong.

And then you’ve got the events that, alongside the AIBA Gala Dinner, have made May in Melbourne the biggest time for beer in Australia. There’s the Great Australasian Beer Spectapular – the event we tagged “the most crazily ambitious thing ever attempted in Aussie beer” – that brought more than 10,000 people to the Royal Exhibition Building to sample almost 60 brand new beers. And then there’s Good Beer Week. Given The Crafty Pint’s involvement in the latter, there’s little we can say about it, other than we’re still not quite sure how it happened but we’re glad it did and can’t wait to unleash what will be a truly epic third instalment upon the world in 2013.

Anyway, enough of our words, over to the people that matter: those that brew the beer and bring you the beer, as we ask four of Victoria’s crafty characters: “How was it for you?”

Ben Kraus, Bridge Road



So, 2012: how was it for you?
It has been a great but hectic year that saw us make a record number of beers, including a couple of Scando collabs, with another on a ship from Norway as I type. Bridge Road Brewers has continued its slow but endless expansion with a new 25hl brewhouse, expanded visitor area and new kegging equipment. Production has continued to grow and we never have enough space, but I hear there are worse problems to have…

Personally, my family has expanded with the addition of baby Maurice in April, although his sister is currently working on bringing the family size back to its previous format!

Any personal highlights, both in terms of beers and happenings?
Beer highlight is our latest collab with Nøgne Ø, which involves wine and whisky barrels, shipping containers, tie downs and explosions! [If you’re not aware of the background to this, Kjetil brewed with Ben during Good Beer Week – a strong Belgian ale. They decided that he would brew the same beer in Norway and that they’d both then put their beers into wood of their choice and send unrefrigerated to the other person’s brewery. Ben went with local wine barrels, Kjetil sourced some whisky barrels. The beers are currently traversing the globe – not without incident…]

The Norwegian part of the project is due to land on Boxing Day. A couple of wine barrels got excited about the trip to Norway and exploded…

How do you feel the Australian craft beer industry is travelling?
Needless to say the Australian craft brewing scene is kicking goals and should continue to do so till at least April ; ) [Erm, what’s happening then? – Crafty]. I believe we owe this to a big percentage of Australians who have an intelligent and curious approach to what they are consuming at all levels. But we shouldn’t forget the hardcore beer drinkers who have been drinking our beer almost before we have, so here’s cheers to the Beer Nerds!!!

What do you hope to see in 2013?
I hope 2013 will see the continual growth of the craft beer industry, with consumers continuing to increase their focus on what they are drinking, how it tastes, what’s in it, where it’s made and by whom it is brewed.

Chris Menichelli, owner of Slowbeer


So, 2012: how was it for you?
On the bench for the first part of the year as a result of the store relocation. Despite six months out of action, the revamped store has proven to be very worthwhile. We’ve found the on premise aspect of Slowbeer to be a perfect medium for people to experience the joys of craft beer. Our clientele has broadened significantly as a result, though perhaps this is a sign of the growing market for craft beer more broadly? We hope it’s both!

Any personal highlights, both in terms of beers and happenings?
GABS was an extremely audacious event, on a scale of which craft beer lovers had yet to really see locally. However, it’s what we’ve come to expect from The Taphouse crew and like many of their events in the past this was no less impressive. Deserving of particular credit was their ability to get so many breweries onboard, creating new and exciting releases of which punters have been talking about and hunting down ever since. But, as always, credit should also go to the brewers for such a high degree of creativity and innovation.

The Bridge Road Bar Series – over the years Ben has proven to be a rather forward-thinking brewer stylistically but it was great to see him work with venues and produce some crazy beers that us beer nerds on the other side of the bar can have a hand in creating and really get excited about.

How do you feel the Australian craft beer industry is travelling?
It certainly seems that craft beer is experiencing more exposure than in the past. Of significant note is the sheer number of established venues, which in the last year have shifted their tap focus toward supporting exciting, local craft options. Add to this the increasing number of new, beer focused bars and top end restaurants with a greater focus on craft beer and craft beer events.

What do you hope to see in 2013?
More of the same in terms of increased tap exposure in venues and exciting brewery releases. Though I feel the key thing for long term growth, profitability and sustainability of local breweries would be to see another push for taxation reform/concessions for craft breweries.

Guy Greenstone, The Local Taphouse St Kilda and the Great Australasian Beer Spectapular.

The new Bocce Room at The Local Taphouse St Kilda


So, 2012: how was it for you?
It was nuts! What a year in beer! We opened up two function areas at our St Kilda venue, ran a rather large craft beer festival (GABS) and sadly closed The Local BottleStore & Provisions. We managed to tap (and taste) around 350 different craft beers from Australia and from all over the world.

Any personal highlights, both in terms of beers and happenings?
So many to choose from! Personally, GABS was a massive event that we’re really proud of. It almost broke us mentally but we’re getting ready to go again in 2013 with some really exciting additions (as well as shorter queues!).

It’s too hard to single out any beers specifically released in 2012 because there literally was a plethora of amazing creations. GBW was a highlight for us too with nine events run over the week and a huge number of people embracing better beer. The greater emergence of sour beers as well as barrel-aged or fermented beers was a continued step in a good direction.

The opportunity that we had to take eight of our staff (four from each venue) to brew a collaboration beer at Bridge Road as part of their Bar Series was a real highlight for some of our team and we can’t wait to taste the results at our December Ale Stars.

And while this is for the Victoria section [of the roundup], we were also enormously proud that we won “Best Pub” in Sydney at the annual Time Out bar awards and “Best Specialty Beer Venue” for our Darlinghurst venue at the Australian Bar Awards (run by Bartender Magazine).

Finally, opening up the Bocce Room and Wilfred’s Room was also great – better late than never!

How do you feel the Australian craft beer industry is travelling?
It’s in really good shape. Great, world class beers are being produced by a growing number of talented brewers. The diversity in styles is the best I’ve ever seen it in Oz. Sydney/NSW is developing really fast with some excellent breweries coming online there, as well as a growing number of beer bars.

Consumers are also really embracing beer and we’re finally starting to see some of the better restaurants paying attention to their beer lists. We’re also seeing a lot of imports hit the market which is a mix of good and challenging. Great because there are some exceptional beers landing here. Challenging because with a strong Aussie Dollar they can be rather cheap and tough for local brewers to compete with. Changes in excise are finally starting to happen hopefully with more to come.

What do you hope to see in 2013?
I would love to see further changes in excise laws to make it easier for smaller breweries to be viable. Would also love to see laws change to make it legal to pour and sell growlers from a 50L keg. Would love to see more sours! Can’t wait to see all the next wave of awesome creations, I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Scott Wilson-Browne, co-founder and head brewer at Red Duck

Some of the ever-multiplying range of Red Duck beers


So, 2012: how was it for you?
Really good, the move to Ballarat has worked on many levels, and Ballarat is a great place to live, brew, eat, drink and play. The new brewery site has meant some streamlining and slightly more efficient brewing! We added a second mash tank, and a fifth fermenter (that’s a 20 per cent increase in tank space… Big for us!). The new mash has an outward opening door, which is something close to a miracle in terms of ease of cleaning! With two mash tuns it also means we can make more strong beers, and got The Ox brew day down from 23 hours to 17!

We were able to brew more regularly, which meant that I could indulge my passion for extreme beers, and new and different beers. Twelve new releases in 12 weeks was a huge effort. Means we can think about 20 in 20 for 2013!

There are currently 30 different Red Duck ales in our cellar door, so it’s been an amazing year for brewing new beers. We went with a distributor, Northdown Craft Beer, and this has meant better growth and ease of distribution, and we are in a great portfolio of international beers. We feel this is recognition for the hard work of brewing great beers on a very small scale.

We renovated the front room at the brewery and for the first time in more than seven years we have a cellar door! It’s simple, without a lavish three chef hat kitchen, and we need to find some more furniture, but it works and looks great. It also means that there is a place in Australia that stocks ALL of our available ales!

We spent very little on capital improvements for the brewery this year, despite increasing demand for us to get more tanks, a bigger brewhouse, pallet racking, a fork lift, more tanks, advertising, merchandise, marketing, more tanks, etc etc so for the first time in years we had a real holiday: USA… Sooo good, [including a] collab brew in Marin and rounded off the day by Brendan Moylan shouting dinner (and drinks) at the Abbots Cellar in San Fran. Train trip across the Sierra Nevadas and Rockies to Chicago. And drinking wayyy too many amazing beers there. My new discovery was Jolly Pumpkin ales: we so have to get them to send some beers to Australia! No, wait.. I just need to be inspired by their great ales and make Red Duck versions!

Any personal highlights, both in terms of beers and happenings?
Getting a whole bunch of new beers brewed: keep in mind we don’t do trial batches, I just nut it out and we brew it! So far they have all worked, and the plus is that whatever it actually turns out as, makes for a great ale. Maybe in a few year’s time, i will be considered a good brewer. Personally, I reckon I am still a learner. But with every new beer that turns out great, I get more confident to brew more extreme beers!

Doing Good Beer Week events: firstly to get me to come out and stand up in front of a crowd.., Doesn’t happen very often! [There was] History of the Duck at Deco: starting around 3000BC with our RA#2 and working through the ages up to Ragnarok (the end of the world), we finished really, really late, and what the? Only $40 a head… Didn’t even cover the beer costs!

[Then there was] Beer v Wine v Cider Round 1 at Bress… Damned close that, but we won round 2 by a mile, and the next one early in 2013 will be tough… Beers matched to food that is “all things fowl”…!

Drinking at GABS, having our simple little Bumble Bee finish in the top ten, and finally [making it] to a Fed Square Showcase to have a drink instead of work!

My absolute favourite beer for 2012: Jolly Pumpkin La Roja.. No wait, Red Duck Gnaume! Damn, it’s a tie, along with a gaggle of others…

How do you feel the Australian craft beer industry is travelling?
Based on an assumption that “craft beer” includes Red Duck, or that Red Duck is part of whatever “craft beer” is.. Good. Well, at least I can say that we are feeling positive, with plenty of optimistic outlook for Red Duck ales, whatever sector of the market we are actually in…

See, the big breweries are constantly issuing "misinformation" and confusing the "craft beer" market, by releasing beers that are not craft beer, but packaging them as such. What is a craft beer then? At Red Duck we used to think we were a craft brewery, but if that means being owned by a foreign multi-national, and brewing millions of litres with national distribution through all the big outlets, then we are NOT A CRAFT BREWERY!

A Nano brewery is apparently one with a brewhouse less than 300litres capacity per brew, we are 600, and a micro-brewery is expected to have a brewhouse capacity of 2500litres per brew or more… So little Red Duck is in the middle of the undefined category!

Is a craft brewery bigger than a micro-brewery? Or is any brewery that makes a "craft beer" a craft brewery? What actually is a craft beer then? So what is the Australian Craft Beer Industry???

With two new national organisations, which are able to work alongside each other, with slightly different aims, but both working to promote real beer! Of course being the Vic rep for ARCBA [Australian Real Craft Brewers Association], I have to say that ARCBA has the smaller breweries closer to heart. Thanks to the Greens for championing our cause and getting a start for recognition of what being a small brewery is, and a tiny slither of some excise relief.

The important thing to realise is that even though there has been a change in the excise commitments, for small breweries the actual amount of rebate isn’t enough to make any difference to running a small brewery. For Red Duck, it has meant instead of earning a wage below the poverty line, that we are now earning a below average wage! Awesome, but I will continue working my other job to pay the bills (graphic design i n case people didn’t realise. And most of my clients are wineries.. Wonder when breweries will catch on?).

We need a lot more excise relief!

Awareness to real ale is increasing, consumers are getting more savvy, and the more that heavy drinkers keep getting diabetes (and other health concerns) from overindulging in chemical and sugar-loaded drinks, the more people become aware that craft beer is their friend. It works across all aspects of eating and drinking: mass produced cheap products are cheap because they are mass produced from inferior ingredients and loaded with chemicals. Real beer, real food, locally produced by smaller makers, from real ingredients. Yes, they are more expensive to make and buy, but drink a bit less, eat a bit less, choose better products and you will stay healthy and happy for much longer.

What do you hope to see in 2013?
If Australia can prove that we aren’t ten years behind world trends anymore by embracing sour ales, and remember that hops is only one ingredient that can make an amazing beer.

I hope to see Red Duck’s tally hit 50 different ales brewed in one year.

The Socceroos get better and keep on the road to the World Cup, Man U win the EPL and the Champions League, Heart crawl up the A League ladder and finish on top, and then bag up Beckham (if he really does come) or some other talented international legend.

And I know this is as likely as the Mayan’s calendar predicting the end of the world, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a big brewery actually make a real beer, using no chemicals, no filtration, no turbo yeast or added enzymes, no added sugars, just an all malt, all natural beer. Like in the old days, like the beers that they were actually famous for, not the rocket science chemical bombs that they pump out now. But if they did, then a slab of “Very Beer” would be the same price as a slab of Red Duck, and that would upset the apple cart.

Which reminds me: it is not cider if it’s made from reconstituted apple or pear pulp, it’s just another bloody RTD pretending to be cider! Real cider is made from cider apples, and cider yeast… That’s all!!!! And breweries do not make cider!! It is a wine!! CIDER IS NOT BEER!!!!!!!!! You crush the apples to get the juice out, you ferment that cold, and you make cider: It is NOT BREWED!!!

Bring on GABS #2 and another huge GBW!! And I’d like to see a REAL CRAFT BEER AWARDS get happening in 2013.

Look out for roundups from the rest of Australia coming soon…

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