We’ve been around the houses, gathering the reflections of brewers, beer sellers and writers from around Australia, for our Year in Bear 2012 review. So that means there’s just one place left to look: home.
So, as The Crafty Pint moves into its third year in existence and the craft beer world expands at a giddy rate of knots around it, it’s time for a spot of English-Premier-League footballer-being-interviewed as we come over all speaking-about-ourselves-in-the-third-person and ask The Crafty Pint: “How was it for you, The Crafty Pint?”
So, 2012: how was it for you?
An insane, ever wilder whirlwind. Like many of the country’s craft brewers, things just keep getting busier and crazier as the craft beer revolution spreads around Australia. Just as some of them hit capacity again as soon as they expand their breweries, at Crafty Towers it seems that no matter how long, hard or fast we do what we do, there’s almost too much going on in the craft beer world to keep up.
That said, it’s a wonderful thing as it means setting out on the journey we began a few years back was no folly: the good guys are winning!
Any personal highlights, both in terms of beers and happenings?
Where to start? With beers, I guess. In terms of beers that dazzled us, there’s a list of 50 that impressed or surprised us in 2012 in the current edition of James Halliday’s Wine Companion Magazine. The list is split into ten mini-lists of five, from a Five Best to Hop Bombs, Old Faithfuls and so on.
As a sneak peek, the five best we picked were Nail’s Clout Stout, Feral Hop Hog, Mountain Goat / Mikkeller Gypsy & The Goat, Temple Midnight IPA and Stone & Wood Pacific Ale. Mind you, they’re not the five we’ll be picking for the Local Taphouse Hottest 100 and there are notable omissions from the 50, not least Wig & Pen’s Sour Blonde – a beer we revisited after submitting the article – and Hargreaves Hill’s new batch of Phoenix, which came out too late to make the deadline.
Elsewhere, The Crafty Pint was lucky enough to be involved in the creation of four new beers this year. First up was the aforementioned Gypsy & The Goat. A major hat tip goes to Crafty Pint comrade Chris McBeer, who suggested we do an event at Mountain Goat when we had Mikkel over for March’s Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. The result was an incredible dinner-cum-brew event at the Richmond brewery. The dinner was catered for by a team of chefs and waiters in striking uniforms being ordered around by a guy with a huge Castro beard stood atop one of the platforms in the brewery chomping a cigar and barking instructions through a megaphone.
Since then, the core of the wait staff has gone on to open the highly rated Rockwell & Sons in Collingwood, while the Black Pepperberry IPA went on to impress everyone it encountered; that it says “Crafty Pint” on the label is just the icing on the cake, of course…
Next was Our Dark Secret, the collaboration for Good Beer Week from Moylan’s and Nøgne Ø at Hargreaves Hill in May. From making initial contact with Kjetil Jikiun via Ben Kraus of Bridge Road to ask if he’d like to come over for the festival to the sticking of labels on the handful of bottles of the Imperial Black IPA – one of the most intensely hopped beers we’ve ever tasted – was a full 12 months.
The result was a totally unique beer (Moylan’s first ever collaboration in 17 years for a start) that the international brewers are keen to brew again in each of the respective countries.
Then there was the People’s Pint, a nationwide competition we launched with Temple, whereby anyone could concoct their dream beer. All we needed was a name and a fantasy description so we could put the best to a public vote. We got some hilarious and highly creative submissions, with the Double Hoptendre from Queenslander Leo Hede winning out. It was turned into a Double-Hopped Rye Red Ale and launched – at the same time as the Temple / Good Beer Week Scholarship – during Good Beer Week. (NB: There will be no People’s Pint in 2013 – both The Crafty Pint and Temple have too much on at the minute, but it’ll be back in 2014!)
The last of the four was perhaps the craziest of them all – certainly the daftest. Around the middle of the year, The Crafty Pint was invited to enter a beer into Beervana NZ’s Media Brew competition, whereby journalists can hook up with any brewery of their choice to make an out there beer to be judged as part of the festival. We were the first Australian representatives and, having also just been invited to join Sherlock and Watson at Murray’s for a brew day, we asked if we could make said brew day the Media Brew day.
The brewers agreed, we set about deciding what beer could unite The Crafty Pint’s founder (Scottish), The Crafty Pint’s NSW writer (Kiwi) and Murray’s head brewer (Novocastrian). To cut a long story short, we came up with an Imperial Smoked Belgian Mussel and Oyster Stout. You can read the long story here, but let’s just say the guys at Murray’s must be genii as, despite the ridiculous challenge we set them, the 10 per cent ABV beer scored Beervana’s first ever perfect Media Brew score – although only after we were almost prevented leaving Australia to fly to Wellington by customs in the first place, although that’s another story… We’re still working on Shawn to see if we can brew a full commercial batch for next winter; scaled up it would require 720 mussels and 360 oysters. Newcastle’s bottleshops have had regular requests for it so come on, Shawn, you know you want to!!!
As for happenings, we could be here forever so we’ll keep it brief. In terms of those we were involved in personally, all of the many road and air trips visiting breweries, bars and bottleshops in every state were thoroughly enjoyable – so many good people making and drinking craft beer – as were the trips to Wellington and the UK, where we managed to squeeze in a few breweries, beer bars, craft beer stores and even a beer festival featuring more than 1,000 cask ales.
Being invited to create and host the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival’s first ever beer masterclasses was an entertaining honour. Although how can taking people through the extremities of the beer world in the company of outrageous beers and engaging brewers on the banks of the Yarra on a sunny day be anything other than entertaining? Joining the Mountain Goat crew for their trip to Goat Island in NT for their 15th birthday celebrations was an unexpected pleasure too and one of the most unusual experiences we’ve been through in or outside of the beer world.
And then there’s Good Beer Week. Before launching this site, we figured the spin-offs that came from it could well be the most fascinating aspect. It’s only 21 months since we were approached by a couple of guys asking if we could help get an event off the ground to coincide with the 2011 Australian International Beer Awards. That one event swiftly became Good Beer Week, a behemoth that has taken over much of The Crafty Pint’s waking (and rather a lot of its sleeping) hours. Who knows where it’s headed…
As for happenings elsewhere, it was great to see Aussie brewers enjoy success at overseas awards, not least the prestigious World Beer Cup in San Diego, as well as a growing number hooking up with international brewers for collaborations all over the world. There was the small victory on the excise tax front – albeit there’s still a long way to go – and the announcement of Australia’s first Craft Brewers Conference in Melbourne this coming May is a welcome move following a successful Craft Beer Forum run as part of March’s IBD Conference in Melbourne.
Then there’s the rise of the beer festival, from Ballarat and South West WA to Hobart and Newcastle, Sydney, the Hunter Valley, Mornington, Thirlmere and Queensland, there’s never been so many one-day, weekend and weeklong events celebrating the beer world. And it couldn’t occur without the unstoppable growth of the industry, with the most regular and welcome happenings in 2012 being the launching of new breweries, brewing companies, beer bars and bottleshops all over the country. With restaurants beginning to wake up to beer too, it’s a great time to be involved in beer in Australia.
How do you feel the Australian craft beer industry is travelling?
As the above suggests, pretty darn well. Many breweries are in a cycle of brewing to capacity, expanding, hitting capacity, looking to expand again and repeat, and one can only assume that their beer is being purchased, consumed and enjoyed given how long many have been in such cycles. With better marketing or publicising of their beers (or any marketing at all in some cases) there would be more in that situation who deserve to be so.
The standard and consistency of beers continues to rise too. That’s not necessarily true right across the board, but the duffers are few and far between and will, in all likelihood, be left behind or disappear completely as the market matures. At the very top, Australia’s best brewers are making beers that are the match for any in the world and the strength in depth is improving; it seems more startups are being launched by people who really know how to brew – or are being helmed by brewers with experience elsewhere – rather than people who’ve decided it’s a nice idea and will learn as they go, and this can only be a good thing.
The trip to Wellington suggests there’s still greater depth in quality on the other side of the Tasman, but it’s hard to judge as, more often than not, the only beer that gets imported to another country in the craft beer world is going to be good stuff rather than the mundane. As Christian Skovdal Andersen from Beer Here told us in an interview earlier in the year, the reason we might thin Denmark has a great craft brewing scene is because we get all the good stuff – the majority, he suggested, is pretty ordinary.
Speaking of imports, expect to see more debate on the pros and cons of the rising tide of quality overseas craft beers arriving in Australia this year. There are those who argue that too much will be to the detriment of the local market, while how they arrive in Australia can pose its own questions as to the benefits or otherwise for independent stockists.
Other pluses are the growing knowledge of the drinker, the number of small bars embracing craft beer (some with better understanding and care than others, admittedly) and the growing number of bodies and events that are attempting to educate punters and trade about beer. You only have to look at the success of the Bendigo Beer guys to see the difference that can be made by a small group of passionate individuals.
On the other hand, the excise tax issue remains a thorn in many microbrewers' sides despite this year’s slight success, and the rise of “faux craft” brands from multinationals is an expected though unwelcome development, especially when those behind them often have the ability to give them primo positioning in their own outlets. We will watch with interest to see what happens with Little Creatures (and, from afar, Emerson’s) following their acquisition by Lion. One hopes they are left as well alone as possible and that few things will change, but with a lot of existing staff having left since the takeover or soon to do so…
There’s also a danger inherent in too many people jumping on board the craft beer bandwagon without knowing what they’re getting into. It’s one thing chucking a few beers onto a bar or restaurant list and into your fridge, but if there’s no knowledge to back it up it’s as bad as a brewer knowingly selling a batch of beer they know isn’t quite right. No one wants any newcomer to the craft beer world have bad experiences earlier on.
What do you hope to see in 2013?
More new venues and breweries when the next round of road trips is lined up.
Greater unity across the industry to ensure that it is heading in the right direction and that the best people are in place to guide craft beer in Australia to the brightest possible future.
More mainstream media covering craft beer and, in doing so, not treating it as a novelty. Time Out has been doing so and there’s beer appearing in the likes of Smith Journal too, while James Halliday’s Wine Companion Magazine has been highly supportive since contacting Crafty about writing an article for the first edition. Hopefully, the new editorial team at Epicure in The Age will wake up to beer at some point, as their predecessors were giving it some really good coverage.
Look out for more sours than ever before in Australia and the continued rise of more interesting and experimental styles; it’s exciting to see so many startups leaping straight into this area, perhaps inspired by the success of Moon Dog. At the same time, the rise of excellent, consistent and well made drinking beers is crucial as craft beer won’t take proper hold outside its current niche without them.
At some point, you’d imagine there will be a growth in brewpubs too.
And, finally: getting out to more events would be lovely. The “writing about and promoting beery happenings” versus “actually attending them” ratio got rather out of whack in 2012, to the point where friends reported there were newcomers to the beer world who believed The Crafty Pint was a myth. On the other hand, what did Keyser Soze say?