First thing’s first: this is not a top ten or “Best of…” list. There will be plenty of those flying around and, as a site that doesn’t rate or review beers, it would seem a little odd to pick our favourites, especially when there’s the Hottest 100 poll to vote in anyway.
No, what we thought we’d do by means of a round up of the year was look at ten beers that say something about where the Australian craft beer scene is in 2010 – and where it seems to be heading. Sure, the beers on this list are all pretty awesome, but it’s what they signify too that matters.
Below are the five beers from the first week. From Monday, the final five will be revealed.
If the battle to get Aussies drinking better beer is going to succeed, it needs people to pull together. And this beer is a perfect example of just that: designed by home brewers, brewed at a microbrewery and tapped at a beer bar for beer lovers to enjoy.
The Two Champs Kolsch was the second beer to result from a collaboration between the Australian Amateur Brewing Championships, Mountain Goat and The Local Taphouses, whereby the country’s champion home brewers (Barry Cranston and Ross Mitchell) drew up a recipe for a collaborative brew, sat down with Mountain Goat founder Dave Bonighton to adapt it for his brewery, then saw their beer sold at the brewery and the two Local Taphouses in Melbourne and Sydney.
It was a fine beer too. The Kolsch style, with its origins in the Cologne region of Germany, is a delicate ale and not one that’s particularly easy to do well. Tasting it on the night it was tapped (when Dave and Barry worried it might have needed longer in the tank) was a treat – lovely white wine fruit flavours and aromas giving way to a crisp, dry finish; it’s a shame there’s not another batch around now that summer’s here.
Given free choice of this year’s Goat beers, I’d fill the Crafty beer fridge with their Rare Breed IPA (the first batch on tap at the brewery was exquisite) and Surefoot Stout, but this ran them close and was a credit to all involved. What’s more, it’s a fantastic concept – and one that’s not unique, with other bars and breweries fostering close ties with home brewers through brew shares or similar competitions. To survive and thrive, the craft beer world needs people working together and, through competition and collaboration, pushing the envelope in terms of creativity, experimentation and ever improving standards.
Temple Brewing Black IPA
So, the first curveball of the ten: a beer that wasn’t commercially available from a brewer who hasn’t brewed a beer for public consumption since the start of the year and whose new brewery doesn’t open until at least February 2011. So why’s it here? Is The Crafty Pint being deliberately wanky for the beer nerds or just wilfully obscure? Well, no actually. It’s a beer that has plenty to say about the present – and future – of the local craft beer industry.
For a start, the fact that Ron and Renata Feruglio finally got their mitts on a spanking new brewery this year should be a source of excitement for anyone who enjoys good beer and who wants to see Australian craft beer continue to blossom. Ron built an excellent reputation for his beers while operating as a “gypsy brewer” on other peoples' equipment so the brewing world waits with baited breath to see what he’ll produce now that he’s the owner of a very nifty piece of kit from Canada he’s designed himself (and which the couple has committed everything – house and all – to). That they’ve tested the water and are confident enough to make the transition to brewery owners (with some pretty radical plans for their East Brunswick brewery-bar-brasserie site) will hopefully also offer inspiration and encouragement to those who currently have their beer brewed elsewhere and claim to want their own setup to take the (admittedly very costly) leap of faith.
The beer is also here to fly the banner for the forthcoming breweries who announced exciting plans in 2010. While the craft beer scene has been growing for some time, this was the year in which growth accelerated like never before: seasoned microbrewers had a fresh glint in their eyes, more home brewers stopped dreaming and started planning their own, more bars – and not just specialty beer bars – started offering craft beer, and punters you’d never have expected to stray from the norm began venturing off the beaten path. All of which made the varied plans of the likes of Temple, Thunder Road and Moon Dog seem not just exciting, but realistic and achievable; the next wave of craft brewers in Australia can hope to go further faster with confidence the drinkers will follow, hastening the industry’s attempts catch up with its counterparts in New Zealand and the US.
Finally, the beer was one of a number made for a showcase run by Bintani, importers of malts, hops and yeasts, in which a handful of brewers were invited to make beers that showcased a range of ingredients never before brought into the country for commercial use. The Black IPA made use of a new roasted wheat that allowed Ron to achieve the blackest of blacks in the beer without much – if any – of the roasted flavours and aromas you associate with traditional dark beers coming through. In fact, if you were to close your eyes and carry out a sniff and taste test, you’d be convinced you had a light-coloured, highly hopped IPA from the Pacific Northwest in your glass; quite a feat. The arrival of new malt and hop varieties will allow brewers to experiment further and create new beers. In fact, head to True South today and you can taste one such beer: the Mint Ninja is the first Australian beer brewed using solely the Japanese Sorachi Ace hop, which only became available a few months ago.
OK. One more finally: it was an fantastic beer. Not just clever technically but faultless in all respects, a great example of a rare style also carried off with some panache by Jamieson, with their Black Beast, and given a Belgian twist by Bridge Road, whose B2 Bomber marked their fifth anniversary in style and deservedly won an eager following. Here’s hoping Temple add theirs to their regular lineup when the brewery opens in a few months.
Burleigh Brewing Black Giraffe
Walking across the asphalt at Brisbane’s airport on a late October morning, it jumped up and slapped me in the face – “it” being one of the reasons why the Queensland market might prove a tougher one to crack for craft brewers than, say, Victoria. It was 8.30am, the mercury had only reached 19C but already the humidity was at 90%.
“Who,” I thought, “in their right mind would ever want to drink a heavy beer in these conditions? Oh, for a German lager or delicate English pale…*”
It came as something of a shock to be thinking this way as the previous four months in the life of The Crafty Pint had been a litany of heavy this, double-hopped that and Imperial the other as sustenance was sought through the longer than usual Melbourne winter.
So, given 19C and 90% humidity is tame by Queensland standards, it was a pretty ballsy move for Brennan Fielding to opt for a dark beer for Burleigh Brewing’s second longneck release. Ballsier still to make it a coffee beer. It’s a beer in which there’s no holding back on the coffee front either: 100kg of rainforest alliance coffee from Zarraffa went into the Black Giraffe, ensuring it’s the dominant characteristic. Unlike the Matilda Bay Longshot, for example, where the coffee infusion added a little something to a sweeter dark ale, here the roast and chocolate are there, but subservient to the coffee.
Yet, by making it a coffee lager (rather than ale) and keeping the alcohol to a restrained 5%, the Black Giraffe remains light and clean enough to contemplate tacking in warmer climes – all without losing anything flavour wise. Little wonder it picked up major awards internationally, while simultaneously enhancing the brewery’s reputation among craft beer drinkers Australia-wide.
[* I should point out that, it being 8.30am, I didn’t actually hunt down and drink a beer. Drink responsibly, folks!]
Red Hill Weizenbock
You could pick any of many beers from the Mornington Peninsula's original microbrewery, such is the consistently high quality of their range. Of this year's seasonals, the Imperial Stout, Temptation and Bohemian Pilsner in particular have been among Crafty’s top tipples of 2010, while the Scotch Ale is a year round treat.
But it’s the Weizenbock that is perhaps the most interesting for the fact that its popularity has amazed the brewers themselves. Red Hill’s co-founder Karen Golding has likened it to an oddball child, the one they weren’t sure anyone would “get” or, more importantly, like.
Understandably so: it’s a 7.9% dark wheat beer whose predominant aromas and flavours are rich toffee and bananas. As has been noted elsewhere on this site, the wilder beers currently hitting the market (both homegrown and imported) might not be the ones that are going to win over huge numbers of new drinkers to the craft beer cause. But the fact that a beer even its creators worry is a bit too weird for the market – and one whose longevity they’d questioned – can win widespread approval is a sign that there are more than enough appreciative palates out there to allow brewers to take risks.
That it’s a damn fine beer that can stand toe-to-toe with Schneider-Weisse’s classic Aventinus without suffering an inferiority complex – and backs up its toffee bananas with creamy chocolates, some dark fruits and pleasing alcohol warmth – doesn’t hurt either. In a country where the merest whiff of aroma hop can put many people off a beer, it’s always good to know there’s some love for the oddballs.
A beer that has been described as “genius”, “so simple yet clever” and “the new Australian Pale Ale” by people who know their apples, Stone & Wood’s Draught / Pacific Ale is a masterstroke from Brad Rogers and the team in Byron Bay. It’s exactly what you would want after a hot day on the local beaches and yet manages to be equally rewarding in the middle of a cold Victorian winter. It’s also a superb example of the qualities of the Galaxy hop – the superstar of Australia’s hop breeding programs – with just a touch used for bittering and a bucketload (a very cheap, plastic bucket from Kmart!) added at the end to lend the beer its passionfruit and citrus aromatics and flavours.
The Stone & Wood guys say they took inspiration from the European village breweries that brew beer to be drunk in the local vicinity to create a beer that is of its area and for its area. As such, all the ingredients are Australian and, as of this month, it has a name – Pacific Ale – that reflects its origins too. That said, it proved so bloody tasty and popular wherever it was tapped that they had to relent and put it in bottles so the whole country could enjoy it. With Cooper’s seemingly struggling for direction and Crafty’s Adelaide friends swift in their condemnation of their Pale these days (although ardent in their continuing support for the Sparkling and Stout), it has every chance of usurping SA’s favourite son as the definitive Aussie beer, a beer that’s not just very much “of Byron Bay” but distinctly “of Australia” too.
Even though it wasn’t new in 2010, this was the year its popularity really soared. It showed signs of winning over mainstream drinkers too and at The Crafty Pint we’re all about getting new people drinking better beer, so kudos for achieving crossover without compromising quality or flavour. What’s more, Crafty met the people behind the beer for the first time in 2010 and you couldn’t wish for a nicer bunch of guys. Great beer brewed in a great location by great guys – it’s enough to make you sick!
DISCLAIMER: Despite best efforts (and the expanded waistline Mrs Pint is keen to highlight), The Crafty Pint hasn’t tasted every craft beer produced in Australia this year. So, while we hope this is a good reflection of what has happened in 2010, there will be beers many of you will have tasted that perhaps deserve a place. As the site develops in the coming years, we hope it can become even more comprehensive and appreciate your understanding over omissions in the meantime.