There were plenty of brewers with reason to be happy with the results of the 2014 Hottest 100 Australian Craft Beers. Among those celebrating were three brewers who achieved multiple placements in the list despite their relatively recent arrival on the Aussie beer scene and relatively small size.
La Sirene, who only really stepped up production in the past 12 months or so, went from zero beers in the list to four, including getting a hazelnut, vanilla and cacao Belgian stout into the top five. KAIJU! Beer, formerly Monster Mash, also gained four spots for their big, hoppy beers and Fortitude / Noisy Minor from Mt Tamborine scored three spots for the second year running, with those spots higher than before and one beer, ANZUS IPA, hitting the top ten.
Nat Reeves – KAIJU! Beer
Beers in list:
- Where Strides the Behemoth (12)
- Hopped Out Red (19)
- Metamorphosis (29)
- Aftermath (formerly Double IPA) ( 46)
For a brewery that pulls no punches, certainly when it comes to hops, KAIJU! is punching well above its weight. Barely more than a year old, it has one AIBA Trophy under its belt (for Hopped Out Red in 2014) and now four beers in the latest Hottest 100 poll. Its highest ranking beer was its entry into this year's Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular and is nothing less than an above-10 percent double black India pale ale (or something purist-troubling like that).
While admitting that the past year has been stressful in terms of managing what little space they have at Cavalier's brewery in Derrimut in order to meet demand as best as possible, head brewer Nat Reeves is, perhaps unsurprisingly, surprised at just how well they've been going.
"We were pretty surprised by how well the Double IPA went the first time we brewed it as it was sold in three days, but Robohop (their newest and lowest ABV IPA to date) has surprised us the most," he says. "We just brew the beer that we want to drink and if other people like it that's awesome. If we can then sell it, that's great.
"[The reception for Where Strides The Behemoth] shows people's tastes have changed significantly; people will pay $20 for a bottle of 11 percent double black IPA and are really happy. There seem to be two reactions to it on Untappd: half a star and 'I'm never getting my tastebuds back' or five stars and 'the best thing ever'. I kind of like both responses!"
He says the Hottest 100 "means everything" to him and the KAIJU! team. "It's a massive booster."
Looking ahead, he says to expect "more beers and more styles that will be hoppy" but also possibly another dark beer that tastes more like a traditional dark beer. "I really want to do an American stout that's not so hop forward and leaning more towards the malt," he says.
He's also dabbling with sours on his home setup, although has no intention of brewing one commercially at this point. "It's purely for my own consumption cos I can't afford Cantillon," he says, adding quickly: "I'm not saying it's not as good as Cantillon!"
Costa Nikias – La Sirene
Beers in list:
- Praline (5)
- Cherie Kriek (36)
- Saison (56)
- Wild Saison (70)
When we spoke to Costa the day before result were announced (so he didn't know how many of his beers or which ones had made the list), we asked which beers he was most proud of. In order, his answer was: Praline, Cherie Kriek, Wild Saison and Saison. So it seems the public appreciate the beers he himself loves.
The Praline, originally brewed for the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular where it took out the People's Choice, is one he uses to win over non-beer drinkers – "It can bring people across to drink dark beers and bigger beers," he says.
As for the Cherie Kriek, a spontaneously fermented then barrel-aged and "cherried-up" beer, is to become an annual release, with the first of multiple brews to be blended for the next one already in oak, while the Wild Saison, his second ever release, is described, simply, as "a banging beer".
The year ahead will see the brewery upgraded and expanded as he attempts to meet demand and also turn a greater focus on his home market in Melbourne; currently, Brisbane buys more La Sirene. As for polling well in the Hottest 100...
"It's great," he says. "We've definitely raced out of the gates [since stepping up production] and we are still racing, galloping along with no intention of slowing down.
"I'm at the brewery every day now and really enjoy creating our own style. It's great to be able to focus on mastering what we are doing ."
Ian Watson - Fortitude Brewing / Noisy Minor
Beers in list:
- Noisy Minor ANZUS IPA (8)
- Fortitude Brewing Golden Ale (11)
- Noisy Minor Admiral Ackbar (14)
Queensland brewer Ian Watson returned to his home state a couple of years ago, leaving his brewer's role at Murray's behind to head up a new operation in Mt Tamborine. It launched from day one with two brands: Fortitude for more approachable beers and Noisy Minor for more adventurous brews.
For the second year running, three of his beers made the list, with all three appearing in the top 14. They operate two breweries, the tiny original setup and the larger former Mt Tamborine Brewery, and are looking to send more beer outside Queensland and New South Wales in 2015. They will also start bottling next month.
"Our growth is pretty incredible," says Ian, "although it is skewed because we're so young. There's a honeymoon phase that you often get but we have started having discussions about what happens when we hit the ceiling [in terms of capacity].
"We started sending beer to Sydney six months ago and that's going really well; we've got a venue taking whole pallets off us then four days later the beer's all gone."
In terms of hitting the ground running and achieving such quick popularity, he says there's been a conscious effort to be priced well but also to be realistic about what beers the public is after. That said, it hasn't held him back from brewing an imperial stout and big, hoppy red ale and seeing both hit the Hottest 100 in the past two years.
"The majority of our beers are pretty approachable," he says. "They're not the biggest or boldest."
He then tells us, however, that he's got an 8.8 percent IPA coming called Bad Wolf that's "tasting pretty bloody good at the moment."
The breweries' rise has happened at the same time that the Brisbane scene has exploded.
"The South East Queensland scene is really motoring along quite well," says Ian. "We still don't have the population base like Sydney or Melbourne but it's tracking along well and that's been a real help."