Pale ales are Rock, and that’s cool, but I also like Jazz

I’ve always found it impossible to answer the question ‘what kind of music (or beer) do you like’?

For some people it’s easy, they say rock (or pale ale). But for me it’s a challenge because I like so many different kinds and the kind I like most of all generally defies any labels.

Sure I like rock (and pale ales) like almost everyone else does but I wouldn’t answer that rock (or pale ale) is the kind of music I like, because when I really want to listen to music, I usually seek out something new, something entirely different.

I seek out different music like freeform jazz (and lambics) and fusion (and India Saisons) and eclectic music like Congotronics (and imperial stouts) or certain German techno labels (and Berliner Weisses).

I do enjoy rock (as I do pale ales) and I still come back to it, because sometimes I just don’t feel like making the effort to seek out the latest and greatest new tastes and just want to listen to reliable old rock (or drink a pale ale).

I like classic rock like Led Zeppelin (or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) or rock that reinvents the classics especially well like The Black Keys or Wolfmother (Pirate Life’s IPA or Hop Nation’s The Fiend) or rock with a slightly contemporary (or new world) twist on the genre (or style) like Grizzly Bear (or Balter’s XPA).

But the music I like most of all is that which can’t be easily categorised and defined by only one genre. Music like that from my favourite artist Amon Tobin, whose music is some kind of unique blend of jazz and hip hop and classical and drum n bass and sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

The beer I love most defies labels too. When I do drink that kind of beer and it hits all the right notes, it’s an epiphany, a revelation that opens up a whole new world of flavour and makes me rethink how I view beer. Beers like the Avant Garde series from La Sirene, the Mayday Hills beers from Bridge Road, and any of the brilliant barrel aged beers from Boatrocker.

In the GABS Hottest 100 list this year, the vast majority of beers on the list were pale ales and I get that. Pale ales are the beer that people who are less novelty seeking than me will continue to go back to. And it’s the beer that the novelty seeking geeks like me will go back to from time to time because it’s reliable and comfortable and is always worthy of a spot in the fridge (or in the playlist).

In the Hottest 100 I still voted for beers like Balter’s XPA and Hop Nation’s The Chop and La Sirene’s Urban Pale with their first crossover into pale ales, because I appreciate a good pale.

But I also vote for the likes of Bridge Road’s Yee Ha and Pirate Life’s Stout because I like beers that are different or may not be to everyone else’s taste and that’s ok.

Really there’s no reason to get upset because you find that Pacific Ale is a bit too boring for you to drink. I’m sure there were some Triple J listeners who felt the same when Powderfinger won too. It’s a popular vote and that’s going to mean that the list is always going to be dragged more towards the centre than left or right.

But more niche beer styles (or genres) and beers that defy styles altogether will continue to thrive in their own way too. They may never be recognised in a popular list, but they will spark epiphanies and win hearts in a way that a good old reliable pale ale never can.

My top Australian craft beers and breweries in 2016

2016 felt to me like the year that craft beer grew up. It seems now that the breweries rising to the top are increasingly not only producing great beers but are also commercially savvy types with greater financial backing.

For instance, Pirate Life continued their success and set up their own distribution arm, 4 Pines continued their expansion with plans to open more venues, and Gage Roads announced their intentions to extricate themselves from Woolworths and double-down on the craft side of their business.

It makes sense that as the market becomes more crowded that the more commercially savvy brewers will rise to the top and start to form national brands and take on the big players. But if that makes you a bit misty-eyed for the romantic ideal of nanobreweries owned by a brewer/founder , don’t worry, the romance of the small brewery isn’t gone either.

There were also a lot of new brewery venues opening with a primary focus on their local area and selling on-premises it seemed. For example, I visited Willie the Boatman in Tempe in Sydney, which is a brilliant locally-focused venue where its two owners also frequently pour the beers at the brewery on weekends. I was also impressed to see the likes of Daintons and Bad Shepherd connecting with local communities in the outer suburbs of Melbourne with their good range of craft beers.

All in all, whether craft brewers had a local focus or broader ambitions, they each contributed in different ways to creating a richer environment for beer drinkers, as the availability of great beer and the range of styles being produced continued to increase in 2016.

I managed to sample a healthy amount of good beers myself and below are my personal favourites of new beers of 2016, as well as my latest ranking of Australia’s top brewers.

Cheers to another great year in Australian craft beer.

My favourite new beers of 2016

A list of my favourite Australian beers of those brewed for the first time in 2016:

  1. Pirate Life – Stout – Perhaps Australian craft beer’s most celebrated brewer at the moment, they’ve won plaudits for their hoppy core range of beers but also showed they are no one-trick ponies with this creamy chocolatey oatmeal extra stout, which really hit the spot for me.
  2. Mornington Peninsula – Dog’s Bollocks  – I really enjoyed all of the limited-release beers from Mornington Peninsula this year and this one may have been the most understated of all their beers, but marked the first canned nitro beer in Australia and a good rendition of the ESB style that I really enjoy.
  3. Murrays – Coffee Wild Thing – I found the coffee twist to an old favourite, the Wild Thing Imperial Stout, to be tasty and balanced and the best imperial stout I drank this winter. Something of a comeback year for the veteran of NSW craft beer with beers like Skully and Thunderbolt IPA also impressing.
  4. La Sirene – Urban Pale – Once again La Sirene produced many sophisticated and interesting beers, but this one wins my vote for its simplicity and for bringing the farmhouse style to the people in an attractive and affordable can format that is a summertime winner.
  5. Stockade – Peachy Keen – It seemed like a big year for Gose’s and Berliner Weisse’s and this was perhaps the saltiest and peachiest of the gose’s that achieved the effect of quenching my thirst but also provoking me to drink more.
  6. Balter – XPA – I waited a while to see what all the hype was about and was pleased to find that this one tastes as good as its can looks. A big peach aroma and a dry-ish finish works really well for this new Gold Coast-based brewery.
  7. Hop Nation The Chop – One of many brewery venues to open in 2016, opening up in Melbourne’s west, the Chop was an intriguing mix of IPA styles that worked really well, juicy, bitter and fresh.
  8. Fox Hat – Phat Mongrel – I have a soft spot for Oatmeal stouts and I was very happy that this one lived up to the billing and was a big tasting winter beer from this new SA-based brand. Also really good, was Mr Banks’ oatmeal stout, which is another new brewery on my list that I need to visit.
  9. Wheaty Corps – Blackberry Saison – A highlight from the SA Pint of Origin and the first beer I’ve tried from the classic SA craft beer pub.
  10. Bridge Road Yee Ha – Loved this subtle-ish example of the much feared and revered Brett yeast. A simple base beer allows the complexity of the brett to shine through with just a little bit of funk. Look forward to seeing more that comes out of the foeder.

Top Australian brewers power rankings

My latest subjective ranking of Australia’s best brewers with their previous ranking in brackets.

10. tied (new) 4 Pines / Murrays

4 Pines continue to grow and expand as one of Australia’s biggest independent craft brewers. They also make really good beer that is accessible anywhere. Their Amber Ale, brewed with a healthy amount of the excellent Mosaic hop, was their best core beer yet. While I may not rush to get their one-offs, they produce good beers in a wide range of styles.

I also had to have Murrays on this list after they returned to form in a big way this year. They seemed to have dropped off the craft beer radar a bit but really came back to form this year with their special releases including Thunderbolt IPA that won Crafty Pint’s blind tasting, Coffee Wild Thing (see above) and Skully, a Red IPA.

9. (10) Wayward 

I was stoked to visit their premises in Annandale this year and sample more of their impressive range. I’m yet to have a bad beer from these guys and they have a great variety of beers beyond just pale ales.Their Fat Charmer, a bigger version of their classic Charmer Red Ale, was a highlight for its flavour and drinkability at the NSW Pint of Origin, while I also enjoyed their tart Sourpuss raspberry Berliner Weisse and dry fruity Saison. They’ve also started bottling this year so we should more of their core range.

8. (9) Bacchus Brewing 

My wish came true and we’re seeing more and more of their beers available in good beer stores. They became the first two-time People’s Choice GABS winners with their win at this year’s festival with the Peanut Brittle Gose that was another dessert-like beer – sweet with a salty finish in a unique take on the style.

7. (4) Holgate

Their Flanders Red ale has received quite the praise from Crafty Pint and their barrel-aged stout also had some good wraps. I enjoyed their Tangelo Gose and these craft beer vets showed that they are still among the best in the business.

6. (6) Mornington Peninsula

I was really impressed by the range this year. Nothing too crazy but a good range of different styles released regularly and all done well. I mentioned A nice complement to one of the best core ranges in the business.

4. (7) Pirate Life

Another big year for Pirate Life, quickly moving up these rankings and set to be one of the top performers again in the Hottest 100. Their Triple IPA at GABS delighted the punters with the best rating on Untappd and they turned out a good range of beers this year. I was most impressed by their stout, particularly as it was the first beer of theirs I’d had that wasn’t hop-focused.

4. (5) La Sirene

La Sirene is all class. Their beers are always well-made, complex and intriguing. Their Avant Garde series met a lot of praise (and had beautiful labels), while their Urban Pale was a great first example of them bringing their farmhouse-style beers to a wider audience.

3. (3) Bridge Road

Continue to pump out creative beers that push the envelope and bring Australia craft beer forward. The Mayday Hills range, featuring a huge wooden barrel innoculated with brett yeast is the latest example of that. While I also found their duo of Biere De Wilde beers featuring wild yeasts from different winemakers intriguing and tasty.

2. (2) Boatrocker

The barrel program continues to be a success and produce high-quality beers that are unmatched in Australia. Ramjet once again impressed as one of Australia’s best beers, big and flavoursome and balanced, while the Dark Saison was probably my favourite beer this year from them. They are breathing down the neck of Feral at no. 1.

1. (1) Feral

A relatively quiet year in my books from Australia’s best brewer but they still have a great core range of beers complemented by a variety of excellent limited releases. It seems that many agree with me on their ranking as Beer Cartel’s industry survey also had them in the top spot. Look forward to seeing what they do after moving to a new brewery with greater capacity this year.

Is Ballast Point the greatest threat to Australian craft beer?

It would be easy to assume that the greatest threat posed to Australian craft beer comes from the corporations pumping out bland tasteless pale beers that still dominate well over 90% of the beer market. But drinkers will know the difference between these beers and craft beer as soon as they take their first sip.

And while supermarket craft beers like Steamrail and Sail & Anchor and craft-washed brands like Yenda and Whatever Yak, may fool some with their crafty-looking packaging and lack of disclosure about who they really are, those who also drink full-flavoured craft beer will not be fooled for long by these mediocre beers.

But when it comes to US craft beers like Ballast Point or Oskar Blues, when they are fresh, drinkers will find that the beers are every bit as good as the Australian craft beers out there, if not better.

This is why I pose the question are Ballast Point, and other big American craft brewers looking to expand beyond a saturated US market into Australia, in fact the greatest threat to Australian craft beer?

Certainly the recent influx of Ballast Point tinnies across the country has captured the attention of craft beer drinkers and filled social media feeds. Stocked exclusively at Dan Murphys, they are available just about everywhere and the variety of hoppy pale ales are fresh and really tasty, so I totally get why Aussie craft beer drinkers are stoked.

But craft beer drinkers who otherwise might be drinking Australian craft beer are drinking American craft beer because it’s available at a better price and in most cases it is better quality too. More so than the other threats, Ballast Point is direct competition with local brewers for the Australian craft beer drinker and could impact upon the industry’s growth.

Ballast Point’s beers are of a quality rarely seen in Australia and certainly not at the price point they are being sold at. I was always amazed at the Ballast Point Big Eye IPA being sold for so little and now the Sculpin too can be fetched for less than $30 a six-pack. There are some great value beers available in Australia sure but you won’t be able to find 7%abv+ monster hoppy beers like this at this price and widely available year-round.

There are some great Australian big IPAs out there (see IPAs from the likes of Pirate Life, Kaiju and Feral) but they are mostly in  batches at greater cost, mostly sold in singles, and aren’t consistently available. As the Australian market matures, Australian craft brewers will certainly start making bigger IPAs more regularly accessible, but currently it is so much easier and lower risk for American craft brewers already brewing big IPAs like Sculpin at a large volume in a more mature market to bring these beers to the Australian market.

Smart Australian brewers have long recognised the threat that big American craft brewers represent and have taken steps to decommoditise their beers, differentiating their product and also building brand loyalty to separate themselves from competition. Australian brewers have the advantage of being able to build relationships and putting a face to the beer they brew by participating in events like Good Beer Week and establishing taprooms so that drinkers can see it all up close and take the beers away fresh.

Looking at the positives, the competition that US craft beer presents can boost the standard of beer in Australia and accelerate its maturity. To be fair, where would Australian craft beer be without American craft beer? Most of the beers are heavily based on beers and styles from the US. Copying something from American has often passed as innovation in Australian but that won’t cut the mustard any longer.

With Ballast Point and other US craft beers coming to Australia, there’s tasty fresh craft beer available everywhere at a reasonable price. Buying local and independent will hold some sway with drinkers, but the Australian craft brewers who will thrive most against this competition won’t be those who offer inferior imitations, but those who present a genuinely differentiated beer experience, be that through more creative beers, community engagement, superior freshness, or a great brewery venue.

Brown ales deserve your attention

Brown ales are never in fashion. Brown ales laugh at today’s trends. They neither sound exotic like saíson nor tell terrific tales of long voyages over seas like IPAs.

Yet the unfashionable but ever reliable brown ales make a strong case to be a part of anyone’s drinking repertoire.

Brown ales are located in the beer spectrum somewhere between a red ale and a porter. And what I love about brown ales is that they give you a bit of everything, some chocolate, some caramel, and depending on the style, hops.

When done well, they are nicely balanced and all the elements work in harmony. It’s an underrated style and for me works a lot better than the contradictory by name and sometimes by taste, Black IPA style, which has the potential for a clash between the roasted malt and the hops if not done just right.

Some brown ales to try

Big Shed Frankenbrown – I loved this beer on tap and it presents well in the bottle too. It’s an American style with more aggressive hop flavours, bright and grassy, as well as showcasing the caramel and chocolate from the malts. It punches above its alcohol weight too, at only 5% it has a lot of flavour.

Big Shed Frankenbrown
Big Shed Frankenbrown

Two Brothers Growler is also a classic of the Australian craft beer scene as the Moorabbin brewery was perhaps the first to push the style with this tasty American style brown ale one of their core beers.

The big chocolate flavour and firm piney bitterness reminds of some of the best examples from the US, like the Brooklyn Brown and Abita’s Turbodog.

Mornington Peninsula Brown Ale – To me is an exemplary English style brown ale with every element working beautifully in balance. Goes down well and focuses on the malt characteristics and drinkability. Is also now widely available through Dan’s.

Pact Brickworks Brown Ale – The first bottled beer I’ve had brewed in the ACT, I was pleasantly surprised.

This brown was heavier on the chocolate than is typical for the style while still keeping its foot firmly in the brown camp with a smoother sweeter finish than you would find with a porter or stout.

Mornington Peninsula Russell Brown Belgian Ale – I love how Mornington Peninsula promised me to deliver more exciting beers and they have delivered with limited releases like this one. I like that they’ve gone for intriguing but highly drinkable beers over just big crazy beers.

I’m not always a huge fan of Belgian style beers brewed outside of Belgium but this one hits the mark and is one of the best I’ve had in a while, showcasing the malts and the Belgian yeast nicely.

Founders Sumatra Mountain Brown – Everything tastes better with coffee. Well for me at least. A real sweet finish to this imperial strength brown ale provides a nice contrast with the coffee.

Drink Local or Drink Quality? The question that divides craft beer

I’m always interested in reading about trends in the US craft beer scene as it can give a good indication of where things might be headed in Australia.

One trend I’ve been paying attention to is how some of US’s biggest brewers grow are rallying against what has long been one of craft beer’s key messages – ‘drink local’.

Founders Brewing, an American craft brewery with a growing presence in Australia, are one of these breweries that are now pushing ‘quality’ ahead of ‘local’. Founders’ Dave Engbers in this article, outlines the message that their sales crew pushes that is decidedly anti-local.

The biggest challenge our sales crew has is “local.” Every town has like eight breweries now. We just keep preaching, and I hope retail follows suit, that “local” does not mean “quality.”

‘Drink local’ has long been a key message for craft beer and it was a shock for me to read a craft brewery flipping the script like this. The ‘drink local’ message linked in nicely with a broader cultural movement to support local producers over multi-national corporations, and made sense to drinkers who like the idea of buying beers from brewers that they can meet in the flesh and breweries that they can visit.

Why have these bigger craft breweries in the US changed their tune? Because they’ve reached a point where to grow further they need to expand beyond being local. To do this, they need to switch drinkers’ focus towards a message of ‘drink quality’, where they boast more experience and can invest more money in equipment for quality control than the younger, local breweries that they’re competing against.

However, the emotional pull of ‘drink local’ is real for drinkers and is supported by the data in this Nielsen survey of beer drinkers in the US in 2015.

8926-craft-beer-local-chart

 

That’s why breweries like Samuel Adams lament that their beers are being ignored in spite of their quality, simply because they’re not small, new, or local.

In this Good Beer Hunting article, Christopher Barnes, who works at a distributor of iconic import brands like Rodenbach in the US, opines about about the irrational attachment of drinkers to local beer:

“People will often drink a poorly crafted local beer because they have some sense of story or attachment to the brand regardless of quality.”

For Colorado brewery Oskar Blues rather than trying to rally against local they’re trying to become local by setting up breweries with taprooms around the country.

They most recently opened a brewery taproom venue in Austin, Texas, and in this excellent article, Austin Chronicle writer Eric Puga, outlined some of the friction that their expansion causes with the local industry. He also suggests that ‘local’ is about more than just a physical presence.

The phrase “buy local” among Austin craftsmen and women has traditionally been a call to preserve small, independently owned, hometown breweries…

“Buy local” is a complicated phrase, and it extends to terroir, sustainability, endurance, and perhaps even friendship in the small beer industry; its meaning is much more than a quaint marketing suggestion.

Is it unfair that some drinkers ignore bigger craft breweries in favour of local beer regardless of quality? Perhaps, but the ‘drink local’ message has been an important part of what’s gotten craft beer to where it is, and the emotional side of purchasing decisions cannot be underestimated.

With more local breweries opening up everywhere, growth has been harder to come by for the biggest craft breweries in the US. So they are also looking for new markets to expand into as the US market comes close to saturation point.

Australia is one such market and the likes of Ballast Point and Founders have captured the attention of Australian beer drinkers over the past year, each causing a stir in their own way with the launches of Sculpin IPAs and the Kentucky Breakfast Stout.

This must be causing some concern among Australian brewers, especially with some of the value pricing. The Ballast Point Big Eye IPA was long at the top of my best value for money beers, and the Founders Imperial Stout was recently available at an unbeatable price for that style and quality.

The local advantage is real but this kind of competition from the US is also going to put the pressure on Australian brewers to continue to produce good value quality beers too.

At Dainton brewery in Carrum Downs. A quality and local brewery.
At Dainton brewery in Carrum Downs. A quality and local brewery.

Meanwhile, some of Australia’s craft brewers are getting bigger and more sophisticated themselves.

Pirate Life recently took over their own distribution and their potential for growth looks enormous with their ongoing success and popularity. While 4 Pines continue to expand their reach and have plans to open up 3 more venues soon.

This is all good news in my books. Craft beer is becoming more professional and that’s going to help get craft beer into more people’s hands. Rather than one-man-band local founder/brewer/salesman types, we’re seeing breweries emerging that are more savvy marketers and experienced operators in the beer business.

While at the same time, brewpubs and brewery bars with a strong local focus are also opening up and proving a hit by connecting with their communities.

It isn’t hard to see that in a few years time we may be facing a similar situation to the one in the US, as newer smaller breweries continue to open up and push their local credentials, while the bigger more established and professional craft breweries try to turn the focus towards quality.

This all means that the question of ‘drink local or drink quality?’ is only going to become a more polarising question for Australian craft beer drinkers in times ahead.

For me I ask, why not both?

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Are nitro beers set to explode?

Many craft brewers have a bit of ‘mad scientist’ about them. Because craft beer is about experimentation and pushing into new (or rediscovering old) beer styles and constantly providing the novelty-seeking beer geeks like me with new tastes to explore.

And one of the latest mad science endeavours in Australian craft beer is nitro beers.

Nitro beers involve switching out some of the usual CO2 that carbonates a beer with around 70% nitrogen, creating a denser head and thicker body. Nitro beers are poured through a special tap or go through a specialised bottling or canning process.

Nitro adds another dimension to beers with the body and mouthfeel. Nitro tends to work better with maltier beers like stout and English style ales rather than hoppy pale ales and IPAs, with which it can dull the flavour a bit.
Read More »

Some Extra Special ESBs in Australia

The Extra Special Bitter (ESB) has a cocky name that belies its appeal as a beer style that is generally understated, balanced and highly drinkable.

What I love about ESBs is the great interplay between the different elements. Without any one ingredient dominating, the malt, hops and yeast are each able contribute their own distinctive characteristics to the beer.

The ESB is a broad style that is difficult to define. It is basically a kind of English-style pale ale that is a bit stronger. These BJCP style guidelines describe it as “A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer”.

This is borne out in the ESBs brewed in Australia that range from sweet to dry, light to dark, and creamy. Here are some of the best examples going around in Australia at the moment:

3 Ravens English ESB

A Gold Medal winner for this style at the AIBA awards, along with Mountain Goat’s Hightail Ale. It is a bronze/copper colour with a dry earthy finish. This ESB is a really good winter beer for those that enjoy an eminently drinkable malty ale.

Mornington Peninsula’s Dog’s Bollocks ESB

The Dog’s Bollocks is a new release that seems to play on the tendency of UK ales to have bizarre names like Sheepshagger. The beer itself is interesting as a rare canned ‘nitro beer’, the nitro giving it a creamier thicker body that enhances its already sessionable nature.

This beer really hits the mark as a smooth creamy beer with a pleasant interplay of sweet malts, earthy hops and fruity esters.

dog's bollocks square 4.jpg

Napoleone’s Longbow ESB and Fighting Jack ESB

While many craft breweries are focused on following American styles, Napoleone are making their mark through their interpretations of European styles and recently released an ESB for their first canned beer. The Longbow ESB is quite pale for an ESB so is a bit subtler in its malt flavours but has some nice nuances of fruity esters from the English yeast.

Personally I enjoyed most their bigger ESB on tap from the brewery bar last year, Fighting Jack, packing in at over 7% with a darker colour and bigger malt profile.

Napoleone-tasting-paddle
Tasting Paddle at Napoleone brewery bar

4 Pines ESB

4 Pines’ ESB is one of the lighter and sweeter examples out there. I enjoyed it more as it warmed up and the fruity esters of the yeast came through more.

Hargreaves Hill ESB

An Australian classic that may get overlooked by some, I feel like if it was called a pale ale and had a rad label it would be one of the best regarded beers in Australia.

This is distinctly different to other ESBs on this list as the beer is powered by new-world hops, the bright berry and tropical fruit aromas of the Nelson Sauvin hops shining over a sweet malt base.

Holgate ESB 

Holgate’s ESB is a well-balanced beer and good example of the style. It drinks particularly well when it has a fuller mouthfeel after being pulled from a handpump at the brewery bar or at the Royston Hotel say, and is a handy winter beer.

For those lacking for the classic examples of the style, there’s Fullers ESB which is the forefather, and Courage’s Strong Bitter is another. They are a good drop and are available at the big retailers. And for those brewing at home, Jamil provides a good style profile here.

Got milk… in your beer?

Milk in beer?? Well not quite, at least not anymore. The increasingly popular style of beer called ‘milk stout’ doesn’t literally contain milk but lactose, a sugar derived from milk that doesn’t break down into alcohol and therefore adds sweetness and a fuller body to the beer.

Many beer drinkers are put off by darker beers, whether it’s simply the colour or they didn’t enjoy the classic dry stout, Guinness. But the sweeter milk stout may be the perfect style to convert these drinkers to dark beer as it is often easier drinking, less astringent, and plays well with familiar flavours that people typically consume like chocolate, coffee, vanilla and sugar.

For some historical perspective, the style originates from the UK in the 1800s when milk was added to stouts for nutritional purposes and doctors even prescribed if for ailments and nursing mothers. The sweeter style of stout was also an way for brewers to combat the growing market of mild ales.

Eventually the use of the word ‘milk’ in the name of the beers was banned in the UK in 1946 to avoid this false association, but now milk stouts are another historical style being reinvented by craft brewers around the world including in Australia and it has to be one of my favourite beer styles. So here are some top class milk stouts brewed in Australia that I can highly recommend.

5 Australia Milk Stouts that are f’ing awesome

  1. Batch Brewing’s Elsie the Milk Stout – This beer blew me away when I had it on nitro at the great Sydney bar Keg & Brew. I’d never had such a flavoursome beer on nitro before that delivered such great chocolate aromas with a creamy mouthfeel to round it out. Definitely one of my perfect winter warmers.
  2. Thirsty Crow’s Vanilla Milk Stout – This brewery from Wagga Wagga built their reputation amongst beer aficionados for this award-winning brew and it’s no surprise. It’s an even sweeter version of the style with the Madagascan vanilla in there but has all the wonderful flavours and full body. I adored this beer when having from a cask at GABS and also enjoyed fresh on tap from the brewery. Tough to find outside of the brewery’s bar but worth seeking out.
  3. Brewcult’s Milk and Two Sugars – The winner of People’s Choice at GABS in 2015, this is a stronger milk stout than the others at just over 7% and benefited from a mega addition of coffee to create an ultra tasty beer that you could be forgiven for drinking at breakfast.
  4. Exit Milk Stout – Another addition to Exit Brewing’s core range, the milk stout exemplifies all that’s great about the style, the sweeter finish allowing the flavours from the chocolate malts to really sing and seems to make the beer more complex yet still drinkable so that it appeals to both beer geeks and novices alike.
  5. Kooinda Milk Porter – This beer goes under the radar a bit but it is another excellent example of the style. As a milk porter, it has a slightly lighter tinge to it and is not as full bodied as the others but for drinkability and flavour hits the sweet spot.

A milk stout from Castle in South Africa

For some international examples of the style, the UK’s Mackeson Stout is renowned as the classic example of the style, first brewed in 1907.

More recently in craft beer circles, Left Hand Brewing from Colorado are the best exemplars of the style, with their milk stout their number one seller.

The first time I enjoyed this style was actually when I had a Left Hand Milk Stout on nitro at a bar on Rainey Street in Austin, Texas. It has to be one of the coolest drinking spots in the world where old suburban homes have been transformed into kick-ass bars with lovely outdoor drinking areas, and on a perfect balmy Texas night, I parked myself on a wooden table under some fairy lights with this cult beer.

Even on a warm night, it proved to be a perfect choice of beer. The beer while restrained and well balanced, still had enough depth to delight with its dark chocolate aromas, creamy body and smooth slightly sweet finish.

 

Are we living in the peak generation for beer?

I got to thinking recently that we may be the luckiest generation there is and ever will be when it comes to beer. Not only are we living in an unprecedented era of diversity and creativity of beer but future generations will never appreciate it as much as we do because they will never have experienced how things were before the craft beer movement took hold.

In the early 20th century technology like refrigeration improved the standards of beer, then later globalisation increased the diversity of beer styles, and over the last couple of decades microbreweries and craft beer proliferated to increase creativity and experimentation in beer. As a result, we’re now at a point where there’s an amazing choice of beers at our fingertips to a point that we hardly would have thought possible even a decade ago.

Craft beer will continue to grow and become more widely available and we’ve still got a ways to go to catch up to some other countries but for those who really seek out good beer, I wonder whether we’ve just about reached the peak for beer.

Just go to any of the great independent bottleshops around Australia or to a beer festival like GABS and you can find a selection of malty beers, hoppy beers, barrel-aged beers, farmhouse-style beers, sour beers, salty beers and beers brewed with all kind of different ingredients added. Basically you can find any kind of taste you want.

And these beers will be of great quality too. We have access to some of the best beers in the world now in Australia, international beers like Cantillon, Founders and Ballast Point, and then there’s the local heroes like Feral & Pirate Life, and New Zealand’s 8 Wired and Garage Project are as good as any too.

That’s not to say there aren’t great beers and times ahead but I just wonder how much more I can experience in terms of drinking beer? Certainly when first entering the world of craft beer, I would regularly experience epiphanies but now they are fewer and farther in between. And that’s ok.

My point is that it doesn’t get much better than what it is right now, so remember that and appreciate the beers you have.

In terms of wealth, millennials may be the first generation that may not be as well off as the preceding generations. Things like home ownership have become unexpectedly out of reach for many of our generation but great experiences through food and beer have become increasingly attainable.

Growing up our beer options were limited to choices between different brands of bland homogenous beers, and we’ve since witnessed an incredible boom in great beer.

When we drink the latest and greatest beer, we can also think back to 10 years ago and remember just how far we’ve come and appreciate that beer just that bit more than anyone ever will again.