The most influential beers and brewers of 2017

Since this blog launched more than six years ago, the beers have changed a lot but 2017 saw some of the most dramatic changes yet.

The landscape of craft beer in Australia shifted forever with the sales of Feral, Pirate Life, and 4 Pines, three of the biggest and best independent breweries in Australia. In decades to come, 2017 will be looked back on as a defining year for the industry, time will tell whether it’s for better or worse.

With these acclaimed national craft beer brands being sucked up by big corporations, beer is set to be split along new lines. Quality alone is no longer a differentiator, it’s now also about things like independence, ‘keeping it local’, and freshness.

While the sales stole the spotlight, thankfully there was a lot more going on in craft beer in 2017. New breweries continued to open in a race to fill every feasible locale with a local craft brewery of its own; new beer styles like the juicy hazy NEIPA style inspired brewers and captivated drinkers; and creative new beers with wild yeasts came from a variety of different places and from brewers old and new.

Here were some of the most influential beers, brewers and venues for 2017.

Time to get juicy

In terms of beer styles, 2017 was certainly the year of the NEIPA. The new beer style that had taken the US by storm, quickly spread across the country in Australia this year, and turned us all into fruit juice seeking fiends.

3 Ravens Juicy was one of the best and most consistent examples of the style. It was powerfully fruity on the nose and pleasant to drink. It’s brightly coloured contemporary design stood out on the shelf and a range of variants such as Extra Juicy and Lemon Juicy followed, with more on the way in the year ahead.

This style of beer comes with plenty of hype, which has made it somewhat polarising but be prepared haters, it isn’t going anywhere. A lot of breweries tried their hand at the style in 2017 and had great success so we can expect to see it a lot more in 2018.

Feral and Pirate Life are the best

If I’m doing my top Australian brewers rankings again this year, I would have to place Feral and Pirate Life right at the top, which is what made their sales to Coca Cola Amatil and AB InBev so shocking.

Pirate Life’s Mosaic IPA and Stout released in tall cans, were an absolute treat. The Stout was again one of my favourite beers this year and their Mosaic IPA was right up there too. While their Vanilla Malt Thickshake IPA was also one of the highest rated beers at GABS. Their meteoric rise over the past couple of years has been impressive.

Feral War Hog cans were also a top choice for me this year and certainly one of the best beers available at the local Dan’s. They’ve been an incredible brewery for a long time and I hope that we continue to see that even after the sale.

For the record, after these two, here is my list of the next 8 top craft brewers:

  • Boatrocker – good to see Miss Pinky being sold further afield, while the sour and barrel aged beers continue amaze.
  • Mornington Peninsula – they upped their game again with another year of strong special releases including some barrel aged treats and my personal favourite a hoppy kettle sour, Brain Squeeze.
  • 3 Ravens – the year’s big climber in the rankings in my estimation, a great range of beers and beer styles from a Sourdough Ale to the aforementioned Juicy.
  • La Sirene – A reasonably quiet year after Urban Pale took over last summer, but beers from their Avant Garde series impressed.
  • Bridge Road – the Mayday Hills range saw some of the most creative beers as the veteran brewery defied trends by (mostly) avoiding cans and not even brewing an NEIPA.
  • Modus Operandi – They continued to pump out consistently high quality releases. I loved all of their hoppy beers, but the Black Lab Milk Stout was a favourite too.
  • Stockade – They won the GABS People’s Choice award with Mountie, a maple syrup embellished imperial stout, and put out quality beers like Plum Perfect Berline Weisse.
  • Nomad – They seem to have really found a great niche with their series of Gose beers that are both creative and approachable. The Freshie Moka was a highlight for me, I didn’t expect that coffee would work with a thin body and slightly salty finish but by golly it did.

Sunshine state coming up fast

QLD was behind the 8-ball for a number of years but has certainly caught up fast in recent times. As I became a resident of the Sunshine state in 2017, the timing couldn’t have been better. A number of QLD breweries excelled in awards, while a number of new breweries opened up and got off to a strong start.

In 2017, Green Beacon produced more tasty beers in cans such as their limited release Blood Orange IPA; the mad genius of Bacchus shined as they riffed on current trends with a kettle-soured NEIPA, KSour JAFBalter’s XPA is still one of the best pale ales in Australia and their IPA made for nice drinking too; while Ballistic Brewing impressed judges and locals alike with their beers – the Oaked Ale was a personal favourite.

GABS festival beers good

This year a number of beers from GABS that were shown a lot of love even after the event. Stockade’s Mountie won the People’s Choice award and remained popular wherever it could be found. Modus Operandi’s Cascadian Howl was one of the best seasonal releases, and Hop Nation’s Jedi Juice was a deservedly popular NEIPA around the traps.

Barrels and blends for all my friends

The next frontier for breweries to push boundaries often seems to involve yeast. La Sirene and Bridge Road via their Mayday Hills range, continued to seek out new flavour territories using funky equipment like coolships and foeders to harvest yeast and extract new flavours for their beers.

Bridge Road used the somewhat misunderstood and under utilised Brettanomyces yeast as the base for intriguing and complex beers like Thursday, a dark ale brewed with spent botanicals from a gin distillery.

While La Sirene’s Vin Folie was a 100% wild fermented ale, co-fermented with grenache grapes to create one of the more unique beers of the year.

A personal favourite beer this year wasn’t wild but was aged in barrels, Knock on Wood from Two Birds. This Belgian pale ale aged in French Oak barrels previously used to age wine, had a rich complex taste while remaining perfectly enjoyable to drink.

There were also some exciting new upstarts in this space to keep an eye on in 2018 too. Wildflower surely made the biggest impact on Australian craft beer on a per litre produced basis as beer geeks fell in love with this brewery in Sydney’s inner west with a focus on producing beers using wild yeasts and blending. While in Victoria, Dollar Bill Brewing also entered this space, promising more blending and barrel ageing to come. Exciting times!



Sessionable session ales are good for sessions

It’s become just about essential for brewers to have a session ale or Session IPA in their lineup. But is it a valid style or just a buzzword used to rebadge pale ales and encourage more drinking?

While the session ale can overlap with other pale ale styles, it does fill a gap in the range. It’s less strong and bitter than an IPA, but is more bitter than a summer ale. It has less caramel sweetness than American-style pale ales and can weigh in anywhere between 3 to 5% abv.

When done right, session ales hit the sweet spot between full flavoured and easy drinking. For me, I can’t drink big IPAs quite like I used to and I’m not a big fan of the caramel sweetness of crystal malts present in many American-style pale ales. So these lighter tastier drier ales are a perfect go-to drink if I don’t want anything too heavy.

Here are some of the session ales to look out for in Australia:

Mornington Peninsula Hop Culture Session IPA (4.9%)

A cool pop art style can, on the heavier end of this style. Nice and hoppy, it’s fruity with a firm but not overwhelming bitterness. I got around to drinking this one recently after ordering from BoozeBud and I thought it wasn’t dissimilar to Feral Hop Hog and other great Aussie pale ales of that ilk.

Pirate Life Throwback Session IPA (3.5%)

A mid-strength beer, light in colour and malts, heavy in tropical fruit aromas with a medium bitterness. This is my favourite Australian example with the lighter strength making it perfect for certain occasions.

Yeastie Boys Australia Bigmouth Session IPA (4.4%)

NZ’s favourite contract brewers are brewing this one out of Nomad and at a great price currently at First Choice. Using NZ hops, including some Nelson Sauvin by my reckoning, it has a distinctive fruity, almost grape-y aroma and a nice tongue coating bitterness but is refreshing and I want some right now.

Bridge Road Little Bling Session IPA (3.4%) – The smallest member of the Bling family still packs a punch with plenty of hops and flavour.

Founders All Day Session IPA (4.7%) – Founders are generally regarded as the, er, founders of this style with this tasty beer. A classic with all the flavour of the aroma hops, without any over-the-top bitterness or caramel sweetness that had typified American IPAs.

Brew Dog Dead Pony Club Session Pale Ale (3.8%) – This was my introduction to the style and was a pleasant surprise. Now available in cans, lower bitterness with s a citrusy and spicy kick from the hops.

Feral Sly Fox Session Ale (4.7%) This beers seems to have changed from summer ale to session ale at some point, I guess because summer ale is soo last year. But seriously, this is a refreshing beer with some citrus hops and a low bitterness crisp finish.

Ballast Point Even Keel Session Ale (3.8%) – Like the other Ballast Point ales, expect lots of hops and no sacrifice in flavour for this lighter style of beer.

Colonial Small Ale (3.5%) – A refreshing beer with aromatic citrusy hops all packed into a cool can.



Craft beers & charity – drinking for a cause

The beers have changed and Australian craft beer has really ‘grown up’ in recent years, for better and worse. One positive of the industry’s maturity is the increasing role that brewers are playing in the Australian community beyond just slinging beer, as some have also become prominent supporters of worthy causes and charities. 

Brewers understand that consumer choice is more and more driven by what the beer stands for, as much as how it tastes. This has been a key to the success of craft beer, as many drinkers like the idea of their beer money supporting local businesses in their community.

So it makes sense that brewers are now aligning with social causes that their drinkers are passionate about too, to further reinforce the idea that drinkers are putting their money towards something bigger than just beer.

Below are some brewers with causes that you can support:

Drink Stomping Ground’s Gipps St Pale Ale in support of Movember

Collingwood’s Stomping Ground brewery are throwing their support behind Movember, pledging to donate $75,000 towards the foundation, funded from sales of their Gipps St Pale Ale throughout November.

“Movember is a fun way for everyone – men and women – to help us raise funds and awareness for Movember’s men’s health issues. As a brewery we think we can help create some conversations and we’re very proud to be working with Movember” said Steve Jeffares, brewery founder and owner.

If you fancy a good beer for a good causes, check out one of the supporting venues in November.

Join Brewmanity in the fight against MND

Brewmanity’s tagline is ‘beer for goodness sake’ and philanthropy is a key part of the Melbourne brewery’s makeup.

Their primary cause so far has been supporting the Cure for MND Foundation, having already raised over $150k through fundraising events and a portion of their beer sales.

You can make a donation directly or find one of Brewmanity’s beers to help support the MND foundation in its efforts to cure this debilitating disease.

Join Moo Brew & the Wilderness Society to save the Giant Tasmanian Lobster

Moo Brew are supporting a cause in their local environment, joining the Wilderness Society to raise funds to help lobby the government to protect the Giant Tasmanian Freshwater Lobster, whose habitat is under threat.

A successful crowdfunding campaign that raised over $25,000 will see Moo Brew brew a Giant Lobster Ale. The first case will be sent to Federal Environment Minister Frydenberg as a friendly reminder to sign off on a Lobster recovery plan.

We believe Aussie beer drinkers will embrace the win-win situation where drinking a refreshing ale is also helping to save a legendary Australian beastie,” says The Wilderness Society’s National Creative Director, Rob Beamish.

All profits from Giant Lobster Ale will go into the program to protect the endangered creature, so keep an eye out for this beer’s release.

Drink Sparkke Change to support a range of causes

Sparkke Change are an independent South Australian beverage business with a variety of drinks (including beers) supporting a variety of causes.

At least 4% of any drink you buy, or 10% of every drink you buy direct, will go towards a worthy cause related to that expressed on the label.

Their latest release sounds enticing. A New England Pale Ale ‘What is Planet B?”, supporting the fight against climate change.

See more information about the causes they support.

Support same-sex marriage equality with the Good Beer Co.’s Love2

Same-sex marriage equality has stirred a lot of passion in the Australian community this year with the national postal vote on the issue. Good Beer Co. have previously supported conservation of the Great Barrier Reef, this time have teamed up with Bright Brewery to launch a session pale ale Love2 with all proceeds going towards the Australian Marriage Equality campaign.

More details on buying the beer here.

What is this fruit in my beer and where can I get more of this?

Beers are becoming more and more fruity. Both in terms of the most popular hop varieties today adding fruit-like aromas to the beer, and actual fruit being added in the brewing process.

This trend towards fruit in craft beers has been a while coming but has seemingly reached its zenith of late with the birth of the ‘juicy’ New England IPA (NEIPA) style beers, the proliferation of pale ales with fruit added, and the uptick in sessional sour beer styles like Gose and Berline Weisses that often include the addition of fruits.

Hoppy fruity beers

The trendiest hops right now are varieties like Citra, Mosaic, Galaxy, and, in New Zealand, Nelson Sauvin, which impart distinctively fruity aromas to the beer. Passionfruit, melon, tropical punchbowl, citrus, are all common flavours associated with these hops.

This is in stark contrast to hop varieties used previously in the West Coast IPAs, like Centennial, Columbus and Chinook, which were piney, resinous, and bitter.

The new fruitier IPAs, and in particular the New England IPAs (NEIPAs) are a stylistic counterpoint to these brash bitter IPAs, and tend to be more approachable with lively fruity flavours and a toned-down bitterness.

It’s taken years of hop innovation to breed these fruitier styles that are now so sought after but styles like NEIPAs are still somewhat polarising among seasoned beer drinkers. Even if its immediate appeal is broader, some beer afficianados find these beers lacking in bitterness and, well, beeriness. Nevertheless, these hoppy fruity beers continue to be a drawcard for drinkers and the hype train shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. 

Some examples of beers that really showcase fruit aromas through, include:

  • 20170913_190618.jpg3 Ravens’ Juicy – a really pleasant juicy orange flavour with low bitterness (pictured)
  • Feral’s Biggie Juice – another super juicy but approachable beer that is thick and cloudy.
  • Hop Nation’s Jedi Juice – lots of mango and citrus and plenty of hazy and body, this is my favourite example of the NEIPA style yet.
  • 8 Wired Hopwired IPA – This is the first beer I remember blowing me away by how fruity it was, you could smell it from across the room! Fruity NZ hops at their best.
  • Pirate Life Mosaic IPA – Mosaic may be the hottest hop variety right now and this is a typically excellent example from the hop masters at Pirate Life.
  • Stone & Wood Pacific Ale – an oldie but a goldie, a pale and thin bodied ale, allowing the  fruit aromas from the Galaxy hops to really shine through.

Beer with fruit added

The Gose and Berliner Weisse style beers are slightly sour and tart already, so the styles lend themselves to fruit additions. In fact, Berliner Weisses were historically served in Germany along with syrup flavours such as raspberry,

One of my favourite modern examples of fruit being added to a beer is the Blood Orange Gose from California’s Anderson Valley Brewing (pictured). The beer was trendsetter in this sessionable sour category and tastes somewhat like an alcoholic version of a San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa, which works surprisingly well.


In Australia, Wayward’s Sourpuss Raspberry Berliner and Nomad’s Saltpan Desert Lime Gose are two other fantastic examples of using fruit additions to accentuate and add complexity to these refreshing beer styles.

Fruit and hops all together now

Brewers are also adding fruit to beer styles with fruity hops, using fruit additions to further exaggerate flavours and add complexity. Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin and Pineapple Sculpin, for instance are two popular fruit-added varieties of the US brewery’s seminal IPA.

One local example of a fruit-added IPA worth seeking out is Green Beacon’s Blood Orange IPA. The fruit adds to the citrus aromas present from the hops and creates a distinctive and moreish beer.

Other recent local releases in this space include James Squire’s Tropicana Ale (pictured), which was an intriguing thirst quencher reminiscent of guava juice. Another couple of exciting releases, which I haven’t sampled yet but look forward to are Two Birds’ Passion Victim Summer Ale, brewed with passionfruit puree, and Stockade’s Two Bridges, brewed in collaboration with Brazilian brewery Dadiva, which also uses the addition of passionfruit to complement the Galaxy hops used.


Winners and losers of the 4 Pines sale to AB InBev

The sale of Manly’s 4 Pines brewery to beer’s dark overlords, AB InBev, was big news, as these kinds of sales always are, but to keen observers wasn’t entirely surprising or as shocking as say the sale of longtime industry stalwarts Mountain Goat to Asahi.

4 Pines were one of the largest remaining independent craft brewers and a logical target for a cashed-up corporation looking to sink its teeth into the Aussie scene by snapping up a local craft brewery.

4 Pines’s focus on producing larger volumes for sale through retail stores, and their rapid expansion strategy, makes me think that they were hoping to attract just this kind of offer at some point.

Whatever the reasoning, the move to sell to AB InBev, is set to impact the industry and Australian beer drinkers. Here are the winners and losers from the deal as I see them.Read More »

Something’s brewing in QLD… good beer

This year’s AIBA awards marked the ascendance of Queensland’s beer scene from a craft straggler to an emerging hotspot. Brisbane’s Green Beacon won Small Brewery Champion, Gold Coast’s Balter won Medium Brewery Champion and Best New Exhibitor, and a new brewery in Brisbane’s south, Ballistic, also picked up multiple gold medals.

Having recently taken up residence in the Sunshine state, I’m of course delighted with this state of affairs, and have been surveying the scene closely.

Currumbin’s Balter Brewing and Mount Tamborine’s Fortitude Brewing/Noisy Minor have already placed in my best brewery bars to visit list, offering some of the best go-to beers in Australia in the form of Balter’s XPA and Noisy Minor’s Admiral Ackbar. Balter’s Alt Brown and Fortitude’s Echo Chamber IPA and Stout are also personal favourites.


Another brewery in the Gold Coast area excelling is Black Hops. While their brewery and tasting room in Miami is tiny, their beers pack a lot of punch and they are looking to take on investors and expand. The Eggnog Stout is a unique and interesting beer and others like Code Red IPA and Pink Mist raspberry saison also ticked my boxes.


Nearby, industry vets Burleigh Brewing are still churning out some decent beers like Figjam IPA even if they’ve lost some of their innovative edge, and even the Harajuku Gyoza restaurant in Broadbeach has turned their hand to brewing. While I was skeptical, their seasonal beer, a Yuzu saison, was actually pretty tasty, and the gyoza is certainly damn good.

And while not in QLD as such, Stone & Wood in Byron Bay is another brewery in the region worth checking out. Only a short drive over the border, they have some interesting one-off beers available at the bar there, experimenting with funky yeasts and different flavours, alongside their classics like the Pacific Ale and Jasper Ale.

IMG-20170423-WA0001.jpgMeanwhile I still have some exploring to do in the Brisbane area. The medal-winning breweries like Ballistic and Green Beacon are at the top of my must-visit list. Ballistic has burst onto the scene and established itself as a top local in Brisbane’s south, while Green Beacon are now looking further afield as they go national.

Other Brisbane breweries I’m looking out for include Newstead and Aether, who are within walking distance of each other on the Milton Good Beer Trail.

Then there’s newcomers Slipstream, Catchment and Brisbane Brewing and of course you can’t forget about Bacchus. The two-time GABS champs are still producing some of the most unique beers in the country. Recently they held a NEIPA and seafood festival at their brewery in Capalaba south east of Brisbane, and always have an interesting beer or five up their sleeve there.

It’s exciting times for Queenslanders and visitors to the sunshine state.

If you could pick any 8 beers to start a brewery with what would they be?

Sometimes I dream about starting a brewery… then I remember that I have no money and my homebrewing skills are mediocre at best. But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming. And I imagine if I did have a brewery, what beers would I have in the lineup.

For the purposes of this article, let’s pretend that I was flush with cash and could buy the unconditional rights to any beer I wanted to in Australia to start my brewery with. So rather than simply buying craft breweries like AB InBev, I’m buying up individual beers and repackaging them under my own label. Now I sound like some kind of evil corporate beer company but ignore that, the question to focus on is, if I had this choice, what beers would I choose?

I’m going to pick a range of 4 core beers and 4 seasonal beers from among Australia’s best, to start this hypothetical brewery up in style.

Core beer 1 – A sessionable sour

The last few years has seen the revival of niche historical styles like Gose and Berliner Weisse. These sessionable sours are a great crossover beer, appealing to a broad spectrum of drinkers as approachable and refreshing, while being different and interesting enough to appease the beer geeks too.

Nomad has been one of the best examples of this in Australia with their Freshie salt and pepper gose widely available and other variations on offer including the excellent Saltpan Desert gose with desert limes.

Then there’s the 2017 AIBA Gold Medal winners from NSW, Wayward’s Sourpuss raspberry berliner weisse, and Stockade’s Plum Perfect plum berliner weisse. A bit fruity, a bit a tart, and a lot refreshing, either of these beers would be a great addition to the lineup, and I’m going to go with:

Wayward Sourpuss

Core beer 2 – A malty ale

I like malt-forward beers. There’s a heap of hoppy pale ales out there and I really appreciate a nice malty ale with caramel and toffee in there. I think there’s still heaps of potential for a really great Scotch ale in Australia, or a cracking traditional ESB to be done as a regular beer but as seen at the recent Crafty Pint blind tasting for red/amber ales there are a lot of great malt-driven beers already too.

Dainton’s Red Eye Rye has some spice and some fruity hops, Wayward’s Charmer is another top hoppy red, and don’t sleep on Mountain Goat’s Fancy Pants. If I was to go for a bigger red ale then Fortitude’s Admiral Ackbar or Modus Operandi’s Former Tenant would be some of my favourite beers that I never tire of. But instead I’m going to keep it low key with an understated but ever reliable English-style ale.

Young Henry’s Real Ale

Core beer 3 – A hoppy pale ale

I need a beer that can satisfy that guy or gal who walks in off the street to my brewery after a long day and just asks for a “pale ale”. I need a beer that I can rely on in summer when I’ve had my fill of tart sours and I just need a beer with some subtle malt, a heap of good hops and a taste I won’t tire of. I need a moneymaker.

And I could pick any number of great award-winning pale ales from such respected craft beer luminaries as Feral, Bridge Road and Pirate Life. But for my brewery the go-to session-friendly pale ale I pick is…

Balter XPA

Core beer 4 – Porter/Stout

I love dark beers. I love them all year round and still think they’re under-represented in bottle shops and outside of the winter season. Not everyone likes dark beers but I always feel like they just haven’t had the right one yet. I want this beer to be that right one. The one that converts those pale drinkers to the dark side and makes them fanatic dark beer fans just like me. So I’m aiming high.

I love the full-bodied creamy and chocolate-y Batch’s Elsie Milk Stout on nitro, or the coffee hit in the Co-Conspirator’s The Beancounter coffee porter, or the sweet vanilla and chocolate classic Holgate Temptress porter. But the beer I would choose put a whole town on a good beer hunter’s map and I think has the potential to sway the dark ale holdouts like no other, that beer is:

Thirsty Crow Vanilla Milk Stout

Seasonal winter beer – Imperial Stout

When winter comes around, the urge arises in me to drink a big dark beer. And my brewery will have to satisfy this thirst. Red Hill’s Imperial Stout has been a wintertime winner every year and Feral’s Boris has always hits the spot. And there are plenty of other good imperial stouts to track down around the traps and I suspect most drinkers will have their own allegiances as to which they go to. For me though I can’t go past, the long-revered classic…

Murrays Wild Thing

Seasonal Spring – Saison

Saisons provide a great mix of complexity and approachability. The style seems to have gone a little quiet at the moment, perhaps the sours are taking some of the spotlight away from this more understated style but obviously there’s still some great examples to be found.

Hawkers Saison is a solid core beer, while La Sirene built their reputation and initial range brewing great variations of this style. Boatrocker have also done some amazing ones, highlighted by their complex barrel-aged beauty, Gaston. But I’m going to go with the very first one I ever tried and that still stacks up as one of the best,

Bridge Road Saison

Seasonal Summer – Big IPA

I’m not exactly a pale ale kind of guy. But I do appreciate well-made hoppy beers as much as the next guy. And I also understand that hops sell. So I feel the need to have a big hoppy IPA in my lineup. Now there’s a number of breweries that do hops and do hops well and whose beers I would love, Hop Nation’s The Chop, Modus Operandi’s Sonic Prayer, Pirate Life’s infamous IIPA. And then there’s the NEIPA-style beers that are certainly trending at the moment, like Feral’s Biggie Juice or 3 Ravens’ Juicy.

For me, a good beer is timeless. Certainly I want the beer to reflect the times but not just follow trends. I feel like the IPA I’ve chosen hits that middle ground, at a time where we’re seeing somewhat of a seismic shift in the IPAs being brewed. It’s big but doesn’t burn, bitter but not off-putting, anda the hop profile leans more towards the juicy citrus aromas rather than the piney West Coast ones. I’m hankering for more of it just thinking about it:

Feral Warhog

Seasonal Autumn – Sour

For my last seasonal, I want something a bit different, a bit unique. My barrel ageing program is going to take a bit more time to develop (it will be ready perhaps for next year’s hypothetical seasonals) so for the time being I’m going to go with a hoppy kettle soured beer that really stood out from the crowd when I tried at the GABS stand with bright and lively flavours that really blew me away –

Mornington Peninsula Brain Squeeze


Well that was a whole lot of fun. What beers would you choose to start your brewery off with?

Top 10 GABS beers in 2017 according to Untappd

The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular aka GABS kicked off with a bang in 2017 in its first weekend in Melbourne. Beer lovers from all over congregated at the historic Royal Exhibition building for another year of unique beer tastes and festivities.

I was lucky enough to attend the event, courtesy of GABS, and pulled off the doubleheader on Friday for back-to-back sessions. For me, the event lived up to its name with a great lineup of beers, a marketplace packed with stands of good beers and beer people, and lively entertainment from Little Creatures Live acts.

There were some definite themes that emerged among the beers this year, with a lot of New England IPAs, the hazy juicy style sweeping the US, a range of spiced beers including a few Curry-inspired beers, and plenty of dessert-style beers, presumably trying to recapture the winning formula of many past GABS winners.

GABS legends and defending champs Bacchus didn’t make it to this year’s event, so who will take their crown as the People’s Choice winner? We’ll have to wait a little while to find out but in the meantime we can speculate with the aid of some Untappd data, which gives an indicator of what beers were most highly rated by punters in Melbourne. I checked the data following the event and these were the top 10 highest rated.

Top 10 GABS beers according to Untappd ratings as at 30 May 2017

1. Stockade – Mountie Maple Imperial Stout – The people of Untappd found this 12%+ beast of a beer a standout and I totally agree. Someone compared this beer to McDonald’s hotcakes and I think they’re right, but even more surprisingly, it actually works too.

2. Akasha – Lupulin Fog Double IPA – They are one of the best in the biz at doing hoppy beers, so no surprise to seem them come out on top in the battle of the juicy IPAs.

3. Pirate Life – Vanilla Thickshake IPA – Pirate Life is giving winning the People’s Choice award a good, er, shake with this beer. A dessert beer and an IPA that works from a beloved brewer, this may be a prohibitive favourite for the People’s Choice award now.

4. Little Rivers – Little Licka – perhaps the surprise of the event this little known Tassie brewer won a place with a nostalgic Red Rope Licorice style beer that hit the mark.

5. Sierra Nevada – Bombastic Montastic Belgian Brown – One of the very few international brewers at GABS, they earned their keep with this beer, a really nice complex sipper at just over 10%.

6. Feral – Dark Matter – This one stood out by being not as ‘out there’ as other beers but just being a really nice ‘normal’ chocolate porter. Hopefully we see more of it.

7. Modus Operandi – Cascadian Howl – A Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale, is a style that is sometimes maligned and somewhat restrained for GABS, but in the reliable hands of hop-loving MO, it seems to have paid off with the Sydney punters in particular.

8. Hop Nation – Jedi Juice – Another new entry to the top 10 after the Sydney GABS. Another juicy IPA from another hop-loving brewer. Departing the top 10 following Melbourne GABS are Hawkers/Wheaty’s Baklava Brown and 2 Brothers’ The Smoking Jacke.

9. (tied) DeedsJuice Train New England IPA – one of the success stories from the many juicy IPAs on offer, from a somewhat unexpected source.

Moon DogThe Jimmy Laureys – A big bold 22% abv Belgian Strong Ale, personally I wasn’t game to try it, but it clearly won some fans.

And for the record, here are some of my other top picks for beers I enjoyed at GABS.

10 other GABS beers I enjoyed

  1. Wayward – Funky Hoppy People – a hoppy and sour beer, this was something I felt I could easily drink more of.
  2. Chur – Chocolate Fish Milk Stout – This is a classic GABS dessert-style beer with a strong candy-ish raspberry character that indeed tastes like pink marshmallows.
  3. Shambles – ‘Cool Runnings’ Whole Coffee Stout – creamy with plenty of coffee and a subtle earthy, berry flavour, this one was enjoyable.
  4. Willie the Boatman – Marvin Berry’s Choc-Milk Stout – Another sweet stout with cacao, strawberry and raspberry that is well put together with a dry-ish finish.
  5. 3 Ravens – Mango Lassi IPA – surprisingly well balanced, a creamy sour and mango beer that goes down alright.
  6. Wolf of the Willows – ‘Raisin Kilts’ Rum n Raisin Scotch Ale – another one that actually drinks pretty easy as it isn’t overly sweet or rummy.
  7. Yeastie Boys – Royal Tanninbomb – An amped up version of their classic GABS winner, Gunnamatta, the IPA with Earl Grey flowers. The Earl Grey can be a bit overbearing for some, but for me, I liked it.
  8. Emporium – No Whey? Yes Whey! – You go to GABS to drink something different, and this white stout with whey was certainly that.
  9. Shenanigans – Flower Power – this lighter refreshing sour wheat beer with some subtle floral aromas was a good change-up beer.
  10. Stone & Wood – Salty Sour East – A particularly salty and funky gose, so if you like that kind of thing, which I do, then it’s good.

GABS at the Royal Exhibition Building

Worst. Beer styles. Ever.

It’s my 100th post on this beer blog and I’ve professed my love for all kinds of beers and beer styles over that time, from milk stouts to ESBs, brown ales to sours, and even lagers. But to be honest there’s a few beer styles that I don’t enjoy so much and some I even passionately dislike, so I’ve decided it’s about time I give these styles the dressing down they deserve.

You might like these beer styles, and that’s ok, but to me they’re trash, and that’s ok too. So with my snark control turned way up, here are some of the worst beer styles according to me:Read More »

12 great brewery bars to visit across Australia

Brewery bars give brewers a unique opportunity to connect with their local community, grow their brand, put a face and a space to their name, and make better margins on sales too.

I’m always keen to sample the latest beers fresh from the source. In general, brewery venues are relaxed, spacious, welcoming and family-friendly venues that also have great fresh beer, which makes them a great stopping off point on any journey. I’ve had my fair share of tasting paddles at breweries across Australia, so thought I would share some of my favourite venues to visit.

These are my favourite brewery bars based on the comfort and ambience of the venue, the food, the service and of course most importantly, the beer. Note that while I would love to have been to every Australian brewery, there’s still a few that I’m working on getting to. In the meantime, here are my standouts so far from 5 states across Australia.

Victorian brewery bars to visit

Stomping Ground in Collingwood, Melbourne

This brewpub, from the legendary Local Taphouse & GABS team, is in a great position in the heartland of Melbourne’s craft beer scene in the inner-north and close to various forms of public transport.

The venue is impressive with a huge bar area and spacious and comfortable for all different crowds. They even have a cool rustic kids playhouse, which is great if you care about that kind of thing. Clearly these guys have more money and hospitality expertise than the average brewery. The food is a cut above the usual pub-grub and a good accompaniment for the beers.

Oh and the beer is all really good too. Not blow-your-socks-off-amazing… yet at least … but I really enjoy all of their beers. The One Eyed IPA is punchy, there’s some nice Belgian style beers and sours, the Bearbrass nitro milk stout is smooth and creamy, and all were well made and there’s a good variety of styles, light and dark, familiar and different, on offer. They’re increasingly rolling out more complex beers including sour and barrel-aged beers so keep an eye on what these guys are bringing out next.

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 Napoleone Brewery & Ciderhouse in Coldstream

Napoleone are best known for their ciders but they also do a really great range of European-influenced beers at an enchanting venue co-located with the quality Meletos restaurant. Located in the ambient Yarra Valley, in a spacious venue with a lovely fit out containing contemporary and rustic elements. It’s an ideal stop-off in the midst of wine country for good food and good beers.

You can grab a tasting paddle from their bar, alongside the excellent food. They brew mostly a mix of English, Belgian and German style beers, as well as a few standards like an American pale ale. All these beers tend to be fairly dry and easy-to-drink while still retaining complexity. The saison, porter, ESB, and rauchbier are all good examples of the traditional styles.

Even for those who don’t love cider, I recommend trying theirs as they have some especially interesting ones. I particularly enjoyed the Methode Traditionelle Pear Cider as a more complex and dry cider.

Hargreaves Hill in Yarra Glen

The Hargreaves Hill restaurant is the only venue on the list that doesn’t include a brewing setup in the building but there’s plenty to like here. You’ll find this underrated brewer’s latest creations on tap and usually at a reasonable price in either a pot or in a paddle. The food is good and tasty, making good use of the local produce in the area. While the building is a lovely old bank building with a lot of character.

The ESB is their most recognised beer but they have a pretty solid range all-round and some interesting tasty specials too like The Phoenix, an imperial red ale, so keep an eye out for their latest seasonal and small-batch releases.

Bridge Road Brewers in Beechworth

A stellar regional brewpub if ever there was one, from one of craft beer’s great innovators, this is a great venue. The only issue I ever have with it is getting a seat as it does get busy, so make sure you book ahead especially in holiday periods.

The venue has a buzzing atmosphere, malt sacks adorn the seating, and a stylish Ned Kelly symbol sits atop the tasting paddles to add some style. The food is good whether it’s gourmet pizzas or beer bread pretzels or pastrami wraps, it’s all really well done.

I love the range of beers from Bridge Road and I never worry about not finding anything interesting on their taps. If I had to pick one regional Victorian brewery to visit, this is the one.

Queensland breweries to visit

Balter Brewing in Currumbin

The venue owned by a group including Mick Fanning is awesome. It has a simple barebones industrial factory feel of many breweries but with some nice flourishes that puts it a cut above the rest. There’s the cool mural on the wall, a variety of different seating areas, a slick tiled bar with the rhetorical question ‘Thirsty?’, and a space for good food trucks like the Portuguese truck Barraca.

While the beer range isn’t huge yet, it is reliable and steadily growing. All the beers are more approachable than they are creative but they’re also extremely well made. The XPA and Alt Brown, their first two beers in cans, are a perfect combo of easy-to-drink yet flavourful and interesting beers. They’re simply some of the best core beers going around.

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Fortitude brewing in Mount Tamborine

Up in the picturesque hills of the Gold Coast hinterland, Fortitude Brewing have a great spot to stop-off and grab some top drinks and eats. The brewery is co-located with a cheese shop and a restaurant with a nice sheltered outdoor area between the venues where you can take a seat and indulge in your choice of foods while enjoying the top brews.

Fortitude have a range of really sessionable beers. I really enjoyed the Pacer 2.0, a light beer, that packs some flavour, especially fresh from the taps here, and is light, dry and easy to drink.

For the more adventurous beer drinkers, there’s plenty more to offer under the Noisy Minor banner (different name, same brewery). Noisy Minor beers include the great Imperial Red Ale, Admiral Ackbar, an IPA, and my pick of the beers there – a Belgian style black ale, Bete Noire, that was tasty and complex.

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New South Wales breweries to visit

The Rocks brewery in Alexandria

Located in the burgeoning hotspot of Sydney’s inner west, the Rocks brewery is in a nice new commercial complex that also contains a trampoline centre. It doesn’t have much old world charm, but it is a really slick venue with enormous steel tanks, state of the art brewing equipment, and comfortable spaces to drink.

There’s also tasty American-style food to chomp on, tasting paddles of their solid range including beers like a porter and White IPA, and if you come at the right time, a bit of live music to nod your head to. It’s an easy spot to drop into and get a good beer fix and a few takeaways for good measure.

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Murrays Brewing at Bob’s Farm just outside of Port Stephens

Murrays Brewing’s home base is located at a venue called Bob’s Farm, near the town of Port Stephens. On a nice day, the outdoor area is a pleasant area to enjoy a tipple.

When I ventured there a few years back, it was over Easter, the venue was busy and they had a special Easter Ale on tap with all the flavours of hot cross buns in a glass. Good stuff to go along with their excellent range of beers.

Murrays have long been one of the best breweries in Australia, and while they changed head brewer a few years back, they have reinvigorated their lineup recently with some exciting new beers while still continuing to produce some of the classics too.

Inside Murrays

Batch Brewing in Marrickville, Sydney

These next two venues as they are very lo-fi setups but they also have a lot of character and a lot of great beer that make them worth a visit in my books.

Batch Brewery is a cosy little venue that has thrown open a bar with taps of its great range and provides a fridge so that locals can pop in and grab fresh beer on tap or to takeaway. Batch produces some of my favourite beers such as their Elsie Milk Stout – the best beer I’ve ever had on nitro and they also do a wide variety of beers from farmhouse style to creative new world combos.

They do get food providers come in and set up at the front to serve the hungry patrons, again very low key.

Willie the Boatman in Tempe, Sydney

Willie the Boatman is located right next to an axe-throwing venue and feels like the inside of a big tin shed. They make a space available for food providers to come in and cook up for the patrons, and the friendly owners might even be on hand to pour beers to complete the genuine small local independent experience.

Beerwise, you’ll find the kind of experimental small batch beers that you wouldn’t find at a larger brewery, when I went this included an oyster stout and a rockmelon gose. If you find a particular beer on tap you like, they can pour you a 1L can of it to takeaway. They also have some of their standard beers in longneck bottles, like the excellent Black Bunny Dark Ale.

South Australia

Smiling Samoyed brewery in Myponga

Travelling through South Australia, I was particularly fond of this little venue in the middle of nowhere, or more precisely, amidst the bush between Adelaide and Victor Harbour in a town called Myponga,

The tasting paddles use vinyl records, which has to be one of the funkiest paddles I’ve seen. Their pale ales are hoppy delights, outside is quiet and scenic, and it’s an all-round nice spot to stop off and take a breath and drink some beers. The beautiful Samoyed dogs trotting around add to the down-to-earth welcoming feel.

Smiling Samoyed tasting paddle record

West Australia

Little Creatures brewery in Fremantle

This Little Creatures venue in was I think my first great experience of a brewery venue, it’s a magical spot for a beer on a nice day in Freo. You can sit inside by the vast steel tanks in a funky industrial space, or take a table outside overlooking the water, play some bocce, drink the classic Aussie pale ale from the source and enjoy a nice array of quality eats.

And to make this a baker’s dozen of great breweries to visit, also check out the Victorian Little Creatures brewery in Geelong in the historic old wool mill there. It’s a grand and spacious venue with personality and has the familiar recipe of good beer and good eats.

The co-location of the White Rabbit brewery also adds to the interest and variety of tastes on offer with their solid variety of core beers and some barrel aged delights to capture the drinker’s imagination.

Happy travels!