Murrays and Feral Brewing are the cream of the crop when it comes to Australian craft beer, as no other brewers have experimented across such a breadth of styles with such positive results (although a few are on the case, see The Contenders further below).
I’m a sports fan and like to turn everything into a competition, so it isn’t enough to say that these two breweries are the best, I need to find out which one is the true champ of Aussie craft brewing, so I’m going to break this down, a beer at a time, to determine which brewery takes the title.
I recently travelled to the Murrays brewery in Port Stephens and attended Feral’s Tap Takeover at the Local Taphouse, giving me a good feel for which of these breweries is the true champ.
The All-Australian beer stars
Feral Hop Hog v Murrays Icon 2IPA
Beers to hangs their hats on, widely available and widely adored. Feral’s Hop Hog IPA, recently ranked no. 3 in Critics Choice: Australia’s Best Beers book, is leading the pack in terms of hoppy pale ales and the Icon 2IPA is no slouch either. It took the no.4 spot in the Critics Choice, also amping up the hops and the malts. If anything though it suffers from being too well balanced.
Slight Edge: Feral
The Club Champions
Feral Fantapants and Funky Junky Wild Ale v Murrays Angry Man, Punch & Judy, Dark Knight, Grand Cru.
Feral’s Fantapants knocks you back with a delightful sweetness and hops abound, and packing in at hefty 7.4%, it certainly doesn’t leave you cold. While Funky Junky is one of the few beers in Australia that uses spontaneous fermentation and it is a refreshing sour fruity ale.
As for Murrays, Punch & Judy may well be the best low ABV beer in Australia and it may not even be close. The Angry Man is a wonderfully hoppy brown ale, the Grand Cru is one of the better Belgian interpretations going around, and while the Dark Knight porter may not have the wow factor of the others, it is a good rendition of the style.
Murrays Nirvana Pale Ale and Whale Ale v Feral White and Golden Ace
These are the breweries’ accessible beers, which even the lager-drinkers can warm to. These may not be the most adventurous beers for these breweries but they can still satisfy. The Nirvana pale ale packs a fruity hops aroma balanced with biscuity malt characteristics. This is one of the better pale ale options out there, although I find it to be a bit over-carbonated. The Whale is a cloudy wheat beer and, for me, the least interesting of the Murrays range.
Golden Ace is Feral’s latest bottle release, using the Sorachi Ace hop that has suddenly came into vogue (Feral were apparently the first to use it), and which imparts lemony characteristics, something different from the typical pale ale. While Feral White is another summertime pleaser, a cloudy wheatbeer with subtle coriander and orange flavours.
Slight Edge: Feral
Feral Barrel-fermented Hop Hog, Karma Citra, Jose the Gose, 983, Brass Monkey Stout v Murrays Easter Ale, Pumpkin Ale, Punk Monk, Imperious.
The absolute standout for the Feral Tap Takeover had to be the barrel-fermented Hop Hog. This was a delightful twist on a stellar beer, adding tones of vanilla to the fruity hops aromas. The Karma Citra was a hit at the Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular, with the mix of roasted malts and hops forming an interesting Black IPA.
I was also disappointed with a few Feral beers at the Takeover though, 983 tasted a bit too dish-cleaning-liquid-like, the Oatmeal Stout was nothing special and Jose the Gose was a weird beer but not in a good way (Gose is a traditional German style beer, it tasted predominantly salty!).
Murrays meanwhile continues to rack up an impressive hit list of one-offs. Their Easter ale had a spicy hot cross bun taste. The Pumpkin Ale was another themed spiced beer, interesting yet easy to drink. While the Retro Rocket became the smallest ABV IPA in Australia. And while I often find Australian interpretations of Belgian beers to be little more than inferior imitations, Murrays put their own spin on things and hit the mark with the likes of Punk Monk and Imperious.
The best brewery
What is great about both of these brewers is that they both continue to push the envelop and excite the imagination of their drinkers with new styles, while also boasting a solid lineup of beer that drink well.
While Feral have impressed many with some solid foundation beers and exciting experimental beers, they can’t match Murray’s long list of exceptional beers. Everything they bring out seems to be balanced in terms of taste and the right mix between creativity and drinkability. It’s no wonder they have the most entries in the top 100 (nine) of the Critics Choice. So I’m giving Murrays the title on the basis of their absolute consistency of quality.
Slight Edge Murrays
Mountain Goat with their commitment to releasing one-off Rare Breed bottles are certainly getting up there. The IPA, Double Hightail and Black IPA releases have been great. Not to mention their one-offs at the brewery like the Fancy Pants, Bubble & Squeak, Goldilocks and even the Cucumber Sandwich, which all hit the spot.
Bridge Rd Brewers earn points for their tasty B2Bomber, the Black Belgian IPA, while their Saison is a winner, and the Hop Harvest, Galaxy and Bling IPAs, are some of the better pale ales out there.
With new breweries springing up and great beers being pumped out more often, there are sure to be more contenders for the title of Australia’s best craft brewery very soon.