A listicle to break in the new year, ruminating on the hits and misses, the trends and fads, in Australian craft beer for 2014.
1. Sydney becoming a hot destination for craft beer
Long the straggler in the Australian craft beer scene, Australia’s biggest city has become a destination for great beer. Two new breweries from the Northern Beaches, Modus Operandi and Nomad, led the way, arriving with much fanfare and backing it up with high-quality interesting beers. A trip up to the Northern Beaches is on my to-do list for 2015.
Meanwhile older breweries like Young Henrys and Riverside continued to grow their reputations, producing some impressive beers and increasing their presence.
2. Beer in cans
Craft beer in cans was seemingly always bound to follow the path set in the US and become a thing here too. Sure they are a fad but I’m going to err on the side of liking the cans fad as they do seem great for fresh hoppy flavours.
3. Red Ales and Saisons trending
It seems that beer styles have a habit of trending in the Australian craft beer scene. A few years back it seemed like everyone was doing a Black IPA, then Brown Ales had their turn, and then I was pretty happy to find two of my favourite beer styles trending.
I’ve always thought that saisons are a great introductory craft beer style, light and sessionable, but still potentially full of flavour and complex. This year, Exit Brewing and Nomad Brewing each kicked off their ranges with excellent saisons, #001 and Long Trip respectively. While saison specialists La Sirene continued to win praise for their range, led by their flagship highly carbonated and fruity saison.
Another quality new brewery Napoleone delivered a winner with their Saison Duval, a lower carbonation saison that is easy drinking and very good.
The other style to boom was the Red Ale. Now that IPAs are becoming a bit old hat for the craft beer vets, the amped up malt profile and big hoppy flavours of the American-style Red Ales became a must-brew beer style.
There was Modus Operandi’s much talked about Former Tenant Red IPA, while BrewCult’s Keep Truckin’ and Kaiju’s Hopped Out Red also delivered the goods with bigtime flavours.
And then Craft beer vets Mountain Goat and Bridge Road produced predictably great India Red Ales too that were heaps malty, heaps hoppy and just plain tasty.
4. Sour power
The success of sour beers shows just how far we’ve come. Zwanze day at the Belgian Beer Cafe was like a who’s who of the craft beer world in Melbourne and packed with punters wanting to get their hands on the limited release Cantillon beers.
A number of sour beer ‘tap takeovers’ (more on that in a sec) seemed to be happening around the traps, and there was a number of good sour beers at GABS. It just goes to show that there’s a small but advanced segment of the brewing and beer consuming population with a thirst for the experimental and unique world of wild-fermented beers.
5. Tap Takeovers are everywhere
The whole Tap Takeover is getting a decent flogging these days and questions have been raised as to how many beers do you need before it can be considered a takeover? What % of your taps needs to be dedicated to be declared a takeover? Is 4 taps really a takeover?
The Local Taphouse of course has been doing tap takeovers for a long time with great success (like the Stone Brewing takeover earlier this year) and they’ve always held worthy events but with an influx of new beer bars now competing with each other to gain the craft beer drinker’s attention, the standard of what constitutes a takeover seems to have lowered a bit.
6. The cost of craft beer
The challenge of finding good craft beer at a reasonable cost was a pressing issue for me this year. Without harping on too much about the state of the economy and the cost of beer in Australia etc., I feel like it’s important for its continued growth that craft beer remains affordable, as cost weighs heavily on the minds of punters. Backing up this point, the articles I wrote listing the best value beers in Australia is the most read articles from this blog.
7. Beers not making their origins clear
CUB rightly copped a whack from the ACCC for passing off a beer as craft when it wasn’t. Byron Bay Lager, which they advertised as being brewed by a small brewery in Byron Bay, was in fact produced by them in a large plant in a different location.
There’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure that consumers understand exactly what they are buying, with retailers having their own ‘homebrand’ craft labels and Carlton United & Lion owning some of the bigger craft breweries around. People have the right to know about the origins of what they are buying.
8. Corporations closing down brewery outlets
Speaking of the big boys, there was a useful reminder this year about the difference with craft beers owned by corporations as compared with genuine independent breweries – the independent breweries aren’t as likely to pick up sticks and move their brewing operations interstate to reduce costs. As CUB called stumps on the Matilda Bay brewery and outlet in Port Melbourne and moved them in with Cascase in Tasmania, Lion annouced they would close White Rabbit’s brewery in Healesville and move them in with Little Creatures in Geelong.
9. Craft beer’s growth outside of the inner city
Craft beer’s growth has been evident in the inner city in Melbourne for a while but now we’re also starting to see it spread further and further outside of the centre too, which is great. My first year living out in the craft beer wastelands of the South East of Melbourne, I was pleased to find The Public Brewery in Croydon, which is a great locals spot with a solid craft beer lineup, slowly rolling out some of their own beers too. And then just out of town at the beginning of the Yarra Valley, Napoleone’s new brewery has a subtle but tasty range of beers.
Batch Brewing Co. are evidently bringing interesting beers to the ‘burbs in Sydney too with their brewery open to the public in Marrickville.
10. New beer bars in Melbourne
There’s always room for more bars in the inner city with great beers too, and there was a bevy of new bars opening up this year. The opening of Forrester’s Beer and Music Hall in particular was a huge gain for craft beer, with the venue sporting an impressive 35 different taps of beer, this is going to be a new hotspot for craft beer.
Two well-respected brewers, Moon Dog and Two Birds, also opened up their own beer bars on opposite sides of town. And the Back Room Bar opened up out the back of Carwyn Cellars with an excellent taplist that made me wish that I’d never left my prior residence in Thornbury, even if my wallet and liver are probably thankful.
I broke down this exploding Melbourne beer bar scene with some recommended craft beer bar crawls.
Here’s to more shiny new beer bars, exciting new breweries, and interesting and innovative beers ahead.