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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.