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 JAF; Balter’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!