Reflecting on 2018 in beer and the top brewers

When I look back at my review of 2017, much of what I wrote applies to 2018 as well. That’s not to say it hasn’t been a bad year of beer but more of a case of drinkers asking for more of the same please.

More session beers, more sours, more beers with fruit, more XPAs and more hazy IPAs has been the order of the day.

In particular, more brewers than ever were pumping out juicy NEIPAs. The NEIPA style draws more commentary, hype and criticism than any other with vigorous debates on what does or doesn’t constitute a NEIPA, and plenty of social media posts showing off these fresh hoppy hazy brews. There were plenty of good examples and a few bad ones too but whatever the case the style certainly generates some buzz.

Other trends that have continued include the QLD scene’s upward trajectory with more awards won and more breweries opening to the public like Range, Semi Pro and most recently Felons. Next year, will see the BrewDog brewery construction in Kangaroo Point completed and the arrival of Australia’s biggest beer festival for the first time in Brisbane – GABS.

Speaking of GABS, it was again a huge event for the industry that sparked a lot of creativity in brewing including some of the best beers of the year. I’ll be sharing my personal list shortly and it features a number that were first brewed for the event.

The Brut IPA was probably the new style of the year that made the most impact. It’s a bone-dry low bitterness beer style that serves as another interesting contrast with the older American IPA styles that feature sweeter crystal malts and high IBUs, and saw a wave of brewers giving it a try.

 

Breakfast beers seemed to have a moment this year with Feral’s Breakfast IPA scoring 2nd place in GABS People’s Choice award, Mayday Hills’ Breakfast featuring Carman’s museli one of my picks of the year and 4 Pines Big Brekky Porter with Milo and Weetbix, a sweet cocoa treat that also hit the mark.

The best beer series in Australia this year had to be Mayday Hills from Bridge Road. Brewed in a big wooden oak tank and fermented with a strand of brett yeast, the beers were compelling and creative. I love love love this series.

Every beer offers drinkers something different and interesting, while they use a variety of local ingredients as part of their brewing process. I also like that the beers are available at an accessible price, not charging $30 for a corked bottle even though they probably could based on the quality.

Ballistic’s Sleep When You’re Dead series was also a cracker. At a time, when I’m advocating for fresh beer as the new craft beer they really nailed it with limited releases that could only be sold for up to 8 weeks from production and cold shipped to ensure the highest freshest quality. They started with an excellent India Brown Ale and recently released a Grapefruit IPA.

There were no brewery sales this year as dramatic as that of 4 Pines and Pirate Life, but Gage did take on Matso’s and the company behind Stockade took on Mornington Peninsula, cases of independent guys consolidating to take on the big boys.

The Independent Beer seal was launched and added to beer packaging to help educate the drinking public on whether what they are drinking is independent or not.

Meanwhile the lines of what constitutes craft beer these days grows murkier with the introduction of cashed-up breweries like Brick Lane Brewing, who are helmed by a former head brewer of Hawkers and Bright, but kicked off their production with a premium range of Tinnies™ brewed exclusively for Liquorland.

All in all though, it’s quite a time to be alive for beer drinkers, with breweries opening all over and great beer available in places where it was once inconceivable, including the airport, sporting venues and shopping centres.

Best brewer Victoria

Finalists: Bridge Road, Dainton, Boatrocker, Mornington Peninsula

Bridge Road, as mentioned above, have been busy knocking out Australia’s most exciting beer series, Mayday Hills. The Bling range has gone into tinnies and they’ve kept their other beers in stock. They have to be one of Australia’s busiest brewers, there’s never a dull moment or beer from these guys.

Dainton’s highlight of the year had to be brewing up 131 different beers for a world record tap takeover, as they showed off their range. They didn’t stop there however, they also produced a number of great canned releases and collaborations with brewers from across Australia including WA and QLD.

Boatrocker still produce some of the highest quality beer going around with their impressive barrel collection and range of brews. They’ve recently launched a few tinnies themselves as everyone seems to be doing, while the legend of Ramjet continues.

Mornington Peninsula continued to impress with their NEIPA squid-inspired range, one of the best of its sort, and the specials like The Farm saison were beautifully crafted complex beers that made me sit up and take notice.

Best brewer New South Wales

Finalists: Modus Operandi, Wildflower, Nomad, Wayward

Modus Operandi can’t seem to do anything wrong. Every release knocks it out of the ballpark and in a scene where everyone wants to do great hoppy beers, they seem to do it just that bit better. Their dark beers are low key great too with the release of cans of Silent Knight porter among my favourite winter warmers.

Wildflower are quickly assuming the mantle of Australia’s most interesting brewer with their excellent blends. This year I finally had a chance to taste their beers and every one I had was magnificent. They brew truly special beers.

Wayward are a favourite of mine for the way that they produce interesting styles and make them accessible to a broad range of drinkers. They produced interesting limited releases and a cool new range of cans.

Nomad, like Wayward, made the challenging accessible and the creative drinkable with a terrific range of collabs, variations of their Supersonic DIPA, and additions to their gose range this year.

Best brewer Queensland

Finalists: Green Beacon, Ballistic, Balter

Green Beacon continue to be a, er, beacon for quality picking up more awards and love this year with their limited releases including a great milk stout with coffee from Allpress and the Siren Song cherry raspberry berliner weisse.

Ballistic released a wide range of cans including a range of excellent single hop IPAs, the fresh as Sleep When You’re Dead series, and the likes of the Driftwood an Oaked Citra XPA all went down really well, while they also opened a new venue in West End.

 

Balter released one of the best session beers of the year with Captain Sensible and made a nice addition to their core range with the firmly bitter Strong Pale Ale. While the admittedly excellent IIPA has been easily the most hyped release of the year whenever it hits shelves. They continue to kick goals with everything they do.

There were lots of other contenders for these lists and I didn’t get to try every beer from every brewer this year of course, so if a brewery isn’t on the list don’t take that as any kind of criticism.

Also note I didn’t taste enough beers from South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia to justify including them in a vote hence why I’ve only included East Coast breweries here. I did enjoy the beers I tried from the likes of Feral, Rocky Ridge, Pirate Life, Little Bang, Big Shed and Moo Brew. It highlights the value of the Pint of Origin event in Good Beer Week is really a great chance to try beers from all over as the number of local breweries grows in each state.

Now, drum roll…

Winners

  • Victoria – Bridge Road – Still one of the best in the business.
  • NSW – Tied Modus Operandi / Wildflower – Too hard to split, so different and yet each great in their own way.
  • Queensland – Green Beacon – a close call with Balter producing what they do at such a high quality and Ballistic doing such great range of beers too, but I just think that Green Beacon hit the widest range of styles with their sours and other special releases.

As for this blog, I’ve tried my best to write regularly after becoming a father again and I’ve sometimes succeeded, other times not as much. Either way I hope those who have read the blog have enjoyed it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing and researching it. Cheers!

 

 

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