Melbourne might have more options, WA more history, and West Sydney the greatest concentration of breweries per square kilometer, but no region has surged more in the last few years than South East Queensland. So allow me to put forward the case for QLD as the new numero uno in Australian beer.
Case in point no. 1 was the recent announcement of the Hottest 100 beers for 2018. The survey saw 31,000 voters list their favourite beers for 2018. The poll is a popularity contest but it is an interesting one for taking the temperature of the beer scene and seeing new trends emerge. And this year QLD claimed 22 of the top 100 spots with only NSW having more (26), as well as 25 of the Hottest 100 new beers second only to Victoria. QLD also claimed top spot with Currumbin’s Balter coming out on top for the second straight year with their XPA.
QLD breweries have also earned plenty of critical acclaim and awards for their beers, a sign of the high quality of the beers they’re producing. At the Australian International Beer Awards Green Beacon captured the Small and Medium Brewer of the Year awards the last two years, Black Hops won Small Brewer of the Year, and Ballistic picked up a swag of Gold Medals too.
There’s also plenty of exciting things on the horizon in 2019 too, as some of the biggest players in craft beer in Australia and worldwide are investing in and expanding into the Sunshine State.
Byron Bay’s Stone & Wood, one of Australia’s largest independent brewers, are opening a new brewery and taproom in a beautiful heritage building in Fortitude Valley, which will share the classics Stone & Wood is renowned for but also see some small pilot brews produced on-site.
While global craft beer powerhouse BrewDog have chosen to build a sizeable Australian brewing hub in the Brisbane suburb of Murarrie. The new production site currently aims to launch before the halfway mark of 2019 and they also have plans to open a bar in the city.
The biggest Australian beer festival, GABS, is also now Brisbane bound, debuting there in late April in a further nod to the growth of the scene.
But it’s not just in Brisbane that things are happening. Gold Coast’s Black Hops are opening a second brewery and taproom in the north end of the Gold Coast giving them the size to distribute nationally as they seek to build on their early successes.
While big brewing company Lion (owners of James Squire, Little Creatures, XXXX) have applied to build a microbrewery and taphouse in Townsville.
It’s also not just these big guys. There’s been a huge number of smaller breweries open up over the past two years. Craft Beer Reviewer provides a comprehensive list of craft brewers from across Australia and listed a combined 48 new brewers in QLD across 2017 and 2018, second only to NSW with 52 and far ahead of Victoria, which had the next most with 23. In December alone three new Brisbane breweries burst onto the scene with Felons, Sea Legs and Soapbox all already making a name for themselves.
While the surge of breweries opening in QLD has partly been a matter of catching up to the other states, it has also created a young and vibrant beer scene that is fresh and up-to-date with the latest in beer.
For instance most of these newer brewers have invested in canning lines rather than bottles, increasingly the vessel of choice for drinkers. And the beer ranges being produced are more likely to feature popular styles of today like session IPAs, fruited kettle sours and hazy IPAs.
Whereas many of the more established brewers in other states already have significant investments in bottling lines and an older core range taking up space in their fermenters leaving them less able to pivot to newer styles.
The new breed of QLD brewers have been able to come into a more mature Australian beer industry and build on that by brewing high quality en vogue beer and developing strong ties with their local community to galvanise passionate fanbases.
That’s the case for it. The case against it as the new no.1 is that the depth and variety of beers in Victoria and NSW is still greater and the overall number of brewers there still much higher.
For example, I’m not sure the young QLD brewers can compete with the mixed fermentation beers of the likes of La Sirene and Wildflower or the barrel-aged brilliance of the likes of Boatrocker and Bridge Road.
But as the current crop of brewers continue to mature and new ones emerge, there’s no doubt QLD is well positioned to be a leading state in Australian beer in 2019 and beyond.