Brown ales are never in fashion. Brown ales laugh at today’s trends. They neither sound exotic like saíson nor tell terrific tales of long voyages over seas like IPAs.
Yet the unfashionable but ever reliable brown ales make a strong case to be a part of anyone’s drinking repertoire.
Brown ales are located in the beer spectrum somewhere between a red ale and a porter. And what I love about brown ales is that they give you a bit of everything, some chocolate, some caramel, and depending on the style, hops.
When done well, they are nicely balanced and all the elements work in harmony. It’s an underrated style and for me works a lot better than the contradictory by name and sometimes by taste, Black IPA style, which has the potential for a clash between the roasted malt and the hops if not done just right.
Some brown ales to try
Big Shed Frankenbrown – I loved this beer on tap and it presents well in the bottle too. It’s an American style with more aggressive hop flavours, bright and grassy, as well as showcasing the caramel and chocolate from the malts. It punches above its alcohol weight too, at only 5% it has a lot of flavour.
Two Brothers Growler is also a classic of the Australian craft beer scene as the Moorabbin brewery was perhaps the first to push the style with this tasty American style brown ale one of their core beers.
The big chocolate flavour and firm piney bitterness reminds of some of the best examples from the US, like the Brooklyn Brown and Abita’s Turbodog.
Mornington Peninsula Brown Ale – To me is an exemplary English style brown ale with every element working beautifully in balance. Goes down well and focuses on the malt characteristics and drinkability. Is also now widely available through Dan’s.
Pact Brickworks Brown Ale – The first bottled beer I’ve had brewed in the ACT, I was pleasantly surprised.
This brown was heavier on the chocolate than is typical for the style while still keeping its foot firmly in the brown camp with a smoother sweeter finish than you would find with a porter or stout.
Mornington Peninsula Russell Brown Belgian Ale – I love how Mornington Peninsula promised me to deliver more exciting beers and they have delivered with limited releases like this one. I like that they’ve gone for intriguing but highly drinkable beers over just big crazy beers.
I’m not always a huge fan of Belgian style beers brewed outside of Belgium but this one hits the mark and is one of the best I’ve had in a while, showcasing the malts and the Belgian yeast nicely.
Founders Sumatra Mountain Brown – Everything tastes better with coffee. Well for me at least. A real sweet finish to this imperial strength brown ale provides a nice contrast with the coffee.
Many craft brewers have a bit of ‘mad scientist’ about them. Because craft beer is about experimentation and pushing into new (or rediscovering old) beer styles and constantly providing the novelty-seeking beer geeks like me with new tastes to explore.
And one of the latest mad science endeavours in Australian craft beer is nitro beers.
Nitro beers involve switching out some of the usual CO2 that carbonates a beer with around 70% nitrogen, creating a denser head and thicker body. Nitro beers are poured through a special tap or go through a specialised bottling or canning process.
Nitro adds another dimension to beers with the body and mouthfeel. Nitro tends to work better with maltier beers like stout and English style ales rather than hoppy pale ales and IPAs, with which it can dull the flavour a bit. Read More »
I got to thinking recently that we may be the luckiest generation there is and ever will be when it comes to beer. Not only are we living in an unprecedented era of diversity and creativity of beer but future generations will never appreciate it as much as we do because they will never have experienced how things were before the craft beer movement took hold.
In the early 20th century technology like refrigeration improved the standards of beer, then later globalisation increased the diversity of beer styles, and over the last couple of decades microbreweries and craft beer proliferated to increase creativity and experimentation in beer. As a result, we’re now at a point where there’s an amazing choice of beers at our fingertips to a point that we hardly would have thought possible even a decade ago.
Craft beer will continue to grow and become more widely available and we’ve still got a ways to go to catch up to some other countries but for those who really seek out good beer, I wonder whether we’ve just about reached the peak for beer.
Just go to any of the great independent bottleshops around Australia or to a beer festival like GABS and you can find a selection of malty beers, hoppy beers, barrel-aged beers, farmhouse-style beers, sour beers, salty beers and beers brewed with all kind of different ingredients added. Basically you can find any kind of taste you want.
And these beers will be of great quality too. We have access to some of the best beers in the world now in Australia, international beers like Cantillon, Founders and Ballast Point, and then there’s the local heroes like Feral & Pirate Life, and New Zealand’s 8 Wired and Garage Project are as good as any too.
That’s not to say there aren’t great beers and times ahead but I just wonder how much more I can experience in terms of drinking beer? Certainly when first entering the world of craft beer, I would regularly experience epiphanies but now they are fewer and farther in between. And that’s ok.
My point is that it doesn’t get much better than what it is right now, so remember that and appreciate the beers you have.
In terms of wealth, millennials may be the first generation that may not be as well off as the preceding generations. Things like home ownership have become unexpectedly out of reach for many of our generation but great experiences through food and beer have become increasingly attainable.
Growing up our beer options were limited to choices between different brands of bland homogenous beers, and we’ve since witnessed an incredible boom in great beer.
When we drink the latest and greatest beer, we can also think back to 10 years ago and remember just how far we’ve come and appreciate that beer just that bit more than anyone ever will again.
It’s a tough question to answer. But that’s just the kind that I like to debate – preferably with a good beer in hand.
So I began my quest to answer this question during Good Beer Week at some of the beer venues taking part in the Pint of Origin.
Pint of Origin, for the uninitiated, is the simplest of Good Beer Week events that involves great beer bars across Melbourne turning their taps over to beers from a particular state for the week.
It’s a great chance to try beers that don’t often make it across borders and to get a feel for how craft beer is developing across Australia.
So here is my breakdown of the states form which I sampled to try to answer which one brews the best beer in Australia.
The Emerging State – Tasmania
There seems to be breweries opening left, right and centre in Tasmania at the moment. While Tasmanian brewers face a challenge to be recognised on the mainland but are really trying to make the state a destination spot for craft beer with the recent launch of the Tasmanian Beer Trail.
Tasmanian beers were available at the Gertrude Hotel for Good Beer Week and I sampled a few of the ones that caught my interest. The beers I tried came from the likes of Hobart Brewing, Seven Sheds and Two Metres Tall and each featured unusual ingredients such as rye, spelt, and even quinoa!
I can see why Two Metres Tall are already carving out a niche with beers that are truly unique and are closely aligned with their local environment. This approach is really working for them and I think other Tasmanian brewers can also succeed by daring to experiment and be different. There’s some good signs that something good is, er, brewing in Tasmania but I just don’t think the state has gotten there yet.
The Bolter – South Australia
South Australia beers are going off right now and they can already count themselves as a genuine contender to having the best craft breweries in Australia.
Adelaide’s Pirate Life can do no wrong, as they quickly become the industry’s favourite craft brewer, adding the Champion Small Australia Brewery award at AIBA to their awards cabinet and blowing GABS punters away with a huge Triple IPA that’s one of the best rated on Untapped from the event.
Big Shed are equally delighting punters and nailing every beer they release. Their Nuts and Malts (Nutella Palooza) on handpump at the The Palace Hotel in South Melbourne had lovely chocolate and nut flavours with a light brown body and went down very easily.
Their Cherry Ripe Porter seems to have rated best in the battle of the Cherry Ripe style beers at GABS and follows the success of last year’s GABS dessert beer smash-hit the choc-honeycomb Golden Stout Time.
Wheaty Brewing Corps haven’t sent a lot of their beer interstate yet but I hope that changes. Their delightful sounding Wheaty Bix breakfast stout ran out just before I had a chance to try it but I did get to the Blueberry Saison was a funky berry delight.
In the meantime, you can’t sleep on brewers like Mismatch, Little Bang Brewing and Prancing Pony – who’s 9% Magic Carpet Midnight Ride was the best I’ve tasted from them yet – a big, flavoursome and smooth imperial stout.
I’m not quite ready to declare South Australia the best yet but their case is getting stronger all the time and they are rising the fastest right now.
The Hottest Rival – New South Wales
I’ve been talking up the rise of NSW as a craft beer state for a while and the beers I had at The Rainbow Hotel for Good Beer Week didn’t hurt the cause.
My beer choices included Wayward Brewing’s Fat Charmer, a brilliantly hoppy and malty ale, dangerously drinkable for a beer with 7.5%abv, and Grifter’s The Omen, a chocolatey creamy oatmeal stout. They reaffirmed why Sydney’s inner west is the hottest place for craft beer right now.
In regional NSW, Foghorn Brewpub in Newcastle is impressing with one of Australia’s best brewers at the helm, Wagga Wagga’s Thirsty Crow are expanding, and new breweries are opening all the time.
Top to bottom, east to west, craft beer is going off across New South Wales. And what I really like about the scene in NSW is that it seems very much focused on servicing the local communities through brewery tasting rooms/bars. I think this bodes well for their longevity and for growing the love of craft beer in the community.
I really wanted to give NSW the award as there’s definitely been a lot of excitement in the state but the stalwarts of craft beer in Victoria are still just slightly ahead for me. With a bit of further development, soon I think NSW could rightfully claim to be craft beer’s new leaders.
The Leader – Victoria
Accuse me of hometown bias if you like but Victoria has been a craft beer leader for a long time and its continued to grow and keep that spot even as other states are closing the gap.
The next generation of Victorian craft breweries like Kaiju, Exit and Dainton’s are settling into new breweries and pumping out excellent beers. While the more established breweries like Bridge Road, Holgate and Mountain Goat continue to do good things.
When I ranked the top brewers in Australia recently, there were 7 Victorian breweries and I guess it’s no surprise considering that the scene is more established.
But to maintain the status of the best beer state they’ll need to continue to grow and innovate. Thankfully the likes of Boatrocker and La Sirene are doing just that with each producing some of the more exciting beers around the country at the moment.
Of course, there is no right answer to the question of which state brews the best craft beer but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth pontificating over.
Is Western Australia being unfairly overlooked after being a leader for many years in its own right? Is Queensland getting closer to becoming a contender? Am I just displaying a Victorian bias and have NSW or SA or TAS passed VIC already?
You can also answer this question and others in the following survey from our friends Beer Cartel and have a chance to win $500 of craft beer too.
As I stared at my phone, my first thought was it was a joke or hypothetical. Surely not. Not one of Australia craft beer’s most beloved producers and great ambassadors almost universally loved and admired for their gateways beers and their special releases alike; a longtime industry stalwart who had fought the good fight and won so often that they were making really headway across the nation for craft beer; surely they wouldn’t be selling out.
But it was true, Mountain Goat had sold out. Hot on the heels of US counterparts Lagunitas, Mountain Goat also cashed in by parting with ownership to a macro beer producer. And all that craft beer momentum and positive beers are a changin vibe documented on this blog and countless others over recent years, and for which Mountain Goat had played such a pivotal part, all seemed a little less righteous than it had only yesterday.
You see Mountain Goat were supposed to be the good guys and the big beer companies were the bad guys but now it all seems a lot more complicated. The truth is it probably always was.
The craft beer scene in Adelaide and more broadly South Australia is suddenly booming. There’s South Australian tap takeovers; SA beer launches; SA beers venturing up the East Coast, and SA beer all over Twitter and Crafty Pint. All this for a scene that had been conspicuously quiet in recent years as other states had experienced craft beer booms.
In the past, South Australia’s craft beer highlights focused primarily on The Wheaty, rated as one of the best bars in the country (now is brewing its own intriguing beers too); Brewboys’ Seeing Double, a smoky scotch ale that I rate as one of the best beers in the country, and the unique Thorogoods apple beers that rank highly on RateBeer.
Now there is a new breed of South Australian craft beer emerging, bringing innovation and excitement to the craft beer scene with them. Adelaide brewers Pirate Life Brewing for instance are producing their beer in cans that are not only attractive but informative, with the novel idea of sharing the brewing ingredients and process on the rim of their packaging. Pirate Life’s hop-centric range is launching in Melbourne this week and judging from the super aromatic pale ale of theirs I had, it should be well received.
Big Shed Brewing Concern are another new brewer getting some buzz. They’re sharing their facilities in Adelaide with other brewers, such as Mismatch Brewing, who have a well-regarded White IPA, and recently opened up the premises to the public. Big Shed’s own American Brown Ale, FrankenBrown, is everything you want from that style, with heaps of malt and hops flavour going on. While their BruChoc is a dark fruity sweet beer, that mimics a classic South Australian sweet.
Another emerging brewer is Prancing Pony Brewery, situated just outside of Hahndorf in Adelaide Hills, and using an old school ‘fire brewing’ method for their beers. They entered GABS last year with a daring cross-style weizenbock/IPA but also have a range of crowdpleasers. Their popular India Red Ale was sold out when i tried to get it but I did enjoy the solid Copper Ale and Black Ales.
Then there’s Smiling Samoyed brewery, who may have the coolest tasting paddles going round with their vinyl records and they don’t disappoint with any of their beers either. Balance is their strong point and I enjoyed their pale ale the most for that very reason. Their brewery in Myponga is about 20 minutes from Victor Harbor and is a relaxing spot to enjoy some quality beers.
Whilst South Australia is traditionally wine country that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for beer. In fact, the focus on gourmet and local produce fits well with the craft beer ethos and regions renowned for their wineries such as Clare Valley and Barossa Valley now also sport breweries.
You can check out South Australian craft beer in Melbourne at the 2016 Good Beer Week Pint of Origin from May 14-23 at the Palace Hotel in South Melbourne.
Otherwise just head over to South Australia, it’ll be worth it!
Not a particularly new or experimental style but the hoppy India Pale Ale is now a part of the beer mainstream. With the likes of Mountain Goat and Little Creatures releasing IPAs as a part of their regular lineups, it was a great sign that another step has been taken forward in the Australia craft beer journey.
It’s hard to believe it was only a couple of years back that breweries like Mornington Peninsula, Cavalier and Kooinda were just breaking into the craft beer scene. Now these guys seem like veterans and there’s a whole new brigade of microbreweries stepping forward, vying for the the discerning beer drinker’s tastebuds.
In recent months, bottles and kegs from the likes of Dainton brewing, Killer Sprocket, Boatrocker, Monster Mash and BrewCult have made waves in the craft beer scene.
These brewers have announced themselves as the next generation of Aussie craft brewers and I like what I’m seeing.
Where past generations of Australian craft brewers generally built a following around sessionable hoppy pale ales and wheat beers before progressing to more ambitious styles, this generation are coming out with challenging and tasty beers from the get-go. Read More »
A few weeks back I finally had the chance to visit the ‘High Country’, an area in North Victoria that’s developed a reputation as a craft beer hub.
I’ve been meaning to visit for quite a while, mainly because of my love for Bridge Road Brewers, who have been responsible for some of the more interesting and creative beers in Australia in recent years.
Bridge Road’s brewery is situated in the quaint historic town of Beechworth. Set in a lovely old brick building, the brewery has some good grub, a buzzing atmosphere and, most importantly, plenty of good beer taps.
2012/13 has seen the Australian craft beer scene continue to mature with a number of emerging breweries expanding their range, and some old favourites continuing to do what they do best.
The Award for the Best Brewery
The nominees are:
Murrays – perennial contenders, they went through some changes in packaging but there’s still no doubt that these guys produce some classy beers, their Belgian golden ale Libertine and Barrel-Aged Heart of Darkness were highlights of mine this year.
Feral – another one who are always one of the best breweries in Australia. Their cracking Smoked Porter hit shelves and the Warhead, was one of the best from the Great Australian Beer Spectapular.
Mountain Goat – In the year, Mountain Goat turned 15, they were also the best in my books. Hightail and Steam Ale might be the moneymakers but it’s the constant stream of Rare Breed releases that give these guys the win for me.
Holgate – still have the best winter beer in the biz with Temptress and a solid range of good to great beers. Liking the potential of these new 500ML bottles, including a more affordable Empress.
Red Duck – Any brewery that tries to imitate beers from thousands of years ago that are sour and complex and unlike anything else, tugs on my heartstrings.