Jan 28, 2014

The Hottest 100 Beers in Australia 2013

The Triple J Hottest 100 wasn't the only countdown on Australia Day. The Local Taphouse runs a Hottest 100 for Aussie craft beers each year. I've been aware of it for a few years, voted in it once before this year (2010 I think it was). This year I came across the list and I thought it was pretty interesting so I broke it down and wrote some reflections about it including 2 about Tasmania's absence from the list since this blog is Brew Tas.

1. Loads of pale, hoppy beer
There are 59 of them in total made up of 30 IPAs (including Black, Red, Rye, Farmhouse, Belgian and even some straight up ones), 18 APAs, 7 Golden Ales, 4 IIPAs. Add the other American styles that made the list and you've got 71/100. Thanks, America! Our voting beer drinkers think you've done a pretty great job.

I know some would bemoan such American influence but I think it's part of the exploration of more extreme beers and it will open the door for other interesting stuff over the coming years. Plus, I do love the hops.

Comparing to last year, there are 6 more IPAs, 3 fewer APAs, 5 more Golden Ales and three fewer IIPAs. While we're comparing, last year there were 8 lager/pilsner/bocks, this year there was only 4. There was only one Imperial Stout last year but this year there was 7. Also, Saisons were more popular last year with 3 compared to the 1 that made it this time around.

2. More IPA than APA
I was pretty surprised by the fact that there were 30 IPAs to only 18 APAs. If I'd had to guess, I'd have assumed that APAs were by far the preferred drink in Australia but at least for the kinds of people who vote in the Hottest 100 Craft Beers it looks like IPA is where it's at. I suspect there is a much greater quantity of APAs consumed thanks to Little Creatures Pale and a few other usual suspects but a larger number of good IPAs brewed. Last year the gap was more narrow but this year it's not even close. Lots of these IPAs are more restrained with the bitterness than their American equivalents but it's interesting to see a shift towards less conservative beer.

It's also interesting to me because there are no American IPAs brewed in Tasmania, at least, not part of a brewery's regular roster. There are 2 APAs although neither of them are amazing.

3. No Tasmanian beers in the top 100
I've got a review of this one coming up
I wouldn't have expected many but I thought there'd be at least a couple of them on the list. I guess it shouldn't be too surprising, the Tasmanian breweries are fairly small, our population is fairly small so there's not the distribution necessary to rate highly. The Hottest 100 is more popularity contest than definitive guide to quality. But part of me wonders how they'd rate if their distribution was wider? Could they compete? If I was a Tasmanian brewer, I'd take not being on the list as a challenge.

Are there really 100 beers in Australia better than the best Tasmanian beer? Well, some of the beers that do make the list are pretty ordinary so I'd say 'no'. I'd choose the Seven Sheds Kentish Ale and Morrison English Bitter over a bunch of the ones on the list.

4. The beers on the list are so different to Tasmanian craft beer
The other thing that really stands out to me is the difference between the kinds of beers that made the list and the ones that are brewed in Tasmania. It makes me wonder whether there's a real difference in mindset, like there is between East/Midwest/West in the USA or if it's just that Tasmanian brewers and drinkers are a bit behind the curve.

My hunch is that it's the brewers more than the drinkers. The local craft beer places in Hobart don't seem to have any problem moving the Sierra Nevada, Kooinda or Stone & Wood they have on tap. I guess with 7 microbreweries you're not necessarily going to have much diversity.

A quick whip around the brews visible on the websites of our 7 (Van Dieman, Morrison, 2 Metre Tall, Moo Brew, Wineglass Bay, Seven Sheds, Iron House. I think that's all of them) microbreweries shows:

APA: 2
Wit: 1
American Brown: 1
Hefeweizen: 2
English Pale Ale/Bitter/Amber: 9
Stout: 3
Porter: 2
Imperial Stout: 2
Irish Red Ale: 1
Pilsner: 2
Lager: 1
Belgian Pale (-ish): 2
Saison: 2
Spiced/Fruit: 2
Sour: 1

33 beers, 19 of which are based on English brewing traditions, 30 of which have their origin in Europe. American beer styles get less run than Belgian beers! No IPAs, not even a Golden Ale or Amber Ale!

I knew that our range was heavily influenced by English beer but I didn't realise that it was as much as 57% of the total. That's crazy. My hunch is that when people discovered 'craft' beer down here, they didn't discover American craft but rather found out about the good beer that's existed in Europe for hundreds of years, particularly the English ones as that's the part of Europe we look to first. I know that even in 2010, the vast majority of international craft beer available in Hobart was from Europe with a little bit from NZ and Sierra Nevada was just about the only US beer. Actually, I think there was some Rogue available too. With that kind of introduction to craft beer, I guess it's not surprising that we're more European in outlook. I could be completely wrong about that though but if I am, I would like to know what the reason is.

Obviously it's not 100% fair to compare the results of a poll where the voters self-selected with the total brewing output of one state but it is interesting that Tasmanian brewers generally aren't brewing the kinds of beers that the national craft beer consumers obsessed enough to vote rate very highly.

5. Notable Winners & Losers
The Australian craft beer royalty did about as expected: Bridge Road win with 7 beers in the top 100. Mountain Goat, Little Creatures, Feral & Holgate got 6. Personally I don't get why Holgate did so well unless they've improved dramatically recently. My best experience with their beer has been 'good', my normal experience with them has been 'meh'. Either way, not top 100 material unless I'm missing something. Stone & Wood got 5. Big wins there for Stone & Wood and Feral Brewing with better returns compared with last year's results.

It was also significant that Moondog got 3 on the board this year as they expand their reach while Temple Brewing failed to score 1 this year. Presumably because they were shut down for a fair part of the year. Also failing to register 1 beer in the top 100 was James Squire and Gage Roads Brewery, a couple of the bigger 'craft' brewers in the country and Matilda Bay only had 1 entry in the top 100 with their Fat Yak. It's interesting that these popular crafty breweries didn't make the list and is probably an indicator of the kind of people who did the voting.

There are way too many beers on the list that I haven't tried, hopefully this year I can change that.

6. Division by State
VIC: 46 (from 17 breweries)
NSW: 24 (from 14 breweries)
WA: 11 (from 3 breweries)
QLD: 10 (from 7 breweries)
SA: 9 (from 5 breweries)

Victoria was the big state winner of course. More in NSW than I expected although they're down 10 entries from last year. There were also less in Queensland than I expected. None in Tassie as I already went on about at length. South Australia did very well considering they didn't have any 'big' winners. That's probably what made Queensland's total less than I expected too, lots of love spread out between lots of breweries.

So there you have it. Breweries brewed beer in 2013, people drank it and liked it, especially if it was hoppy and American. Victoria remains a long way ahead of the rest of the country. If you want to start a brewery in Tasmania, try brewing something that isn't English in it's origin. Not because English beer is bad but because diversity in beer as in many things is good.

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