Australia is now home to more brewing companies and beer brands than ever before – not to mention the staggering number of quality imports that arrive week in, week out. But of the 300-plus that call Australia home, which look most likely to make waves in the year ahead? It’s tough to narrow it down to just five, but I’m pretty sure these – plucked from around the country – will be among those on the tips of beer aficionados’ tongues in 2016.
1. Boatrocker Brewery. Braeside, VIC
Matt and Andrea Houghton launched Boatrocker in 2008, having their first beers – a hoppy pale ale and pilsner – brewed under license. But it was when they moved into their own brewery in 2013 that things got really exciting.
An avowed Belgian beer obsessive, Matt and his team have proven to be fastidious students of some truly fascinating traditional brewing techniques and also willing to give their beers time – years where necessary – to develop. Their core range of approachable beers are good but it’s elsewhere that they’re exciting people, with luscious barrel-aged imperial stouts and a range of German and Belgian inspired sour and farmhouse style beers.
Late last year, having joined forces with Made by HAND, formed by four of the guys who built Little Creatures, they opened Australia’s first Barrel Room: a bar in the middle of a warehouse that will ultimately house more than 300 barrels filled with all manner of beers.
Killer beer: Ramjet Whisky barrel-aged imperial stout
2. Colonial Brewing. Margaret River, WA, and Port Melbourne, VIC
From sours and barrel-aged 10 percent ABV beers to something a little more sedate. For years, WA’s Colonial Brewing has been honing a range of more “normal” beers – usually European-inspired and most famously their Kolsch, now canned and renamed Draught, which is as good a bells-and-whistles-free drinking beer as you’ll find.
They’ve also turned a few heads with the cans for their Small Ale, a hoppy mid-strength that comes with a 360-degree removable lid that turns your tinnie into a proper drinking vessel.
The main reason they’re in this list, however, is that they’re finally going to have the East Coast outpost they’ve been after for years. There had long been speculation that Colonial was looking to open a brewery at Cape Schanck in Victoria; instead, they’ve snagged the former site of fallen giant Matilda Bay, so expect to see more of their well-judged beers outside their own venues.
Killer beer: Draught Beautifully balanced, Kolsch-inspired ale
3. BentSpoke Brewing Co. Canberra, ACT
For years, Richard Watkins has been a name familiar to anyone interested in great beer in Australia. As head brewer at the capital’s Wig & Pen, he proved himself one of the best, most innovative, trailblazing and humorous brewers out there, twice collecting the Champion Brewer crown at the Australian International Beer Awards.
The only problem was that you had to travel to Canberra to sample his wares – a problem that wasn’t resolved when he and partner Tracy Margrain opened their own stunning brewpub, BentSpoke, in the suburb of Braddon in 2014. They’ve been slammed since day one, with Richard brewing a staggering 160,000 litres of beer for the thirsty hordes in the first 12 months alone.
At the end of 2015, a resolution beer lovers across Australia had been waiting for arrived as BentSpoke announced the development of a second site that would include a venue, increased production and, crucially, a canning line.
Killer beer: Sprocket Explosively fruity IPA
4. Pirate Life. Hindmarsh, SA
If I didn’t already have a Victorian brewer in the list, Hawkers Beer could just as well take this spot. They and Pirate Life launched on almost the same day and have both enjoyed meteoric starts in the industry, combining know-how from overseas (Pirate Life’s team has worked variously at BrewDog and in the US; Hawkers co-founder Mazen Hajjar founded the Middle East’s first craft brewery, 961 Beer) with great beers and teams that hit the road running, and selling so much beer that both have expanded significantly already.
For the most part, Pirate Life’s schtick is about showcasing US hops, with their three launch beers a 3.5 per cent “session IPA”, a wondrous American Pale Ale and the 8.8 per cent ABV IIPA (imperial IPA). The last of these was as much a statement of intent as it is one of the greatest big IPAs ever brewed in Australia. While their lower alcohol beers come in 355ml cans, this beast got the 500ml treatment. And comes in black, of course.
Killer beer: IPA Dangerously well-made hop bomb.
5. Balter Brewing. Gold Coast, QLD
At time of writing, Balter hadn’t even released a beer, so this is something of a gamble. But there’s plenty of reason to believe it’s going to be a big year for the Gold Coast brewery – and good beer on the Gold Coast in general with Black Hops Brewing also joining the expanded Burleigh Brewing in the area. Lots of venues are putting craft beer front and centre too, something unthinkable just a few years ago.
So why Balter? Well, it’s the “post surfing” project of Aussie surfing legends Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Bede Durbidge and Josh Kerr (who are apparently studying for their RSAs so they can serve at the bar) and they nabbed Scotty Hargrave as head brewer. Formerly a brewer at all-conquering Stone & Wood, he moved to the Byron Bay Brewery and, shortly after he’d been signed by Balter, discovered he’d won two major trophies at the country’s biggest beer awards.
Killer beer: Watch this space…
Next article: Mix cocktails like a pro with tips from Tom Byrne of Arbory Bar & Eatery in Melbourne.