With the dust settled on this year’s Local Taphouse Hottest 100 poll, does time give us space to reflect on what this poll of the people has told us about Australian craft beer over the past twelve months?
The local craft beer market continues to grow with vigor, as flavoursome, diverse and niche new beers and breweries seem to rapidly propagate across all corners of the country. In the five years of the Local Taphouse poll, never before have there been so many beers released in the prior 12 months for which to vote.
Ultimately, this poll is a popularity contest – the peoples’ choice. Assessing how the peoples’ vote has evolved over five years provides an interesting perspective on the state of crafty beers, breweries and drinking habits in Australia.
The poll began in 2008, initially open to all Australian beers excluding international beers brewed under licence. A few hundred votes were received and the list included rare craft beers, such as Nail Stout and Feral Razorback, through to mainstream’s Crown Lager and Tooheys Old. Victorian beers dominated the 100 places because the majority of votes were contributed by the Local Taphouse’s Melbourne audience. In 2008 the original winners were Murray’s Icon 2IPA in second and Little Creatures Pale Ale in the top spot.
In 2009 the poll was limited to “craft beers” and the top two remained the same, Little Creatures Pale Ale and Murray’s Icon2IPA. Matilda Bay replaced James Squire’s two Top 10 placings, with Fat Yak and Alpha Pale Ale. The year also saw the first Top 10 appearance of Feral’s Hop Hog IPA. After polling at equal 72nd in the inaugural poll of 2008, Hop Hog would go on to rise through the Top 10, finishing in 7th, 4th, 3rd and 1st consecutively through 2009 to 2012.
Feral Hop Hog’s rise to champion status over the last five years has been echoed by critics and commentators across the beer industry. This has been most clearly evident as Hop Hog continues to collect a rising number local and international accolades, including Best International Pale Ale at the 2012 Australian International Beer Awards.
So, who else has reaped rewards of recognition or been impacted by trends in the Hottest 100 poll?
Social Media: Twitter and Facebook are proving powerful tools when a simple click online is all that’s required to achieve recognition and results. Despite the lack of availability of some beers from smaller producers, modern marketing through social media, with a smart and broad approach, can help obtain easy online votes beyond the usual audience of the Hottest 100 poll.
Whilst there are no demographic metrics available from the poll, other than location by State, the mere fact that the only option to vote in the poll was by website entries dictates that the majority of the voters would have been urban dwellers in their 20s-40s. This is the same demographic that is currently the highest users of social media.
Social media savvy brewers are able to utilise the free and far-reaching marketing tools of Twitter and Facebook to capture voters who may otherwise be unaware of the Taphouse venue or poll. Minimal effort is required by the voter and their loyal and favourtism is captured by the sociability and person behind the social media account, moreso than the product/brand/event or channel. By exposing their broad audiences to presence of the poll, alongside their regular social media interactions, a nominee’s chances were increased by hitting the poll’s the target audience.
One such social media user, 4 Heart’s Wade Curtis, also emphasised the continuing relevance and impact of traditional media. Wade’s use of local print media, spruiking the claim of his Ipswitch region as a leader in regional craft beer, provided a captive local audience of voters, propelling four of his beer up the poll when their availability is extremely limited compared to the majority of beers that polled.
New South Wales: The results from early years of the poll were very Victorian-centric, largely due to the Melbourne location and audience of The Local Taphouse. In 2012, the weight in numbers of Victorian breweries with national distribution keeps Victoria as the most represented state, with 39 beers out of the 100. However, NSW has surged from 25 beers in 2011 to 34 in 2012. Again, the advantage of the Taphouse venue in Sydney is evident, but the recent rise of breweries across NSW indicates that firm and broad interest in craft beer has taken hold in Australia’s most populous state.
Previously, and continuously, dominated by representation from Murray’s, 4 Pines and Stone & Wood, along with the ever present Lord Nelson, NSW’s stocks have been boosted by more newcomers than any other state. Young Henry’s, Riverside Brewing, Grifter Brewing, Bellingen Brewing, HopDog BeerWorks and the Australian Brewery all polled for the first time. Also returning after polling last year were Balmain Brewing, Thirsty Crow and Doctor’s Orders.
Mountain Goat Beer and Bridge Road Brewers: Mountain Goat and Bridge Road shared the most number of appearances in this year’s Hottest 100 with seven beers each. Whilst both won significant votes for several new limited release beers, it was the continuing strong performance of their core range that secured their broad popularity. All of Mountain Goat’s permanent beers – Steam Ale, Hightail Ale and India Pale Ale – appeared in the list. Bridge Road has had their Pale Ale, Bling IPA and Chevalier Saison in every top 100 since the poll’s inception. Credit is also due to Holgate Brewhouse who achieved five top 100 placings, all of which are beers that part of their current core range, as opposed to excitement-driven specialty releases.
Old stalwarts: A couple of old favourites, popular local brewers that have existed since 2008, continue to very perform well, notably Little Creatures, Holgate and Bridge Road. However, several well regarded brewers and beers that had appeared in every poll since the poll’s start in 2008 have now been squeezed out by the new wave of start-up breweries.
Victoria’s Red Hill Brewery and 2 Brothers Brewery had polled every year, but were missing this year. Red Hills Imperial Stout and Scotch Ale had been permanent fixtures during the poll’s history, as had 2 Brother’s Growler.
Red Hill Brewery is a prolific and effective user of social media, but the difference may be that they did not use facebook or twitter to campaign for votes this year, posting only one update asking if followers that voted yet, the day before the poll closed.
Jamieson Brewery’s “The BEAST” IPA also failed to poll for the first time. Breweries such as Red Duck, Lobethal, Steam Exchange and BrewBoys failed to return to the top 100 list after strong performances in previous years.
Macro brewer craft brands: 2012 marked the Hottest 100 demise of James Squire and Matilda Bay. Until this year, both James Squire and Matilda Bay had polled well with multiple appearances in every poll. In 2012, only Matilda Bay’s Fat Yak scored a place (#37).
James Squire’s parents, Lion, have still achieved a strong presence in this year’s poll with the consistent poller of Knappstein Enterprise Brewery’s Reserve Lager and through the acquisition of Little World Beverages. Six beers from Little Creatures featured in the top 100, with their popular Single Batch releases adding to their trusty core range of Pale Ale, Bright Ale and Rogers.
Style trends: Many craft beer geeks would have sworn that last year was the year of the Saison or emerging sour beer styles. That may have been the case for the total output of new styles from non-startup breweries combined with an associated hype factor, but it was not reflected in these popularity stakes. The Pale Ale and IPA continued to dominate the top 100 beer styles with 32 beers. The next most prominent style (8 beers) was the “style trend of 2011” – the black IPA. It is possible that a beer style trend takes at least a year to flow through to drinkers, so we may see a significant increase in saisons (3) and sours (1) next year. However, it is unlikely that Pale Ales and IPAs will be dethroned as the leading representation of craft beer for many years. What this year’s poll did offer was a broader spectrum of styles than any previous poll.
Full results through the years:
The Local Taphouse Hottest 100 Top 10 from over the years (click the images to view the full size tables):
Who were you winners and losers from the 2012 Local Taphouse Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers poll?