Another year has passed, and for the third year running Feral Hop Hog has been voted Australia’s favourite beer in the hottest 100 poll. The top four remain mostly unchanged from last year with Stone & Wood’s Pacific Ale again coming in second, followed this year by 4 Pines Pale Ale at number 3 and Little Creatures Pale Ale at number 4 (last year’s fourth and third place, respectively).
A newcomer to the beer market this year, La Sirène’s Praline, rounds off the top 5 and becomes only the third Victorian beer to make a top 5 since 2010.
Hops on Top
Yet again the list is heavily dominated by hop-driven pale and golden ales, which has become something of an inevitability that some of us will just have to deal with. With pale ales often the bread and butter of a brewery rather than their showpieces, it seems something of a missed trick to have almost 40 per cent of the mix consisting of the basic beers from different breweries. They have wide appeal, and there are some unquestionably great beers in that fold, but reading down the list the presence of the words ‘pale ale’ starts to get a bit repetitive. (It does however reflect the centre gravity in the craft market and the appearance of so many brands across the list arguably shows some breadth of quality. Ed.)
Add to that the 18 IPAs, 4 Double IPAs, 5 Red IPAs and 3 Black IPAs in the list and it’s fairly obvious that hops rule the roost in the Australian craft beer market.
Having said that, this year’s list presents some interesting surprises, most visibly La Sirène’s charming dessert offering Praline that came in at number 5, having also taken home the people’s choice award at the 2014 Great Australasian Beer Spectapular festival. There is also a handful of Imperial Stouts in the mix – highest being the Mornington Peninsula Brewery’s offering at 39 – proving that Aussie beer drinkers are not simply guzzlers of pale ales and hop-forward offerings.
The Victorian Empire
State by state, Victoria is the big winner, with almost half (48) of this year’s list hailing from the Local Taphouse’s home state. New South Wales comes in second with 23, followed by Western Australia with 14, although it’s important to note that the juggernaut Little Creatures produced beer out of a Victorian facility as well as their home state of WA. For the second year in a row, Tasmania failed to crack the top 100, and ACT and NT yet again also missed out.
While Queensland only managed 7 beers in the list, they’ve finished with a very decent showing, with three of those beers (All from the Fortitude Brewing Company under their two brands) cracking the top 20.
Obviously being a Local Taphouse-run poll, the prevalence of Victorian and New South Wales breweries on the list is kind of unavoidable. (Or is this just where the concentration of craft beer drinkers who are engaged enough to vote are based. An interesting discussion to be had in the comments. Ed, again.) It’s also clear that there are some isolated geographical pockets where folks put their votes behind locally produced beers, while there are some beers I believe would skyrocket up the list if only more people were able to get their hands on them.
New (and old) Kids on the Block
There are big wins and great news here for a number of new breweries and brewing companies on the scene this year, most notably KAIJU! Beer which landed four beers on the list and two in the top 20, Fortitude’s Noisy Minor brand with a top 10 berth and another in the top 20, as well as Sydney’s Modus Operandi and the Adelaide Hills’ Prancing Pony, which both managed a debut in the top 20.
Heavyweights of this poll, Melbourne’s Mountain Goat Brewery as well as Sydney’s 4 Pines Brewing and Riverside Brewing have all taken out a couple of top twenty spots for themselves, with the 4 Pines army voting both their Pale Ale and Kolsch all the way into the top 10. Another interesting standout from the top 20 is the entry of Mash Brewing’s Copycat IPA; winner of the Champion Australian Beer at the AIBAs last year this represents the Swan Valley brewery’s first entry into a hottest 100 since the poll’s inception.
Another stalwart of the polls has solidified in the form of Melbourne’s Two Birds Brewing, capping off a stellar 2014 – in which they finally opened their own brewing premises and tasting room – by landing all four of their core range in the hottest 100, including their novelty wheat beer Taco at lucky number 13.
You win some…
It’s easy to look at the big winners and a lot more difficult to delve into the losers, but from my first glance the most glaring void on the list would be the absence of Bridge Road’s exemplary Chevalier Saison, which tends to hover around the middle of this popularity contest and near the top of the critic’s choice poll, but seems to have slipped from everybody’s radar for the first time. Holgate’s perennial favourite Temptress chocolate porter has slipped a bit down to number 31 – possibly having the sweet beer vote usurped by La Sirene’s Praline and Thirsty Crow’s Vanilla Milk Stout this year – while Little Creatures IPA has dropped to number 30 from its debut at number 5 last year.
The other big loser – although I’m sure it won’t come as a big surprise to most readers – is that most maligned of beer varieties, the lager. While there’s a very clear predominance of ale styles within Australia’s craft breweries, last year’s hottest 100 featured three lagers and the previous year’s five, while for 2014 the sole flag-flyer is Stone & Wood’s Lager, all the way down at number 91. Is it the last year that we’ll see any lagers crack the 100 at all? Or will 2015 be the year when craft brewers and drinkers alike rediscover how good lagers can be?
Overall it’s a pretty good mix this year. It’s another dominant display by everyday drinking beers, but plenty of unusual offerings for people to seek out, from the tentative newcomer to seasoned double IPA-chuggers. In 2015, expect to see an ever-increasing variety getting people’s votes as breweries expand production and distribution, the craft beer word spreads and people continue to enjoy all the great beer that Australia produces.