As the deadline looms for GABS Hottest 100 voting, breweries have thrown themselves into campaigning with greater fervour than ever before, putting the spotlight on marketing around the event.
Craig Williams, event director for GABS and the Hottest 100, said that every year the poll had grown with the brewing industry itself.
“Every year we’ve seen that level of engagement with the Hottest 100 with brewers increase,” he said.
This year however, the level of campaigning appears to have lifted more than a notch with video content created, Google ads paid for, Facebook and Instagram posts published, all for the sake of raising awareness about the vote amongst fans, while highlighting the beers that breweries would like to see vote cast for.
Williams said that the growth in time, effort and money going into campaigning for the Hottest 100 was an inevitable symptom of its growth in the minds of both consumers and retailers.
“The Hottest 100 has been around since 2008, when there were only around 50 breweries in the whole country,” said Williams. “This year there are more than 300 on the list and 3,000 beers to choose from.”
With such stiff competition, some spend much time and effort promoting their brewery and beers, while others take a more laid back approach.
One brewery taking a low-key approach is Balter, two-time winner of Australia’s favourite craft beer for its XPA.
Co-founder Stirling Howland, told Brews News that the company’s conversations on social media explained their attitude to campaigning.
He said Balter was running at the same campaign frequency as previous years, and said that the “natural fall” of where Balter’s beers finish “gives a great insight of our most popular styles through to the least”.
“Even in light of our recent buyout we’ve had people actively letting us know they’re not voting for us which is totally fine, but we’ve encouraged every one of them to make sure they still vote,” Balter posted on social media.
The Gold Coast brewers have 10 beers to vote for in the Hottest 100, four of which are being debuted for the first time, Howland said.
“We’ve still got a few posts to make over the coming weeks reminding people to get their votes in and as we have in previous years will be using our 3 company contact emails to show people what we voted for.”
Fans will no doubt be watching to see whether Balter’s buyout by CUB affects their dominance in the list.
Last year poll organisers said that independence and the introduction of the IBA’s Independence Seal appeared to have impacted the list, with the highest-ranked non-independent beer being Lion-owned Furphy Refreshing Ale, coming in at number 25, making it the only non-independent riser in the list.
Popularity and opportunity
Last year 31,000 people cast 155,000 votes for their favourite beer in the Hottest 100, indicating its usefulness as a gauge of the most popular beers, and therefore the ones that might be the most commercially successful too.
“For those brewers that make it into the top 100 and especially the top 10 or top 20, I can definitely agree there’s a real commercial impact for those guys, you’ve got major retailers pubs, hospitality groups thinking about what they want to stock and sell, and that list is a great reference for what people are enjoying,” Craig Williams said.
He acknowledged that there were criticisms of the list, usually from enthusiastic beer fans.
“We will always have certain people, the craft faithful, say that the list has become too commercial or mainstream, and I get that.
“It can be disappointing when your favourite limited release, barrel aged sour that you voted for doesn’t make the top 100 beers, but that’s the nature of the list.
“It’s not and never pretended to be the most critically acclaimed beers in the land, there are plenty of peer-judged awards out there. This is the list of the most popular beers in the land.”
He said sub-lists like the Hottest New Beers were intended to alleviate these concerns.
While placing on the list can also open doors, commercial promotion is not the main purpose of the Hottest 100, he explained.
“Overall, the poll gives people a moment to pause and reflect and think about all the good beers out there,” he said.
“For the majority of those involved with more limited distribution, the Hottest 100 is a really fun way for them to engage their fans over the summer. “
He said that even smaller breweries had a chance to make a name for themselves on the list.
“You see some really great success stories come out of the poll, such as Thirsty Crow in Wagga Wagga.
“Their Vanilla Milk Stout has appeared on the Hottest 100 list for the last eight years, and you can’t get it outside of Wagga so its a case of that local community getting behind that brewery and supporting it.
“We saw it last year with the Sunshine Coast in particular, there were beer people in Melbourne and Sydney wondering who the hell 10 Toes Brewery and even Your Mates Brewing Co. were. It’s a case of those breweries being able to activate their local fans.”
He said in some cases it’s even beneficial to be a smaller brewery in a more regional areas or outside the biggest three cities.
“If you’re in one of the major cities,so if you’re a brewer in Melbourne [for example], you’re fighting for a share of voice amongst all of those other breweries in Melbourne or Sydney and so on.
“In ACT it’s a big population with a very small number of breweries so they might benefit a little bit off the back of that, but we do find voting is parochial.
“On one end you’ve got that commercial impetus for bigger brewers to want to place well, but at the other end you’ve got those smaller breweries for whom it is just a great way for them to engage their fans.”
Rules and regulations
Despite growing every year, Williams says the GABS team are not planning on bringing on any further restrictions to campaigning.
“We talk about it every year, about whether we do need to put any rules in place around campaigning.
“We’ve had this one long-standing rule where breweries are not allowed to offer any incentives for voting, a free beer for a vote or whatever it might be, which breweries very much accept and abide by, and we’re told very quickly if anyone steps out of line on that.
“Other than that, brewers are welcome to engage their fans any way they like. It allows them to get quite creative. “
He said there were always standouts when it came to marketing for the poll, and that was something the team wanted to help foster, rather than repress.
“It’s a really creative industry, that’s a really special part about it and we don’t want to stifle that creativity, that opportunity for a brewer to put their own stamp on the Hottest 100 callouts.
“More restrictions means less fun, you end up going down this path of putting more rules and regulations and you end up with is this boring, election-style campaign authorised by GABS.”
He said further restrictions on campaigning also didn’t reflect well on the voters themselves.
“To suggest that just because you see a poster or an ad from a brewery you will automatically vote for that as one of your top 5 beers – craft beer drinkers tend to be a bit more discerning, they are spending more on what they’re drinking.
“If you love the brewery and if you love the beer and you buy that as one of your regular purchased, it’s your go-to in the fridge, then for sure you’ll vote for it.”
While there has previously been talk of putting restrictions on breweries promoting individual beers, Williams explained this wasn’t a route they would be going down.
“I think we’ve seen that breweries are becoming more pointed in their communications. It’s a tricky one, when you start to tread down this path of saying you must talk about it in this way or that way, it becomes a real minefield and we just don’t have the resources to police it.”
But for breweries who have made the list well before campaigning became as sophisticated as it is today, it also shows the longevity of some of their favourites.
“Some of those beers has stood the test of time, even before the poll was as big as it is now. Stone & Wood’s Pacific Ale has been on the podium for I think the last 9 years now, which is an incredible testament to how successful that beer is.”
Since GABS and the Hottest 100’s sale to Sydney-based South African marketing and events entrepreneur Mike Bray last year, there has been speculation about the future of the list. Williams says it’s a case of if it isn’t broke don’t fix it.
“Do we expand that further? The hottest beers of this state or that state [for example], my feeling is that we release quite a bit of information at the moment, and if we go too deep into it, it gets to the stage where everyone gets a prize and diminishes it a little bit.
“At the end of the day one of the most amazing things about the Hottest 100 poll is the discussion it creates around beer. It gets people talking and thinking about craft beer and what could be wrong with that?”
Vote for your favourite beers of 2019 before the poll closes on Friday 17th January.