GABS has just opened consumer voting for the Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beer poll and while the fundamentals are staying the same, the GABS team has been investing in the growth of this year’s competition.
The aim for the poll’s 14th year is to grow awareness of the poll and craft beer in general, according to owner Mike Bray, who took over the competition and GABS Festivals in 2019.
“We’ve invested heavily in the consumer engagement side of the Hottest 100, with a brand new voting pool and on the brewer side, a new nomination portal to make life easier for brewers,” Bray explained.
“On the consumer side, we’re going to be holding bigger celebrations and more visual celebrations for all the beer and brewers. That voting experience is going to another level.”
Discussions have been had in the industry around the voting mechanisms for the GABS Hottest 100 voting, with suggestions being made that it be limited to the previous 12 months of beer releases, or that the top beers are retired after a number of years to allow a change of guard at the top. But if it’s not broke, there’s no need to fix it, according to Bray.
“There were some ideas and discussions [about changing the mechanics of the Hottest 100],” he explained.
“We consulted with a lot of people in the industry and the general feedback was that it really works well and has worked well for the past 10 to 12 years, especially for those that have been at the pointy end of it.
“It might need a lick of paint to enhance the consumer experience, but does not necessarily need to be rebuilt.”
One criticism of the Hottest 100 is that with a stable of much-loved beers which regularly take the top spots, there isn’t much room for newcomers. While this may be true of certain top spots, the rest of the list is much more diverse, explained Bray.
“30 per cent of the list changes each year, not too much change in the top 10 but roughly 30 new beers out of the 100, or are beers that have dropped out and returned which is a large number. So I think craft drinkers have a great understanding of what’s a good beer,” said Bray.
Marketing is also a key factor, with some breweries having the resources and time to spend on campaigning for a Hottest 100 spot in-house, whilst others do not have the same advantages.
“Last year Bad Shepherd made the Hottest 100, they didn’t campaign hard but the beer stands up for itself,” Bray highlighted.
“And a big trend in last year’s Hottest 100, was that Queensland breweries are starting to come to the fore.
“This reflects the emergence of craft in Queensland, specifically the regional areas where there’s a lot of excitement and passion in supporting local breweries.
“If you look at the can designs, a small brewery in Queenstown won the GABS Design Awards in NZ, they might not have the biggest fan base, but consumers are saying they have great design.
“The consumers do dictate the outcome at the end of the day.”
Of course, the Hottest 100 is a popularity contest in a conventional sense, but Bray explained that the growing knowledge of craft beer’s fan base means they are also “prosumers” with an idea of beer quality as well.
“We’ve got the most astute consumer market out there, look at Bentspoke, they’ve been on the podium for four years and have gone on to win some of the most prestigious peer awards.
“It’s a popularity vote, but the consumer has a strong understanding of what’s a great beer too.”
This certainly seems to be the case when listing with major bottleshop chains, as Endeavour Group Craft Beer Category Manager Billy Ryan explained, with awards like the Hottest 100 being a contributing factor to ranging decisions at the major bottleshops BWS and Dan Murphy’s.
“When deciding what beers to range in our stores, we look at a multitude of factors including quality, beer style, connection to the local community and branding,” Ryan said.
“Awards are important for the craft beer industry as it celebrates the achievements of breweries. Whether a beer has won an award is one of the many factors we consider in our range reviews,” he explained.
Plans for the future
Bray explained that the plan was to expand the Hottest 100 to a year-round campaign.
“It’s a celebration for the consumer, we are on an equal footing and put forward every beer nominated. We don’t want to deprive a consumer of saying theirs was a limited edition release from their local brewery and they cant vote for it because they haven’t been nominated – the consumer can nominate themselves.
“We’re looking to grow people voting and this lets them nominate the beer from another brewery. Its all about the consumer, the consumer connecting back to their favourite brewery and beer and having that opportunity to vote for them.
“”We also aim to get another 10-20 per cent of venues joining the celebrations, which is great for breweries, venues and craft beer.
“There’s a lot of investment and emphasis on that part of it. We want to celebrate every craft beer out there and want consumers to have the opportunity to celebrate them too.”