Craft beer in Australia has really started to come alive in the past few years. “Technically, the first contemporary craft breweries launched three decades ago, but the first wave pretty much rose and then collapsed by the mid 1990s,” says James Smith, author of the Crafty Pint website and festival director of Good Beer Week in Melbourne, Australia. “It began growing slowly again around the turn of the Millennium and, while some have fallen away, many of the best breweries in operation now – Little Creatures (taken over by Lion / Kirin a couple of years ago), Feral, Nail, Mountain Goat to name a few – have been around a decade or more.”
However you judge it, the craft beer industry in this country of 23 million people has been growing at a tremendous rate. “We’ll reach the most brewing companies in operation at any one time in Australia this year; the previous high mark was 300 at the end of the 19th century before rationalization turned the country into a nation of lager drinkers being supplied by just a handful of big operations by the late 1970s,” says Smith.
There’s also been an explosion in brewers attempting different styles in recent years, mimicking craft beer scenes elsewhere. “Sours and barrel-ageing are very much the in thing for experimental brewers and beer geeks, while farmhouse ales are enjoying a welcome rise in popularity.” It makes sense as sour beers and saisons, for example, have the potential to be well-suited to the usually hot climate of Australia.
For all the growth, it remains a very young industry with variable quality to be found, especially in newer, smaller startups – although an increasing number are hitting the ground running. “Issues of capitalization, consistency, quality control and so on need addressing in many cases and there will be some who (maybe deservingly) fall away in the next few years.” But, for the first time ever, you can safely say that, in the major cities at least, craft beer has hit the mainstream and is only going to grow.
Here are a few great Australian beers to try if you ever make your way “down under”:
Located in Newtown, New South Wales, Australia, Young Henrys makes a handful of great beers including their take on the traditional Best Bitter. It’s their homage to their British ancestors. It’s even made up of 50% Australian malts and 50% British malts. It also contains Australian hops: Ella, Galaxy and Topaz, giving it more of a taste of Australia than Great Britain.
This Pale Ale from Manly, New South Wales, Australia is an extremely drinkable 5.1% ABV and 35 IBUs. It’s dark, amber, red in color and has crisp citrus and pine flavors that are backed up by a sweet malt flavor. It’s available year-round at their adjacent brewpub as well as in bottles throughout Australia. Hops include Citra, Amarillo and Cascade.
Located in The Rocks, New South Wales, Australia, Lord Nelson Brewery was named to pay honor to a bygone era. The building the brewpub is located in was built in 1841 and has the look of a classic English pub. Their take on the pale ale is available on tape and in bottles and sits at a light 4.9% ABV.
Located in the Northern Beaches section of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, Nomad is one of many Australian breweries carrying the craft beer banner. This dark, amber colored 6% ABV IPA gets its sweet, malty taste from caramel malts that are combined with both Australian and American hops. This creates a unique, citrus, crisp beer. ?
The only cream ale on the list, Modus Operandi Kite Flyer is similar to many of the American craft cream ales that are popping up in the states. This 4.8% ABV beer is a perfect ratio of rich maltiness and spiced, bitter hops. It’s named for Sir Ed Hallstrom whose kite, in 1909, was used to test whether or not Australia’s first glider would support a man. It did and George Taylor became the first Australian to fly in a man made machine.
Located in St. Peters, New South Wales, Australia, Willie the Boatman is named for a Scottish convict who was sent to work in Australia in 1830. His job required him to transport supplies across the Cook River for a local business owner. The Bulger is an English style bitter. It is brewed, like many Australian beers, with a combination of European and Australian malts. To give it more of a local flavor, this 6.5% ABV bitter is made with only Australian and New Zealand hops.
Located in Richmond, Victoria, Australia, Mountain Goat was founded in 1997 by beer lovers Cam Hines and Dave Bonighton. Their Steam Ale is a certified organic, 4.5% ABV beer that features citra and cascade hops and checks in at a palatable 22 IBUs.
One of the more wintery beers on this list, Coopers Brewery Best Extra Stout is just that. It’s a massively rich, dark, malt-filled stout. With hints of chocolate and coffee, it’s perfectly paired with rich meats like pork and beef as well as various cheeses and deserts. At 6.3% ABV, this stout should be enjoyed on a cool, Australian night surrounded by friends.
Located in Collingwood, Victoria, Australia, Robot Ninja is the perfect mixture of wackiness and talent. All of their beers have a Japanese theme including their Robot Ninja Sorachi Lager. This lager is brewed using rice and Japanese Sorachi Ace hops. It was created to pay homage to the interesting, sometimes over-the-top nightlife of Tokyo.
Situated in Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia, Stone & Wood is started in 2008 by a group of guys who were tired of “working for the man”. Their Pacific Ale pays tribute to the large body of water the surrounds a large portion of the continent. This easy drinking 4.4% ABV ale is brewed using only Australian wheat, barley and Galaxy hops. It’s not filtered or pasteurized because they want the beer to be as flavorful as possible.