If anyone was still clinging to any vestiges of doubt that the Balter project was merely a celebrity endorsed gimmick, last night's Australian International Beer Awards in Melbourne should have seen those doubts obliterated. Little more than a year after releasing its first beer, the Gold Coast brewery that counts surfers Mick Fanning, Bede Burbridge, Joel Parkinson and Josh Kerr among its founders took out three trophies and yet more gold medals for its flagship XPA.
The brewery team has said since day one that, despite the attention the famous foursome brings Balter's way, it's all about head brewer Scotty Hargrave (pictured above in braces) and his beers. Now, two years on from collecting two trophies in his previous head brewer's role at Byron Bay Brewery – and a few more from his first AIBA trophy six months into a head brewer role at Sunshine Coast Brewery – it's clear they backed the right man.
After being gently reprimanded by co-host Kirrily "Beer Diva" Waldhorn for saying he needed "a fucking tequila" on his first trip to the stage to collect Best International Style Pale Ale, he had the opportunity to apologise while collecting Best New Exhibitor then another one to bring the rest of the Balter team up onstage to collect the trophy for Champion Medium Australian Brewery.
"I'm just spun out," he told The Crafty Pint afterwards. "It's insane. [Balter] is the real deal. I want people to understand that. We want to make the best beer and that's all. It's not about flogging a dead horse with sporting people."
One of Scotty's former employers, Stone & Wood, made it back to back Champion Large Australian Brewery titles, while the lesser seen member of its core range, Jasper, took out Best British Style Ale.
Brewery co-founder Brad Rogers, one of the first to congratulate his old head brewer, said: "I'm just stoked for the entire team. As the team grows, this is just fantastic."
His words were echoed by current head brewer Caolan Vaughan: "From production to sales, we are forever striving for perfection and to achieve this two years in a row refuels the fire to keep on going. It's an amazing result and we couldn't have done it without the amazing family we have at Stone & Wood."
Among the other multiple winners from Australia were Mountain Goat, who continued a fine run of form at the awards with trophies for Pulped Fiction IPA and the draught version of their Pale Ale, 2 Brothers, who took home trophies for their Pay Day Pale Ale and reduced alcohol beer Happiness, and Wayward Brewing Company with a one-two featuring its Sourpuss Raspberry Berliner Weisse and the trophy for Outer Packaging.
White Rabbit ensured Lion has both the reigning Champion Australian Beer and Champion Australian Craft Beer gongs after its White Ale followed Little Creatures Pilsner at last year's Craft Beer Awards into the best beer spot. Also following up success at the Craft Beer Awards was Green Beacon. The Brisbane brewery was named Champion Small Australian Brewery and, with a new production facility set to come online soon, its owners promised to be back in a bigger category in 2018.
There was a nice backstory to FogHorn Brewhouse's win in the Best Stout category for Sligo Stout – also a past Craft Beer Awards trophy winning beer. Co-owner and head brewer Shawn Sherlock had brought his wife Karen to an awards for the first time in more than a decade in the industry so was able to share the win with her.
One of the biggest cheers of the night at the Peninsula in The Docklands was for Exit Brewing's win in the Best Amber/Dark category for its Amber, while WA's Beer Farm will soon house a trophy for its India Pale Lager and Modus Operandi flexed its muscles again, this time not with hops but with its quiet achiever, Silent Knight Porter.
In the Champion Gypsy Brewer category, Pact Beer's Kevin Hingston (pictured above at the lectern) declared his delight at following BrewCult, the winner in 2016, before quipping pithily: "I'd like to thank the breweries who we've worked with. But we've paid them, so it's just a commercial relationship." Afterwards, he said the Pact crew, which includes Marc Grainger and Tim Osborne (pictured left above) were "ultimately pleased as punch".
The awards were celebrating their 25th year, during which time it has grown to the second largest of its kind on the planet. More than 2,000 beers were entered – the highest top date – and were judged by brewers, beer writers and other experts from across the world.
The night before the awards, Balter had hosted a Good Beer Week event called Tins of Glory, launching its new IPA in cans by inviting people to use them in a game inspired by shuffleboard. More party-cum-gameshow than traditional beer launch, it's been one of the buzz events of the week to date.
Scotty said: "It was really fun and that's why we do events like that. It's about bringing people into good beer, not shutting the door on the vast majority of people who don't know about it.
"We are in a privileged position where we can shine a light more than some others."
A light that gets more gilded with each passing day.
If you'd predicted before the awards that the Champion International Brewery trophy would be winging its way to Myanmar, you'd probably have been in company of one. However, on the back of a trophy for the Best European Style Lager, Dagon (a serial award winner in international competitions, it should be said) is headed back to Yangon with all the glory in the category reserved for the largest breweries – not to mention plenty of affection.
In accepting the award, the brewery's representative thanked the AIBA judges, saying: "They have given me a lot of fine points [in judging feedback] since 2008 when we first entered the competition. And using this fine points, we've improved a lot our beer."
Organisers may be considering whether it might just be easier to rename the Champion Medium International Brewery award the Pelican Brewing Company Award after the Oregon brewpub scooped the trophy yet again, while the Champion Small International Brewery trophy is heading across The Ditch in the arms of Deep Creek – it's the fourth time in five years that the trophy for the smaller guys of the international beer world has gone to a brewer from New Zealand. Their fellow countrymen from Bach Brewing helped the kiwi cause by taking out Best Scotch Ale/Barley Wine.
When it comes to individual beers, California's Firestone Walker was the standout winner, picking up Champion International Beer for its Feral One, a wild ale made up of a blend of seven different barrel aged beers. In order to balance the ledger, they also won the trophy for Best Pilsner, making it a pretty successful launch week for the brewery in Australia.
Their compatriots from Virginia's Hardywood Park Craft Brewery got the nod in the Best Specialty Beer category for their Raspberry Stout while, on a more traditional bent, it wouldn't be a major awards ceremony if one of the stalwarts of European brewing didn't pick up a gong. In the past few years, it's tended to be the Germans cleaning up in the wheat beer category but, with White Rabbit having done the job there in 2017, it was left to Velkopopovicky Kozel, the Czech brewery (now owned by Asahi), to take out the Best Amber/Dark Lager for Kozel Dark.
Design and Media Winners
It says something of the way the industry is developing in all directions that almost 200 entries were received in the Design and Media categories.
As shelves and tap points become more competitive, the space has become a visual feast as brewers and local artists produce increasingly striking works of art in order to try and win the eye of the drinker. The two that most caught judges' attention this year were the Colonial Pale Ale which was deemed to have the best label and Wayward Brewing Company for the outer packaging of its core range (a range that, serendipitously, expanded into long neck bottles the day of the awards).
In the realm of beer media, longtime industry journalist James Atkinson, now editor of Australian Brews News, was the recipient of the Crafty Pint sponsored 2017 Media Award, following in the footsteps of the site's founder, Matt Kirkegaard, who took out the inaugural trophy in 2014.
Champion Trophy Winners
Champion Australian Beer
White Rabbit White Ale - White Rabbit Brewery (VIC)
Champion International Beer
Feral One – Firestone Walker Brewing Company (USA)
Champion Large Australian Brewery
Stone & Wood (NSW)
Champion Medium Australian Brewery
Balter Brewing (QLD)
Champion Small Australian Brewery
Green Beacon (QLD
Champion Large International Brewery
DAGON Beverages (Myanmar)
Champion Medium International Brewery
Pelican Brewing Company (USA)
Champion Small International Brewery
Deep Creek Brewing Company (NZ)
Australian Gypsy Brewer Award
Pact Beer Co (ACT)
Garry Sheppard Memorial Trophy for Best New Exhibitor
Balter Brewing (QLD)
Major Trophy Winners
Best Australian Style Lager
Storm Super Dry – Aldi (Minchinbury, NSW)
Best European Style Lager
Dagon Extra Strong Beer – Dagon Beverages (Myanmar)
Best International Lager
India Pale Lager – Beer Farm (WA)
Pivo Pils – Firestone Walker Brewing Company (USA)
Best Amber / Dark Lager
Velkopopovicky Kozel Dark – Plzensky Prazdroj A.S. (Czech Republic)
Best Australian Style Pale Ale
Pay Day – 2 Brothers Brewery (VIC)
Best New World-Style Pale Ale
Pale Ale – Mountain Goat (VIC)
Best International Style Pale Ale
Balter XPA – Balter Brewing (QLD)
Best British Style Ale
Jasper Ale – Stone & Wood (NSW)
Best European Style Ale
Sourpuss Raspberry Berliner Weisse – Wayward Brewing Company (NSW)
Pulped Fiction – Mountain Goat (VIC)
Best Amber / Dark Ale
Exit Amber – Exit Brewing (VIC)
Silent Knight – Modus Operandi (NSW)
Sligo Extra Stout – FogHorn Brewhouse (NSW)
Best Reduced / Low Alcohol Beer
Happiness – 2 Brothers Brewery (VIC)
Best Wheat Beer
White Rabbit White Ale – White Rabbit Brewery (VIC)
Best Belgian / French Ale
Feral One – Firestone Walker Brewing Company (USA)
Best Scotch Ale / Barley Wine
Seamaster Imperial Ale – Bach Brewing (NZ)
Best Specialty Beer
Raspberry Stout – Hardywood Park Craft Brewery (USA)
Design and Media Awards
Pale Ale – Colonial Brewing Company (WA)
Best Outer Packaging
Core Range – Wayward Brewing Company (NSW)
James Atkinson – Australian Brews News
You can view the full results, including all medalists, via the Royal Agricultural Society's website.
The article originally stated Bach Brewing as winner of both Champion Small International Brewery and Best Scotch Ale/Barley Wine. This has been corrected, with Deep Creek winning Champion Small International Brewery.