Last year’s Best New WA Beers list commented on the growth of WA venues supporting new WA draught only releases. In 2017, this trend has accelerated with more than half of this list’s beers released at festivals, venues and growler filling outlets. Put simply, the best of the West continues to be found more and more away from the fridge at home and instead as a part of socialising within the state's growing beer community.
Style wise, the rise of NEIPAs (New England style IPAs) and sours continues, but this has coincided with a recalibration towards more modest alcohol levels. It appears that, outside of special occasion beers such as Artisan’s 11 percent ABV Quad, Feral’s similarly boozy Tusk imperial IPA or Eagle Bay’s decadent collaborative party bus, the trend is heading towards sessionability.
The 2017 WA list was compiled with input from 14 contributors that have consumed, served and sold the broadest array of WA beers over the past 12 months. They include Crafty Pint writers, retailers and venue staff from across the state, beer bloggers, Certified Beer Judges and Cicerones. The final short list was reviewed by five of the contributors to mitigate bias and duplication with previous year’s entries and is presented in alphabetical order.
Such was the quality of releases this year that eight of the ten beers were nominated almost universally by all involved. So, without further ado... *drum roll please*
Artisan Brewing - 2017 Quadrupel
In a world obsessed with hops and IBUs, dedicating your brewery to Belgian-inspired beers is bold and the beers Brian and Julia Fitzgerald (pictured above) are making at Artisan Brewing in Denmark are nothing short of beautiful.
Their 11 percent ABV Quadrupel grabbed a well deserved gold medal at this year’s Perth Royal Beer Awards. The beer makes a first impression like a sledgehammer and then, with its enticing richness, complexity and luxurious flavours, it makes you feel that all is good in the world.
It seems plenty of people agree given five Artisan beers were nominated for this year’s long list.
Beer Farm – ShirazaWeisse
As predicted in last year's WA Top 10, a lot more arrived from the Beer Farm in 2017. The India Pale Lager’s 500ml cans found favour with both the craftiest and most casual of beer drinkers, collaborators were seemingly lined up waiting on the Bussell Highway and they even found time to host a full blown rodeo!
Amid all of this, one lurid, fuchsia stained beer became the Crafty contributors' most regarded new release. Its name? ShirazaWeisse.
The Margaret River region is internationally renowned for wine production and ex-wine barrels are increasingly being used in barrel programs by South West breweries. The evolutionary step of using the prized fruit in beer production too appeared to be a step too far – at least until now. No less than 100 kilograms of Cape Grace shiraz grapes were added during secondary fermentation of the house Berliner Weisse, which helped elevate the ABV to 4.5 percent. Shiraz grapes feature on the nose and fill the vivid, murky body with red fruit characters while the tart Berliner base provides balance.
Perhaps the most exciting development in this project is that brewery team has hinted that this celebration of grape and grain may appear again although with different grape varieties depending on the vintage. Whatever happens, expect the Beer Farmers to continue delivering quality releases in 2018.
Cheeky Monkey Brewery x Chi Cho Gelato x Mane Liquor - Frosty Fruit Sour
Judging by the lengthy lines at Fremantle BeerFest and the lighting quick time in which this beer sold out across WA, Frosty Fruit Sour was always going to be part of 2017’s best new releases.
The serial collaborators dug deep into childhood nostalgia to create a sorbet-infused Berliner weisse that found drinkers grinning from the first sip (including this site's founder when welcomed to Perth Airport with a chilled tinnie on a recent trip to WA Beer Week).
Chi Cho’s artisanal passionfruit, lime and mandarin gelato was added to the first Berliner weisse that Cheeky Monkey's head brewer Ross Terlick had ever brewed. The additional sugars bumped the beer up to 4.4 percent ABV – a little higher than normal for style – but it remains deliciously sessionable. Lime and mandarin feature prominently while the passionfruit plays a supporting role.
Good news for Frosty Fruit fans, given the success of the initial release, is that Frosty Fruit Sour has been confirmed as the summer seasonal release for Cheeky Monkey. Time for a frosted ice cream pairing!
Eagle Bay Brewing x Mane Liquor x Whipper Snapper x Kyle Hughes-Odgers - Black Vanilla
Beer is better when you're hanging out with good people so it’s not surprising that, when Eagle Bay teamed up with Whipper Snapper Distillery, Mane Liquor and artist Kyle Hughes-Odgers, they’d make something magical.
Black Vanilla continues the annual collaborations between the boozy friends that started in 2015. It's an imperial stout barrel aged for three months in two Whipper Snapper Upshot whisky barrels before toasted coconut and vanilla beans were added.
“It’s quite a privilege,” Eagle Bay’s retail and marketing manager Margarita says, “because once those whisky barrels are given over to us they can’t use them for whisky again.”
The result is complex and rich, dark and roasty, and it’s drinking great now and will certainly age nicely too.
Feral Brewing - Biggie Juice
It was all a dream…
A one-off April collab at the Swan Valley brewpub with Feral's friends from The Royston, Melbourne – a little West Coast meets East Coast fun, that was supposed to be just that – a one-off. But what rolled out past the geese in white walled limo was a beer with a low bitterness and tropical flow that quickly developed a cult following.
The rise of the Biggie Juice is in keeping with the rise of the NEIPA style, something of which not everyone is a fan. Brooklyn Brewery’s highly respected head brewer Garrett Oliver has labeled the ascendance of NEIPAs the world's first Instagram based beer style. True to his quip, yet unperturbed by such remarks, the Swan Valley brewpub regularly saw long lines of social media haze craze chasers seeking the freshest two-litre growler fills available.
Broader distribution has only further increased demand for Biggie Juice, something that should be offset by its imminent package release, but in the meantime turbid trainspotters would do well to chill with Mtume’s 1983 jazz-funk classic.
… and if you don’t know, now you know.
Feral Brewing - Tusk (November Release)
There must be something about the November release of Tusk; last year’s late in the year release made it into the equivalent list too.
Feral’s American imperial IPA is all about its ballsy American hops but drinkability hasn’t been left on the brewery floor; this most recent version was well balanced, packed with tropical and stone fruit character, a hint of sweet booze and a body that doesn’t come anywhere close to syrupy, making it a fantastic version of one of Feral’s most infamous brews.
Indian Ocean Brewing Co - Brett Not Brett
The New World sour Brett Not Brett was brewed in collaboration with craft beer bar, The Dutch Trading Co, for this year’s GABS festival. Indian Ocean head brewer Jack Purser picked a unique yeast strain for it, one thought originally to be a strain of brettanomyces but later re-classified as Saccharomyces Bruxellensis, hence the beer’s name.
Jack could understand the confusion, saying: “It produces a pellicle in secondary [fermentation] and it can produce the typical horsey, bretty funk. But, in primary, in the right conditions it can come across as a very curious fruity yeast.”
They stressed the yeast and created some great mango and passionfruit aromas by doing so and, together with some New World hops, the result was a beer with crisp and refreshing acidity, stone fruit, pineapple and a sherbety zing. Jack suggested that, since Brett Not Brett was so well received on its first outing, it will receive an encore performance in the future.
Mash Brewing - Little NEIPA
If a hazy IPA didn't make it into a 2017 list of best new beers, did we even beer? We haven’t included Mash’s Little NEIPA just for its haziness, though, as this beer impressed from its very first release in kegs mid-year and later, when word got out that it would be joining the Mash core range in cans, Perth beer geeks eagerly watched for the release date.
The playful artwork inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is a pretty big contrast to the beer inside. Little NEIPA boasts a lot of stone fruit character for a mid-strength alongside a pleasantly bitter finish, with the brewers taking the haze craze, doing it well and serving it up responsibly.
Nail Brewing - Super VPA
John Stallwood’s habit of releasing the right beer for its time appears intuitively shaman-like. The Citra hop driven Nail Red arrived as a 2014 Brew Log, single batch release that quickly defined its category and drove volume for a brewery that first made its name with Nail Ale, an Australian pale ale. This was then scaled up to the 9 percent ABV Red Carpet for GABS and was included in The Crafty Pint’s 2016 Best New WA Beers.
Late in 2015, VPA (Very Pale Ale) arrived and soon asserted its tropical hop dominance, becoming Nail’s top selling beer and, more recently, judged the best New World Pale Ale in our Blind Tasting. As is customary, VPA was super-sized for 2017 GABS into the 9 percent ABV Super VPA which saw lemon and lime peel added to enhance the El Dorado hops.
Those that missed the initial release were satiated by a November revisit that cemented Super VPA’s place in this year’s list. With this kind of momentum, drinkers could expect to see MVP (Mid Very Pale) in a plus-sized iteration for next year’s GABS meaning Nail may soon, via a rather circuitous route, have its first IPA.
Rocky Ridge Brewing Co - Sour Buffalo
As far as accidents go, this one was pure serendipity.
For Rocky Ridge Brewing Co’s Hamish Coates, the moment he realised a batch of his winter seasonal golden stout, White Buffalo, was under duress of the souring bacteria lactobacillus was one of heartbreak that gradually evolved into a question: “What if we released this as a summer version?”
It’s at this point that White Buffalo became Sour Buffalo, a soured golden coffee stout. On paper, this is pure madness, however the blend of two high altitude, single origin Brazilian coffee beans from Margaret River Roasting Co, which bring rich cocoa and milk chocolate notes to the golden stout base, are balanced by the sour yeast that provides a clean cut through. Hamish is quick to admit, however, that it’s unlikely he could ever recreate Sour Buffalo although he has isolated the yeast strain just in case.
Perhaps there’s some twisted irony in the attention this happy accident has brought to the young brewery, whose ethos is producing beer with ingredients from its own land, including its own house cultured yeast. Either way, with smart branding, a solid core range and string of other specialty releases this year, including Dr Weedy’s, a hemp ale brewed in collaboration with Vasse Valley hemp farm, the future looks bright for Rocky Ridge, happy accidents or not.
Look out for further reviews of the year in beer in the coming weeks. And, if you're feeling suitably inspired, why not vote in this year's GABS Hottest 100 Aussie craft beers?
Pia and Guy wish to thank the following contributors for making this list as diverse and impartial as possible: Cape Cellars Dunsborough, Cellarbrations Carlisle, Copper & Oak, Mane Liquor, Baby Mammoth, Caboose, Clancy’s Fish Pub Fremantle, The Dutch Trading Co, Refuge Small Bar, Jeremy Sambrooks and Craft Beer House.