There were plenty of familiar faces among the big winners at the beer industry's biggest awards night as Balter, Green Beacon and 4 Pines all added to their haul of major trophies at the 2019 Australian International Beer Awards..
Gold Coast brewery Balter took out the Champion Large Australian Brewery trophy, having won in the Medium category in the past, while Green Beacon made it three Champion Brewery trophies in three years, a quite remarkable achievement that started with the Small Brewery title in 2017 and has been followed by back-to-back wins in the Medium category – all without ever winning a champion beer award.
The final trophy of the night went to 4 Pines, however, with Champion Australian Beer given to their Schwarzbier, leading to delirious scenes on the stage as brewery founder Jaron Mitchell arrived in a ship's captain's hat (the legacy of an event earlier in the day) and head brewer Chris Wilcock responded to a warning from MC Dave Thornton that he'd best not attempt to have a beer with everyone in the room with: "If I die, I'll know it was a good night."
Balter head brewer Scotty Hargrave continued his phenomenal run of trophies, one that started out when he was brewing at the Sunshine Coast brewery before he moved to Stone & Wood and then Byron Bay Brewery, with the Best International Pale Ale going to Balter's Strong Pale Ale alongside their Champion Large Brewery title.
While he manages a large team of brewers, Scotty remains hands on, telling The Crafty Pint he'll be back on the brew deck on Tuesday working on new seasonals.
The former concreter said: "I was very obsessed about concrete, but no one gave a shit. With the beer I make, people give a shit. It used to be one person's driveway at a time, but when I make beer I can reach thousands of people and if it makes their day that little bit better that's a result in itself."
He puts Balter's consistent success in beer competitions down to high standards and always striving to improve.
"We've invested everything we've made and then some into making the brewery better," he said after the ceremony. "There was a canning line we couldn't afford but we got it in anyway. The result is there in the quality, which keeps improving and improving.
"We put a lot of time and effort into our people. Most of [the brewers] didn't have any previous experience in beer so we've managed to propagate our own people to a large degree. To have people that started sweeping the floors in front of the canning line move to running the canning line to working on the brew deck is really important for us."
The Green Beacon story is just as remarkable, with head brewer Johann van der Walt (pictured at the top of the article on the right) calling their third straight big win "absolutely crazy – I honestly don't know how to describe it.
"We want to make good beer and keep making good beer. I said to the team, 'If we get a gold, I'll be happy' so I really don't know how to describe it."
He said he was particularly pleased to have won golds in both packaged and draught for their Uppercut IIPA as it was the first batch of that beer brewed at their second production brewery – and also to have performed well with their new Fathom range of barrel-aged beers.
"We just keep on trying to polish and polish and polish our beers," he said. "I said to the brewers the other day, 'You will never brew the perfect beer, but we can fucking try to brew the perfect beer."
The last of the major Australian trophies went to Blackman's Brewery from Torquay, whose Champion Small Australian Brewery title was deserved reward for years of knocking out consistently high quality beers and led co-owner and head brewer Renn Blackman to declare: "We are pretty bloody excited."
Other Australian winners on the night included Hawkers, whose West Coast IPA took the trophy in the most hotly contested category – of the near 2,600 beers entered this year, a record in itself, 398 were IPAs. Fellow Victorians Exit won their second trophy for their Milk Stout and Mountain Goat made it five years straight with silverware thanks to their Summer Ale.
Queensland continues to be a beer powerhouse with Black Hops following last year's Champion Small Brewery title with a trophy for the newest addition to their core lineup, Mid Range, and Hemingway's from Far North Queensland collecting a swag of golds and Best Pilsner for their Prospector Pilsner.
Completing the picture for home nation winners were Cheeky Monkey, with the recently rebranded Margaret River operation collecting Best Pale.
A tribute was paid to Bob Hawke, whose passing was announced during the ceremony, with Dave Thornton leading a raising of the glasses to the much-loved former PM.
New Zealand is a country that draws a good deal of quiet pride and, dare it be said, validation by punching above its rather modest size on the international stage. So there’ll have been more than a few understated nods to a job well done after the country’s breweries claimed the Champion International Brewery trophies in all three size categories on offer.
It's easy to imagine the largest smiles being worn in Waipu, the tiny Northland town that's the home of McLeod’s Brewery (pictured below) and now AIBA Champion Small International Brewery. The win – off the back of the Best Amber / Dark Ale trophy for their Traders beer (their interpretation of a Scotch Ale) and celebrated by a commando roll onto the stage and the most dramatic bowing of the night – sets another high mark for a brewery with a reputation that’s been growing steadily in recent years with head brewer Jason Bathgate at the helm.
It also continues a Bledisloe-like period of dominance that's seen the award go west in six of the past seven years and potentially even signals a stepping stone to greater things; Auckland’s Deep Creek Brewing was the small brewery trophy recipient in 2017 but this year went one better – or at the very least bigger – by filling its swag bag with the Champion Medium Brewery trophy, Best International Lager trophy (for the Undercurrent Pilsner) and an enhanced reputation to take back over the Tasman.
At the big end of town, DB Breweries – itself owned by Heineken Asia Pacific – walked away with the title of Champion Large International Brewery. Amongst other things the triumph offers another delightful dollop in New Zealand’s enduring battle for beer supremacy between the two domestic heavyweights, DB and the Kirin-owned Lion. These old foes tend to go blow for blow and thus it proved once again, with the common theme here being bit of Aussie trolling; Lion picked up the trophy for Best Australian-Style Lager for its proudly New Zealand-centric Steinlager Pure, DB got Best Australian Style Pale Ale for the Aldi-commissioned, New Zealand hopped Nowhere Pale Ale. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all a bit confusing. But the proof is in the blind tasting and, for that, the DB brewers have evidently earned plenty of bragging rights with this latest success.
The one major international award to evade the Kiwis was Champion International Beer which has been whisked across the Pacific by California’s Firestone Walker Brewing Company. Last year’s Champion Large International Brewery got its latest award thanks to the Feral One, a Belgian style, barrel-aged, bacteria-ridden blend that’s perhaps just easier to describe as a wild ale.
Two new awards – Best Fruit Beer and Best Wood / Barrel Aged Beer – were introduced in the 2019 competition and two of the world’s legends delivered first up. In the fruit category it was the inimitable Brouwerij Rodenbach from Belgium which won out for the enchanting cherry and berry character of the Caractere Rouge, while Oregon’s Pelican Brewing Company – an almost boringly consistent AIBA champion – won for Captain of the Coast, a whiskey barrel-aged Wee Heavy. Representing a rather different sort of newness, the trophy for Best New Exhibitor went to Portland’s continually rising star Breakside Brewery, while the world of weird beers – otherwise classified as Best Specialty Beer – was conquered by the Denver Beer Co and their Maui Express Coconut IPA.
Ensuring the competition didn’t become something approaching a Five Eyes frat party, a contingent of Asian breweries who have surprised in past years have continued doing so and, in the process, proved that top examples of classic styles can be made anywhere; the Best European-Style Ale was made in China (Infinite Guide Gose from Bravo Brewing Co.), the Best Porter from Myanmar (Black Shield Draught from Myanmar Brewery Ltd) and Best European-style Lager – the Buckskin Munich Helles from the romantically named King Car Group - was brewed in Taiwan.
All that said, it’s somewhat comforting to know that the Best Wheat Beer came from Germany, courtesy of the Tap 6 Mein Aventinus from Schneider Weisse. On the flipside, the Best Scotch Ale/Barley Wine is a beer called Alba from a certain Brazilian brewery called Cervejaria Bohemia. What a wonderful world.
Art & Design Awards
In the glass, Hope Estate’s Sabro: Single Hop Hazy IPA looks like the water a painter has used to clean their brushes after an inspired day in front of the canvas. Fortunately, in this case the beer was being judged entirely by its cover and the sexy simplicity and contrast of the packaging won it a design award for Best Label / Surface Graphic. Similarly, despite the name, there was no lack of congruence in the design of Mismatch Brewing’s IPA which won the award for Best Outer Packaging.
The final not-quite-beer beer award of the evening, the one for AIBA Best Media*, led to the rather unlikely scenario of Will Ziebell (senior writer at The Crafty Pint and last year's winner) presenting this year's Crafty Pint and Craft Instinct sponsored trophy to Crafty Pint founder James Smith, standing in for Crafty Pint contributor Marie Claire Jarratt, who woke to the news she had won while enjoying a spot of beer travel in Oregon.
Given MC, who runs the New South Ales blog and also writes for Froth, completed a PhD in quantum computing earlier this year, it's fair to say she's enjoying a fine 2019.
She said she was delighted to be the first female winner of the award, with her submission centred around this piece on sexism in the beer world, adding: "It was certainly an amazing thing to wake up to."
Champion Trophy Winners
4 Pines founder Jaron Mitchell (right) shares a joke with Dave Thornton as Balter head brewer Scotty Hargrave is interviewed following his win.
Champion Australian Beer
Keller Door: Schwarzbier – 4 Pines (NSW)
Champion Large Australian Brewery
Balter Brewing (QLD)
Champion Medium Australian Brewery
Green Beacon (QLD)
Champion Small Australian Brewery
Blackman’s Brewery (VIC)
Champion International Beer
Feral One – Firestone Walker (USA)
Champion Large International Brewery
DB Breweries (NZ)
Champion Medium International Brewery
Deep Creek Brewing Company (NZ)
Champion Small International Brewery
McLeod’s Brewery (NZ)
Best New Exhibitor
Breakside Brewery (USA)
NB No gold medals were awarded to gypsy brewers this year so there was no Champion Gypsy Brewer trophy awarded.
Best Australian-Style Lager
Steinlager Pure – Lion (NZ)
Best European-style Lager (excluding Pilsner)
Buckskin Munich Helles – King Car Group (Taiwan)
Best International Lager
Undercurrent – Deep Creek (NZ)
The Prospector Pilsner – Hemingway’s Brewery (QLD)
Best Amber / Dark Lager
Keller Door: Schwarzbier – 4 Pines (NSW)
Best Australian Style Pale Ale
Nowhere Pale Ale – DB Breweries (NZ)
Best New World-Style Pale Ale
Pale Ale – Cheeky Monkey (WA)
Best International-Style Pale Ale
Balter Strong Pale Ale – Balter Brewing (QLD)
Best British-Style Ale (Excluding IPA & Pale Ale)
Summer Ale – Mountain Goat (VIC)
Best European-Style Ale
Infinite Guide Gose – Bravo Brewing Co. (China)
Hawkers West Coast IPA – Hawkers Brewery (VIC)
Australia Best Amber / Dark Ale
Traders – McLeods Brewery (NZ)
Black Shield Draught – Myanmar Brewery LTD (Myanmar)
Exit Milk Stout – Exit Brewing (VIC)
Best Reduced / Low Alcohol Beer
Mid Range – Black Hops (QLD)
Best Wheat Beer
TAP6 Mein Aventinus – Schneider Weisse (Germany)
Best Belgian / French Ale
Feral One – Firestone Walker (USA)
Best Scotch Ale / Barley Wine
Alba – Cervejaria Bohemia (Brazil)
Best Fruit Beer
Rodenbach Caractere Rouge – Brouwerij Rodenbach (Belgium)
Best Wood or Barrel Aged Beer
Captain of the Coast – Pelican Brewing Company (USA)
Best Specialty Beer
Maui Express – Denver Beer Co. (USA)
Design & Media Awards
Best Design - Label / Surface Graphic
Sabro: Single Hop Hazy IPA - Hope Brewery (NSW)
Best Design - Outer Packaging
India Pale Ale - Mismatch Brewing Co. (SA)
Marie Claire Jarratt – New South Ales
*The Best Media award is sponsored by The Crafty Pint. All judging is carried out by an independent panel of writers and others working in the wider world of media.
Full results, including medal winners, will appear here.