Well, that’s it: a decade of WA beer done and dusted. As we prepare for the 2020s, it's unarguable that 2019 has culminated in the most diverse and accelerated new release schedule ever. It’s a trend that shows no sign of abating, save for a slowly growing interest in fresh, postcode produced and consumed lager which, according to the parlance of our times, is known as "Crispy Boi" – and we thought the Bohemians had a creative approach to life and beer...
By now, most readers know how these lists and associated reflection work. If not, you can set your mind at ease with the process as outlined here. For the tl;dr crowd, we sought contributions from a broad cross-section of venue staff, retailers, media, beer judges and Cicerones – more than 30 from WA – when compiling this roundup.
So, where is WA beer at the end of the decade? At the pointier end of things, it’s a place where a new brewery working a mere 400 litre brewery debuts without a pale or lager in the lineup yet goes on to occupy a full fridge shelf in a nationally-recognised independent retailer with stock that’s packaged by a mobile canning company. And another brewery on the cusp of opening has confidence the WA market alone will support its projected million litre per annum capacity.
Mid-decade, we noted in this roundup that the best place for West Australians to try exciting new beer was in venues; however, many of the state’s best are now packaged. Where this trend takes WA beer, and those that have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment only to find themselves competing for shelf space with dozens who've opted for contract packaging options remains to be seen.
When paired with the growth of online communities there's potentially a social impact on the physical beer community; as The Dutch Trading Co's figurehead Joel Beresford said in this publication recently: “Social media helps new people take up craft beer but it’s taking precedence over getting to the pub, events or bottle shares.”
Walking through the aforementioned venue in early December, I counted just under 20 local sours – not sours sourced from brewers across Australia, but all created in WA. Even as recently as 2017, West Coast punters would have struggled to find 20 local IPAs, let alone a four-pack of puckeringly refreshing beers. Moreover, most of today’s sours are also fruited, which asks the question: are brewers are now orchardists, purveyors of the long-requested return to sessionability through purée rather than low ABV pales?
Either way, many in the West are calling the next three months the "Summer of Sour". It might be a stretch, but the majority of breweries at WA’s biggest beer festivals – Fremantle BeerFest and Perth Craft Beer Fest – had at least one sour offering. Plus something hazy, of course, be it of the single, double or triple variety. And more than expected brought along a barrel-aged beer too.
In fact, if a West Australian turned 18 this weekend, they needn’t purchase beer from outside the state to be able to enjoy the full scope of styles. In reality, however, they will most likely be buying Gage Roads Single Fin, a summer ale that debuted in 2015 and whose volume grew by 70 percent this year alone. With this continued pace, by the end of the next decade, it’s a beer that may be viewed as game-changer for a new generation with more booze options to choose from than any before them but who are drinking less.
Speaking of the punter, we've commented here over the past three years on how the consumer is becoming an equal and very vocal player in the beer world. Five years ago, there were no product recalls; a notion which subtly implies that once beer was in market the brewery’s job was done, regardless of quality concerns or consequence.
This year, the cultural shift was never more evident than in two consumer feedback-instigated product recalls from a pair of WA fan favourites. While both breweries were quickly onto the front foot, it’s clear sub-standard quality will not be tolerated, especially when paying $15 a can, of which close to $5 has been spent on hops; the next decade will not be as forgiving.
On the subject of clarity, another well-loved duo moved quickly to address concerns about expected visuals, owning the issue and, in Otherside’s case, releasing a humorous video about a pioneering “in can opaque” technique. But, when hype is consistently hazy, it’ll likely make core range like Feral’s Biggie Juice.
More broadly, 2019 was the year that regional breweries arrived, thanks in part to packaged beer. The state’s South West is now home to more than 25 breweries while, ten hours north, the Coral Coast has a couple that have burgeoning reputations despite their isolation, with others gaining recognition in regional locations too. Back in the city and Fremantle, new venues are welcoming craftier beer options and new suburban brewpubs continue to appear, taking ownership of their postcode, while the $3 pint wars ultimately proved unsustainable.
Presciently, WA beer in the coming decade looks towards a continued chase for the new, greater sustainability, bigger marketing budgets, XPA dominance, Asian markets on the one hand and hyper-localism on the other, more packaged beer – especially cans, barrel programs, subscription programs, increasingly vocal punters, and breweries evolving into "beverage houses" with low carb, "healthier" beer options, ginger beers, boozy sodas and the like.
Whatever happens, there’s no low-hanging fruit anymore, unless of course it's the sort literally being salvaged for a sessionable sour.
But what about 2019? Well, with hundreds of new WA beers to pick from, our contributors delivered a top three featuring eight beers – an equation that makes perfect sense if you’ve visited a bottleshop or venue this year! The crowning selection is a beer that snared nearly 50 percent of the vote, with second place securing more than a quarter.
Third place on the podium was split equally between six beers, presented in alphabetical brewery order; after that, the sheer volume of choice caused placings to fall away. Among the others to find favour were The Beerfarm’s Royal Haze and Brett NEIPA plus Margaret River Brewhouse’s trophy-winning Panther Cream.
If this list showcases anything, it’s that – despite the noise and growing challenges – a well-crafted beer with great package design and decent distribution can still cut through the crowd.
The Top Eight
Rocky Ridge Rock Juice v5
Rock Juice Resurrection; that’s what this version should have been called. After a costly v4 recall earlier in the year as a result of carbonation issues, it’s fair to say that there was a lot riding on this release, both for the beer and the brewery. They delivered and then some. And then some more.
If anyone was looking for a world class New England IPA made from all Australian ingredients – the yeast is now in its fifth generation so that’s emigrated, right? - Rock Juice v5 would sit very comfortably next to the best.
Eagle Bay India Pale Lager
The India Pale Lager is proof you don’t have to go big to be loved. In classic Eagle Bay style, the beer did the talking, finding drinkers looking for refreshment and approachability with a modern edge. Not bad for a summer seasonal that, due to demand, debuted in December, finished in May, returned in October and also happens to be the only small format bottled offering on this list.
Although their Kolsch might be the brewery’s icon, I doubt there is a beer that feels more like Eagle Bay itself.
Blasta & Stone List.Loud.React IIPA
Metallica’s loss was our gain. With their Australian tour cancelled, List.Loud.React. stands as a testament to the energetic persistence of Blasta owner Steve Russell. His remarkable hustle has seen Blasta go quite literally from his kitchen sink to hugely impressive brewery and venue and now this collaboration with one of the world’s best-known independent brewers in just three years.
List.Loud.React.’s hop regime even caught Stone’s lead innovation brewer by surprise, yet the result remained balanced and dangerously drinkable for its near 9 percent ABV heft. Fans should be curious to see what happens when Stone return the collab in 2020.
Boston & Cellarbrations Carlisle Double Afterglose
Messing with classics, whatever the reason, can often herald disaster, however these collaborators stood on the shoulders of a beloved WA giant, elevating it with aplomb.
The results had one interstate commenter quipping that Double Afterglose is “toward the front of the pack in terms of forward-thinking Aussie fruit heavy beers”. Beerified raspberry deliciousness personified.
Cheeky Monkey Double IPA
Double IPA was part of an IPA trio released from Cheeky Monkey's new Vasse production facility, all of them good but with this offering edging ahead of its peers.
It’s worth noting that Double IPA was the beer provided to The Crafty Pint's editor from the footwell of my car as we set out on a thunderous, 800 km, two-day trip to Margaret River and back, as a representation of the state’s best in June. Our contributors agreed and Loki’s hop bomb may well reappear in 2020. Crafty Cabal Member offer at Cheeky Monkey: Two for One Cheeky Monkey Paddles
Indian Ocean & DTC & Ron Feruglio Oaklore
Even in this diverse list, there is none as elegant as Oaklore. Six months resting in ex-Heaven Hill bourbon barrels imbued this beer with a rare transcendence.
Those with one of the now sold out 666 bottles will covet the experience for years to come, only adding to its oaklore. Crafty Cabal Member offer at The Dutch Trading Co: Half Price Tasting Paddle at The DTC Double Dutch Rudder Discount!
NB Our writer got his hands on a bottle early so our write up is dated December 18, 2018, but the beer only became more widely available in WA in 2019. It was also released after our 2018 list was compiled.
Otherside Brewing Co Rosewater, Hibiscus & White Pepper Sour
Released mid-year, this beer stuck in the minds of many. The Turkish Delight vibe was joined by hibiscus’ tart, cranberry-like influence and a bright acidity in what could have been an absolute train wreck.
Instead, this sour was adored and, in this list, provides a halo for Otherside’s highly inventive and increasingly exotic sour beer program.
Rocky Ridge Imperial Blueberry Berliner Weisse
Doing exactly what it said on the can, Imperial Blueberry Berliner Weisse delivered crisp acidity and fruit tartness in a sub-7 percent ABV beer that, despite its limited release, was strongly enjoyed by our contributors.
A massive thanks goes to the WA contributors for their time and investment in the WA beer community. You can find features from the rest of the country as they appear here.
And, of course, you can have your say in the country's biggest public poll, the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers, by voting here.