Well, that’ll teach us to get ahead of ourselves... We’ve been compiling mid-year Best New Beers – So Far articles on The Crafty Pint for years, as much as anything to create a handy reminder for ourselves as to what's going on in these ever-busier times as capturing a snapshot of the beer landscape at the time.
Last year, we took the decision to skip it, however, what with the country just emerging from a nationwide lockdown and much of our focus trained on #keepinglocalalive. A couple of months back, we figured things were pretty much back on track and, thus, we should get to work resurrecting the mid-year wrap. And then COVID decided it was far from finished with us…
All of which means here it is, a little later than we’d have liked, in part down to the ongoing madness that is life in the Twenties, and partly down to the fact the site’s founder has been on a family road trip since late June, navigating border closures and extended periods of zero or very shonky phone reception.
The 2021 version is a little different too…
For years, we’ve included caveats in such pieces about the challenges of settling on Best Of lineups, what with the vast number of brewing companies across Australia and the rise of unlimited limiteds. It’s a reality that shows no sign of slowing and, for the purposes of such an article, many breweries found favour with our contributors for a vast array of their beers, yet there was little agreement as to which one or two were their finest.
So, in a departure from past articles in the series, we’ve decided to combine Best New Beers lists – nationally and by region – with Best Breweries – not new breweries, but those that have been impressing in 2021. Where appropriate, we invited contributors to nominate both a metro and regional brewer to minimise big city bias too.
In landing upon the beers and breweries below, we invited the wider Crafty Pint team, experts around the country, and (for the first time) members of our beer club, The Crafty Cabal, to share their beer and brewery highlights of the year to date. From there, we ended up with a series of long lists which formed the basis of discussion in-house to reach this point.
Undoubtedly, we could switch beers and breweries in and out of these lists if we continued said discussions, mainly because there are so many great beers out there, not because there’s anything lacking in any of those featured below.
The only other change from previous years has been to present each of these lists in alphabetical order rather than rated in order of preference. Why? Well, it’s already nearly August and we might still be arguing over the finer details when the time comes to start work on our end of year features! So, that said, let’s get into it…
Best New Beers of 2021 – So Far
Nobody will be surprised to see so many hop forward, hazy beers making the lineup, and Seasonal’s Starward barrel-aged collab with Mane Liquor and besk ensures there’s the token imperial stout in the top ten for good measure. And, if you wanted to make it 11, there was almost as much love for Balter’s Cryohaze IPA as for their Cryomofo IPA.
Yet, in a list that features a few collabs, plenty of higher ABVs, and a bit of funk, it was arguably the least overtly “hype” of the ten that found most favour. Hop Nation set out to create a banging traditional pilsner with Rattenhund, giving the beer a full eight weeks in tank, winning fans aplenty (I’m still awaiting the day our Will Ziebell rocks up with a Rattenhund tattoo), and claiming an AIBA trophy too – one of many for the Footscray brewers at May’s awards. That said, maybe it is a hype beer now; a new batch was launched earlier this month and sold out in their online store in less than 24 hours.
With a Belgian tripel from Slow Lane and the latest in Little Bang’s ongoing and much-admired barrel-ageing and blending series Tangent in there too, it’s a sign that, while IPAs in their very many forms still rule the roost in crafty circles, there’s plenty of good stuff around for those after very different experiences.
Mr Banks / Range Where Dreams Go To Die
Ocho Hairy Troll
One Drop Welcome To The Cryopop Experience
Range & Garage Project Lights + Music
Best Breweries of 2021 – So Far
Now this was quite possibly even trickier than the beers, even though there’s far less breweries than beers to consider. What do we do about tiny operations with a fine reputation yet minimal distribution, for example, or where the lack of travel over the past 18 months means the Crafty team (and others) have had less chance to assess what’s happening outside their individual home territories?
On the other hand, it gives us an opportunity to give credit to some of those breweries who garnered a huge amount of votes across multiple beers without any one of them standing out, notably the likes of Black Hops, Mountain Culture, Hawkers, and Wildflower (to which could easily be added Ballistic, Boatrocker, Cheeky Monkey, Uraidla, Fixation, Mismatch, Deeds, Otherside … but we had to cut this off somewhere). Thankfully, the regional lineups allow us to tip the hat to those and more.
As for the ten here, it’s a collection of breweries from whom you could pick up pretty much anything safe in the knowledge it’s going to be at the very least good, and in all likelihood much better than that. The fact it’s been such a challenge reaching agreement on this ten – which has even changed since I started typing the article – is a sign of just how strong the Australian craft beer scene has become.
Best of 2021 – So Far: WA
Reading from left to right, we start our trip around the houses in WA, where the beer scene continues to go from strength to strength. One legacy of the COVID shutdown is more venues supporting more home state breweries, while there are so many brewpub style operations popping up in the regions it’s becoming tricky keeping up.
We’ve said many times in the past that they do love to collaborate in WA, and many of those collaborations found favour for this article too. One note: our main WA contributor, Guy Southern, counts working at Copper & Oak among his many roles in beer; their collaboration with Eagle Bay made the list, but he didn’t push for its inclusion – enough others voted for it to warrant its spot.
Cheeky Monkey Lefties IPA
Eagle Bay & Copper & Oak Oaked Vienna Lager
Freestyle Sure Shot Cryo IPA
Margaret River Brewhouse & Whipper Snapper Distillery Panther Cream 2021
Rocky Ridge & Black Hops Pine Ridge IPA
Seasonal Brewing & Mane Liquor & besk Starward Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout
Best of 2021 – So Far: SA
It would appear they like ‘em big in South Australia, with the five beers below typically big in ABV and / or having enjoyed a relationship with barrels at some point in their existence. There were plenty of other bigger and oaked beers – IPAs and DIPAs, barrel-aged beers from the likes of Goodieson and Loophole – in the longer list too.
That said, there was love for sessionable sours from Pirate Life and Little Bang and, at the complete opposite end of the scale, a heartfelt shout out for Big Shed’s new sub-0.5 percent ABV Desi Driver.
Fox Hat Bearded Mongrel 2021
Little Bang Tangent #4
Mismatch Bourbon Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout 2021
Shapeshifter Level Up
Uraidla & Bridge Road Brewers Galactic Vortex
Wheaty Brewing Corps
Best of 2021 – So Far: VIC
It’s fair to say Victorians – and especially Melburnians – have endured a pretty rough time of things since March 2020. One thing they’ve not wanted for, however, is good beer. The capital continues to see brewpubs and taprooms pop up in suburbs north, south, east and west, and hopefully enough of the best pubs and bars have enough left in the tank after five lockdowns to keep showcasing their beers.
The state’s brewers enjoyed a fine AIBAs in Melbourne in May too, not least Dollar Bill, who enjoyed rapturous acclaim when they claimed Champion Australian Beer, and Hop Nation with their quartet of trophies. There's plenty of ambition in the regions too, with Sailors Grave unveiling plans for an epic new venture in East Gippsland and Bridge Road announcing plans for a Melbourne brewpub just last week.
Deeds Brewing Cheat Code
Fixation Social Space
Hop Nation Rattenhund
Ida Pruul Dark Barrel-Aged Wild Ale
Mr Banks / Range Where Dreams Go To Die
Moon Dog Black Lung X
Best of 2021 – So Far: TAS
Tasmania has done such a good job of navigating the pandemic, it’s become a running gag in some circles as the state the rest of Australia has forgotten exists as pretty much everyone else deals with their particular mix of ongoing outbreaks, lockdowns, border closures and bickering. With so little Tasmanian beer reaching the mainland, there will be plenty out there who will be in the dark as to what’s brewing there too.
Looking ahead, however, with Fox Friday looking to open a brewery in Melbourne, more beer lovers will soon be able to sample their much-loved hazies, while plenty in the know will be keen to head the other way to check out the just-opened Deep South Brewing Co, with former Moo head brewer Dave Macgill at the helm, now it’s become part of North Hobart’s beer scene.
Fox Friday The Doctor West Coast IPA
Moo Brew Winter IPA
Ocho Hairy Troll
Spotty Dog Westerway Raspberry Gose
Van Dieman Kalie Wild Saison
Hobart Brewing Company
Two Metre Tall
Best of 2021 – So Far: NSW
Tough times for the state’s brewers right now, particularly those in Greater Sydney with a hospo element at the heart of their business, but presumably there's plenty of homebound beer lovers eager to support them as they hope for an imminent exit from lockdown.
In many ways, it’s been a positive time for brewers in NSW, however. Since the state government offered to pay for Independent Brewers Association membership for all indie brewers there last year, we’ve seen the launch of brewery trails such as the one in the Inner West, and this month we reported on some of the grants secured by regional brewers in support of their expansion plans.
What’s more, if we were to invite everyone who contributed their thoughts and opinions for this article to enter the ring and fight it out on behalf of their pick for best brewery in Australia, there’s a very good chance the final face-off would be between Wildflower and Mountain Culture.
Akasha Little Korben IPA
Modus Operandi & Koko Black Choc Hazelnut Belgian Stout
Mountain Culture Aluminium Monster
One Drop Welcome To The Cryopop Experience
Slow Lane Threefold
Wildflower & Ravensworth Wine Bright Side Series
Best of 2021 – So Far: QLD
It goes without saying – not least as it’s been said so often – that the rise of craft beer in Queensland has been little short of remarkable in recent years. And it shows little sign of slowing, with the Sunshine Coast, for one, home to so many breweries these days it’s not far off rivalling the Margaret River region for numbers.
There are plenty of breweries who’ve become staples at awards nights, and a few who are developing little empires of their own: Ballistic now have five homes across the state (not to mention the Bunker – home to their barrel-aged beers), Newstead added an airport bar to their two brewery-based venues, Black Hops took their family to four with the AWOL barrel room, for example. As they turn 15 this year, the Gold Coast’s crafty pioneers Burleigh must look around their backyard and think: “We knew craft beer would take off here, but like this?!?”
Ballistic Bunker Project Shapeshifter
Black Hops AWOL Rebellion Imperial Stout
Currumbin Valley Pastille
Range & Garage Project Lights & Music
Working Title Devil's Double
Best of 2021 – So Far: ACT
They’re not the only brewing companies to call the ACT home, yet such is their success over the past half decade or so BentSpoke and Capital certainly dominate. The former, who claimed the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers number one spot for their Crankshaft IPA and an AIBA trophy for their Sprocket IPA, have a growing national presence, while the latter are on track for achieving B Corp status as good corporate citizens while enjoying growth themselves.
When it came to this roundup, every single ACT beer put forward came from one of the two breweries, the only sorta exception being BentSpoke’s collaboration with Malt Shovel. So, we’ll stick to the top nominated beers here.
BentSpoke Descent 21
BentSpoke & Malt Shovel Brewers BentShovel XBA
Capital Snap, Crackle & Hop
One advantage of the tardiness of this article is that it’s allowed me to visit all four of the NT’s breweries. In fact, I camped at one of them just last night. There's a fifth set to open at a roadhouse on the Stuart Highway at some point too, but we figured we'd stick to a roundup of the scene, rather than selecting best new beers, given the tiny distribution of the state's brewers.
That said, while scale and distribution is small, a common theme is expansion. Another, for the most part, is collaboration.
When it comes to the former, Alice Springs Brewing Company – with an ex Little Creatures brewer at the helm these days – have a 12 hectolitre brewhouse on the way, which will allow them to significantly step up production and, potentially, start sending beer south to SA. When they take delivery, their 500 litre Braumeister will head north to Purple Mango, southeast of Darwin on the way to Kakadu. New owners of the café and brewery have now added camping to their offering (complete with open top showers) and are playing around with things like galangal and rosella in their drinks.
When we called into One Mile Brewery, the owners were busy ensuring no less than three coolrooms were in good working order ahead of their festival this weekend, one that attracts hundreds of attendees and sees them storing kegs off-site in the lead up to ensure there's enough to go around. And Beaver Brewery might only open two days a week, but are still working overtime to keep taps and cans filled; founder Chris Brown says the locals are starting to secure the odd tap at clubs and venues outside Darwin's small but growing number of craft-supporting spots too.
As for the spirit of collaboration, not only are Purple Mango taking Alice Springs' old kit off them, but they – along with Beaver – all brew Territory Mid to the same recipe, the sort of mid-strength lager you often crave in this part of the world. Chris has also been helping Adam Asanovski at Purple Mango fine-tune his recipes; Adam helps run Beaver's venue on Thursdays when Chris is coaching football.
Arguably the best news, however, is that, for all the swathes of Great Northern and XXXX Gold around, there's clearly enough of an appetite to support the growing number of locals too. And when you can get a fresh schooner of 3 Ravens Mandarin Juicy overlooking a marina (thanks, Lola's Pergola), that's not to be sniffed at either.
Congratulations to Emma Penny, Crafty Cabal member DCCCXCI, who has won a merch pack after being picked at random from the members that contributed to the article. And thanks to everyone that took the time out to help us make sense of the madness. Cheers!