In what could well be a first for the Crafty team, we've published all of our Best of 2021 state by state by territories features before the end of the year. And we've still left time for one more end of year review, this time looking at the biggest stories of the year on these pages: the most read and the most impactful.
It's something of an unfortunate truism that when it comes to the sort of articles readers flock to they typically fall into a small number of categories: lists, bad news, or controversy. Well, there's always mindless gossip, of course, but we're not planning to launch craft beer's version of the Sidebar Of Shame until 2023 at least.
Taking a look back at the stories that have piqued readers' interest over the past 12 months, there's plenty that fall into those categories too, although thankfully not exclusively. In many cases, those stories and features that required the most time and thought on our part cut through too.
It's always reassuring to see stories about smaller operations – our tale on the arrival of Good Land Brewing in Traralgon, for example, or the one unveiling Hobart-based Fox Friday's plans to build a brewpub on the mainland – breaking through too.
So, as we prepare to bid farewell to another challenging year and cross our fingers that we're not echoing such sentiments this time in December 2022, here are some of the biggest stories of 2021 on The Crafty Pint.
We Are The Champions
Who doesn't love a winner, hey? (Presumably every cricket-watching Englishman right now, but you get the point.)
Human beings love to rank things. Or love seeing things being ranked by others, presumably so they can take satisfaction in agreeing with the experts, or spout off online about how said experts are wrong and they're right. And so it is with craft beer in Australia.
Whether it's the headline awards ceremonies, such as the Australian International Beer Awards each May and the virtual-again-in-2021 Indies (plus the follow up article about the change in some state champions), the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers (voting is still open for this year's, folks), or our very own Getting Blind With Crafty blind tastings (when we're allowed to congregate in big enough numbers to put them on), you just know there's going to be a spike in traffic. Heck, even our just-published Best Of 2021 series is getting up there.
When it comes to the blind tastings we got over the line in 2021, it was our look at pale lagers that proved most popular, ahead of hazy pales. Time to work out what to turn our taste buds to in 2022...
If the above articles can be filed under lists, albeit lists that often take weeks or months of work to come to fruition, we can probably lump anything to do with brewery sales under controversy. And judged purely on numbers, the eyes attracted by our coverage of Stone & Wood's decision to sell the Fermentum Group, including Two Birds and Fixation, to Kirin-owned Lion – from the breaking news, to an interview conducted from a bush camp on the banks of the Murray, to our analysis a week on – was the biggest story of the year.
Prior to that, Fermentum's acquisition of Two Birds at the start of the year – kicking off a quite wild tenth anniversary year for founders Jayne Lewis and Danielle Allen – had plenty of you eager to find out more. And once we'd worked out how to do it, the new, interactive Who Owns Your Beer? page on the site has confirmed what a hot topic ownership is for many Aussie beer lovers.
If you require further proof, we can submit Coca-Cola EuroPacific Partners' decision to close the Feral brewpub, before selling it to one of the brewery's original founders, then announcing their exit from beer altogether, as well as Mighty Craft's acquisition of the group that includes Mismatch Brewing and the decision of Jetty Road's founders to leave the Mighty Craft stable, as evidence.
Taking A Stand
You could argue that The Crafty Pint, by its very nature, has always been something of a campaigning publication. After all, launching in 2010 with a mission to inform and educate drinkers about Australia's nascent craft beer scene in the hope of helping it grow represents a campaign of sorts, even if it's one that simply suffuses much of what we do.
Events of recent years have seen more traditional campaigns become central to our mission too, from No Beer On A Dead Planet through Beer For Bushfire Relief to Keeping Local Alive, launched last year as the nationwide lockdown approached. Thanks to the second Beer Swag Day and a partial reboot of the resource page and Postcards From The Edge series, #keepinglocalalive once more featured in 2021, but there was another story – one that is far from unique to beer – that has cast a shadow, but also offered hope and a way forward, over the past 12 months.
In early spring, I was approached by someone eager to tell their story – of how they'd been raped while intoxicated by a brewer a few years previously – in the hope of highlighting a problem all too often brushed under the carpet. While we were working out how best to present her story – with invaluable assistance provided by many people inside and outside the beer industry – and persuading some initially reluctant people to contribute, the issue of sexual harassment and abuse exploded on a global scale via Brienne Allan's @ratmagnet Instagram account, meaning Her Story and the follow up Our Story landed as craft beer was experiencing what some have called it's #metoo moment.
Since then, a group of women from various parts of the beer industry (pictured above) have formed Beer Agents For Change, launched the first diversity survey for the Australian beer industry – which delivered sobering results – and have much planned for 2022 and beyond. The Independent Brewers Association (IBA) created a new Code of Conduct in the midst of this too and, while the events and stories of the past eight months might not have led to much obvious improvement to date, the wheels of change are at least in motion.
Oh So Trendy
In an age in which attention spans have dropped to mere seconds, it's reassuring to know people are still interested in boosting their beer knowledge. We see this in the readership for stories we've published over the past year looking at trends or new arrivals within the local beer landscape.
From our exploration of hazy pales at the start of the year to a more recent look at what experts in the industry think we'll be drinking in the next year and beyond, many of you do seem to enjoy a spot of analysis to accompany the flicking through bright and shiny things.
Other such articles to bring the crowds were Will Ziebell posing the question: "Is Fresh Always Best?" in this age of hops galore, our look at the rise of private label or homebrand beers with the country's major retailers, the article on cold IPAs and dip-hopping as both arrived on these shores in quick succession, and Graham Frizzell's piece on The Lager Renaissance.
It goes without saying that social media has played a key role in the rise of craft beer globally – for good and bad – and continues to do so. We've addressed it in many ways over the years, such as through Guy Southern's occasional Aussie Beerstagrammer series, and even received an email from someone at Untappd recently asking us to add a link to their site in an article we published July 2016, which suggests resources aren't a problem since the app's owners, Next Glass, took investment from a private equity firm.
Two articles addressing this aspect of the local beer world struck a chord in 2021 too. Back in February, Will looked at whether beer businesses should be exploring TikTok as a means for reaching a new audience; ten months on, he's still falling some way short of amassing the same follower count for his beer TikTok account as his journalistic inspiration, The Guardian's Matilda Boseley.
The other featured Untappd, after they removed free tap list service Now Tapped's access to their API. The move brought the curtain down on seven years of selfless support to local craft beer venues and breweries by founder Angus Bremner, who created and ran the app in his spare time and out of his own pocket.
The Funk Shall Be Within You
There's no denying that much of what transpired in 2021 put many of us in a funk; on the flipside, some of the most popular Crafty articles of the year put funk front and centre.
We kicked off a new series, The Wild Ones, featuring the Australians playing in beer's wild frontiers. The author of the launch article, Luke Robertson, has since departed these shores to launch a brewery in his hometown in NZ and our interview with him about his plans proved popular too – an encouraging sign for his future plans.
One brewing company that will feature in the series that started with Van Dieman is Sydney's Wildflower. They experienced a near disaster in 2021 upon discovering their house culture had taken a turn for the worst. The tale of how it happened, how they were planning to fix matters, and their hopes for the future was one of the stories I enjoyed writing most in 2021 – a close run contest with arguably the best pandemic-related story in Aussie beer.
So there we have it: another year done and dusted, one in which new breweries kept on launching, more venues and retailers in more places embraced crafty options, and the industry still doesn't know what further twists COVID has in store.
After postponing our proposed tenth birthday party tour of Australia in 2020, we had to postpone the ten plus one plans too. Fingers crossed, we'll be able to hit the road late in 2022 for a series of parties celebrating The Crafty Dozen. For now, however, time to get ready to celebrate the end of 2021.