This article featured in the March edition of Bartender Magazine.
By Edward Washington
What is a Craft Brew?
Craft brewing has been widely defined and words like ‘innovation’, ‘integrity’ and ‘philanthropist’ (seriously) have been thrown around more than lightly. Some believe that the ‘state of mind’ of the brewer when they are making the beer is important, or that craft brewing is ‘related to brewing and bottling techniques, not the volume produced’.
Willie Simpson, a man who knows the inside of a beer barrel better than most and thinks that the word ’boutique is over used’ once said; “Craft beers should refer to the spirit of the beer, which is full flavoured and made in small batches.” But how small is small?
The definition for a US craft brewer is no more than 6 million barrels a year, but there beer market is vastly bigger than our own. In 2009 Australia’s largest independent brewery, the family-owned Coopers, brewed a whopping 59 million litres of beer – about a fifth of the maximum that a US craft brewery could produce.
Guy Greenstone (Co-owner, The Local Taphouses) sees the whole premise of a craft brew as something that goes beyond the beer itself. “Often, the brewers will be involved in more than just the brewing; from getting out and selling it to packing crates – it often means that the volume of beer is also small enough to brew in the one spot.”
Greenstone also believes that the craft brewing industry benefits hugely from the ‘big players’ that are involved in craft brewing. “They provide enormous logistical and distribution capabilities, and act as a gateway to get consumers better beer – so it is important for us to have them represented in our Hottest 100.”
While there are no stringent regulations or organisations for Australian craft brewers as yet, Greenstone sees this as something that will soon develop, “It’s starting,” he states. Janet Hollyoak, from Redoak Boutique Beer Café, Sydney also says; “there are no regulations as such, but the definition found on the Brewers Association website is what’s tended to be accepted internationally”.
It is up to the brewers to maintain consistency, and from a qualitative perspective whoever you talk to in the industry the same idea about a craft brew is that its not about the brand – but about flavour.
In 2006 Cameron Hines, joint founder of the Mountain Goat microbrewery in Melbourne, said: “Once you start enjoying and appreciating your beer, it’s almost impossible to go back and drink crap.” Five years on and the Australian craft beer scene is brimming.
What a wonderful time to live if you like full flavoured, top quality handcrafted beer. The Australian market is swilling with beers that give you a wide array of flavour profiles, intriguing characteristics and a real mouthful for your money. Albeit you might be parting with more cash for less bottles (which is not always the case anyway) but you undoubtedly end up with a tasty treat that doesn’t lend itself to needing to be served at 0.3 degrees to make it palatable.
“Whoever you talk to in the industry the same idea about a craft brew is that its not about the brand – but about flavour.”
With an evident shift in drinking culture sweeping through our beer loving nation bars and restaurants now shower clients with beer menus, offering a ever widening range of ‘small production beers’ – although some people consider the ‘craft beer revolution’ to be a small insurgency outside of Melbourne.
While there will never be an absolute rejection of the large volume, commercial style beers (they have perfected the art of providing the consumer with a non-offensively flavoured beer, at a good price and made with consistently backed production methods) we are getting to see some great flavours and styles come to life.
“Craft beers should refer to the spirit of the beer, which is full flavoured and made in small batches.” Willie Simpson
Craft brewers, or the large production breweries that offer craft brews, are tackling a whole other section of the beer market. They traditionally make smaller batches, using more expensive produce and techniques (resulting in higher quality) and they also make a beer that has a potentially offensive flavour.
Not in the sense of purposely turning customers off their product, but those in the business of making a craft brew are making a fuller flavoured beer, with obvious dominating flavours. This means that you are risking putting some (often quite a few) people off so it’s important to introduce people to a new brew with care.
Like most of us however who like the challenge of a new beer, the opportunity to critique a beer on what it delivers is something to be embraced and explored. As far as educating the consumer – you’re in the drivers seat, so be sure to have a good hard look at the beers you offer and see if there’s a gap that can be filled with a crafty little brew.
The Local Tap House’s First XI Craft Brews
The brains behind the Local Tap House venues (winner Best Specialty Beer Venue, Australian Bar Awards 2010) certainly know their specialty brews and their annual Hottest 100 craft beers list always separates the hops from the yeast.
This year’s winner didn’t even feature in 2010’s Top 100, so it confirms that the category of craft brews in Australia is alive and well – indeed thriving. Australian Brew News went over the recent results with a fine malt shovel and came to the conclusion that, ‘that hops are the driving force in craft beer as eight of the top ten beers are hop driven ales, predominantly pale and India pale ales – although not the ‘hop monsters’ you might expect.
The full list can be seen here www.thelocaltaphouse.blogspot.com, but in the spirit of the cricket season Bartender has brought you the 1st XI;
Hottest 100 Craft Brews 1st XI
1McLaren Vale Ale
2 Little Creatures Pale Ale
3 Stone & Wood Draught/Pacific Ale
4 Feral Hop Hog
5 Kooinda Pale Ale
6 Matilda Bay Fat Yak
7 White Rabbit Dark Ale
8 James Squire Golden Ale
9 McLaren Vale Dry
10 Hawthorn Pale Ale
11 Little Creatures Bright Ale
Coopers Pale Ale