The Ten Best Australian Craft Beers of 2016
Negroni IPAs, hibiscus sours and barrel-aged doppelbocks. Try 'em all.
Another year in beer has come and gone and, with it, has left us with some damn impressive brews. 2016 was a massive year for the Aussie craft beer scene, with many new brewers coming to the fore around the country, making it an especially tough job narrowing down our favourite beers to a mere ten — but, after a year of beering and one massive end-of-year tasting (necessary research, we assure you), we can truly say these ten proved to be ace beers from first taste to last drop, across weeks and months, in group tastings, out at bars and solo sessions.
Here, we've scored brews for their colour, aroma, balance, consistency and overall style, with a tasting panel that included CP's senior craft beer writers, experienced bartenders, craft beer fiends and even the coveted palate of Cicerone Johnathan Hepner of Marrickville's new boutique craft bottle shop Bucket Boys.
Prime your palates, Playgrounders. Here you have it — CP's picks for the most notable beers of 2016.
PIRATE LIFE'S, IIPA
While American hop bombs known as the Imperial IPA can taste something like licking a pine cone, Pirate Life's IIPA sets itself apart from the pack. This monster in a can is everything they've been achieving in the States and we're proud to see it done so well on our side of the pond. It takes much to balance such copious amounts of hops, but the malt rides through the hop storm and holds steady, striking the ever-present need for balance between high-strength alcohol and delicate but vigorous hop flavours. It's been a massive year for the brewery, and we're looking forward to seeing what else they have in store for us in 2017.
BOATROCKER BREWING CO.'S MITTE BERLINER WEISSE
Boatrocker Brewing Co.'s Mitte is true to the refreshing Berliner Weisse style through and through. Aged in Chardonnay barrels, the straw yellow, cloudy sour is bright on the nose, giving way to a fresh tartness on the palate. The barrel-aged effect makes for a complex, mature beer that hits all of the senses and the Brettanomyces (a genus of yeast) is nicely blended, giving a strong backbone without the over-the-top funk that so many Brett beers develop. This brew only comes in in 750ml bottles, but, even so, you won't be sharing.
HOPE BREWHOUSE'S,BLACK IPA
Hope Brewhouse came out guns blazing this year. There's something about their new line of industrial black and white tinnies that just begs for drinking. Their style is backed up with an impressive range of brews, most notably the Black IPA, which is just fantastic. The full hop flavour in this beer does not detract from the malt backbone — a hard act to pull off. It may be Head Brewer Matt Hogan's winemaker approach to beer, but this brew is impeccibly balanced and a trip to their Nelson's Bay brewhouse should be on your next road trip list.
MORRISON BREWERY'S JACK BARREL-AGED DOPPELBOCK
Morrison Brewery is at the forefront of how bang-on Tasmanian brews are. Jack presents a cluster of flavours that somehow manage to balance one another rather than present a competing mishmash on the palate. Notes of cherry, vanilla, oak and apricot all stand hand-in-hand in this brew, and the sherry barrels it's aged in gives lingering warmth without being overpoweringly alcoholic. The beer is ideal to serve with rich foods, gamey meats or dessert, but we thoroughly enjoyed it on its own as well. Overall, it's a hard brew to get right — but get it right, they have.
LA SIRÈNE'S PARADOXE
La Sirène turns out some of the best farmhouse-style and wild fermented beers in the game, and Paradoxe is no different. A true saison in colour and aroma, the tropical, tangy fruits on the palate give way to a light, dry finish. The brew is reminiscent of a white wine, with notes of elderflower and melon. The local hops give the beer that all-important punch and stops it from falling flat, while a slight creaminess at the finish balances the entire brew out. This is a beer for wine lovers, beer lovers, cider lovers — you name it. A top notch beer from an ace brewery.
SHENANIGANS BREWING'S DEATH BY HIBISCUS
Shenanigans Brewing, though still humble gypsies, are able to continuously wow us with their brewing style. Their annual Sydney Craft Beer Week limited release was our favourite yet. Death By Hibiscus was made using a ridiculous amount of fresh hibiscus flower — we're talking one kilo per keg — and the result is a saison that is truly magenta in colour. The beer is sour without being overly so, and, despite all of the hibiscus, is only slightly floral, with a more overt, citrusy flavour on the palate from added mandarin zest. The overall complexity and creativity of this one gave it a well deserved spot on this list.
LAST RITES BREWING COMPANY'S LOVE COUNTRY TASMANIAN IPA
Last Rites Brewing Company's Love Country is yet another great brew from Tassie. Described as 'piña colada-inspired', the overt notes of summer fruits — like peach and pineapple — give way to rich toasted coconut from the late addition of roasted barley. This illusion of creaminess gives the beer a sense of body without any sweetness, and the intoxicating aroma will make you wish you were drinking it from a coconut shell on a beach somewhere. Whether you like piña coladas or not, this beer is hard not to love.
SOUTHERN BAY BREWING CO.'S LUCIFER'S GOLD GOLDEN STRONG ALE
Lucifer's Gold is, by far, the biggest offering from the Southern Bay Brewing Co. — it took us completely by surprise. The combination of Belgian yeast and European hops gives a tight nose of bubblegum, clove, and esters redolent of Beligan strains, which clamour together without once stepping out of line. It has picture perfect clarity, is beautifully carbonated and the backbone offers a malt sweetness that doesn't cloy or distract from sip to sip — a combination that is extremely rare. We imagine the brewers sitting around on a case of Belgian classics before jumping atop their own brew kit to try their hand at creating their own — and they nailed the style. Spot on.
MISMATCH BREWING CO.'S NEGRONI IPA
Negronis are having their time in the limelight — and while we've seen plenty of ridiculously great twists on the cockail this year, the Negroni IPA from Mismatch Brewing Co. takes the cake. A collaboration with sister company Adelaide Hills Distillery, this beer nails the taste of the cocktail in aroma, flavour and balance, and somehow manages to perfectly mimic that unmistakable Campari component. Orange on the nose gives way to a strong alcoholic flavour and the perfect bitter finish, fully accomplished by blending the beer with homemade bitters post-fermentation. This beer touches all of the elements of a true Negroni, while still being a clean, well balanced beer.
BOATROCKER BREWING CO.'S RAMJET WHISKY BARREL-AGED IMPERIAL STOUT
Boatrocker Brewing Co. is so nice, we couldn't help but name them twice — despite actively trying not to do so. This English-style imperial stout was aged in whisky barrels from Melbourne's Starward Whisky for six months, giving it big, bold top notes of whisky, oak and a hint of fresh toast. Pungently vinous with stewed fruits, marzipan and tobacco, the beer is then served through flavours of a port wine and coffee. At an 11.4 percent ABV, this beer is surely not a substitute for breakfast, but you want a primed palate for it. This was the last drop in a long day of tasting and it was, rightfully so, the prize.
At the risk of making this list too long, we left out some seriously impressive brews from incredible breweries, all of which are well worth seeking out and would have made a top 15.
Two Metre Tall's 2016 vintage of their original and plum sours
Feral Brewing Company's 2016 Tusk imperial IPA (Part II)
New England Brewing Company's Hop Cannon series
Bridge Road Brewers' Mayday Hill Series
Akasha's Korben D
Co-written by Marissa Ciampi and Mikey Lowe.
Published on December 16, 2016 by Marissa Ciampi