Midway through August, Sydney-based bottle shop, Beer Cartel, published the findings of its 2016 Australian Craft Beer Survey.
The survey was run with the hope that they could provide a snapshot of a moment in time in Australian craft beer. Thankfully, the survey was much more straightforward than the recent census.
Here’s a look at some of the findings, with a bit of a Sydney focus.
Best Craft Breweries, Young And Old
Western Australia’s Feral took the top spot. Other recognised brands such as Stone & Wood, Bridge Road and 4 Pines were all in the top five.
This suggests that the bigger craft brands have the broadest appeal. Of which, 4 Pines are the largest and most nationally recognised brewery from Sydney.
But with Pirate Life in second and Balter Brewing and Modus Operandi also making the top 10, it shows that it’s possible for new breweries to make an impact.
There were plenty of other Sydney-based breweries in the full list.
Richard Kelsey at Beer Cartel reported to me that the top five breweries as rated by Sydneysiders were:
- Pirate Life
- 4 Pines
- Batch Brewing
- Modus Operandi
(Note: This list was updated since it was originally published here. Richard kindly provided updated and correct results.)
The local focus here is consistent with other findings in the survey…
Victoria came out as the best state for craft beer, which isn’t much of a surprise.
But with New South Wales coming second and Sydney an obviously large market, there’s still room for growth across the state. Perhaps in the future we’ll see New South Wales come out top.
An interesting point raised in the comments on the Beer Cartel website shows that most people voted their own state as the best with the exception of Queensland and ACT.
58% of Sydneysiders think New South Wales is the best state for craft beer.
Along with the slightly solipsistic result of Australia coming out on top as the best beer producing nation, it shows that Aussie craft beer lovers take real pride in the local beer scene and in supporting home grown products.Aussie craft beer lovers take real pride in the local beer scene and in supporting home grown products Click To Tweet
How Is Local Pride Shaping Craft Beer?
What does this local pride mean for the shape of the Australian craft beer landscape?
“It supports the adage that fresh is best,” says Richard Kelsey. “Locally brewed beer should be the freshest around because it doesn’t need to travel interstate, and it doesn’t take months on the water to get to us.”
He said that fresh beer means that the flavours are going to be at their peak.
“So, as long as the beer is well made, it makes sense that a preference for local beer exists.”
The preference for local beer reflects the trend of consumers wanting a stronger relationship with producers.
“I think the other great element about locally brewed beer is that you can actually interact with the brewery that makes it,” says Richard.
“And breweries are also just a cool place to hang. These factors all combine to mean the local craft beer you have (from your favourite brewery) most likely will have the strongest emotional connection with you. Sounds a bit fluffy, but I think its true!”
Most Popular Beer Styles
It’s no surprise that pale ale was found to be the most widely consumed style. It’s almost a pre-requisite for craft breweries to have one in their core range.
Ambers and golden ales also proved popular which is consistent with our understanding of the Australian palate and preference for beers.
IPAs (and variations) came in second and were also more widely considered as respondents’ favourite style, which reaffirms my belief that Sydney could produce more high quality IPAs.
Brewers and retailers will need to watch closely to see how these preferences change, in order to stay ahead of consumer habits.
This is where the results of the 2016 Australian Craft Beer Survey get really interesting, particularly given that the Beer Cartel guys have backgrounds in market research.
Beer Cartel’s Richard Kelsey said, “I think it shows that craft beer is quite inclusive, particularly the fact that one in five drinkers are female.
“I think there is more everyone (breweries, retailers and bars) can do to move this closer to 50/50 male to female split.”
Education is the key to this for Richard. “The more we can simplify what craft beer is about, the less intimidating it becomes.”
So what does the average craft beer drinker look like? This is taken from the Beer Cartel website:
“The Australian craft beer drinker is typically male, aged 30-39 and based on Australia’s Eastern Seaboard. They have a high household income, with a third having previously home-brewed, and almost half part of a beer appreciation group.”
It would be interesting to see how a typical Sydney craft beer drinker differs from the national average.
Craft Beer At Music And Sporting Events
I’ve written before about the lack of good beer at Australian sports stadiums and I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who feels we’re being short changed with the beer offering at music and sporting events.
88% of respondents are frustrated with the current situation.
It’s even more frustrating given the news that across the ditch, Wellington Phoenix have announced a deal with Garage Project to pour their beers at Westpac Stadium for the next three years.
Government Support For Craft Beer
81% believe that the government should do more to support craft breweries.
As with the arts, it’s always difficult to get government support for something which doesn’t seem to have a tangible economic output but craft beer is filled with small businesses that employ people and trade with other small producers and retailers in the region.
In 2014, the New South Wales government was vocal in its support for craft beer. Has it had an impact? Well, that’s probably a subject big enough for a separate investigation.
Beer In Cans
At the beginning of the year I predicted a growth in canning.
While I’d argue that we are seeing more and more beers packaged in cans all the time, it’s interesting to see that consumer attitudes towards cans are still mixed.
Some qualitative feedback around these results would be interesting. I think in most cases a preference for one form of packaging or another depends on the intention for the beer. Put simply, cans are better if you’re going camping but corked bottles are more impressive when rocking up to a bottle share.Cans are better if you’re going camping but corked bottles are more impressive when rocking up to a bottle share. Click To Tweet
Craft Beer Weeks
Again Victoria comes out top with Melbourne’s Good Beer Week the most popular beer week. Sydney Craft Beer Week came in second which is not surprising given its growth over the last few years. 20% of respondents attended SCBW in the last year.
It’s also good to see Newcastle placing in the top five, showing that there’s strength in depth in the New South Wales beer scene.
What Do The Findings Mean For Sydney?
There are two things which are instantly recognisable from the survey findings.
One is that the craft beer scene in Australia and in Sydney is strong. The other is that there is still room for growth.
“Sydney still feels like quite a young city when it comes to craft beer,” says Richard. “Being so young there is still a lot of opportunity.
“Most of the ‘local community’ breweries such as Akasha, Wayward, Grifter and Willie the Boatman are all pretty new.
“I think over time they will become even more community based in the same way that the like of Batch, Rocks and Young Henrys have. Provided red tape doesn’t get in the way, I see more community based breweries that take the brewpub approach starting up.”
Richard said that in a competitive market, where every brewery has a pale ale and an IPA, the brewpub approach works well, “as it helps a brewery to sell their beer, compared to having the headache of selling to bars and pubs”.
Top Craft Beer Websites
Finally, and I’ll mention it only briefly, SydneyBeer made the list with modest numbers. Given the finite time and resources I can devote to this website, I’m more than happy to be in such esteemed company.
It’s also pleasing to know that the site is connecting with its target audience. Richard Kelsey informed me that among Sydneysiders, SydneyBeer was the second most read site in the blogs category.
Crafty Pint continues to lead the way as a provider of news and so it should. It’s a brilliant website and, along with the American site Good Beer Hunting, was part of what inspired me to start SydneyBeer.
A Snapshot Of The Australian Craft Beer Landscape
Overall the survey is interesting to read through and gives some fantastic insight into the shape of Australian craft beer.
The obvious caveat is that it’s a particular type of person who fills in a survey about craft beer.
While the growth of craft beer is an ongoing point of discussion and somewhat necessary if all our great Aussie breweries are going to not just survive but thrive, this survey taps into the people who are already passionate about the stuff.
It’s these people that make the craft beer community what it is, the people whose passion mirrors that of the brewers. It’s these passionate beer lovers who ultimately shape the future of Australian craft beer.
Do you have any thoughts on the findings of the 2016 Australian Craft Beer Survey? If so, leave a comment below.