In proper Australia Day tradition, the Hottest 100 craft beer countdown generated a touch of controversy and its fair share of discussion.
And that’s a good thing.
Firstly, a massive hat tip and congratulations to all those involved in the organisation and running of the Hottest 100 craft beer list.
What follows is some light analysis of the results, primarily focussing on matters local to Sydney but also attempting to bring out some of the trends and how things have changed from last year.
For more on the purpose and value of the Hottest 100 craft beer list, jump down below.
Sydney Beers in The Hottest 100
Here are Sydney’s representatives in the Hottest 100:
- 6 – 150 Lashes (James Squire)
- 7 – Pale Ale (4 Pines)
- 8 – Kolsch (4 Pines)
- 9 – Former Tenant (Modus Operandi)
- 12 – Hop Thief 7 (James Squire)
- 23 – Three Sheets (Lord Nelson)
- 26 – 777 (Riverside)
- 28 – The Chancer (James Squire)
- 30 – Newtowner (Young Henrys)
- 35 – Indian Summer Pale Ale (4 Pines)
- 36 – Hangman (Rocks)
- 41 – Imperial West Coast Red Rye IPA (4 Pines)
- 48 – Australian Pale Ale – Bastard Child of the Empire (4 Pines)
- 56 – Pale Ale (Kosciuszko)
- 57 – Keller Door: Citrus IPA (4 Pines)
- 71 – Winston (Shenanigans)
- 72 – Hopsmith (Akasha)
- 78 – ESB (4 Pines)
- 82 – West Coast IPA (Batch)
- 98 – Zoo Feeder (Modus Operandi)
There were 20 Sydney-based beers in the 100. 20% of the country’s most popular beers are made right here. That’s something to be proud of.
11 Sydney breweries were represented. 4 of the 20 beers were macro brews (3 James Squire and the other Kosciuszko, the Lion brand brewed alongside James Squire in Camperdown.)
There was only one Sydney-based gypsy brewer, Shenanigans. The others all have their own facilities.
There were six new Sydney-based beers, including Akasha’s Hopsmith IPA. Rocks Hangman Pale Ale entered quite high, a reflection on the improved quality of their beers since moving into their Alexandria brewery.
The James Squire beers and Young Henrys Newtowner all made significant jumps in placing compared to 2014.
Modus Operandi’s Former Tenant was the highest ranked non-packaged beer. It is available in CANimals but these are filled from the keg and aren’t packaged on a commercial scale. Otherwise, Akasha’s Hopsmith IPA is currently keg only but there are plans to package it later in the year.
At the risk of causing debate, I’d class 18 of the 20 as hop forward beers. The exceptions being two 4 Pines beers; Kolsch and ESB. This shows an interesting trend as to the types of beers favoured by today’s beer drinkers.
Batch Brewing have a very local focus and their premise is based on small, one-off production. That said, it was great to see one of their core beers, the fantastic West Coast IPA, take a spot on the list.
It’s also worth checking out Crafty Pint’s analysis of this year’s results. Some of the changes from last year, like an increase in cans, fits in with the way I see craft beer going over the next year or so.
It’s a shame not to see any Wayward or Doctor’s Orders beers in the top 100. I think perhaps next year we might see a more concerted effort from Wayward to promote their beers ahead of the Hottest 100. Especially if they’re packaging their beers by then, as I’d expect.
Although Doc has a loyal and vocal following, he doesn’t have massive distribution and, as with all popularity contests, it’s really a numbers game. His beers would be more than deserving of places on a list of the 100 best beers.
Representatives From Elsewhere in NSW
As you’d expect, Murray’s and Stone & Wood picked up good placings in the top 100, with Stone & Wood’s Pacific Ale reclaiming top spot.
The NSW representatives are as follows:
- 1 – Pacific Ale (Stone & Wood)
- 29 – Cloud Catcher (Stone & Wood)
- 49 – Fred (Murray’s)
- 65 – Garden Ale (Stone & Wood)
- 68 – Dark Red IPA (Six String)
- 70 – Angry Man Pale Ale (Murray’s)
- 79 – Yenda Pale Ale (Australian Beer Co)
- 83 – Vanilla Milk Stout (Thirsty Crow)
Breweries With The Most Beers in The Hottest 100
4 Pines had a fantastic showing and they’ll be incredibly pleased to be the brewery with the most beers in the list, with seven different brews.
WA’s Feral had a good showing with six beers, as did Little Creatures.
Break Down of Beer Styles in The Hottest 100
There were only two lagers vs 98 ales but I maintain my prediction that we’ll see more over the next year. I think in the Hottest 100 beers of 2016 we’ll see lagers make up more than 2% of the list.
Otherwise, the majority of beers could be classed as hop-forward styles, ranging from session ales through to hoppy ambers and double IPAs.
There was a small slice of the pie for sweet stouts with previous GABS favourites such as La Sirene Praline, BrewCult Milk & Two Sugars and Big Shed’s Golden Stout Time, as well as a NSW representative in Thirsty Crow’s Vanilla Milk Stout.
However, scan down the list and the words “pale ale” come up an awful lot.
Trend Watch: Sessionable Pale Ales
The trend that stands out is that of pale ales, particularly the high placing of macro owned beer labels such as James Squire and, to some extent, Little Creatures.
Over half of the beers can be classed as pale ales, IPAs or session beers. And a similar number come in at between 4 and 6% ABV.
There’s a clear indication as to the style of beers that are most popular.
While I can see an increase in production of other styles, I can’t see the preference for sessionable, hop-forward beers changing any time soon.
More analysis and breakdown of the results can be found in this Crafty Pint infographic.
Hottest 100 Craft Beers: The Big Winners
4 Pines had seven beers in the hundred, more than any other brewery.
The importance of the North Shore brewers on the craft beer scene can’t be understated.
Among some craft beer geeks, it seems it’s no longer cool to like 4 Pines. In that regard, they’re a victim of their own success, not that it matters much.
While they might be disappointed to see Pale Ale slip down the rankings, congratulations are deserved for their overall showing. An impressive feat that demonstrates just how much 4 Pines are leaders in craft beer.
The overall winner has to be Pirate Life from South Australia.
I’ve never seen a brewery launch so perfectly executed. From the branding, marketing and hype generated, to the quality of beers and initial distribution.
They’ve aced it and to get two beers in the top 5 and to break the top 3 especially with a big, boozy beer, is fantastic. That alone should be encouraging to beer lovers. A double IPA in the top three most popular beers!
The Hottest 101-200
It’s also interesting that GABS released the list of beers from 101-200. It shows the depth of great Aussie beer and you can see that there were a number of Batch beers as well as more Akasha, 4 Pines and Young Henrys beers within touching distance of the top 100.
Looking down this list you see a much greater diversity of breweries and styles. It’ll be interesting to watch how this changes in future years.
The Hottest 100 is not a list of the best beer in the country. Like its musical equivalent, it’s a popularity contest. So people can’t really have complaints is massively popular beers are included, just because they don’t like them.
Mass media will report them as “Australia’s Best Beers” but this isn’t what the Hottest 100 is about. It’s about finding the most popular beers, not the best.
And that’s a valuable thing. It quickly and plainly throws light onto the trends happening in craft beer, particularly among consumers. We can easily identify these trends and see how the landscape changes year to year, as craft beer evolves.
Renowned beer competitions with qualified judges are where you should look for the best beers. The Hottest 100 is a popularity contest and both the organisers and craft beer fans should embrace it for what it is.
(Did you know you can see results from previous years on Wikipedia?)
The Inclusion of Macro Beers
The Hottest 100 craft beers list allows macro-owned “craft” labels to be included.
This has been a good year for them with the likes of James Squire, White Rabbit, Yenda and Little Creatures all picking up spots, a number of which were high in the list.
The exact phrasing used to clarify their inclusion is as follows:
“The beer must have been brewed in Australia and sold in kegs or bottles in 2015. The multinational breweries’ main operations are ineligible but their craft brands are e.g. Matilda Bay, James Squire, Little Creatures, Cricketers Arms and Mountain Goat.”
James Squire et al
Yes, I’d love the top beers to all be the fantastic stuff that blows us away. It’d be great if the top ten only featured the beers that are an experience rather than just a drink. But that’s not how it works. It’s a democratic vote to judge popularity, not just quality (or geek-appeal) alone.
The placing of James Squire and other similar beers shows that people are discovering more flavourful beer, as opposed to macro pale lagers. We can only hope that James Squire leads them to better things.
Will They Always Be Included?
There’s a separate argument about whether these brands are craft or why we even need to define it. Perhaps in the future, the rules of the Hottest 100 might change to be more strict around which beers are eligible.
Maybe one day we won’t see macro-owned beers in the list but, for now, to exclude them would serve only to alienate new craft beer drinkers. (Plus, I’m not sure Dan Murphy’s would like it.)
That said, while Brews News focuses on the wider beer industry, the focus for GABS, The Local Taphouse and Crafty Pint is definitely craft first, so it’ll be interesting to see whether this changes.
The Influence of Dan Murphy’s
Dan Murphy’s is a sponsor of the competition and has significant resources to promote the Hottest 100.
I won’t dive too deep into what this means (perhaps that’s a subject for a separate, more investigate post) but I’m sure one could identify correlations between many of the beers that did well in the Hottest 100 and Dan Murphy’s biggest sellers.
To make it absolutely clear, there are no allegations of Dan Murphy’s influencing votes, just that there could be correlations between what their customers buy and how the votes went. They do have a hell of a lot of customers buying beer.
While breweries aren’t allowed to offer rewards for voting they can campaign to an extent by prompting beer drinkers to vote and by reminding them which of their beers are included.
This is clarified with this statement:
“Breweries are not permitted to offer prizes, incentives or inducements of any value in exchange for votes for their beers, or promote the poll in a way that could be perceived as such. Breweries are not permitted to ask for proof of votes. Any clear breaches of these rules, intentional or otherwise, will lead to the brewery and/or voter being disqualified.”
Perhaps some of the notable exceptions could work on their marketing next year. The top 3 receive a great deal of media attention, it could hugely increase the demand for their beer.
As far as I’m aware, it’s not revealed whether any breweries were disqualified.
Distribution Plays a Big Part
The challenges involved with distributing beer across the vast country naturally skew the results. Breweries can have hardcore, loyal, local supporters but if their beer doesn’t get out of the state it can be hard for them to amass the votes required to crack the top 100, let alone the top ten.
As small breweries grow and market themselves in other states, we’ll likely see them take up more places in the Hottest 100 and those places might well get higher each year.
When Rabbit & Spaghetti came up on the screen where I was watching, it kicked off some discussion. It continued for a while with new voices added to the debate each time someone noticed and questioned it.
Let me start by saying I’d not heard of them so obviously I haven’t tasted the beer (a Vienna Lager). It might be amazing, I’m not in a position to judge the quality of it.
However, when I was looking into it that night, it had just 29 check-ins on Untappd. That seems incredibly low for a beer in the Hottest 100.
No one I spoke to seemed to have heard of it and from some very rudimentary research it seems to be a craft beer label offshoot from a winemaker, backed by a retailer.
I imagine there was a bit of a campaign to get people to vote for it. It can’t have been anything illegal as otherwise it wouldn’t have made it onto the list.
And as much as I’d love to see the good folks at GABS, Brews News and Crafty Pint release voting data, I don’t think they will. All we know is voting was up 112% on last year.
Craft Beer Continues To Grow
How many readers discovered craft beer through something like Little Creatures or Stone & Wood? There will be many who discovered it through James Squire.
The increased popularity, as reflected in the Hottest 100 list, shows that more people are discovering “craft beer”. If they move from 150 Lashes to their local brewery, that can only be a good thing.
Tom from the Sessionable podcast made a great point on Twitter:
— Tom Evans (@astudyinbeer) January 26, 2016
If someone (who perhaps voted for James Squire or Yenda) looks at the list and decides to pick up something new, something different (and something better), then that’s a massive win for craft beer!
What a Time To Be Alive (And Drinking Aussie Craft Beer)
The hardcore beer nerds, even if they are despondent about the number of macro beers included, have something to be happy about. Last year, the top three were all pale ales of some description. This year, while two of the beers remain the same, the third spot is taken by a double IPA.
It’s about as beer-geeky a beer as you’ll find. Big, brash, massively hoppy, and incredibly boozy, and launched by a brand new start-up brewery. Stop for a moment and think about how much the craft beer landscape has changed. And rejoice!
The fact that the results cause such massive discussion and debate is a fantastic thing.
It evokes real passion in people and, while it can sometimes be misdirected, it can only be a good thing that people are passionate about and wish to support their favourite brewery. I hope this never wanes.