For many, 2017 was the year that “craft” died. Independence is the new buzz word and all the more relevant considering recent buyouts. But was it all predictable? Here’s a review of predictions for 2017.
There were a few recurring topics of discussion throughout 2017. Independence was one, particularly because of the rebranding of the CBIA to the Independent Brewers Association and a couple of major brewery acquisitions in our domestic market.
Tax was also a hot topic and came to the fore with the founding of the Inner West Brewers Association and support from Anthony Albanese MP who has advocated for fairer tax laws for brewers. The IWBA is focused on our local market but these topics affect the national beer landscape.
At the start of the year I made a few predictions for the Sydney beer scene in 2017. Now we’re at the end of the year it’s a good time to reflect on how they went.
Beer Lists At Restaurants
The prediction was that we’d see at least two restaurants launch or revamp their beer lists to an impressive degree.
One stand out has been The Sausage Factory. At launch there was an awesome range of beers but the focus has tightened to beers from the Sydney Metro area only. It’s not just a great list, it’s a list that supports our local scene.
I predicted two restaurants. I’m not sure if this counts but we saw Frenchies Bistro & Brewery finally open. Okay, it’s the brewery’s venue so you’d hope beer would be a focus. It has to be said though, that while the stainless steel is at the forefront of the space, it is primarily a restaurant venue. It combines good food and good beer very well.
Other than that, there’s still a lot of frustration around the lack of quality beer in restaurants. I’ll be revisiting the subject soon so watch this space.
Cellar Door Experience
The importance of the cellar door becomes increasingly evident each month. I predicted that we’d see cellar doors get more mainstream coverage and at least one venue would launch or get renovated, impressing visitors. I’m calling this prediction a success.
Wildflower Brewing & Blending is the one that springs to mind. Their cellar door, while open only briefly during the week has blown people away. The brewery picked up its fair share of coverage on opening but the most high profile came via Max Allen in AFR. There was also coverage by James Atkinson (of BrewsNews) on GoodFood.com.au.
Other local breweries picked up coverage for their venues in The Daily Telegraph. These stories came on the back of the call for tax breaks, and Wayward’s offer of their taproom for a wedding ceremony in the run up to the vote on marriage equality.
Cynicism seemed to be bubbling up to the surface at the end of 2016 and the start of 2017. This prediction was specifically around new venues opening up with the clear intention of cashing in on craft beer.
Perhaps this has been less obvious. Rather than one major venue opening we’ve seen a steady drip of venues incorporating “craft” taps to varying success. Often these are Lion or CUB brands. Whether it’s cynical or whether it’s a tentative first step to meet customer demand I’m not sure. Either way I felt the compulsion to write about how to identify these types of venues.
Otherwise we’ve seen the news recently that James Squire is opening a venue at Circular Quay. I’m not sure you can accuse a Lion-owned brand of cashing in on craft beer since that is essentially the business model.
Rise Of The West
The potential growth in Sydney’s western suburbs continues to be a focus for our local beer scene. This was highlighted by GABS moving to Olympic Park and Sydney Beer Week spreading further afield. Both of these occurrences go someway to backing up the general theme of this prediction.
What I actually predicted, however, was that we’d see a high quality craft beer bar open up in western Sydney.
Well, cheers to High Street Social for this one. The Penrith bar has been kicking goals since it opened. It’s been serving a tightly curated list of tap beers, alongside a small but mighty bottle range.
Growth In Variety Of Sour Beers
The world hasn’t completely turned sour as some people expected following a flood of kettle sours over the last couple of years.
What I predicted though was that we’d see growth in the variety of sour beers being produced. While it’s reductive to categorise a number of styles as “sour” it’s simpler for this purpose.
Wildflower’s beers are far more than “sour beers”. They’re wild, they’re reflective of a place and a moment in time. And for that reason precisely they back up this prediction. They have some acidity and they’re incredibly complex.
We’re still seeing goses prove popular in the local market, as shown in the 2017 Australian Craft Beer Survey.
The final prediction was that we’d see another large Australian craft brewery acquired. 4 Pines was the first big one, selling to AB InBev in September. This was quickly followed by Feral from Western Australia, selling to Coca-Cola Amatil. Then in late November CUB/ABI bought Pirate Life. The Adelaide brewery had been on a massive upward trajectory so perhaps it was only a matter of time.
Honestly, it wasn’t a difficult thing to predict but that didn’t stop it from being a major talking point.
No one would have given me long odds for these predictions at the start of the year but, for what it’s worth, they were generally on the money. There could be some debate over the restaurant prediction and cynical venues opening but the general themes hold true.
It probably says less about my ability to predict things and more about how our local beer scene is shaping into something recognisable and how the market is following and reflecting trends happening overseas.
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