Brew Saga’s Top 10 Brews Of 2014

I know it’s a stupid cliche, but what a freaking year it has been in the craft beer world, particularly in Australia. We are now finally starting to see the good works of all those independent craft brewers, craft shop owners and bar owners out there really starting to pay off and stick it to big brewing, providing better quality and better education to the consumer. Sure, there is still a massive amount of work to be done, but this niche industry has been going strength to strength all year and winning your average, “Lion” drinking public over or at least have made them think of the quality work that is going on out there. Games have been stepped up and the establishment challenged, and I can only see it getting bigger and better in 2015.

With such a diverse year, it is extremely difficult to pick out highlights. We have seen some brave, bizarre and downright mind bending stuff come out this year and a ridiculous number of new, unknown breweries standing up to really be counted as some of the best producers in the country. I have unconsciously found myself only really reviewing Australian produced stuff these days (sometimes New Zealand, those kiwis are too good to ignore…) because the quality coming out at the moment is just so top notch I don’t need to look abroad. The best, most interesting and experimental beers really are coming out of Australia and you literally do not need to look anywhere else; if you want it, chances are someone in this country is brewing it and it only takes a phone call or email to get hold of it. That to me is just super exciting and I cannot wait to see what 2015 has in store…

So, Top 10… I would rather have a Top 50 but thats way too much. There are so many honourable mentions and brews that just missed out, it seems unfair but I’m pretty happy with what I have come up with. Some where just no brainers, others considerably more difficult to pick out, but here we go (in no particular order)…

 

mp:stillwater

Mornington Peninsula/ Stillwater Collab Pepperberry Saison

One of the stellar works to come out of Good Beer Week this year. If you got a chance to try it, you know why it’s here… A really special collaboration. Amazing florals on the nose and a brilliantly fresh palate with a subtle hum from the pepper berry in the background with an impressive estery/ spice finish. Wish there was more…

killersprocketryeipa

Killer Sprocket Rye IPA

I am a rye fiend. But I was good with this list and only picked one, and it was a no brainer which to pick. Having heard such good things I knew it would be good, but it just blew my expectations out of the water. Spicy, fruity, earthy and all deliciousness, this seriously impressed me.

drorderspres12bottle

Doctor’s Orders Prescription 12 Belgian Black IPA

This is one i’ve been obsessed with from the get go. With such an unusual style I thought this has got to be worth a try, and it turned out to be one of my favourite brews of the year. Just incredible. Every aspect in this brew is clearly defined across the palate and nose. Some really clever brewing.

ridersxpa

Riders Brew Co. XPA

This was one of those brews I kept putting off but once I tasted it it blew my socks off, soaring right into my top 10 of the year. I now keep a healthy supply of it… It is just so packed with flavour and cleverly layered that it would be impossible to get bored of or put down. Just too good.

beergeekragequit

Brew Cult Beer Geek Rage Quit India Pale Lager

It was just damn near impossible to pick a favourite from Hendo’s impressive stable, but I did it. It was between this and his ‘Can’t Fight The Funk’ Farmhouse IPA, which I voted into the Hottest 100 this year, so technically there’s two… Everything I have from him is just incredible and really makes you think about what your drinking. This one really made me think: packed with subtlety, nuance but overall a clean, fresh and delicious experience. An absolute cracker and must for the summer months.

3ravensdruid

3 Ravens The Druid Belgian Quad aged in PX barrels

This is THE no brainer of the year for me. I know I said ‘no particular order’ but this is number one. Hands down. El Numero Uno. Best experience of the beer year. I’m a massive fan of PX, I love barrel ageing and Belgian Quadruple: the whole triad is there. I only got one and I kick myself everyday for not picking up more…

lasirenewildsaison

La Sirene Wild Saison

You know those up and comers I mentioned in the intro? These guys are on the top of that ‘up and coming’ list… La Sirene has had an incredible year and they are only going to get better. Being producers of solely Farmhouse/ Belgians/ Sours/ Lambics, I can see demand is about to sky rocket for these guys. I said it then, i’ll say it now: La Sirene can and will sit very easily amongst the best farmhouse producers in the world. 2015 will be the year of La Sirene… All of their releases impressed me this year, but the Wild Saison jumped out most for me. Fantastic florals, juicy stone fruits, baked citrus and luscious tropical fruits with lovely drying cereal, flint and apple/ pear malic acid notes.

blackdogDIPA

Black Dog Brewery Junk Yard Dog Double IPA

What can I say about James that hasn’t been said before? One of the most consistent, brilliant brewers around at the moment. Love everything that leaves his tanks. This one really stood out for me because it embodies a lot of his brews. Fresh, floral and fruity on the nose but once you get into it, it turns into ‘The Black Dog”: chewy, resin, pine and serious bitter bitters. Just sensational.

brewboyshopp

Brew Boys Hoppapotamus

This one was a bit of a wild card for me. I had no idea about these guys, only it was a little difficult to get hold of. Given to me as a birthday gift this year I went in with an open mind, not begin sure what to expect… What I got was one of the best pale ales I’ve ever had in my life, leaning more towards IPA though. Masterfully and beyond delicious.

exitsaison

Exit Brewing #001 Saison

It’s pretty difficult to go past the first release from Frase and Grum. Any brewer that makes a Saison their first release are pretty confident in what they’re doing and it proved their best for me. This is an absolute classic, one of the tastiest brews of the year.

Honourable Mention: Red Hill Brewery Imperial Stout 2014

Just beaten to the post unfortunately but too good not to mention. A seriously layered, deep and rich experience this brew had all the good things and was brilliantly balanced. Dangerous too. A majestic Imperial Stout.

That’s it! 2014 done and dusted. I’ve already made it my new years resolution to get even more beery in 2015: more visits, more reviews, more involvement and more delicious beers! Here’s hoping 2015 is a great year for all of us and things just get better and better. See you in the New Year!

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Wolf of the Willows XPA

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It’s always dangerous when there is so much hype surrounding a brew and a new brewery, particularly in a year where there seems to be a new brewery popping up every month. It would be very easy for Wolf of the Willows to fall by the wayside, but I’ve been tracking Scott (Mr. Wolf of the Willows), his marketing and his branding and it has been top notch all the way making it impossible to ignore. I find it very clever that he has the one release and has decided to launch his brand on this, giving him the chance to really nail it. And he has, building a serious amount of ground swell. The thing I love most is the label design, simple but effective and instantly recognisable. But all of this is nothing if the brew doesn’t back it up! His first release, an XPA, rather flies in the face of what is being released at the moment. It’s either IPA’s or ‘session’ ales but this hits the in between, something that seems to have been missed by everyone else and has proven a clever move. Let’s see how it stacks up.

Style: Extra Pale Ale

ABV: 4.7%

IBU: N/A

From Where: Scotty “Beardface” Thompson… Thanks Scotty!

Pour:

Pours a lovely orange marmalade colour with fluffy white head.

On The Nose:

The nose seriously kicks it up to 11, so good. Layers of ripe, juicy citrus and candied citrus rind, sweet pineapple, heaps of honeydew melon and lingering mango and peach. There is this brilliant blend of fruit sweetness and biscuit malt sweetness in the background that’s just blowing my socks off, a perfect amalgamation.

Palate:

Getting lots of tropical fruit bitters and citrus: pineapple, passionfruit and cracking grapefruit pith, lime zest and preserved lemon notes. Plenty of soft, chewy stone fruits to wrap your mouth around too with light candied ginger and cinnamon. Really well balanced out with sweet biscuit malts and a dry medium- long finish and mouthfeel. Every mouth full leaves you wanting more!

Final Thoughts:

Well folks, it was definitely worth the wait! The elusive Wolf of the Willows XPA packs a serious amount of flavour for 4.7%, I had to double check the label to make sure! I am super excited for what is in store next for this ambitious project. If you happen to come by a bottle of this, do yourself a favour and buy it! Expect to see some more Wolf of the Willows XPA around the place in January.

Kaiju!! RoboHop

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Who would of thought? A summer brew from Kaiju!! For those that are unfamiliar with their work let me tell you this: with any of their previous brews, if it doesn’t feel like you’ve got a mouthful of sticky pine needles and pine resin assaulting your every sense, your drinking Kaiju… Let me be very clear, this is a compliment in every sense. They are true kings of the hardcore IPA, boasting impressive hop profiles and sticking it to the IPA establishment with awesome Double IPA’s. Who knows what’s in store with a Golden IPA from Kaiju? Let’s have a look, sure to be a cracker…

Style: Golden IPA

ABV: 5.7%

IBU: N/A

From Where: Low Buy, Lilydale

Brewed in: Prahran, VIC

Pour:

Pours a lovely golden orange with generous, fluffy white head.

On The Nose:

Getting tonnes of fresh stone fruits, lemon pith, fleshy grapefruit and lime juice with plenty of tangy tropical fruits: pineapple, melon and notes of passionfruit blossom. Finishing in freshly cut grass, leafy characters.

Palate:

The palate is packed with delicious, sweet, tangy tropical fruits and fresh stone fruits. Deep, lengthy layers of acidic pineapple, melon, juicy mango, honeydew, fresh apricot and tasty, sweet nectarine. The finish is crisp with light cereal notes, seriously dry and ridiculously refreshing with a clean, medium finish.

Final Thoughts:

This is Kaijus’ closest thing to a summer lovin’, feel good, quaffable brew as I have ever tasted. It’s usually all chewy resin and pine with serious bitterness but this is freaking delicious in a way I never thought Kaiju would go. Sure, the classic Kaiju bitters are there but there is so much more than that: so fresh, fruity and brilliantly dry with amazing freshness. This could be seriously dangerous on tap, that 5.7% is hidden extremely well. A brilliant IPA for a sunny summer day.

Riders Brewing Co. XPA

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For those that do not know Andrew ‘Shandy’ Gargans’ story, it’s pretty much the home brewers wet dream. Starting off in his garage, opening up his doors to his neighbourhood, he got a lot of great exposure; particularly from one: Gus Kelly. Gus, for those that do not know, is part of the Kellybrook Winery and Cider family. And he loved Shandys’ brews. What started as fanciful conversation between two mates blossomed into commercial brewing and Riders Brewing was born. Still relatively new, Riders is now out and about, doling out some seriously tasty brews. This one, Riders XPA, is a perfect example.

Style: Strong Pale Ale

ABV: 5.8%

IBU: 45

Where from: Low Buy Liquor, Lilydale

Pour:

Pours a pale orange/ amber with fine white head.

On The Nose:

The nose on this is fantastic. Plenty of dry hop character, lots of awesome orange and lemon pith, orange juice, fresh apricot and brilliant tropical fruits: pineapple, melon, cantaloupe, and fantastic earthiness with sweet, biscuity malt.

Palate:

This palate has got it all! Fantastic toasty biscuit malt, earthy characters with notes of honey sweetness and stacks upon stacks of fresh citrus and stone fruits. Freshly peeled lemon pith, fleshy grapefruit and lime with tangy pineapple. notes of mango and juicy peach. Absolutely delicious.

Final Thoughts:

Forget session ales, XPA is King. Packed full of flavour, brilliant mouthfeel and awesome finish that just keeps on going. Riders have nailed it here, this is amazing. This beer is an absolute staple to be in constant rotation for summer. Great work Shandy, this is absolutely delicious.

Brew Boys Hoppapotamus

brewboyshopp

I have been hearing hushed whispers of the greatness that is Brew Boys lately, particularly this brew: Hoppapotamus. I have to give a massive thank you to Chris at Low Buy Liquor in Lilydale for relinquishing this beer from his private stores. My brothers bought it for me for my birthday (who have excellent taste) and he graciously offered it. Thank you all who were involved in this excellent present…

Style: American Pale Ale

ABV: 7.0%

IBU: N/A

Got it from: Chris!! and my Bros… Thanks guys.

Pour:

Pours a hazy copper amber orange with fluffy white head.

On The Nose:

Incredibly floral and fruit forward on the nose: super fresh nectarine, peach blossom, melon, fresh passionfruit, pineapple with fleshy orange and lime. Freshly crushed, floral pine needles in the background and light resin with sweet spice and lychee. Brilliant, brilliant nose!

Palate:

The palate, like the nose, is all about the hops to an insane degree… Dominating fresh citrus sweetness, fresh stone fruits and zesty tropical fruits. Orange pith, grapefruit, lime and juicy nectarine. Finishing in some intense, chewy pine and resin.

Final Thoughts:

This is up there as one of my favourite brews of the year! Just absolutely, amazingly balanced and fresh with hops being the victorious hero of this beer. This brew to me seems to be more IPA than APA though, which is in no way a criticism, it’s the only thing I can think that is even slightly negative in any way. It’s just so perfect! Everything I have come to know and love about the humble hopis here and here in spades… Amazing citrus and tropical fruits with juicy, mouth watering stone fruits. I cannot speak any higher of this beer, just get it. Now.

Victoria High Country Brewery Collab: Rule 47 2014

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What is not to love about this brew from the get go? A collaboration between the best brewers North East Victoria has to offer this annual tradition involves the coming together of Black Dog Brewery, Bright Brewery, Sweetwater Brewery and Bridge Rd Brewery and the brewing of something they would not necessarily brew by themselves; a unique beer that showcases a love that they all share: Riding. Hence Rule 47 of the Velominati (basically disciples and preachers of cycling), which states:

Drink Tripels, don’t ride triples. Cycling and beer are so intertwined we may never understand the full relationship. Beer is a recovery drink, an elixir for post-ride trash talking and a just plain excellent thing to pour down the neck. We train to drink so don’t fool around. Drink quality beer from real breweries. If it is brewed with rice instead of malted barley or requires a lime, you are off the path. Know your bittering units like you know your gear length. Life is short, don’t waste it on piss beer.

Words to live by I think…

Designed to quench the thirst of any cyclist, they use  regionally grown hops and celebrate the excellent trails connecting the high country towns North East Victoria has to offer and is available at all of the breweries involved in the collaboration. Let’s see what they have done with this years brew!

Style: India Pale Wit. Basically IPA style mixed into Belgian White Ale…

ABV: 6.6%

IBU: N/A

Got it from: Low Buy, Lilydale.

Pour:

Pours a beautiful, light copper orange with fine white head.

On The Nose:

Some fantastic sweet spices of cinnamon, candied ginger and nutmeg with chewy bubblegum and fresh, sweet apricot and melon. Getting light notes of preserved lemon, sweet pepper and fresh biscuit with lees/ yeast notes.

Palate:

Palate has a very solid, spicy malt back bone with lots of broad fruity ester notes: spiced apricot, peach, lemon and grapefruit pith. Finishes us bone dry with lots of lingering, chewy bitters. Crushed pine needles and aromatic resin.

Final Thoughts:

Have to say, I would be very happy to smash a few of these after a ride! If I got off my arse for a ride… Absolutely fills the criteria here: Clever balance between two different styles: this Witbier base steps it up with some serious additions of aussie Enigma and Summer hops and seriously freshens it up with some interesting Belgian notes playing along. Seeing this on tap somewhere would make me very happy… Perhaps in the Yarra? Pretty Please?

Garage Project: Hop Trail #1

hoptrial1

I’m always interested to try single hop brews. As a guy who is fairly amateur when it comes to hops (I have a fairly good idea of some them and their characteristics) I always find it fun to get hold of them and see what they have to offer and this particular one was too good to pass up. Now comes this rather brilliant blend of science and brewing from Plant and Food Research and New Zealand hops and Garage Project. The two have gotten together to trial new, unreleased hop cultivars. Let us see what this can contains: in the name of science!

Style: IPA

ABV: 7%

IBU: 55

Got it from: Low Buy, Lilydale.

Pour:

Pours a light straw/ lemon colour with bubbly, fluffy head.

On The Nose:

The nose is bright, fruity and tantalisingly spicy. Notes of lemongrass, white pepper and floral chamomile with fresh pineapple, peach, juicy watermelon and spritzy sherbet characters.

Palate:

That prominent spicy lemongrass note jumps out first with tart grapefruit, lime and pineapple with that watermelon note floating around in the background adding to the mouthfeel. Getting some fresh peach and melon too finishing in a brilliant , lingering bitterness of mint, eucalyptus and fresh pine needles.

Final Thoughts:

When i first heard about this I knew this new cultivar was going in to safe hands. Garage Project is one of the premier brewers of New Zealand and wizards of hop use so I knew it was going to be good. And it was fascinatingly good. This hop I found to be all about the bitters. Seriously bitter bitters, and I think would be a very worthy addition to any brewers hop itinerary. It is an ideal bittering hop with some interesting fruit characters to bring to the game. I really hope this hop makes the cut! Would love to see it in a brew again…

Craft Breweries And The Name Game

For those unaware, this happened this week: Empire Brewing is being sued by Lucasfilms for the title of their spring lager: Strikes Bock.

Now, it’s worth mentioning too that they have been brewing this for seven years now and only now decided to apply for the trademark of the name as it was only ever on tap in their brew pub. But come on, this is pretty tongue in cheek. It’s funny, but it’s pretty cheeky at the same time. How could they NOT have thought of the movie when they named this beer? And it got me thinking… There are plenty of brewers in Australia taking liberties with naming their brews too.

Holgate ‘Millenium Falcon’, admittedly brewed with Millennium and Falconers Flight hops sports on its label what is unmistakably THE millennium falcon in hop form, HogDog Beerworks Chai Fighter label is pretty much a scene from Star Wars complete with the famous TIE fighter ship and yellow lettering and last but not least: just about every brew from MoonDog Brewery, an absolute cavalcade of pop culture references going on there: Jumping the Shark (Happy Days), Chocolate Salty Balls (South Park) and the famous Black Lung (Zoolander), just to name a few…

holgatefalcon

Taking too many liberties?

 

I can see this argument from both sides: Brewers are infringing on intellectual license here at points but at the same time most brewers I know are complete and utter nerds and revel in the pop culture beast. Honestly, it is very difficult to come by any sort of media(i.e. movie, tv series, book, ect.) these days that does not have some sort of reference or just blatant rip off from what would be deemed ‘cult’ pop culture: Star Wars, Star Trek, the works of Tarantino (which by the way is nothing but homage!), Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Monty Python, the works of Tolkien…. The list goes on, and all of them have been used extensively. And unsurprisingly, those people that used these works as reference have never been pulled up about it because it has been given a slight make over: you can see where it came from, but it’s different somehow. Thats how pop culture references work.

I would go so far to argue that how could this NOT have happened? Pop culture is so deeply intrenched in to our every day lives that it would be impossible to not have beers called Rye Hard (Temple Brewing) and Hey, Juniper! (Killer Sprocket). When artistic people (brewers) are given artistic license (brewing) of course they are going to draw from what influences them most, which is most likely going to be  pop culture references.

The question that keeps coming back to me is this: How far is too far? When does it make that step from homage to absolute rip off? Is Empire Brewing being a little hard done by here or was the writing on the wall? Brewers out there, have you thought about this? Has it come to your mind? I’m really interested to hear your thoughts!

It’s a slippery slope people, I wouldn’t want to be on it…

 

 

 

3 Ravens USB

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It was an exciting day when I heard this brew would see the light of day again. As is now common knowledge, a few years ago 3 Ravens as we know it was on the brink of no longer existing but at the last moment was bought up by Mash Brewing and all limited release brews were put on hold until it got back off the ground.  And boy howdy did it: what followed was a pretty brilliant 2014 for them, snatching up the award for Champion Small Australian Brewery and releasing some stunning beers: my favourite for the year is still The Druid, their Belgian Quad aged in PX barrels. You can see my review of that here. But about the beer: this is basically their ESB but on performance enhancing drugs, hence Uber. And using the word Uber sums this up pretty well…

Style: Strong English Bitter

ABV: 6.1%

IBU: N/A

Got it from: Low Buy, Lilydale

Pour:

Pours a beautiful copper amber red with fluffy off white head.

On The Nose:

The aroma is incredibly malt driven (unsurprisingly): The thing that jumps out straight away for me is an ANZAC biscuit quality: oats, honey, golden syrup and a delicious fresh baked biscuit note. Getting light notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, spicy candied ginger and boozy raisin with dark fruits.

Palate:

Classic English strong ale in the palate with uber malt. Lots of honey, toffee and sticky caramel with lots of fresh rolled oats, hazelnut, walnut, almonds and dried coconut. The mouthfeel is like sticky, coating golden syrup with very fine bitters finishing it off. Getting some sticky stewed fruits in there too: apricot, raisin, cherry and currant.

Final Thoughts:

This is an absolutely fantastic ode to the classic English Strong Ale. 3 Ravens have treated this style with the upmost respect and have done it so much justice you could easily say this could sit in an English pub on a hand pump and know one would know it was brewed in Melbourne, it’s that good. Classic oatmeal, golden syrup, treacle and plenty of toasted nuts with fine bitters and stewed fruit sweetness. An absolute winner.

Brew Cult Can’t Fight The Funk Farmhouse IPA

brewcultcantfightfunk

Style: Farmhouse IPA

ABV: 6.2%

IBU: 50

Where to get it: Low Buy Liquor, Lilydale

This rather beautiful looking beer is the first in the Brewcult ‘Psychedelic’ series, just recently re- brewed and re- released for a limited time. Very happy to have gotten a hold of one of Hendo’s brilliant beers. Hendo is known as a rather colourful character and that is something that really shows itself in all of his brewing endeavours: Beers with character, great flavour and just off- beat enough to give any craft beer nerd a beer- ection… Basically what we’ve got here is a rather delicious take on the American IPA with saison yeast thrown in and a generous new world hopping and old school brewing techniques. Lets see what is in store with Can’t Fight The Funk…

Pour:

Pours a brilliant copper orange with generous white fluffy head.

On The Nose:

The nose is a brilliant, effervescent smorgesbord of juicy stone fruits and tangy citrus. Getting stacks of ripe peach, fresh, mouth watering apricot and zesty mandarin. Layers of lime zest and fresh grapefruit juice accompanying notes of sweet turkish delight, juniper, bramble and sweet spices.

Palate:

Palate is fresh and juicy with heaps of fruit sweetness balanced out with cracking, lingering bitterness in the background. Getting lots of white nectarine, ripe peaches fresh mango and lots of honey dew melon and cantaloupe with sweet, sticky stewed fruits and raisins. Finishing in a drying white wine vinous note with plenty of lime juice and sticky, floral resin bitterness. Getting light notes of cinnamon, star anise and nutmeg.

Final Thoughts:

What we’ve got here folks is the feel good hit of the summer…When I first drank this I could of sworn it was a white IPA: alcohol is hidden brilliantly by all the juicy fruit sweetness, sticky stewed stone fruits and crisp citrus acidity. A fantastic white wine quality through out: fresh, crisp and juicy with brilliant lingering sweet spices and plenty of citrus zest. Very fresh, very tasty and classic Hendo…