It’s fair to say that there’s never been a more exciting time to be a beer drinker in Australia. With new breweries or brewing companies seem to be opening every week, the breadth of new beers can be difficult to keep up with, and the boundaries are being pushed ever wider. But amongst all the change, there are some welcome constants.
Glance across bottle store shelves and you’ll find a number of beers whose names and labels are so familiar that they barely seem worth writing about. Little else needs to be said about a beer that’s achieved iconic status and whose mere presence in a fridge commands respect and provides reassurance to a thirsty drinker. Except that, amongst all that’s new or weird or exciting, it can sometimes be easy to forget about some of those beers that have become standard-bearers of their style. With that in mind, it’s worth tipping your hat to some of the classic beers which, in their own way, have helped changed the beer landscape.
For beer connoisseurs wanting to dip their toes into modern American-style hop-forward beers, a great start is the Victory Brewing Company - Prima Pils. An American take on the Czech style, this is approachable for new drinkers while being bold enough to slake the palate of any craft beer lover. Using only noble (old world) hop varieties and German malt, the brewers at Victory have managed to shape something undeniably new-world while remaining true to the classic style. Victory also have a range of more intensely hop-forward beers including the aptly named "HopDevil" and the even-bigger-still 8.5% "Hop Wallop".
Guinness - Irish Stout
While the lager market is a battleground fought over by many big global brands, when it comes to dark beer it often seems like there’s only one name in the game: Guinness. The Irish stalwart has such brand recognition that many people wouldn’t consider it just a dark beer, but the dark beer. Whether it's debating the way to pour the perfect pint, using it as an ingredient in a pie or pondering whether it tastes the same from one country to the next, Guinness always finds a way to appeal to drinkers across the spectrum. The beer at the heart of what is now a 250-year old company is a classic in every sense; a smooth, dry Irish stout that delivers a roasty, bitter bite. With so many interesting variants of stout now coming out of smaller craft brewers - from sweet to smoked to barrel-aged - Guinness may not have quite the same punch that it used to, but it’s as reliable as ever, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone that’ll turn away this Irish guest when it comes knocking.
Coopers - Sparkling Ale
It’s rare to find anyone with a bad word to say about Coopers. Whether it’s because, at over 150 years in the business they’re Australia’s oldest independently owned brewery; because they stuck mainly to their traditional ale recipes while everyone around them was moving away from them; or perhaps owing to a happy memory of a characteristically cloudy Coopers brew having provided a beer epiphany: it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that Coopers always seems to be there when you need them. And a beer that’s been there since the very beginning is their Sparkling Ale. In many ways this is the antithesis to the kinds of beers that have fuelled the modern craft beer movement, including the likes of Little Creatures pale ale and Stone & Wood’s pacific ale (see below). It’s not blessed with a bright, golden glow, huge fruity aromas or tropical hop characters. Instead, following the obligatory roll of the bottle to disturb the yeast, you’re met with a cloudy, cleansing beer that carries only a gentle hop character and some subtle, spicy esters. Refreshing, balanced and approachable without compromising to blandness, there’s a reason why drinkers come back to Cooper’s quintessential Australian ale, year after year, beer after beer.
Sierra Nevada - Pale Ale
This iconic West Coast pale ale is one of the beers often cited as helping kick off the modern beer movement in the USA. As in most countries, big-name brands had come to dominate the American beer industry with average, or worse, interpretations of lager. A beer like Sierra Nevada’s pale ale, with its massive pine and grapefruit characters, would have been like a bolt of lightning in the middle of a perfectly sunny day, striking down any preconceived notions what a beer should taste like. The rise of hoppy beers like this would provide a transformative experience for countless drinkers and, more than three decades after launching, its impact goes far beyond the shores of the USA where it remains a benchmark beer.
Little Creatures - Pale Ale
What Sierra Nevada did for American drinkers in the 1980s, Little Creatures did for Australians two decades later. One of the Fremantle brewery’s founders had already helped launch Matilda Bay and also spent time working at the pioneering US brewer, Bridgeport, so knew full well that drinkers would be open to beer with a truckload more flavour than what was generally on offer domestically. That was delivered in some style with the exemplary Little Creatures pale ale. Built on the huge citrus and stone fruit character derived from hops, when the beer was launched back in 2001 there wasn't anything quite like it produced locally. It opened a world of flavour to countless drinkers and many Australian brewers count it amongst their epiphany beers, setting them on the path to brewing. These days almost every brewery has a pale ale in their range but Creatures pale still more than holds its own.
& Wood - Pacific Ale
If Coopers Sparkling Ale is legendary for its longevity and Little Creatures Pale Ale for its game-changing use of hops, Stone & Wood’s flagship beer effectively gave rise to a style of its own, the Pacific pale ale, and the splash it caused has swept a whole new generation of drinkers into the craft beer wave. Such has been the rise in popularity and respect for Pacific Ale that in the pantheon of classic Australian beers there is perhaps no other recent release with as strong a claim to joining the rank of legends. As was recommended back in the Summer Selection, it’s a beer built for the Australian climate. With massive passionfruit aromas thanks to the unique Galaxy hop, crispness, a little sweetness and an inherently refreshing nature, Pacific Ale delivers a huge amount for a 4.4% beer, but has an incredible ability to keep you coming back for more.