Craft beer is a steam train of a trend as we see drinkers enthusiastically reaching for new and unique beers. Every steam train, however, needs coal to stoke the fire to keep the engine moving, and this is where supply is comfortably meeting with the rising demand for industry momentum. But we must stay focussed, and to keep up with trends you need to be on the right track, lest you are left behind on the platform.
One of the most exciting things currently happening in this area is education for drinkers. That is, giving beer-lovers a way to learn more about the beer world by presenting them with a product that is not only well made and enjoyable, but also a way for them to discover what beer has to offer. Just what makes up the beer they are enjoying, be it ingredients, heritage or regionality?
Right now, two new mixed six packs are on shelves giving drinkers the chance to try a range of styles. The first from Stone and Wood (Byron Bay, NSW), is their Beers of the Earth pack.
The package features a Czech Pils, Hefewiezen, Porter, American IPA, Saison, and an Antipodean Pale Ale. It offers drinkers a good education into some classic global styles whilst also serving as a way for the brewery to stretch their legs after a recent expansion.
Fellow NSW brewery, 4 Pines (Sydney) have also recently launched a similar offering. Their six-pack contains regional examples born of the British Pale Ale. Hop lovers can travel the world with an English and American IPA; or Belgian, New Zealand, and Australian versions of the classic Pale Ale. This pack shows what diversity in nationality can offer a tried-and-true style.
Education is not all a one-way street however, as shown by the new Garage Project (NZ) Hop Trial series. In conjunction with NZ Hops, Plant + Food Research, they are taking new varieties of hops (so new they are still unnamed) and asking the public to pick their future. Drinkers can enjoy the beer and assess the merit of the individual hops using an online survey. After three "trials", this is proving incredibly popular with beer-lovers, who get to be part of a research process simply by enjoying a beer.
to the farm
Saison and farmhouse-style beers draw their influences from the French-Wallonian region of Belgium. Traditionally brewed in cooler months to be ready for seasonal farm workers in summer, saisons typically have ester-laden yeast, spicy hop aromas, and give a unique backdrop with added herbs or other ingredients. Saisons have long been touted as the next big trend in Australian beer and they are perfect for the climate. Drinkers are finally getting more access to world-class local versions, and trend predictions are coming true.
Rapidly gaining a cult following are the saison styles from La Sirene in Melbourne. They take their saison so seriously that they sourced traditional yeast from a small Belgian village (you can ask where, but they won't say). Their take on the style has vibrant, fresh lemon and yeasty bread aromas. The carbonation is high and it crackles over the palate, finishing with smooth bitterness: a saison for newcomers and farmhouse fiends alike. They also offer variations including a Farmhouse Red, Wild Saison and their Praline; a Belgian style ale with cacao, vanilla, and hazelnuts.
Not to be left behind, Bridge Road (Beechworth, Victoria) have taken their highly-regarded Chevalier Saison and, with the addition of elderflowers, taken it to a new place. The elderflowers bring a floral element that builds on the green banana and citrus aromas of the original. This version is a step away from a clean "Saison Dupont" style saison towards a more rustic and unique take.
For a far more rustic and traditional take on the style, Two Metre Tall from Tasmania is using natural fermentation and locally-farmed ingredients to make a range of authentic farmhouse beers and ciders that straddle the line between sour and saison. Their flagship Cleansing Ale is a beer that will evolve for a long time after packaging as the natural yeast and bacteria eat their way through any remaining sugars to start producing an array of unique esters and funk-filled flavours. Challenging, but like the name suggests, cleansing.
something a little sourer
Often seen as the next step up from drinkers interested in saison, sour beers can come in a number of guises, from classic Belgian lambics to German Berliner Weisse. Globally, brewers are using those as influence for their own interpretations. Additions of fruit, barrel aging or wild bacteria means these beers come in an array of styles. The term "sour beer" is a catchall for a number of these, all finding favour with modern drinkers. Right now this is the direction in which a lot of card-carrying beer geeks are taking their palates.
One of the most fascinating recent examples has been the 8 Wired (Auckland, NZ) Wild Feijoa Sour. With zesty feijoa flavours bursting out of the glass, it also has aromas of lavender, lime leaf, and powdery lemon sherbet. Intensely sour, dry and incredibly inviting, it is a challenging experience, and those not a fan of the unusual fruit may be turned off - but taking time with this variety (which at 9.5% abv you will want to) pays off and leads to an incredibly unique experience.
Two local sours that have excited drinkers as the last of the summer leaves us have been both Berliner Weisse styles. Typically made to have lower alcohol (below 4%), they offer a tart and refreshing summer experience and are a great introduction to sour-style beers. Boatrocker Brewery from Braeside in Victoria have released a couple in recent times, and their latest is called “Miss Pinky”, which is a Berliner Weisse fermented on fresh raspberries. The aroma offers yogurt and raspberry while the finish is tart, clean and dry.
For a truly local twist on the style, the Hargreaves Hill Brewing Co Small Beer adds Australian hops to boost the lemon flavours and gives a deep lemon zest aroma and flavour that coats the mouth but doesn't overwhelm, and leaves a reasonably bitter aftertaste. An unusual take on the style, but one that shows modern Australian hops can find a place when fused with classic sour styles.
For a lot of beer-lovers, the most overwhelming trend is the locality of these beers. Knowing world-class beers are being brewed at our doorstep leaves drinkers with nothing but a great taste in their mouths and serves as a great sign that there is still a lot of steam left in the craft beer train.
Disclaimer: The author tasted the Stone and Wood Beers of the Earth as a guest of the brewery but all opinions are his own.