top 10

We’re at a point in history where, on average, a new craft brewer launches somewhere in the world every 8 minutes, that’s less time than it takes me to drink a coldie! And this year, together at the Craft Beer Coopery, we’ve crafted conversation over 108 different ones, from pilsners to lagers, IPA’s to red ales, and a few other random offerings along the way. So what impressed us most this year? Well, the votes are in. In total, no less than 83 beers picked up at least one vote, a staggering indication of our memberships diverse taste buds. But as Juan Antonio Samaranch once famously said, there can only be one winner… and here they are.

No 1. PIRATE LIFE PALE ALE
No 2. HAIRYMAN FOLLETS FABLE PACIFIC LAGER
No 3. FOUNDERS CENTENNIAL IPA
No 4. SIERRA NEVADA BEER CAMP GOLDEN IPA
No 5. LAST RITES BREWING CO. SHE’S NO BETTE MIDLER RED ALE
No 6. BREWDOG PUNK IPA
No 7. RIVERSIDE BREWING COMPANY 44 AMBER ALE
No. MURRAY’S MOON BOY GOLDEN ALE
No 9. TWO BIRDS BREWING TACO
No 10. NEW BELGIUM FAT TIRE

And, while there are plenty of beers in the top ten that received the same number of votes, there was a clear winner. Although now on the bottlo shelves for well over 2 years, Pirate Life’s light, crisp and well balanced Pale Ale, received twice as many votes as the Hairyman Lager, which itself received twice as many votes as Founders Centennial IPA. Perhaps there was a little favouritism by the shire locals when voting, though regardless it’s a pretty impressive showing for local brewer Andy Orrel. Aside from individual beers, the biggest take homes were just how popular the less traditional make-ups have become, the Taco in ninth testament to that, how much IPA in all its various forms is dominating people’s affections.

For me, any beer that lubricates a conversation gets my vote.

TASTING NOTES

Number 1. PIRATE LIFE PALE ALE
Origin – Australia
ABV- 5.4%
Size- 355mL
Style- Pale ale
September 19 may well be “International Talk Like a Pirate Day”, though there’s a fair chance that once you get a taste for the line up from lads at Pirate Life, you’d give up your peg leg any day of the year for the chance to swill another one. I’m told the name of this custom-built brewery in Hindmarsh South Australia has nothing to do with blowing people out of the water, however since Captain Jack Cameron and his second mate Jared ‘Red’ Proudfoot canned their first beer in 2015, there’s been ‘ship’ loads of consumed all over Australia. However, the quality of this Pirate Life pale ale is far from a story of stumbling over fool’s gold, but rather a tale of a long journey seeking buried treasure. Jack and Jared first learnt the craft from the modern day masters, at Brewdog in Scotland, before then refining their techniques in one of Australia’s best craft beer hothouses, Little Creatures. With experience and knowledge beyond their years now under their belts, they set sail for Adelaide, with a clear direction on where they wanted to take their beers and their brewery. They began brewing with the philosophy that ‘good beer plays a big part in enriching lives’ and that’s pretty much been converted into liquid format in this 355mL can. Best poured into a jam jar (or glass if your shorts are hanging above mid-thigh height) you’ll first notice on the nose that there’s a gentle pine forest floor character followed by a cannonball of a hit of hoppy bitterness, driven by the Mosaic and Cascade finishing hops. Take a big swig and you’ll soon taste the solid malty backbone and a characterful yeast that’s required to balance that big hop flavour. Yet given all those hops, it finishes light and crisp and much less bitter than you’d first envisage. Given the opportunity, I’d be the first lining up to walk the plank and jump into an icy sea filled with these patch wearing pale ales.

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Number 2. HAIRYMAN FOLLETS FABLE PACIFIC LAGER
Origin – Australia. NSW
ABV- 4.7%
Size- 330mL
Style- Lager

The glitz of the Sutherland Shire has come a long way since it was infamously introduced to the rest of Sydney, wider Australia and much of the UK via Australia’s first reality TV program, the 1990’s hit ‘Sylvania Waters’ featuring the wild family, the Donaher’s! Yet it was a different wild family, or man to be exact, who roamed the shores of Botany Bay long before it was to become officially known as ‘The Shire’ (or as the locals call it, ‘God’s Country’) that the Hairyman Brewery was named after. According to a story in the National Archive, the ‘Wild Hairyman from Botany Bay’, roamed the local area in the late 1800’s, helping himself to the abandoned beer supplies of the sailors after he had frightened them off from their beach camps. Fortunately, the only thing hairy about this little craft brewer is it man on the label. Having been a builder for over 2 decades, founder and head brewer Andy Orrell decided it was time to build something for himself. Although most builders opt to buy a ‘reno or demo’, transform it and then flip it for a small fortune, with a passion for home-brewing since a young man, Andy built his own brewery, literally and figuratively speaking, installing each tank with his own hands. Joined by his wife Joan, they first used the facility to brew other people’s beers before in late 2016 beginning to brew a small range of beers they could call their own. Each beer in the core range is named after a story about the encounters of the Hairyman, with each drop as unique as the namesake. Lawson’s Legend is a fruit driven pale ale, Cory’s Claim an easy drinking dark ale and, this Follet’s Fable a sessional lager. In the glass, the light golden colour is crystal clear with a fluffy white head. As you’d expect from a lager, the aroma is faint with a delicate grass and mildly citrus nose. In the mouth, there are some mild hops flavours delivered from the Pacific, Jade and Motueka, which is balanced perfectly with just a hint of sweet caramel malt. Given the high ratio of male models living south of the George’s River, it’s fortunate that you don’t need to be as ugly as the Hairyman to get your hands on this drop, least the lads go thirsty!

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Number 3. FOUNDERS CENTENNIAL IPA
Origin – United States of America
ABV- 7.2%
Size- 330mL
Style- Indian Pale Ale
Boy, are we glad we found Founders! Describing themselves as ‘beer enthusiasts’ rather than ‘brewers’ these boys from Grand Rapids, Michigan who founded Founders in 1997, and then actually lost money for the following 12 years, now produce 900,000 barrels annually…impressive. What is more impressive is that they are also now rated in the top 100 brewers worldwide and have won more medals than the city has water crossings! History has it that founders and owners Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, who still clearly remember hand glueing 6 pack cases, turned the place around when they got advice from their bankruptcy lawyers that given they could no longer pay the rent, that they should go out swinging! At the time, having only ever produced run of the mill ambers and pale ales, I’m told that one afternoon over a few beers they agreed “if we’re going to go down, let’s make beers we want to drink.” It’s where the slogan ‘Brewed For Us’ actually came from, and how the brewery’s first hit, the 8.5% Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale, came to be. And there has been no turning back since that moment, with every beer produced now crafted to push the limits of taste; complex, in-your-face ales, huge aromatics, bigger bodies, and tons of flavour. Whether its envelope-pushing craft beers brewed with random yeast strains, or fermentation barrels previously used for Tabasco, nothing is beyond the boundaries. Which makes this 7.2% ABV IPA perfectly suited to that mould. Somewhat surprisingly given its high ABV, this Centennial IPA (which was inspired when one the brewers’ mates ordered a competitors IPA at a birthday party, telling him the Founders IPA was too boring!) is as easy to drink as most sessional IPA’s, which can get you in trouble when ordering a third! Pouring a reddish copper colour, the smell is all citrus and pine notes, with some brown sugar, caramel and tangerine in there too. As far as taste, it is sweet, dry, malty and crisp in well-balanced proportions- impressive for what I assume, given its name, is a single-hopped brew. Now that you’ve found these Founders hold on tight, with 2 standard drinks per tinny, it may make for a wild ride!

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Number 4. SIERRA NEVADA BEER CAMP GOLDEN IPA
Origin – United States of America
ABV- 6.5%
Size- 355mL
Style- IPA
Oh! And this one time… at band camp…. Now if you’re lucky enough to ever get along to Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp you might not find Jim, Finch, Stifler’s mum or even Michelle and her infamous flute, but what you’ll find will still blow your mind… pun intended 😉 Sierra Nevada’s first ever Beer Camp was hosted in 2008 at their brewery in the little town of Chico in Northern California. It was a two-day, hands-on beer experience for local bar owners who had the good fortune of joining together to brew a new beer from scratch. In that inaugural year, they produced an Imperial Pilsner which was labelled Sierra Super 7. Beer camp has since become a regular event which more recently has been made famous by the ‘Across America’ series, where Ken and his team have worked in collaboration with smaller brewers all over the US. Camp this year even took it one step further by teaming up with 6 international and 6 stateside craft brewers. It allowed some younger hipster brands that have followed in Sierra’s footsteps, the likes of Garage Project (NZ), Kuichi (Japan) and Tree House Brewing Co. (Massachusetts), to pick up some operational know-how and gain some amazing exposure. Beer Camp is now so popular that they run both a travelling festival across the US selling the collaborations and donating the profits to charity and produce a seasonal label. And as you would expect from a Beer Camp tradition where no style or ingredient combination is off limits, this year’s seasonal label resulted in a citrus heavy, wheat malt driven golden IPA, in direct contrast to the traditional amber style. Given its name, not surprisingly it pours a brilliantly clear pale straw colour with a head formation that is ample and persisting. The nose is fresh and grassy with a good dose of pale malt aroma that seems to be an identifiable trademark for Sierra Nevada. In the mouth, the flavours dance between an upfront hit of sweet candied lemon and tropical fruits, a mid-palate of breaded malt and sharp and short finish of herbal hop bitterness. Unlike most IPA’s, it’s the wheat malt driven character that results in a refreshing light dry finish, rather than the trademark hop heavy aftertaste. So what do you pair such a unique IPA with? Can I be as crass as to suggest hot apple pie?

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Number 5. LAST RITES BREWING CO. SHE’S NO BETTE MIDLER RED ALE
Origin – Australia. TAS
ABV- 5%
Size- 375mL
Style- Red Ale

She’s big, bold and red, and certainly knows how to put on a show. Then there’s Bette Midler! However just like old Bette and her Emmys, Golden Globes and Tony’s, this She’s No Bette Midler Red Ale from Last Rites Brewing Co. is destined for greatness. The somewhat unusual drop was first brewed in 2015 as part of the core range of New-World hop-driven ales the lads used to announce their launch onto the local Tasmanian craft beer scene. As avid home brewers, Phil Zakaria, the former research chemist, and his mates Brett Allchin and Chris Cooper figured it was time for Tassie’s to taste some big, bold American-style ales. And the timing was ideal, with everyone including the Apple Isle’s Premier turning out for the rare occasion of the opening of a new microbrewery. It was a time when the craft brewing scene was in its infancy and the number in the state was still in single figures, with essentially only Moo Brew being known north of Bass Straight. Yet add only 18 months, and today it’s a state that is on the cusp of a craft beer revolution, with more than 25 brewers hitting the hops. Although the map of Tas has been famous since God grabbed one of Adam’s ribs and gave us Eve, it’s rapidly becoming famous for delivering enjoyment of an altogether different kind. And when it comes to enjoyment, the lads at this Hobart-based Last Rites Brewing Co. know how to both serve it up and drink it in themselves- the way they name their beers alone a clear testament to that. And I guess it’s only fitting that the beer behind as an unusual name as She’s No Bette Midler is also somewhat of an unusual red ale. A pour into glass reveals a shade reminiscent of the divine miss M’s bold red hair (in the past at least!). Her perfume is sweet and spicy, the result I’m told of the late hopping with local tassie Ella hops. However, it’s the generous use of red malts combined with some dark malts, and a little addition of Columbus hops that serves up rich full bodied malty mouth, full of caramel, biscuit flavours and toffee. Bette’s no ale that you want to view ‘from a distance’, rather pull the ring, take a good swing and in no time you’ll be singing, I feel ‘the wind beneath my wings’!

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Number 6. BREWDOG PUNK IPA
Origin – Scotland
ABV- 5.6%
Size- 330mL
Style- Indian Pale Ale
In 2006 James Watt quit his day job, moved back in with his parents and teamed up with longtime mate Martin Dickie. The pair pooled their minimal savings, negotiated a £20,000 bank loan, bought a pile of second-hand brewing equipment and rented a dilapidated unit from Aberdeen shire council. The boys first brew was a highly-hopped IPA that they called ‘Brew Punk IPA’, in a throw-back to the way the punk turned the music scene upside down in the early ‘70’s. The story goes that the only thing their first few brews turned was their stomachs. The first batch got contaminated after a phone and a set of car keys ended up in the mash, and the second tasted like plastic after they used a cheap garden hose as a transfer line! The third worked, and in a Cinderella story, a little over a decade on, the independent Brewdog has 2 breweries, 46 brewpubs (both in the UK and internationally), and hundreds-of-thousands of fans. From 2010 onwards some of those fans have even put their money where their mouth is…or where their beer is…or is it both?…by buying shares through Brewdogs ‘Equity for Punks’ crowdfunding scheme. Each share offers discounted beers and an invite to the annual AGM – a wild beer and Punk music festival attended each year by thousands of shareholders. To date, the lads have crowd-sourced a tidy £30m or so! The story of success might be all Disney, but the brand is far from it, and this brew, which is still Brewdog’s biggest seller, is more like Deadpool than the Seven Dwarfs, packing a serious punch. The first sign of an edgy post-modern twist to the traditional IPA style is the light golden colour on the pour. She’s loaded with hops, and although 6 different varieties have been used, it’s the NZ Nelson Sauvin (as used in sav blanc) that delivers the full-on tropical passionfruit and tangerine aroma. Take a big swig and you can literally feel a flavour explosion. Sure, there’s the tropical fruit that the nose gave away, but added to that are bursts of caramel, grapefruit, pineapple and even lychee. The malt takes the edge off the middle palate ever so slightly, before it finishes with more spiky bitterness than Johnny Rotten’s haircut. Forget about search the woods for prince charming, a swig of this should wake the sleeping beauty in no time!

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Number 7. RIVERSIDE BREWING COMPANY 44 AMBER ALE
Origin – Australia. NSW
ABV- 6.5%
Size- 330mL
Style- Amber Ale

The famous Route 66 runs 2,448 miles east-west from Chicago, Ill, to Santa Monica, CA, with incredible stops along the way such as the Grand Canyon, Cadillac Ranch and the Historic Wigman Motel. Head north up Route 1 along the Atlantic Ocean and you’ll take in the Florida Keys and Washington DC’s 14th Street Bridge. But if you ask me, it’s often the road less travelled that results in the most amazing journeys. Although the little-known route 44 only takes in 4 states over 237 miles, and may not feature in Trip Advisors top 10 road trips, the Connecticut section is unforgettable, and you’ll definitely have something to Instagram home about when you stumble across Longhorn Steakhouse in Massachusetts- the steak’s obviously amazing, but the short rib and biscuit combined with a local ale…Boom! And it’s from another road less travelled, the little-known route of North Rocks Road that runs from Bunnings Parramatta to the North Rocks butcher, where you’ll come across Riverside Brewery. Situated amidst a fairly standard-issue industrial area containing trade warehouses, there’s nothing ‘riverside’ about Riverside, aside from perhaps the stormwater drain during a downpour. But venture beyond the roller door of founder Stephen Pan’s microbrewery and you will discover a river of goodness flowing from his 2000L brewing system. Having knocked the cap off his first beer for public consumption in mid-2012, the last five years have been an amazing journey for Stephen and the lads, with what was once a trickle of walk-up sales now a fast-flowing distribution network, including everything from small-town bottle shops to the mass online retailers. And although Riverside launched with a range of 5 core beers, it was the pour of this unfiltered, bottle conditioned 44 Amber Ale that first set the trickle in motion, winning drinkers over with a single sip. Pouring a hazy copper colour, the more-than-generous hit of American Cascade and Centennial hops is perfectly balanced by a big, roasty malt backbone, providing a sweet and malty nose. The flavour journey on the palate begins with a grapefruit hop bitterness, stops in for some toffee and dark chocolate, and arrives at a destination characterised by pine and citrus. Googling amazing Sydney road trips won’t point you towards North Rocks Road, but head out that way and grab yourself a 6 pack of 44’s along with some award-winning snags from the Beef Bullion butcher, and I guarantee it’ll be a journey you’ll not soon forget.

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Number 8. MURRAY’S MOON BOY GOLDEN ALE
Origin – Australia. NSW
ABV- 4.5%
Size- 330mL
Style- Golden Ale
It was the 20th July 1969 when Apollo 11 landed a man on the moon, with the world tuning in to hear Neil Armstrong famously said, ‘that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. It was a moment in time that captured the imagination of many, and it may just be my imagination running wild, but I’m not convinced it wasn’t just an elaborate hoax. After all, if NASA did it once why has it never been repeated? And it was the 19th March 2014 when Murray’s Brewing Co., just inland of Nelson Bay on NSW North Coast, landed this Moon Boy in-a-bottle on the craft beer world. It didn’t quite have the same impact as Armstrong and Buzz’s landing, and it wasn’t a giant leap for craft beer, but the label design certainly captured the imagination, with its bearded, bespectacled chap, with fangs for teeth, in a maroon sweater. Now I’ll admit that I love a trendy label design more than the next guy, but there was just something about this hipster on the decal that didn’t instil me with confidence. My other concern from the outset was the lower ABV, which is somewhat uncharacteristic for Murray’s who usually operate in the upper reaches of the ABV realm when sending new beers into the world. But I need not have worried as on the first sip it was revealed this Moon Boy Golden Ale was no hoax. The high wheat content and the extensive dry hopping with the New Zealand Motueka and Australian Ella hops gave a late tropical fruit aroma that spiced things up on the nose, while the light German Pilsner malt backbone provided a favour that was crisp and dry, with just a touch of residual hop bitterness. According to head brewer Shawn Sherlock, it’s the perfect summer sessional. So, when taking one giant leap across the scorching Bondi Beach sand this summer, make sure you’re at least heading towards an esky with a few Moon Boys on ice!

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Number 9. TWO BIRDS BREWING TACO
Origin – Australia. VIC
ABV- 5.2%
Size- 330mL
Style- Wheat Beer
If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, then two birds in brewing must be worth more than all the blokes put together! Big call? Perhaps, but no one who knows Danielle Allen or Jayne Lewis would argue about their ability to mix it with the boys in the male-dominated craft beer world. In fact, since Two Birds, the first female owned and operated craft beer company Downunder, took flight in 2011 they have climbed to heady heights. It was in early 2010 that the pair first hatched their plan, on a road trip to some of the USA’s best craft breweries. While many girls may be inclined to shop the fashions of Rodeo Drive, with a background in viniculture and stints working at Little Creatures and Mountain Goat, Jayne was right at home among the mash and fermentation tanks. Having spent the first 18 months with their beers contract brewed, they now have their own brewery, bottling line, and tasting room in the western suburbs of Melbourne, affectionately called Nest. The range on offer has grown from a single Sunset Ale, which put the girls on the map after it won Best Beer at the Wetherspoons Real Ale Festival, to a range of five beers that are brewed all year round, and a bunch of award-winning one-offs. And as evidence that the Sunset wasn’t a fluke, (and a clear demonstration that these ladies, like most others, also love jewellery), the duo took home a swag of gold and silver at the 2016 Australian International Beer Awards including Champion trophy for Medium Australian Brewery, Best Amber for the Sunset Ale, and Gold for this Two Birds Taco. I’m told the inspiration for it came from the time the girls spent in San Diego munching down on tacos, and what originally started out in 2013 as a bit of a one-off gimmick for a festival, quickly became so popular that the pair added it to the core range. Loosely categorised as a wheat beer, it pours cloudy with a spicy hop fragrance dominated by coriander and citrus- not surprising given its fresh ingredients of coriander leaf and lime peel, along with a healthy dose of American Citra and Amarillo hops. With fresh corn poured in by the bag load, the upfront flavour kicks with corn characters, followed by coriander, chilli and citrus. As a random as they sound, and certainly out of place anywhere else, they worked together brilliantly in this light but bright brew. I should say pop and top and grab a pulled pork taco and a bowl of corn chips, but to be honest, for me it pairs perfectly with a spicy Mexican pizza.

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Number 10. NEW BELGIUM FAT TIRE
Origin – United States of America
ABV- 5.2%
Size- 330mL
Style- Amber Ale

Even though New Belgium Brewing Co. has transformed from a basement brewery to America’s fourth-largest craft brewer, by many it’s still regarded more as a social movement than a brewery. Even the staff dress the part, with flannel, jeans, hoodies, tattoos and piercings all common. Located in Fort Collins, Colorado, an hour’s drive north of Denver, the company started as a result of the founder’s mountain-bike tour through Belgium in 1988, where he fell in love with the country’s broader palette of ingredients (fruits, spices and wonderful yeast strains) used in their beers. Jeff Lebesch, an electrical engineer at the time, returned home and convinced his wife Kim Jordan to open a brewery, the first in the U.S. to make Belgian-style beer. His love of bikes was etched in history, right beside his love of beer, in the form of the red cruiser on the company logo. Although the love between Jeff and Kim didn’t last (the marriage ended and Lebesch left the company in 2001) the lovefest between New Belgium Brewing Co and its 500-odd staff continues; not surprising given every employee receives a branded fat-tire cruiser bike after a year of service and an all-expenses-paid beer tour of Belgium after five. To top that in 2013 Kim Jordan called an all-hands meeting and stunned employees by announcing that the company had been sold. Once the gasps subsided, she told staffers that the envelopes on their chairs contained the identity of the buyer. Inside they found a mirror, Jordan’s way of informing them that they were the new owners of New Belgium through an employee stock-ownership plan! Fat Tire, the first and still their signature brew to this day, is a staple in the USA’s craft beer industry with just shy of 9,000 reviews on rating website Beeradvocate alone – over 2,000 of those, more than 4 out of 5 stars! Almost with a cult status, it’s widely regarded as a gateway for people interested in getting into craft beer due to its easy-going, but absolutely delicious makeup. She pours a beautifully clear copper tone and sniffs of very light malted, nutty, hoppy aroma with a hint of caramel. It tastes much livelier than the simplicity of the nose suggests. Upfront it’s spicy and herbal, but without that hop bitterness that can so often dominate, followed by caramel notes and some floral overtones. I wouldn’t be surprised if the craft geeks object to my love of this beer and its wonderful sense of balance- the toasty, biscuit-like malt flavours coasting in equilibrium with hoppy freshness – but as far as I’m concerned, they can get on their bikes and…

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