Craft Beer 101

George Atkin
17th Jun 2015

In this writer’s opinion, it is a great (and long overdue) sign that people ordering beers such as Carlton or VB are beginning to be greeted with the same judgemental and disapproving looks from bartenders as those who opt for a glass of the house chardonnay. The craft beer ‘movement’ no longer has it’s foot in the door in the Sydney pub and bar scene, it has well and truly forced its way inside and, thankfully, appears to have no intention of leaving. Here are just a few reasons why this has come to be and why this is such a good thing for Sydney.

While we Sydneysiders tend to see ourselves as trendsetters and pioneers in the world of ‘cool’ this isn’t necessarily so. If we haven't stolen an idea from Melbourne, chances are we’ve looked internationally. Take for example our thriving small bar scene. It seems nearly every week new bars are opening up aiming to emulate the hidden gems that are scattered throughout New York, finally providing Sydneysiders the chance to drink quality over quantity. This is also true of the craft beer movement within Australia.

Years before Sydneysiders had their first sip of a seasonal stout, the craft beer industry in the UK and the US was thriving. Walking into any London pub offered punters the chance to try a range of weird and wonderful beers that didn’t simply taste like carbonated water. American and British breweries established long before craft beers became trendy in Australia meant that the quality of beer being produced in these places were phenomenal, with special mention to the IPAs of America’s West Coast which countless Australian breweries have since tried to mimic. Thankfully, though, the Australian craft beer industry has finally caught up and breweries right across the country are producing world-class beers. Australian brewers have been able to learn from these well-established breweries of the UK and the US and as a result have been able to produce beers that rival all others internationally. The reason this is so significant in terms of the growth of craft beer’s popularity in Australia? The production of so many quality beers by local breweries means that Australians now have access to a world of delicious beers that stretches much further than the confines of Coopers or James Squires.

With this exposure to a wider range of quality beers, Australians quickly began to realise how complex and diverse beers could be. Disclaimer: diversity in this context definitely does not mean being offered the choice of Tooheys New, Tooheys Old and Tooheys Extra Dry but rather the diversity that has been offered to wine aficionados for years. Aside from walking into a bottleshop and having the choice of only a handful of beers (and lets be honest, terrible beers at that), Australians quickly came to realise that lagers and pales were not the extent of what a beer could be. Slowly we were introduced to the bolder flavour of IPAs, the creaminess of a well-executed stout, the incredible complexity of a Belgian style wheat beer and, more recently, the mouth-watering full-bodied flavour of seasonal beers such as a Saison. The result of this is that beers no longer need to be seen as purely ‘blokey’ as there is certainly a style to suit any drinker, regardless of age or gender.

Further parallels to Australia’s renowned wine industry can be seen in the concept of food matching. Wines are often sold on their ability to complement and even enhance a dish and Sydneysiders are beginning to realise this idea is not limited to wine. The aforementioned complexity of beer easily lends itself to this same concept. This has tied in perfectly with the rapid rise in popularity of the gastropub craze. Instead of matching your parmy, chips and salad with a Carlton Draught places like the Local Taphouse in Darlinghurst are encouraging you to match the chefs selection of charcuterie meats with Nomad Brewing’s subtle Long Trip Saison, or the gourmet ‘Cumberland Sausage Bangers & Mash’ with the authentic Fullers ESB fresh from the tap. And the Taphouse is not alone in this regard. The Australian Heritage Hotel in the Rocks provides an accompanying beer suggestion to every meal on the menu to ensure you get the most out of your pub experience. The benefit of all this is that punters are now able to have a truly gourmet experience at a fraction of the cost of traditional fine dining and wining.

Those of you still refusing to give up your stockpile of VB tinnies, unconvinced the craft beer revolution is here to stay, here is one final cherry on the cake: accessibility. While it is true we are spoiled for choice when it comes to vineyards in our own backyard, with the Hunter Valley being just a few hours drive away, the craft beer industry manages to trump the wine industry in this regard. By their nature, microbreweries require very little space and as a result can slot seamlessly into almost any space. Look no further than Sydney’s flourishing inner-west. Within a stones throw of each other you have the Young Henry’s boys in Newtown, the dynamic and ever-changing range of beers from Batch in Marrickville, Willie the Boatman in St Peters, Rocks Brewing Co. in Alexandria and not to mention the long list of gypsy brewers such as Ironbridge and Shenanigans who shift from brewery to brewery, making the most of the camaraderie that exists amongst the passionate and hardworking brewers of Sydney. Most of these breweries also have their own bar attached which serves as the purveyor of the freshest beer possible and when you combine this with the convenience of being an inner city local, you have a match made in booze heaven. Every one of these brewers is producing world-class beers right now and chances are there is one within walking distance from your home. Sydneysiders truly are now spoilt for choice when it comes to delicious beers and I for one couldn't be happier.