With more than 500 craft breweries slinging pints and stubbies in Australia alone, it can be a daunting prospect for keen beer drinkers who don’t really know where to start. Now in its eighth year, Melbourne’s Good Beer Week has grown from 40 events to about 300, attracting more than 75,000 people last year.
The surge in interest is a sign of the times, according to communications and marketing co-ordinator Kerry McBride.
“It’s not just the case of people wanting to drink better beer, they’re looking for better cuts of meat and more locally produced wines,” she says. “It’s a movement that’s been going on for years now, and craft beer is just coming into its own.”
The festival program is divided into streams, allowing people to match up with events that best suit them – from pairing beers with food to home brewing and sustainable shared-table feasts.
Other festival highlights embracing industry trends include Tallboy and Moose’s Beerspresso – where brewers team up with local coffee roasters to create nitrogenated beer and coffee collaborations – and Fempocalypse, a celebration of women and beer at Two Birds Brewing.
“I remember 15 years ago, I was often the only female brewer in the room,” Two Birds’ co-founder Jayne Lewis says. “It’s always exciting to see more women stepping into brewing roles, but also just confidently being a part of the industry as a whole.”
As for what’s happening in the broader world of craft beer, Chris Menichelli, of dedicated craft-beer store and cafe Slow Beer, has been identifying the trends as they happen.
“Coming out of the warmer weather, sours and hazy India pale ales are probably the biggest trends at the moment,” says Menichelli, who attributes the popularity of fruity styles to their appeal to cider drinkers and people not generally into beer.
Fruit beers, such as Two Birds’ passionfruit summer ale and Hop Nation’s mango gose, have ingrained themselves in the Australian beer narrative in recent years.
Hop Nation brewer Sam Harbour says a lot of the success of these styles comes down to quality.
“We work closely with suppliers to make sure the fruit is fresh and in season,” Harbour says. “While you can get cheaper international ingredients, it’s worth paying a little bit more for quality, locally-sourced ingredients.”
This is consistent with the rise in brew pubs throughout Victoria, with brewers opening their doors to pour fresh pints for their local community on the same premises where the drop is made.
Harbour describes the Hop Nation tap room as a community business, much like the local bakery or butcher.
“A lot of our regulars are people who live nearby and they know when they come to the brewery they’re getting the freshest, best-quality beer we make,” he says.
Menichelli says that the cold weather is sure to mean the return of dark beers, such as barrel-aged ales, stouts and porters.
He mentions Boatrocker and Starward Distillery’s yearly whisky barrel-aged stout and last year’s maple craze as promising options.
“Stockade’s maple syrup-infused imperial stout was super-popular and, off the back of that, people started doing more sweet styles.
“The festival gives you a good snapshot of what’s popular at the moment, and what’s to come.”
- Good Beer Week runs from May 11-20 in venues across Melbourne.