Australian Beer Invasion

Ben Kraus image

Ben Kraus of Bridge Road

About a year and a half ago we whined a little about not being able to try the best of Australian beers in New Zealand. We conceded that it was just a matter of time for craft beer lovers to start feeling familiar with all the great NZ beer and start peering across the ditch. And now it appears that day is dawning.

Nelson is not there yet, with the supermarkets still stocking just the VBs and Coopers, which can’t help with local perception that Australia doesn’t have a craft beer scene. In fact, most of this country still has to work pretty hard to get the few craft Aussie imports from newer brewers like Bridge Road, Mountain Goat, and Matilda Bay. But craft brewers on both sides of the Tasman have been connecting over this tough past year, coordinating fundraising for brewers impacted by the quakes and floods.

And we are very excited to see that this year Beervana (the big craft-heavy beer fest in Welly next week), in spite of it’s patriotic Go Black theme, is going a bit green and gold around the edges. We really enjoyed speaking with Ben Kraus from Bridge Road at last year’s festival, and trying his straight and twisted creations, including a Chestnut beer and a Belgian Black IPA.

This year, festival director David Cryer has brought in several new brews personally selected during his trans-Tasman travels that he deemed well suited to Kiwi drinkers. “I’ve tried to go for things that the New Zealand beer lovers haven’t tasted before; beers that might inspire the brewers.”

The Beervana Program lists 11 Australian Breweries, including Feral Brewing and the Monk Brewery and Kitchen.  David mentioned two exciting Feral beers on offer. Golden Ace is made with Sorachi Ace, a Japanese hop known for its unusual citrus character. The Rye IPA is a style “more common in the US, but relatively new here.”

So now that we are on the cusp of tasting the best of Oz, and knowing more Australian brewers are coming to Beervana this year, we find ourselves preparing a few questions. Are there Australia-specific beer styles? Kiwi craft brewers have had a spirited debate over the past few years about the nature of Kiwi beer, and whether we have our own styles. Predominantly, the more creative brews here are still based on European and American styles, sometimes with a Kiwi twist.

Jumping onto the web, we do find a bit of the same occurring in Oz, though in addition to New World Pilsners and the like, they seem to be making a push into new wheat styles. And we were intrigued to see on Australian Brews News that Cooper’s Sparkling Ale is seen as style-defining. David Cryer reports that there is quite a bit of friendly rivalry between Aussie brewers. So we will be asking around next week to see how that debate is going.

Another question we will be pursuing is about import and distribution. Will Beervana be a one-off, our only chance to try these beers, or is it likely to morph into a regular relationship? We’ve heard that Hashigo Zake in Wellington is about to begin bringing in Feral beers. Is there enough room on our shelves and enough Kiwi demand for someone to make a habit of bringing us more great beers from one of the world’s biggest beer drinking nations? With craft beer representing 9% of the NZ beer market (compared to only 2% of Australia’s) we are inclined to think there is.

Originally published in the Nelson Mail.

About Fritz and Maria

Fritz and Maria have been living, drinking and brewing together for over 20 years. As beer commentators and educators they strive to create a beerocracy where people exercise their palates by voting for quality in the marketplace. Their interests include the personalities, business, and culture of craft beer worldwide. As distillers for Rough Hands, they loved being at the place where magic meets science. Fritz and Maria can be found speaking at beery events, holding guided tastings, judging competitions.

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