The next big thing in Aussie craft: here’s cheers to dark beers

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Adventurous drinkers are turning to the dark side again, according to the organiser of Australia’s biggest craft beer festival.

Mike Bray, the managing director of the Great Australian Beer Spectapular (GABS) Festival, which kicked off in Melbourne last week and rolls into Sydney next week, then Brisbane next month, says that from what he has seen so far porters and stouts are making a comeback in a big way.

“Two years ago it was IPAs, a year ago it was sours, and now it’s stout’s turn,” Bray says. “You have rum-based stouts, chocolate-based stouts and everything in between. It’s certainly what we are seeing for this winter season.”

Beer professional Paul Daley, who leads the Craft Beer Ambassador team at Lion Beer Australia and is certified as an Advanced Cicerone (like a sommelier, but for beer) agrees, saying that the darker styles are perfect for the coming winter months – and can also be beautifully paired with food – if only wary drinkers can overcome their preconceptions.

“What we’re seeing at GABS is a return to the darker style beers like porters and stouts, and I think that’s a fantastic opportunity because stouts can be quite scary to look at and people think they are big, thick and heavy,” Daley says.

Mike Bray and Paul Daley and the Melbourne GABS 2023.Mike Bray and Paul Daley and the Melbourne GABS 2023.

Many of the 120 or so brewers involved in the travelling festival incorporate straightforward stouts into their core ranges all-year round. But, says Daley, the robust base ingredients of the darker styles lend themselves to innovation and experimentation.

This year, Melbourne’s Deeds brewing created a Peanut Butter Brownie Imperial Stout, while Sydney outfit Batch Brewing Co. dreamed up the Willy Wonka-inspired Augustus Gloop’s Choc Fudge Peanut Brittle Stout. Queensland’s Currumbin Valley Brewing also embraced a chocolatey theme with the Cherry Ripe Porter and Fremantle’s Little Creatures injected a caffeine hit with its Nitro Coffee Stout.

“They are a fantastic base for so many flavours and we are starting to see consumers try those,” says Daley. “Stouts are not a new thing – at one time they were the biggest beer by style in the world to be consumed back in the 1800s – and they are really back with some flair.”

As to where the Australian craft beer industry might go from here, Daley would like to see traditional German and Czech-style pilseners – poured from a correct side-pull tap into a correct shaped glass, of course – make a comeback.

The 2023 Great Australian Beer Spectapular (GABS) kicked off in Melbourne last week and will head to Sydney, then Brisbane.The 2023 Great Australian Beer Spectapular (GABS) kicked off in Melbourne last week and will head to Sydney, then Brisbane.

“I think crisp, traditional pilsners are wonderful and I am excited to see what brewers are going to do with them,” Daley says. “We might even start to see some Indigenous Australian style pilseners using proper homegrown ingredients as an opportunity in the future.”

Bray says he remains bullish for the state of the industry in 2023 more broadly despite cost of living pressures and tough economic climate for discretionary spending. More craft breweries have closed than opened over the past year, but he says that “good beer always comes to the fore”.

“I think that has a lot to do with the economic climate we are in at the moment,” Bray says. “I don’t think we will see a lot of new breweries opening in the short term, and we will probably see some consolidation in the market, but great beers always stand the test of time.”

Exit Brewing #027 Campfire Imperial Stout.Exit Brewing #027 Campfire Imperial Stout.


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Originally published as IPAs and sours have had their turn, now Aussie craft beer lovers are turning to the dark side

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