Remember 30 years ago when drinkers could enjoy any beer they wanted – as long as it was Swan?
Today’s choice of brews is staggering in comparison to the dark old days. Just the number of new WA beers introduced in 2017 would have been in triple figures.
To narrow that lot down to an annual best list required plenty of research and taste bud testing. Our friends at 6PR asked The Sip for The Worthy Dozen as part of the radio network’s support of WA breweries.
So we’ve come up with a genuinely independent take on this year's highlights from the fermenters of the State’s growing band of breweries. The number now nudges 60 depending on which statistics are considered.
The rules for the Worthy Dozen were that the beverages had to have been released between December 2016 and end of November. And to spread the love we limited each brewery to one entry.
And after hours of deliberation we can declare that Mash’s Little NEIPA topped the chart. Not bad for a mid-strength!
1. Little NEIPA – Mash – 3.5%
Our team has an admission to make. We are on a crusade to find great mid-strength beers. At this stage, we admit to experiencing more failures than successes. Then Little NEIPA was unexpectedly thrust before us. At the time one of the team was in mid-rant during a brewery business meeting but was suddenly lost for words as the peachiness struck early but was still as enjoyable at the finish. None of these watery white holes that exist mid-taste with most 3.5% examples. If a mid-strength can maintain interest from sip to swallow it has achieved its aim. And this does.
2. Unforbidden – Artisan Brewing 6.1%
Figs are almost as popular as Steve Smith at The Sip. So when Brian Fitzgerald provided a taste of Unforbidden 2017 at the Perth Beer Fest it was an instant delight. The fig was one element to a high-class Red Witbier. But it was delicately controlled and there weren't any seeds! Malty with a strong citrus finish, this year's version was great while it lasted.
3. Peter Coupan Barrel-Aged Stout – Brewhouse Margaret River 10%
This beer came from nowhere to win champion beer at Perth Royal Beer Show. The Coupan Imperial Stout was aged in Limeburners whiskey barrels and the resulting concotion it was the stand-out from a all-star panel of beers up for the WA brewing gong. It also marked Brewhouse Margaret River's arrival as a serious (but family friendly) beer operation after almost six years in the planning.
4. Super VPA – Nail 9%
The regular 6.5% VPA was already a superstar brew when the Nail team decided to give it a steroid shot and lift it to 9% for this year’s GABS festival. It returned later in the year. Passionfruit greatness but you would never guess the ABV status in a blind tasting. The kegs ran out fairly quickly on this limited release.
5. Sea Devil Imperial Stout – Gage Roads 9%
This dark brown beauty was also at 70 IBU, so there is no denying it had plenty to tickle the back end. This short-term tap-only brew was an AIBA gold medal winner and continued Gage Road’s solid run of silverware. A great use of hops in what would be expected to be a malty brew but there was a also super sweetness that left the sugar taste buds seeking so much more. Likely to return in 2018.
6. Finn Diesel IPA – Feral 6.6%
This was the farewell brew for company’s sales chief Steve Finney, who had been a loyal servant to the growing Feral enterprise. It was highly recognised at the Perth Royal Beer Show, as we see with Finney and Feral founder Brendan Varis and trophy above. It uses lupulin powder to replace some hops but definitely had that dank, diesel fumes so suited to the style - and Finney's love of cars.
7. Vinyl Black IPA – Otherside 5.9%
Superb mouthfeel in this beer from a team that has taken strong steps south of the river. Vinyl first came to us in winter and was great for the season. A roast malt flavour underpins the beer but there also some licks of resiny hops and coffee to form a great ensemble of mouth excitement. And 2018 looms as a very exciting time for the Otherside team.
8. Watch This Space – Innate. 8.2%
A breakthrough brew for Innate. Another team in the Fremantle area that has gained a solid footing in some key south of the river locales. Watch This Space collected a gold medal the AIBA awards in May. Chock full of Chinook, Citra and Columbus hops it again proved Innate's small team, read Joel Nash, can turn out beer miracles from the old Crab Shack shed in Spearwood.
9. Juicy Bob's – Billabong 6%
While renowned for its Wheat and gluten-free beers, Billabong has also branched out with some style-pushing beverages. It also tested the Idaho 7 hop this year. And Juicy Bob's, allegedly named after someone who may or may not work at the brewery, is a super excuse to visit the Billabong bar in Myaree. Juicy Bob's won the people’s choice award at the recent Fremantle Beer Fest, again showing the love for NEIPA this annum.
10. Australian Lager – Cheeky Monkey 5%
Lager is still by far the most popular style in Australia but this newcomer from Cheeky Monkey was of such high quality it won a Perth Royal Beer Show gold medal before it has been formally released. Then the rest of us got to enjoy it. As clean as Jerry Seinfeld but drier than Bill Murray, this drop has gained a strong following leading into the festive season.
11. Rye ‘N Gose Sling – Colonial 4.5%
The beer was great. The name arguably the best of the year. And it showed a funkier side of Colonial that they carried forward in the second half of the year. This was another beer designed for GABS 2017. There was seawater from Margaret River region to make it a Gose and some West Winds Gin was thrown in for good measure. It was also later released to the masses for a teasingly short period.
12. James St Juice – NBC 4.1%
This showed how far NBC has developed as great craft brewing operation – just in time for Beerland’s expansion to Whitfords. As juicy as I Love Lucy. And it was a great credit to the Andrew Dean in getting it up in time to showcase at Fremantle Beer Fest. The appropriate haze is like looking through dirty old spectacles. We enjoyed a grapefruit touch.