It has been a tough year for the craft beer industry. Brewers across the country have faced economic pressures and decreased consumer demand, creating a challenging landscape for craft breweries.

Despite difficult market conditions, indie brewers have felt the support of craft beer lovers after 60,000 people registered to vote in the GABS Hottest 100, with 18,877 beers from 436 breweries entered into the poll and 63 making the top 100 list.

For the third time in the history of the poll, the top three positions were repeated in the same order as last year. Mountain Culture Beer Co scooped first place once again with their Status Quo Pale Ale, followed closely by Balter XPA in second position, and BentSpoke Crankshaft IPA in third.

Leading the way

The Shout spoke to Mountain Culture CEO and Co-Founder DJ McCready about another exciting GABS win, after its debut in first place last year.

“We’re just so extremely thankful. Thankful to all our staff that have shared their endless energy, creativity, passion and hard work. Thankful to our friends, families, and extended Mountain Culture family for all their support. And of course, thankful to our incredible customers. They voted. They did this. We always say we don’t brew for board members or investors, we brew for them.

“It’s been a really testing time for our brewers, but throughout it all our team have remained focused on quality. This moment feels like recognition of that fact.”

With so many fantastic beers in the running, McCready explained why he thinks Status Quo Pale Ale appealed to so many consumers, and how the brewery continues to stand out against other Australian craft breweries.

“We always try to give people something to talk about with our beers. Status Quo was the original hazy pale, a style we kinda made up because we wanted to keep the big, juicy flavours and the hazy appearance of a New England IPA but make it a bit more approachable and lower its alcohol content to be more in line with a pale ale.

“The duality of being a flavour bomb, but really drinkable, is what makes it a favourite at the pub, or wherever, of so many. We called it Status Quo because we knew that this needed to be the standard for our level of quality.

“We’re focused on helping more Aussies discover what really good beer is. That means always looking to make our beers better, being ultra-focused on quality and consistency. It means constantly catering for the core craft community that made us, using them to experiment, to test and learn.

“And it means just having a bloody good time. Beer is fun, and we want to bring more people into the craft beer world. A big part of that is loving what we do and having fun at every opportunity.”

Seven years on the podium

Coming in at second place, Balter Co-Founder and Brand Director Stirling Howland was just as pleased to hold the same position as last year for Balter XPA. 

“It’s been described as a decade defining beer in the Aussie craft scene. It straddles the world of being forward enough to engage more developed palates but also balanced enough to appeal to a broader drinking audience. Combine that with its availability, consistency and the appeal of the brand, you have a product that generates a lot of loyalty and each year our community shows up in droves to support it. The love folks show the Balter brand is never lost on us.”

In addition to placing on the podium with Balter XPA, the brewery had much more to celebrate with a total of five beers making the top 100 list.

“To have received our seventh podium, equal most beers in the 100 again, and having the highest ranked debuting beer is an incredible feeling and a testament to the depth and breadth of our brand and the wonderful folks who enjoy our beer and support us,” Howland added.

A new entry to the GABS Hottest 100, Balter Cerveza was the highest-ranking beer released in 2023. Reflecting on this accolade, Howland sees it as illustrative of the current tastes and preferences in the craft beer landscape.

“Cerveza has been such a welcomed edition to our beer lineup and to see it do so well on debut definitely put a big old grin on all our heads.

“I think it’s as simple as people wanting a well-made easy drinking beer in the repertoire. In a world of bombastic styles and flamboyance it’s nice to have a beer that you really enjoy but doesn’t demand all your attention and energy.”

Another beer that held its place from last year’s list was BentSpoke’s Crankshaft IPA, maintaining third position, and also in its seventh year on the podium. Richard Watkins, Head Brewer and Co-Founder of BentSpoke, told The Shout why he believes the beer has been able to retain its high position over the years, despite changing trends and consumer preferences.

“We’re very humbled that our little orange can from Canberra was voted for by so many people, no doubt great local loyalty but also support from people all around Australia. Most of the beers at the top have much bigger appeal and distribution, so feeling very supported by the craft beer community.

“The beer has become a favourite because it has widespread availability, it has great sessionability and drinkability for the style. Most people associate IPA with heavy bitterness, but Crankshaft has a restrained bitterness which appeals to consumers.”

With three beers placing in the top 100, Watkins believes that this is testament to the brewery’s high standard of production.

“We pride ourselves on the quality of our beers, we always have done. Consumers have the right to drink quality beer and we try and deliver this through our range and through innovation.

“We have invested in the right equipment to deliver consistent quality. Consumers have come to know that Bentspoke beers are reliable when they are handing over their hard-earned money.”

Showcasing craft beer

Through challenging times for craft breweries, Simone Clements, Head Brewer at Gage Roads, whose beer Single Fin was the highest ranked WA craft beer, feels that celebrations of this nature are crucial to the spirit of the industry.

“We were following along as the beer got announced, and we were pretty stoked. There’s that bit of tension as it gets towards the top end, and a beer that you thought might place hasn’t been announced yet, so you’re waiting and wondering if it will even get on the board at all.

“We were stocked to see Single Fin do so well. We’ve been growing as a brand and trying to get our presence out into the Eastern states, Queensland especially, and building our brand recognition. It’s a very easy drinking beer and I think it’s become popular for that reason.”

Speaking about the placing of Single Fin in sixth position, Clements said: “If people from other states might not have heard too much about Western Australian craft beer, and then they hear about Single Fin, they might look us up and become curious about what other beers are over there.

“Getting on the radar as a Western Australian beer can have a great impact for other breweries in the area. It’s great for people to be able to access that list, and to jump on and seek out breweries from other areas and promote awareness. It allows people to find out about beers they might not have heard of before.”

Sharing the same sentiment is Lewis Maschmedt, Head Brewer at Pirate Life Brewing, whose South Coast Pale Ale made its debut in the top 10 list.

“The GABS Hottest 100 has always been something we have enjoyed being a part of, and the competition is bigger and fiercer now so cracking the top 10 was a great feeling.

“Competitions and awards such as the GABS Hottest 100 have always been a great showcase for our industry and the results are often a catalyst for new consumers to try, and hopefully fall in love with, new beers.”

Reflecting on the tough year for the brewing industry, and the challenges it presented Pirate Life Brewing, Maschmedt said: “Consumers are prioritising sessionability and affordability these days. Our last top 10 was IIPA, which is a world away from most of the beers in this year’s top 10. It’s a sign that the line between craft and mainstream beers is blurring.

“I expect the representation for easy drinking ales and lagers to grow in the next few years as drinkers continue to seek out lower ABV, more approachable beer styles.

“We have been fortunate to grow, despite significant headwinds, however, we have had to rethink our offering to address these changes.”

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