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Comment: 2014 in review

From the increase in new breweries pumping out new beers, to the emergence of more craft beer bars, 2014 has not been short of news for the increasing number of fans of Australian Craft Beer.

As we reach the end of the year, we’ve put together some of the top trends that 2014 brought us.

New and expanding breweries

The pace of new brewery openings seems to have been relentless this year. With some of them making a big impact from the beginning: Modus Operandi picked up four gongs at the CBIA awards and then some more at the Sydney Royal Beer & Cider Show.

The growth of new breweries hasn’t just been confined to the traditional home of Australian Craft Beer, Victoria, with the number of breweries in NSW now almost the same. And maybe more significantly, has been the growth of new breweries in South East Queensland feeding the growing Brisbane demand for craft beer. Together with a growing scene in WA, craft beer is now truly nationwide. We even saw the opening of the Northern Territory’s first craft beer brewery, One Mile at Palmerston.

Major expansions this year have been undertaken by Stone & Wood, Two Birds, Mornington Peninsular and 4 Pines which is noticeable with their beers almost always featuring on taps, even in some of the more traditional hotels and clubs.

Increasing both small and larger breweries have been opening tasting rooms or bars on site attracting big crowds very quickly. Certainly Bacchus in Queensland quickly went from opening just at the weekend to opening all day, every day. And those new breweries that have opened from the beginning with a bar are seeing the commercial and promotional benefits of being able to drink at the brewery.

New craft beer bars

This year has changed the once desperate search for craft beer into one of desperately trying to decide which bar/s to visit.

And those bars are moving more into the mainstream, both in terms of the type of clientele and their locations. No longer on the edge of cities, hidden down some alley, they are now appearing front and centre in high traffic areas, with the conversion of previous beer deserts to havens of taps. And the prevalence of Ned Kelly beards, whilst still high, is reducing especially with more and more women beginning to try craft beer.

Increased availability of bottled (and canned) craft beer

We’ve seen the appearance of Australian Craft Beer in mainstream bottle shops add to the foreign imports with specific labelled “Craft Beer” cabinets increasing in number and size. They now often outnumber those selling “Classic” beers such as XXXX, VB, Crown etc.

Saisons

This rather rare type of beer has made some significant inroads this year with the appearance of Saisons everywhere. La Sirene’s range attracting a lot of attention and great reviews, both for the design of their labels and more importantly the taste.

Other notables include 4 Pines Xmas Saison and Croft’s Saison Grenade.

Handpumps

Whilst still very rare, they are beginning to appear in more venues to serve those beers best suited for this English dispensing method, especially real ales and porters. It just needs staff to be properly trained to use them, as many times this year we’ve seen the drain pour of too much beer trying to fill a schooner.

Impact on the big brewers

Whilst Craft Beer is still a small percentage of beer sales, it is clear that the big brewers are beginning to notice the inroads. Their response, however, has varied from dismissing, and ignoring, the trend through to announcing increases in production of their craft beer brands. It doesn’t appear that they have any particular strategy for dealing with what’s coming.

We’ve also seen both major supermarket chains start to enter the market in a bigger way.

Wineries regions

Whether it’s due to skill sets or easy to use locations, the wineries regions are seeing more and more breweries co-located. Margaret River certainly now boasts significant numbers of breweries with plenty in the Adelaide Hills and now a few in the Hunter River Region.

Closures

Sadly this year has seen the closure of Blue Sky of Cairns and the announcement of the closure of the Port Melbourne location of Matilda Bay Brewing. Also announced was the closure of the White Rabbit facility in Healesville. The latter two may be relocations (and expansions) but the moves will see the loss of the Matilda Bay bar and tasting room.

But given the number of new breweries, the failure of one craft brewery, and the moving of two craft brewery imprints is not significant. But it does point to two distinct issues facing breweries: expanding without going bankrupt and the need for expansion space to meet wider national demand.

And so onto 2015 …. and our view of what might be coming.

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