The Critics' Choice: Australia's Best Beers 2011 »

The Top 100 Australian beers

By Kerry Scambler
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Stone and Wood Brewing Co - 330ml Pacific Ale

Stone and Wood Brewing Co - 330ml Pacific Ale

Stone and Wood Brewing Co, Byron Bay
Moorilla's famous
Bridge Road Brewers, Beechworth
The Critics' Choice – Australia's Best Beers


Looked in the beer fridge in your bottleshop lately? So many new beers, so many quirky labels and just what is a Rare Breed Double Hightail Ale? This handy little guide brings you Australia’s best 100 beers and a starting point for an amber filled journey.

There is no doubt the craft brewing industry in Australia is vibrant, growing and offering consumers an even more diverse and interesting range of beers to choose from than ever before.

According to The Breweries of Australia – A History by Keith Deutscher (published 1999), in 1890 there were 294 breweries. In 1990 there were just 11 but today, according to the Autumn edition of Beer and Brewer, there are now 235 breweries and brewing companies around the country.

Bottleshops and bars are increasingly realising the appeal of the craft beer and stocking more – more quirky labels, more variety in styles and taste and there are new beers arriving on the scene almost weekly.

With all these choices it can seem daunting – I know. The words ‘where on earth do I start’ were uttered when I left Boag’s after 13 years and stood in front of a beer fridge and focused for once on all the other brands available. But I knew it was going to be an enjoyable journey and managed to find a few to begin.

If you've ever wanted to dive into the world of the amber fluid but the array seems daunting and offering no logical place to start then, as they say 'do yourself a flavour' and find yourself a copy of The Critics Choice: Australia's Best Beers. At just $14.95, it's an inexpensive but very worthwhile investment in your journey forth in the beer world.

There have been a number of great beer books released in recent years – Willie Simpson's Beer Bible then The Australian Beer Companion where he took us through 100 of his favourite breweries; Greg Duncan-Powell released Beer - The Gauge for Enthusiasts in 2009 and updated this in 2010; then there's The Beer Lovers Guide to Australia. All great resources and informative for both the beer novice and lover and The Critics' Choice certainly takes its place in the library.

By providing a list of the beers most enjoyed by the critics, it provides the perfect place to start discovering the great beers available now. Just pick a page and get tasting!


Who are these beer critics?

The Voting Panel consisted of 39 beer aficionados from all backgrounds and across all states. This includes brewers from the larger operations like Max Burslem (40+ years at Cascade), Chuch Hahn (started Hahn Brewery and has led the craft beer movement), Roger Bussell (Swan Brewery) and Nick Sterenberg (Coopers) and craft brewers Dave Bonighton (Mountain Goat), Sam Fuss (Little Creatures/True South) and Hayden Mokaraka (Blue Sky Brewery).

There's wine writers and communicators including Beer Diva Kirrily Waldhorn, Matt Kirkegaard and Chris McNamara and managers of specialist retail outlets, bars and restaurant. Australia's first beer sommelier, Ian Watson, and author of The Entire Beast, Chris Badenoch also add their vast experience and passion to the Panel.

These people don't just know how beer is made, they know intimately what makes a beer eminently enjoyable and have voted accordingly.


The beers

The Voting Panel submitted their favourite beers, 448 in total. These represented 43 breweries around the country. When you think it’s not that long ago when most people would have named the big two brewers, Carlton and Lion Nathan, then Coopers and maybe J.Boag & Son as the main brewers in the country, it’s no wonder beer lovers are rejoicing. 

The Panel then voted on this list and the resulting top 100 beers are featured in The Critics’ Choice.  Each beer is detailed with its brewer, style, ABV, brewer’s description and Critic’s word. There are also a (very) basic food match, serving temperature and glass type recommendation.

Number 100 is Grand Ridge’s Moonshine and number 1 is Stone and Wood’s Pacific Ale. In between are:

  • 40 beers from Victoria,
  • 23 from NSW,
  • 16 from South Australia,
  • 10 from Western Australia
  • 8 from Tasmania and
  • 3 from ACT.

Being a Tasmanian beer lover, it’s a proud moment when you realise we have just 10 breweries in the state and WA has 43 so we weren't that far behind – must be something in the water here!

The stars of the breweries were: Murray’s Craft Brewing with 7 beers, then 5 each from Bridge Road Brewers, Holgate Brewhouse, James Squire, Matilda Bay, Mountain Goat and Red Hill Brewery. Coopers, Little Creatures and Tasmanian boutique brewer, Moo Brew, all had 4 beers included. 

If you’re already a beer lover, The Critics’ Choice can also remind you of past loves and perhaps prompt you to try again a beer that left you unimpressed the first time around. For me this was enjoying a cold, crisp James Boag’s Premium and trying Cascade Stout again, a beer long touted as one of the best stouts and now I realise why.


The verdict

Craft beer is, by virtue of the tax system, more expensive than mainstream beer so it’s wise to do some research first and for the price, this book will be a great investment to kick start your beer experiences.

Of course, beer taste is a very personal thing, so don’t be surprised if you don’t always agree with the judgements or even tasting notes but part of life’s fun is to open your mind to new flavour experiences.  And that's the key, open your mind.

During his time working in Australia for Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, a fine English gentleman, Edward Theakston (of the UK brewing family), provided me with some invaluable advice: ‘Prior to tasting, it is important to open the mind to accept the beer for what it is, not what you think it will be. For example – if you’re given a cup of unsweetened coffee when you’re expecting a cup of tea, the coffee can initially taste quite awful as your mind, nose and mouth are all expecting tea.’

Whether you’re already a beer lover or about to delve into the exciting world of craft beer, open your mind, part with $15 then, like me, start tagging your copy of The Critics’ Choice: Australia’s Best Beer. Just another 66 to go….


The Critics Choice: Australia's Best Beers by (Peter Mitcham Editor-at-Large) is published by Scribal Publishing (April 2011) RRP A$14.95.

It is available from bookstores, newsagents and some bottleshops. It can also be purchased online direct from subscribers and Members can win a copy of this book and a case of the number 1 beer from Stone and Wood – details here »


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June 01st, 2011
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