Newcastle: Australia’s love affair with beer is timeless but the latest brew capturing hearts and palates isn’t light, low-carb, low-calorie or imported – it’s craft.
Craft beer popularity is at a high and nowhere more so than Newcastle, the unofficial craft beer capital of Australia.
The former steel city hosts its own week-long homage to boutique beer with an annual craft beer festival, while Murray Howe, owner of Murray’s Brewery said his brews were on three times more taps in pubs in Newcastle than in any other pubs across the country.
So The Daily Telegraph hit the foreshore yesterday to test whether these beer discerning Novocastrians could tell the difference between craft and the mainstream staples (such as VB) or cheap overseas imports sold in supermarkets which ale snobs would probably sneer at.
While the results were surprising, with the ladies outpointing the blokes in picking the brews, they were in line with current trends which have seen women being among the biggest drivers fuelling craft beer popularity.
According to IBISWorld’s craft beer production report, boutique beer revenues have shot up 10.5 per cent over the past five years, including a 6.4 per cent jump in the past year.
Looking forward, the industry research company anticipates the craft beer industry’s revenue will rise by an average 5.6 per cent a year over the next five years, reaching $195.1 million by 2018.
It is a brewing expansion which Mr Howe said Newcastle pubs had taken to heart more than Sydney counterparts.
“Newcastle pubs are very open to craft beer, whereas the Sydney venues are still very much under the influence of the (multinational) brewers and that’s stopping craft beers from getting on to taps,” he said.
The Queens Wharf Brewery and Murray’s Craft Brewing Co are leading the charge in locally brewed libations, while The Burwood Inn at Merewether pours more craft beers on tap than any other kind and at The Clarendon nearly half the taps are craft beer.
The Albion is one of Australia’s leading craft beer pubs, while the newly opened Grain Store is nirvana for craft beer lovers with 20 beers on tap.
We randomly approached locals Tanya Forester, 25, Ebony Madden, 21, and Jacqui Moriarty, 18, to taste three craft beers and a couple of either mainstream beers or cheap overseas imports.
Then we blindfolded them to try three of the five beers they’d just tasted to see if they could tell the difference between “craft or crap” and whether they could name the craft beers or at least identify them from the order in which they first tasted it.
Mrs Forester and Ms Moriarty, who enjoy “the odd beer now and again” but weren’t full-time beer drinkers smashed it with a perfect score, while Ms Madden easily discerned between “craft or crap” but fell down on naming her last beer, a South Australian brew called Vale Ale.
We then got Mrs Forester’s husband Luke, 28, and two of his mates Brad East, 28 and Clint West, 27, to do the same test.
East started strongly with a perfect score but Forester bombed out and couldn’t name any of the beers he’d just tasted, nor could he tell the difference between a craft beer and an import.
West only fared marginally better, picking the overseas import but was unable to name either of the craft beers he’d tasted only moments earlier.