One could suggest that craft beer has come of age; the child has grown into a man through patient nurturing and the blind avalanche of praise that appears to pass for parenting nowadays. The beard has definitely grown big and bushy and with this maturity comes the time to speak a few home truths to ensure craft beer, indeed all beer, continues to grow and evolve.
Love or loathe beer competitions, brewers love to crow about their successes but are far more muted about their failures. Around 50 per cent of beers entered into competitions in Australia do not get a medal – essentially indicating that they are faulty. Infected, aged, oxidised, sulphury, imbalanced … take your pick, but it’s literally a sobering statistic.
Not that making beer isn’t a tricky business, it is, but there’s simply no excuse for half of all beers (the big boys too) having quality problems. The brewers rightly have to take most of the blame.
But retailers often take the easy option and look to GPs and an entertaining brewery rep over and above quality; consumers are easily blinded by the brand, the size of the brewers beard or the thrill of an improbable hop bill.
The wine industry, admittedly much greater in complexity and scale than beer, relies heavily on ratings to assist purchasers. Books are written yearly by the informed for that very purpose, and woe betide the poor vintage. So perhaps it’s time for the beer industry to engage in some hard love and follow suit. A rating of 1-5, beards of course.
Neal started William Bull Brewery for De Bortoli wines in 2005 before moving to Sydney to start the Australian Brewery in 2010. He is a regular judge of competitions around the country, and was appointed Chief Judge at the Sydney Royal show in 2013.
As a writer he has been technical editor for Beer Buyers Guide (2013), Ultimate Cider Guide (2013) and Explore Beer (2014). He also has his own consultancy business, The Institute of Beer.