The Critics Choice 2015 – Top 12 Countdown

The Critics’ Choice: Australia’s Best Beers lists the top 100 beers from 2014 as voted by 36 of Australia’s leading beer critics, of which I am lucky enough to be one of this year’s (and every year’s since inception!) members on the voting panel. Needless to say, it’s one of my favourite things to do each year as I contemplate another year of fantastic beer.

Number 1 – Feral Brewing – Hop Hog

Congratulations to what has to be the most highly awarded, greatly admired beer in Australian beer history!! The Feral Hop Hog is a beast that explodes with citrusy flavours and hop aromas, rounded out with a solid malt backbone. A farmload of American hops makes Hop Hog a uniquely Feral brew… and just a little fruity.

Here’s what we said about Feral’s Hop Hog: “There is nothing undomesticated about this highly coveted American style India Pale Ale (IPA)… it’s an exhilarating ride, with each turn offering impeccable, in your face, fresh, piney, citrus-laced hops which are faultlessly matched at the next turn with sweet, mellow caramel maltiness.”

A beer that makes Critics Choice Editor Pete Mitcham break out into song: “Hello Hop Hog my old friend, I see you’re number one again…” With apologies to Simon & Garfunkel for butchering a classic. Although, if the folksy warblers had ever had a Hop Hog they would probably be so inspired as to come up with something far more tuneful, expressive and worthy of such a highly acclaimed and consistently high quality beer.

Number 2 – Stone & Wood – Pacific Ale

Number 2 in the Critics’ Choice top 100 is inspired by Byron Bay on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and brewed using all Australian barley, wheat and Galaxy hops, Pacific Ale is cloudy and golden with a big fruity aroma and a refreshing finish.

Brews News’ Matt Kirkegaard asks: “What is there left to be said about this beer from Stone & Wood? It’s artfully crafted to straddle that fine line between satisfying and moreish. It has indisputable provenance and character. More than any other beer it ignited Australia’s – and the world’s – love for Galaxy hops. The pale ale with an almost phosphorescent glow is cropping up everywhere and the brewery is running to keep up with our demand. What else is there to say? Thanks, and cheers!”

Number 3 – Holgate Brewhouse – Temptress

Another one of my favourite brews has gained its place in the Top 12! The Holgate Temptress is brewed with over 300 kg of malt and infused with a dash of rich Dutch cocoa and whole vanilla beans. Luscious chocolate, coffee, and caramel flavors are balanced by a hint of vanilla and a body of 6% alcohol. This luxurious brew is winning more admirers every year as it steadily climbs up the top 12. We paired this double chocolate porter with the melodic sounds of London Grammar… check it out here.

Justin Joiner from The Local Taphouse calls it “an instant classic, when it was first brewed in 2008 and now with a cult following, the Temptress is hard to resist. Chocolate, vanilla and coffee notes come together in this perfectly balanced comfort beer. Best served on nitro or through a hand pump to give it luxurious creaminess.”

Number 4 – La Sirene – Saison

Can you tell I like Saisons! It looks like the rest of the critics do as well with another saison appearing in the top 12! La Sirene’s Saison has taken out the fourth spot in the top 100! An archetypal farmhouse ale rendered in a classic style, with a subtle backdrop of premium European Pilsner malt and understated hops allowing citrus yeast characters to take centre stage. Aromas of Orange Blossom and apricots are evident in their Saison along with some forest floor tones on the palate along with some restrained tart sourness and a lingering balanced finish.

As a huge fan of these rustic farmhouse ales, I was asked to comment on the La Sirene Saison, which went like this, “the beer that has, for many, gently lifted the ‘beer is beer’ veil, redefining classic misconceptions. A funky, fruity farmhouse brew produced by brewers who are single-minded in their endeavours to extend their hands to Australians and guide them gracefully along a daring walk on the wild side.” Here, here!

Number 5 – Bridge Road Brewers – Beechworth Pale Ale

Number 5 in the Critics’ Choice top 100 is a hand crafted “new world” pale ale. The Beechworth Pale Ale from Bridge Road Brewers is dry hopped with both U.S and N.Z hop varieties.

Pete Mitcham explains how “other US-inspired pale ales may have gained more critical acclaim over the past few years, but this one itself paved the way for many of them. One of the original beers in the core range, it’s a New World interpretation which means it has been given the Ben Kraus Treatment and permission to be tweaked from season to season.”

Number 6 – Nail Brewing – Clout Stout

This is one of those ‘try before you die’ beers… it may seem indulgent but it’s so worth it. The Clout Stout by Nail Brewing is class, elegance and sophistication all wrapped up in a beautiful 750ml bottle.  It’s “a Russian Imperial Stout brewed for the beer connoisseur. It is black and thick, initially sweet and full bodied before developing into a smooth, bittersweet finish. Clout Stout is a powerful beer that blows the mouth away in complexity and depth, where every sip warms and hypnotizes you.”

Pete Mitcham ponders how “the beer world is full of amazing anomalies. We have Black ‘Pale’ Ales and Scotch Ales which are Belgian and 95% of what the country drinks is 1% of the beer styles. And then there’s this. It’s a limited release, it’s cellared and aged before it gets to you and it’s worth a lot more than a stubby of VB and yet the Critics keep sticking it high on their list. Sometimes ‘exceptional quality’ is the only excuse you need.”

Number 7 – Bridge Road Brewers’ – Chevalier Saison

Definitely a beer that is always in my top 10 is the Bridge Road Brewers’ Chevalier Saison, the classic French Farmhouse Ale from the back of Beechworth. Light straw in colour, with a tight bright white head. Aromas are dominated by esters and phenolic characters, owing to the Saison yeast strain, which also gives the beer its characteristic tart, dry and acidic profile.

I was asked for a review of this beer, which went like this: “the Saison DuPont of Australia is challenging conventions and delivering a paradigm-shifting rustic brew. Once you experience this left of centre beer, life will never be the same again… it will be better. The Chevalier Saison is the beer you want on your dining table, promoting lively conversation and transforming a good meal into a great meal.” Click here for our BeerStyle take on this beer.

Number 8 – Mountain Goat Summer Ale

Number 8 in the Critics’ Choice top 100 is the Mountain Goat Summer Ale. With this beer Mountain Goat brought the ‘tinny’ back explaining that “cans are the perfect beer vessel for summer, they’re lighter and keep the beer safe from UV exposure. They’re also more recyclable than glass.”

Critics’ Choice Editor Pete Mitcham writes that “a couple of recipe tweaks sees this ‘can of carbonated smiles’ take another top 12 spot in the Critics’ Choice. Clean and refreshing but with the added surprise of some firm hop aroma and flavour, this is a beer that’s made for drinkin’ and not for thinkin’. Think about that.

Number 9 – La Sirene Praline

Number 9 in the Critics’ Choice top 100 is La Sirene Brewery’s Praline. The Brewer’s tasting notes are mouth watering: “A very special Belgian chocolate ale. Building on a Belgian stout base, it is brewed with organic vanilla pods, cacao nibs from Mexico and hazelnuts and with a creamy body, it is velvety, dark and seductive. Can you stop at one?”

Matt Kirkegaard from Brews News notes that “Costa Nikias’ little La Sirene brewery has burst onto the beer landscape and into the glasses of beer drinkers nationally with his elegant Belgian-styled ales. Praline is his stand-up-and-take-notice beer that debuted as the People’s Choice winner at the 2014 Great Australasian Beer Spectapular and its wow factor continues unabated. While many adjunct beers rely almost on shock value to stand out, this velvety smooth concoction of organic vanilla pods, cacao nibs and hazelnuts shows beer’s culinary potential while retaining balance and control.”

Number 10 – Feral Brewing Company Watermelon Warhead

Number 10 in the Critics’ Choice top 100 Feral Brewing Company’s Watermelon Warhead, described in their tasting notes as “A light German style sour wheat beer brewed with an addition of half a ton of local Swan Valley watermelons. The beer spends up to 15 weeks in white wine barrels with lactobacillus before being blended to the desired taste and sourness. A fresh, spritzy and refreshing beer.”

Justin Joiner from The Local Taphouse sums it up as “perhaps the beer with the most cultish of cult followings. The amount of flavour and complexity in this beer belies its light body and alcohol volume. Spritzy and tart (without being puckeringly sour), and with a hint of watermelon, it’s the ultimate refreshment. The perfect relief on a hot summers day.”

Number 11 – Little Creatures Pale Ale

The evergreen Little Creatures Pale Ale and the stalwart of American Pale Ales in Australia. Part of the perfect dozen from the very beginning the LC Pale Ale shows no sign of quitting. A beer which continues to quench the palates of thousands of Australians.

Brews News’ Matt Kirkegaard notes that the LC Pale Ale is ‘commonly cited as an ‘epiphany’ beer, this is also the beer that has inspired more contemporary brewers than any other to get into the game. More lately it has been subject to the ‘it’s not the same beer as it once was’ discussion amongst drinkers whose taste have moved further along the hop spectrum. Yes, it has changed, craft beers always will, to tweak the beer as seasons and hops change but not all change is bad. This is still a beer brewed by brewers for beer lovers.’

Number 12 – Riverside Brewing Company 777 Imperial IPA

The first beer in The Critics’ Choice top dozen is the 777 Imperial IPA from Riverside Brewing Company. In the brewer’s notes they explain that “the ‘777’ Imperial IPA is brewed with a massive amount of four different US hop varieties, including a healthy dose of the relatively new hop, Mosaic giving aroma’s of tropical, citrus and pine. We add enough malt to give ‘777’ a solid backbone, but not enough to ensure the hops take centre stage. ‘777’ is unfiltered and comes in at a whopping 9.2% ABV.”

Crafty Pint founder James Smith gives us his take on the 777 IIPA: ‘How do you better one of the best IPAs in Australia? For what turned out to be his swan song, former Riverside head brewer Dave Padden (now launching Akasha Brewing) took his superb 77, upped the booze and hops, yet kept it impeccably taut and balanced. Minds were suitably blown.’

The Critics’ Choice: Australia’s Best Beers ebook
RRP $9.95
Available from


11th March, 2015


This discussion is closed.