at Local Taphouse
Twelve years isn’t a long time in many ways, but in the dog years of craft beer it’s an eternity.
Looking back, 2008 was a pivotal time for brewing. Black IPAs were only starting to have their brief moment in the stylistic sun. New England, Brut, Hazy and Milkshake IPAs were all well in the future, waiting for the convergence of explosive competition and social media-fuelled drinker attention deficit to drive the rapidly mutating hop-forward beer styles we experience now.
In 2008 we were deep into the bitterness wars as the hop-forward pale ales that sparked the craft beer revolution grew into bolder IPAs, and the East Coast/West Coast divide was opening.
“If a little bit of bitterness is good, a lot must be better,” brewers seemed to say in unison as they drove IBU levels skywards.
It was an arms race that saw Mikkeller go nuclear with a 1,000 IBU IPA.
Australian breweries, too, wanted to make a statement, they wanted to announce their presence with authority. Beers with aggressive bitterness were the order of the day. The more aggressive, the better.
It was in this atmosphere that three industry veterans – Brad Rogers, Jamie Cook and Ross Jurisich – announced they were leaving the ‘big house’ of Fosters to do their own thing. There was much anticipation as to what they were going to launch.
Brewer Brad Rogers had introduced one of the first American pale ales into the country – Alpha Pale Ale – while brewing for a craft, or ‘crafty’ arm of Foster’s. It was a beautifully-designed beer at the hoppy higher end of the style that showed what he could do, even under the inevitable constraints of working for a mega brewer.
With that pedigree and such competition to assert oneself, what would one of Australia’s best-regarded brewers do to stand above the pack?
And then the first beer was launched. And its gimmick was…balance.
At a time of escalating IBUs and ABVs, the brewery - named Stone and Wood - actually dialed it back a notch. Or two. They created a 4.4% abv, 22 IBU antipodean riff on an English Summer Ale, brewed with a recently launched hop bred by Hop Products Australia, called Galaxy.
Brad had been introduced to Galaxy when it had been trialled at Fosters, but the mega brewery had dismissed it as having too much character. Yet the new hop inspired something in Brad and he unleashed its lychee and passionfruit notes in a brilliantly aromatic beer that was hazy before haze was cool.
Drinking a Pacific Ale (it was originally launched as Draught Ale) wasn’t an experience to be endured, it was a pleasure to enjoy. And enjoy again. And again.
In the intervening 12 years, Stone and Wood has grown to become Australia’s largest independent brewer. The aromatic-but-sessionable ale, novel in its day, has been widely emulated and can be regarded as one of the most influential on the local beer scene. And the hop it popularised, Galaxy, has come globally recognised.
In a nice little piece of symmetry, 2008 also saw the opening of one of Australia’s most influential beer venues, The Local Taphouse, St Kilda. While not the first pub in Australia to pour Pacific Ale, on a Melbourne summer’s day its rooftop beer garden is the perfect place to enjoy a jar or two.
The Local Taphouse also gave birth to what has grown to become the country’s largest, and most important, consumer polls – the GABS Hottest 100 Craft Beers.
It’s held each year in January, with more than 40,000 votes cast on the best craft beers of the year, and despite being a veteran Flagship these days, Stone & Wood Pacific Ale has always been at or near the top of the list.
Held this year on the last weekend of January, almost as a herald of Flagship February, Stone & Wood Pacific Ale was again named the hottest Australian craft beer. Of 2019. Almost twelve years after it was first released.
I’ll raise a Flagship glass to that.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.