Better tasting beer

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With Australia’s national drinking habits going through significant changes and despite a decline in overall alcohol consumption, premium, craft and low-carb brew production is on the rise.

Australians now drink a moderate 9.89L of pure alcohol each year, making us lesser drinkers than the English, yet bigger boozers than our US counterparts.

So, why is it that the craft, boutique and premium beer markets are growing – making up 7.8% of the 7.9 billion dollar beer industry?

According to Snowy Mountains Brewery founder, Kevin O’Neill, the evolution of the Aussie drinker means that “people are starting to realise and appreciate the differences between a mass produced standard beer and a crafted boutique brew.”

This is reflected in the growth figures of this market segment – showing continuing growth over the past five years with 11.3% recorded for last year.

Despite the global financial crises and a notable downturn across the retail sector, consumers tend to continue their alcoholic beverage purchases in tougher times. However, this too is undergoing change.

For O’Neill, these preferences “tend to be based on taste and quality, rather than on price. Ironically, people continue to buy alcoholic beverages, but the tendency is now more toward quality than quantity. This shows that it is more about enjoyment and appreciation than drowning one’s sorrows.”

Does size matter?

Boutique and craft breweries tend to follow traditional recipes, being committed to using quality natural ingredients, paying particular attention to the flavour of the unique ales they produce.

Using state of the art brewing technology and equipment, Snowy Mountains Brewery utilises the latest in closed-vat fermentation technology, which is reflected in the taste of the beers.

“This allows us to not only have the best brewing process, but to minimise water wastage and operate with as <[lb]>much energy efficiency as possible,” O’Neill explained.

Largely, the craft beer industry sticks to the four basic ingredients for their beers – barley, hops, yeast and water – without the use of adjuncts, chemical additives or preservatives.

Many mass produced liquid ambers are brewed using corn or rice grain for their higher levels of fermentable sugars, which reflects in higher yields, yet lesser taste. When produced in such masses, any degree of better yield can generate a much greater profit margin. While smaller breweries do need to look at yields, their smaller quantities of brews mean the focus can remain on taste.

Although not enforceable in Australia, and repealed in 1987, the oldest beverage law in the world, the German Reinheits Gebot (purity law) from 1516 stated that only the four basic ingredients are permitted for use in brewing beer.

Many craft brewers choose to comply with this traditional guideline in ensuring their beers are brewed without additives and adjuncts to offer the best quality and taste.

O’Neill, who also embraces the Reinheits Gebot, started the alpine craft beer label Snowy Mountains Brewery after he realised that there was no local Snowy Mountains brew, such as those found in other snow resorts around the world. Since his first batch in 2004, for which he actually transported the alpine snow to the brewery, the passionate skier has collected a keg full of awards for his four distinct brews – his Pale Ale, Red Ale, Hefeweizen (wheat beer) and Pilsner – all modern interpretation of traditional recipes.

It is becoming clear that Australian beer drinkers are moving more toward quality versus quantity, meaning choosing premium, craft and boutique ales over the middle of the road standard beers. In the face of financial turmoil, consumers choices are certainly changing.