Wine in cans. Real ciders. Crisp lagers and farmhouse ales. These are a few of the exciting trends in evidence as we slide into summer, with Australian drinkers embracing new flavours and experiences.
Based in McLaren Vale, Riot Wine Co is the country's only winery focusing entirely on wine for distribution in kegs and cans. Riot winemaker Tom O'Donnell says this singular approach has advantages for the end product versus that of the big name wineries, which put the same wine in these emerging formats as they do bottles. "Wineries typically add sulphites to offset the oxidation that occurs when a bottle is opened and closed several times during consumption," he says. "We don't need to add any sulphites because it never goes into bottles. It comes in a can, which is a completely sealed single serve container. So our wine contains less than half of the sulphites of other commercial wines."
Launched in March 2017, Riot is now on tap at venues across Australia including all Three Blue Ducks restaurants and Merivale's The Collaroy and Coogee Pavilion in Sydney. The company has turned its attention to cans with three new products: Riot Blanc (2017 Sauvignon Blanc), Riot Rose (Grenache Sangiovese 2017) and Riot Cuvee (2017 Sparkling Chardonnay). The launch comes off the back of a remarkable few years for canned wine in the United States, where Nielsen data showed the category took $32 million in sales in the 12 months to August 2017, a 60 per cent increase on the previous year.
Australian craft beer drinkers have followed the US in their embrace of tinnies as vessel of choice. Wine will surely follow. "American consumers have embraced cans because of their convenience. You can take cans anywhere, whether it's on a boat or camping or hiking or going to a picnic," says O'Donnell. "You don't need glasses and you don't have to worry about carrying and disposing of a glass bottle."
Other winemakers embracing cans include Inkwell, also of McLaren Vale, with its offshoot brand Dub Style. The 2017 Dub Style Bubbly is billed as "the world's first preservative free sparkling, slightly sweet, extended skin contact viognier wine in a can". It can be enjoyed with or without ice and soda water.
Meanwhile, Tasmanian cider maker Willie Smith's has launched the country's first cider apple blend in cans. "Willie Smith's Traditional is a new world take on traditional English-style ciders," says co-founder Sam Reid. "It's blended with 30 per cent cider apples, so is a great way to introduce Australian palates to these styles.
"You wouldn't drink wine made out of sultana grapes or table grapes, although once upon a time we did in Australia," Reid says. "We hope that in years to come, people will say, 'You wouldn't drink ciders made from eating apples, you would use only purpose-grown cider fruit'."
Hops will undoubtedly figure strongly in the the craft beer lover's esky. Three letters, XPA, are appearing more frequently to denote pale ales that are extra pale, light in body and packed full of fruity aroma and flavour. Balter Brewing XPA was the key progenitor, exploding to the top of the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers earlier this year. The Gold Coast brewer has now added a mid-strength sibling, playfully named Captain Sensible. Yarra Valley, Victoria brewer Hargreaves Hill is the latest to the party with its Beatnik XPA, which maintains excellent drinkability despite its intense hop character.
Fruit-infused beers continue to gain momentum. There's Passion Victim, a passionfruit summer ale from Melbourne's Two Birds Brewing. In Sydney, Wayward Brewing Company has launched its Raspberry Berliner Weisse in cans. "This ridiculously refreshing beer is bursting with bright raspberry flavours, balanced by zippy tartness and a crisp, dry finish," say the brewers.
Lagers also have an increasing role to play as craft brewers become more deft in handling the delicate characters of these styles. Look no further than the 2018 champion at The Indies beer awards, Mismatch Lager. Brewed in the Adelaide Hills, it is inspired by the great Helles-style beers of Munich, Germany.
In Byron Bay, Stone & Wood co-founder Brad Rogers hopes Aussie drinkers will warm to saisons this summer. These Belgian-style ales were originally created to provide sustenance and refreshment to thirsty farm workers. "I think saison as a beer style is very approachable, it's quite refreshing and moreish," he says.
Originally a winemaker, Rogers has created a new brand, Forest for the Trees, to satisfy his passion for the beer style he believes is most akin to an aromatic white wine. Debut release Forest for the Trees Saison is packaged in 750ml bottles for sharing and offers complex aromas of fruit and spice, before finishing dry and zesty. It's the ultimate beer to enjoy with a cheese platter on a picnic rug, but would be equally at home on the table of a fine dining establishment.
Spirits lovers need not be left out of the party, with the continued proliferation of fine liquors and fancy sodas with which to enjoy them in summery mixed drinks. StrangeLove has released new soda flavours including Fancy Lemonade, suited to mixing with sweeter gins, and Citrus Grapefruit. The latter is designed for drinking with tequila and mezcal, though it's also enjoyed on its own, poured over ice.
"We took white grapefruits from Cuba and combined them with delicate grapefruit essential oils and pink flake salt from the Murray River," says StrangeLove's James Bruce. "The natural saltiness of this mixer perfectly rounds and smooths any premium tequila while the sour tang of grapefruit balances and accentuates the top notes."
Check out the gallery above to see 10 top drinks to enjoy this summer.