American brews steal the show at Good Beer Week 2017

Good Beer Week has arrived, with the country's brewing community descending on Melbourne to help stage 300-plus events at more than 200 participating venues.

It's the biggest week in Australian beer, and this time locals will be joined by an unprecedented line-up of American brewers.

Participants run the full gamut from icons like Sierra Nevada, Goose Island and Brooklyn Brewery, to smaller regional outfits like Commons and Breakside out of Portland.

Late to the party

Our market for craft beer is tiny in comparison to the US, and we are often touted as being a decade or more behind in our embrace of more challenging beer styles. So what's the big attraction for the Americans?

"Australia is a pretty exciting market with a lot of people that like to travel and a lot of people that like to dine out and try new beers," says Miro Bellini, one of the festival's organisers and the Australian ambassador for Brooklyn Brewery.

And if somehow you hadn't noticed, Americana is huge right now in Australia's drinking and dining scene. American-themed bars and diners continue to multiply in our major cities, offering imported craft beers to complement burgers, barbecue and other American fare.

A critical mass

But there are is another driver for the incursion, with increasingly fierce competition among American breweries in their home market.

There are now more than 5300 breweries in the US, a number forecast to swell to an incredible 7700 in the next few years. Developing export markets has become a more appealing prospect for American brewers than fighting for taps and shelf space at home.

"It is a crowded market, there's no doubt about it," says Michael Corrigan, vice president of sales at Colorado's New Belgium Brewing.

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"But because of the competition, everybody's game has been raised. There's better brews coming out from more brewers that have higher quality and better consistency than they've ever had."

Corrigan says it was consumer appetite for American craft beer that enticed New Belgium to launch its beers in Australia last year.

"The world is just getting to be a flatter place. There's more and more consumers that are becoming aware of what American craft beer is and what makes it unique," he says.

Mergers and acquisitions

There is also the ongoing buyouts of American craft breweries by the multinationals, increasing the availability of their beers in markets such as Australia.

Heineken last week completed its purchase of California's Lagunitas Brewing Company, which has announced its impending launch in Australia.

Another new arrival is Goose Island Brewing, the Chicago pioneer that was acquired in 2011 by the world's biggest brewer, AB InBev. Goose Island has been introduced by ABI's local subsidiary Carlton & United Breweries.

"For Chicagoans, Australia has always seemed like a far-away dream, so when we realised that there was a craft beer revolution happening in Australia and a demand for American craft beers, we wanted to be here," says the brewery's head of education, Cristina Perozzi.

Gaps in the boom

Australian craft beer has progressed considerably since the first Good Beer Week took place with a modest 40 events in 2011. The impressive debuts of companies like Modus Operandi in Sydney and Pirate Life in Adelaide mean we no longer have to look offshore for our India Pale Ale fix, with world class examples now produced at home.

But there are some beer styles produced in the US that are yet to find their equal in Australia, according to Good Beer Week's Miro Bellini.

"I think if you look at what some of these breweries are doing with barrel-ageing, that there aren't too many Australian breweries that are really heavily invested in that," he says.

"White Rabbit and Boatrocker are two Australian breweries that make amazing barrel-aged beers.

"But if you look at Goose Island and Deschutes and Brooklyn Brewery, who I represent, they've got years of working with barrels and running experimental programs."

Getting the message across

And Bellini says that with craft beer still occupying only a small segment of the market in Australia, the participation of well-resourced US brewers has other benefits beyond unique beers.

"It takes a lot of work to broadcast craft beer to a new market, to tell people outside of Melbourne CBD about IPAs, brown ales and stouts. That's a big investment," he says.

"These breweries can help tell that story and I believe it's part of broadening the market. These are breweries that are quite advanced and it helps set a higher standard for the festival."

All for one

Far from feeling threatened by the competition, Bellini says many Australian brewers are as excited as punters themselves about visits from some of the American names that inspired them to get into the industry.

"That's shown in the amount of collaborations that are going on. I think the scene is very collegiate, there's a lot of people welcoming in these American breweries," he says.

Bellini is steeling himself for a big week ahead, with Brooklyn set to collaborate on events with Footscray brewery Hop Nation as well as Braeside's Boatrocker.

"We've got 16 events in nine days and I'll be at 15 of them," he says.

Good Beer Week runs from Friday May 12 to Sunday May 21. Visit www.goodbeerweek.com.au for the full schedule of events.

Check out the gallery above to see 10 of the best American craft beers to stock in your esky.