Stone & Wood Pacific Ale has cemented its status as Australians' favourite craft beer, recording a record tenth consecutive podium placing in the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers of 2019.
The staunchly independent Pacific Ale reclaimed top spot with Balter XPA dropping back into second, following the Gold Coast brewery's sale to Carlton & United Breweries in early December.
Pacific Ale has been the outstanding performer in the Hottest 100's history, debuting at #14 in the 2009 poll (under its original moniker 'Draught'), moving to #3 in 2010 and never straying from the podium since, including wins in 2011, 2015, 2016 and now 2019.
"To me, it's a testament both to the beer's quality and consistency, but importantly to the community and lifestyle they've built around the brand," commented GABS Festival event director Craig Williams.
Under new management
While Williams continues to head up the GABS team, the festival and poll are now under new ownership.
In November last year, Melbourne-based founders Steve Jeffares and Guy Greenstone sold the franchise to media and marketing entrepreneur Mike Bray and 5th Avenue Investment Group, in order to focus attentions on their other business, Stomping Ground Brewing Co.
From its base in Collingwood, Stomping Ground will spread its wings across the city in the coming months, opening new brewpubs at Melbourne Airport and Moorabin.
To their credit, Jeffares and Greenstone had previously excluded their own beers to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.
No surprises here
But the sale cleared the way for them to enter their beers for the first time; Stomping Ground's flagship Gipps St Pale Ale debuted at 38th.
Bentspoke Brewing's Crankshaft was again voted into third place, so aside from positional changes, the podium has been unchanged for the last three years.
But Williams rejects any suggestion that the poll is becoming predictable, with a total of 30 first-time entrants this year, 19 of which were brewed for the first time in 2019.
"I still see the signs that the poll is in really good shape, when you've got breweries that made a beer for the first time six months ago get voted in," he says.
"I think people forget that Balter's only been the poll since they've been around, which is the last four years.
"There's only two or three beers that are really longstanding in the top ten, and I think they deserve to be there.
"To be honest, there is really not a lot of votes separating the beers that poll anywhere between about sixth and 20th, so it could change quite quickly year-on-year."
Check out the gallery above to see the top 10 beers from this year's GABs
Williams says the contrasting fortunes of two breweries illustrate that the poll is still very much in a state of flux.
Little known outside of Queensland's Sunshine Coast, Your Mates Brewing Company got three beers into the top 100, with its Larry Australian Pale Ale rising to fifth.
And Pirate Life Brewing, which has previously had beers polling as high as second (Pirate Life IIPA, 2016), did not feature at all in this year's Hottest 100.
"I don't think they really campaigned for the poll this year, but it still seems like they weren't picking up the votes they naturally did in previous years," says Williams.
Ben Summons, CEO of Stone & Wood's parent company Fermentum, acknowledges that Pacific Ale's national availability plays a significant role in voting.
"When your brand has broad reach, you've got more people who know you and are familiar with you, and happy to give you a vote," he said.
"But what I liked about this year was that there's a lot of newer breweries shooting up, so it's a great chance for them to build a profile as well."
Public opinion matters
Illustrating the gulf in resources between Stone & Wood and other independent breweries in the poll, advertisements for Pacific Ale have recently been sighted on buses around the Sydney metropolitan area.
"We're a large business in the craft beer scene, relatively. Pacific Ale has reached a point where we need to spend a little bit of our hard-earned dollars on advertising to try and reach some more people," says Summons.
A record 35,500 beer lovers placed more than 177,000 votes for their favourite craft beers in the 2019 poll.
"In many ways the Hottest 100 has grown organically alongside the Australian craft beer industry, while holding a mirror to it at the same time," commented Williams.
"In its very early days, there might have been only 50 craft breweries in all of Australia."
Listen to a documentary podcast exploring the success of Stone & Wood Pacific Ale here.