A young duo from Scotland have put some excitement and intrigue back into the industry.
Every beer importer worth his or her salt daydreams about stumbling on the next big thing on the global stage, bringing it into Australia and making a killing.
It's all about timing and a whole lot of luck.
Tactical Nuclear Penguin comes with its own stopper and Barker recommends drinking it over a five- to six-week period.
Queensland importer The Hop & Spirit Company was quick off the mark to sign up BrewDog, a brash new Scottish craft brewery that has been grabbing plenty of headlines worldwide since launching in mid-2007.
"I had a friend in the UK who told me a couple of years ago about these two young guys who'd started this great craft brewery in Scotland," the managing director of Hop & Spirit, Neil Barker, says. "We brought in a couple of pallets at the beginning of 2008 and it went down really well."
The co-founders of BrewDog, James Watt and Martin Dickie, were 24 years old when they started the venture, with their motto "Beer for punks". This summed up their determination to shake up the beer world with something new.
"We were both on the same wavelength with our disenchantment of the British brewing scene and knew that it was about time there was some excitement and intrigue and cool put back into the industry," Dickie is quoted as saying in 1001 Beers You Must Taste before You Die (Universe Publishing, 2010).
The two men seem more inspired by what's happening at the sharp end of the craft-beer scene in the US. BrewDog's core range of beers, Punk IPA, Hardcore IPA, Trashy Blonde and 5am Saint , is hugely bittered, high in alcohol and chock-full of flavour.
Their Paradox series uses oak barrels from Scotch whisky distilleries to mature the Imperial Stout (10 per cent) and impart subtle nuances from the different whisky styles. When they launched an 18 per cent oak-aged stout named Tokyo in 2009, it caused a ruckus in the Scottish Parliament, where a motion was proposed to ban it because of its high alcohol. Then along came Tactical Nuclear Penguin, at a whopping 32 per cent, which tastes more like a whisky than any beer I've ever encountered. This brew is matured in oak barrels for 14 months, then frozen several times, with ice removed to concentrate the alcohol to stratospheric levels. Selling for $140 a 330-millilitre bottle, Tactical Nuclear Penguin comes with its own stopper and Barker recommends drinking it over a five- to six-week period.
Importing kegged beer in Australia has its own set of logistical and financial challenges, not least the cost of freighting empty kegs back home. BrewDog has circumvented the latter by using disposable "key kegs", which are basically a 30-litre plastic sphere housed in a sturdy cardboard box.
"There's been a fantastic reaction to them from our draught outlets," Barker says. "In fact, we can't get enough of them. And they have a longer recommended shelf life than normal kegs."
BrewDog beers are imported in refrigerated containers.
"At first, we brought some in un-refrigerated and it wasn't that great," Barker says. "Now they come in fully refrigerated and go straight into cool storage." BrewDog beers are sold on tap in Sydney at the Local Taphouse, Darlinghurst, and The Pumphouse, Darling Harbour.
Punk IPA (6 per cent)
Medium gold, fine haze. Aroma: rather shy with hints of peaches and cream. Palate: sweet malt characters are soon enveloped by a well-integrated hop bitterness that surges through to the mouth-puckering finish. Overall: bags of bitterness but still maintains a surprising balance.
Trashy Blonde (4.1 per cent)
Pale gold, faint haze. Aroma: passionfruit and honeycomb notes. Palate: fruit salad and lime notes up front; mild malt character is masked by layers of hop flavour and lingering bitterness. Overall: about as much hop flavour as you can pack into such a moderate brew.
Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32 per cent)
Dark reddish-brown, suggestion of foam dies immediately. Aroma: intense cocoa and Vegemite notes, hot alcohol. Palate: Vegemite and hot spirit notes at first; rummy/molasses-laden mid-palate is soon drowned by the warming alcohol. Overall: like sipping stout essence.