It’s upon us again. The GABS Hottest 100 Craft Beers of 2023 will be announced this Saturday, January 27th. Can Mountain Culture retain the top spot with Status Quo, and will Cervezas make a splash? Will some long-time favourites drop out altogether? Read along as I make predictions for 28 beers.
Much has happened since last time.
In setting the scene for the GABS Hottest 100 Craft Beers of 2023(H100) poll, it’s essential to reflect on the year that was. Looking back at 2023 without acknowledging the challenges the brewing industry faces is difficult.
But the H100, with its excitement, build-up, debate, fanfare, anticipation and even angst, has consistently provided a space for craft beer enthusiasts and the industry to unite and revel in the spirit of beer. While it’s crucial not to turn a blind eye to reality, especially during dark times, hopefully, it’s acceptable to set aside those concerns temporarily and embrace some positive vibes.
I won’t detail the more worrying events of 2023 unless they are critical to my predictions.
On the 27th of January, 2023, the countdown of Australia’s 100 most popular craft beers will take place. Polls have closed, so it’s time to look at how things might play out.
According to data gathered, almost 1900 beers from over 430 breweries were registered for voting. Interestingly, this is around 130 more breweries than 2022, but about 300 fewer beers.
The average number of beers entered per brewery this year is approximately 4.5 compared to 7 in 2022. 156 breweries had only one beer registered. The most beers entered by a single brewery is 55.
I suspect the mechanics behind the H100 may have changed this year. In the past, breweries had to register their beers. If a punter wanted to vote for a beer that wasn’t registered, they could request it, but the brewery could ignore the request. I’ve seen some evidence things have changed now.
Browsing through social media posts for the H100 in early December, a recurring thought crossed my mind.
“Wow! Brewery X has really amped up their campaigning. They’re poised for success this year.”
Historically, a brewery’s level of promotion has been a key factor in my predictions. Coopers, for example, had a notable blend of sponsored and organic posts that played a crucial role in my accurate forecast of them reaching the top 10 last year.
However, this time around, it’s hard to make as simple an assessment because everyone seems to have upped their campaigning efforts.
The promotion of H100 beers commenced right after voting opened, indicating that any brewery not on board early has put itself at a significant disadvantage.
As promotion has intensified over the years, questions about its obnoxiousness have grown. Social media and email inboxes are inevitably flooded with H100 content in December and early January. One can’t help but ponder if this might become detrimental to the poll’s image rather than just a simple annoyance.
Yes, angst and dissatisfaction have become part of the H100 (for some, it’s entertainment). However, these criticisms often come from people who are fatigued and no longer engaged in the poll or simply want to dismiss successful beers for tenuous reasons.
But the marketing ‘noise’ generated by campaigns is perhaps more noteworthy this year. Even ardent supporters seem to question whether the marketing by ‘their’ brewery is over the top. Detractors are expected in GABS, but it feels different when they start questioning the level of campaigning from their favourite breweries.
So, in no particular order, I present my predictions for the GABS Hottest 100 Craft Beers of 2023
- Balter Cerveza and Modus Cerveza
- Bentspoke Crankshaft
- Mountain Culture Status Quo and Cult IPA
- Bridge Road Brewers Beechworth Pale Ale
- Better Beer
- Ballistic Hawaiian Haze
- Kaiju Krush
- Dainton Equaliser
- Black Hops GOAT
- Moffat Beach Passenger Pale Ale
- Summary Observations
Balter Cerveza & Modus Cerveza
In 2021, Modus Operandi piqued the interest of a few industry observers with the release of Modus Cerveza.
Project of co-founder Jaz Wearin, it was by no means the first Mexican-style lager from an Australian craft brewery. Still, the nationally released beer gained attention by drawing more than a few with raised eyebrows due to its unabashed use of the ‘Cerveza’ moniker.
The beer signalled a continuing shift in the industry’s willingness to appeal to more mainstream palates. Having already embraced lagers generally, the industry was now seemingly unafraid to court drinkers of a beer seen by many craft enthusiasts as the epitome of what craft was a rebellion against.
Modus Cerveza debuted at validating, number 30 in the 2022 H100.
But the attention drawn by Modus Cerveza paled in comparison to Balter’s take on the style. Released in 2023 in packaged form after a successful run at the Balter taproom, the polarising brewery discarded all pretence for market positioning of the beer, packaging it in a clear glass bottle and appropriately priced to compete with one of the most popular and widely recognised beer brands globally.
Balter Cerveza generated even more debate about the change in strategy for craft brewers. Unsurprisingly, The brewery was subjected to more public cynicism online.
But as happens so frequently with Balter, critics only served to galvanise fans of the brand. Key staff addressed comments from critics, and others in the beer community quickly reinforced the quality evident in Balter beer.
I’m conscious of gushing over Balter, but it is a testament to the community the brand has built to be able to turn such negative energy into positives the way they do.
They’ve lost little of their amiable authenticity, and it’s evident in their campaigning for the H100. The push for votes was more subdued after the brewery’s acquisition, but it has gradually increased in the years since, with the same “We’re not asking you to vote for us. Just vote for beer.” messaging.
I’ve predicted Balter Cerveza will take out the number 12 spot in the H100, but I think it could even crack the top ten on its debut.
Modus will improve on its place from last year to somewhere between 20 and 10.
Is Crankshaft showing signs of seizing?
Last year, I accurately predicted a decline from its number one position in 2021 to three, but I guess it wasn’t about to go the other way, was it?
Bentspoke was an early brewery to dispense with any cynicism and recognise the value of the H100 to a brand. The brewery has been an active campaigner for more years than most. Crankshaft has the admirable title of being the first IPA to reach number one in the poll. Many of the brewery’s other beers appear elsewhere in the results over the years.
The ACT is less saturated with breweries than comparable areas. Only five from the state have ever featured in the poll, and Capital Brewing and Heaps Normal were the only other breweries from the state to rank beers in the H100 in 2022. There have consistently been 12 beers from the ACT in the poll since 2019.
Despite the advantages, Bentspoke’s beers all conceded ground in 2022.
Industry reporting indicates Australia’s big retailers are shying away from national brands. It’s certainly evident in my local area that Bentspoke does not have the same presence, something that’s consistent with my recent look at a local BWS store.
Bentspoke is campaigning noticeably hard for Crankshaft again. But as I said in my introduction, everyone is pushing hard this year. The pie is only so big; unless the market is growing (which we know it isn’t), there’s no one new to reach.
Perhaps ‘seizing’ was a little unkind. Crankshaft isn’t about to disappear anytime soon. But I do think it’s going to slide further. The beer has been consistently positioned third or higher since 2017. This year, it may drop below that.
Crankshaft to finish fifth.
Mountain Culture Status Quo and Cult IPA
Status Quo will be number one again.
For a beer that debuted at number one, and without a threat within a bull’s roar, it’s difficult to deny it will hold its position.
Due to its win last year, the beer’s presence nationwide grew, growing its market and potential voter base. Mountain Culture expanded its team in 2023, including appointments to digital marketing and e-commerce roles. The brewery is campaigning heavily and has no intention of yielding its position without a fight.
What will be interesting to see is whether Cult IPA joins it in the top ten. It debuted at 15 in 2022, giving it positions to gain at least. With every bottle shop fridge across the country that had a Status Quo added in 2023, Cult IPA often joined it. It’s probably one of the rare cases in the H100 where a brewery’s stable mate is helped rather than hindered by the strong performance of its sibling.
Cult IPA will appear in the top ten between 10 and 5.
Unfortunately, we won’t be privy to it, but I’d speculate that Status Quo will even increase its winning margin. Perhaps I need to use some of my influence to find out. Even a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would do.
Bridge Road Brewers Beechworth pale ale
For its 18th birthday, Beechy Pale adorned itself in a vibrant gold ensemble. Celebrations aligned with the promotion of the H100 campaign, where Bridge Road Brewers have fervently advocated for their principles of family and independence to secure votes. The marketing is slick but doesn’t overshadow the brewery’s authentic grassroots and regional identity.
Beechworth Pale Ale’s position has fluctuated within the top 20 since 2013. It reached its highest at number five in 2018 but has slowly declined since. It dropped to fourteen in 2021, only one away from its lowest position in nine years. Despite my 2022 prediction that it would continue to decline, it reclaimed a place in the top ten at number nine.
The beer has consistently been Victoria’s highest achiever and has featured in the poll every year since 2008. It’s a solid classic from an esteemed, staunchly independent, community-focused brewery. I know people who vote for this beer simply because of what it stands for. I don’t think any other beer in the H100 poll today attracts as much respect.
Despite my admiration for this brewery, over the three years I’ve published my predictions, I’ve only been correct once regarding the climb or fall of this beer.
If I incorrectly predict its direction again this year, I will cease predictions for it unless I have permission from Ben Kraus himself.
Beechworth Pale Ale will rise again this year but won’t reach the top five.
No one seems to like this beer.
And yet, it’s held the number six position two years in a row.
As the H100 has grown, so has cynicism about which beers deserve a place. But Better Beer is arguably the most divisive.
I have mixed feelings about this beer, perhaps even more so after observing some seemingly unnecessary criticism it receives online.
Admirably, founder and creator Nick Cogger has been known to frequent social media forums and tackle criticisms head-on rather than lurking, as some in similar positions understandably do.
How Better Beer will perform this year is difficult to gauge.
The original Better Beer is a zero-carb, zero-sugar ale. The range of products has expanded to include ginger beer, which debuted at 35 in 2022, a lager and others.
There’s speculation in some circles the lager could cause as much of an upset as the original’s debut in 2021. But there’s a lack of active campaigning on the social media accounts of Better Beer, The Inspired Unemployed, the social media personalities who co-own the brand, and Mighty Craft, who also own a significant share.
The brand has become such a runaway success, seeing faster growth than any other Australia has ever seen; I wonder if its creators are even concerned with the H100.
Better Beer will slide a few places but stay in the top 10. Better Beer lager will appear between 60 and 40.
The rise of Ballistic’s Hawaiian Haze was an early prediction I was particularly proud of. It gave me the confidence to continue this series. It romped into the top ten in 2020, backed by a concerted marketing effort. The brewery aimed to make it “the biggest craft beer this summer.”
In the 2021 and 2022 H100 leadup, Ballistic didn’t seem to have the same drive for Hawaiian Haze. It slid two places in 2021 and dropped an alarming thirty-seven spots in 2022. The number of Ballistic beers overall dropped from five in 2020, leaving Hawaiian Haze as the only Ballistic beer in the poll in 2022.
In 2021, my observation was that Ballistic had taken their foot off the gas for the H100. For the 2022 poll, it’s difficult to tell if anyone was even behind the wheel. But it’s evident now that the brewery was having problems.
For a brewery that raised the bar for campaigning for the H100, Ballistic’s activity for the 2023 poll is nothing significant. Social media content looks like it’s been recycled from past years.
I will be optimistic and predict Hawaiian Haze will drop between 100 and 80. However, I can’t deny the possibility it may exit the H100 altogether.
Melbourne brewery, Kaiju, celebrated their 10th birthday in 2023. They made a name for themselves with hoppy, tropical American-style IPAs with an appropriate 6% ABV or more. Krush was a slight departure, infusing the same tropical hop characters in a much more ‘Krushable’ sub 5% ABV pale ale.
Launched in 2016, it was immediately a popular beer for Kaiju. It entered the H100 that year at 55 and edged into the top ten in 2017, peaking at eight in 2018.
But each year since its rate of decline has at least doubled.
2016 saw the arrival of some of the first locally brewed NEIPAs. The style captivated consumers with its alluring opaque appearance, juicy mouthfeel and low bitterness. But these full-bodied, high-ABV beers packed quite a punch.
Enter the Hazy Pale, the next stage of NEIPA evolution. More sessionable than its predecessor, these beers gained popularity quickly, with two appearing in the H100 top ten in 2020.
With their hop-driven tropical flavours, Hazy Pale ales overtook much of the market of beers like Krush. Beers like Balter Hazy, Ballistic Hawaiian Haze, and Mountain Culture Status Quo took pride of place in the fridges of big retail bottle shops, with Krush being pushed to the side, if not disappearing altogether.
Since its peak in 2018, Krush’s rate of decline has been roughly double that of the year before (2019:9, 2020:11, 2021:18, 2022: 47). Assuming the trend continues, it will drop out of the H100 altogether and rank somewhere around 105 among the ‘Next Beers’ in the weeks following the poll.
Melbourne brewery Dainton makes respectable, award-winning beer. They’ve built a significant enough fan base to mount a successful EQF in 2022. They run two taphouses in the suburbs of Melbourne and have a presence in national bottle shop chains.
The brewery’s performance in the H100 hasn’t set the world on fire. The highest polling beer was Blood Orange NERIPA at 36 in 2018. The brewery’s presence has been consistent since 2017, with as many as three beers in the ranks between 100 and 50 on two occasions. Even the vicious Supertrooper won a place in 2020.
Equalizer was championed on social media by Daniton for the H100 in 2022. The en-vouge hazy pale ale had a healthy debut at 60, even though its siblings declined.
Unlike previous years, Dainton doesn’t appear to have campaigned firmly for the H100, if at all.
It will be interesting to see how this affects their standing in the H100, whether lovers of their beer will vote anyway or be lured by someone else’s marketing.
I think Danton Equalizer will drop out of the H100 entirely.
Black Hops G.O.A.T.
Black Hops GOAT entered the H100 in fifth position in 2020 and was the highest debut beer in the poll. It retained the position in 2021 but fell to ten in 2022.
GOAT’s entrance to the H100 was amid a flurry of activity for the brewery, with new venues opening, successful Equity Crowd Funding (EQF), a regular podcast and even a flirtation with NFTs. The brewery was frequently in the news for mostly the right reasons and was also at the forefront of Queensland’s craft beer boom.
In May of 2022, one of the three founders left Black Hops. This was followed by another in February 2023, as the Brewery appointed a new CEO in response to a desire amongst key investors for more experienced management in the business.
The brewery seems to have lost some of its edge. Whether this is linked to changes within management is difficult to say, but it’s certainly not helped by the reduced presence of their beer nationally.
Local Luva helped GOAT reach consumers outside of Queensland. Like Hawaiian Haze, this was a crucial factor in my predictions for both breweries in 2020. I can find neither in BWS bottleshops in Victoria now—another confirmation of the chain’s rejection of national brands.
GOAT will drop out of the top ten but probably retain a position between 10 and 20.
Moffat Beach Passenger Pale Ale
My favourite video across all the H100 campaigns is, without a doubt, from Moffat Beach. If the stellar performance from brewer and founder, Matt, doesn’t tug at your heart strings (more like laugh out loud) you need empathy training.
Based on the beer quality and slew of accolades, I tipped Moffs Summer Ale last year as an outside chance to enter the H100. But I was naive to think that a brewery with little in the way of campaigning stood a chance. Not in today’s H100, anyway.
So, I was pleased to see a concerted effort this year. Sure, it’s not exactly high-budget, but the brewery has rallied its supporters and chosen a champion.
Five beers were available to vote for from Moffat Beach Brewing, but it’s Passenger Pale Ale the brewery is putting out in front.
Moffat Beach has no national presence, but this is a valid business decision for a brewery, especially in today’s market. It does make it unlikely they’ll poll spectacularly, if at all.
Still, I believe enough in the quality of their beer and the passion of the folks behind it to give them a chance. Moffat Beach Brewing is my underdog for the 2023 H100.
Passenger Pale Ale will poll between 80 and 60.
Here are a few more quick observations and beers that piqued my interest.
Your Mates surprised almost everyone with their appearance in the H100 in 2018 and even stronger performance in 2019. Their flagship beer, Larry, even reached number three in 2021. But to the surprise of many, in 2022, nearly all their beers declined. The shine may have come off Larry. It could drop out of the top ten.
After years of concentrating on sought-after limited releases, Range Brewing has built a core range, starting with Disco, which debuted at 53 in 2022. I don’t think it has the X factor of Status Quo, but if the brewery can channel fan support, it can rise into the 40s or even 30s.
Coopers reclaimed a place in the top ten for Original Pale Ale in 2022. The brewery has mounted a similar campaign this year, but the strategy doesn’t stand out as it did before. With strong local support, it should remain between ten and five.
Despite being wrong the past two years, I still expect to see a Pinnacle Drinks beer in the H100. Zytho or Colossal Brewing feel like the obvious contenders. Competent beers in their own right, they seem to get the most attention on social media by people who are unaware of their roots or don’t care.
Watch for Aunty Jacks, a small brewery from my hometown of Ballarat in Victoria. The brewery’s Mair St Marzen won a gold medal at the 2023 AIBA awards. Party Time, their Mexican lager, won The Crafty Pint’s blind tasting out of 14 examples from all over Australia, including Modus and Balter. Aunty Jack’s Unfiltered Lager was outside the hundred at 156 in 2022, but the brewery has campaigned hard for local support in 2023. It could move up to hold a position in the 80s or 90s.
Juicy Banger is the champion of Blackman’s Brewery in Torquay, Victoria. If it follows the trend from the last three years, this hoppy lager should break into the high 50s.
Watch for Akasha Super Chill. The brewery has mid-form in the H100. Super Chill debuted at 59 in 2022. It can gain between 10 and 20 places with enough push and fan support.
WA’s Gage Roads has seen sporadic performance in the H100, featuring only seven beers since the beginning of the poll in 2008 and polling none some years. Only one beer has remained in the poll for more than four years. Summer ale Single Fin has been in the top 40 since 2016. Where some nationally marketed beers from other breweries are disappearing, Single Fin maintains a presence in big bottle shop chains in my local area. Still, it may slide a place or two.
Helios Brewing Company has campaigned hard for their Oat Cream IPA, Dionysus. Limited-release beers like this are exceedingly rare in the H100 but can break through with strong enough local support. I have a hunch this one might appear between 80 and 100.
Fox Friday and White Bay Beer Co would be contenders with some active campaigning. They’re very much up-and-comers, with one expanding outside Tasmania (wouldn’t it be excellent to see a top ten beer from that state?) into Melbourne and Perth, and the other earning high praise for the quality of its beer and making some concerted moves in the marketing department. However, while both breweries did have beers registered for voting (FF: 10, WB: 8), on the promotion front, both seem to be keeping their powder dry.
I got it wrong (dead wrong, they say on a particular podcast) predicting Young Henry’s Newtowner would slide outside the top ten last year, continuing its downward trajectory from 2019 to 2021 (4,9,10). Instead, it gained three places to finish seventh in 2022. I can’t see it maintaining the same position, but I don’t think it will break the top five again—a place somewhere between ten and five for Newtowner.
In 2023, I predicted a return of Coopers Pale ale, citing an upward trend in poll performance and more concerted campaigning. The same signs are present for Little Creatures Pale Ale. Couple this with consumers returning to more drinkable beers, and we could see it improve on its position at 22 and find a place back in the top 20.
Moon Dog Old Mate had been steadily increasing its position since entering in 2017, peaking at 24 in 2021. But in 2022, it dropped the second-highest number of places (-41) after Bentspoke Sprocket (-43) to land at 65. Despite featuring eleven beers in the poll over its fifteen-year history, Moon Dog may feature no beers in the 2024 poll.
Hop Nation J-Juice (then Jedi Juice) debuted at eight in 2017, the highest of seven NEIPAs that signalled the legitimacy of style by entering the poll that year. But the beer has faded in the shadow of other NEIPAs, hazy IPAs and hazy pales. It’s possibly had some of its thunder stolen by stablemate Rattenhund, too. J-Juice was ranked 68 in 2022. It may also disappear from the poll.
Despite still downplaying their efforts for the H100, Hawkers have made the most concerted push I’ve seen for West Coast IPA, their clear champion (deservedly so). Hawkers have a lot of currency in craft beer circles, renowned for their bajillion barrel-aged stout releases and experiments with hops, but mainly for the quality of their beer. But this could be somewhat offset by the apathy of Victorians fatigued by the H100. Hawkers West Coast IPA should regain some places this year and finish between 70 and 80.
Keep a close eye on Pirate Life South Coast Pale Ale. It’s on the up, sitting quietly at 13 in 2022. California Pale Ale is a return to the Pirate Life of old, watch for it too.
I’d better stop there.
With enough time and words, I could make predictions for every beer in the poll, but I’ve likely lost a few readers already. Thank you to those of you who made it this far.
As always, I’ll listen to the Brews News crew’s live broadcast and feed some stats and observations in the background.
Enjoy your day on Saturday, and remember not to take things too seriously.