When is a craft beer not really a craft beer? Look closely at the labels of some beers touted as craft and you'll see they're brewed "on contract", "under licence" or "off-site" by a big contract brewery. Breast the bar at Sydney's Lord Nelson Hotel, for example, and you'll drink draught beers brewed there, but the bottled product is out-sourced, including the excellent Three Sheets.
Today, bitter hoppy beers are in vogue. Some go over the top, as if there's a competition to see who can brew the bitterest beer. Like over-oaked shiraz or over-roasted coffee, too much is no fun.
Here are three widely distributed Aussie beers of diverse styles that keep the bitterness in balance. The prices quoted are for single stubbies. They are all much cheaper to buy in quantity.
Stone & Wood Pacific Ale 4.4 per cent alc. $4.69 / 330ml
Brewed at Byron Bay, this is the ultimate refresher, ideal as a hot summer thirst-quencher, whether you're working hard on a tan by the pool or busily studying the cricket. The colour is quite a pale yellow, the bouquet light and bright, fresh and floral, with attractive hop notes. It's almost a pilsener style: light-bodied but with good depth of flavour. In today's parlance, smashable.
Mountain Goat Brewery Hightail Ale 4.5 per cent alc. $4.69 / 330ml
The colour is a bright, deep tawny-brown and the bouquet is rich and chocolaty, with plenty of roasted malt character. It's a nicely rounded beer with mild bitterness and stacks of flavour and body. It's a useful dinner ale that stands up to heartier food and would find its place at the table. It's "brewed off-site under the close watch of Goat", whatever that means.
4 Pines Brewing Kolsch Golden Ale 4.6 per cent alc. $4.79 / 330ml
This is the real deal, brewed on the premises at Brookvale, near Manly on Sydney's north shore. The colour is bright golden-yellow, the bouquet sweet with malty caramel notes; the palate is beautifully balanced for drinkability with measured bitterness, a tickle of sweetness, some citrus notes, and a satisfying volume of flavour – without heaviness. It's a German style, not unlike a lager.