Despite temperance advocates' claims to the contrary, 2020 was a devastating year for the Australian drinks industry. Bookended with bushfires and China's punitive tariffs on Australian wine, COVID-19 lockdowns meant some of the worst months on record for sales of beer, wine and spirits.
The industry limped its way to Christmas with venues continuing to trade at reduced capacity, the country in recession and many among their potential customer base unemployed and short on cash.
But in the face of adversity comes opportunity, and there have been some real successes among companies quick to adapt and innovate.
Brewers who relied on draught beer sales deftly switched to selling cans online; in some cases growing sales in spite of the pandemic. Some gave their excess draught beer to distillers, who took time out from making hand sanitiser to collaborate on producing unique craft spirits.
Northern Rivers companies Stone & Wood Brewing and Cape Byron Distillery collaborated to produce Pacific Moonshine, for example, distilled from the brewery's excess ale.
Meanwhile in Victoria, Mornington Peninsula's Tar Barrel Brewery mixed its excess beers for distillation by neighbour Chief's Son Distillery to create a spirit set to become a kind of oddball whisky.
Producers across the country also embraced technology including Zoom and Facebook Live to reach their consumers with virtual tastings and other events.
Canberra's Bentspoke Brewing had up to 10,000 views per episode of its live events on Facebook, hosted by co-founder Richard Watkins and featuring some of the industry's biggest names in conversation.
After 12 months of admirable hustling, here's hoping 2021 offers better prospects to Australia's brewers, winemakers and distillers. Here are some of the best experiences they're serving us up this year.
Stoney Rise Wine Company, Gravelly Beach, Tasmania
Stoney Rise founders Joe and Lou Holyman are now welcoming mainland visitors to their new cellar door after quietly opening to locals in August.
The stunning venue incorporates an outdoor courtyard with open fire, lawns overlooking the vineyard, and sophisticated cosy seating for guests to taste and experience their wines, spearheaded by pinot noir and chardonnay. There's also an international wine list to explore and a menu of snacks supplied by local producers.
"We want visitors tasting our wines alongside our favourites from around the world," Joe Holyman says. "In that sense, we're welcoming you into your favourite new wine bar rather than an expected cellar door." stoneyrise.com
The owners of Range Brewing set out to make their taproom more "cafe-like". Photo: Supplied
Range Brewing, Abbotsford, Victoria
Popular Brisbane outfit Range opened its Melbourne outpost in November, hot on the heels of winning a remarkable four trophies at the Independent Beer Awards. Range specialises in the craft beer style of the moment, hazy IPA, which co-founder Gerard Martin says is already winning fans in Abbotsford.
"We've had many times where it's changed people's minds about beer due to the softness of the mouthfeel, the lower bitterness and the intense fruit flavours from the hops and yeast working together," he says.
The venue's bright, minimalist aesthetic aims to challenge perceptions of brewery taprooms. "We wanted to drop the masculinity around beer, so we created a venue with lots of booth seats that feels more like a cafe," Martin says. rangebrewing.com
White Bay Beer Co, Rozelle, NSW
An on-site taproom has always been part of the plan for 2020 Sydney startup White Bay Beer, founded by a group of craft industry stalwarts led by Tim Fishwick (formerly of Balter Brewing and Little Creatures).
With its first beers in tank when the lockdown hit, White Bay's taproom was postponed and the company's focus diverted to packaged beer sales from the brewery door and local bottle shops.
"We've got a beautiful space, five minutes from the city in a 150-year old steel mill. It's very unique," Fishwick says. "We want everyone to turn up with their kids and their dogs and enjoy a drink with our community." Set to open late March. whitebay.beer
Hillbilly Cider Shed, Bilpin, NSW
Shane and Tessa McLaughlin have overcome bushfires and the pandemic to successfully open Hillbilly's cider shed to the public. The massive hall offers their eclectic range of ciders poured directly from barrels, and wood-fired pizzas best enjoyed outside on picnic tables spread across two acres of lawn. hillbillycider.com.au
Backwoods Distilling, Yackandandah, Victoria
Founded by Leigh and Bree Attwood, Backwoods debuted its rye and single malt whiskies in August. Soon, visitors to Victoria's High Country region will be able to sample the whiskies – and a new cellar door exclusive gin – direct from the distillery, located in the Yack Station art and business precinct.
"We can't wait to welcome everyone to see our production first-hand and experience a tour or a tasting," Bree Attwood says. "We also plan to host collaborative events with other local producers to highlight the incredible boutique drink and food offerings in North East Victoria." Set to open February. backwoodsdistilling.com.au