LIGHT and easy, that's what most of us seem to want from our beers. It makes complete sense.
Newcastle is a surf, sun and sand-loving place, and it can get bloody hot up the Hunter Valley. What could be better than a cold, refreshing beer - lager, pale ale, IPA, or other?
According to Hunter brewers and publicans, it seems that Novocastrians prefer to pale ales above all else. But, there's an emerging subset of sour-loving souses that drink upon a bedrock of coal-mining history, and, thus, the dark ales, porters and stouts endure beneath the shifting sands of barfly fashions.
“I'd say for the average beer drinker, pale ales are by far the most easily-accessible craft beer,” Shawn Sherlock from inner-city brewpub, FogHorn Brewhouse says.
“They tend to sit around the five per cent ABV mark with good drinkability and some interesting hop character. Beers like our Summer Ale and Ideas Beer are consistently among our biggest sellers."
Aberglasslyn brewer, Stuart Duff from the Dusty Miner agrees.
“I think because most pale ales are light and easy drinking, they're not too much different from lagers, so they're an easy in for most people,” Duff says. “IPAs are my favourite to drink because there's so many variations to the style depending on what hops you use. I think the people who are heavily into craft beers love IPAs because a pale ale just doesn't do it for them anymore.”
A constant gauge on what's doing in brewing is Grain Store publican Corey Crooks.
“I'd say IPAs have taken over the mantle from pale ales, as a lot of the drinkers we see seem to enjoy the big, bold flavours of these beers," Crooks says. “The hoppy, tropical, and citrus flavours can be pretty compelling and refreshing. However, I'm seeing a new-found appreciation for farmhouse, gose and sour styles, which make for a great change of pace from the hop-driven pale and IPA styles.”
Yet for many, the fondness for the dark beers lingers.
“Dark beers have always been a favourite of beer drinkers in our region,” says Hunter Beer Co’s, Keith Grice, who's been brewing beautiful beer in the wine country for the past 10 years. “Our Slaked Magpie is pretty popular out here - who can resist coffee, mocha and a dash of vanilla?”
Grainfed brewer Lachlan MacBean recently released a delicious anything goes dark ale that's brimming with dark chocolate and coffee flavours in homage to the Hunter’s mining port affiliations.
“Sneaky One, is by far our most popular beer, but I'm really happy with how our Coal Porter turned out, and it seems to be going down well on a number of taps around town,” MacBean says.
It's easy to blame the weather for the popularity of the pale ale. A couple of weather relevant local brews I'd recommend keeping an eye out for include FogHorn's ultra-refreshing take on the French farmhouse style, Four Saisons In One Day, Hunter Beer Co's ever-popular Kolsch Golden Ale and Murray's, relatively new, easy-drinking East Coast Lager, which will be a paradigm-shifting beer for lovers of that bitter swill from south of the border.
Our region's cup runneth over with many different, delicious, and quality beers. Go forth and froth!