Lagers and pilsners and porters, oh my! The Australian International Beer Awards are a sight to behold. Brewers swap their steal capped boots for polished leather and beer t-shirts become waistcoats and frocks. Buckets brimming with beer adorn the tables. Buttoned-up waiters whisk multi-course meals to a sold-out crowd. There’s a buzz in the air on this night of nights celebrating the best beers in Australia and beyond. Nearly 3,000 beers from 21 different countries poured into Melbourne. Each with the same dream: winning an AIBA trophy. The awards are judged blind by a panel of experts, with micro-breweries and global brands all getting a fair-go.
I have some serious home-state pride for Victoria bringing in some heavy hitting wins.
Ballarat-based Dollar Bill took the night’s top award for Champion Australian Beer. The win inspired a standing ovation. Run by a husband and wife team, Dollar Bill’s current operation is so small they don’t even own their own brew kit. But their skill in creating barrel aged beers is evident. Incredibly, this isn’t even their first win. In 2021 they also won Champion Australian Beer for Gold Teeth. This year Candy Paint 2023 took the prize. It’s a barrel aged sour ale made with Victorian grown sour cherries and notes of vanilla. Deeds Brewing were also grinning. The Glen Iris indie brewery collected no less than four trophies: Champion Medium Australian Brewery, Champion Victorian Brewery, and best specialty beers for Ruminations and BBA Peanut Butter Imperial Stout. I recommend a trip to their tap room for a tasting paddle (or several) of their special release beers. Mountain Goat tapped into our nostalgia. Founded in 1997, the brewery was at the forefront of Australia’s craft-beer movement. The first keg of beer they ever sold was Hightail amber ale. For the beer’s 25th anniversary, the team created a big boozy barrel-aged version: Hightail XXV. It scored a best barrel aged trophy and helped propel Mountain Goat (now under the ownership of Asahi) to a Champion Large Australian brewery win.
Other local heartwarming wins include the Nightcrawler dark lager from Brunswick darlings CoConspirators and The Buzz red ale brewed in Footscray by Hop Nation. Outside the city limits were Blackmans’ Arthur Smoked Porter, Aunty Jacks’ Mair St Märzen and a Sour Brett Ale from industry stalwarts Holgate Brewing. Whilst Victorians scooped up wins for sours and dark beers, New South Wales proved to be home of the hops. Seven Mile Brewing won for their West Coast IPA. Philter’s Haze was awarded Best Modern India Pale Ale. Reckless Brewing’s XPA took home Best Australian Style Pale Ale and the Australian Brewery’s Esker Hazy Pale won the Best Modern Pale Ale trophy.
Queensland’s Moffat Beach Brewing celebrated back to back wins. For a second year in a row they received trophies for Champion Small Brewery and their Shadow Of The Moon Eclipse Pale Ale. (A far cry from the feedback Moffat’s founder received in his early days of transitioning from home brewer to pro brewer, “tastes like green sausages.”)
With a population just topping 5 million, New Zealand truly punched above their weight. The island blew out 20 other countries to sweep awards for Champion International Small, Medium and Large Breweries for Three Sisters Brewery, Behemoth Brewing, and Garage Project, respectively.
This year the Australian International Beer Awards celebrated their 30th birthday. Starting with just 128 entries in 1993, it’s now the largest beer competition in the world judging both package and draft beer. Brewers on every continent except Antarctica submitted a record breaking 2,826 entries in 2023. The anniversary provided a chance to look back and a look at how far the industry’s come, both in terms of beer quality and new categories, such as best non-alcohol beer. Rather than blowing out candles on a birthday cake, I vote we all raise a glass of good beer and toast the Australian Beer Industry. I think it’s what the AIBAs would want.
– Jenny Schmidt
Jenny loves the magic of fermentation and supports craft beer alchemy.
The Australian International Beer Awards are conducted annually by The Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria. The AIBAs inspire and celebrate excellence in brewing, beer packaging design and beer media. View the full results and 2023 trophy winners at Melbourne Royal.