The World’s Best Beers in Our Own Backyard

‘Go big or go home’ is one of my favourite mottos. In the world of beer, there’s one big event that stands out on the calendar: the Australian International Beer Awards. Here in Melbourne, we have the world’s largest beer competition on our doorstep thanks to Melbourne Royal.

The awards began in 1987, with 35 beer entries. This year, an impressive 41,000 litres of beer poured in to Melbourne for the competition. Breweries from 23 countries entered over 2,500 unique beers. Beers from little local breweries and heavy hitting multi-national corporations were judged blind side by side — based on their flavour, aroma, and style.

If you love supporting local, or you’ve been longing for a taste of the good stuff brewed in your own backyard, rejoice! Independent breweries scooped up nearly all the major trophies (with the exception of Stone & Wood).

Stone & Wood (early trailblazers in the craft beer industry and now owned by Kirin) claimed the title of Championship Australian Beer. Their Hinterland Big Pale uses all Australian hops to create tropical juicy flavours (and, dare I say, a taste of Aussie sunshine).

Victoria’s own Brick Lane Brewing bagged an impressive four awards, including the prestigious title of Champion Large Australian Brewery. With trophies in hand for their Natural Draught Lager and Asylum Imperial Stout, Brick Lane once again demonstrated they’re a force to be reckoned with in Melbourne’s craft beer scene.

The ‘unbridled’ joy was palpable when Kaiju! won champion Medium Australian Brewery. (Cofounder Nat Reeves rode horseback to the stage to collect the trophy.) The Victorian brewery first made a name for themselves brewing big, hop-fueled beers. Their dank IPAs won gold medals, but it was their Koldsplif Pilsner that earned them the trophy.

Hailing from Western Australia, the small but mighty King Road brewery picked up a trophy for their King Road IPA, which set them on the ‘road’ to winning Champion Small Australian Brewery. After winning Champion Australian Beer two years running, the husband and wife team from Dollar Bill Brewing were back on stage again to collect a Champion Gypsy brewer award. Racking up another win for Victoria.

But it’s not just the Aussies who raised a glass to success. Our neighbours across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand also brought their best. Three Sisters Brewery scored the title of Champion Small International Brewery. Behemoth returned to the stage to collect another Champion Medium International Brewery trophy, and Garage Project claimed Champion Large International Brewery again.

Amidst the merriment, there was a bitter sweetness this year — which had nothing to do with bitter hops or a sweet chocolate dessert pairing. Last year Deeds Brewery won a slew of championship trophies. Ten days before this year’s awards, they announced the brewery’s closure. Impressively, they still managed to add one more trophy to their collection. Deeds’ Shared Dreams, a tart ale made with white peaches, won best Specialty Beer. The announcement earned the Australian craft beer legends a standing ovation.

It’s a timely reminder to support your independent locals. Deeds wasn’t the first brewery to announce its closure this year and if current trends are any indication, it won’t be the last. (Brunswick’s Temple Brewing also announced they were closing up shop this week.)

Luckily, if you’re looking to support local, there are plenty of delicious drops to choose from amongst this year’s AIBA winners. Including Tasmania’s Moo Brew Dark Ale; Rock Candy – a fruit beer brewed off-grid by Rocky Ridge, Australia’s first sustainable brewery; and Garage Project’s Pickle Beer. The latter inexplicably beat out a number of notable European breweries to win the trophy for best European Style Ale.

If that’s not enough, I also recommend checking out the 2024 AIBA Consistency of Excellence winners to discover a new favourite (or an old classic). There’s Hawkers’ Bourbon Barrel Aged Barleywine in Victoria, NSW Philter Double IPA, King Road’s Pale Ale in WA and Queensland’s Shadow of the Moon Eclipse Strong Pale Ale from Moffat Beach and Revel Brewing’s The Reveller. Plus, the widely available Coopers’ Sparkling Ale and Coopers Best Extra Stout both picked up awards this year.

Here’s to the beer industry’s night of nights. With a record breaking number of entries, the competition was fierce. But one thing is clear: the Australian International Beer Awards are a celebration of the craft, the passion, and the camaraderie that makes beer more than just a beverage.

-Jenny Schmidt
Jenny loves the magic of fermentation and supports craft beer alchemy.

The Australian International Beer Awards are conducted annually by Melbourne Royal. The AIBAs inspire and celebrate excellence in brewing, beer packaging design and beer media. View the full results and 2024 trophy winners at Melbourne Royal.

Images provided
Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of Melbourne Royal