Sharing A Brew with The Crafty Pint

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Over the last few years Australia’s craft brewing scene has grown in leaps, hops and bounds. Tracking and tasting it every step of the way has been James Smith, the man behind the definitive guide to micro-brewing in Australia, The Crafty Pint.

Having recently organised the inaugural Good Beer Week and now working on a beer program for next year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, we caught up with James (aka Crafty) to talk about the future of craft brewing and what he’s drinking at the moment.

What led you to create The Crafty Pint?
In a way, it goes back to my first experience of Oz as a backpacker in 2000/1. The beer, Cooper’s excepted, wasn’t exactly much cop so when Mrs. Pint and I decided to move to Melbourne a few years ago, I suggested I’d have to learn how to brew so I’d be able to drink decent beer. Within weeks of landing, I walked through the doors of Mountain Goat’s brewery on a Friday night and, as Pulp once sang, something changed. I discovered there was a growing number of microbreweries but couldn’t readily find any information on them. As a result, all subsequent trips away involved visiting any brewery in the region.

I got caught up in the excitement of the brewers who were trying to introduce choice and flavour to a country previously fed little but beer that, by any measure, is truly awful and one thing led to another. I pitched ideas to Epicure about what was going on in the craft beer world and secured a cover feature. I also went around every organisation that I thought should be providing an online guide to micros and discovered that none had either the time or the inclination. To cut a long story short, it soon became apparent that I’d have to do it myself. And I’m glad I did.

Over last few years the craft brewing scene in Australia has exploded (in a good way). How do you see the industry developing and expanding?
More of the same, hopefully. It’s funny really, as just a couple of years back, while the industry was definitely expanding and awareness of craft beer was rising, I doubt you’d have found anyone in the industry who’d have predicted we’d be where we are now. Most brewers were doing OK, but growth was steady rather than spectacular.

Something happened a couple of years back and nobody seems exactly sure what. Perhaps it was an aligning of the planets – more micros, an improving standard of craft beer, more beer bars, occasional coverage in the mainstream media, a greater influx of quality imports, etc – but the line on the graph took a sudden and sharp turn upwards. Last year was probably the biggest yet for craft beer in Australia, but already 2011 is smashing it. Breweries are upgrading their gear and expanding, more venues are stocking it, top restaurants are beginning to recognise it’s something they need to pay attention to and the range of beers brewers are attempting – and the overall quality of the finished product – is on the rise. The success of events like the The Local Taphouse SpecTAPulars, Fed Square Microbrewerie Showcases and Good Beer Week indicate just how great the appetite is, while I’m now working with Melbourne Food & Wine Festival to get more beer onto their 2012 lineup.

I have occasionally wondered if we’re all getting ahead of ourselves, that perhaps bar owners and bottleshops are ordering heaps of beer that nobody’s buying and once they finally realise this they’ll have to tell the brewers they don’t want any more. But if that was the case, it would have happened already and instead we find ourselves in a position where breweries are struggling to keep up with orders.

The inaugural Good Beer Week was a cracker of a festival, with many events selling out. Were you surprised by the response? Plans for next year’s GBW?
Surprised? Amazed! We definitely underestimated how well it would be received, in part because it was put together in so little time that we were still running around getting things ready when it was already up and running.

Plans for next year? Bigger and more inclusive. This year was something of a moving feast with many of the same people at events. In some ways it’s understandable as there were a lot of brewers and beer people in town keen to attend as much as they could, but one of the key elements for next year will be to get more people along to events who aren’t already card-carrying beer lovers. Launching with the first ever Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular, which is being run by The Local Taphouse at the Royal Exhibition Building, with 60 unique beers brewed for the occasion should help, while there are plans for other large scale public events during the week too.

There will also, of course, be some amazing events for beer aficionados and what we hope will be a healthy blend of great beer, fun, beer appreciation and education, awesome food and much more. On top of that, we plan to include a trade and industry symposium.

You run a website that means you try beer from all over the country. Are there any downsides to your job?
It’s a big country, there’s only one of me and there are only 24 hours in the day. In all seriousness, it’s been a lot of hard work over a few years and that workload is growing daily. But downsides? No. I love what I do, continually meet amazing people and am thankful every day to be a part of an industry that is more like a massive happy (albeit frequently dysfunctional) family.

Favourite beers at the moment?
I’m just back from the UK where Thornbridge’s Jaipur IPA was a highlight, along with beers from Redemption and Dark Star. Now I’m back and with it being winter I’m excited about filling my fridge with Imperial Stouts from the likes of Red Duck, Red Hill and Moo Brew, while I’m constantly impressed with what’s coming out of Mornington Peninsula Brewery given they’ve only been operating nine months. I also need to head to Mountain Goat as a new batch of their Rare Breed IPA has just been tapped and that’s the beer I’ve turned to more than any other in the past year.

Follow Crafty’s latest beer news, events and releases at http://craftypint.com

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