Aaron Heary and John Hoedemaker.

Craft beer’s relationship with the mid-strength market has always been a prickly one at best. As the mean alcohol level in artisan beer continues to nudge skywards (with most everyday Pale Ales and IPAs sitting above 5.5%, and some far, far beyond), drinkers are today often gravitating towards higher ABV brews …but consuming less of them.

The mid sector in Australia (generally less than 3.5% ABV) continues to be dominated by Carlton Mid, the ubiquitous lager whose “stay just a little bit longer” advertisement campaign of the early 2000s was a masterclass in brand marketing. But while iconic, the image was hardly a sexy sell: directly targeted at middle-aged (plus) Australian blokes whose halcyon days of bar room largesse were now regrettably behind them.

If the craft sector’s encroachment into the mid-strength market has been sweet relief to the palate, it has hardly helped reform its long-nagging ‘wowser-ish’ image – with many otherwise discerning breweries bestowing their mid-strength lines with backhanded monikers such as Piss-Weak, Side Kick, Little Banger, Tiny IPA and Half Mast.

Thankfully, the sector has finally come of age over the last 12 months, with many brands now recognising the immense potential of this developing market, not least for the less cumbersome excise tax for beers registering 3.5% ABV and under.

Balter Brewing (Captain Sensible), Colonial Brewing Co (Small Ale), Stone & Wood (Garden Ale) and Pirate Life (Throwback IPA) are all trailblazers, attracting both traditional mid-strength drinkers as well as full-strength consumers looking for less grunt while not sacrificing an inch on flavour and profile.

Rocky Ridge and Garage Project lead the way.
Rocky Ridge and Garage Project lead the way.

And now a fresh crop of antipodean boutique producers is taking up the mantle, exploring this fecund new turf, and crafting beers that are demanding both attention and respect across the sector.

Few craft breweries in Australia have forged such an enigmatic presence as Wildflower ( wildflowerbeer.com), highly esteemed for their small-batch, naturally fermented ‘wild ales’. Now the NSW label has achieved a significant milestone in releasing its inaugural certified organic beer – and clocking in at just 2.9%.

The Organic Table Beer, long a cellar door favourite, is finally now available in cans and shipped Australia-wide. Crafted with barley and red wheat grown at Organically Greenwood in the Riverina and Motueka hops from Nelson, this beer is inspired by the mid-alcohol ‘à la pression’ trappist beers of Belgium, renowned for their vibrancy and ‘freshly cut-hay’ aromatics. While each individual batch of this brew is wholly unique, what’s ubiquitous is its vitality – a union of mild clove spice, a hint of lime and bright wheaty freshness. This beer is ultra-small batch and available in minimalistic 440ml cans exclusively from the brewery’s online store.

WA’s Rocky Ridge Brewing ( rockyridgebrewing.com.au) has wasted little time in transforming from cottage Margaret River region upstarts into one of the country’s more exciting producers. And this zeitgeist is perfectly encapsulated in the Tropicale; it’s a summery sensation that eschews the tired mid-strength clichés to offer a luscious, pine and mango tinged ale that truly lives up to its exotic promise.

When it comes to promises, few labels deliver more than New Zealand’s intrepid Garage Project ( garageproject.co.nz). And the brewery is finally furthering its reach into Australia through collaboration and contract brewing, which finally means a steadier supply of its eclectic and highly coveted range.

If anyone was ever going to attempt a peach and salt infused sour that clocks in at a session-worthy 2.9%, it was always going to be Garage Project. A kettle sour fashioned from wheat, White Mischief is laden with equal parts umami and swagger, as well as razor-sharp acidity, a bright peachy palate and a faint saline finish reminiscent of the sea. Originally brewed in 2015 as a beer to pair with food, it has now finally come into its own as a stand-out addition to any beer fridge.

As the culinary mantra goes: if you want the finest there’s no other route
than ‘low and slow’.