Why your beer doesn't rank in the GABS Hottest 100

Steve ‘Hendo’ Henderson

Professional brewer Steve ‘Hendo’ Henderson of Rockstar Brewer has some advice for industry colleagues on the secrets to GABS Hottest 100 success.

Well it’s that time of the year again when the beer-loving public vote for their favourite beers in the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers and the more recent GABS Hottest 100 Kiwi Craft Beers.

Personally, I love the GABS Hottest 100 and the tradition that comes with it. You’ll usually find me hanging out with some friends at a cool venue gas-bagging about who’s going to be in it and who will miss out. Fun is what it’s all about!

With the growing number of beers and breweries, getting a beer to rank in the GABS Hottest 100 gets more difficult each year.

Now that the Hottest 100 is in its tenth year, the stakes are high and getting your beer to rank in the top 100 can do wonders for your brand but it is becoming increasingly difficult.

As someone who’s had a beer in the Hottest 100 in eight of the last ten years across different breweries I’ve had the privilege to work for or own, I’ve seen the trends change with the make-up of the Hottest 100.

Did you know that beers such as Hahn Premium used to rank in the Hottest 100 back in the first list in 2008? Then came the rise of IPA, the sour beer trend and NEIPA is set to give the list a red hot go for 2017.

With voting now closed for 2017, I’ll reveal to you the four reasons why your beer doesn’t rank in the GABS Hottest 100.

1 – You’re not brewing a quality product
Seems pretty simple right? Brew a quality product and you’re likely to score a vote from a punter. Create a bad experience for that punter and you won’t even be in their head when that punter casts their vote.

A quality product isn’t just about an awesome beer recipe. A quality product is all about what’s inside the glass/bottle/can.

  • How good are your packaging processes?
  • How good is your shelf life? Dissolved oxygen and diacetyl are not your friends.
  • How consistent is your product from batch to batch?

This is why you consistently see beers like Feral Hop Hog, Stone & Wood Pacific Ale, Bridge Road Beechworth Pale Ale, James Squire 150 Lashes and more in the list. They are all simple beers brewed by quality-focused brewers.

Focus on your quality systems with a bent on “continuous improvement” and never, ever settle for second best when it comes to quality…. because your consumers can tell that your beer sucks even if you can’t.

2 – You don’t have sufficient distribution
Naturally, the more people that get their hands on your beer, the more votes you may be able to garnish.

If you’re producing millions of litres of beer per year and distributing it nationwide then sure, there’s a high chance you’ll rank in the Hottest 100.

But it’s also just as good to focus on your local area and penetrate it across many outlets. National distribution may see your presence spread too thin.

Do you sell via a tap room only? While that lowers the number of people who could potentially drink your beer, those that do are likely to be more of a captive audience.

Capitalise on that!

If you sell your beer into the wholesale market (i.e. hotels, pubs, clubs, bottle shops or restaurants), is your beer keg-only or does it go into small pack such as bottles or cans?

Small pack is likely to be consumed by more people and nowadays, it’s rare that you see keg-only product rank in the Hottest 100.

It was around 2011-2013 when Doctor’s Orders Brewing had keg-only beers in the Hottest 100 … and they were awesome beers… but you had to find a pub that poured them… and at the time, I don’t recall them being on tap much out of Doc’s home state of NSW.

3 – Your sales, marketing and brand awareness initiatives don’t cut it
Ah yes, a powerful brand; it’s super important that you stick in the minds of the punters when they cast their vote.

But all of that is meaningless unless if the punters can’t vote for you.

So first, you need to register all of your beers on BeerHub.

How do GABS generate the list on their voting page? Predominately by the beers that the brewers register and much less frequently by requests by punters to add a beer.

Get on it, sales & marketing departments – go add all of your beers.

Because if you make the punters work to vote for you, they’ll simply vote for some other beer.

Also – how recognisable is your brand? If I said “Kaiju!”, “Balter” or “Moon Dog” to you, you’d totally be able to instantly visualise what their products look like.

These are some great examples of modern effective branding.

How strong is your social media presence? It’s not just the number of followers, it’s how you engage with your audience.(Hint for breweries: Do not use Instagram autofollowers or autolikes.)

How often or how well do you communicate with your consumers via email list? Remember, you’re not allowed to offer inducements in exchange for votes. Play fair.

Do you, like many brands, pay for sponsored social media during the voting period?

In my opinion, the best branding tip I can give you is this:

If you have a stable of core-range products, use your voice to convince your consumers to vote for just ONE of your beers.

That’s right – pick just one beer you’d like to see in the Hottest 100 and focus your marketing effort on that.

If you go out there and and say “VOTE BREWERY X IN THE GABS HOTTEST 100” then you’re not sending the right message.

A better, clearer message is to say “VOTE FOR BREWERY X PALE ALE IN THE GABS HOTTEST 100”.

Focus is better than a scatter gun approach so yeah, it’s OK to put all your eggs in one basket on this occasion.

4 – You’re missing the ‘X Factor’
OK so this is the aspect of a ranking beer that doesn’t fall into the categories above.

It might be an innovative beer.

It might be a beer brewed with extreme ingredients or be from that latest sour brewery that makes beers that are so rare that they’re not yours.

Heck, it could even be a new way of packaging beer – case in point, the rise of the can in the last 2 years. Thank you, Mountain Goat Summer Ale and Pirate Life Everything for leading the charge.

Sometimes there’s just an inexplicable thing that just gets a large number of people to vote for your beer.

GABS Festival beers generally do well with the People’s Choice winning beer typically ranking in the Top 20. So if that’s your way into the Hottest 100? Go for it! (but seriously….good luck and that’s a whole different blog post)

Remember, the GABS Hottest 100 is simply a popularity contest and is meant to be a bit of fun.

Unless you’re betting on the GABS Hottest 100… then you’re just a weirdo.

None of the beers in the list have been judged in a formal manner by qualified beer judges, so your approach to the outcome should be the same.

Follow the points above and come GABS Hottest 100 Day, head to the pub with some friends, raise a glass and celebrate how damn cool Aussie and Kiwi Craft Beer scene is and where it’s going to shine in the future.

Oh and one last thing, come January 27, the punters are going to be analysing the shit out of the Hottest 100 for weeks so whatever the outcome, grab some popcorn and enjoy the conversation.

A version of this article originally appeared on Hendo’s Rockstar Brewer website. Watch out for more blog posts from Hendo on the Rockstar Brewer Facebook page.

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