Long-time beer drinker Ross Lewis talks to the people behind our great brews and beer news.
Steve Jeffares has the gift of the GABS. And he wants to share it with the rest of the Australia.
After all word of mouth has helped Jefarres’ annual festival become one of the world’s biggest celebrations of brewers.
The Great Australasian Beer Spectapular – the p is there for a reason – next week returns to Melbourne for its third year to again showcase the skills of the country’s amber fluid makers, as well as a few from overseas.
But it is a beer extravaganza with a difference. The focus for attending brewers is to make a unique drink. And that has encouraged a lot of experimentation.
The event, which is held over three days at the Royal Exhibition Building, has got people talking about craft beer. More than 23,000 thirsty testers have attended the previous editions of GABS.
Yet Jeffares wants more people to be able to enjoy the experience and he, alongwith business partner Guy Greenstone, are keen to take GABS to the crowds.
“The plan always from the beginning was to take a roadshow of GABS around the country,” said Jeffares.
“In year one we invested heavily in infrastructure. We converted shipping containers into bars and bought around 3000 seats that can also pack up into containers.
“Subject to sponsorship, and that is becoming a bit easier to find every year, we’d like to talk to our existing partners about taking it national.
“At this stage we’d like to start off with Brisbane and Sydney but we’d love to do Perth and Adelaide. Because we’re asking brewers to produce unique beers we might have to do it on consecutive weekends and order more beers but it is something we’re aiming to do down the track.”
For now visitors from Perth, Copenhagen, Tokyo and even New York are happy to flock to Melbourne for GABS Mark III with the first of five tasting sessions starting on Friday May 23.
Jeffares and Greenstone are the brains trust behind the popular Local Taphouse establishments in Sydney and Melbourne. The venues have specialised in luring kegs from craft brewers. And there is a regular turnover of beers.
It was at the Local Taphouse that the GABS idea originated. In 2011 they offered their 20 taps to brewers who produce a one-off beer. The event gained traction. A bigger plan was needed. Certainly a bigger venue.
So the Melbourne GABS started a year later.
The method of the Spectapular is that punters get tasting samples, around 85ml, and can collect paddles, or flights, of brews to try for the exchange of tokens on sale at the venue.
The uniqueness of the beers is the hook that has separated GABS from other beer galas.
There has been a Taco beer (Two Birds Brewing) and White Chocolate Raspberry Pilsner (Bacchus Brewing) while this year’s series features a Tart Cherry Farmhouse Ale (Garage Project) and an Apricot Wheat Beer (Rocks Brewing).
“Not all the beers are outrageously whacky by any means,” Jeffares said.
“It is not about coming up with the weirdest beer it is just about coming up with something that you haven’t brewed before.
“So there are a number of brewers who are producing beers in a more traditional style. Some are using it as a testing ground for beers that they might like to produce.
“Little Brewing in NSW released both of last year’s beers, Hassel Hop was Burleigh Brewing’s festival beer and they are now bottling it.”
Some of the drinks pack a punch. 2 Brothers Brewery from Victoria has produced a Crème Caramel Dessert Style Ice Beer that hits the scale at 13 per cent alcolhol.
Despite the potential to over-indulge Jeffares was proud to report that security has yet to evict a patron for poor behaviour.
“That’s 23,000 people and no one has been thrown out,” he said.
“I’ve been to Oktoberfests, and there is a place for those types of events, but GABS has attracted people who want to have fun and be a bit more serious about what they are tasting.”
There will be around 110 unique beers at GABS, including products from overseas makers such as Camden Town Brewery (UK, Black India Pale Lager), Coedo (Japan, Barrel Aged Strong Beer), Evil Twin (US, Australian Pale Ale) and Mikkeller (Denmark, Super Hopped Pilsner).
But there will also be opportunities for brewers to market their existing beers at special stands around the exhibition centre. It means there will be close to 250 drinks on offer.
So from all the beers from GABS, what has stood out to Jeffares’ taste buds?
“Guy and I are so busy during the event that we don’t get to taste as many beers as we would like and there have been about 280 brews at GABS,” Jeffares said.
“I would have tried around 30 to 40 percent of them. But the beer that won the brewer’s choice last year, Barrique Okarma from Feral in the WA Swan Valley, was a really enjoyable drink.
“I though the Two Birds Taco which had lime and coriander was a stand-out. It was intended to be a one-off beer but the response was so positive they continued production.”
Finding the next big thing from GABS will be a test for patrons. But with such a raft of drinks available visitors might need to attend all five sessions just to get close to trying anywhere near all the special brews.