The venue, the Royal Exhibition Hall in Carlton, was superb for the occasion with its high round arches opening onto and filling with light the wide exhibition space beneath. The set-up and organisation of the event was well thought out too; 92 beers on offer across two bars, divided into three sections each. Admittedly it took Liam and I a round to figure it out but soon enough we were armed with our tasting paddles and planning our moves accordingly by choosing 5 beers from a section at a time to minimise wait times.
Anyway, time to get on with the good stuff – the beer!
It was a tough decision but after much um-ing and ah-ing, I finally ended up placing all my bets on 2 Brothers Brewery’s The Magic Pudding (1) for my favourite beer of the festival. What really sold this beer for me was 2 Brother’s ability to get all the flavours and complexity of a Christmas pudding into a beer and actually have a final product that was not just drinkable but deliciously so. The smell was similarly amazing with sweet fruity notes broken by subtle hints of cinnamon. To me it smelt like that point where my mum used to add the whiskey to the Christmas cake batter and at 9.5% ABV no wonder. To taste it was sweet but hints of citrus and spice notes kept it on the right side of that scale.
A close second was Yeastie Boys’ Golden Age of Bloodshed (90). The New Zealand Brewer took out the People’s Choice Award for best festival beer at last year’s event with their Gunnamatta IPA and this “Heavily-Beeted Belgian Blond” was again on the money. A rich purple hue, it was no doubt the visual highlight of the festival with a number of my fellow beer lovers asking me which number it was so they could get it next. A strong yeasty aroma, fairly sweet on the front with medium citrus notes on the back to balance it out and no beetroot flavour what-so-ever it was a winner in the taste stakes as well.
The one of two beers Liam and I got a pot of was Colonial Brewing Co’s Gary the White (24), and I’m glad we did. A white stout, this beer was all about getting the flavour in and keeping the colour out and the brewer/s of this little beauty certainly pulled it off. On the pour it had that thick and creamy head stouts are known for and seeing those minuscule but densely packed bubbles rising to the top of this straw-coloured brew was a real highlight for me. Flavour-wise I quite enjoyed it with Liam describing it as ‘the flat white of beers’ due to its strong coffee and milk notes. It wasn’t very bitter for a stout and definitely not as heavy as Guinness or Kilkenny.
Another beer I quite enjoyed for the creativity aspect was the White Chocolate Raspberry Pils from Bacchus Brewing Co (8) which ended up taking out the People’s Choice at this year’s GABS. The smell was divine with its strong aroma of white chocolate and subtle hints of raspberry. While it wasn’t my cup of tea to taste (it was more a bitter dark chocolate flavour than what I was expecting) all the elements were there for a pretty complex beer. Overall a fine entry from the Queensland brewers.
Next there was the “smooth milk chocolate meets funky sour cherries” collaboration from Moon Dog and Nøgne Ø called Selvmordstokt (57). The description was bang on with both our tasting experiences though Liam’s attempt at besting it (“like a Cherry Ripe minus the coconut”) wasn’t far off the mark either.
With so many weird and wonderful creations it’s impossible to mention them all but one final brew that deserves comment was the Balsamic Baltic Porter Acid Freaks from Brewcult (17). Mixing beer with balsamic vinegar isn’t a concept that immediately springs to mind when creating a craft beer and I can’t say I found the concept too appealing either. While it’s probably not a crowd-pleaser, I was pleasantly surprised at the mix and the subtle sourness given off from the vinegar.
Now I don’t give dishonourable mentions lightly but there were some beers that I felt just weren’t on par with the rest of the field.
Although hard for me – a fellow Queenslander – to admit, I was overly disappointed with Burleigh Brewing Co’s Hassle Hop’(21). To me, the fusion of a mazillion (I’m exaggerating – it was five) different hops turned into a beer that tasted like potpourri smells. You’re better than that Burleigh!
Lastly, I don’t know what combination of ingredients or method it takes to create BandAid-flavoured beer but I’ve had few in my time so it’s not a once-off anomaly, and it occurred again over the GABS weekend. Southern Bay Brewing was the culprit with their Le Petit Tronc avec Pêche (76). While it was only mild this time, it still – as it invariably does – ruined this beer for me.
So, in closing, if you’re a craft beer enthusiast GABS is most definitely the preeminent festival and well worth attending despite its effect on the ol’ hip-pocket (we spent an insane amount of money but it was well worth it). Post-GABS it’s also been interesting to read other bloggers’ and beer tasters’ interpretations of what they experienced trying some of the festival beers so I encourage you to check them out as well; some were completely at odds with my experience of the same beer and even Liam and I couldn’t agree on the flavours and characteristics of some brews which is all part of the fun!