Australia’s premier beer festival, the Great Australasian Beer Spectapular but better known as GABS, offered 111 brand new beers – less a few last minute scratchings – for the consumption of thousands of excited beer nerds and normal people. In between paddles, we caught up with some people but mostly it was a weekend of fictional internet points.
Here’s a graph of my Untappd check-ins over our Good Beer Week weekend:
The flat bits are where I was asleep. The steep slopes in the middle and at the end? Those are GABS sessions. I went from 503 on Thursday night to 576 by Sunday afternoon, a process greatly aided by the excellent GABS app.
We attended all of session 1 and the first halves of sessions 2 and 5. Lines were mercifully shorter than last year but the number of people seemed higher, so we had a great atmosphere while ammo and I knocked off about ten paddles (around 50 beers) each.
However, sampling fewer than half the offerings means that we likely missed some gold. With that in mind, this is by no means a comprehensive guide but a reflection of what we experienced with a liberal dose of kudos to those who successfully navigated the tricky waters of brewing GABS beers. There’s also a few that didn’t appeal but the overall quality of this year’s entrants felt much higher than last year.
12. 2 Brothers Brewery Crème Caramel (#1)
ammo’s favourite GABS beer last year was 2 Brothers Magic Pudding. While last year’s effort was tasty, this year’s missed the mark for mine. It might have been the first session batch and while it tastes very much like the eponymous dessert, there was a strong alcoholic, medicinal tang to it which didn’t appeal. It’s described as an “ice ale”, which I assume means freeze distilled, which is hard to do. Then again, Crème Caramel was the seventh most popular in the People’s Choice, so what do I know?
11. Naked Monkey Brewing Old Fashioned (#79)
Despite the name and the intention to mimic the cocktail, this beverage tasted like blue cheese. I’m no expert but I think getting a salty dairy flavour is a fault.
10. Red Island Brewing Quiet Deeds Vanilla Porter (#88)
While we enjoyed the New South Wales Pint of Origin, I wondered why no one had tried to replicate the Thirsty Crow Vanilla Milk Stout. Part of me wonders if this beer – which is fantastic I should add – was inspired by the notoriety gained by Thirsty Crow and their success in last year’s Hottest 100. In retrospect, that was kind of a dumb statement: how many porter/stouts can you think of that have been spiked with vanilla? Numerous, I’ll bet. This one, however, is sweet, has a strong vanilla overtone with a great underlying porter.
Subtle. The vanilla bean flavour goes right through the beer but it’s very much about the raspberries, which is bang up ammo’s alley. Funnily enough, it finishes on quite a bitter note which is surprising for the style.
8. Doctor’s Orders Brewing Electrolyte Forte (#33)
Electrolyte Forte was like a punch in the face towards the end of our first session. I remember trying Electrolyte, Doctor’s Orders normal strength gose, last year and not being particularly impressed. Forte, the imperialised version, wasn’t salty but lively. Despite being a sour in a festival where it occasionally seemed like that was all the Australian brewing industry is capable of producing, this was a stand-out.
7. Yeastie Boys Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch (#110)
I’m sure there’s a good story behind the name of this beer. “Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch” is a little, uh, eyebrow-raising. I wasn’t terribly fussed by this beer, noting that I’m not a huge fan of smoky beers. ammo, on the other hand, loved it. She found there was a hit of paw paw upfront, which transitioned into burnt BBQ caramel goodness. ammo says, “Fantastic.”
&J was supposed to be paired with PB (#17) to form PB&J. I’m sure many punters tried both but of the two, &J was the superior beer, enjoyable in it’s own right. A tart Berliner weisse, ammo noted that &J smells like strawberry jelly crystals and tastes much like it smells with a touch of dryness in the end. I couldn’t agree more – it was a remarkably well executed beer.
5. Young Henry’s Brewery Mother’s Ruin (#111)
a traditional beer from Finland made from a variety of grains, malted and unmalted, including barley, rye, wheat, and oats… Traditionally the beer is flavored with juniper berries in addition to, or instead of, hops; the mash is filtered through juniper twigs through a trough-shaped tun called a kuurna…
Mother’s Ruin used Enigma hops, juniper berries and native Australian gin botanicals to create what I think 4 Pines were going for in their Gin & Juice. Young Henry’s created one of the more interesting beers available, a fresh herbaceous and downright gin-like beer.
4. Kaiju! Beer Where Strides the Behemoth (#54)
Cascadian dark ale – or black IPA as most people know the style – is a tricky one to get right. IPA, to me, is about balancing big malt with big hops and the typical black IPA to me is a bit gritty, usually because the malt is a bit shallow and husky (but dry, which is appreciated). Kaiju!, specialists in big hoppy beers it would appear, have done an excellent job of combining a dry, dark, malty beer with a massive hop profile.
Based on a chip, suggested by a blogger and loved by ammo, Brewcult’s GABS entry was off the wall and, despite the concept, vegetarian. Bascially, if you’ve ever had beer jerky, it was like that but in a liquid beer form. Pepper, meaty and smoky characterised this beer, which ended up being the sixth most popular of the festival. ammo wrote , “Get. In. My. Belly.”
2. La Sirene Praline (#56)
Praline was the People’s Choice winner. Hype started ramping up on Twitter by Saturday night, so I’m not surprised to see it get up. I was pretty stoked; not for the brewery, more for myself because people actually agreed with me for a change (as I made clear on social media, I voted for it). The beer was a strong mix of hazelnut and chocolate. Unlike other dessert beers which have a nutty component, the hazelnut in Praline was rich and realistic. Combined with an alluring aroma and a perfect chocolate body, it ticked all of my boxes.
1. Bacchus Brewing Sex, Drugs & Rocky Road (#10)
I voted for Praline but I gave this a higher rating on Untappd, likely through a bit of bias for Bacchus Brewing. I talked about the un-Imperial version of this beer previously and was pretty favourable. Sex, Drugs & Rocky Road was smoother, fuller and doesn’t sacrifice the mix of marshmallow, peanuts and chocolate, absolutely nailing the rocky road flavour. A close second in the People’s Choice and I know a close second for both ammo and I for our votes.
The festival was a total blast. If you settle down about what its possible to get through, a day at GABS is a rollercoaster ride for your tongue. I walked out of each session with a strange mix of elation, exhaustion and a wee bit of drunkenness.
Rumour has it that there are plans for GABS to move up the east coast (according to Steve Jeffares on Ale of a Time and he only, you know, runs the show). If it does come to Brisbane next year or the year after, I probably won’t bother with Good Beer Week. Between GABS and Brewsvegas, that’ll be more than enough.