Drunken Speculation

How do GABS 2014 beers stack up after GABS?

The Great Australasian Beer Spectapular is a funny place. Over a hundred breweries each create a unique beer for the festival. Many breweries take the most off the wall concept they can think of and make that. As a punter, the only thing you have to help choose your beers is a thirty-odd page guide filled with tasting notes written by the brewers. For many, the aim is to get through as many samples to tick off as many brand new beers as possible.

My Untappd checkins from this year's Good Beer Week - featuring Pyrenean passes where I was at GABS

My Untappd checkins from this year’s Good Beer Week – featuring Pyrenean passes of checkins when I was at GABS

So on the one hand, you have brewers creating incredibly complex beers and on the other, punters’ entire experience of all that hard work is reduced to a single 90mL plastic tasting cup in a tray of four other equally complex beers.

There’s a massive discrepancy there. I’ve been pondering how the typical serving at the festival affects the perception of the beer. In a less stimulating environment, served in a glass and with a greater volume, does your opinion of the beer change?

Each brewery only needs to provide five kegs for the festival itself and I would imagine some breweries have a minimum batch size far in excess of that, so GABS beers tend to end up floating around the country as one-offs for those who couldn’t make it to the festival. Still others wait and see what the reaction is on social media before brewing additional batches for the later release and, in a few cases, becoming permanent line-up additions.

As one accumulates Untappd check-ins, brand new beers tend to be sparser than they once were and often you can’t remember what you have or haven’t had in the past. Sometimes, it turns out, you’re drinking a GABS beer. It might be useful to compare thoughts then and now.

A word of caution: we try to be fair about our Untappd check-ins but I also go in knowing that no one with any knowledge about how people work takes the opinions spewed forth by the user base of Untappd (or RateBeer or BeerAvocate) with anything less than a mine’s worth of salt. That said, we didn’t start by going out and looking for these beers nor did we pre-compare our previous rating. It all sort of just happened by accident.

Little Brewing Co Breaking the Cardinal Rule

Little Brewing Co’s range of Belgian beers are nearly peerless in this country and their Death Between the Tanks DIPA is celebrated by those who are lucky enough to have had it. For GABS, they prepared a hopped-up tripel, however, I feel that this specific batch is not as thick in body as I would like. That may be the additional hoppiness affecting my perception.

When I did the second check-in, I thought I’d originally given it 3, so 3.5 was supposed to be bumping it up half a point. It turns out I had the exact same thoughts during both check-ins: a bit on thin side but otherwise quite pleasant.

bacchus sex drugs rocky roadBacchus Brewing Sex, Drugs and Rocky Road

We were both pretty excited about this at GABS, particularly me after having the lower ABV version, so there may have an element of overrating. For example, I rated Praline a 4 but ended up voting for that in the People’s Choice.

The second time around, I probably wouldn’t have rated it 4.5 but Untappd doesn’t give you a 4.25 option, so I opted to be nicer than meaner with my scoring. I think the only problem is that the upper limit for this beer is 200mL – it’s more like a dessert appertif than beer.

Ekim Brewing Slammer

I’m going to be honest with you: any beer that has a prominent Sorachi Ace hop character is not going down well with me. I’ll be polite and mark it a three but inside I loathe it with the passion of a thousand burning suns.

I’m prone to exaggeration which is why I’m using ammo’s thoughts to round-out this beer. Slammer is an agave-spiked pale ale made with the aforementioned Japanese hops. Interestingly, ammo picked it as tasting like dill both times (an assessment I’m inclined to agree with). Despite the relatively low ABV, this is a moderately challenging beer: the mix of tequila and a hop whose popularity is mercurial at best and the strong flavours must have come through in both sittings.

young henrys mothers ruinYoung Henry’s Mother’s Ruin

Gin, anyone? This is a Finnish-style beer called sahti made with Australian gin botanicals. It very much smells like that’s the case. The botanicals actually came across much stronger in the GABS context, perhaps where it was a bit warmer, than at The Scratch, in a proper glass and everything. Notably, the first time round I compared it to tea (no idea what I was talking about) and the second time around, the malt profile was easier to detect.

If you like gin, this will be up your alley and the flavours are strong enough that they come through in any serving medium, as long as the beer is the right temperature. Some of the subtleties of the beer were probably lost on both tastings though.

I must say that I’m surprised by the lack of movement between scores. Admittedly, a sample size of four is not conclusive and our ratings are massively subjective. Perhaps it was all a bit pointless because who cares about Untappd scores? Indeed, ammo has expressed some reservations about Pepper Steak Porter by Brewcult in bottle form – that it’s drier.

But perhaps this exercise reinforces a few ideas:

  • your first reaction to the overall impression is usually the “correct” one
  • glassware can improve your drinking experience but it won’t turn the earth upside down for very strongly flavoured beers (serving temperature is far more important)
  • the words that goes with your Untappd check-in are gibberish and won’t make any sense more than ten minutes after they’re written

What are your experiences?

13 comments

  1. My reaction to most of the popular beers was contrary to most others – and I’m pretty sure it’s down to both personal taste and serving sizes. Sticking to mostly full glasses at the festival meant I thought Praline was too sweet, and the Kooinda tea-lager was delicious.

    My favourite beer of the festival, the Stillwater brett-IPA, was scarcely mentioned as a top beer by anyone but for me it was head and shoulders over everything else I tried.

    The only exception I can think of was the Panhead beer. From memory it was well received and being such a big beer I only had a taste and I really enjoyed it.

    Next year I’ll definitely keep to my full glass approach but maybe mix it in with a few paddles along the way. I just don’t really enjoy ticking off beers in plastic tasters.

    • Do you normally find yourself being contrarian? Hype tends to ruin things for me and I’d seen how popular Praline was, I might’ve been more critical.

      Anyway, your approach is the one I’d take at normal festivals, esp as I get sick of being a ticker and look more for beers I’m going to actually enjoy. At GABS, I still think the most fun is to be had in giving yourself a massive sensory overload. Which explains why I usually stop from exhaustion rather than drunkenness.

      If the above shows anything (big if), it’s that all I’m missing out on assessing is the sessionability of the beers, limiting myself to 90mL. That said, if I’m that concerned about, I can usually track it down in the months following the festival to follow-up.

      • I’m as contrarian as hell.

        I tried Parline in the first session so it hadn’t had time to build word of mouth buzz yet. I remember just being overwhelmed by sweetness and then forgetting about it. Which was a shame because I’m huge fan of their beers typically.

        For me GABS is about sharing and chatting about beers. I think I did miss out on sitting with friends over a few paddles so next year I’ll do that for a session. But I really enjoyed just wandering around, chatting to the brewers, checking out the stands etc etc.

        Another factor for me drinking big glasses, was for $6 each (for most) you got world class one-off beers. Which is a pretty good deal.

      • That’s a fair point. We’ve only been in this game a short while so for us it’s more getting to know a handful of people (e.g. we met Glen and Pia at this year’s edition) than catching up with a larger beer community.

        Also, when we travel 2000km for a beer festival, we’re going to drink beer first and foremost.

      • Sure. Or if you find yourself in Brisbane, give us a shout – the new James Squire brewpub officially opened last night. Exciting times.

  2. I felt the Praline and Sex,D,RR were just way too sweet. Same with that Dulce one that kicked the first day. I have had many of my gabs favorites after the show, Behemoth, Pepper Steak Porter, and they held up fine. Behemoth was best in show for me and continues to be one of, if not my favorite australian beers.

    • After I started writing this, I tried to track down Behemoth myself, just to get a feel for it in a proper glass, not least because I massively enjoyed it as well.

      Ended up with a Cthulhu on the Moon. It pays to read labels properly sometimes…

  3. Paul

    I won’t check in anything less than a small glass into untappd…. a) because I don’t think you can really judge a beer on that small amount and b) if I checked in all the tasters, I’d spend all my time looking at my phone and not enough time being social (although the GABS app made that process a lot quicker this year) At this years Gabs mostly did a tasting paddle or two then swapped to glasses for the rest of the session for the first couple I was at. By the final session it was all glasses. I don’t think my recent impressions have changed much on the beers I first had at GABS

  4. Grant

    I felt a lot of the beers are too complex for small shots and too strong for glass fulls. As I rarely get to go to these things and usually only do one session it’s like being a kid in a lolly shop. I never had any of the beers afterwards but there were a few memorable ones. Barrique Okarma was good. I loved Tuataras Lo-Fi and finally got to taste some beers which have great reputations straight off the tap. I normally only have access to Dan Murphy tainted beers. I also got to taste styles which I’d heard so much about but had never tried. But I do find that after a number of tastings beers just blend into one big beery flavour and my palate looses it’s ability to detect subtleties. Which is a short coming (I think) of what is a great festival. But I learnt a lot too. And the main lesson for me was keep away from sours and anything of a Belgium style. Just not to my liking. Great article by the way.

    • Thanks Grant. We find ourselves in a similar position and for mine, once you can’t distinguish tastes properly any more, it’s time either stop altogether or at least stop with the tasters. Barrique Okarma is one of my favourite GABS beers as well – there were a few kegs of it floating around in March and it’s still great.

  5. Great post Liam!

    I totally agree with the exhaustion that stops you from drinking more, not drunkenness. Whilst I really enjoy trying heaps of new beers I think a session taking Luke’s approach would be on cards for me next time as I really enjoyed meeting people who is previously only interacted with on InstaTwitFace.

    I really enjoy tracking down GABS beers post-festival, especially those I have raved about just to see if my palate was still loving it or whether maybe I had rose tinting on my tongue. Two Birds Taco and Brew Cult Acid Freaks jump to my mind, both GABS beers that I loved and still loved when they came it in bottles.

    I’m also not a huge Untappd person, particularly at GABS. There’s so much going on, I can’t go past pen and programme for fast, kinda legible notes.

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