This is a serious post. This is actually a “hooray for craft beer” type deal because if I don’t start writing those, my membership at the Amateur Australian Beer Bloggers Association of Australia (AABBAA for short) will be revoked and they’ll brand “cynical beer-hating asshole” across my billboard-like forehead.
So after getting to Melbourne in 2013 and 2014, I figured it was time to grace Sydney with my presence and see if the festival was going to be up to expectation. If you’ve been to the southern version of the festival and were wondering what it’s like to GABS elsewhere, then read on.
But before I entertain you sillly, if you read my previous post in the lead-up, I threatened to make GABS the “the most anti-feminist, racist, homophobic, fascist beer festival on the planet” if I didn’t get my media pass. Lo and behold, it wasn’t there when I fronted up on Saturday. Nonetheless, I explained who I was, got a wristband and got waved through by Kirstie from the GABS communications team (who is super nice). So while I was technically forgotten, the $20 of tokens and the simple process of getting in without having to drop a wanky “Do you know who I am?” put me in a pretty good mood (DISCLOSED AGAIN MOTHERFUCKERS).
The GABS concept works super well
The organisers picked up the internal contents of the Exhibition Hall in Melbourne and transported it up to Australian Technology Park in Eveleigh (near Redfern). And it worked. There was a thirty minute period around 2PM in the first session where it looked like the queues were getting unmanageable but it wasn’t too long before the lines subsided. If it wasn’t for the locomotives and completely different architectural aesthetic, you’d think you were in Melbourne. An amazing effort for their debut north of the Murray.
Some other stuff didn’t work so well
This turned up on my phone way too often:
While this could be misconstrued as a ridiculous young-people’s complaint that I wasn’t able to check in to Untappd as fast as I would like, I probably wouldn’t have minded so much if the app hadn’t been flawless in 2014. Plus re-launching the GABS app a dozen times really sucked the life out of my battery, making my social media efforts half baked at best (the other half wasn’t hashtagged correctly – poor form I know!).
The layout for the food vendors will also need review. There was a haze through the hall during the entire event which I managed to trace back to Mary’s, the stall for a Newtown burger joint, which produced a steady stream of smoke from frying patties. Half of the stalls were sold out by halfway through the second session, leading to long lines in front of Mary’s, which wouldn’t have helped.
Minor complaints in the grand scheme because I had a spectapularly good time*.
*I get paid more if I can slip that pun in.
Sours, Sours Everywhere
The main theme for GABS this year was the emergence of sours, particularly at the lower end of the ABV spectrum, to sit alongside the predominant mix of heavily hopped regular and black IPAs and heavy-ass stouts. The range was a bit hit and miss with, to take one example, Bridge Road’s Creek a bit too sour and much too wild – earning a skull and crossbones notation from one of my accomplices – while Parrotdog’s Puffinus Huttoni, La Sirene’s Bébé Rouge, and 8 Wired’s Hippy Berliner led the way, earning high marks from me for their straight, berry and hoppy (respectively) offerings to the church of the sour.
30 beers is not enough
This year, GABS offered 118 beers minus a handful of scratchings. I got through six paddles before I got beer-ed out. Even then, I still missed ones I wanted to try. Think Big Shed’s Golden Stout Time (which sold out in the second session), Thirsty Crow’s Surf n Turf, HopDog’s Taxidermied Pachyderm and Doctor’s Orders’ Serum. Disappointing but it shows the advantage Melbourne offers is multiple days to go off and reset yourself before coming back for more.
I did try the People’s Choice, Brewcult’s Milk with Two Sugars, which excelled in the “write a clever brief for yourself, make it sweet and smash the execution” category that the people seem to appreciate. In fact, I’m surprised 4 Pines’ Snickers didn’t get a look in which I personally preferred of the two. Whether you’d drink more than a taster of these kinds of beers is a bit irrelevant because GABS is its own special beast and the People’s Choice is decided in the heat of the moment.
From a Queensland point of view, Burleigh Brewing, whose previous GABS efforts haven’t made much of an impression on me, and Green Beacon absolutely smashed it with Peach Saison and Cherry Oak Stout respectively, both of which I would gladly imbibe large quantities of. I wish I hadn’t left Bacchus’ lemon, lime and bitters berliner weisse until the end because that probably deserved closer inspection than I was able to give it. Newstead and Fortitude were both surprising disappointments (especially as I rocked my Noisy Minor shirt on the day), both going to herbal route and neither were to my taste. All Inn was All Inn and managed to ruin barleywine for at least one of my friends. The word “Dettol” was thrown around.
Sydney may be more fun than Melbourne
I saw people dancing. Yes, dancing at the nerdiest beer festival in the country. Admittedly of the seven or so sessions I’ve been to over the years, I haven’t been to the end of more than one or two, so maybe people dance at the end of the Melbourne sessions but I don’t think so. The roving band, consisting of tuba, sax and drums, managed to get a literal following with a few crowd favourites (who knew Dexy’s Midnight Runners were so popular with Gen Y?) and a party threatened break out in the middle of the beer geekery. If the session hadn’t ended, shit would have gotten wild.
I’m not sure if this is because Sydneysiders
haven’t got their heads up their own asses as much as are more fun than Melbournites or can’t handle their drink as well. Of course, both could be true. I’m from Brisbane so I have my biases.
Speaking of, would GABS in Brisbane work?
I don’t think so. At least, not yet.
The Sydney metro area is home to roughly 5 million people and wider Brisbane about 2 million. Sydney packed out the Saturday arvo session but there was a very noticeable lack of attendees in the second session in the evening – I’d guess numbers were about half. While I appreciated not having to line up, the lack of atmosphere and lack of commerce wouldn’t be pluses in the business case for next year’s event. Personally, I think Brisbane could nail one (perhaps specially extended?) session but whether the event as it is in Melbourne could be made commercially viable is a different question.
The other question is finding a venue. Presumably the RNA Showgrounds is the only large enough venue in the city centre with enough traces of character and able to hold three or four thousand punters at a time. But if the organisers want to get radical: how about we take a punt on the weather and hold it in the Botanic Gardens?
Beer for thought.