What started as a day for brewers to show unique one-off beers has grown into a celebration of what makes craft beer special: creativity, food, good company and exploration.
Recently named one of the Top 20 Beer Festivals in the world by Beer Connoisseur magazine, the Great Australasian Beer Spectapular is one of the most anticipated events on the Australian beer calendar. This year's event is held in Melbourne from May 22nd to 24th, and will then move to Sydney the following weekend.
I spoke to co-founder Steve Jeffares and learned a little about the festival, and why he does it.
VC: Firstly, can you tell us in a few words the Great Australian Beer Spectapular is?
Steve: A unique celebration of beer and food as well as a great day out.
VC: This is the first time the festival leaves Melbourne, with an additional event being held in Sydney. Are you excited to expand the festival and should we expect to see it grow in future years?
Steve: Being able to bring a quality beer festival experience to as many people as possible was part of the original vision, and the fact that GABS is heading to Sydney this year is very exciting for the whole organising team. It took three years to get GABS Melbourne to a point where we were satisfied and with the craft beer scene in Sydney really taking off, and with the other Local Taphouse also there, it was a fairly obvious decision for that to be the next stop. We are testing the market with a one-day event but if things go well this year we may expand to two days and beyond after that.
VC: When starting the festival, what were the goals, and as the beer landscape has changed, have your goals changed with it?
Steve: The first GABS at both Taphouses (the Sydney and Melbourne bars he co-owns with Guy Greenstone) in the summer of 2011 was such a success and it was a lightbulb moment for us. Guy and I research and attend many beer and other festivals here and overseas to try and stay relevant with fresh ideas. For the prestigious Beer Connoisseur magazine to this year name GABS as one of the best 20 beer festivals in the world was a fantastic reward for so much risk and effort.
VC: Logistically, what are some of the challenges you face with expanding the festival not only in Melbourne, but now to a new city?
Steve: Having GABS in another city is certainly more work for the team, but it's not double the work as it's on the following weekend, so we’ll pack up the festival in Melbourne and move it (along with a crew of about 25) up to Sydney. The biggest challenges are those we foist upon ourselves. Given we try and raise the bar each year, most of the stress is around executing the new ideas to the high standard we're aiming for.
VC: Do you have any beers or beer stands you are personally excited for this year around?
Steve: There are more stands than ever in the Market Place and it's going to be interesting to see what breweries come up with this year. Last year, we challenged all stand-holders to create an overall stand experience not really seen before in Australia (and perhaps even overseas). This was successful in the most part as breweries were creative; they offered their regular beers with a twist, very limited quantities of rare versions of their beers, personal tastings with the brewer and other fun experiences.
With beers, I'm looking forward to trying the range of barrel-fermented or aged beers. I'm also looking at seeing what the new breweries like Shenanigans, Modus Operandi, Robe Town, Pirate Life and Akasha can come up with.
VC: Every year you've also placed importance on the entertainment and education side of the festival. What can we expect this year?
Steve: In addition to The Local Taphouse Craft Beer College with Pete Mitcham coming back, one of our official partners, Steel, is sponsoring 'Adventures in Craft', where Beer Diva, Kirrily Waldhorn, will explore beer matchings through a series of free, fun-filled seminars.
The Triple M Dr Dan Bar will be showcasing 10 different styles of beers from the best breweries in the country, [and] selected from The Local Taphouse’s annual 'beers of the year' poll.
For fun and games, we have the Kegstar Table Tennis 'Kegaseum' where beer fans can take on brewers in round robin competitions; Silent Disco is almost doubling in size this year; we have created Big Beer Twister and there will be two ten pin bowling lanes. The Little Creatures Carnival is also coming to GABS where acrobats
VC: If someone isn't a card-carrying beer snob, will they still find something at the event to suit their palate?
Steve: Absolutely. This year we have further developed the GABS Tasting Tools to help guide people through their tasting experience. In addition to the notes on each beer, there is a super simple traffic light colour-coding for approachability, and for those who want more information each beer is given one of seven flavour characters with an easy to digest explanation. The GABS Official Apps will add even more easy functionality to help choose your next beer. And of course there's fantastic cider and amazing food to try from some renowned restaurants [we have] lined up.
VC: Finally, where can people find out about the events and when will they be held?
Steve: Our website (gabsfestival.com.au) is the place to book tickets and find out all the GABS information you need.