Ballarat has staked its claim as a hot ticket on the summer festival circuit following the resounding success of its inaugural Beer Festival.
The Saturday afternoon event held at Ballarat’s City Oval was supported by a glorious sunny and warm day, perfect for enjoying the many locally produced beers on offer alongside top quality live music. The ideal conditions brought along a larger crowd than anticipated. More than 3000 tickets were pre-sold, but the size of the walk-up queue was an extra delight for the festival’s organisers. With a capacity of 5000, up to 6000 patrons were rotated through the festival. However, a few hundred people seeking to buy tickets on arrival had to be turned away when the event was declared to be sold out at 2:00pm.
So much was the size of the crowd unexpected that many of the brewers ran very low or completely out of beer early in the afternoon. The team from Holgate Brewhouse even sent one staff member back to their brewery, a 40 minute drive to Woodend, to collect another keg of their new Bruges Bombshell Blonde ale so that their supply would see out the event. Thankfully the space provided by City Oval comfortably accommodated the large crowd size, allowing free movement throughout the grounds and preventing any crush of bodies.
The turnout was a diverse mix of people, young and old. Most were locals but several visitors had traveled from all edges of Victoria for the beer and the music. Three Melbourne pubs had charted buses to the festivals for keen city folk who were seeking to avoid the need to drive. It was clear that the Ballarat community appreciated a festival of such calibre being held in their backyard.
The festival’s vibe was positive and friendly, as many locals discovered the diverse range of local craft beers for the first time. Long queues stretched from the brewers’ tasting tents as eager punters explored the full range available from 19 different beer and cider makers. Overall, patrons displaying a commendable level of patience and goodwill whilst waiting under the hot sun to taste their next beer, such was the atmosphere of the festival.
The brewers discovered a fresh and captive audience in Ballarat. The town has a long brewing history and is home to Australia’s premier tertiary institution for beer and brewing education, the University of Ballarat. However, the new wave of craft beer that is booming in most capital cities has yet to make much of an impact on this regional town’s retail and restaurant markets. This allowed the brewers to focus on showcasing their core range rather than bringing out brand new or special release beers. One brewer that did though was Mountain Goat, which brought along a very small supply of the recently bottled Rye IPA, their next Rare Breed release. It was all gone barely an hour after the gates opened.
Patrons were encouraged to tweet at the Ballarat Beer Festival twitter feed their favourite beer from the day. The Prickly Moses Blueberry Hefeweizen received the greatest number of tweets and was awarded the People’s Choice Award. For tweeting that he voted for the Blueberry Hefeweizen “because it reminds me of heaven”, Glynn Atkinson won a slab of beer courtesy of James Squire. Although the crowd was left wondering when exactly Glynn had been to heaven!
Police praised the crowd’s behaviour. Only one arrest was made, with the individual charged for being drunk in a public place. The visible, yet small and restrained, presence of police and security ensured a safe and pleasant day for all who attended. The organisers also had the foresight to provide breathalysers for patrons leaving the festival.
For those seeking something other than beer, the festival provided an option for all palates. Cider, wine and gourmet food were also well accepted by attendees.
Some punters seemed a little adverse to the use of token tickets for the purchase of all beer, food and drink at the festival. However, the tokens ensured that queues moved quickly and service was rapid and efficient due to the lack of any need for cash handling and dishing out change. The queues for beer were certainly very long in the mid-afternoon as the sun, unmoderated by the cloudless sky, drove many to quench their thirst. Others headed for the safety of shade provided by the large trees on the hills that surround the oval.
Children were also well accommodated with roving entertainment and magic shows, face painting, a jumping castle and live music for all ages, including a high powered set from young rockers Stonefield. The four sisters used the Ballarat Beer Festival stage as a warm-up for the national Big Day Out tour, which began the following day. Stonefield displayed a prowess for live music well beyond their years. Their short career has already produced an impressive list of 70’s rock inspired radio hits. “Through The Clover”, “Black Water Rising” and “Foreign Lover” were all featured at the festival, along with “Addicted Love”, one of the first songs they ever wrote. Lead singer and drummer Amy Findlay’s strong unwavering voice carried throughout the festival and brought many of the younger crowd to the stage to rock out. The band closed with a cover of the Steppenwolf classic “Magic Carpet Ride” and many drinkers discovered a little magic in Australia’s craft beers.
The stage was always in action, with MCs Charlie Pickering, Danny McGinlay and Kirrily Waldhorn presenting crowd participation entertainment, including blind beer tastings and beer pouring competitions. A blind tasting between professional brewers Sam Fuss and Ben Kraus gave Charlie and Danny a chance to display their own beer knowledge and capabilities. They asked the brewers to identify a beer through taste and smell, which turned out to be a Celtic Red Ale brewed by Pickering and McGinlay through their homebrewing efforts known as “McGickering’s Brewing Industries”.
When not on stage the MCs mixed and chatted with the crowd and joined in the beer tasting. Charlie posed endlessly for photos with fans of his comedy television work on The Project and Talkin’ About Your Generation.
Talkative solo artist and Melbourne native, Jordie Lane, played a lively set of country and folk ballads that suited the sway of the loose crowd. Songs such as “Thin My Blood” and “St Mary’s Bells” were welcomed with a cooling breezing that provided relief from the afternoon sun.
The festival was closed with a buoyant set from the engaging Clare Bowditch. In high sprits, Bowditch effortlessly captured the crowd’s attention and favour with her upbeat and soulful tunes. Her set of insightful and personal songs included several popular tracks from her 2010 release “Modern Day Addiction” which has the crowd singing always with every word and dancing the evening away.
The Ballarat Beer Festival’s blend of beer, food, entertainment and location was like a fine craft beer — well balanced, characterful and just the right length on the finish.
As 8:00pm ticked over, the crowd neatly departed the festival, smiling and satisfied yet still keen for more. The festival staff, volunteers and exhibitors held an after-party to celebrated their success.
Planning has already begun for the Ballarat Beer Festival to return in 2013, possibly expanded to a two day event.
Good beer, good music, good fun with something for everyone. Let’s hope that this is the future of festivals in Australia.