The ‘Ekka’ as it is known locally is an opportunity for city slickers to engage with primary producers and crafters and growers of everything from strawberries and cheese to beef and smallgoods. For many it is the only chance they have to discover that pineapple doesn’t grow in tins and meat doesn’t just come on black polystyrene trays wrapped in plastic.
When it comes to beer, we in Australia are a pretty ‘safe’ drinking nation overall. We stick loyal to a few favourite brands, often mistaking each one for a different style, and generally tend to look for these brands when making purchasing decisions. For us within the rarefied air of the craft beer bubble it can sometimes be forgotten that not everyone knows the difference between a Black IPA and a Cascadian Ale.
The Ekka is a rare and marvellous opportunity to observe, engage and interact with and dissect the beer world as a whole. It allows us to peer out from within the ‘craft beer bubble’ and realise just how big the beer-drinking population is and just how small is our little slice of it. It is an experience that is both grounding and exhilarating at the same time. Grounding in that it makes you appreciate the wealth of beer experience gained personally and exhilarating in that it makes you aware of just how much growth is possible in this segment of the market.
Partnering with some of Australia’s most popular brewers and having a broad portfolio of beer styles from which to choose, the Australian Craft Beer stand presented a welcome alternative to the many wine stands dotted throughout the Woolworth’s Fresh Food Pavilion. With offerings from Feral Brewing, Stone & Wood, 4 Pines, Mountain Goat and Fortitude Brewing Co in stock it was possible to find a beer style to suit the fussiest palate.
From Steam and Pacific Ale and a couple of lagers and a kolsch through to Hop Hog and ANZUS IPA the stand was able to cater to a range of drinkers with all manner of tastes and preferences. It allowed for a bit of ‘repeat business’ as punters would return to the stand having started their day with a 4 Pines Kolsch or Stone & Wood Lager to ask; “That was great – what do I try next?” In addition, the number of visitors who had found us (in the same place) last year gave us the pleasing glow of a job well done.
This thing we call Craft Beer has a promising future if the reaction to it at this year’s Ekka is any indicator of trend. It is all too easy to assume that because someone has never heard of a particular brand, or has no experience of beer other than pale and unimaginative ‘brand beers’ that they will need to begin with something ‘safe’. If I had a dollar for every one who said’ “I usually drink Corona or TEDs” and then walked away cradling a Feral Hop Hog I’d have $836. Never assume.
For every one of these ‘conversions’ there was an equal number of ‘gentle persuasions’ where the same drinker with a similar drinking history who would declare boldly that they only drank ‘Brand X’ and would never drink an ‘an ale’ would happily pay good money for a schooner of Mountain Goat Steam Ale or even a 4 Pines Kolsch provided you gave them a complimentary taster handed over with a polite; “if you like those more mellow styles that don’t have big flavour ‘bumps’ in them, you’ll probably like this” – then tell them it’s an ale after they’ve asked for a full serve.
The ten-day Exhibition which saw some 375,000 visitors stroll through the turnstiles (down 25,000 on previous years) is a great opportunity to observe and investigate the way in which ‘craft beer’ is viewed, what punters ‘expect’ of it and just how far we have come (even since last year’s Ekka) – and how far we still have to go.
Events like the Ekka help us to remember that there are plenty of potential drinkers of ‘better beer’ just waiting to be introduced to, engaged by and assisted with their journey. Ask yourself if you know more than a handful of good friends who have no idea whatsoever of what ‘craft beer’ means. We can sometimes be fooled into thinking that the people we continually meet and see at festivals, beer launches and venue events are a much larger collective than we may think.
And therein lies the challenge; let’s concede that that 98% who prefer ‘mainstream’ beers are neither ‘the enemy’ nor are they unknowledgeable and unwilling – they just need someone to help them take that first step.
NOTE; Pete, along with Matt Kirkegaard but independent of Australian Brews News, managed and ran the Australian Craft Beer stand at the Royal Queensland Show. The brewers shared the cost of the stand and the stock was purchased from each brewery through their distributor.