It can be fairly argued that New Zealand’s world of flavoursome and interesting beer is a few years ahead in its development than that of Australia’s. A wave of creative and passionate brewers, unafraid of experimenting and exploring beer’s possibilities have been supported along the journey by a loyal band of keen and enthusiastic drinkers wanting to see where beer can be taken.
It will come as no surprise, then, to report that the first expansion destination for the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular outside of Australia would be the fertile and receptive ground of Auckland. The ASB Showgrounds in Greenlane was the venue for Australia’s premier beer festival and, despite being greeted with a large, empty square concrete box, the GABS team was able to transfer the vibe and that unique ‘GABS feeling’ into the space.
If ever there was doubt that GABS might not make a seamless transition across ‘The Ditch’ they were dispelled upon entering the hall. A massive ‘#GABS2016’ lightbox greeted the growing crowd as they made their way through the room, exploring, seeking and finding all the elements which, when combined, create the unmistakable impression that something special is happening.
Roving performers, Circus Trick Tease and musicians The Ale Capones moved through the throng or had the masses gather around them at regular intervals giving the drinkers breaks from working through tasting paddles or chatting to any of the 35 brewers lining the perimeter. Craft College was brought down onto the festival floor for the first time, allowing the punters to meet the brewers and learn a little more about the 65 beers and ten ciders crafted especially for the festival.
A high level of scrutiny and licensing compliance was applied to the organisers as a result of previous bad experiences in town over recent years and, while the police and council presence was obvious, it was difficult to see how either could fault the event as a whole. The Auckland beer lovers certainly turned out in numbers to support the event with plenty of interest in both the brewer’s regular offerings and the festival beers.
For future years, it’s not so much a question of “will it return?” but “how much bigger will it be next year?” Co-founder Steve Jeffares told Australian Brews News that, based on the success of the first Auckland venture – and with fingers crossed for a clean report card from council – plans are already underway to expand the festival area next year.
“We will have more brewers stands and we will increase the number of food vendors to reduce waiting times next year,” Jeffares said. “We have also learned that there New Zealanders love their Rugby Union and, with All Blacks games scheduled for every weekend in June next year, we will promote the fact that we will show the game live on the festival floor!” Now that’s catering to your audience.
With positive reviews such as this one, and plans in place already to mitigate some of the elements needing fine-tuning or improvement, it would seem that GABS has found a second home in Auckland. If the spirit of fun and beery frivolity can be encapsulated in a single moment then it is this; local favourite and profoundly deaf brewer, Richard Emerson, was given the honour of ringing the bell to bring down the curtain on the inaugural GABS NZ. With a cheeky grin and a wink he turned to me and said; “Prof. How will I know if it’s ringin’?!”
Disclaimer. I love GABS.
Further disclaimer. The writer has also been involved with, and been a paid employee of GABS since the beginning. Still, I think this review is an unbiased and realistic report on the event.