Recent beer sales figures show that while the beer market is declining, the ‘good beer’ scene in Australia is in a fairly healthy state – and growing. The growth in venues, in Victoria particularly, further supports the anecdotal evidence – the ‘buzz’, if you will, that seems to surround each new event and each new beer release. Even the shelves at the local bottle shop seem to be leaning under the weight of new stock.
But to get a picture that is closer to what is actually happening on the ground, it makes sense to speak to a couple of blokes who are at the very forefront of the scene and have been the craft beer industry’s strongest supporters since the doors opened to their venue, The Local Taphouse, three years ago in Melbourne and two years ago in Sydney.
Steve Jeffares and Guy Greenstone are two of the most unassuming people you could hope to meet. Quietly spoken and always smiling, they appear to be more at home asking politely to enter a pub than to be running a couple of Australia’s best. Get them talking about good beer, however, and their passions ignite and it’s all you can do to get them to talk in turns.
They spoke to Australian Brews News after their venues hosted their most successful beer festival to date, The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular, and while planning their next one – the Kiwi SpecTAPular. These festivals are arguably becoming Australia’s greatest craft beer events.
The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular was based on previous beer festivals at which all of each venue’s twenty taps are given over for a day to showcase beers bundled together under a unifying theme. The Great Australian one went one step further offering selected Australian brewers the opportunity to brew a beer specifically for the event – unhindered by the operational or budgetary restraints that might normally prevent a full and frank attempt at the unusual. They received a tremendous response and, barring a couple of late and unavoidable withdrawals the venues threw their doors open to queues that suggested the public thought it a very good idea as well.
There has been plenty written about the beers and the event itself and The Crafty Pint also captured some telling video which paints the picture better than can be done here – but here we wanted to look at where do we go from here?
Steve and Guy were happy to share their vision for GABS future after the pubs had emptied and the kegs were all drained.
ABN: “Were you pleased with the response from the brewers themselves?”
Steve: “Absolutely! The fact that some of the brewers we were unable to accommodate contacted us to see if they could be involved next year suggests that GABS could grow even bigger.”
Guy: “For many of the brewers it was a liberating experience to be able to brew a beer that they may normally be restricted from making. Not having to worry about cost or making a beer to please everyone allowed them to come up with some pretty amazing beers”.
Steve: “The only thing we were initially concerned about was that we would end up with too many beers of the same style or high ABVs, but the brewers proved those fears unfounded and we ended up with fruit beers and chocolatey beers and some that were challenging as well as some nice easy drinking – but still interesting – beers”.
ABN: “The queues outside and at the bar throughout the day seem to suggest that an alternative venue might be needed for future festivals.”
Guy: “We want to keep doing a SpecTAPular festival season but GABS looks like becoming a fixture as the summer SpecTAPular. But it seems that the GABS may have already outgrown (in Melbourne at least) so we are seriously looking at having it at a larger venue”.
Steve: “It’s not just the punters we want to make sure we look after, it’s also the fact that we want to invite more brewers to participate next year and give the crowds maybe sixty plus GABS ‘festival beers’ to choose from”.
ABN: “So, short of building a few extra storeys onto the Taphouses, you must have a bigger venue in mind?”
Steve: “Well we are currently building extra storeys on the Melbourne Taphouse but that probably won’t be enough! We have already made an advance booking at The Royal Exhibition Buildings for February next year and we just need to see if we can make it all work from a logistical and financial point of view. It’s a sizeable risk”.
Guy: “We want to make sure any outside venue ‘works’ for the visitors to GABS as well. We want them to be safe and comfortable and be able to ‘explore’ the beers on offer by being able to chat to the staff or even the brewers about the beers they are sampling. One thing we won’t let happen is for GABS to become a binge-drinking occasion.”
ABN: “And finally, what does the success of GABS tell you about where good beer is standing in this country?”
Steve: “It’s a two-way street. The brewers are putting out some great beers in this country and the public are willing to come to events like this to support them. It’s probably still small steps and good beer has a way to go to over all but each time we see more and more newcomers attending events like SpecTAPular. Bars and pubs don’t need to specialise in beer so it’d be nice to see more venue operators maintaining at least one craft beer tap”.
Guy: “What is also pleasing is that we are seeing a broad cross-section of the community. We have young as well as old and tradies and professionals and women and men and groups and couples – and they are all sharing the experience. You can see them offering opinions or asking for recommendations from strangers and just coming together to enjoy something that the local pub used to offer”.
ABN: “Thanks for your time, boys.”
Steve: “No worries Prof, love your work by the way. For a ‘pretend journo’ you’re putting out some pretty good stuff!”
Guy: “Brilliant work as usual. Prof!”
ABN: “Oh, come on guys, you’re too kind.”