This week we head down to Newcastle and meet up with Corey Crooks, publican of The Albion Hotel and the driving force behind last year’s Newcastle Craft Beer Week.
Newcastle isn’t the first city that springs to mind when beer lovers talk about hot beer destnations, but over the past three years Corey has turned his pub into a mainstream-serving pub into a significant craft beer oasis. We talk to Corey about how he had effected this transformation and some of the things he has learned during the process.
Among the things Corey tells us is:
- Serving craft beer has made the working lives of staff much easier because of the changed demographics in the hotel that has been attracted by craft beer. By attracting customers drawn to beer for flavour and not effect, beer has changed the ambience of the hotel.
- In changing the beer offerings at a hotel, staff are critical. If you put craft beer on, your staff must be engaged in the process and know about what they are selling…or it just wont sell.
It’s a great look at how to turn around a pub with craft beer.
We also catch up with Simon Coghlan from the Ballarat Beer Festival which was held in January. It was a huge success in its first year and we wanted to find out from Simon what they had learned in pulling together a beer festival and what they have planned for next year. Pete’s thoughts on the festival are below too.
The show ends on a high note with a high energy performance of Beer Barrel Polka performed by Joe Maphis and Merle Travis from the album Country Guitar Giants. If you don’t already own this little piece of recording gold, you can buy it here.
If you like the show and want to help us out, you can leave us a review on iTunes.
And, of course, our welcome this show was inspired by this classic beer ad from the days of Bondy…
Ballarat strikes it rich again
Around one hundred and fifty eight years ago a veritable convoy of humanity descended on a small town in Victoria’s west-north-west hoping to find a fortune. They trekked in droves travelling for days over vast distances (around 105kms from the CBD for those playing at home) with the express intention of putting a big smile on their faces. They sought gold.
On Saturday January 21 in 2012 this historical pilgrimage was repeated when, just as they did before, thousands of fortune seekers descended upon Ballarat’s City Oval in search of gold. And Amber. And maybe some Dark or a little Pale Straw.
Brewers along with wine and cider makers were there to greet them, in tents pitched along the boundary of the tree-lined oval to quench the hardest earned thirst. They were joined by purveyors of every foodstuff from gourmet burgers, paella and Asian delicacies to good, honest Rotary Club bangers in bread. Entertainment in the form of some quality local and internationally renowned musical acts punctuated the festivities from the main stage and kids were well looked after with face painting and magicians.
For a full wrap up of the event, beer-by-beer and band-by-band, James Davidson has done a cracking job of painting the picture here. For now, what does the first outing say about the future of the event? The feedback on the day – and since – has been enthusiastic to say the least and the few areas for improvement are simple fixes that will cost neither time nor money and can easily be put down as ‘learning experiences’.
As an outsider looking in, it would be simplistic to say that the unused third of the oval could be used to fit more exhibitors in as well as dispersing the crowds more fluidly. However, this area was set aside in the event’s Displan as an evacuation area so any change would need to be carefully considered and a suitable alternative sited.
There was talk before the Festival of holding the event over a weekend rather than over a single afternoon but a one day event will always be preferable – if you are unsure of this, speak to any of the brewers! Holding the Festival on Saturday is a boon for the local economy anyway as many stayed overnight and presumably spent their leftover cash at cafes, shops and tourist attractions in the region. The fact that you couldn’t book a room in Ballarat on Saturday night is testament to the peoples’ ability to fit all their beer-festing into a single day.
V-Line, too, must have been pleased with the peak in patronage of the train service from Melbourne. According to a confidential but reliable Brews News correspondent (see, Amanda Le AKA @lemandapantz I told you your identity would be safe) the train ride contained many excited beer festival-related conversations. The trip home was considerably quieter.
More exhibitors would have led to a thinning of crowds across the event area but it is clear from the feedback of the punters that more variety is not necessarily what is sought. The mix of brewers was clearly appreciated with larger players Matilda Bay and festival Major Sponsor James Squire sharing the crowd with small region, local and other brewers.
A fair range of ‘standard’ or ‘entry level’ beers was available for those of the crowd (in all probability the majority) for whom a Kolsch or a Pale Ale or an IPA might be a step up from the ‘usual’ mainstream beers. More than one punter was overheard enquiring of a brewer; “What’ya got that’s closest to Carlton Draught, mate?”
For those wanting something more, the brewers had some limited release and other specialty brews on hand. If there is a better way to showcase a good range of what Victorian brewers have to offer the novice in a regional setting, let me know.
The food offerings received warm praise from the Festival goers with a wide range of styles, cuisines, price and levels of ‘gourmet-edness’ all in a separate but adjoining section of the oval. Seating and some shade was welcomed here as the sun broke through. Here is where some adjustment is required for next year’s Festival.
While roving volunteers were seen offering sunscreen it may, in hindsight, have been better to have located sunscreen booths at certain points o the grounds as many a cherry face was seen leaving at Festival’s end. Fresh water at little or no cost (or available at each stall to double as a glass-rinse) was probably the only universal criticism and this is something easily fixed.