Waking up on the 25th of August, I dreaded dealing with the winter winds and the cool of Thirlmere’s southern temperatures. Ninety kilometres south of Sydney’s CBD it can get quite cold.
Looking out the window of my Newtown apartment though, I was pleasantly greeted by blue skies in every direction, a surprising and welcoming view for the last weekend of winter and just what the organisers of the Winter Beer Festival were praying for.
I was filled with anticipation for what this quaint country town could offer up. Situated in the new and very large Trainworks train museum, the Winter Beer festival is a family friendly celebration of the beautiful drink we love and its many perfect accompaniments from the chilly season.
From soups to grilled chops and all the ambers and dark ales in between, this festival was created to champion beer in a time when it’s often overlooked for dark liquors or mulled wine.
When we arrived we were greeted by the beautiful museum itself, a huge train yard that included a few period train carriages and plenty for kids to explore, as well as operating steam trains. This element of kid friendliness was great for the festival and really encouraged the whole family to get out and amongst it, which really extended itself to a general great vibe between everyone at the festival.
We were relative late starters and got straight into lunch when we got there, which consisted of the incredibly popular BBQ ribs (I had the 4 Pines Pale with it, which was a good match in my books) from the Outback steak house. There were some other great options as well, including the all to close to home Duck Inn option and some amazing dishes from The Soup Stone.
Now, I like to think of myself as a strategic man (I am a strategist by job title). So my plan of attack involved doing two circles of the breweries, one for lighter lagers and pale ales and then the second go round for IPA’s, ambers and any other treats that we would be surprised with.
This strategy lasted two stalls when I meet with HopDog. This self-proclaimed nano-brewery, had three beers, including a festival exclusive the Stein Punk. I opted for the Redhopulous, their pleasant Red ale that comes with a tasty US hop kick. Meeting the guys from HopDog was one of the highlights for me, interesting folk who have a love for their beer and want to produce interesting beers that really engage you in thinking (sometimes, dark thoughts).
I made my way around the 77 beers on offer, trying my hardest to try only the newest, but some old favourites definitely made it in to my day. I was snagged on Holgate, digging into the Hopinator of course. Feral’s brewers couldn’t make the show, but the local reps did a great job of offering three half tastes for one ticket, an un-missable deal.
My brother and I talked to the lovely guys from the Little Brewery in Port Macquarie and sampled their heady Belgium styles, which I suggest would be a great top off to any winter evening.
It was great to see some craft regulars, including Murray’s always-amazing range, Mountain Goat (the subtle Seven Seeds was a killer beer that had my home brewing brother scratching his head) and my old employer Redoak, that had a mind crushing Chateau Blonde, which was a very drinkable 9% ABV beer on hand.
Maybe the biggest highlights for me was meeting the very welcoming guys from Illawarra who, despite being a flurry with awards from the Royal Show and the AIBA’s still had time to have a chat and invite us to come for a tour of their brewery. And of course Riverside, who brought their exciting new range, which could be a real cultural revolution for the fine people of Parramatta where they are based.
Beer Festivals can be a bit of a labour at times, but the Trainworks Winter Beer Festival was so different. The well-planned program, spacious layout, the beautiful surroundings and the great family atmosphere made the whole event so laidback and so easy to enjoy. There was a real community spirit. The event was a fantastic gathering with passionate people talking about great beer. That’s what craft beer is all about for me.
This event really excited me for the great summer events that are coming up including Sydney’s Craft Beer Week, Warner’s at the Bay Beer Festival and Bitter & Twisted. If you get a chance, get along to these events. It’s really eye opening when you can taste a beer and talk to the people who made it at the same time, sharing your thoughts and really getting into why we all love beer.