It’s fair to say that Sydney Craft Beer Week last year and the upcoming program for Craft Beer Week 2012 are as different as a cool, crisp pilsener and an imperial stout.
While both are enjoyable, the former is light in body and best as a precursor to bigger things, while the other is chock full of flavour, colour and is likely to get you far more intoxicated. The massive expansion of last year’s fledgling program into a densely populated hive of activity can be attributed to several factors, including the expansion of the team behind the event, the increasing awareness and popularity of craft beer as well as a rapid increase in the number of venues taking part in the festival.
“In the last six months to a year, I’ve seen more venues open up in Sydney than I have in the last two years,” he says.
“If you look at the depth and breadth in terms of venues, as well as breweries, it’s phenomenal.”
The past year has seen the opening of Young Henry’s brewery in Newtown and Riverside Brewing in Parramatta, which certainly adds to the variety of craft beer easily on hand for a festival such as Craft Beer Week. It seems that the infiltration of craft beer has also spread like a benign virus into an ever-increasing range of pubs and venues – so much so that that the SCBW organisers had to turn a few down, having put their hands up too late after the deadline. Venning calls this an indication of the rapid growth of Sydney’s beer scene, and by extension the SCBW festival.
“The fact that we’ve got to say no to some people for an event in its second year is testament to how big the craft beer community is growing and the momentum behind it here.” He continues, “I think we’ve grown so big that we have to put our efforts into filling as many seats as possible for the current scale.”
Looking at the events calendar on the official website, it’s hard to imagine where they could possibly cram in any more. The week is stocked to the gills with beer launches, dinners and brewer visits. There is a bit of a midweek Sophie’s choice between one amazing dinner and several others. Venning voices the concern that the festival’s enormous growth rate has been difficult to keep up with, as well as keep a realistic lid on.
“We’ve just gone from very teeny to huge,” he says. “I don’t know if we’ve gone too big too soon. If no-one turns up and we’re the only guys sitting in the room then maybe we have. But the response has been pretty impressive; time will tell.”
While the expansion of Sydney’s craft beer scene can be seen as a free gift to SCBW organisers, the challenge is to translate what is already a larger festival into a larger success. Explosive as the growth in variety has been, even the receptive audience of craft beer converts is not large enough to sell out every event. Therefore the SCBW organisers have had to focus their energy on engaging a wider audience. Fortunately, the team behind the event has expanded with it.
Joel Connelly and the team from Umbrella Music and Events Management have been the driving force behind the logistics, marketing and coordination of Sydney Craft Beer Week, and Venning gives them a lot of the credit for the festival’s hopeful success.
“They’ve brought some of the professionalism around organising events that the Beermen are sorely lacking,” Venning says. “We may be the idea guys, but to have the fresh perspective on how to coordinate these things has been great.”
Part of the strategy to engage a wider audience is appealing to the mainstream media, and to do that the organisers are using hooks baited with familiar event ‘themes’. The themes have been designed to tailor to particular audiences not always the stereotypical beer lover: namely women, the wine community and the food community.
Women are being exclusively catered for with two separate ladies-only high teas, as well as a special “Barley’s Angels” dinner hosted by the Beer Diva, Kirrily Waldhorn, and a sweet-toothed chocolate and beer evening at the Pumphouse bar.
The gourmet food community will no doubt be intrigued by several of the beer dinners happening throughout the week. As a key example, several ‘Beer Mimics Food’ brews have been designed specifically by prominent Sydney foodies to attract good food lovers and to get their imagination flowing about beer.
For the wine community, there is a familiarly-themed “Beer vs wine” showdown at Fix St James, although there are additional wine-focused events that are still yet to be finalised. Venning is tight-lipped about details, although he lets slip that winemakers are getting involved, and we can only wait and see what the hook is.
The Beermen and Umbrella teams have done a remarkable job at spreading the word around venues and event organisers. The biggest challenge now is capturing a suitably large and receptive audience for those events. The program for Sydney Craft Beer Week 2012 is jammed full of a variety of different events to appeal to a broad cross-section of Sydney residents and visitors, whatever your caprices. I’ll be doing my part, in attending as many events as is feasible, and I hope to see many of you there.