A year after striking it rich with its inaugural Beer Festival, Ballarat again showed that it is a destination for those seeking gold. Liquid gold.
Unwilling to rest on the laurels earned with a successful first outing, organisers of the event were determined that BBF II would surpass the lofty goals set in year one. By all measures and from every report from brewers, patrons, volunteers and organisers alike, these aims were achieved.
A new innovation for this year’s festival was the Eureka Marquee, an Education Tent where festival visitors could begin a journey or expand on their existing beer knowledge. Set at the western end of the festival grounds between the brewers’ stalls and the food sellers, the Eureka Marquee promised to deliver ‘lessons in liquid gold’ and something of a break from the hustle and bustle of visiting every brewer.
And, with what is a very ‘BBF attitude’ to things, the EM promoted not simply a series of Q & A session with selected brewers but rather it sought to unlock the secrets of various aspects of beer, brewing and drinking. With topics like ‘So you want to start a brewery?’, ‘Size isn’t everything’ and ‘When I grow up I’m going to Beer University’ prospective visitors to the tent were left in no doubt that these sessions would offer something different.
All five sessions were well attended with all but the first and last providing a full house. The early session featuring Peter Aldred from Ballarat University’s ‘brewing school’ and four of his ‘past students’ attracted a keen homebrewing crowd eager to take their skills to the next level. Likewise the session titled ‘So you want to start a brewery’, which was thought to be a good cautionary tale debunking the myths of easy money in beer, saw the guests including Cavalier’s Heath Shirtcliffe and Mornington’s Matt Bebe corralled by an eager group of prospective commercial brewers outside the tent for an extra half hour.
Not content to conduct a simple series of Q & A-style interviews, the Eureka Marquee sought to probe the issues relevant to the growth of this whole craft beer thing. In that spirit, it was not afraid to seek opinion on some of the more controversial or misunderstood topics concerning brewers and drinkers alike. ‘Size isn’t everything’, featuring representatives from breweries of varying degrees of size and retail reach proved that big is not necessarily better, nor is small always a guarantee of perfect product every time. If nothing else, patrons left with a new found appreciation for the craft of brewing in general.
Likewise, the session delving into the wonderful world of contract brewing allowed for a detailed and thoughtful exploration of the different business models through which brewers can bring their beer to market. Comments from visitors to this session proved that many people have not thought nor cared about where their beer is brewed or who brews it while others still have developed a blinkered
thinking towards those who brew good beer using someone else’s kit.
The session featuring the Women of Beer, an indepth look at how the female drinker is playing a vital role in promoting and celebrating good beer today and how switched-on venues are catering to this culture shift drew a large and appreciative audience. Kirrily Waldhorn, The Beer Diva and co-host of the Ballarat Beer Festival main stage joined brewers Sam Fuss, Jayne Lewis and Karen Golding and social media wiz Tiff Waldron in a vibrant discussion which covered everything from glassware and beer service to the ‘blokey’ nature of beer in days gone by.
The undisputed star of the show however was Chuck Hahn. That’s Dr Charles Hahn of Hahn Brewing and Malt Shovel (James Squire) fame, to you and me. Having very generously given his time to poke his head above the parapet of ‘The Big House’ in the Big Brewery vs Small Brewery session mentioned earlier, Chuck then arranged for 120 lucky punters to join him in a Beer & Cheese matching Masterclass. Delightfully titled ‘It’s just like Chuck & Cheese’.*
Working through three of the James Squire range of beers paired with a range of cheeses with the Porter accompanied by a rich Belgian chocolate mousse, Chuck talked the attentive crowd through the basics of accepting beer as a worthy partner for food. It was pleasing to see so many people taking up the opportunity to join an icon of the beer world in a celebration of taste and flavour by matching two of our favourite household staples.
The Eureka Marquee as a means of providing a greater depth of education about all aspects of the beer world is an initiative that is well worth supporting. First seen as a stand-alone offering to a beer festival at last year’s hugely successful GABS at The Royal Exhibition Building during Good Beer Week and subsequently adopted by Beer by the Bay at Mornington and Great Australian Beer Festival at Geelong, an education component is becoming an indispensible element of a complete festival.**
The Eureka Marquee at the Ballarat Beer Festival certainly showed that the public will embrace the education aspect of a product they love as long as it is provided in a welcoming and pleasant atmosphere, provides a range of interesting and relevant information and allows a generous level of participation. Of course, having a vibrant and engaging host who really knows the subject matter and is entertaining to boot doesn’t hurt, neither.***
Author’s note; A special thanks to the BBF organisers for committing to the education tent concept and to Greg Preston from GDP Transport for his generous sponsorship of the Eureka Marquee.
*As the host of the Eureka Marquee and the architect of the session topics, the author admits to creating the Chuck & Cheese pun. He admits freely that it was a very cheesy wordplay (as was that) but sticks by the assertion that is among his best work to date.
**Of course that’s a philosophy I’m sticking to as this beer-ducation is something I have been actively promoting and executing for some years now. Let me have my moment, won’t you?!
***Yeah, whatever. I’m allowed to pump up my own tyres.