As the 4.30pm queues testified, the Fed Square Microbreweries & Cider showcase is an ever-more-popular event for craft beer and cider enthusiasts, newcomers and walk ups.
Held biannually, in March and October, it is an opportunity to get up front and personal and chat with some of the brewers, founders and people close to the beer and cider making process, to try some new releases and mix and mingle with the friendly crowds in attendance.
The most recent featured 21 Microbreweries, six contract brewers and eight cider makers. Newcomers included Kwencher with a pale ale and two tea-infused lagers, Red Island with their pale ale, Sideshow also with a pale ale, Savarin with a brown ale and Boneyard Brewing with a golden ale and a grapefruit IPA. Notably, all newcomers this year are brewing under contract which appears to be a practical and increasingly common way for founders to test their new beers and get feedback before committing to the capital outlays of their own microbrewery.
Styles continue to expand and evolve at the showcase and this year there appeared to be some more fruit and root-infused and inspired beers. Bright Brewery was sampling a one-year-old Lambic Pinky Framboise, while Waldo Saison, a collaboration beer from Beer Here, Northdown and Bridge Road Brewers was available, as well as a grapefruit-infused IPA from Boneyard. In the case of both Bright and Bridge Road local seasonal berries were picked and used in abundance in the brew at a ratio of approximately 10%. Another emerging beer style that appeared this year was ginger beer, with Bellarine, Temple and Harcourt all showcasing the style. A difficult question for brewers is whether to lead with ginger or the beer, and the Temple Ginger Beer was a beer first with ginger infusion and flavour second and seemed to pull off the balance quite well.
Other stalls and styles attracting a lot of attention and enthusiasm from the crowd was the 3rd annual release by Mildura Brewery of their Choc Hops which is a Cacao beer with Cacao from Fiji ground and used in the mash. Talking to the brewer, it is a challenging beer to make getting the dry components of the Cacao without the oils which can destroy the head and hop characters. Pobblebonk Saison, a special autumn release from Forrest Brewing Company, also generated a lot of interest, trial and positive feedback. Southern Bay was proudly showcasing their own brewers’ releases with a full line up including Requiem Pilsener, Metalhead Porter, Hop Bazooka IPA, and Le Petit Tronc Saison, which crosses both English malts and Belgium yeasts in a Saison.
In addition to the enthusiastic response to the core offering from Victorian brewers and the new additions in terms of new styles, beers and brewers, there was a lot of excitement and anticipation of the forthcoming Good Beer Week with the Crafty Pint distributing the freshly printed programmes with 140 events packed into 9 good beer days and Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular who were busy signing up beer volunteers.
This reviewer was left with the distinct impression that craft beer is continuing to gain momentum in Victoria and this is likely to be sustained for as long as there continues to be the people behind the breweries prepared to in many cases work two jobs to get their ‘real beer’ out to the people and a passionate community of enthusiasts trying and buying the beer, volunteering at events and spreading the good beer stories.