“and then I went on this big ride and the man said ‘you’re too big’ but then I went on it anyway and then we had fairy floss and a hot dog and then we saw the animals and after that we went to the place where they sell glo-sticks but I didn’t get one and then I came back here…!!”
We had so. Much. Fun.
I had never been to ‘the Ekka’ before but was assured in the most adamant fashion by more than one source that this ten day event of agriculture and entertainment was second only to Rugby League’s State of Origin series on the list of Queenslander’s ‘Things we really care about’.
The Royal Melbourne Show and Sydney’s Royal Easter Show are mainstays of those state’s calendars but not nearly as much love and anticipation is attached to them by the ‘bigger city folk’ as is afforded ‘The Ekka’.* You sometimes forget just what a big state Queensland is until you assemble a fair proportion of the population in the one place over a ten day spread. That’s The Ekka.
Brews News Managing Editor and voice of good beer in Queensland, Matt Kirkegaard, has been working for the past few years with the show organisers to give craft beer a presence within the program and this year saw the culmination of that hard work with a two-pronged attack on bland mainstream lager with the support of some of the country’s best-loved brewers. The Woolworths Fresh Food Pavilion would be the setting for the first stage of what will hopefully become a sought-after experience at future shows.
Matt was the face and untiring voice of the Harvest & Hops Stage – a live forum for visitors to experience a variety of treats from the producers and providers dotted around the pavilion. Chatting with cheesemongers and coffee roasters, smallgoods makers and German sausage experts, Matt managed to ‘craft’ most sessions into informative and entertaining Beer & Food matching Masterclasses. The follow-up stood in the form of a stand opposite the stage where two beers from each of four craft brewers plus a tap offering from a fifth was available.
The Australian Craft Beer stand proved to be a hit with the punters as they moved from the harvest & Hops stage presentations to the stand to continue their beer journey. A most pleasing and perhaps slightly unexpected element was the enthusiasm with which newcomers embraced craft beer. Comments such as; “So, tell us about this ‘craft beer’ thing,” and “I’ve heard a bit about this – tell me more” through to “so…which one do I start with?!”
Where to begin, indeed. Represented at the Australian Craft Beer stand were 5 breweries, each of whom had fridge space for two beers each of their choosing. In this way we figured we would get a good weighting of styles and enough choice for the punters with maximum brand exposure for each brewer. While brewery reps were invited (and able) to come play at the stand during the ten day Ekka, the day-to-day running was the responsibility of Matt, myself and beerlover and local Brisbane girl, Rachelle ‘Rocky’ Reed.
On offer was Hop Hog and White from Feral, Burleigh Brewing’s 28 Pale and Hef (along with a small quantity of ‘RSA-friendly’ mid-strength Duke Helles), Stone & Wood’s Lager and Ale with 4 Pines Pale and Kolsch rounding out the fridge. Mt Tambourine’s new kid Fortitude Brewing provided their Golden Ale on tap. A few extra kegs of the smashingly good ANZUS IPA were put on ‘stand-by’ before being rushed into operation on day two after the draught offering proved to be more popular than anticipated.
The first surprise for us was the difference between our estimations and reality. I guess you come into something like this with your ‘craft beer tinted glasses’ on and assume that the staples of the craft beer crowd will also resonate immediately with the great unknowing. Not so, as one after another punters would ask to be taken along on the first steps of their journey of beer discovery. As stewards of this craft beer thing we were duty bound to stick firmly to two simple directives – ‘don’t preach’ and ‘don’t let them begin with the Feral Hop Hog if they say they usually drink XXXX Gold’.
To cut an already long story short, it was one of the most rewarding craft beer experiences I have had the pleasure to be a part of. From the excitement people had for this new-found wonder of beer to the honour of being the one to start them on their voyage it was worth every ten-hour day and worth every trip back and forth from the coolroom (which, mental note for next year, we will locate MUCH closer to the stand).
And, yes, next year will attempt to offer a Beer Showbag.
Note; A very big extra special thanks to the crews at Fortitude Brewing, Feral, Stone & Wood, 4 Pines and Burleigh Brewing for showing the faith in us needed to get this thing off the ground and ‘into the glass’.
*The ‘Ekka’ is Queenslander slang for the Exhibition. It is shortened to the Ekka and this seems to be the signal-cry in all advertising. This changes, however, once you are within the RNA Showgrounds** when the event is hitherto referred to as ‘the show’ rather than ‘The Ekka’. Don’t worry, I don’t get it either.
**The RNA actually stands for The Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland. They run the show. I mean, The Ekka. Which is what they call the Show.