Melbourne’s famous Royal Exhibition Building is a bold and imposing structure that has captured worldwide attention. Built for the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880-81, it also hosted the opening of the first Federal Parliament and has earned a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
With this global standing in mind, the striking building is an apt venue for the annual Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular (GABS) owing to the choice words of one of the festival’s organisers.
“We want the event to be considered as one of the great craft beer festivals of the world,” GABS co-director Steve Jeffares said in the lead-up to the May 23-25 fixture.
Ambitious. Yet when you take into account what the festival has achieved in a short space of time – and the direction it is heading – this lofty goal seems justified.
Since GABS started in its current format in 2012 (a much smaller version was held at the Local Taphouse the previous year), it has pulled in more than 25,000 visitors from across Australia as well as overseas.
As the countdown begins to the next instalment of this vibrant festival, it appears even more punters are preparing to join the party. Jeffares indicated that “ticket sales are well, well up on the previous two years” and that there is a strong increase in brewer participation.
Roughly 120 ‘festival beers’ – brews made purely for this event – are set to be on offer (Read a comprehensive preview of the festival beers over at Beer Is Your Friend). This is a sharp rise on last year’s figure of 89. Overall, approximately 270 beers from 150 breweries, including international names, are expected to feature.
“Every year we get more and more people (brewers) who want to come on board,” Jeffares said.
Those who have previously attended GABS will know that many of the festival beers push the boundaries. At the very least, experimentation is prominent.
Among some of the more unusual ingredients to feature last year were balsamic vinegar, chai, beetroot and even Killer Python lollies. This year Jeffares said we can expect to see many more “wonderfully creative” brews, such as a concoction from New Zealand’s Garage Project that incorporates seaweed and seawater.
Western Australia’s Bootleg Brewery and New South Wales’ Thirsty Crow Brewery are producing individual beers that are a perfect match. When consumed in unison the two creations are expected to taste like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The creativity is not limited to the ingredients. Some of the more whacky beer titles from last year’s entries included Myrtle’s Bunga Bunga Party (Birra Del Borgo) and the almost-unpronounceable Supermucilaginisticexpialidocious (Bright Brewery).
While various ‘out there’ varieties feature, many of the festival beers are less risqué, and some have been so successful that they’ve formed part of a brewery’s regular range.
As Jeffares points out, “there’s a lot more hits than misses”. And however the palate reacts, the team at GABS hopes that the sampling process at least allows its audience to be educated.
“We ultimately want people to learn about what craft beer can offer,” Jeffares said.
When speaking to the festival co-director, it is clear that GABS’ success is not simply the result of good fortune. Jeffares makes several mentions of participant surveys and feedback, which he and his fellow organisers have taken on board. This includes altering the starting time of the Friday evening session so that people can head along straight after work.
A raft of new entertainment is also on offer this year and is sure to add to the sprightly atmosphere. This includes paddle races, table tennis, cornhole and a silent disco.
For the keen craft beer lover, a cask bar featuring local ‘real ales’ from hand pumps and a VIP food and beer pairing event are worth taking note of.
And for those who can’t make it to Melbourne, the news is not all bad. Jeffares hinted that in 2015 “smaller versions” of GABS could be staged across the country.
For more information about the event, head to gabsfestival.com.au