Back of the Ferry had never made it to a Great Australasian Beer Spectapular. No excuses, we’d just never managed to get there. Well – no excuses this year. Back of the Ferry was officially accorded membership of the Fourth Estate, and our media passes gained us entry to both sessions. Game on! Having never been, illards and I were daunted only by the restraint that we’d need to show to last into the evening session. Not only were there 118 Festival beers on offer, over 30 brewers had stands operating. Too much choice is barely enough. The layout of the brewers stands, the containers of festival beers and the seating is brilliant. Whilst there’s a tonne of people in attendance, it’s never a crush. The Little Creatures acrobats justifiably got a terrific crowd, but it was rarely four or five deep. The vibe all day was just so positive and whilst there was a surge at the end of the arvo session for last drinks – there was no sense that things were ever out of control. We’d love to say we knew what happened at the end of the evening session, but we were on the Back of a Ferry before closing.
To drink an 85ml sample of each of the 118 Festival Beers would be akin to drinking 23.6 schooners. That’s no really feasible, particularly when it is impossible to ignore some of the offerings available from thre brewer’s stands. I got off to a bold start when I accepted a sample of Devil’s Advocate, Wayward Brewing’s 11% Eisbock. I’ve known Peter, Wayward’s owner, for years in the non-beer life and this was a marvellous gesture – but I was really hoping to ease into the day. I sought out the Gang of Four guys. This is the only Northern Beaches brewer I haven’t sampled and it was good to chat to the owner, Michael. These guys will be opening a cellar door in Brookvale in 2016, which is fabulous news. Best thing was they were serving a Member’s Lager, which was exactly the starting beer I was looking for. The boys are distributing very locally which is great for us Northern Beachies – but they get across the Harbour every now and then with some kegs. Good to meet you, Go4.
There was a 100% turn out from the insular peninsula breweries on the stands and in the festival beers, and whilst we were keen to learn about new brewers, I couldn’t resist sampling Modus Operandi’s well named (in joke) L90 during the course of the day. An Imperial IPA – the L90 was one of my top 5 on the day. Big and fruity without being overly boozy. We had a good chat to the boys from Mismatch Brewing, who’d made the trek from South Australia. Love their logo, and their beer is just as good. They are another brewer looking for a home and there’ll be another reason to visit Adelaide soon. Red Ale’s a favourite style of mine and their version – Archie’s – is a great example of that style. GABS is definitively an Australasian event. The New Zealanders are represented very strongly – both in the Festival beer line-up and the stands. Top marks go to Panhead for their sensational mechanically themed tap set up. Great beers too. Their Whitewall WPA was a lighter ABV beer that was perfect for settling into the day. Great to see ParrotDog there as well.
Whilst we’d ruled out the possibility of doing the 118 beers, I still opening my Festival Beer batting account with beers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Not the brightest start as the beers are in alphabetical order and therefore there is no grouping of styles or sensible ascension of styles. Fair enough really. After all there is 118 beers and I gave up counting the number of styles on offer. And that’s not counting “Speciality Beers”, which is a euphemism for unclassifiable style of beer. I had one of my Top Five for the day, first up. 2 Brother’s Hazella was a ballsy malt bomb made with Ella hops. Keen to see this become permanent. We paddled on manfully through ambers, barleywines, fruit beers, brown ales flavoured like a Snickers, Saisons, Berliner Weisses, Christmas Pudding Porters and Pina Colada IPAs. illiards didn’t take a shine to Two Birds Brewing’s Pina Colada, and said so via @Untappd. They came straight back at him at least thanking him for his view. Gotta love immediate banter. My most “Challenging” beer was All Inn Brewing Co’s Relax Bro – a Barleywine made with peated malt, cayenne and paprika. Maybe this needs to wait a while – but it was like being mugged by a bunch of Qld State of Origin forwards in a cigar bar. Still, that’s the joy of GABS – extending you and your palate. Being able to try something outrageous without being stuck with a $14 pint and thinking – how am I going to finish this?
The most fun for me was meeting the Brewers, who are universally accomodating and willing to yarn. I got to meet Hendo from BrewCult who shared his passion for the brewing vocation. (Hendo subsequently won the People’s Choice – lucky I’ve picked a stubbie of the winning beer (Milk and Two Sugars) from Balgowlah Porters). We had a great chat with Bobby of Quiet Deeds, makers of Australia’s finest Lamington beer. More on them in a future blog. There was a quick hello to Doc, a good friend of BotF, who was working harder than a one legged man in an arse kicking contest. Not so hard that he couldn’t slip us a taste of Beavertown‘s Holy Cowbell India stout. Another entry in my GABS top 5. Also sampled Doctor’s Orders Serum – a typically fine effort. Met the rep from Murray’s who assured us everything is good with one of NSW’s trailblazing Brewers that for mine has gone quiet lately. A number of small brewers got together to have a combined stand, where I tried another of my top 5. Ruben’s Roast was Willie the Boatman‘s contribution. Boatman Pat is one of the nicest blokes in the trade and it was terrific hearing how he created a pale coffee beer. Super stuff. Enjoyable drinking a beer that tastes to different to how you should it should – because of looks.
The evening was almost finished off with the last of my Top Five. Grand Ridge‘s stand had plenty to offer. Their WHOA! (Wet Hopped Oatmeal Ale) was simply fabulous. We were done. Sensational night. No takeaways from GABS, so we picked up a HopDog Alluvial Peach from a nearby bottle for the ferry trip home. I think that’ll be a tradition we’ll continue next year, but we’ll time our run to get a later ferr. Congratulations to all involved – our first GABS won’t be our last. Hard to fault and deserving of all the hype.