Another year, another stinging hangover from the best beer festival in the country. I’m referring of course to GABS (or The Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular, for those of you not fond of brevity), the grand affair that pulls in breweries from Australia, NZ and beyond. Over 170 exhibitors joined forces beneath The Dome at Sydney Showground on Saturday to pool resources and show off their brews, including everything from the refined and elegant to the plain whacky, as well as over 180 specialty ‘festival brews’ made just for GABS.
Check out our Brews & Bottles Series.
The festival features live music, performance, a huge selection of food (including one of our favourites, short rib sandwiches from Bovine & Swine, if you’ve not tried one yet sort yourself out) – all designed to soak up the booze and get you back in the game. For some unbeknownst reason, there’s also a giant ferris wheel.
We tasted mead that came in at 15%, whisky and beer in the same tin cup, many a cider, IPA and stout and a few other things we’re a bit sketchy on the details of… We made it our mission to try everything, but given the physical impossibility of such a goal, just tried most of it, and had a chat with five of our favourites from the day about why they love GABS, what they were offering and what makes their beer special.
Balter – XPA
Not a festival brew, just one of the many tasty stablemates from the fledgling Queensland brewery, which is co-owned by surf legend Mick Fanning. This beer is one of our absolute favourites – light, refreshing and floral, but with enough pazazz to keep your tastebuds interested.
“We come to GABS because it’s full of people who simply love beer. We’re not about making beer that just caters for beer snobs or beer nerds, even though they enjoy the beer, good beer is for everybody and that’s why GABS is important for a brewery like Balter. Here we can get to be on the front line and just pour beer for good folks and hopefully put a grin on their head.” Says Balter co-founder and head of branding and marketing Stirling Howland.
“We didn’t do a festival beer this year, we’re just over a year old so we’re just focusing on doing our beers really, really well. The gimmicks and all the beers are cool and fine but right now we’ve just gotta make our beers as good as we can so we can share with people what Balter is about.”
“Scotty’s ability as a brewer is he creates insanely balanced and well-integrated beers. If there’s alcohol he’ll hide it, if there’s crazy bitterness he’ll balance it against all the other counterpoints. Our beer also probably reflects where we’re from in Queensland – it’s a hot, hot state so uplifting and bright styles of beer go down a treat.”
Uplifting and bright it is – this is the perfect one for your next Sunday session when the weather warms up.
Frenchies Bistro & Brewery – Kiss From A. Rose
A Bier de Garde (strong, golden style of pale ale from the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France) which has been fortified even further thanks to the addition of Archie Rose’s White Rye. Despite the 10.2% ABV, this beer came through as very light and refreshing with a lovely viscosity and enough acidity on the finish to cut through the heavy hoppy, boozy flavours.
Head brewer and one half of the Frenchies venture Vincent de Soyres says: “We made this beer thinking okay, we wanted to marry it with the white rye from Archie Rose because they’re our neighbours, they’re right next door, so we designed it (their Bier de Garde) around their white rye. We made the beer, then we added the white rye to make it over 10%.”
On a hot day, these would be lethal, and we’re fine with that.
Garage Project – Bhang Thandai
It’s like a party in your mouth, and literally f*cking everybody’s been invited, told their mates, shared it on Facebook and didn’t bother RSVPing. But in a good way. 7.7% booze is the last thing you’re thinking about, trying to decipher the eclectic mix of flavours in this thick, black liquid is another story. We loved this beer for its straight up weirdness, and would definitely try it again. And again. And again.
“We love coming to GABS, it’s a great festival.” Says Garage Project’s events manager Mattie. “The beer we brewed for today is called ‘Bang Thandai’, based on a traditional drink poured at the Holi festival in India. It’s made generally kinda similar to a chai, but made with cannabis. Obviously we can’t put cannabis in our beer, so we’ve used hemp seed oil. There’s also green cardamom, saffron, almonds, aniseed, pepper and other delicious things, and it’s poured on nitro.”
Despite it being a mouthful, one wasn’t enough.
T-Bone Brewing Co – Choc-Milk Stout
Exactly what it says on the label. Sweet milk stout made with milk sugar, vanilla and cacao nibs. Delicious. This beer was featured as part of The Tasmanian Beer Trail, which brought some of Tassie’s best small breweries to the one stall at GABS this year. And they had beer pong.
Brendan Parnell from Hobart Brewing Company was keen to share his insights. “We’ve got a brewery on Hobart Waterfront and in Tassie there’s been a whole heap of breweries open in the past 18 months to 2 two years. There’s 5 in Hobart now and another 5 surrounding Hobart. There’s a few of us now who are selling up here GABS – it’s a great opportunity for people in Sydney to see what we’re doing.
“The chocolate milk stout is quite different – it’s had lactose added and really does taste chocolatey and milky. And so’s the 9.1% double IPA brewed on an island off an island off an island – down on Bruny Island.”
The Apple Isle produces some of the best booze in the country, and The Tasmanian Beer Trail is only testament to that.
Young Henrys – Blanche Deveraux
A French earl grey-infused Vienna lager finished with rose and marigold petals. The bergamot really shone through the hops, and made it super perfumey. We enjoyed it, but this could be a really polarizing beer, given the amount of flavour. Great food beer if you were eating something super buttery and didn’t feel like wine.
“GABS is THE beer festival in Australia. It’s the one everybody wants to go to and the reason they all want to go to it is that it’s so f*cking awesome. You’ve got the brass band, every brewery’s here, over 150 unique beers, no other festival does that. That’s probably why GABS is GABS and why we want to come each year”, says Wombat, Deputy Head of Hi-Fives for Young Henrys.
This brewery is a staple for just about every tapped venue in the country now it seems, thanks to their consistent, easy drinking go-to brews, but it’s always interesting to see what they produce when they’re experimenting. This was just one of many weird and delicious brews on the YH taps this year.