With 90 beers brewed just for the event, the Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular was a dream come true for those, like me, addicted to the pursuit new and unique beer flavours.
I managed to work my way through quite a few paddles and was impressed with the overall quality and innovation of the brews on display at the event. The increasing number of Australian microbreweries willing to experiment and create new tastes is a promising sign that the industry isn’t going to just settle with producing easy-to-drink hoppy pale ales but also lead the Australian beer drinkers’ onwards to more interesting places.
Here are my takes on all the beers I had a chance to try at the event, including all the hits and misses.
Bridge Road is one of my favourite Australian brewers and once again they delivered the goods with Hop 2 it Honey, which featured some sweet honey at first sip, quickly followed by a rush of aromatic hops and a well balanced finish.
Birbecks’ The Merchant was billed as a mid 1800s style Black IPA, which seemed to confuse some people as it wasn’t at all black, but I found this pretty nice all the same. It had some nice earthy flavours and a good bitter finish.
HopDog’s An American Werewolf in Belgium was a perfectly executed example of this style, with the Belgian yeast highlighting a lovely hops aroma and creating a smooth but interesting taste.
Murrays’ The Caveman offering was solid with just a hint of smoke to an otherwise business-like Belgian IPA.
ParrotDog’s BloodyDingo hit the mark with a flavoursome Imperial Red IPA with a good bitterness, lots of malt and plenty of hops – just the way a Red IPA should be.
Cheeky Monkey’s Imperial Red Ale was similarly amped up beer with malt, hops and alcohol in abundance, but perhaps not quite as hoppy and in tune as the above.
The Karma Citra was probably my pick of the day at the 2011 inaugural GABS two years ago and in 2013, Feral’s Barrique O Karma, a barrel aged version of their Karma Citra from two years ago, was the consensus pick for the beer of the festival and the Brewer’s Choice. The beer is a beautiful melding of vanilla from the oak, chocolate from the malt and a bit of hops too for good measure.
8 Wired’s Merge Like A Zip was more on the hoppy side of the equation of Black IPA, but by 8 Wired’s high standards this was just by the numbers. Moa’s BlackHops was another solid beer, more on the black side of the equation, as was Ironhouse’s Holy Smoke with its smoky bacon taste that was something different but probably lacked the mouthfeel and balance to make it a winner.
This was the style I was most looking forward to and Van Dieman’s Dubbel Shot proved to be one of the best coffee beers I’ve had. There was a strong focus on the coffee flavour, as the sweeter Dubbel style really allowed the coffee to come through.
Thirsty Crow and William Bull Brewery’s Charlie’s Pitbull had a complex self-described ‘biscotti’ taste from a combination of orange-y hops, oak barrel aging and espresso, that was very interesting.
Riverside’s Breakfast by the River and Mornington’s Commonfolk Brown were both solid but compared to the others, probably needed more body and complexity in my books.
Barrel Aged Beauts
Dr’s Orders Intravenous Elixir was stellar. Loved the peatiness from the whisky barrel aging, the Belgian yeast, the bitterness of the hops, and the balance between all those elements. One of the favourites of the day.
Illawarra’s Farmhouse Kiss was a shiraz barrel aged farmhouse ale that was very dry and mellow. Was expecting a little more complexity but it was quaffable all the same.
I can see where Bootleg’s Tom’s Oaked Amber Ale was headed but the vanilla and marzipan flavours imparted from the oak barrel ageing were just a bit overwhelming and not quite for me.
Sweet and strong
Magic Pudding from 2Brothers hit that perfect balance of sweetness, spice and strength and produced a fine beer worthy of a place on any beer lover’s Christmas table. On the other hand I found the Mad Abbot’s Christmas Ale overly boozy and sweet for my tastes.
Witbiers are not a favourite style of mine but I had a couple of good ones on the day. Two Birds’ Taco was super refreshing, a good hit of hops although I didn’t get a lot of the spice. Brooklyn’s Grand Cru was a predictably professional Grand Cru that could be roughly compared to Hoegaarden on steroids.
Fruit & Vegetables & Spice
Last year, Yeastie Boys turned us on to Tea and Beer with the People’s Choice winner Gunnamatta Tea-leafed IPA, this year they turned us on to Beetroot and Beer with a beeted-blonde ale. And once again they produced an unusual combination that really works. A really easy drinking beer, the beetroot definitely adds a good earthy flavour and a gorgeous colour too.
Garage Project’s Death from Above was a refreshing and well balanced pale ale that was nicely hopped and had a good late hit of chilli that warmed on the tongue.
For Birra Del Borgo’s Bunga Bunga party, I think they actually balanced this pretty well but I’m just not a fan of beers with lemon and myrtle, as they remind me too much of dish cleaning liquid.
I had the chance to try the Bacchus Brewing’s White Chocolate Pilsener earlier in the week and thought it amazing and unique. At GABS, they presented a White Chocolate Raspberry Pilsener, which picked up the People’s Choice award. The chocolate is a little overwhelmed by the tart raspberry finish (a mate did compare it to cough syrup) but it was a tasty beer.
The Australian Brewery’s Breakfast for the Kaiser breakfast pilsener, would be a nice way to start to your day I think. I didn’t get much chocolate but this did have a nice creamy mouthfeel from the oats and some nice spicy noble hops on the finish.
Monk Brewery’s Cacao Cabana was a solid Choc Brown Hefeweizen, a nice and dry finish with a bit of cocoa upfront. On the other hand, 4 Pines’ Dunkel Monkey just was too banana-y, a taste that lingered uncomfortably for me.
BrewCult’s Balsamic Porter, brewed with vinegar, was something new and interesting and worked surprisingly well. The smell was of vinegar but the taste was smooth and the flavours worked harmoniously. A good example of a new innovative ‘nanobrewery’ taking beer in Australia to new place.
Harbour’s Imperial Spiced Chocolate Stout was a really flavoursome beer with a good hit of rum and a subtle chilli kick at the end.
Six Strings’ Chai Spiced Porter was ok, some interesting flavours but probably a bit too much anise and lacking some mouthfeel.
Young Henry’s’ Divine Manchu, a low alcohol sweet and sour beer made with tea, was a really unique and out-there beer. I’m not sure how much of this I would drink but I didn’t not enjoy the sample I had.
I do love my sours and Feral and Wig and Pen’s Free Range Ale was very quaffable and refreshing, but the sourness was just not to my taste on this occassion.
Nogne O and Moon Dog’s Sour Cherry beer almost worked really well but I’m not sure why they went for a wheat. This would have been better with a thicker mouthfeel and more chocolate taste for me.