Every year the Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular gets a little bigger, a little better, and runs a little smoother. This year, the stands really became a main feature and added another dimension beyond just drinking the festival beers, giving drinkers a chance to well drink, while chatting with beer folk about their beers. There was also giant jenga, beer ice cream and other goodies.
But the major appeal of GABS is still the same as back when it started back at the Local Taphouse – the opportunity to drink beers that have never been brewed before, that are creative and experimental, but still hit the mark a lot more than they don’t. So without further ado, here are my hits from GABS 2014.
For the second year in a row, the People’s Choice winner is a dessert beer, this year’s winner being Praline by La Sirene. You could smell this one coming a mile away, with a huge chocolate aroma and it was also a different chocolate aroma than you usually get in a beer , a lovely hazelnut Belgian chocolate. Look it was probably a bit too chocolatey for my tastes but I can see why it won with such a distinctive bold flavour.
Last year, Bacchus won with their White Chocolate and Raspberry Pilsener and they crafted another powerfully flavoured beer with their ‘rocky road’ flavoured beer. Once again, I wish we could see a lot more of their beers down here.
Wayward’s Sour Cherry Smoked Cacao Dopplebock packed a lot of flavour, the tart cherry came through strongly with a good hit of smok and chocolate too although it was perhaps a little cacophonous. I didn’t have the cajones to take on the 13%abv Creme Caramel from 2 Brothers and wasn’t enticed by the PB&J.
We don’t see a lot of Young Henry’s in Victoria but they have a lot of personality and are building some cred for their beers. Their Sahti beer – a little-know Finnish style of beer that features native botanicals. Intriguing unique herbal aromas balanced with enough sweetness and gin-like flavours to make this nicely drinkable.
Saison Japon from Thunder Road in collaboration with an old favourite, Robot Bar, produced a likeable and refreshing saison with Japanese botanicals.
And one of the most creative entries of the event was the Rocket (yes the salad) infused witbier from 7 Cent. I’ve really liked all I’ve seen from this brewer and this worked surprisingly well, with a nice spicy hit from the Rocket and herbal qualities making this a really nice beer.
Life can be hard for a sour beer lover sometimes. There’s just not a lot of options most of the time and you sometimes wonder when you’ll taste another beer that will delight your tastebuds as much as a Consecration or a Cantillon again. So it was great to see a number of sour beers available at the festival this year.
My favourite of the lot was probably the Holgate, strong on the cherry tartness and plenty acidic but its maltier base gave it a nice balance. Hop Dog’s Brett the Bloody Orange was a really nicely balanced lighter sour and I preferred that to Feral’s 100% brett, which probably had just a bit too much ‘horse’ and barnyard funk for my taste, although still really nice.
Little Creatures had one of the most approachable sours I’ve drank, which was a pleasant surprise. Magic Rock’s white wine barrel aged Berline Weisse was a super light, spritzy change-up, but I probably wouldn’t seek this one out.
Bridge Road’s entry was surprisingly sour, the whiskey barrel and other elements a bit overshadowed by the bright acidity, although I enjoyed it as a sour. Probably my biggest regret is not sampling the Scarlet Super from Temple, one of my favourite brewers, and which has won some praise following the event.
Well there weren’t many if any. McLaren Vale’s White Coffee Stout just didn’t quite work in my books. It didn’t have enough body and the coffee worked against the other elements of the beer rather than in harmony. Colonial’s Musk Saison tasted very strongly like the musk lollies you eat, which is not a taste I could drink much of. And Two Birds’s Sesame Seed Brown Ale was actually a brilliant brown ale but didn’t have enough character from the sesame seeds (although as it warmed up it started to come through a little more).
Stillwater, already a favourite from a tasting I went to, produced the freshest most flavoursome session beer there. Just an explosion of lively hops dancing over the Belgian yeast and pale body with just a touch of brett to add complexity.
Then there was the ever-impressive Kaiju! with a huge Black IPA with choc-loads of flavour and hops disguising its booming 10%abv. One to look out for.
Mornington Peninsula’s Rum and Raisin Porter wasn’t the most challenging beer, it was too smooth to be called that, but it had a unique flavour that lived up to its name and was the kind of beer I’d drink many more of if I had the chance.
Doctor’s Orders are one of Australia’s most creative brewers and their Imperial Gose, an amped up version of a rare German style, was a powerful and refreshing number, hoppy and a little bit salty.
While the festival beers are the drawcard, I really enjoyed walking the floor this year and having the chance to try some different beers and talk to reps of the brewers and distributors.
There was the stand with upcoming NSW brewers like Young Henry’s with their sessionable malty and hoppy Real Ale, and Dr’s Orders with their tasty Wheat Wasabi Porter. There was the fabulous Garage Project stand complete with cool comic-style graphics (should have taken a photo) and their tasty tasty Death From Above Redux, and Wellington’s craft beer stand showing off beers from impressive newcomers like Funk Estate and Panhead Ales.
And then there’s distributors like Palais Imports with rare Brooklyn Brewery beers to show off and Experience IT with the likes of SixPoint, Deschutes Brewery and Boatrocker on offer . Wow there’s a lot of good beers around now. I’m finally starting to feel like we’ve made it. Like the beers are changed rather than a-changin’ if you know what I mean.
Extra ingredients and my pick of the festival
Of the ‘let’s chuck in some extra ingredients’ variety of beers on offer, I enjoyed Moon Dog’s tasty little Dark Ale number. I always feel like I want more body in my dark ale but in this case it did enable a strong and complex range of flavours from the addition of predominantly coffee, but also chicory, rye, beets.
Ironhouse’s Red Rye Ale was a lovely refreshing beer. If you like rooiboos red tea then you’ll like this beer basically. Garage Projet were amazing with their Imperial Umami beer living up to its name with plenty of that seaweed character but still so drinkable. BrewCult who impressed last year with their creativity in brewing a balsamic vinegar porter, once again delivered with a peppercorn steak that had a good smokey body with plenty of peppery spice to linger.
Speaking of lingering, while I’ve seen some mixed reviews of it I would have to give my votes for the best beer of the festival to the Yeastie Boys with their PawPaw Negro Blowtorch. It had everything for me – fruit, smoke and spice, and somehow they pull it all together in beautiful harmony, and it’s perfectly balanced and refreshing and just lingers and lingers…