Australia’s biggest beer festival again took over Melbourne’s iconic Exhibition Building for three days with more than 16,000 people attending and 300,000 tasters being poured, before taking its act to Sydney for another full day. I was fortunate enough to attend all 3 days of the event in Melbourne, taking to chance to talk to soak in GABS’s unique atmosphere, talk to the people behind the beers, and taste a bucketload of beers.
How did this GABS stack up to previous years?
It seems like every year, they tweak the event to run just a bit more smoothly, but the essential promise of the event remains the same – GABS give you the chance to taste unique and creative beers of all different persuasions from the finest brewers across Australia and New Zealand.
The beers this year saw more hits than misses, with many of the newer breweries really hitting the mark and many of the veteran brewers taking the chance to venture further into experimental territory.
For instance, new brewers Hawkers were aiming to produce a big and tasty but still highly drinkable beer that would showcase their brewery and which they could roll out after the event. While GABS vets like Garage Project wanted to experiment with particular ingredients like a certain yeast they’d found to push the boundaries, and then 7 Cent brewers, with their ‘ultimate hipster beer’ including lentils, quinoa, kale and berries seemed to just want to do something crazy and out-there just for the hell of it.
My top 5 festival beers
- 8 Wired – Hippy Berliner – somehow Soren’s beers always taste like they are exactly how they are meant to taste and everything works in perfect harmony.
- BrewCult – Milk and Two Sugars – a brilliant sweet stout with loads of coffee and chocolate, and a sweeter vanilla finish. Could drink this for breakfast every day no problem. Worthy winner of the People’s Choice award.
- Clifton Hill – The Dark Hill – this was a surprise to me, listed as a dark mild, it ended up having a complex character, taking on a lot of flavour from the wood, while the English hops were prominent.
- Bacchus – Atomic Lemon, Lime & Bitters – Bacchus are the masters of imitation and yeah this tasted just like an old LL&B, sweet, fruity, bitter with a sour kick at the finish.
- Wayward – Oatis – a hoppy IPA with punchy grapefruit and citrus aromas complemented by a smooth oatmeal finish from one of New South Wales’s many brewers on the rise.
Top 5 beers of the festival according to Untappd
So I scoured every GABS beer checked on Untappd, the social beer app, to get an idea of which beers rated the highest amongst the punters.
- Big Shed – Golden Stout Time (4.05 average rating) – One of the emerging South Australian brewers making an impact, Big Shed nailed their beer version of a Golden Gaytime. I thought they had the People’s Choice award sewn up, but BrewCult came over the top.
- Mountain Goat – Nightcap (4.03 average rating) – a 11% Russian Imperial Stout aged in whisky barrels and infused with coffee, this one was a real sipper but quite smooth for its size with a distinctive vanilla taste.
- Ekim – [ragna]RÖK (3.95 average rating) – a big hoppy double IPA that went down well with the crowds.
- Duckstein – The Marsellus Wallace (3.90 average rating) – this WA brewer doesn’t venture over to the East Coast but clearly delighted the punters with this big cherry, choc and vanilla porter.
- BrewCult – Milk and Two Sugars (3.88 average rating)
While the festival beers were as interesting as ever, I enjoyed stepping away from the paddles and getting the full experience of the festival. The stands as always were the highlight providing the chance to chat to some of people behind the beers, learn about the beers, and sample their wares.
In my sampling, I was particularly impressed by QLD’s All Inn Brewing’s delightfully deceiving Coffee Kolsch, SA brewer Mismatch’s malty and sessionable Red Ale, UK’s Beavertown’s Holy Cowbell India Stout, and NZ’s Garage Project’s Two Tap Flat White, a delicious blend of their cream ale and coffee stout on nitro, creating a super creamy sweet stout that I could drink all day!
The bar upstairs also provided a quiet refuge from the madness below and gave the chance to sip on some of the best beers in the country and some cask ales, whilst enjoying the best view across the amazing historic building.
5 reasons you should attend GABS next year
- The chance to be surprised and find you love a beer that you’d never have thought you would like. There’s always something to surprise or delight, keep an open mind and be ready to find a new (beer) love.
- The chance to talk to the people behind the beer – the stands give you a unique opportunity to taste beers, while talking to the people behind them. Learn more about what goes into the beers that you’re drinking and discover new favourites.
- The atmosphere – there’s nothing quite like hanging out with thousands of people with the sole aim of tasting good beer. Everyone’s in good sprits and seem to mostly have the right attitude. For Melbourne, the Royal Exhibition Building is just an incredible and historic building to be in as well.
- The entertainment value – It’s a time to have a bit of fun and enjoy a different experience to hanging out in your usual bar like every other weekend. There’s a real effort to go beyond being just about beer with circus acts, giant jenga, beer pong games, a table tennis table and ten pin bowling.
- The food – there were some good options this year in Melbourne with the likes of MeatMother, Huxtaburger and others on board. MeathMother’s burnt end rolls omfg so good!
What a week! What a festival! See you next year!