GABS 2018 Melbourne wrap-up plus Top 10 rated beers so far

GABS Melbourne 2018 is done and dusted after 5 monster sessions and now heads to Sydney and Auckland. It appeared to be another successful year with the exhibition building filling up even more with different decked-out brewer stands to explore.

For me, there were a number of highlights and themes that emerged from this year’s festival.

Nitro beers

A lot of beers were served on nitro as brewers opted to add a creamy mouthfeel to their beers. I’m excited about this trend and hope this carries over to more bars and beers around town. Nitro was used particularly with NEIPA-style beers that are juicy and tend to have a thicker hazy body to start with like the Parfait IPA Milkshake from Slipstream, or with chocolate-y dark beers like the Chocolate Milkshake from Tallboy and Moose, which genuinely tasted like a chocolate milkshake, creamy, chocolate-y and not bitter.

Chocolate milkshake on nitro

Barrel-aged beers

Barrel-ageing is en vogue right now. While the likes of White Rabbit and Boatrocker (noticeably absent) are the big players in that space usually, there are a few others who can play that game too.

Wildflower impressed again with the huge magnums available at their stand, where I enjoyed their Gold beer aged with white peaches, which was a nice peachy acidic twist on the original. And 4 Pines put their foeders to work for a Flanders Red Ale style beer.

Last year’s People’s Choice winner, Stockade, had a quite sessionable bourbon barrel-aged stout, and even Australia Brewing Co. aka Yenda, had a monster 3 year bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. That beer is also currently the highest rated on Untappd of any of the GABS beers, in quite a shock for a brand owned by Coca Cola, which hasn’t had much to write home about before.

NEIPAs and juice are still big

The New England IPAs were again a big part of the mix for brewers as they experiment with this new yet-to-be-clearly-defined brewing style. Some of the top-rated beers came in this style with Trubble & Squeak from Sauce Brewing and Garage Project OMG That’s The Funky Shit! NEIPA with orange, mango and grapefruit both proving popular with punters on Untappd.

I attended a discussion on the topic that included a couple of Australasia’s leading NEIPA brewers in Brendan Sullivan from 3 Ravens and Jos Ruffell from Garage Project, as well as Ashur Hall from Stomping Ground, Ash Hazell from Colonital Brewing and Luke Robertson from Ale of a Time.

The discussion went back and forth but my takeaways were:

  • NEIPA is a young and ill-defined style at this point with AIBA judges Ashur and Ash noting they were unsure on how to judge the beers, noting for example the bitterness level range was anywhere between 30-100 IBUs (which covers most beers)
  • Some brewers are taking things to the extreme and losing the point of it
  • Garage Project may have accidentally invented the haze craze before it was even a thing, years ago when they forgot to throw finings into a beer and went with it. Jos noted that looking back at the reactions to the beer they were mainly positive as the unfiltered beer felt more organic to drinkers.
  • Ultimately there are some things about the beer, like the low perceived bitterness and the hazy look and thicker mouthfeel, that are appealing to drinkers and shouldn’t be dismissed.
  • At the end of the day, balance and good beer wins out.

Meanwhile some of the NEIPAs of the festival were available on taster, showcasing a range of styles within the style with 3 Ravens’ dark take to Feral’s bright and juicy one, and also including a ‘mix-up beer’. It appears that for the first session on the Friday afternoon the tap lines for Mornington Peninsula’s Squidroot (in red) and Umami (dark) from Morrison got mixed up. You can see the numbers marked incorrectly on this paddle purchased earlier too.

A tasting paddle

Stands are getting bigger and better

This year was more rewarding than ever for those who got around to the stands with each stand offering something pretty special. I saw plenty of punters on the look out for the good stuff too, a sign of the maturing tastes of drinkers.

Beers like Rye Fighter Double IPA from Mountain Goat, Holgate’s Sour Brett Ale, and Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale were among some of my favourites, and there was heaps more on offer that I wish I had the time to get to. But alas, there’s always next year.

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Top 10 beers from GABS Melbourne 2018

Australian Beer Co. (aka Yenda) 3 Year Aged Bourbon Imperial Stout – 3.97 Untapped score

Akasha IIIPA – 3.95

Sauce Brewing Trubble & Squeak NEIPA – 3.9

Pikes Choc Hazelnut – 3.88

Feral Shooter McGavin’s Breakfast IPA – 3.88

Big Shed Boozy Froots – 3. 86

Cloudburst Outlier Hotel – 3.85

Chomp Stout Last Rites – 3.82

Welder’s Dog Brewing Prickly Pear Sour Ginger Beer – 3.81

Sailor’s Grave Wild Strawberries – 3.81

My bet for the people’s choice award is Feral Brewing’s Shooter McGavin’s Breakfast IPA. I feel like the two highest rated beers are going to be too strong to get the popular vote. Of the next group, Pikes needed a more attention grabbing name and Big Shed should come close again after their Golden Time was a highlight beer from GABS 2015.

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