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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Being a beer lover and a dad too

Becoming a father changes your life forever. The changes are profound and rewarding and yeah sometimes challenging.

This blog has been on hiatus since the start of 2018, when I became a father for the third time, and this got me thinking about how becoming a dad has changed the way I drink beer.

Here are some ways being a dad has changed my relationship with beer.

I don’t go out often but when I do I like to enjoy good beer

Sorry to go all Dos Equis on y’all but this is true, when I go out I don’t want to waste the opportunity. Good company and good beer at relaxed venues where I can enjoy said good beer and good company is a must for any night out. This selectiveness generally leads to more satisfying outcomes anyway.

I visit breweries with my family

Breweries are usually great family-friendly venues as they are spacious, offer reasonable food and are open during the daytime. The smarter venues out there have realised the value of making families welcome and usually include some features like toys, a play area, highchairs, and changing tables, all of which come in handy.

I’ve listed some of my favourite breweries and most of those I attended with the family. Stomping Ground in Collingwood is probably my top pick of all due to the excellent playground.

Taking your family out to a ‘bar’ may seem controversial (pro tip: if you see someone post on this topic, don’t read the comments) but if you do it the right way it can be a pleasant family outing as well as an opportunity to discover some fresh new favourite brews.

I try to spend less money on beer

The financial hit that often comes with being a parent can take a toll on beer lovers. Craft beer can become an expensive habit and when you start to feel the hit of a single income combined with more expenses than before it’s can be hard to justify high weekly beer expenses.

For me, I’ve learnt to pick my spots. For regular drinking it helps to stock a cheap affordable beer in the fridge to reduce costs. Those Dan Murphys card promo 6 packs for $10-15 can also be pretty tempting too.

But for me the whole fun of drinking beer is when I try something new and different so I try to find the right occasion for good beers, saving up the special ones for celebrations, a weekend treat or a bottle share with mates.

I make sure more than ever to celebrate special occasions with good beer

In my pre-dad days, I would have a good beer whenever. It could have been a Monday night and I might have cracked open an aged Belgian lambic just because I could.

Now if I were to crack open a great rare beer like that it’s more likely to be on a special occasion. Perhaps something like the birth of my child, an anniversary, or if I’m desperate there’s sure to be a International <insert some day that gives me an excuse to drink> Day to celebrate.

Props to those living their best life and popping whales on a Monday night, but I do take pleasure in saving great beers to savour for special moments that are worthy of celebration.

Most recently, after the birth of my 3rd son, I celebrated with a bottle from the revered NSW brewer Wildflower. Fact – life has some great moments and those moments are made even better with good beer.

 

 

I drink quality over quantity

A boozy weekend knocking back a heap of beers isn’t prudent when you have to parent. So drinking less, drinking better is the name of the game. Drinking less helps you to afford better beer, to be more present and appreciate what you do drink, and to still be a responsible dad.

Parenthood may signal the end of dreams of unbridled individual freedom but it doesn’t signal the end of personal enjoyment. It just makes the moments when I can enjoy things like good beer more precious.

 

 

 

 

What is this fruit in my beer and where can I get more of this?

Beers are becoming more and more fruity. Both in terms of the most popular hop varieties today adding fruit-like aromas to the beer, and actual fruit being added in the brewing process.

This trend towards fruit in craft beers has been a while coming but has seemingly reached its zenith of late with the birth of the ‘juicy’ New England IPA (NEIPA) style beers, the proliferation of pale ales with fruit added, and the uptick in sessional sour beer styles like Gose and Berline Weisses that often include the addition of fruits.

Hoppy fruity beers

The trendiest hops right now are varieties like Citra, Mosaic, Galaxy, and, in New Zealand, Nelson Sauvin, which impart distinctively fruity aromas to the beer. Passionfruit, melon, tropical punchbowl, citrus, are all common flavours associated with these hops.

This is in stark contrast to hop varieties used previously in the West Coast IPAs, like Centennial, Columbus and Chinook, which were piney, resinous, and bitter.

The new fruitier IPAs, and in particular the New England IPAs (NEIPAs) are a stylistic counterpoint to these brash bitter IPAs, and tend to be more approachable with lively fruity flavours and a toned-down bitterness.

It’s taken years of hop innovation to breed these fruitier styles that are now so sought after but styles like NEIPAs are still somewhat polarising among seasoned beer drinkers. Even if its immediate appeal is broader, some beer afficianados find these beers lacking in bitterness and, well, beeriness. Nevertheless, these hoppy fruity beers continue to be a drawcard for drinkers and the hype train shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. 

Some examples of beers that really showcase fruit aromas through, include:

  • 20170913_190618.jpg3 Ravens’ Juicy – a really pleasant juicy orange flavour with low bitterness (pictured)
  • Feral’s Biggie Juice – another super juicy but approachable beer that is thick and cloudy.
  • Hop Nation’s Jedi Juice – lots of mango and citrus and plenty of hazy and body, this is my favourite example of the NEIPA style yet.
  • 8 Wired Hopwired IPA – This is the first beer I remember blowing me away by how fruity it was, you could smell it from across the room! Fruity NZ hops at their best.
  • Pirate Life Mosaic IPA – Mosaic may be the hottest hop variety right now and this is a typically excellent example from the hop masters at Pirate Life.
  • Stone & Wood Pacific Ale – an oldie but a goldie, a pale and thin bodied ale, allowing the  fruit aromas from the Galaxy hops to really shine through.

Beer with fruit added

The Gose and Berliner Weisse style beers are slightly sour and tart already, so the styles lend themselves to fruit additions. In fact, Berliner Weisses were historically served in Germany along with syrup flavours such as raspberry,

One of my favourite modern examples of fruit being added to a beer is the Blood Orange Gose from California’s Anderson Valley Brewing (pictured). The beer was trendsetter in this sessionable sour category and tastes somewhat like an alcoholic version of a San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa, which works surprisingly well.

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In Australia, Wayward’s Sourpuss Raspberry Berliner and Nomad’s Saltpan Desert Lime Gose are two other fantastic examples of using fruit additions to accentuate and add complexity to these refreshing beer styles.

Fruit and hops all together now

Brewers are also adding fruit to beer styles with fruity hops, using fruit additions to further exaggerate flavours and add complexity. Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin and Pineapple Sculpin, for instance are two popular fruit-added varieties of the US brewery’s seminal IPA.

One local example of a fruit-added IPA worth seeking out is Green Beacon’s Blood Orange IPA. The fruit adds to the citrus aromas present from the hops and creates a distinctive and moreish beer.

Other recent local releases in this space include James Squire’s Tropicana Ale (pictured), which was an intriguing thirst quencher reminiscent of guava juice. Another couple of exciting releases, which I haven’t sampled yet but look forward to are Two Birds’ Passion Victim Summer Ale, brewed with passionfruit puree, and Stockade’s Two Bridges, brewed in collaboration with Brazilian brewery Dadiva, which also uses the addition of passionfruit to complement the Galaxy hops used.

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Top 10 GABS beers in 2017 according to Untappd

The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular aka GABS kicked off with a bang in 2017 in its first weekend in Melbourne. Beer lovers from all over congregated at the historic Royal Exhibition building for another year of unique beer tastes and festivities.

I was lucky enough to attend the event, courtesy of GABS, and pulled off the doubleheader on Friday for back-to-back sessions. For me, the event lived up to its name with a great lineup of beers, a marketplace packed with stands of good beers and beer people, and lively entertainment from Little Creatures Live acts.

There were some definite themes that emerged among the beers this year, with a lot of New England IPAs, the hazy juicy style sweeping the US, a range of spiced beers including a few Curry-inspired beers, and plenty of dessert-style beers, presumably trying to recapture the winning formula of many past GABS winners.

GABS legends and defending champs Bacchus didn’t make it to this year’s event, so who will take their crown as the People’s Choice winner? We’ll have to wait a little while to find out but in the meantime we can speculate with the aid of some Untappd data, which gives an indicator of what beers were most highly rated by punters in Melbourne. I checked the data following the event and these were the top 10 highest rated.

Top 10 GABS beers according to Untappd ratings as at 30 May 2017

1. Stockade – Mountie Maple Imperial Stout – The people of Untappd found this 12%+ beast of a beer a standout and I totally agree. Someone compared this beer to McDonald’s hotcakes and I think they’re right, but even more surprisingly, it actually works too.

2. Akasha – Lupulin Fog Double IPA – They are one of the best in the biz at doing hoppy beers, so no surprise to seem them come out on top in the battle of the juicy IPAs.

3. Pirate Life – Vanilla Thickshake IPA – Pirate Life is giving winning the People’s Choice award a good, er, shake with this beer. A dessert beer and an IPA that works from a beloved brewer, this may be a prohibitive favourite for the People’s Choice award now.

4. Little Rivers – Little Licka – perhaps the surprise of the event this little known Tassie brewer won a place with a nostalgic Red Rope Licorice style beer that hit the mark.

5. Sierra Nevada – Bombastic Montastic Belgian Brown – One of the very few international brewers at GABS, they earned their keep with this beer, a really nice complex sipper at just over 10%.

6. Feral – Dark Matter – This one stood out by being not as ‘out there’ as other beers but just being a really nice ‘normal’ chocolate porter. Hopefully we see more of it.

7. Modus Operandi – Cascadian Howl – A Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale, is a style that is sometimes maligned and somewhat restrained for GABS, but in the reliable hands of hop-loving MO, it seems to have paid off with the Sydney punters in particular.

8. Hop Nation – Jedi Juice – Another new entry to the top 10 after the Sydney GABS. Another juicy IPA from another hop-loving brewer. Departing the top 10 following Melbourne GABS are Hawkers/Wheaty’s Baklava Brown and 2 Brothers’ The Smoking Jacke.

9. (tied) DeedsJuice Train New England IPA – one of the success stories from the many juicy IPAs on offer, from a somewhat unexpected source.

Moon DogThe Jimmy Laureys – A big bold 22% abv Belgian Strong Ale, personally I wasn’t game to try it, but it clearly won some fans.

And for the record, here are some of my other top picks for beers I enjoyed at GABS.

10 other GABS beers I enjoyed

  1. Wayward – Funky Hoppy People – a hoppy and sour beer, this was something I felt I could easily drink more of.
  2. Chur – Chocolate Fish Milk Stout – This is a classic GABS dessert-style beer with a strong candy-ish raspberry character that indeed tastes like pink marshmallows.
  3. Shambles – ‘Cool Runnings’ Whole Coffee Stout – creamy with plenty of coffee and a subtle earthy, berry flavour, this one was enjoyable.
  4. Willie the Boatman – Marvin Berry’s Choc-Milk Stout – Another sweet stout with cacao, strawberry and raspberry that is well put together with a dry-ish finish.
  5. 3 Ravens – Mango Lassi IPA – surprisingly well balanced, a creamy sour and mango beer that goes down alright.
  6. Wolf of the Willows – ‘Raisin Kilts’ Rum n Raisin Scotch Ale – another one that actually drinks pretty easy as it isn’t overly sweet or rummy.
  7. Yeastie Boys – Royal Tanninbomb – An amped up version of their classic GABS winner, Gunnamatta, the IPA with Earl Grey flowers. The Earl Grey can be a bit overbearing for some, but for me, I liked it.
  8. Emporium – No Whey? Yes Whey! – You go to GABS to drink something different, and this white stout with whey was certainly that.
  9. Shenanigans – Flower Power – this lighter refreshing sour wheat beer with some subtle floral aromas was a good change-up beer.
  10. Stone & Wood – Salty Sour East – A particularly salty and funky gose, so if you like that kind of thing, which I do, then it’s good.

GABS at the Royal Exhibition Building

Some Extra Special ESBs in Australia

The Extra Special Bitter (ESB) has a cocky name that belies its appeal as a beer style that is generally understated, balanced and highly drinkable.

What I love about ESBs is the great interplay between the different elements. Without any one ingredient dominating, the malt, hops and yeast are each able contribute their own distinctive characteristics to the beer.

The ESB is a broad style that is difficult to define. It is basically a kind of English-style pale ale that is a bit stronger. These BJCP style guidelines describe it as “A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer”.

This is borne out in the ESBs brewed in Australia that range from sweet to dry, light to dark, and creamy. Here are some of the best examples going around in Australia at the moment:

3 Ravens English ESB

A Gold Medal winner for this style at the AIBA awards, along with Mountain Goat’s Hightail Ale. It is a bronze/copper colour with a dry earthy finish. This ESB is a really good winter beer for those that enjoy an eminently drinkable malty ale.

Mornington Peninsula’s Dog’s Bollocks ESB

The Dog’s Bollocks is a new release that seems to play on the tendency of UK ales to have bizarre names like Sheepshagger. The beer itself is interesting as a rare canned ‘nitro beer’, the nitro giving it a creamier thicker body that enhances its already sessionable nature.

This beer really hits the mark as a smooth creamy beer with a pleasant interplay of sweet malts, earthy hops and fruity esters.

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Napoleone’s Longbow ESB and Fighting Jack ESB

While many craft breweries are focused on following American styles, Napoleone are making their mark through their interpretations of European styles and recently released an ESB for their first canned beer. The Longbow ESB is quite pale for an ESB so is a bit subtler in its malt flavours but has some nice nuances of fruity esters from the English yeast.

Personally I enjoyed most their bigger ESB on tap from the brewery bar last year, Fighting Jack, packing in at over 7% with a darker colour and bigger malt profile.

Napoleone-tasting-paddle
Tasting Paddle at Napoleone brewery bar

4 Pines ESB

4 Pines’ ESB is one of the lighter and sweeter examples out there. I enjoyed it more as it warmed up and the fruity esters of the yeast came through more.

Hargreaves Hill ESB

An Australian classic that may get overlooked by some, I feel like if it was called a pale ale and had a rad label it would be one of the best regarded beers in Australia.

This is distinctly different to other ESBs on this list as the beer is powered by new-world hops, the bright berry and tropical fruit aromas of the Nelson Sauvin hops shining over a sweet malt base.

Holgate ESB 

Holgate’s ESB is a well-balanced beer and good example of the style. It drinks particularly well when it has a fuller mouthfeel after being pulled from a handpump at the brewery bar or at the Royston Hotel say, and is a handy winter beer.

For those lacking for the classic examples of the style, there’s Fullers ESB which is the forefather, and Courage’s Strong Bitter is another. They are a good drop and are available at the big retailers. And for those brewing at home, Jamil provides a good style profile here.

Best Australian Brewers Power Rankings

Who would you rate as Australia’s best brewers? This is the question that I’m answering on a regular basis with these Power Rankings that break down the best brewers in Australia.

I determine the best brewers based on a criteria of:

  • Quality of core range/go-to beers
  • Quality of seasonal and one-off beers
  • Good breadth and diversity of beer styles produced
  • Creativity and innovation in the beers produced
  • Availability of beers across Australia

December 2016 Power rankings for the best brewer in Australia

My latest subjective ranking of Australia’s best brewers with their previous ranking in brackets.

10. tied (new) 4 Pines / Murrays

4 Pines continue to grow and expand as one of Australia’s biggest independent craft brewers. They also make really good beer that is accessible anywhere. Their Amber Ale, brewed with a healthy amount of the excellent Mosaic hop, was their best core beer yet. While I may not rush to get their one-offs, they produce good beers in a wide range of styles.

I also had to have Murrays on this list after they returned to form in a big way this year. They seemed to have dropped off the craft beer radar a bit but really came back to form this year with their special releases including Thunderbolt IPA that won Crafty Pint’s blind tasting, Coffee Wild Thing (see above) and Skully, a Red IPA.

9. (10) Wayward 

I was stoked to visit their premises in Annandale this year and sample more of their impressive range. I’m yet to have a bad beer from these guys and they have a great variety of beers beyond just pale ales.Their Fat Charmer, a bigger version of their classic Charmer Red Ale, was a highlight for its flavour and drinkability at the NSW Pint of Origin, while I also enjoyed their tart Sourpuss raspberry Berliner Weisse and dry fruity Saison. They’ve also started bottling this year so we should more of their core range.

8. (9) Bacchus Brewing 

My wish came true and we’re seeing more and more of their beers available in good beer stores. They became the first two-time People’s Choice GABS winners with their win at this year’s festival with the Peanut Brittle Gose that was another desser-like beer – sweet with a salty finish in a unique take on the style.

7. (4) Holgate

Their Flanders Red ale has received quite the praise from Crafty Pint and their barrel-aged stout also had some good wraps. I enjoyed their Tangelo Gose and these craft beer vets showed that they are still among the best in the business.

6. (6) Mornington Peninsula

I was really impressed by the range this year. Nothing too crazy but a good range of different styles released regularly and all done well. I mentioned A nice complement to one of the best core ranges in the business.

4. (7) Pirate Life

Another big year for Pirate Life, quickly moving up these rankings and set to be one of the top performers again in the Hottest 100. Their Triple IPA at GABS delighted the punters with the best rating on Untappd and they turned out a good range of beers this year. I was most impressed by their stout, particularly as it was the first beer of theirs I’d had that wasn’t hop-focused.

4. (5) La Sirene

La Sirene is all class. Their beers are always well-made, complex and intriguing. Their Avant Garde series met a lot of praise (and had beautiful labels), while their Urban Pale was a great first example of them bringing their farmhouse-style beers to a wider audience.

3. (3) Bridge Road

Continue to pump out creative beers that push the envelope and bring Australia craft beer forward. The Mayday Hills range, featuring a huge wooden barrel innoculated with brett yeast is the latest example of that. While I also found their duo of Biere De Wilde beers featuring wild yeasts from different winemakers intriguing and tasty.

2. (2) Boatrocker

The barrel program continues to be a success and produce high-quality beers that are unmatched in Australia. Ramjet once again impressed as one of Australia’s best beers, big and flavoursome and balanced, while the Dark Saison was probably my favourite beer this year from them. They are breathing down the neck of Feral at no. 1.

1. (1) Feral

A relatively quiet year in my books from Australia’s best brewer but they still have a great core range of beers complemented by a variety of excellent limited releases. It seems that many agree with me on their ranking as Beer Cartel’s industry survey also had them in the top spot. Look forward to seeing what they do after moving to a new brewery with greater capacity this year.

The rise of yeast in Australian craft beer

First came the hoppy beers – the pale ales, APAs and IPAs. Then came the maltier beers – the amber, red and black ales. Finally, it is yeast’s turn to shine, with wild, sour and farmhouse beers the new beers of the moment.

This been the natural progression of craft beer tastes in Australia. As palates have become increasingly sophisticated and yearned for more complex flavours, there has been an increased focus on yeast as a key ingredient for taste.

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3 hot spots across Australia where craft beer is taking off in 2016

Hot spot 1: Sydney’s inner west

One of the more exciting developments for me in 2015, was both watching from afar and seeing firsthand, the development of the Sydney beer scene. Long the straggler in Australian craft beer, it may now be the leader, as brewery after brewery opened their doors and started pouring awesome beers.

And the hottest of the hot spots in Sydney is the inner west where Willie the Boatman, Wayward Brewing, Akasha and Grifter have all opened breweries in recent months. They join established breweries of Newtown vets Young Henrys, as well as 2014 opened breweries from Batch Brewing and Rocks Brewing.

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Wrapping up the Great Australasian Beer Spectapular aka GABS 2015

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.

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