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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USA’s No.1 selling IPA lands in Australia

I remember the first time I drank Lagunitas IPA. It was straight from the bottle while waiting for my plane at the airport in San Fran, which weren’t the ideal circumstances, but even then it stood out as a great fresh hoppy beer and I thought how bloody good is this for a beer at the airport.

And now Lagunitas IPA is going to be launching on taps in Australia, legit and fresh, and rather than out of the bottle at an airport, you’ll be able to drink at at a comfy bar with some nice glassware too, with the initial distribution set to be in kegs.

The Australian launch event was held at the Great Northern Hotel with legendary founder Tony Magee on hand for the Australian launch, while also serving as the keynote speaker at GABS.

“We can’t wait for Aussies to wrap their taste buds around some freshly imported Lagunitas. If you can’t make it to GABS, our IPA will be coming to a tap near you shortly,” said Magee.

Tony has been a controversial figure, often accused of hypocrisy when he sold Lagunitas to Heineken for a figure believed to be around $1 billion, after previously criticising big beer companies.

But he’s also an undoubted legend of the craft beer movement and his story is an incredible rags-to-riches story, from a broke homebrewer to the owner of a booming groundbreaking craft beer business that’s still growing 25 years later.

Lagunitas IPA is currently USA’s no. 1 selling IPA which is pretty staggering when you think of all the big name IPAs out there.

Lagunitas has only trickled into Australia in the past, either through one-off events at the Great Northern Hotel or through grey imports. Indeed my first experience with Lagunitas was a grey import that had degraded into a disappointing caramel bomb.

But now with their beers having official distribution direct from their brewery in Petaluma, California, we should see a higher standard of beer and more regular supply compared to what washed up here in the past.

For those who made it to GABS, they got a bit of a taste of Lagunitas beers at their best. I sampled the Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale from their stand. The beer has one of the best stories I’ve heard for a beer, brewed in response a 20 day shutdown for not properly policing marijuana at their venue, an example of the kind of counter-cultural flavour of the brewery back in the day. A huge 9.8% ale, brown with big toffee malt flavours and plenty of hops to give it a firm bitter finish.

Lagunitas taps pouring at GABS

Lagunitas foreshadowed their entry to Australia earlier last year but after some delays they are now launching with a slow and steady approach. Of the big US craft brewers, they’ve been one of the slower ones to move but definitely have a lot of potential to gain traction with the flagship IPA. They’ll be an interesting to watch here in years ahead.

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

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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GABS 2015 preview and my top 20 festival beer picks

GABS 2015 draws near and it’s time to start preparing your assault on Australia’s biggest beer festival. I’ve examined the GABS 2015 guide and the 110 plus beers for this year and noticed a few beer styles trending this year:

  • Sour beers – get ready to pucker up because there’s a lot of sours on offer. Last year there were some great ones and this dearly beloved but also divisive style is back in a big way with the previous two years winners going sour.
  • Dessert-style beers – after winning the last two years it’s no surprise that sweet dessert-style beers are making an appearance with Snickers, Golden Gaytime, Cherry Ripe, Black Forest Cake and Lamington style beers being brewed to name a few.
  • Dark beers – there are a lot of porters and stouts on offer too, which is likely a product of timing, as brewers gear up for winter seasonals after GABS.
  • Saisons and pale ales with limes – On the lighter bodied side, there’s a variety of saisons on offer, and a number of pale ales and IPAs brewed with limes.

But basically every area of the taste spectrum is covered across the list and if you like good beer, you won’t find it hard to find something to your liking.

Picking which ones to miss of course will be the hard part. For those new to the festival, anything more than 4 paddles in a session and the beers are going to start to blur together, so take it slow and pick out the ones you really want to try to get the most out of the event.

After much deliberation, here’s my rundown on my top 20 (or 4 paddles worth of) festival beers that I’ll be sure to drink from a mix of tried and true brewers and exciting newcomers. Without further ado…

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GABS beers in review – the hits and misses

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.Read More »

A last minute guide to GABS and my beer picks

The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular aka GABS aka Australia’s biggest and bestest beer festival begins tomorrow. The event is a gold star on the craft beer calendar with over 100 beers brewed exclusively for the festival.

Last year’s event was a cracker, ironing out some of the teething issues affecting its first year at the Royal Exhibition Hall and showcasing some delightfully inventive and tasty beers that hit the mark. Here was my recap.

This year we can expect even more from the event. More beers, more games, more things to check out, and more stands featuring brewers.

Here are some tips to prepare you for your GABS assault.

Paddleology

The maths of GABS are simple: there are almost 120 beers pouring and you receive a paddle that enables you to taste 5 beers at a time. So it would take 24 paddles to taste every beer there.

Unless you plan on attending every session, you’re going to need to prioritise. I expect to get through 6 paddles in a session, especially with some of the 10%abv+ sippers on offer and with a number of beer stalls worth checking out this year too (hello Garage Project).

The other important thing to keep in mind when selecting your beers is that you can only order from one of the six sections at a time. So rather than choosing your top 30 beers, consider what are the top five beers from each section and which sections you want to hit up first.

You can grab however many tasters you want from each section but the full paddle of five is the most efficient way to order your beers, especially as you may spend some time waiting in lines during peak periods.

My Choices

Interestingly, in this year’s GABS guide, there is even a three-tiered rating system for drinkability from easier drinking to more challenging,

I’m tending toward the more challenging beers for the most part. While I love a good red ale or IPA, I also know I can get beers like that anytime but how often will I get the chance to drink all these barrel aged, sour or added beers.

Without further ado here are my preselections for tomorrow night as selected in the GABS App. Happy days.

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How the Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular grew up fast

2013 may just mark the year that Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular aka GABS put itself on the map as a major event for Melbourne and for the craft beer world.

It’s been a rapid rise from its humble origins two years ago at the Local Taphouse in St Kilda. In fact, the 2013 GABS, barely resembled the inaugural event.

GABS1
Inside the Exhibition building, a cool venue for a beer festival

Back in 2011, the Local was decked out in kitschy Australiana decoration, there was a staff member in a Koala suit and entry was by a gold coin donation. The just under 20 beers brewed for the day all came from Australian microbreweries.

Fast forward two years and the event was held at the Royal Exhibition Building and had more than 90 new beers brewed just for the event by local and international brewers.

The rapid growth is a testament to the growth of craft beer and the abilities of the Local Taphouse crew to take craft beer to the masses.

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20 Beers I simply must drink at GABS

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

With 92 different beers debuting at the 2013 The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular, working your way through the entire list in a four-hour session is not only going to be impossible but potentially dangerous to your health, so it’s worthwhile planning ahead as to which beers you absolutely must try.

Without proper preparation, there’s always the danger that you might crack under the bright lights and miss out on THAT beer from THAT brewer you really love. And no one wants that.

So to prepare for the event, I’ve scoured the beer list and picked out 20 beers that are going to be ‘must-haves’ for me. It’s tough to leave out any of the beers but these are ones I just can’t afford to miss, based on what I know of the brewery and the description of the beer.Read More »