The Great Australasian Beer SpecTapular is literally craft beer Christmas. A day dedicated to the wonderful industry that is beer and craft beer. Over 170 beers brewed specifically for the event, over 60 brewery exhibitors and that’s just a part of the festivities that goes on at GABS. I’ve been coming to this for the past 6 years and have watched it get bigger and bigger over the years. First time I went to GABS, it was at Carriageworks in Redfern with over 100 beers to sample. Now it’s at the massive showground halls at Olympic Park and this year set an attendance record for a session with over 3000 beer lovers jammed in to celebrate craft beer.
Walking in is like walking into a beer wonderland. The smell of BBQ brisket wafts through the pavilion. Three giant shipping containers, turned into bars where the speciality brews are served either by the glass or tasting paddle, are spread across the floor. In between are the brewery stands, all serving some of their best beers and limited batches. A giant Ferris wheel is located at one end. Food trucks and stalls surround the perimeter. German Beer hall style seating scattered around which large groups would snap up quick and set up camp for the session. Entertainers slid their way through the crowds, whether it be a brass band or acrobat/circus performers. A stage was set up for food demonstrations. Sessions on BBQ or cheese tasting that are matched by beers and samples of beer and food are given to the attendees. Industry talks were on another small stage where beer samples were handed out depending on the talk. This year there was discussions on weird beer ingredients, evolution of IPAs and discussions about sours. All with sample paddles because you can’t talk about beer without drinking beer!
The key to GABS is planning. The great app that they have allows you to study the “form guide” of all the different festival brewed beers and start to build out what paddles if tasters you want to have. This is great, but be prepared to almost throw that planning out the window when you get there as I guarantee you won’t get to try all the beers you want. And if you think you’re going to go through all 170 – you won’t. Unless you go to the Melbourne GABS which is three days/five sessions. Even then the cost will be over $400 on beers alone and you’ll probably die! This year most beers were hitting over 6% ABV with the highest, Hope Estates FA-18 IIIIIPA (yes 5 I’s) at 18%. The taster is almost a standard drink in itself. The key is to try and pace yourself. One year I made the mistake of starting the day with DIPAs and Imperial Stouts. It rapidly went downhill from there!
How the festival works is you pay for your beers. A taster, which is 85ml is $2.50. A paddle of 5 is $12. You can also buy by the glass. You get a commemorative festival glass which holds about 250ml. Most beers by the glass will be around $6-$8 depending on ABV and rarity. Now some might baulk at this after the $40-45 ticket price but considering the cost it takes to not only run the event but for all those small independent breweries to take the time, effort and cost in making limited batch beers and then travel around to the festival locations (Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland and this year Brisbane got their first GABS) it kind of makes sense. It’s really no different than a day at the pub. Just better beer and more unusual beers. This year there was a milk stout made with donuts (Wayward’s ‘Coffee And Donuts’), agave (Wolf Of The Willows ‘Jalisco Sour’), dried chili (Deep Creek Brewing’s ‘Chipotle Lime Salsa Gose’) and pineapple and bacon (Eden Brewery ‘Grilled Pineapple Smoked Bacon NEIPA’). There’s the standard favourite styles like IPA’s, Imperial Stouts, NEIPA’s and Sours, plus the ever popular desert style beers such as 4 Pines ‘Nitro Crème Brulee’, Fury & Son ‘Pineapple & Mango Upside Down Stout’ and Laughing Bones Brewing ‘Black Forest’. This year also the emergence of the cocktail style beers. Beers made to taste like cocktails. Aether Brewing ‘Bloody Mary IPA’, Bassline Brewing ‘Double Gin and Juice’ and Brisbane Brewing Co ‘Sex On The Beach’. It’s this kind of experimentation with flavours and styles that makes GABS unique and such a cool experience for fans of craft beer who are open minded about what beer could be.
Nowadays, a lot of the breweries will commercially release their GABS beers. Dan Murphy’s do a mix 6 pack festival special, which sell out within days and is a good teaser before the events around the country. Is GABS the best beer festival in the world? Without hitting up some of the contenders, it’s hard to judge but I feel like it would have to be top 5 globally. Hell even top 3! It’s such a fun day and if I have one critique is that Sydney only gets one day. Bring back 2 days guys so I drink more great beers and fully celebrate beerxmas.