10 March 2013

Small Brewers Beer Festival 2013. A review

| Kramer
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The walk up the hill at the National Botanic Gardens in the warm, sunny conditions was enough to work up a thirst, and would also ensure that any punters who overindulge will be able to stumble out of the venue (and onto Clunies Ross Drive?).

By the end of the day, we had all drank well more than our original 10 tasting tickets worth of beer, so here’s the highlights of our day.

Zierholz – It was great to introduce my out of town friends to Canberra’s own beer. The fresh German styled brews straight from the keg won my friends, and many other new friends on the day.

Pinchgut – A couple of unique brews with their Black Pilsner and Beetroot beer. The Pilsner was like a normal pis, but with darker maltier flavours. The beetroot was pretty much pale ale with red food colouring.

Hopdog – Definitely the most “interesting” beer of the day was their very intensely hopped, bitter brew which was filtered through hops as it was poured.

Badlands – Hailing from Orange, they had a great porter, but the standout was their IPA, which had an abundance of fruity, hoppy, malty – definitely one of those beers that has a party in your mouth.

Overall, it was a pretty good event. The only downside was the lack of food options available. It would have been great to have some nice foods matched to the beers.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sample everything on the day, so would be interested to hear what your favourites were.

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Starting at 10:45 I worked the stands in anti-clockwise order using one ticket per two half-sized samples and tried almost everything on offer: Apple Thief, 2Brothers, Bridge Road, Swell, Balmain Brewing, Tuckerbox, Sunshack, Black Duck, HopDog, Pinchgut, Dalgety, Two Birds, Bowral (Pigs Fly), Badlands, Hawthorn, Pikes (didn’t turn up), Zierholz, Canberra Beer Co, Stricklands, Fusion, Matso’s. I was pretty well done (in more ways than one) by 14:00 when the crowd was at peak.

Badlands and HopDog impressed. Bridge Road had some good offerings and I was lucky to try the Aurora Borealis. Two Birds beers were of a high quality. More details at http://bit.ly/ZhargJ

I arrived stuffed full of food, so didn’t have to brave the catering queue which collapsed when the food ran out not long after 14:30. From speaking with friends and other attendees the wait for (or lack of) food, the toilet queues, limited public transport, the parking and the walk to site were issues.

I would have preferred talking to more brewers or their staff rather than agents. But I’m glad to have tried the agency beers all the same. It would have been nice to see more beers from 2brothers . But it’s the first year, so I’m not too bothered. More important is to fix those basics.

I hope the festival returns at a better located and catered site next year. I’d give it another go.

bearlikesbeer said :

I’m a big fan of Indian Pale Ales, but a sip of Hopdog’s rye IPA had me scratching my head. It had an ammonia aftertaste. Just a hint of cat pee. I had a chat to a few other beer fans yesterday, and we agreed something wasn’t quite right about that brew. One mentioned the yeast used was on its third pitch. I’m betting mild contamination. Or maybe something went wrong with the (Galaxy?) hops filter. Anyway, it was sad to see a good IPA tainted.

I found the Cosmic Highway (the American ale ale through the Galaxy hop filter) a bit coarse. But the Horns Up (Rye IPA) I thought was good. The SuperBeast though was my favourite from HopDog.

bearlikesbeer1:03 pm 12 Mar 13

Many of my criticisms have already been voiced by other Rioters, but here’s my review anyway…

I walked up the Gardens’ beautiful paths (stepping over a few big lizards) to an arid slope and into a very long queue at 1pm. From what I could see, they were having trouble separating online ticket holders from those queueing to purchase tickets. A bloke with a big frown on his face took my ticket, and handed me a wristband and strip of tokens without so much as a “hello” or “next please”. Surly start.

I perused the tents looking for something more interesting than pilsners and weak pale ales. The first thing I found was Pinchgut’s beetroot beer that didn’t really taste like anything. Amazing colour, though.

I’m a big fan of Indian Pale Ales, but a sip of Hopdog’s rye IPA had me scratching my head. It had an ammonia aftertaste. Just a hint of cat pee. I had a chat to a few other beer fans yesterday, and we agreed something wasn’t quite right about that brew. One mentioned the yeast used was on its third pitch. I’m betting mild contamination. Or maybe something went wrong with the (Galaxy?) hops filter. Anyway, it was sad to see a good IPA tainted.

My pick of the bunch was Two Birds’ Sunset Ale. Rich red with lots of malty flavour and a burnt toffee aftertaste. Fairly complex, and highly recommended if you like west coast American varieties.

I think I paid $40 for about 600ml of beer. That’s okay if you are getting to meet the brewers, have a chat about the beers, discuss how they’re made, etc. Most stalls didn’t have time for chat though, especially the ones serving from bottles rather than kegs. Those guys were always busy. A few brewers offered printed info on their beers. A few servers admitted they knew little about what they were pouring. If there were any seminars or talks away from the stalls, I missed them.

I think the festival could have benefitted from better planning.

The Botanic Gardens has some lovely spots. That dusty slope isn’t one of them.

Brewers serving from bottles rather than kegs had trouble keeping their beers cold, and many ran out of ice for their eskies.

By 2pm I was ready for a feed. I headed up to the Hellenic catering tent to find it was all closed up. No more food. The ad said food would be available throughout the day.

I chose to walk down to the visitors centre loos. The lines for the toilets at the festival were ridiculous.

Mick Strickland ran out of cups at his own beer festival. That’s just weird.

I think I’ll skip the next one. The $60 beer and food matching lunches at the Durham offer more beer, better food, and you learn a lot about what you’re drinking. Much better value, I reckon.

We walked back down to the botanic gardens cafe for lunch. They even had 1842 on tap…

The highlight for me was the mango beer; I gather it’s on sale around the place but I’d never seen it before. Just as nice as an occasional kriek or framboise.

Random thoughts:

The cups were substantially larger than labelled (e.g. measured afterwards and 60mL tasting glasses were actually over 100mL). Good to account for head, of course, and more beer for the buck, but my party all ended up drinking more than we realized.

Being a particularly ignorant sort of beer snob it would’ve been great if someone had put together a quick set of tasting notes from the brewers, maybe available there or for people to print off ahead of time. It was certainly impractical to ask, “could you tell me about your eight different beers before I pick one to try?”

I am not a beer drinker, but went along for the social aspect – the few beers i did try was mostly good, the ciders where amazing (I love my ciders and prefer to buy Australian made).

The food was the most dis-organised mess i have ever seen. One thing on the menu and took 30mins, one BBQ cooking.

I would have been happy with deep fried stuff if it made it quicker – since it started at lunch time.

I was lucky to not have to use the bathroom but i understand they where a walk away. I take my own water everywhere so that was not an issue.

Some music would have made the atmosphere nicer.

Next year if i go I will take a picnic and rug and settle in for the day.

grunge_hippy12:57 pm 11 Mar 13

I certainly enjoyed my free tickets, thanks again!

I didn’t really know what I drunk, not being a beer snob, as long as its cold I am happy. I usually just went to the tent with the shortest line!! by 1-2pm the lines were insane! you couldn’t even walk up the middle of the event.

The food situation was APPALLING! They ran out mid way through the afternoon, and with kiddlies with us, (who luckily were too busy exploring the scrub and having a grand time) who would have whinged a lot more if they didn’t have that to do when they eventually realised they were hungry it was too late. The location wasn’t that great, up on a dusty hill, always walking on an angle which also made finding a nice spot difficult but we found a table away from the crowd and had a lovely afternoon.

tip for next time
1. better location (or at least a flat location)
2. more food

It was an interesting event in the end. From the perspective of the jaded beer snob, it was disappointing in terms of both beer and logistics. For most, it would have been okay.

The biggest issue was the lack of amazing beer around. I can count on one hand the number of particularly good breweries and most of them brought particularly “safe” beers.

Hop Dog was the most interesting of the lot. Yes, Cosmic Highway was a bit of a mess through the Randall of hops but Horns Up and Superbeast were fantastic beers.

Badlands was impressive with their Dark Ale (Porter) and IPA. The IPA was particularly tasty but should have been called a Pale Ale as there was nothing particularly IPA-ish about it.

Bridge Road, while represented by their distributor, had some good beers there including a couple of bottles of Aurora Borealis. That beer was phenomenal if you managed to get any.

Pinchgut had potential. The Black Pilz was nice enough and the Stray Root was a nice attempt but fell a little short on execution.

Zierholz impressed with some fresh beer that was better than I’ve had from them recently.

From there you had disappointing contract brewed beers from people who openly discussed being more concerned about the level of tax they paid than the quality of the beer.

In terms of organisation, the food, toilet and water situation was abysmal. I get that they are probably contractually obligated to use the Hellenic Club for food but hour long lines are unacceptable at any event. They should have had more food options. As for water, there was no clearly marked places to obtain water (as required to have a liquor permit) or to wash out glasses.

On the whole, it was a nice afternoon but they have a lot to learn about how to run a beer festival. I wasn’t expecting anything close to GABS (in Melbourne) or Beervana (in Wellington) but anyone running a beer festival should at least make sure they have seen what works and what doesn’t and then try and minimise the errors.

I quite enjoyed the Swell Pale Ale while waiting in the Bowral beer queue.

fromthecapital12:25 am 11 Mar 13

Agree on the food aswell. I think hellenic wanted to corner the market. They had an interesting way of of sorting the orders. They seemed to shuffle them like a deck of cards.

in_the_taratory11:56 pm 10 Mar 13

Largely agree with you. The food options were disappointing (would be a great market for chips on a stick or similar) and hard to try everything. Spot on with the description of the beetroot beer – real shame. Didn’t find anything tasty about the IPA – a longer review here: http://inthetaratory.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/small-brewers-beer-festival/ 🙂

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