How beer festivals support the industry

10 October, 2017 by
Madeline Woolway

The 13th annual Australian Beer Festival will hit the rocks from 13 to 15 October, with The Australian Heritage Hotel transformed into a street party for the event.

More than 30 different Australian breweries, gourmet food stalls, meet the brewer sessions, blind tastings and live entertainment will be showcased along Cumberland and Gloucester streets over the two-day bash that features 120-plus Australian beers and ciders.

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With 30 stalls to roam, this year’s festival shines the light on up and coming boutique breweries from around Australia. Local highlights include Batch Brewing (Marrickville), 4 Pines Beer (Manly), Grifter Brewing (Marrickville) and Modus Operandi (Mona Vale) while Adelaide’s Pirate Life Brewing, Port Stephens’ Murray’s Craft Brewing Co, Gold Coast’s Balter Brewing , Perth’s Feral Brewing Company, and Margaret River’s Black Brewing Co. represent the rest of the nation.

“It’s an extended festival this year,” says The Australian Heritage Hotel general manager Lincoln Baker. “We’ve got 38 brewers locked in for this year’s festival, which is the most we’ve ever had.”

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Among the 38 breweries signed on for the day is Black Brewing Co. from Wilyabrup in Margaret River.

“We just launched here in June so this festival is all about us introducing everyone to the brand,” says NSW sales manager Wil Eastley.

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“We see a spike in sales after festivals. One of the fantastic things about doing festivals is that you get to talk straight to customers. The art of being in front of people has dwindled over the years, but once you tell people the story, let them know who you are and put a face to the brand, all of the sudden the product becomes more accessible.

“The interaction is what they associate with the beer.”

There are a surprising number of intimate moments at events like the Australian Beer Festival according to Eastley, who says there are opportunities to have engaging conversations that go beyond the beverage and reinforce the beer community.

“There’s the relationship between the breweries as well,” Eastley tells Hospitality. “The whole environment promotes the community.”

Building a community of craft beer brewers and drinkers is the driving force behind the Australian Beer Festival.

“A big part of it is giving the brewers a chance to showcase what they’re about,” says Baker. “Everyone asks ‘why do you do it? is it profitable?’ — it’s more about giving us a craft identity and keeping us relevant on the craft map.

“The challenge for us is keeping up with an ever-evolving industry.”

It’s not just about tasting all the beers on offer though, with a range of educational sessions and other events taking place across the three-day festival. For the first time, ‘Dunk the Brewer’ will give festival-goers the chance to see their favourite brewer go for a swim, with all proceeds donated to Beyond Blue.

Returning again this year are ‘Meet the Brewer’ sessions and blind tastings, which are held twice a day on Saturday and Sunday.

“The educational sessions appeal to everyone,” says Baker. “I think the challenge for the craft segment is that a lot of drinkers still don’t know half the beers on tap, so a little understanding of the different styles can go a long away.”

The festival also hands out a range of awards, with the Geoff Scharer Best Overall Beer going to the favourite brewer of the festival, while the Best Cider, Best Dark, Best Pale and Best IPA are voted for by the staff of The Australian Heritage Hotel.

An additional Weird and Wonderful Award crowns the crowd favourite for most-quirky, voted by all the beer enthusiasts attending across the weekend. Brewers are encouraged to create a limited-edition specialty beer to serve throughout the weekend, adding even more variety and one-off excitement to the list of beers to try.

“People are definitely more receptive to the weird and wonderful beers at a festival,” says Baker. “A lot people have a bad experience of buying a beer they haven’t liked, but at festivals it’s all tasters so you can get 100ml of something and if you don’t like it’s not a big deal.”

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Image: Alana Dimou