Why brewers love beer festivals

09 November, 2017 by
Madeline Woolway

The Royal Hotel Leichhardt will host the inaugural Royal Inner West Beer Fest on 18 and 19 November, celebrating 12 local and regional breweries including Wayward Brewing Co. (Camperdown), Young Henrys (Newtown) and Willie the Boatman’s (Marrickville).

Alongside a raft of brews, will be gourmet food stalls serving up paella and dumplings.

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Hospitality magazine caught up with three brewers ahead of the weekend, gleaning their top tips for making the most of festivals, starting with stocking the right arsenal.

“When it comes to deciding what beers to take we always have our prime list,” says Willie the Boatman’s co-owner Pat McInerney. “Then we look at what stock we’ve got and how sales are going. Because we’re one of the smallest breweries in the Inner West in terms of volume and capacity we can run out of stock quite quickly. What I’m hoping to take is Marrickville lager, Little Louis XPA, Nectar of the Hops New England IPA and Rogue One Black IPA.

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“So lager for the non-craft drinkers, XPA for entry level craft beer drinkers, then something really hoppy and black and fruity at the end.”

Young Henrys co-founder Richard Adamson agrees it’s important to assess the unique audiences of different festivals when choosing what brews to showcase.

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“Some will be more beer geeky than others,” he says. “The Royal Inner West Beer Fest has more of broad audience so we’re bringing our more standard range for that reason.”

That means punters can expect the Newtowner and Young Henrys Cloudy Cider, along with the brewery’s seasonal brew, the Summer Hop Ale.

“We always take our current seasonal brew,” says Adamson.

While some festivals will dictate specific requirements when it comes to beer lists, in the case of the Royal Inner West Beer Fest the breweries have flexibility — something Jackson Davey of Wayward Brewing Co. likes to take advantage of.

“When you’re given the opportunity of flexibility I tend to look at weather reports in the week leading up and decide as close to the date as possible,” he says. “We typically go with our Camperdown 1 Pale Ale and our Sour Puss Raspberry Berliner Weiss. We’ll probably bring along something that’s a little interesting and more challenging as well, but we’ll certainly have those two with us.”

The variety of beers available at festivals gives drinkers an opportunity to experience the range of qualities that can define different brews — not just between styles, but between breweries too.

“It comes down to equipment, it comes down to the brewers technique, it comes down to fermentation and yeast,” says McInerney. “Two breweries can make exactly the same beer and they will not taste the same. We will ferment at 15 degrees and another brewer will ferment at 18 degrees, and that will lead to different subtle flavours through the yeast and the through the malt and through the hops.”

Davey agrees, saying: “Everybody’s pale ale can be different, in that it’s where you draw inspiration from. It’s the same with lagers. A German lager will be very very different to a Bintang. The same can be said for people’s pale ales. English Pale Ales tend to be quite dark, rich and quite wintery from an Australian perspective. American Pale Ales are bit hoppier and bit more summery. I would say that our pale ale takes from the English style just as much as it does from the American.”

With tasting tokens encouraging drinkers to sample multiple options, festivals like the Royal Inner West Beer Fest give breweries the opportunity to engage with drinkers and explain the diversity on offer, even within a local area.

“Festivals are good for drinkers to get an idea of what individual breweries are about,” says Adamson. “Each brewer has their own philosophy. We’ve got our signature style, which is that we tend to focus on Australian hops as our main source for flavour and aroma. We focus on beers that are approachable and sessionable.

“The main reason we go [to local festivals] is to find people who are curious about the different beers that are coming out of their local area. It’s really good to talk to them face to face, that’s what it’s all about.”

McInerney adds: “Festivals are gold for us, particularly local festivals that are in our catchment. The Royal is the perfect location for us. It’s such great promotion for our brand, our beers and our tap room, to show people who may not have been to our brewery before the range of our drinks. You can talk to people and really tell them what you’re doing.”

While the buzzy vibe of festival might make meaningful conversation seem like longshot, Davey has found reality to be just the opposite.

“I love festivals for the fact that, given how busy it is, it’s a good opportunity to have a conversation with people who might be new to beer,” he says. “We get hundreds of questions about the Sour Puss, like ‘what is this and why the hell do I like it?’ or, in some cases, ‘why don’t I like it?’”

This probing gives brewers the chance to ask drinkers their own questions.

“When people approach the stand I always as ‘what’s the most recent beer you remember enjoying?’ Or ‘what’s the last thing you remember not liking?’, from those two questions I can get really good indication of what they like and I can push them towards the right thing.”

Click here for more information about The Royal Inner West Beer Fest.