Melbourne: The Great Australasian Beer Spectapular

Good Beer Week has long been over. The Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular, GABS for short, marked its closing weekend in the most excellent fashion. There were over 100 exclusive festival beers on offer. A whole weekend made a mass sampling look remotely achievable, after all 100 is a lot of beers.

The Royal Exhibition Building During GABS

I rocked up a little after opening on the Friday. GABS wasn’t all about the drinking for me. I was keen to take my interest a step further. A meeting last year made a lasting impact. There were seminars, with free samples of course, about pairing food and beer, and cooking with beer. The first one I had my eye on was Beer and Chocolate Tasting with Mörk Chocolate. If you’re Melbourne based and haven’t been to Mörk, read Hungry Cookie’s overview and then make a date.

I expected a talk on pairing beer with chocolate but instead witnessed the extraordinary. Starting with frozen and filtered cacao mixed with soda water, the base was easy. Bringing the flavours of beer without the alcohol was much harder. They rested galaxy hops in water for a few hours before adding liquid nitrogen. I don’t know the science, but they captured the foam and topped the chocolate soda with it. The result was incredible. The hops bring a bitter, fruity, distinct beer aroma. The chocolate, well the chocolate does everything you’d expect from chocolate. The chocolatiers at Mörk have combined chocolate with the flavours of beer to create a soda.

GABS Paddle

My friend Dave C turned up towards the end of the first session. We would make gradual progress through the brews on offer. It was time for a paddle. 5 tasters of those magnificent beers. I figured I sampled around half of the beers on offer so I won’t bore you with all of them. The stand out beer for me was Kaiju! Beer’s Betelgeuse. A big (1o%) sticky amber ale. I’ve enjoyed almost everything I’ve ever tried from Kaiju! thanks to their massive hoppy flavours. The amber ale, despite being a touch more malty, was no exception. Four Pines Brewing came with a Snickers. A brown ale brewed with chocolate, salted caramel and peanut extract. If they’d missed the peanut taste it would have been a failure. They didn’t, it wasn’t. Who needs a deep fat fryer when you can brew one? Big Shed Brewing went a step further with their Golden Stout Time. A tribute to the classic Australian ice cream, it tasted exactly like a Golden Gay Time. Red Hill Brewery’s Red Smoke was a delicious, smokey and strong red ale. Finally Garage Project did what Garage Project do best. They loaded their brew with a fruit salad and created a delightful IPA.

Craft Beer College

Dave and I spent the afternoon, and later sessions, in Q & Ales and Craft Beer College with brewers from across Australia and New Zealand. This would form the foundation for most of our time at GABS. I wanted to learn more about the brewing process. I had a particular interest in how to create unique, specific flavours in beer. The 5 free samples at each session might have had a slight hand in motivating us to get involved. I learned a lot, by the end of the weekend I had filled my programme with notes. One brewer admitted to spending more money on roses for his beer than he ever had on his wife. Another had to go into K-Mart and ask what temperature the lingerie washing bags could withstand. Another declared that GABS was for a chance to experiment with their leftovers and screw ups. More often than not when questioned on the alcoholic content of their beers, somebody lied . Almost every beer we talked about had a higher percentage than listed. I think the best comment from the whole weekend was a quote from Brooklyn Brewery who were in attendance last year.

“For thousands of years men have been trying to turn water into beer. Now that we’ve achieved it, some men are trying to turn beer back into water.”

With all the mad, questionable, ridiculous and shocking ingredients added to various brews for this years festival, it’s hard to remember a good beer requires just four ingredients. Water, hops, malt and yeast. There are few things as refreshing on a hot summer’s day as a crisp, clean pale ale.

Free Sample Paddle

These beers were at GABS as well. New local brewers, Hawkers, were on the scene with some exceptional standard offerings. Their pale ale and pilsner were clean, crisp and delicious. One half of Hawkers is chef Joseph Abboud. We had the pleasure of watching, and sampling, some of his cooking with beer. Abboud produced stout marinated kidneys, and mullet cooked in a saison. This was the next step. This is where my enthusiasm for beer has to go.

Joseph Abboud Cooking With Beer

For me GABS was an opportunity to learn about an industry which I’ve found myself more and more passionate about. It was an added bonus that I got to sample so many unbelievably good beers. The big worry for me is in the not too distant future I’ll be back at home with limited options. How am I going to feel sitting in the local Wetherspoons, sipping on a pint that tastes like the table?

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