We thought the Small Brewers Beer Festival was going to be a small event. I hadn’t seen much advertising (except for the Riot Act and beer loving Twitter friends) and I thought it might be confused with the Craft Beer and Cider Event next month (13 April). We were wrong. It was huge.
It’s a simple matter of buying tickets online and printing them out (none of this ‘pick it up at the concierge and pay $7.95 for your trouble from the likes of Ticketek) and bringing them to the Australian National Botanical Gardens. There’s a line of cars to get in and the car park is packed. The entrance is at the top right of the car park, and then it’s a long, uphill walk to the event. It’s picturesque, taking us past the mist garden, until we reach a fairly long queue just after midday. It’s probably not the best venue – there’s plenty of dirt and dust, it’s on the side of a hill, and not as much shade as elsewhere, but I remember that there are probably plenty of weddings around taking priority.
We hand in our self-printed tickets and get a green armband (proving we’re over 18) and 10 ticket stubs to hand in. The 10 blue ticket stubs entitle us to 10 x 60mls of beer. Sixty mls is quite tiny, but it’s enough to get a sense of what we’re tasting. For those who want more, $25 entitles you to five yellow ticket stubs, translating to five 330ml beers.
All of the lines have about half a dozen people in them to start with, but the crowd and the lines grow quickly. By the time we leave, there’s between 12 and 20 people in each line – what a turn out! The food available is provided by the Hellenic Catering Company and, while we don’t have anything, it seems like the lines are long without much output. I’m sure there’s a real market here (Harmonie Club? Chips on a stick?).
What follows is my summary of the beers and ciders we tried, courtesy of my unrefined palate.
- Black Duck pale ale is the first I try, and it’s my least favourite by far. It’s very bitter, with a long aftertaste like when you clean your teeth and then drink orange juice.
- Canberra Beer Company pale ale is easy to drink, and I think that’s because it’s a little flavourless – it reminds me of soda water. Their wheat beer is delicious, and goes down a treat. They’ve also got a ginger beer served with lime, which is popular and I hear it mentioned in other queues throughout the afternoon.
- The Stricklands 1842 beer has almost no queue for a long while. I’ve no idea why. It’s light on the fizz, the coldest beer we get all day, and easy to drink.
- The Matsos Beer Company has one of the consistently longest lines all day, and can only assume people are lining up for their mango beer. I expected it to be cider-y, but it genuinely tastes like mango and beer. Its Smokey Bishop dark lager is tasty, but mine’s from the end of the bottle which ruins the experience a litt.e
- Apple Thief appears to have the biggest lines for its cider. It has both a Granny Smith and Pink Lady apple cider, as well as the Gypsy pear cider (the Gypsy is available at Zierholz at UC). I try the Pink Lady. If sherbert was in liquid form, this is what it would taste like. The pear is very sweet.
- The beer we try from Badlands (I get an IPA) is unmemorable.
- The Pinchgut (seriously their name) beers get mixed reactions. It’s the brewery with the beetroot beer, and while I get and enjoy a pilsner, I’m invited back to try the beetroot beer “because it matches your hair”.
- Sunshack Cider’s apple cider is much more tart than Apple Thief’s, but I think I enjoy it more. Their pear cider is not as sweet as Apple Thief’s, either.
- The Two Brothers Pilsener is my favourite beer of the day. It goes down a treat, and I wish I’d had more. Their pear cider is decent (even for a non-pear cider drinker), with the strongest pear taste / not so sugary.
- I do go back and get the Pinchgut beetroot beer (the Pinchgut Stray Root). It’s not gross like other people have told me – or what the grimaces I’ve witnessed have expressed – but it’s a huge disappointment. It tastes like nothing – pink, slightly hoppy soda water. Lesson learnt.
Overall tips and observations:
- Wear sunscreen
- Wear a hat
- Eat beforehand
- Just because the beers are in tubs of ice/ice water, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be cold. The kegs are much more trustworthy for cold beer.
- Be prepared to see at least 10 people you know.
- Long lines are usually due to either or a combination of a) the beer sounding great b) problems with the pouring c) the beer pourers talking a lot d) people see the long lines as a sign that the beer is good, and help to make the long line longer.
- When the lines get long, it makes sense to join another line as soon as you get your beer (a la Multicultural Festival).
Date: Saturday, 9 March 11am-4pm
Cost: $38 per person for 10 tasting tickets (food and more beer more)
Worthwhile factor: Worthwhile
Want more? If you missed this festival, the Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival is on 13 April.