In March, we had a good time at the inaugural Small Brewers Beer Festival at the Botanic Gardens (not to be confused with the Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival). It had a huge turnout, and, with it, a few teething problems: the lines were enormous, there wasn’t water available on the hot day, and some of the beer served was hot. With news that the festival was returning for a second time in late September, I was excited – the second time was surely going to be better, with the benefit of lessons learned from the first festival. The first good news is early bird tickets: for the same price it’s 20 tokens instead of 10, meaning double the beer. The second good news is its move to EPIC – an inside event, like Oktoberfest, will be ideal. Even though there are 50km/h winds, I don’t bring a jacket – what will be the point if we’re inside? My expectations plummet when we arrive to find the festival in …
… a car park.
The gale force wind blows from all directions, and my hair turns into a whip, blinding me and hitting others (!). The sun is deceiving – the wind has a nasty bite, and I get plenty of “I told you so” looks from Boyfriend. The goal becomes less about beer tasting, and more about positioning ourselves to be buffered from the wind. The stall holders are regularly grabbing at things on their tables, or finding more sticky tape to tie things down, and most of them are under-dressed. I can’t imagine how unpleasant it is for them. There are a few more food options than previously, and I see plenty of large pizza slices ($5) consumed. It might exist, but I can’t see and don’t find any free water at the event. Music blasts from a loudspeaker, and it’s appropriate for the venue, and the event, with plenty of beer drinking songs.
But what about the beer???
We start at one end and work our way down. At no point are the lines every more than two or three people deep, which is a big difference from the previous event. Our first stop is at Endeavour, whose beer I’ve bought and enjoyed previously (available at quite a few bottleos, including 1st Choice). We each swap a token for a 60ml cup of their bright ale, and pale ale, and they’re both – as expected – delicious.
Next to Endeavour is the Dalgety Brewery, which we visited during our epic Easter Snowy Mountains trip. I try their rum-infused ginger beer. It’s warm, and sickly sweet. I can’t take more than a few sips before having to tip it onto the grass.
Black Duck’s American pale ale is a relief in that it’s drinkable, but it’s not something I’ll go out of my way to seek out again.
Matso’s – the most popular brewery at the last event – is back with the same range of beers, ciders and ginger ale. Their ginger ale is much more palatable (nowhere near as sweet as the other). I later swap 5 tokens (instead of 1) for a full schooner-size of their Smokey Bishop dark lager. I like it even more than when I tried it previously. Matso’s also has their mango beer, mango cider and lime cider with ginger available. We’ve got the mango beer and lime cider in the fridge at home (bought from Plonk in Fyshwick). They hit the mark in infusing the flavours nicely.
Hopdog brings with it some different ideas. Their 9.3 per cent double IPA is worth two tokens, and packs a punch. We also try their pale ale which has been pulled through caramel fudge, and gingerbread spiced ale. The gingerbread spiced ale is warm, and I don’t really get that clove/cinnamon spice I’m expecting. The caramel fudge pale ale certainly looks caramelly, but the flavours don’t quite there, either.
The Hawthorn premium pale ale goes down very nicely, but again it’s not something that excites me, like Matso’s range.
The Two Birds Brewery has a golden ale and sunset ale, both of which have won numerous awards.
I really like the Sunset Ale – great combo of flavours, and very easy to drink.
At this point we skip our order, and head down to the other end. The Hills Cider is popular again, with plenty of people drinking their range of apple, pear or apple with ginger ciders. I try their apple and ginger cider, but it’s still not a touch on Two Elk Cider which we had at the Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival.
The Clare Valley Brewing’s APA appears to be hugely popular, with attendees going back for a second taste, and it’s one of my favourites of the day.
Dad and Dave’s Brewing is a father and son team, and their first release is their #1 Pale Ale. I don’t mind it, and am excited to see their range grow.
The Holgate Brewing Company probably has the most interesting bottle labels. Their American pale ale is tasty, and I wish I had tried more.
At this point, we can’t take the wind any longer, so head across the road to the ACT Lifeline Bookfair (closes today – Sunday – at 5pm) for some welcome relief out of the wind and the cold. We figure that after an hour, maybe the winds will have died down a little, and the event might be more pleasant?
It’s not. The sun has disappeared, so it’s not just warm with a cold wind, but cold with a cold wind. We stay for a little longer and try to use up the rest of our tokens but – like most of those around us – give up after just a little while. I’m annoyed for me, but excited for the brewers, to find that some of them have run out of beer for the day.
The beer festival is a great idea, and long may it continue. It’s the perfect opportunity to try different beers, and I really appreciated that the range was largely very different from what was available in March. The early bird tickets were genius.
But, the organisers do need to take on board the lessons learned from both this and the March events. Water needs to be widely available, and its availability obvious. Being inside a venue with concrete floors – like the failproof arrangement for Oktoberfest – is required.
I still can’t get my head around the point of moving the event to EPIC if it wasn’t going to be inside.
(Even with the horrible cold wind, I still came away with a sunburn )
Date: 11am-6pm, Saturday 28 September
Cost: $38.90 per person for 10 tickets (or 20 if you bought them early); tickets could be purchased at the door
Worthwhile factor: Venue – not worthwhile; Beers – highly worthwhile
Want more? Follow the Small Brewers Beer Festival on Facebook. Excitingly, BEER DAY OUT is coming in November, with a day of big beer events (inside!) and a week of beergustations, and more. Can’t wait for this.