GABS ’13

IMG_3360I’ve been building towards today for a few weeks (read; months). As a new age family man, I don’t get that much time on my own. Don’t think I’m complaining – quite the opposite – but, a day that is entirely my own is a rare thing to behold. And what better to do on a me-day than go to a beer festival?

GABS, or the Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular, is a be festival organised to coincide with Melbourne’s Good Beer Week. (There’s a whole rant about Good Beer Week, and my inability to attend any of the amazing events, but that’s for another day!) Anyway, GABS is the brainchild of the guys at The Local Taphouse in St. Kilda. Now in its third year, it is held in the World Heritage listed Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, and a number of Australian and New Zealand breweries are invited to brew a new beer for the festival (this year some other well-renowned international breweries have been included too).

There were 92 freshly minted beers, plus a selection of old favourites at the Beer Market (a kind of farmer’s market for breweries). There was a band, and an awesome selection of eateries – no Maccas here – it’s all small companies like PhatBrats (wicked hotdogs), BarBurrito (mmm, burritos), TheMeltShop (posh toasted cheese sarnies).
So what is the form?

It’s not about getting hammered – drunkenness is frowned upon – it’s about tasting the myriad of different characters that beer can display. It’s about seeing what a master brewer can do when he’s playing with a free rein. In fact, I didn’t see anyone worse-for-wear during the 4 and a half hour session. The most raucous behaviour was from a Buck’s (Stag) party, which culminated in an official “GABS ambassador” (and craftbeer  twitter regular) playing dominitrix with a tasting paddle.

The experienced attendee buys a ticket online, and a supply of tokens. More tokens can be purchased at the event. The unit of GABS currency is the $2 Token, so that actual money only changes hands at the token-stall. An 85ml beer taste is worth 1 token, a paddle of 5 tastes is 5 tokens, and a glass of beer is 3 tokens – the ticket price includes a GABS glass, which you get to take home at the end of the day.   

There are two strategies; [1] make it up as you go along – my method at GABS’12, or [2] check out the beer list and plan your attack before the day. Actually, most beer geeks have pre-planned their paddles – the anticipation is half of the fun. I had gone through the list of 92, selected the must haves and the should haves. That whittled me down to 30something different beers. I ended up with a selection of brews, varying from IPAs to Porters and from Märzens to Imperial Stouts. Disappointingly, two of my choices were scratched.

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As I tasted, I wrote my thoughts down. Some beers were insipid whilst some were outrageous. All were interesting! My beer of the day was an amazing Black Ale from a brewery in WA called Feral. Their festival beer was a Black Ale, aged in French Oak Barriques (it’s a type of wine-barrel), and is called Barrique O Karma. I love the cheeky reference to the current resident of the White House.

I also particularly enjoyed a Barleywine from the guys at Bright Brewery. Called Supermucilaginisticexpialidocious, a slightly weird MaryPoppins/medical-dictionary mash-up name, it’s a woody, malty, alcoholicky triumph.In my notes, I described it… “As woody as sitting in a sauna, in a forest, with an erection. And a brandy!”

High praise indeed.

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I also drank a Belgian Blonde Ale with beetroot, an India Pale Ale with balsamic vinegar, a cherry-wheat-porter, and a Vietnamese mint-mango-chilli IPA. Check out my notes below…

I’ve drunk some beers today that I know I won’t drink again, and some that I hope I do. Either way, it’s definitely not XXXX territory!
If you get a chance, get to GABS’14 – you’ll have a blast!

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