You can start with dessert: If you’re a little bit anal retentive like me, you’ll feel a compulsion to start your beer sampling at Container A, Section 1. And if you do that you can start with an all-dessert paddle. That would be made up of 4 Hearts S’more beer, the Choc Banana Split from Bad Shepherd, the Barossa Valley’s Cherry Ripe porter, the Belgian chocolate flavours of Bentspoke’s efforts and another Cherry Ripe beer from Big Shed. Before you ask, yes, this is actually going to be my first paddle of the day.
Pavlova popularity: Correct me if I’m wrong but in all the years of GABS there has not been a single pavlova beer. But this year, we have two – Brisbane Brewing’s Pavlova-Lova and Willie the Boatman’s Great Aussie Pav. Not sure how a pavlova will translate into a beer – guess I’ll have to try one of them.
Cherry Ripe’s alright: Like pavlovas, Cherry Ripe has not featured as a GABS inspiration before )at least I don’t think they have). There are two this year – from Big Shed and Barossa Valley Brewing. Having brewed one myself at home and been very, very pleased with the result. So I’m dead keen to see how these compare.
CUB’s missed opportunity: CUB’s handling of Matilda Bay has taken a few hits in the beer geek community for their focus on their Yak beers to the exclusion of the rest of their craft beers, which includes icons like Redback and – Redback , Beez Neez and Alpha Pale. So you’d think they’d take the chance to make something a bit odd, a bit different, to appeal to those geeks. Hell, their mainstream craft rival Little Creatures is bringing a gose. But no, under the banner of “Yak Ales”, they’re bringing a standard-sounding Australian Pale Ale called “Wild Yak”. As for the legendary Matilda Bay name, well, they’re nowhere to been seen at GABS. So sad.
Have a sweet time at GABS: The people really dig sweet beers – a look at previous winners of the People’s Choice award will tell you that. In the last three years we’ve had Bacchus Brewing’s Raspberry and White Chocolate Pilsner, La Sirene’s Praline chocolate ale and BrewCult’s Milk and Two Sugars win. It makes the inaugural winner – Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta Tea Leaf IPA look very much like an outlier.
So perhaps it’s not that surprising to see a lot of sweeter beers this year. By my count – and with a slightly liberal definition of the word “sweet”, I count 20 sweet beers this year. Maybe I should bring along a toothbrush to avoid any cavities.
The beer I’m most interested in is: Mildura Brewery’s Substitution IPA. Based on the program description it’s a beer designed with a view to what ingredients would be available to make beer in the wake of global warming. I think Young Henrys did something similar and I was bummed I never got to taste it. The Mildura version features potato for malt and pink grapefruit for hops. Sure, it’s a beer made with weird ingredients – and there are always a lot of them at GABS – but this one has a message behind it.
The weirdest ingredient: Yes there are some strange things used to make the beers this year; belly button fluff, jalopenos, pork broth, seaweed and choko. It’s enough to make squid ink look a bit tame by comparison. But when it comes to the weirdest ingredient, it’s hard to go past whale vomit – or ambergris as they officially call it. That’s what appears in South Australia’s Robe Town Brewery’s Moby Dick Ambergris Ale. It’s “a pungent, animalistic, musky aroma”. I know people who will refuse to drink the beer fermented with belly button fluff. Not sure how they’d go drinking whale spew. But I’m giving it a crack.
The lowest ABV?: Here’s a pro tip – low ABVs beers are a good option at GABS. A fair whack of beers have high numbers so it helps to balance them with some 2 or 3 per centers. If you want to go all the way to the bottom, then it’s Stomping Ground’s Piquant Beere Weisse at just 3.2 per cent. And it’ll likely be very refreshing too.
And the highest ABV?: Plenty of people will try this beer just because it’s the highest. Others will try it because it comes from that most-hyped of breweries – Pirate Life. Everyone seems to like Pirate Life and so I reckon their Loose Lips Sink Ships imperial IPA will be quite popular – despite its whopping 14 per cent alcohol. It’s one of only a few beers of which you can only buy a half serve.
Get your money back: Technically, this isn’t about the beers but about what you use to buy them. In days gone by they used to use cardboard tokens which were handy but non-refundable should you have some left over at the end of the night (last year I got back to my hotel and couldn’t for the life of me work out how I had a sheet of 20-odd tokens still in my pocket.). This year, they’ve got a plastic card that you top up with value and, presumably, is swiped through a machine when you buy something (fingers crossed those machines don’t go down on the day).
The big plus is that you can get a cash refund for any unused amount on the card. As long as you remember to do it before you get to your hotel room.