Beer Travel: Ballarat Beer Festival 2013
Crafty Pint / 22.01.13
It’s always a good sign when something surprises even the people that are responsible for creating it. And that was the case last year when the inaugural Ballarat Beer Festival attracted such large crowds to the City Oval that the organisers, who had wondered whether they would achieve a sell-out right up until the morning of the festival itself, were forced to turn some people away.
Building on that success, the Ballarat Beer Festival returned at the weekend on a scale double that of last year. Taking over all rather than half of the footy oval and inviting around 40 breweries and cider producers, plus a wealth of food stalls, to line its perimeter, the festival that has spawned a number of imitators in its wake attracted even bigger crowds than last year – an estimated 30 per cent increase in ticket sales, according to organisers.
Those who joined the throng were rewarded with the perfect day for an outdoor beer festival: after recent extremes in temperature, Saturday sat around the mid 20s, even if the sun was fierce enough to ensure that was plenty of slip-slop-slapping going on throughout the day – and more than a few lobster faces around for those who forgot to partake or take advantage of the large marquee in the middle of the ground, where James Squire set up stall for the day.
While the festival attracts a huge number of locals through its gates, there was more than a fair share of buses travelling in from further afield. The Crafty Pint joined one of those, that run by Aussie Brewery Tours. This meant that, alongside around 25 people made up of craft beer lovers, American tourists and lads on a Bucks day out, we were treated to a hearty breakfast (and the obligatory breakfast beers) plus a brewery tour at Matilda Bay before hitting the road to Ballarat. Along the way, if people weren’t all ready in the mood for a day’s drinking, tour founder and operator Scott Dewar proved that knowledge can be pure entertainment as he guided his guests through a potted history of beer, highlighting its importance in the evolution of society and also just how many practices and common phrases are derived from man’s enduring love affair with the amber nectar.
The detour to Matilda Bay had additional benefits, meaning that the bus arrived in Ballarat once the rather lengthy queues that had awaited eager early arrivals had dissipated. And once inside, despite a crowd in excess of 8,000, there was plenty of space to wander, sample, chow down on fine food, or collapse on a hay bail to take in the sounds from the stage. The atmosphere was as relaxed and convivial as one could wish for, suggesting a well thought out and run operation. (Article continues below the slideshow)
One of those responsible for the event is Lyndell Pond, who told us: “We had a brilliant day and have had nothing but generous and positive feedback – from all we have heard the punters, exhibitors and artists all had a wonderful time. made a few changes from last year and, given the feedback, think we have executed a pretty spectacular event. The layout was different and I think worked a treat. The Grand Marquee was great and always had a good buzz. As does the area in front of the stage, with the hay and the picnic blankets and the general good vibes around the entertainment.
“So many highlights, but I think the education tent was a hit, The Beards were hilarious and really well received, although all of our bands received fantastic feedback. The kids area was a hit and is what make our event so special and accessible for everyone. But ultimately the attendance and enthusiasm of the brewers is what really makes it – all their stalls looked fantastic, I think they had time to chat to people, and again, from what I can gather, they all had a really awesome day too.”
From what we saw, it was a chance for many brewers to display their core range to a predominantly new audience, with few showing off new beers. That said, Red Hill Brewery was pouring three different cask versions of their Best Bitter and there were new faces, such as Quiet Deeds pouring their Australian Pale Ale. It was interesting to note that in many cases the queues for cider were longer than those for beer, although with less cider stalls on offer, perhaps that was inevitable.
Hopefully, such a successful event will have been fun for more than those already drinking quality beer – it will surely have attracted a few more people to improve their choice of beverage too. Either way, if you missed the first two, you probably don’t want to miss number three.