March 17th, 2011 by Crafty Pint
“This is my fifth showcase,” says one guy, eagerly clutching the last of his tasting tickets and eyeing up his next sample. “It’s the first time I’ve been to one of these but I’m already a bit of a beer snob,” declares a girl not long out of her teens proudly. “We didn’t even know this existed until some mates mentioned it earlier,” says another guy enjoying his first saison experience. “It’s really good.” It seems the bi-annual craft beer lovefest that is the Fed Square Victorian Microbreweries Showcase is losing none of its lustre…
And why should it? Day one saw 28 microbreweries and brewing companies line up alongside bar owners, beer clubs and publishers as the Atrium was packed with exhibitors like never before. Next door, the Beer DeLuxe outdoor area became a Cider Garden for the first time too. There were new faces, among them Cavalier, possessors of a tiny brewhouse setup in Pascoe Vale and about to supply beer for the taps of a new South Yarra wine bar. Crafty wasn’t even aware of them until last week, yet a full-flavoured Hefeweizen fresh from the tank boasting a big bouquet of bubblegum and bananas and a chocolatey Brown Ale bode well for the future.
Of the new faces, it was Mornington Peninsula Brewery who seemed to be winning the most new fans, however, if a totally unscientific straw poll is any guide. “They don’t hold back on flavour,” says one punter who’d stumbled across them for the first time. His words will be music to brewer AG’s ears, but anyone who samples any of the four beers he has on offer will be hard pressed to disagree. Crafty’s picks – if you’re having to ration your tickets – are the Saison and IPA, although the Pale and Brown are good too so perhaps just ask really nicely.
Elsewhere, in the gaps we found between filming brewers and punters for five hours straight (or sometimes while filming…) we enjoyed Bright’s Raspberry Lambic – fresh and fruity on the nose with a touch of tartness at the end – and an experimental beer that may come out next year, the last of the Bridge Road Big Red Rocket, the first of the 2011 True South Red Truck (hmmm… lots of red things, it seems) and look forward to filling the gaps this evening, with a couple of chocolate stouts from Mildura and Arctic Fox among those we’re keen to try.
There was also the bonus of catching up with Caolan Vaughan, the production manager at the UK’s Thornbridge Brewery who created the Thorny Goat with Mountain Goat. He’d not had the chance to taste the finished beer before flying out of Australia to return to England but became stranded in Tokyo during the earthquake and was forced to return to Melbourne for 36 hours. It was a 36 hours that coincided with the Showcase, leaving him able to sample his beer – one he felt had achieved its goals: being both a genuine representation of the Black IPA style and distinctly different to the Thornbridge Raven, the beer on which it’s loosely based, thanks to the use of Southern Hemisphere hops.
So, overall impressions? Having attended a fair number of beer festivals in the UK where the stereotypical British real ale drinker – 50-plus, hefty beer gut, fading t-shirt from a CAMRA festival they’d attended 23 years earlier and thinning grey hair on top combined with loosely flowing mane at the rear – still figured prominently, it’s refreshing to see just how mixed the crowd is, across both sexes and all ages and backgrounds. Australians really are embracing the changes sweeping the beer world while the brewers are continually raising the bar. As visiting Murrayâs brewer Shawn Sherlock pointed out, Melburnians are lucky to have such an event as in NSW there’s nothing like it – yet. So if you’ve not been to one, you should. And if you’re heading there later, enjoy.