Brewery stalls at festivals have evolved from spill-spattered trestle tables to intricate, interactive experiences as brewers look to cut through the noise and capture punters' attention with more than just beer. That's never been more true than at GABS, the multi-city festival that is as much roving circus as it is a celebration of beer.
Each year, brewers only seem to up the ante when it comes to the ways in which they fill their section of the vast venues. Some opt for bigger, louder, brasher, others look to bring their festival beers to life through their stand design. Some entice guests in with games and challenges, while others still conduct wild beer experiments with tools more often found in a hardware store.
For a number of years, The Crafty Pint team helped the GABS crew crown those who'd gone above and beyond to create experiences that were eye-catching, innovative, fun and distinctive. We explored what made a great stand in 2019 following that year's inaugural Best In Show awards, which went to Hawkers, Atomic Beer Project and Wayward for their efforts at the Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney legs respectively.
In 2021, the Best In Show titles went to Blackflag (Brisbane), Six String (Sydney) and Stomping Ground (Melbourne). And if anyone know's what makes a GABS stand stand out, it's Stomping Ground co-founder Steve Jeffares, who conceived the festival with Guy Greenstone before selling GABS and the Hottest 100 to the current owners in late 2019.
"There are many exhibitors offering fantastic beers but people also come to GABS for an amazing and fun time," Steve says. "I think anything exhibitors can do to elevate the GABS experience for customers the better. There is so much for them to experience at GABS, you have to be creative to stand out."
Often, those stands serve as an extension of a brewery's brand and tie into the wider look and feel of a given brewery. In 2021, Stomping Ground were inspired by their popular series of Smash sours to recreate a fresh fruit market stall – the apples certainly came in handy as a palate-cleanser too.
"Our GABS stand was a natural extension," he says, "where you could try different fruit Smashes made for the event, add real fruit to a base Smash, or add the berry aroma cloud bubble to the Iced Faux-Vo Double Nitro Smash. Our sales rep Cassie O'Neill had seen bartenders use it with cocktails so we managed to get our hands on one."
For New South Wales' Six String Brewing, they too wanted to use their stand to transport their ethos from the Central Coast to Sydney while highlighting their passion for bringing beer and music together. As children of the 90s, they opted to create a space akin to a grungy basement or dive bar, adorned with old rock posters and arcade machines.
"People loved the arcade games," Six String's Sharon Benson says. "At various points throughout the night, we had to remind people that they should probably check out the rest of the festival – they would have happily played for hours."
Meanwhile, for Sunshine Coast-based Blackflag Brewing, their skate ramp attracted plenty of attention from attendees, even if it brought no shortage of headaches.
"We had some challenges. Taking a four-tonne ramp on a truck from Sunny Coast to Brisbane at 70 kilometres and hour and setting up last – sorry, GABS crew. Oh, and insurance coming the day before," co-owner Steve Barber says, while expressing his gratitude to Chiggy's Skateboarding, Ashley Wild Ramps, and "some obscure insurance agency that gave us a crack".
With the first GABS of 2022 kicking off in Brisbane in just two weeks, here's how the trio went about conceiving and creating their winning stands.
Brisbane – Black Flag
We’re like travelling carnies with tonnes of beer. We want to have a good time as much as those buying the tickets so it’s about taking a dumb idea and running with it, and every event we do, we try to do it 100 percent.
It takes time and effort but we have a good crew that enjoys having a few beers so the more we fuck around getting it together, the more we are going to enjoy it too. We’ve been lucky enough to work with the crew at Chiggy's Skateboarding for a while now ,but only weeks before they managed to pull together a portable half pipe with the help of Ashley Wild ramps. How could we not!?
In terms of feedback, everyone was stoked – the crew were ripping it on the halfpipe and the beers were going off. We managed to sling four limited releases at the show too, with a shit tonne of paddles going out. Steve Barber
Melbourne – Stomping Ground
The idea for our stand developed after we decided to make the Iced Faux-Vo Double Nitro Smash our GABS Festival Beer. We discussed a number of ideas that focused on a Smash stand and landed on another concept before we changed our minds two weeks out and pressed ahead with the Fruit Market idea.
Our regular and limited release Smash beers have grown enormously in popularity and we have had fun playing around with things like Smash cocktails and even frozen Smash-ees, a collaboration with Tequila Tromba last summer that saw us install slushie machines serving frozen Passionfruit Smash with tequila at bars across Melbourne.
We had a clear idea of how the stand might look but the idea was finessed with our long-time event activation collaborator, who helped us bring it to life in such a fun way with a very tight timeline. We have previously collaborated with experiential guru Amy Henderson on a number of our activations in the past and she and her colleague Nicole helped bring our idea for GABS to life brilliantly. It was a brilliant team effort that thankfully paid off.
We had such a fantastic response. Customers were drawn to our stand by its concept and striking design but then clearly bought into the fun of what we were offering. As expected, the cloud bubble with our Iced Faux-Vo Smash (pictured above) was extremely popular and much shared on social media. We'll be using them again for sure!
There are always challenges but we're used to working fast so all the people involved just did what was needed of them to get the stand up and open for the first session of GABS Melbourne. It was a real team effort.
The stand was so busy for all sessions that it was only when GABS ended on the Sunday that we could celebrate the success. To have won Best In Show is a great recognition that we're all very proud of. Steve Jeffares
Sydney – Six String Brewing
We wanted to create something that showed what we are all about: beer and music. Our beer was a Crème Brûlée Stout which we named "The Crème de la Crème is Who I Am!” – a Beastie Boys reference – so it was built around this reference and the graffiti we had done for the can.
We are 90s kids so that grungy basement feel is absolutely us. Far from the crisp, clean marketing of the likes of Balter, but we figured if we were going to stand out [it would be by] going polar opposite to this.
The graffiti behind the bar was an original piece by Danger Deric and was a piece done with the intent of using it on the can. Arcade Systems gave us the arcade games to use – founder Kym lives just around the corner from the brewery and is an absolute legend. He builds these games from scratch and just loves arcade games.
At this sort of event, being able to stand out in a crowd is really important – we are ultimately all selling the same thing. Good beers obviously help but there are so many, so by being able to capture people's attention and have a good time, hopefully the full experience helps in getting people to remember those good beers and seek out or purchase our beers the next time they see them. Sharon Benson
The 2022 season of GABS kicks off in Brisbane on May 7 before heading to Sydney (May 20/21) then Melbourne (May 27-29). You can grab tickets here.