You'd think I'd be past the point where a lineup of beers can spark a bout of eyebrow-arched surprise. After all, The Crafty Pint will clock up a dozen years spent documenting the wild evolution of the Australian craft beer industry later this year.
And even when it comes to the home of eyebrow-arching beers – GABS – it's not like we haven't been around the traps. I conducted film interviews at the first one, when it was held at The Local Taphouse in St Kilda, was called the Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular, and featured a mere 20 beers.
I was Good Beer Week festival director the following year when it debuted at the Royal Exhibition Building on the opening weekend (an experiment never to be repeated after it made the opening days of GBW something of a struggle for many eager GABS attendees). The Crafty team has been there through the whale vomit, the belly button fluff, the arrival of the Ferris wheel too. And yet...
It's fair to say the past two-plus years have knocked us all about a bit, that I'm getting no younger, and that a pretty hearty dose of COVID in March gave the grey matter a good rattle too, so my memory might not be all it was. But upon perusing the 2022 GABS festival beer lineup ahead of the season debut in Brisbane this weekend it was impossible not to wonder if participating brewers had collectively taken by far their deepest dive into the realm of recipe ridiculousness.
It goes without saying that no nostalgia-sparking lolly or sugary dessert is safe when May approaches, but how many imperial sours featuring the contents of a Preston mini-market? Are white stouts the new sweet stout? Is gravy the new lamb souvlaki? Oh my, is that a West Coast IPA in Container 1? What is wrong with Seven Mile Brewing?
"Brewery participation is at a record level," says GABS managing director Mike Bray of those eager to fill his container bars. "There's 120 incredible beers giving people the chance to taste something new and something different."
For the Australian leg of the 2022 winter season (a return to Auckland lies ahead later in the year too), his team has bought 1200 kegs of them – one for each session – with the first set to be tapped at Brisbane's Convention & Exhibition Centre this Saturday.
Of course, the festival beers lining three containers (and making those of us rather longer in the tooth wonder why we ever thought a braggot or barrel-fermented IPA was out there) are only part of the show. As we wrote recently, it's one of those occasions when brewers take their festival stands to new levels, with Mike excited about Balter's Tins of Glory 2022 series launching at GABS, the return of BentSpoke's Roller Racing, Ballistic debuting their Paint & Sip workshops, the cocktail, gin and wine stands, the silent disco.
"The most satisfying thing about GABS," he says, "is taking a step back and seeing people having a great time and connecting with brewers."
Putting on such a show comes with logistical challenges at the best of times. And it's fair to say Mike and his investors bought GABS from founders Steve Jeffares and Guy Greenstone at the worst of times. Just weeks after announcing the acquisition, COVID arrived on these shores. GABS 2020 was cancelled. One of two Summer GABS in Queensland at the start of 2021 lost more than 50 percent of ticketholders to a snap lockdown in Brisbane.
Last year's winter events took place to a backdrop of more lockdowns; highlighting just how fraught things were, within a few days of Melbourne's event ending I was in hotel quarantine in a room overlooking the building where GABS had taken place after the pub hosting our Pint of Origin blind tasting was designated a tier one site...
So, surely, even with tens of thousands of daily cases and dozens of deaths across the country, an end to almost all restrictions meant this has been a relatively smooth approach? Of course not...
"Staffing has been a massive challenge," Mike says, a situation with which everyone involved in hospitality and events can identify. "GABS employs hundreds of hospitality staff and roughly 100 volunteers in each city, so it's the same challenge everyone has got."
There have been logistical challenges unique to 2022 as well. Having made the call to bring back souvenir glasses, the lockdown in Shanghai forced a switch from shipping to air-freighting. Damaged rail lines from the devastating floods have required a rethink. And while people have been heading out again (when not in iso), there remains a nervousness among some in the community, particularly around large events, that simply didn't exist pre-2020.
Against that backdrop, Mike says: "The appeal from us is for beer lovers to get behind the brewers, and behind beer festivals again."
As for the beers he's got his eyes on, it looks like he's going big, perhaps warranted after the challenges of the past 30 months; he reels off Deeds' entry – the booziest of the lot, plus 7th Day's 8 percent ABV Dropping F-Bombs, The Awesome Beer from Mountain Culture, and Capital's "sexy treat" Smooches, concluding: "It's incredible what you can do with beer."
WIN! If you're reading this in time and would like to treat yourself and seven mates to a VIP Experience at GABS Brisbane this weekend, head to The Crafty Pint's Instagram and enter our epic giveaway before 6pm AEST today (May 4).
We'll be running more giveaways via our newsletters – sign up here – and have some ticket packs for members of our beer club, The Crafty Cabal, for each city too. Sign in here or via the free Crafty Pint app to enter, or claim a signup bonus as a new member here.
Navigating the Container Bars
Once you manage to move past the eyebrow-arched surprise, just how do you go about making sense of a mammoth list of beers that, in most cases, would have the planet's traditional brewers thinking many of their Aussie peers have taken leave of their senses?
We're not sure there's an easy answer, but never ones to shy from a challenge, The Crafty Pint team aimed to come to some sort of consensus on the beers we'd fill our paddles with first...
Container Bars 1 & 2
4. Blackman's – BBQ Shapes Sour
So friggin' ridiculous (c'est la GABS) but surely it would be un-Australian not to?
5. Burnley Brewing – Schadenfreude
A version of the rarely-seen, smoky-sour Lichtenhainer style from Tallboy & Moose was a standout in the recent NZ Hops Great Brew Challenge, and Dollar Bill recently added one to their core range. Let's see how Burnley stack up.
7. Deeds Brewing – Dark Ritual
If you attend GABS and don't sample the highest ABV festival beer on offer, did you even really attend?
16. Seven Mile – Not A Hazy
We're pretty sure our palates will be crying out for a straight up West Coast IPA at some point, and past experience tells us the Ballina brewers know how to make a good one.
21. 8 Wired – Yuzu Superhighway
One of the best and most consistent brewers in NZ back with a potent sour IPA featuring one of the best fruits to ever be added to an IPA? Could be a power hose of a palate-cleanser.
25. Colonial – Negroni Rye Bock
We all love Negronis. Nuff said. Or, as Mick puts it: "I feel like a grown-up every time I drink a bitter Negroni."
26. Dollar Bill – Doge Crossing
The brewers and blenders of the reigning AIBA Champion Australian Beer are masters at adding unlikely flavours to their wild ales; how will they fare with wasabi?
30. Madocke – Scarlet King
We have a soft spot for classically-minded Belgians, and this fruited golden strong ale from the highly-regarded Gold Coasters is a rarity in the wider Australian beer landscape, let alone at GABS 2022.
31. Mismatch – We Love NY Cheesecake
There's a mind-boggling number of white stouts on the lineup, and this is the one we hope most lives up to its name.
38. Wayward – Invisible IPA
They've got history when it comes to show-stopping GABS beers; here, the Camperdown brewers mix seltzer with IPA in another experiment of which Mick says: "I think this will make me angry at Wayward and angry at IPAs and angry at seltzers... but I think it's a kind of anger I'm ready to experience."
Container Bars 3 & 4
40. Aether – Earl Grey Crème Brûlée
It rhymes, comes with three different accents (if you write it properly), reminds Scott of his all-time fave GABS beer (Yeastie Boys' Early Grey-enhanced Gunnamatta), and sounds like the stupidly creamy beer to finish a GABS session on. Before, you know, getting ready for the next session.
41. Akasha – Violet Beauregarde's Blueberry Breakfast Bagel
Not the first time young Violet has lent her name to a GABS beer; Mick's praying it gets served on a bagel.
43. Big Shed – What Are Ya, Chicken Salt?
Past masters of GABS, Big Shed celebrate another SA icon that conjures flashbacks of a past GABS beer that was almost universally condemned: Wig & Pen's Thai Green Curry beer.
49. Easy Times – Unnatural Progression
When a brewer calls their own beer an abomination, it has to be worth a look, surely? Worst case scenario: it's only a thimble full, after all.
56. Tallboy & Moose – Put A Boot On
For all the diversity when it comes to what brewers are willing to throw in the mix for GABS 2022, there's a paucity of native ingredients, making this collaboration with indigenous artist Kevin Williams, which uses wattleseed from his farm, stand out.
59. Working Title – Nutella Fudge Double Milk Stout
Mick: "I imagine that Mark and Luke rubbed Nutella all over their bodies as they brewed this. It helps, somehow." Does it, though?
63. B.O.B. – Honey Badger
A traditional English ale? Now that is a step too far, GABS.
70. Hop Nation – Zombie Drop
The only non-alc pouring from a container bar.
75. Sauce – Rye Manhattan
Bring on the rye. Bring on the bourbon. Bring on the vermouth. As Scott puts it, a drink that could be the house special in a bar in Twin Peaks.
78. Valley Hops – Sins & Grins Watermelon Cooler
A watermelon cold IPA sounds like one of the most refreshing things that could ever happen.
Container Bars 5 & 6
84. Garage Project – Meg's Mecha Hop Mosaic
One of the best breweries in the world back at GABS stuffing as much Mosaic into a big IPA... what's not to like?
89. Molly Rose – Tea of Coffee?
Along with the GP beer above, the only beer to get a vote from all of us. We're not sure why you'd mix tea and coffee together, or why you'd then put them in a lager... but we do like all of these things, so bring it on.
90. One Drop – Neka Neka
Much of the Botany Bay brewery's output is like a never-ending GABS, so it would be rude not to see what they put forward for the real deal.
94. Catchment Brewing – Ra Ra Raspoutine
A standout pun, for one, it also contains chips, whey and gravy granules so has the potential to be utterly rancid, while also putting Scott's theory that "any poutine is a good poutine" to the test.
98. Aunty Jacks – Juicy In The Sky With Diamonds
We are trying to put one relatively normal beer into each container selection, and Aunty Jacks' hazy fits the bill here. I've also spent much of the year gnawing the ears off anyone not quick enough to escape about Peter Jackson's Get Back. PSA: If you're not into The Beatles and spot me at Pint of Origin or GABS, hide.
100. Blackflag – Pixie Juice
"Will… will it pop in my mouth?" asks Mick. "Should I be scared? Because I am, a little."
104. Coastal Brewing – Rum Barrel-Aged Big Nellie Barley
The only barleywine in the lineup. With added rum. Done.
107. Five Barrel – Farmhouse Ale
A very first chance to taste a beer made with a yeast strain from new supplier Mogwai – a wild-harvested one to boot. Have a listen to (the other) Mogwai's new single while you're at it (longer version here if you can live without the cool visuals).
112. Reckless & Sausage Queen – Double Bloody Maria Gose
Start the recovery session early, why don't ya?
117. Willie the Boatman – Gummi Venus
From the team that brought you lamb souvlaki beer in 2021, and with gummy bears all the rage right now, the Tempe loons serve up a welcome Simpsons reference with which we'll sign off for 2022.