July 4th, 2013 by Crafty Pint
Australia is blessed with many festivals dedicated to craft beer these days. But few, if any, do things as well as Beervana, the annual two-day festival in Wellington, as The Crafty Pint discovered when we attended last year. Little wonder that more and more Australians are making the pilgrimage over there each year.
Now housed in the concourse of the city’s Westpac Stadium, it doesn’t do anything particularly out of the ordinary: there are various stalls and bars pouring beers samples from dozens of Kiwi brewers, a few Aussies and even fewer from further afield; there’s a home brew comp; there are seminars; there is food. But it does what it does excellently. Sure, the strong Kiwi beer scene means there’s a wealth of good stuff to choose from, but the way they’re presented, some of the festival’s quirks, and the quality of the food that supports them all adds up to something that feels like much more than thousands of people wandering through an otherwise sterile, curved concrete stadium.
Next month’s festival (on August 9 and 10) is the second at Westpac, as previously it took place at the Old Town Hall in Wellington, but the 12th since the festival’s forerunner was launched by the country’s now defunct Beer, Wine and Spirit Council in 2001. Then it was a showcase for a handful of breweries and dominated by the big boys of DB and Lion; today it offers a dazzling array of incredible beers from the likes of Epic, 8 Wired, Tuatara, Emerson’s, the Yeastie Boys and many more that have yet to send their beers to Australia.
“We moved to the stadium so we could keep expanding,” says festival director David Cryer. “It also allows us to bring our own [choice of] food in, we can have live brewing on the concourse and, because it’s all concrete, we can’t burn it down.”
Last year, the festival attracted around 8,000 over its two days; this year they’re aiming for 10,000. Among that number will be a growing band of Australians who’ve heard the war stories of those who’ve been in previous years and experienced the marvels of both Beervana and the bars and restaurants of Wellington, where it’s said up to 50 per cent of all draught beer served is craft beer. With large numbers of Kiwi brewers and beer lovers making the annual trip to Melbourne for Good Beer Week and GABS, there’s quite a bond growing not only between the two countries' brewers but their drinkers too.
When The Crafty Pint visited last year, one of the highlights was the food, most memorably the freshly shucked oysters and the black pudding, chorizo and scallop skewers placed dangerously close to Tuatara’s Mayday tap. It’s an element of the festival that is curated by top Wellington chef Martin Bosley.
“Martin is paid to be our culinary director,” says David. “He approaches restaurants and makes sure there’s an even offering, including vegetarian options. This year, we have got Logan Brown [on the lineup], which was recently awarded two chef’s hats and was named restaurant of the year a couple of years ago.
“It’s really high quality, which is really important to us. In the US the food is very important to craft beer.”
Aside from that, the Media Brew competition returns (although we won’t be there to defend our title, sadly), along with the home brew competition, with the latter now doubled in size after selling out early in 2012. There will also be the return of the Festival Beers. Each year, Beervana sets brewers a challenge to create a new beer on a theme and any brewery can choose to enter. The entries are judged and the best receives a trophy at the NZ Brewers Guild Beer Awards the night before the festival; all are then tapped at a dedicated bar.
“The theme this year is three out of four,” says David. “There are four ingredients in beer – hops, malt, yeast and water – and brewers have to leave one out.”
In total, there are likely to be 250 beers pouring, including around 14 Aussies carefully selected to show off the best of the scene here and stalls featuring BrewDog, Adnams and Sam Adams. If that’s not enough, the bars of Wellington are full of great beer from all over New Zealand and further afield and the week leading up to the festival is Choice Beer Week, which means there are other events taking place outside Beervana. You can keep tabs on those here or get your tickets for Beervana here.
Photo at top courtesy of Jed Soanes.