It’s almost impossible to pass up a beer festival at the best of times, but when there’s one only an hour’s drive away from you – offering more than 200 craft beers and ciders – attendance is essential.
Armed with our pot and beer-carrying lanyard received on entry, myself and my crew of beer connoisseurs (for the day anyway) entered the Ballarat Beer Festival, ready to sample the brews that surrounded the City Oval.
With more than 40 brewers stalls set up, we decided to simply start at the beginning and work our way through. First loading cash onto our payment cards, you would simply choose the size of your sample (a taste, a half or a full pot) and the stall holders would deduct the amount from the card. It was handy not having to worry about cash and resulted in an uncomplicated and relaxed drinking experience.
With an average alcohol content of about 6% across the festival’s brews, there was an equal spread across light and heavy beers, with no style in particular taking over. While we didn’t succeed in tasting every brew, a few are notable of a mention. The Belgium Ale from Blizzard Brewing was a real winner, with the brewer describing it as “tasting like Belgium”. That sold me. And it was delicious – moderately malty with a mixture of fruit and woody aromas. Other drops I enjoyed included Willie Smith Apple Cider, Kooinda’s Golden Ale, Stockade’s refreshing Pale Ale and the notable Pirate Life’s beer, that was full of flavour with a mildly bitter, authentic nutty taste. Keen to try Hawker’s new brand of beer, Rover, I trialled the Session IPA. From the man pouring my beverage, he describes it as a real easy drinking beer, and in short: “it’s smashable”.
There was a clear trend of brewers experimenting with a range of summer flavours as well with some interesting pours. Bad Shepherd had the Raspberry Wheat Ale which was a summary affair (didn’t really taste like beer but I think that was the point), Trumpeters had an Alcoholic Ice Tea, while Flying Brick Cider Co featured their Festival Cider Pachinga which combined flavours of pear, ginger, chilli and lime to create a cider with 9% strength – woah.
With the sun beaming, many of the brewers added a touch of character to their stalls. Bad Shepherd Brewery featured a ‘spin the wheel’ and win a prize feature, while Kooinda attracted the crowds with the Nintendo set up in the shade.
Attractions to fill the time included table tennis, giant versions of Jenga and Connect Four, and a petting zoo. Other hits were inflatable flamingos and beach chairs scattered around the oval. Hay bales covered the grass in front of the stage where the bands put forth their rock tunes which had a mass of people dancing all afternoon. The selection of food was just right, covering all the classics from pizza and potatoes, to calamari and chips, and street burgers. Oh and of course, an ice-cream truck. Brilliant.
The real highlight of the day (aside from been surrounded by beer and beer-loving individuals), was the brewers at each stall were happy to talk about their business and products. It was through chatting to the brewers at Canberra-based Pact Beer Co that we realised the brewery is actually a hobby of theirs, with all three owners also working full-time jobs.
The super chill vibes, the large amount of beer goggles featured, and the surprising amount of hats made out of cardboard made for a perfect Saturday afternoon. There wasn’t a great amount of shade but I was more than happy making the most of the sunshine. I found some new brews, tried some weird ones, and actually learnt a lot about beer in general.
If you ever get the chance, round up your beer-loving friends and head to a beer festival to experience the ultimate showcase of brewing diversity and creativity. Cheers to that.
Where: City Oval, Ballarat
When: January 21 2017
Reviewed by Talia Rinaldo