GABS returned to Sydney in 2017 with a record breaking attendance and more beers than ever.
When it was announced that GABS 2017 would be moving away from the Australian Technology Park and travelling west to the Sydney Showground, it’s fair to say there were some murmurs of discontent.
This was echoed when it was revealed that the Friday evening session would be scrapped this year, taking it back down to two Saturday sessions as it had been in 2015.
While the new venue presented new challenges and a different experience, it still felt like the GABS we’ve come to know and love.
The Sydney Showground provided a larger venue capable of accommodating more people and the famed ferris wheel from the Melbourne festival. By moving GABS toward the geographic centre of Sydney, it made it more accessible to a greater number of people across the city’s suburbs.
There was a remarkably different atmosphere between the two sessions this year. The first saw a record-breaking attendance for any GABS sessions ever. It was jam-packed with an electric energy running through the air, fuelled by anticipation, excitement and the sheer range of sensory stimuli.
The evening session was much more cruisey. It was noticeably quieter than the afternoon but there was a fun, chilled-out vibe. Perhaps the popularity of the afternoon session was related to the new location. Transport away from Olympic Park late at night is never fun.
Otherwise the Dome at the Sydney Showground seemed to fit GABS quite well. Yes, it’s a bit austere and the back-end of the venue resembles an aircraft hangar. It certainly lacks the charm of the Australian Technology Park or Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building.
However, GABS has grown to a point where it has its own identity, its own recognisable aesthetic. Perhaps it no longer needs an historic venue to provide the festival’s character. Larger venues can be made to fit the festival rather than the other way around.
Beer Highlights Of GABS Sydney 2017
I have nothing but admiration for people who manage to try all the festival beers over the course of GABS. That, however, was not going to happen for me. Instead, in no particular order, here are a few worth mentioning.
Pirate Life’s Vanilla Malt Thickshake (pictured above) and Stockade’s Mountie Maple Imperial Stout were always going to be in the running for People’s Choice.
As with last year both Akasha (Lupulin Fog) and Wayward (Funky Hoppy People) impressed with their offerings. The surprise in the pack came from Tasmania’s Little Rivers Brewing Co who brewed up a delicious red liquorice inspired beer.
In Royal Tanninbomb, Yeastie Boys delivered a sensational beefed up version of their beloved Gunnamatta.
Merchant, Batch, Bucket Boys and Modus Operandi all nailed exactly what they were trying to achieve with their beers. Both Staves and Young Henrys showed that balanced and restrained beers still have a place at GABS.
Collaboration beers often fall down but the beer from the AIBA champion breweries (Stone & Wood, Two Birds, Pirate Life and BrewCult) showed that we have some incredible brewing talent in this country.
GABS is as much about the discussion and shared experience of good beer as it is the liquid itself, so leave a comment below with your favourite festival beers.
Not Just Festival Beers
The brewery stands were busier than ever this year with crowds thronging around them. People were more engaged than ever before and the breweries seem to be recognising the value in that.
It’s amazed me in the past when brewery representatives seem oblivious to the fact that they have captive customers in front of them, remaining reluctant to chat. This year, most brewery stands seemed to be doing a good job of serving beers and talking to interested punters.
If there’s one thing that could be a point of continuous improvement, it’s in the setup of the brewery stands. Thankfully festivals have moved past the point of fold-out tables and jockey boxes but perhaps we’re reaching the next plateau. A nicely branded stall with attractive decoration and shiny taps no longer stands out as it once did.
Stone & Wood aways draw attention by pouring beers from their Land Rover, while BentSpoke had a static cycling race at their stand. In the next couple of years I think we’ll start to see breweries move to interactive festival stands, providing a unique attraction other than just beer.We'll start to see breweries move to interactive festival stands, providing a unique attraction other than just beer. Click To Tweet
The Broad Appeal of GABS Events
An important but underrated part of the GABS experience are the events on offer. The foodie seminars and Q&As are a great way to educate new beer drinkers without it feeling like a lecture.
They fit in with the fun and frivolity of the festival and are pitched perfectly to excite beer aficionados and answer the questions of newcomers.
This year I had the privilege of being involved in one of these. I was a late call up to a session entitled “Crystal Balls” where Pete Mitcham, Mark Fethers (Rocks Brewing) and I discussed the Sydney beer scene and where it’s going.
It was a pleasure to be able to share the thing I love with like-minded people. In essence, that’s what beer festivals are about.
GABS Sydney 2017: It Continues To Grow
Echoing the last few years, one of the highlights of GABS was the atmosphere. The festival has done a great job of welcoming one and all, making good beer exciting and accessible.
Likewise, it’s done it in a safe and welcoming way. It proves that if you treat people like adults, they’re capable of enjoying alcohol and behaving well. I hope our esteemed state and city leaders were watching and taking note.#GABS2017 proves that if you treat people like adults, they’re capable of enjoying alcohol and behaving well. Click To Tweet
There’s an air of happiness and harmony that envelopes GABS-goers. People get on, there’s jollity and good fun. The afternoon session definitely felt different to other GABS sessions. The feeling of hyperactivity and excited tension was closer to a sporting event than other beer festivals. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops in the future.
GABS 2017 also saw a continuing diversity in the people attending. Beer is truly for all.
While everyone at GABS was the type of person inclined to go to a beer festival, there’s really no other common identity or demographic to be seen.
The atmosphere is the best thing about GABS, with the beer a close second. A very close second.The atmosphere is the best thing about @gabsfestival, with the beer a close second. A very close second. Click To Tweet
Did you go to GABS Sydney? Leave a comment and share your highlights of the festival.