Liam Pereira is a well-known smiling face around the Sydney beer scene. This year he’s taken on the role of General Manager for Sydney Beer Week.
Liam’s beer credentials can’t be disputed. He started at bottle shops and bars and continues as one part of the well-loved Sessionable podcast. He’s now co-owner of Dave’s Travel & Events Group, and General Manager of both the Institute of Beer and Sydney Beer Week. He’s been at the heart of the action throughout the growth of Sydney’s beer scene.
“I’m more of the industry liaison,” says Liam. “So part of my role is really being, with my experience in the industry, that point of contact so I can talk to venues and breweries, so I can give them support for their events.”
Under New Management
It’s a new era for Sydney Beer Week as it comes under the management of Dave’s Travel & Events. The change in the name, reflecting a broader move away from the term “craft”, and the redesign signify this passing of the baton.
Liam describes the approach to the branding as “making it a bit more iconic Sydney”.
“That’s sort of one of our things this year,” he says, “Sydney’s a pretty fucking cool city, it’s an alpha city, we should be proud of that.”'Sydney’s a pretty fucking cool city, it’s an alpha city, we should be proud of that.' Click To Tweet
The overall design is intended to make beer fun, moving away from the “interpretive artistic” aesthetic that can put people off other beer weeks.
“It’s something that we chewed over a lot. Even just that logo, we had hours and hours of redesigns… I think it definitely hit everything we wanted it to do. It sets a challenge for next year.”
The Dave’s approach is evident in the program for 2017. At the heart of it is an unpretentious celebration of beer. It’s fun, but there’s also the opportunity for education and for new experiences. It’s a thread running through all the company’s work but one that’s rarely stated by those involved.
“We’ve got a good balance with Dave’s,” says Liam, “where we don’t throw things down your throat, but if you want to learn it, it’s there but if you just want to have a good time, sweet.”
Spreading Further Afield
As well as the variety of events, the geographical spread of the line up stands out this year.
There are events in Penrith, Rooty Hill, Minto, Blacktown, and even as far as Forster. Some of this has been instigated by the Sydney Beer Week team but for many events, it was the venues approaching Liam.
“We sort of made it very clear very early on we want things to go out there,” says Liam. “It’s not that we don’t care about the city and the inner west but I kind of think they’re the kind of venues who’ve already got it covered.
“For some of the existing established craft – or beer – venues, they don’t need me at all. I just pop in and make sure they’re alright, make sure they’ve got everything they need.”
Liam has spent a lot of his time with less established venues in the lead up to Sydney Beer Week. He provides logistical assistance but he’s also there as a voice of encouragement.
Liam spoken with venue managers who assumed they weren’t “cool enough” to host a Sydney Beer Week event.
While he admits “I live in the inner west, I have a giant beard, I drink beer, my office is right behind a brewery,” part of his work is separating Sydney Beer Week from that association, to make it more accessible for venues and therefore customers.
The role is as much about advocacy and changing opinions as it is about coordinating a program of events.
Shaping Sydney’s Beer Scene
The role of Beer Week in shaping our local beer scene comes into acute focus in talking to Liam about his approach to curating events. As the appeal of good, local beer spreads, more and more venues are keen to get involved.
“I’m sort of putting them in contact with breweries and helping form their beer list to some degree,” says Liam. “But part of it is ‘I don’t want you to have an event and that’s it, so what’s your strategy for beer moving forward?’
“Power’s not the right word but there is a lot of influence you can have. With Dave’s and myself, we have all these relationships and you can very easily spoil those by not doing this right.”Power's not the right word but there is a lot of influence you can have. - @sydneycraftbeer, shaping the local scene. Click To Tweet
There’s reward in this for Liam though. He gets to make connections, put people together so venues can improve their beer offering, breweries can find new customers, and together they can create something new and exciting.
It’s clear he’s thrilled to have new venues outside of the typical craft beer hotspots but it’s not just confined to suburban pubs. He refers specifically to Fratelli Fresh and the degustation they’re running.
“When it starts crossing the mainstream – we’ve got like Rockpool doing beer events which is pretty cool – that’s the other part of that where the scene’s growing.”
What Does Success Look Like?
“My mantra for this year is just don’t fuck it up,” says Liam. “If we can do that, and deliver an awesome festival then we’ve got our key points that we want to push for the next year.”
The Sydney Beer Week team have been working solidly since the beginning of January. There are measures that will mean the team can consider this year a success but they also have their eyes on growth.
In the meantime, there’s a lot of personal investment from Liam and the rest of the team. It means that he has targets that will mark the festival as a personal success.
Naturally for Liam, having happy event holders is a primary concern but he’s also a lover of exposing people to good beer.
“If ten people find a beer that they’ve never tried before,” he says, “that they love, that goes into their regular rotation, for me those are the things that are wins.”'If ten people find a beer that they’ve never tried before, that they love... those are the things that are wins.' Click To Tweet
“If I’ve got some sleep during the week that’ll be a pretty good win as well.”
Vision For The Future
The team are focused on 2017’s Beer Week but they already have ideas for 2018 and 2019. Planning will begin soon after this year’s festival finishes.
“I think one thing I really want to push for next year is getting the home-brew community more involved,” says Liam. “And more of that educational thing, I’d love to have like a pop up brewery somewhere where you can see things happening.”
But how is that expansion facilitated?
The lineup of major sponsors is one way. CUB’s Yak Ales, Kegstar and Broadsheet are all sponsors of Sydney Beer Week 2017.
“We were a bit self-conscious that we’d cop a bit of flack for taking it a bit more mainstream,” says Liam. “We’ve been actually surprised by how we haven’t. Whether people just haven’t told us to our face is another thing but in the internet age I think most people aren’t afraid to speak their mind.”
Liam says that the Sydney Beer Week team had strong internal discussions about where to draw a line for sponsors and about with whom they’d be willing to align themselves. At the centre of this decision making is the hope that it makes the festival bigger and better.
So far people seem to understand that sponsorship is necessary in order to grow and provide better experiences. Both casual beer consumers and those entrenched in the beer world have seen this through the growth of the GABS festival.
“If we can reduce the registration price to make more people come it means that ticket prices can come down, it’s more accessible for everyone, it’s just that flow on effect for everyone.”
Liam will be racing around Sydney Beer Week but, if you get your timing right, there’s a good chance you’ll find him with his mum at Frankie’s.