By Tony van der Linden
Do you like IPA? Of course you do. How about cheese? I do. What about Imperial Stout. Yes again. “How much?” you ask. A lot. So I was pretty stoked when I skimmed through the Brewsvegas program online to see all of these boxes ticked. After dithering about going to ticketed events for the last couple of years and generally missing out, I snapped up some tickets. Brewsvegas really has become the highlight of the Brisbane’s beer calendar. Now in its fifth year, there were some 70 events over the week and a bit of March 10-18 , but a few standouts immediately presented themselves.
Starting out on the first Saturday of the schedule, the Southside Tank Party and crawl between Ballistic, Helios, and Slipstream was an obvious go as a Southsider. Although it clashed with Tipsy with the Gypsy at Brisbane Brewing Co, my wife hadn’t been to either Helios or Slipstream so it was a great event to do together. First challenge was this was also a brewday at home and I needed to get that American Wheat and NEIPA (which was great BTW) into the fermenters before we left. So as it turned out, by the time we got to Ballistic, it was still fairly busy and the Red IPA made for the event was already gone! Epic Brewsvegas fail on my part. There were a couple of free buses doing the circuit between the 3 breweries so after a beer and a chat to Ev we took the ride over to Helios.
Helios has only been open since December 2017 and I think they’re still finding their feet as a venue, but are super friendly folk with an experienced and credentialed brewer and a pretty cool approach to environmental sustainability and energy efficiency to boot. This was my second visit – there was a great food truck again and the Double IPA and Black IPA were still my faves. We then made the slightly dodgy trek (seriously if it’s after dark just Uber it) on foot over to Slipstream. The band was still playing and a solid crowd milled about in the generous space of the tap room and beer garden. I’ve always found Slipstream’s beers well-made and very approachable. At the end of the night I realised I hadn’t had any of the tank beers – second epic Brewsvegas fail on my part.
Sunday and off to Brewski in Caxton St for the much anticipated IPA and Cheese event with California’s Stone Brewing. As mentioned above I’m a bit of a fan of cheese and an enthusiastic amateur of beer and cheese pairing – blue cheese and Baltic Porter are good mates. However, IPA or hoppy beers generally are something I’d not thought would pair terribly well, instead favouring something a little more malt driven. So it was then that the combinations on offer were a surprise, an awesomely tasty surprise. Many of these (the cheese or the beer) I’d not tried before so my eyes were opened to some wonderful flavours The Stone beers, shipped over for the event, were tasting fresher than I’d ever experienced, and each one was introduced by Stone Brewing’s own Jeremy Moynier – a lovely dude to chat to briefly as well. A really excellent event – hats off to Brewski, Fino foods and Stone. For the record my favourite combo was #6 – Loral & Dr. Rudi’s Inevitable Adventure IIPA with the Comte.
Tuesday was meant to be a Dinner with matched beers at restaurant Otto hosted by Matt Kirkegaard, but unfortunately this had to be cancelled and rescheduled. On the upside, my body had a few days to rest before Thursday night and Cloutrageous! at Newstead Brewing. A few years ago I realised that Clout Stout had become a bit of a regular celebration beer for me. Birthday : Clout, Anniversary: Clout. Along with Hargreaves Hill’s RIS, it must be the best regarded, oldest, continually released Imperial Stouts in the country, first appearing in 2011. The opportunity to try 5 different vintages (2013 – 2017) of this special drop was one I couldn’t pass up.
About 20 of us congregated around a long table at the end of the brewery space in the Dogget St venue. A massive banquet-style feast materialised over the course of the evening as we were served a generous pour of each year’s goodness starting with 2017. I had expected the flavour of the beer to change markedly at some point as we moved back through the years but happy to find that it didn’t really, all of the elements just became softer, smoother and more intertwined. I’d tried to keep at least a bit of all years until the end so I could compare the oldest and youngest vintages.
After trying the 2013, going back to the 2017 which had minutes ago tasted smooth and delicious now seemed harsh and biting in comparison. The biggest change was probably from 2016 to 2015, a dramatic mellowing evident in the older brew. Ultimately, the 2013 followed by the 2015 were my picks. Wonderful that a beer that must have been about 5 and a half years old at that point tasted so good. Another fantastic event which is probably the only chance I’ll ever get to taste those 5 beers . Big thanks to Mark Howes for squirrelling away most of those bottles in his own stash and then sharing them, and to Jim Gold for hosting and for heading to WA to personally fill the gaps so we could all have a share.
Another day to recover and try to reset my palate, as the following day was the BJCP exam. What timing eh? This meant I gave an event I always go to, Tipplers’ Well-Tapped, a miss in order to protect my taste buds. But don’t panic, the Brewsvegas journey continued after the exam! With a couple of post exam beers at Bacchus, the conversation turned to planning how we could squeeze some Brewsvegas events into the afternoon, this was followed by us in turn squeezing into an Uber (with Alex from CQBrewers and Ben from Righteous Brewers of Townsville) and heading for Tipplers Tap where we knew a couple of Wildflower beers were on tap.
Wildflower Brewing and Blending out of Marrickville make “mixed-fermentation” beers with a combination of brewer’s yeast, wild yeast and bacteria. They’re a pretty unique thing in Australia, tasting a bit sour and funky – something like a Flanders Red or Oud Bruin, and quite delicious. We tried the current Amber and Gold blends as well as the Wildflower Waratah made with all NSW ingredients. This was less funky, but a little spicy and fruity – my pick of the bunch.
Another Uber share and a short ride to Semi-Pro in East Brisbane! The beery baby of past members, committee and friends of BABBs Mick and Luke and their families and step-child of our own Dan Angus (OK, I’ll leave the family analogy there now) it’s just awesome to see this dream come to fruition. They’d only been open a few days when we were there but the place was pumping and the beer was tasting great. Their Payday Red IPA is the bomb, go and drink some at their Manilla St brewery.
On to Bloodhound Bar in Brunswick St for an actual Brewsvegas event – Hopfields. Their annual celebration of all things hoppy and usually a good few beers we don’t typically see in these parts. A taplist which changes over 3 sessions during the course of the day. There were beers from the likes of Deep Creek, Batch, 3 Ravens, Prairie, Brew Dog, Buxton, and Hop Nation. I particularly enjoyed the offerings from London breweries Beavertown (Lupuloid IPA) and Pressure Drop (Alligator Tugboat Simcoe IPA – mmmm piney).
Things are getting hazy at this point and not in a New England IPA kind of way, but we journey over to Bosc in West End for one last event. Back at the BJCP exam newly minted Ballistic assistant brewer Jake Harrison mentioned he’d be repping the brewery at Bosc and there’d be some kind of a beer related trivia event. The words “beer related trivia event” were like cat-nip to a bunch of beer nerds so we figured we couldn’t let him face this alone, we’d have to participate or at the very least heckle from a dark corner of the bar. In the end we decided to participate. And how! With Nick Holt taking out the first prize of a keg of Ballistic Australian Psycho IPA and kindly sharing it with his collaborators.
What a day.
What a week.
Just like BABBs is your club, Brewsvegas is your beer festival. Get out there and be part of it next year, we’re lucky to have it.