From very small beginnings, Melbourne’s Good Beer Week has grown to be one of the most recognisable and important events in the country, not only for beer lovers, but for participating or proximal bars and restaurants. It’s also a favourite calendar event for fans of all things food and drink.
This year sees a number of brewers from around Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Japan and Belgium attending to take part in and even host events around Melbourne and regional Victoria.
I spoke to festival director and co-founder, James Smith about his increasingly popular event.
VC: Can you tell us a little bit about Good Beer Week and why you started it?
James: The Australian International Beer Awards have been running in Melbourne for more than two decades. In 2011, a few mates who worked in bars or as suppliers to the beer industry came up with the idea of running an event – a Great Beer Debate – to coincide with the awards.
They asked if I’d help promote it. One event became a week of events and, after much running around, Good Beer Week came into life with 50-odd events in May 2011 – now there are 250 events at 180 venues,. The aim at the start [which remains relevant] was to promote the growing “good beer” community. We wanted beer to be treated with the respect that is granted to other food and beverage products in Australia, be that wine, cheese or coffee – and where possible, blowing [Australian’s] minds. What’s interesting, looking back from year five, is that the wording of the Charter we wrote after year one has never had to change.
VC: What do you think are the most interesting or unique events this year?
James: Even and Davey Lane are playing a fundraising gig at Collingwood Children’s Farm, while it’s good to see other beverages brought into play too, such as the events making use of the three Japanese craft-brewing stars we have coming over: Hitachino Nest, Coedo and Baird. The former has a couple of events – one at Estelle Bistro and one at Shizuku where they’re pulling out their sake and umeshu, too
The Fox Scavenger Hunt always draws a huge crowd; while it’s great to see comedy, doom metal, arcade gaming, hand crafts and even a screening of The Departed, for which rising Sydney musical stars Shenanigans have brewed a special beer that they think the film’s characters would have loved. And The Everleigh’s event, where their mixologists have been challenged to create classic beers without using any beer, is a simple yet wonderful concept I’ve never seen before.
VC: Which guests from around the world are you most excited to have visit?
James: The Belgians! We’ve always been keen to showcase and tell the story of old-school legends that may not have the hype behind them. Among the Belgian brewers coming this year is Filip Sneppe, from Rodenbach, one of the most idiosyncratic and wonderful breweries there are.
I’m also excited about a couple of events I’m attending with Americans Jester King and Victory, two very different but equally iconic names from the States.
VC: Logistically what sort of work goes into putting on the week each year?
James: Each year we look to streamline things and already we’re planning for 2016. The logistical peaks are centred on the registration period each October and the subsequent curating of a program from those submissions, preparing the print and online programs for release in March along with accompanying Gala Showcase, and then the running of the festival itself. There are plenty of other things that fill the gaps, not least developing relationships with the likes of City of Yarra, Tourism Victoria and the City of Melbourne – all on board for the first time in 2015.
VC: Who are the team behind the week? Are they all beer lovers?
James: They have to be. On the committee, there’s a journo (me), an events / marketing professional, a beer rep / educator, a former venue manager turned major events guru, and a brewer. Assorted people with skills in social media, marketing, web development and so on, all who go well beyond the call of duty because they believe in what we’re trying to achieve, help create the gleaming machine that is Good Beer Week.
VC: Are there any events you would like to see in future years?
James: An Aussie craft beer tap takeover of all MCG bars at all AFL matches while Good Beer Week is on. Maybe it could be a mini-Pint of Origin with different stands representing different states. Over to you, AFL!
VC: Where can people find more information about Good Beer Week?
Print programs were sent to every participating venue, and a second drop takes place before the festival. We’re also sending several thousand to good beer venues interstate for the first time, thanks to Tourism Victoria. Alternatively, head to goodbeerweek.com.au to check it out online and buy tickets. You can download a PDF of the program from the site too.
Also keep an eye online as there’s plenty of coverage in the media. And one final tip: don’t hang around – many events have sold out already and tickets are selling faster than in any previous year.