June 2, 2014 by 250 Beers
Melbourne’s Good Beer Week was in fact only three days long for me. I headed down from Brisbane on Thursday 22nd May to overindulge in the final stages. The visit enabled the consumption of 95 beers of various sizes – 85 of them different, 72 of them unique to me. It also saw me take in a number of events – two of them major. I’ve decided to break up my experiences, shenanigans and memory loss induced skullduggery into a number of episodes. Episode one can be found here. Below is the second – ‘The Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA)’…
Having wandered back to the hotel that would be home for three nights, I spruced myself up and slid (maybe squeezed) into a business shirt and suit. The official dress code for the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA) dinner and ceremony was ‘cocktail’. I won’t lie – I don’t own a proper dinner suit. One of those over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders – yes, but no dinner suit. I felt that my bright yellow mankini would be frowned upon by the RASV organisers besides, it was particularly chilly with a crisp, biting wind in Melbourne that night and I didn’t want to totally embarrass myself. You know what I’m saying.
Room mate Michael Conrad from Newstead Brewing Co. – who had arrived in Melbourne that afternoon too – explained that I should take a free tram ride down to the AIBA venue at Docklands. I seem to use the phrase ‘when in Rome’ a fair bit but it couldn’t have been any more appropriate in that instance. So, teeth chattering in the breeze, I stood at a nearby tram stop dressed up to the nines and waited for the rickety old route 35 tram to whisk me off to the 22nd annual AIBAs.
I’d never been to Melbourne before (it’s a long story) so I had no idea where I was going. It was somewhat miraculous then that I hopped off at the right stop. A brisk walk around the corner and a few moments later I had arrived at Central Pier, Harbour Esplanade in Docklands.
What a fantastic setting. The venue was surrounded by water with moored luxury vessels as a back-drop – the type that I will only ever dream of owning. There were happy-go-lucky, well presented doormen scattered around the entrance and I managed to catch the eye of the nearest guy. I then nodded towards the largest, gleaming, multi-million dollar yacht, pretended to throw him a set of keys and said “If anybody comes, just move it.”
All within the space of five seconds his otherwise welcoming demeanour evolved into a panicked faux catch (I didn’t actually toss anything in his direction) and then a stare that spoke no words but could easily be translated into “You pommy prick.”
I had no idea what to expect once inside although I was certain of two things; I knew there would be lots of good beer on offer and I knew that I’d be rubbing shoulders with the who’s who – the crème de la crème – of the beer world. I took a deep breath and entered. The first person I saw – bear in mind this huge foyer was bustling with hundreds of people – was Dan Rawlings from Fortitude Brewing. Crème de la crème? Bullshit! No offence Dan. I was right about one thing though – an abundance of beer on offer.
It turns out that every beer available that night had been entered into the awards to be judged. These were beers that had been submitted from near and far – from Australia and from overseas. I set out to grab a bottle of something that I’d never heard off because the chances of me seeing many of these beers again were slim. I swiped a pale ale called Shiner Wild Hare from Spoetzl Brewery (USA) from the tray of a passing waiter-type chap, edged past Mr Rawlings who was holding court and ran into Simeon Bonetti from Brisbane Brewing Co. I was alone and miles from the comfort of my own surroundings yet I bumped into two brewers from Brisbane in a room holding 750 guests.
Once we’d all been asked to take our seats I scampered off into the dimly lit yet strikingly glamorous main room to find my table – it was one of seventy-five and slap-bang at the front just to the side of the stage. In terms of view it was one of the best seats in the house. I shared my table with three popular beer writers – Pete Mitcham, Kirrily Waldhorn and Matt Kirkegaard. Also present were fellow British expats Paul from publishing giant Intermedia and the engaging Vanessa from Wrights – the PR firm that had put the whole event together with the RASV. There were four other guests opposite me that I didn’t get a chance to speak to. I bet they were really pissed off about that. Yeah, right!
Three courses of magnificent food came and went. A glut of beer came and kept coming too. I should mention that every table had a large silver bowl as a centrepiece containing ice and a pile of different beers from who knows where. Each table had been furnished with different stock and it was quite amusing to watch folk swap beers with other tables.
The announcements of award winners and trophy presentations commenced during the third course – which was an amazing sight in itself. I wasn’t paying enough attention to be able to convey exactly what it was but all you need to know is that it contained chocolate and popping candy and was served with Mornington Peninsula’s Imperial Stout. Yesss!
I’ve been to a few awards nights in my time and they can be really boring and drag on into a yawnfest. Not this one – the AIBAs were schmick. Compèred by Paul Mercurio, the handing out of gongs appeared to run like a dream. Winners were encouraged to approach the stage, step up, accept the award from and shake hands with the associated sponsor, smile for an official photographer and then sit back down whilst being applauded by the room full of guests. A few winners chose to spout a few gracious thank you’s into the microphone. One of which was Matt Kirkegaard who claimed the inaugural AIBA media award for his continued excellent journalistic and informative approach to Australian Brews News. I had a strong feeling that Matt had won before it was announced. Everybody had slipped off their suit jackets once seated yet just prior to Matt stepping up for his accolade, he’d slid his jacket back on. Cunning observation by yours truly or coincidence? Who cares. Well done Matt.
Once the awards were all done and dusted I walked the room to chat with a few familiar faces and slap a few backs in congratulations. So many happy faces, so many smiles and a lot of love, admiration and respect for one and other.
This year, a record 1,560 entries from nearly 300 breweries from more than 30 countries were received. The full list of winners can be found here.
At the exit was a table stacked with bottles of the AIBA 2014 collaboration beer brewed by the three 2013 Australian Champion Breweries – Carlton & United (Champion Large), Feral Brewing (Champion Medium) and 2 Brothers (Champion Small). It’s a six per cent lager called Land of Plenty. I grabbed one or two…..maybe three or four.
It was then off to Beer DeLuxe in Federation Square for the after-party. To say that this venue was represented heavily by Brisbane would be an understatement. Wow, what a showing. It’s fair to comment that there would have been more beer industry folk from Brisbane in that one spot than actually in Brisbane that night! I think I ended up in bed around 2am.
Day one over and done with. I was kinda liking Melbourne already.
Stay tuned for Episode Three…