Good Beer Week : The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular

The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular (lovingly referred to as 'GABS') has firmly cemented itself as one of the best beer festivals in the world, and it's back once more to prove why with its biggest incarnation yet. For co-creator, bar owner and beer impresario Steve Jeffares, the desire to add even more elements has been the culmination of a lot of hard work and a serious passion for one of Australia's favourite beverages.

"It'll raise the bar on the event again and that stuff's important to us," Jeffares says. "It keeps it interesting for us, and I think that's the reason why the event continues to grow so much every year – because even if you've been before – the best thing that we hear from people is they say, 'I went last year or the year before, and it was fantastic, but I went this year and it's taken it up another level.' That's the best compliment that we can get. It means that we're doing something right."
Over the past six years, the SpecTAPular has seen over 700 completely unique beers from brewers across the nation and beyond. This year, there's another 170 beers and ciders specially made for the event, representing an incredible diversity of flavours. GABS functions not just as a paradise for the thirsty and imaginative, but also as an invitation to discover the stories behind the beers and the people who make them.
"The only criteria that we've ever put on brewers is that it must be a beer or cider that they've never made before," Jeffares says. "Some people get super creative with the ingredients and the processes. Others make a style that might be more traditional in its approach, sometimes with a twist. Each year runs the gamut."
Providing the platform for brewers to push the boundaries to a receptive audience, GABS has seen some truly unique creations. Though mostly produced as one-offs, some beers prove so popular that they become Australia-wide hit sellers, such as Two Birds' 'Taco' - a beer made with lime, coriander, wheat and corn, dreamed up on a plane between San Diego and Los Angeles after a healthy session of fish tacos. Melbourne brewery La Sirène made a well-received beverage from Belgian praline chocolate, and New Zealand brewery Yeastie Boys created their biggest-selling, award-winning beer at GABS with Earl Grey tea leaves. This year, you'll see a beer clear as water with the flavour of a stout, and replications of espresso martinis and fruit tingle cocktails. Is it possible to pick favourites?
"I'm fortunate enough that we get to try an awful lot of beers," Jeffares says. "We also have a new brewery in Collingwood called Stomping Ground, there alone we've produced about 40 or 50 beers in the last ten to 12 months. So variety is the spice of life, very much. I was asked recently what my desert island beer would be, and it would certainly be a hoppy beer of some description – probably an IPA. There's a reason that IPAs and pale ales are incredibly popular in this country and others. I'm no different."
Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland now all play host to the festival, with Jeffares hoping to bring in a whopping 35,000 attendees into all three cities. Starting from humble beginnings and a curious thirst, it's been a huge success for both Jeffares and co-creator Guy Greenstone.
While working as a filmmaker in Los Angeles in 2000, Jeffares discovered iconic craft beer bar Father's Office in Santa Monica through his landlady's bartender friend. A rusted-on mainstream beer drinker,  Jeffares' world was changed. After returning home, he opened a little bar called the St Kilda Local, which Greenstone frequented. The pair became good mates and business partners.
The St Kilda Local eventually expanded into The Local Taphouse around 2008, and its success saw another opened in Darlinghurst the following year. GABS itself came about as part of a project to make a full calander of exciting beer events, each representing a different theme. In 2011, they asked the best brewers in the country – whom they then knew by name – to make special beers for the event. They were smash hits, and the rest has become history.
"It was a bit of a lightbulb moment," Jeffares says. "We'd been looking for some way that we could broaden the 'church' of people that we could preach to, and this was the idea. We took it to the Royal Exhibition Building and super-sized it; I think we got about 7,000 to 8,000 people in that first year. It almost sent us broke. It took a lot of convincing of our wives to let us do it again. Really, the rest has been a nice evolution. It's been timed well, by accident, really. As our interest grew, the festival grew and the audience grew for the festival. It's incredible really, from what's happened in the last few years to where we are now."
By Jacob Colliver

The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular takes place at the Royal Exhibition Building across five sessions from Friday May 19 - Sunday May 21.