Good Beer Week: Ten Years Of Beers

It's taking place a year later than planned, but when Good Beer Week returns on Friday (May 14), the team behind the weeklong beer extravaganza will have even more reason to be merry than usual: not only is it another sign of a return to normal after last year's lockdowns, but it's the festival's tenth anniversary too. 

A lot has changed in the years since a passionate group of beer lovers from various strands of the local industry came together in 2011 to create a celebration of the city's nascent craft beer scene. For one, that beer scene is a whole lot bigger, there are more breweries than at any time in Australia's history, and more bars now pour a wider selection of beers than ever. 

While it's not the country's longest-running – WA Beer Week holds that mantle – Good Beer Week's sheer scope and ambition helped inspire a fair few beer weeks both here and overseas, some of which have come and gone over the past decade. Yet, while the beer week concept is now well established, once upon a time there was a real novelty in the idea of pitting beer against wine at a dinner or showcasing a region's beers across a venue's entire tap lineup, let alone putting on bands at farms with canoes filled with cans, turning breweries into wrestling arenas, or hosting beer lunches on Puffing Billy. 

From 50-odd events – some very tenuously called "events" too, due to a desire to bolster the lineup in that first year – Good Beer Week grew to more than 300, attracting brewers and beer lovers from all over the planet, before merging with the Independent Brewers Association (IBA) in 2018.

Ahead of the festival's tenth birthday – in a year in which the global pandemic means it will arguably be more like it was in those earlier years – we caught up with some of the people who helped drive that first decade, as well as those who've enjoyed being part of the madness.

First, however, a short film reflecting on the very start – featuring some very youthful-looking familiar faces – produced for the Good Beer Week team by The Post Project.



Miro Bellini

Miro has been working in various roles in the beer world since he was old enough to do so: running venues, writing beer lists, educating bar teams, hosting events and more. He's been The Brooklyn Brewery's ambassador in Australia for the past few years and, more than anyone else, is what Good Beer Week would be if it was a human.


What was the first GBW event you went to? 

I was the MC for the Brooklyn Brewery beer dinner at Beer DeLuxe, which was pretty much the launch of Brooklyn Brewery for Australia.

It was [IBA head of events] Siobhan [Kerin]'s event, and she had pulled together an unreal pairing menu as usual, and I just got to stand up and present it. And claim the applause, of course. 


Is there any single moment from GBW's first decade that stands out for you?

Nope. The beauty of Good Beer Week is too complex for me to see or understand all at once, or pick out a moment that can stand alone. 

I suppose there’s a single feeling though; oftentimes I feel an intense feeling of buoyancy, togetherness, and all the senses are engaged. 


What does GBW mean to you?

Work, community, love, indulgence and storytelling.


What impact do you think it's had on the local beer scene?

I hope it positively affects volume and value, and hope many small businesses have found opportunity to grow.

I hope we have encouraged a joyful, thoughtful approach to drinking beer.


Has anything surprised you about GBW?

No. It’s gone mostly how I hoped and expected.


What are you looking forward to most at this year's GBW?

That I see the other founders, and find a moment to raise a glass.

 

Miro Bellini (front centre) with the GBW team and friends at the final event of 2013.


Taz Matthews

Taz will be a familiar face to many of the thousands who've embarked on a Pint of Origin crawl during Good Beer Week. Past roles include running the bar at The Catfish, although today you'll find her at Sydney brewers' home during the festival: the Rainbow in Fitzroy.


What was the first GBW event you went to? 

GABS 2012 – I spent a couple of years over in the UK working in hospitality and both falling in love with and immersing myself in the beer scene that was going absolutely gangbusters over there and, holy shit! Moving back here and seeing how much the local brewing scene had exploded, and the calibre of product, was incredible. 

I think my first actual GBW event outside of working was Cask Off at 3 Ravens in 2013 (see photo of the Holgate stand below). I have such a soft spot for cask ale – there's a real romance that goes into the nurturing and serving of cask – and seeing both the traditional and unconventional ways the breweries approached it was a real eye-opener to how the scene here was really pioneering beer around the country, yet still holding true to those historic brewing traditions that are often forgotten.


Is there any single moment from GBW's first decade that stands out for you?

Looking back, I think my biggest highlights of the weeks have been the little things that aren't directly related to the events themselves. There's the buzz around the venues and good beer precincts, seeing outlandish ideas conceived over a few brews come to fruition, the excitement on someone's face when they have that first sip of a hotly anticipated beer, being on the other side of town or in a regional city and running into old mates – the ones who were often met at previous GBWs – with the biggest smiles and a mountain of recommendations. 

And, of course, the closing parties at Beer DeLuxe where we finally get to catch up with our industry peers for a much-deserved beer, take a breather and reflect on how absolutely epic and ridiculous the past ten days have been – and always swear to take that month off booze that never seems to happen.


What does GBW mean to you?

It's like when you're a kid waiting for Santa to arrive – it's my favourite week of the year! Granted, usually by the time it arrives I'm utterly exhausted from spending months of hustling to get events off the ground, but it's worth every minute.

Without Good Beer Week, I doubt my passion for beer would be where it is today, my friendship circle wouldn't be filled with some of the most kickass, resilient and uplifting people you could ever meet, and it's enabled me to run some utterly insane events that would never have been viable without being included under the GBW umbrella.

 


What impact do you think it's had on the local beer scene?

It's absolutely transformed it! It's cemented Melbourne on the map as one of the great contemporary beer hubs of the world - we're no longer the land of over-carbonated, under-flavoured, amber swill, but pushing out some of the most exciting and innovative beers in the world.

It's put our locally-grown hops in high demand, kickstarted a career for so many avid homebrewers that wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to network and connect with so many established brewers, and certainly helped some apprehensive publicans and venue owners expand their beverage offering outside of the usual multinationals.


Has anything surprised you about GBW?

The inclusivity and melding of so many demographics. That, and the absolute lunacy of some our greatest beer minds and the ridiculously outlandish beers and events they conceive.


What are you looking forward to most at this year's GBW?

Catching up with familiar faces after the shitshow of 2020 is gonna be pretty special. Wrapping my lips around some tasty new brews is an equal second I reckon.



James Smith

The Crafty Pint founder happened to be in the Beer DeLuxe beer garden on the evening the Meddings brothers from Bintani and two of the venue's staff were discussing plans for an event that would eventually become Good Beer Week. He became its first festival director, stepping down in 2015 to focus on this publication.


What was the first GBW event you went to?

The first event: an AIBA Gold Medal Dinner at The Terminus – later our first Festival Hub – on the Monday night. Pete "Prof Pilsner" Mitcham hosted, Elbowskin performed Beer Song, the official song of the first festival, which only came about as I used to go to the footy a fair bit with Dave Elbow (not his real name). Early in the 2011 season, we caught up at the MCG for the first time since celebrating the Pies 2010 flag win until 4am the previous October and asked each other what we'd been up to:

"I'm helping start a beer festival."

"We're writing a song about beer."

Everything for a reason...

As for the rest of the event, who knows? Undoubtedly splendid. Or, at the very least, a huge relief it happened, was sold out, and went well.

 

Ern and Dave Elbowskin perform Beer Song at the first ever Good Beer Week event.

Is there any single moment of GBW that stands out for you?

I'd love to go for something other than the headline events, especially as there have been so many incredible moments, often incidental to the festival itself – random cab or train rides, the unexpected after-after-parties – but they do stand out, not least for the huge amount of effort that went into pulling them off. The Masterclasses of Champions – pairing local and international brewers for a brew day and feast with guests – were always great fun, as were the three Mega Degas I hosted, but I don't imagine anyone in attendance will forget the first Brew vs Cru.

It was The Brooklyn Brewery versus Ten Minutes By Tractor over five courses at Vue de monde – Garrett Oliver versus the winery's founder Martin Spedding, who'd enjoyed a long lunch getting to know each other on the Mornington Peninsula beforehand. I feared for Martin up against the beer world's most eloquent speaker and standing up for wine in a room full of (presumably) mostly beer people.

The two of them hit it off wonderfully – Garrett popped his iconic hat on Martin's head at the end – and the drinks – often the rarest of rarities pulled from cellars – and food were amazing. Beer claimed the win, but only by a narrow margin, nudged over the line by what's still the greatest food pairing I've had: Brooklyn's Cuvée la Boîte – a spiced Belgian ale – with onions three ways and bone marrow. I don't understand quite what happened in my mouth, but I suspect it was either magic or illegal. Or both.

 

The first Brew vs Cru at Vue de monde featuring The Brooklyn Brewery and Ten Minutes By Tractor.

What does GBW mean to you?

Triumph over adversity (at least from a founding member's perspective). But also that it crystallises so much of what's great about the beer and events worlds at their best: people coming together to celebrate the efforts of creative people in the company of like-minded souls, all in the spirit of joy and deliciousness.

That it's helped bring craft beer to a wider audience while establishing Melbourne as a global beer city of note along the way is pretty sweet too.


What impact do you think it's had on the local beer scene?

For ten days each year: wonderful disruption, at least across Greater Melbourne. Long term, it's generated huge interest in a beer scene that was still dismissed as a fad when it launched in 2011, becoming one of many key accelerator pads in craft beer's rise to the position of prominence it holds today.


Has anything surprised you about GBW?

How little support it's had from outside bodies that pump money into countless other events and organisations. Good Beer Week has long been a means by which Melbourne / Victoria could cement a place as a world leader in a fast-growing, colourful, creative and community-focused industry, yet government interest and backing has been fleeting and minimal. An opportunity squandered.


What are you looking forward to most at this year's GBW?

Catching up with some of the beautiful humans I've not seen since pre-COVID times. And attempting, finally, to win my personal Opening Night challenge: not finding myself with an imperial stout in my hand in the Beer DeLuxe beer garden after midnight. I don't know how it happens, but somehow it does…



Phil Meddings

Phil and Dale Meddings are part of the family behind industry supplier Bintani, founded by their dad Pete. They were involved in the initial conversations that led to Good Beer Week, going on to help support and fund the festival, while offering advice to the team. 


What was the first GBW event you went to?

That's gotta be a trick question, right? Even without the ten years passing, some of the best events are a little hard to remember sometimes. The opening night celebrations have been fantastic: Beer DeLuxe, the Terminus … all great nights.


What does GBW mean to you?

It’s like Christmas for beer lovers. People having fun and celebrating together.


What impact do you think it's had on the local beer scene?

Enormous. It has opened the eyes of Melbourne and beyond to the diversity and quality of beer that’s out there.


Has anything surprised you about GBW?

I can’t believe ten years have passed so quickly. Oh, and the Uber vouchers everyone got in the first year – I think it was the first year [Might have been year two, but I can't be sure either! – Editor]. Rocking up to events in black limos was pretty impressive. 


What are you looking forward to most at this year's GBW?

Crab-a-palooza!!!!



Kate Paterson

Kate was running events for Fed Square when Good Beer Week started to take shape. After hearing about it while discussing another festival, she joined the team six weeks before it debuted in May 2011. Following other adventures, such as working on Beervana in Wellington, she's now back in a key role at the IBA.


What was the first GBW event you went to? 

Gold Medal Dinner at the Terminus Hotel Fitzroy North with gold medal beers from the AIBAs. I had never been to a beer and food matching event before and was sat next to Pete "Prof Pilsner" Mitcham when he asked me what my palate thought of the matches. Not being from the beer world, I just pointed to the brown beer and said I liked that one with the pork belly. 

My knowledge of beer may be a bit better ten years later, but my delivery of tasting notes is still the same.

 

KP sharing the love in 2014.

Is there any single moment from GBW's first decade that stands out for you?

So many memories, so much has happened. It’s all a big mash up of fun, tears, flukes and hard work.


What does GBW mean to you?

It’s a hobby that got out of control. I never thought I’d be here ten years later. That’s what GBW does to you, it’s like this cheeky toddler that you encourage every year to go that little bit further and take bigger steps.


What impact do you think it's had on the local beer scene?

That it has encouraged non-beer specific venues to serve beers outside of their normal drinks portfolio. This in turn broadens the reach of new people to taste and buy good beer.

It's also encouraged anyone with enough passion, madness and time to get involved. We all started as volunteers and just wanted to put some good gigs on with good beer and good peeps.


Has anything surprised you about GBW?

Its rapid growth in popularity and its international reach and reputation. In the early days, I was meeting rockstar brewers and had no idea who these people were that Jimmy and Miro were frothing over. They drove the program and I was behind the scenes, up late at night, trying to make us look semi-professional by wrangling deals that even I am surprised people said yes to.


What are you looking forward to most at this year’s GBW? 

The year hiatus really hurt. The Melbourne team, the hospo and brewing community had a hard time. So I'm super keen to catch up with everyone, see venues and events sold out and pumping with excitement as life goes on.



Toby Kingsley

Toby's smiling face has been welcoming Good Beer Week goers to events for years, first while he was at The Great Britain Hotel and, these days, at the Cherry Tree in Cremorne, the spiritual successor to the GB. The pub has hosted regional Victorian brewers for Pint of Origin over the past few years as well as conceiving outlandish events of their own; just check out their promo for this year's Life Drawing event...


What was the first GBW event you went to?

Sadly, I missed the conception years as I was studying, and good beer to me at the time was whatever was tolerable/affordable at ALDI. 

So, my first event per se was when I started work at The Great Britain Hotel (may she rest in peace) eight years ago – one of our "From Home Brewer To Pro Brewer" events. 

I remember it quite vividly. We had enlisted the aid of one of our dearest regulars, Fudge, to help us with the catering for the event, for which he setup a 44 gallon drum in the beer garden, with a fire in it, to cook gumbo, of all things. Disastrously, Fudge opted to light his hobo firepit on the timber decking, and naturally a fire ensued. 

We had to use an empty keg as a battering ram, whilst screaming like banshees, to knock out a locked door and extinguish the inferno. Above us, on the stage, the Q&A session was in full swing, happily boozed and oblivious, although some later did report hearing our muffled screams. 

Since then, Fudge has attempted arson on the Cherry Tree at least three times but some of the budding homebrewers are now pro brewers purveying some delicious beers. All in all, a fairly good result.

 

A typically "great fun" Cherry Tree event: a "regatta" in cahoots with Sailors Grave.

Is there any single moment from GBW's first decade that stands out for you?

It's really hard to pin a single moment but it's been great to watch the week grow exponentially over the years, not just in the number of events but also in the cheeky quality of the ideas presented. Every year is like the beer equivalent of a trip to MONA. 


What does GBW mean to you? What impact do you think it's had on the local beer scene?

To that end, it means heaps to us here at the Cherry Tree. It's a chance to get creative with beer, something we're most passionate about. It's literally a pissing contest of great fun ideas.

Moreover, it brings people in, and gets people out. For our pub, it's bigger than Christmas, with the added bonus of not having to deal with once a year drinkers. A festivus for the beer loving rest of us.


What are you looking forward to most at this year's GBW?

The vexing problem of working during GBW is getting away from our pub to other events. Every year, I set an aspirational target to make it to at least two other PoO pubs, even if it's just for a 30-minute smash and grab.

Honestly, though, I'd love to make it to the Fox's Scavenger Hunt – everyone raves about it and this year, fingers crossed, we get enough respite to make it out.



Karl van Buuren 

It wasn't just one group of merry-minded beer lovers launching something built upon wild ideas in 2011; the Moon Dog story was taking shape. Founders Karl van Buuren and Josh and Jake Uljans may have been some way from opening a brewery with its own lagoon but they were already working out how to turn their madcap ideas into a unique reality.


What was the first GBW event you went to?

The first Good Beer Week was a big deal for Moon Dog. We attended in 2011 before we were even brewing on a commercial scale, and it really gave us the opportunity to show the beer community what we were about. We did some special kegs for a select few venues, which was our first real test to see if we were on the right track.

Beers like a Pineapple Brown Ale for Mrs Parma's, and a Chipotle Imperial Stout for The Local Taphouse stand out as some important milestones for us. I did really enjoy the event at the Local Taphouse when they tapped the stout through a randle filled with chipotle peppers. The beer sat in that randle overnight, and the first few pints the next day really put some hairs on your chest.

 

The photos you find lurking in the vaults... One of Moon Dog's very early (and very murky if memory serves) releases, at GBW 2011.

Is there any single moment from GBW's first decade that stands out for you?

Abbey Collabey has always been a favourite event of mine throughout the entire decade of GBWs. Getting together with Mountain Goat and Matilda Bay that first time and throwing hundreds of waffles into the kettle was a moment I’ll never forget.

And the party at Mountain Goat during the festival, seeing the whole industry get together for the unprecedented collaboration, was a lot of fun.


What does GBW mean to you?

Good Beer Week is very dear to us. Starting Moon Dog at the same time has meant we’ve grown together and it’s always going to be a part of who we are. Getting our beers into the hands of festival revellers is a very exciting and enjoyable time, and working together for ten years has helped not just us, but the entire industry evolve and learn to love good beer.


What impact do you think it's had on the local beer scene?

The impact has been huge. You just need to look at what the local craft beer scene was like ten years and how much it has grown and developed into one that focussed on local businesses, key players, and quality product. Seeing venues get involved in craft beer early on that may have not been able to be exposed to the market prior is very heartening.

It’s great to see so many new venues crop up around the popularity of good local beer, which in part can be attributed to the success of GBW.


Has anything surprised you about GBW?

I guess early on the large number of events that grew very quickly. The first Good Beer Week was very successful amongst the venues in the know at the time, and that success has encouraged other venues to branch out and offer events that may have not in the past.

Working in conjunction with breweries and restaurants, the surprise has been just how much the raw number of events has grown so quickly. Certainly, a good surprise.


What are you looking forward to most at this year's GBW?

Honestly, just that it’s happening. This is going to be the first major industry get together in over a year, and having breweries from all over the country able to fly down to Melbourne is very heart-warming. Being able to catch up with other members of the Australia-wide community that I’ve been so isolated from is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.



Michelle Vanspall

Through her roles for Northdown Craft Beer and Edge Brewing, Michelle has played a huge part in getting some of the most exciting international beers and brewers along to GBW events, as well as pairing those beers in fun and often delicious ways.


What was the first GBW event you went to? Where was it and what was it like?

Gosh, I've got the memory of a goldfish, and, no, I don't blame that on my beer consumption! 

I can't quite remember the very first event I went to but the first I remember having a blast at was probably the Mikkeller pop-up shop in Dr Morse, maybe six or so years ago. A full tap takeover, speciality and exclusive kegs, a whole stack of Mikkeller merch, and artworks being sold with DJs elevating the vibe throughout.

It was the first time I'd seen the beer geek world collide with the public and it was not only welcomed but celebrated! Prior to that, beer events I had been to were only targeted at beer people; only beer people attended, the language was only for beer people to comprehend, the conversations only revolved around beer speak. 

This Mikkeller event blew my mind due to the fact this was a super beer nerd event but it was open and encouraging to anyone to attend. It seemed like fun-loving people gathered and awesome beer was served and celebrated. I even took my "non-beer nerd" mates to all the following Mikkeller/Dr Morse events in the years that followed.


Is there any single moment from GBW's first decade that stands out for you? 

It's too big of an event to pinpoint a single moment. But I do however love how each year I've become better at preparing for the aftermath of each event so that I'm daisy fresh for all the back-to-back events.


What does GBW mean to you?

It's a celebration of something us industry folk are crazy passionate about, and it's our chance to share that passion with a wider demographic. It's such an inclusive event, it really has something for everyone, even if you don't like drinking beer! 

 

The Northdown / Edge team, founded by Adam Betts (third from right) was instrumental in bringing Japan's Baird Beer and Evil Twin together with Hawkers and KAIJU! for the 2015 Masterclass of Champions.

What impact do you think it's had on the local beer scene?

I believe it's had a profound impact on the beer scene. It has allowed craft beer to infiltrate a market that otherwise initially pushed back from craft beer. It highlighted the importance of sharing great beer, understanding where it comes from, small business supporting small business with collaborative events.

The public was invited to get to know the makers in a comfortable, inclusive environment. It helped redefine who should be drinking craft beer and it removed the stigma of what a craft beer drinker is. 


What are you looking forward to most at this year's GBW?

To make up for missing last year. Hydralytes are ready to go!



Matthew Beggs

Matthew, or Beggsy, is one of the biggest, most enthusiastic supporters of craft beer you'll find anywhere in Australia. The primary school teacher has even been named as the festival's number one ticketholder ahead of this year's event.


What was the first GBW event you went to? Where was it and what was it like?

I attended a range of different Pint of Origins in 2012, after I ended up falling into the launch of Epic's One Trick Pony in 2011. To tell you the truth, the first one – Pint of Origin WA at the Great Northern – was because I wanted to find a pub where I could enjoy beer and footy on a Saturday afternoon; not much has changed to be honest. Getting to try beers from WA was such a nice thing and really did start to open my eyes up to what beer could be. 

It went into real overdrive in 2013, especially as the whistle had been whetted the previous year so to speak. Once I was down the rabbit hole I was never going to come back out.


Is there any single moment from GBW's first decade that stands out for you?

The moment that stood out for me has involved one event that has become a family tradition since 2015, and that has been the events at Whisky & Alement. It's been great watching palates being challenged in such a wonderfully welcoming environment, and nothing I think will beat the awesome almost shock that my dad had when he drank a glass of Brooklyn Brewery's Framboise Assay in 2016 at Tropical Secrets From Brooklyn. Still brings a massive smile to my face almost five years later.

 

One of many Brooklyn events mixing beer and other beverages at Whisky & Alement. Photo by Ricky Sullivan.

What does GBW mean to you?

It's been such an amazing and wonderful part of my life and helped shape the person that I am today. The friends I have made and the memories from the events I have attended are something that I will cherish forever.

I always feel Good Beer Week continues to show Melbourne at its absolute best. The camaraderie and the communal nature of the whole week is something that always manages to bring a smile to my face.


What impact do you think it's had on the local beer scene?

It has allowed people to feel comfortable in taking risks and trying new beers and flavours in a comfortable environment. Each year, you watch the events change and the attitudes towards beer that change alongside it.

I think each year there are new people coming to events who otherwise wouldn't, or discovering new beers and styles through attending PoOs, which would not be happening if there was not such an amazing week that encourages such things.


Has anything surprised you about GBW?

I think the one thing that has surprised me is being able to go to experiences that are well and truly outside of my comfort zone. I honestly feel by attending a range of different events involving sours and similar beer styles I have developed an appreciation of them that I never thought I would have.

That, and the fact that the amazing community continues to grow year on year in a way that ultimately makes the Melbourne beer scene a far more inclusive and inviting space.


What are you looking forward to most at this year's GBW?

I think this year it is two-fold. Making up for lost time after not having the experiences in 2020 – I definitely feel my shortlist is going to make up for some lost time. And attending some of the classic events that have shaped so many people's experiences of the week such as Abbey Collaby, Moon Dog Karaoke, and Whisky & Alement, of course.

Oh, and also being able to share some truly remarkable beer experiences with some truly amazing lifelong friends that I wouldn't have met if it wasn't for Good Beer Week.



Good Beer Week kicks off this Friday (May 14) with an Opening Party at Beer DeLuxe Fed Square. The Crafty Pint-curated Pint of Origin runs throughout, and features an IPA Blind Tasting Championship pitting all 14 regions against each other on May 21 (less than ten tickets left at time of writing).

Thanks to the IBA team for sharing images from the photo shoot taken in the lead up to the cancelled 2020 festival. Some of the faces may have changes in the 16 months since...

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