Two of the biggest names in the Australian beer festival landscape are set to become one with the Great Australian Beer Festival (GABF) crew joining forces with the team from BeerFest Australia. Kieran Blood, director at Australian Beer Ambassadors, which runs GABF in both Geelong and Albury, told The Crafty Pint his business has welcomed new partners in the shape of BeerFest founders James Harding and Stacy File.
Since the two event companies launched – in 2013 in the case of GABF, 2010 for BeerFest, which has held large scale festivals in WA, Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland over that period – Kieran and James have regularly worked together whenever they could and, as with many breweries, the former says competition means collaboration as much as anything.
“We’re both ex-publicans – we hit it off years ago,” Kieran says. “I’ve known James a fair while and we’ve been on the blower a few times.”
While he had talked to others about coming on board in the past, he says James and Stacy were always the natural choice, particularly given their successful 2020, during which they managed to run six COVID-safe events despite the unique challenges. The last GABF took place in Geelong in February 2020, with Kieran saying he spent his time filling out smoke haze reports rather than worrying about COVID protocols.
The GABF founder says the past year has proved the BeerFest operators are ability to work flexibly with various COVID requirements and, while the festival brands have their own distinct personalities, he belongs there's much that unites them, not least their plans for growth in the near future.
“They’re just very good operators and this is exciting for GABF,” Kieran says.
“We’ve got a passion for craft beer, but we’ve got a real passion for hospitality and events as well, and a big part of that is delivering a memorable event.”
While his main focus will remain on driving the festivals in Geelong and Albury, which are set to run on January 15 and February 5, 2022, respectively, Kieran will also be on the ground working with the BeerFest team at their events; the next of those is set for Fremantle in November.
Major events remains a riskier proposition thanks to COVID – Adelaide's Beer & BBQ Fest has just been moved back to September after the SA government tightened restrictions – he says there's plenty organisers can do to run a beer festival safely.
It's a view echoed by James, who believes the events landscape now is in better shape than a year ago. What's more, he and Stacy have had a full year in which to learn how to develop COVID-safe plans – and how to adapt them even at the last minute.
“It was really scary times 12 months ago,” he says. “We were writing CVOID plans from scratch that were constantly evolving, and now we’ve got a good baseline foundation of how things need to look.”
Despite those challenges, the most recent series of BeerFests were their largest in terms of sales, with their ability to pull off each event within the different requirements in each state something he believes is due to the creativity inherent in the events space.
“The nature of events people is they’re out the box thinkers who like to be nimble and dynamic; you’ve got to put that into place with health and safety plans where things can change at the drop of the hat,” he says.
He also believes joining forces with the GABF team will bring more of that creativity under one roof.
“There's now a few more creative people at the table but with different skillsets,” he says.
“It’s more renewed energy. We almost feel like we’re hitting things fresh again with new ideas – and we’re really motivated.”