Sydney Beer Week is to return in 2024, bringing to an end a six-year beer week drought for the city's beer lovers. The comeback is being spearheaded by two faces that will be familiar to many in the local beer world, who have targeted October for the festival's comeback.
The people responsible for reviving the event that last ran in 2018 are Pete Anstey (above right), from the Oscars Group that counts Hotel Sweeney's within its portfolio, and Josh Quantrill, currently national channel manager for 4 Pines after previously working for Capital Brewing and BrewDog.
Their intention is to make the new Sydney Beer Week a venue- rather than brewery-led affair as they look to inject fresh life into the city's beer scene, pointing out that Sydney is "a really massive market" that's been missing out as other parts of the country have hosted beer weeks, major beer awards and other events that have attracted beer drinkers and industry people alike.
"I was talking to Josh initially and saying we know everyone seems to be having their beer events," Pete told The Crafty Pint. "From our point of view, what has New South Wales done wrong? Why aren't we shouting louder about the amazing beer and amazing breweries we have in the state?"
He approached Dave Phillips, currently at Shipyard Brewing in the US, who had bought Sydney Beer Week – originally Sydney Craft Beer Week – from its founder in 2016, and enquired about his intentions for the festival.
"I asked if I could take it off his hands, and he said he'd been waiting for the time someone would call," Pete says. "The ball kind of started rolling from there: I had more serious conversations with Josh and he thought it sounded bloody good.
"We're going to have a crack and will probably make some mistakes, but we have to do the heavy lifting to put beer back on the map in Sydney and New South Wales. We've come through COVID, all the other states have picked up where they were prior to COVID even though trade has completely changed, so it's just time.
"We need to start celebrating our breweries, our venues, and our people."
Up until today's announcement, the pair have kept their plans close to their chests, and this represents, as much as anything, an early indication of their intentions. They're not taking registrations and don't have any specifics for the beer week – still a year away – in place, but they are eager to hear from anyone in the local beer industry who would like to be involved.
Josh talks about the "incredible level of knowledge and skillsets in the beer industry in New South Wales" as well as the support they believe will be there, confident "that they're as excited as we are".
"We do get to events around the country," he says, "and there's a bit of, 'What are you doing next month?' and you're off to all these places around the country. You get to the point when you ask, 'When is everyone coming here?'
"I love going to people's houses for dinner parties, but sometimes I like to host as well. Now we want to have people around to our place to try our food."
It's a handy metaphor for their plans, as the intention is to entice people into venues to deliver memorable experiences and offer education along the way, both things they feel were central to craft beer's explosion in the last decade but which have been, to a large extent, forgotten – something we commented on in a recent analysis of the state of play in Australia.
"The experience has to be the main part," Josh says, "whether that's educational or just trying something they wouldn't have picked up themselves. That's why there's such a strong hospitality focus."
Pete adds: "Things were very different when we were coming through and craft beer was in its infancy. The brewer was probably the person pouring the beer at any festival, we all learned about tasting profiles.
"We've hit this point where a lot of people in our industry are in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and we want to get that next generation into drinking good liquid. That's paramount for creating demand in venues for licensees to put craft beer back into the picture."
The hope is that the new Sydney Beer Week will help encourage more venues – particularly those in the bigger pub groups – to give greater opportunities to smaller brewers. Pete says during the early years of the COVID pandemic the industry did a good job of persuading such operators of the value of supporting the guys "with their kids in the local school", but more recently independents have found themselves locked out of the market.
"We just need more taps to be available to pour beers so that independent brewery guys can have access," he says. "Right now, we're effectively encouraging beer drinkers to sit at home because they can't get the beers they want to try on tap anymore."
That said, next October's event won't focus solely on independent brewers, as you'd expect given where the men driving it are employed. Instead, Josh says they want to "include all brands making good beer".
"We're aware of where we sit in the market," he adds. "One working for CUB and one for Oscars. But that doesn't mean that we don't want to do what's right for all parties: to get good beer to the consumer.
"We just want to offer really good beer through really good experiences to continue getting more beer into more venues."