If you have even a passing interest in alternative music you’ll know the feeling; the sweet and sour moment that your favourite band gets their first mainstream hit. You’re happy for them, really you are, but you are aware that it’s never going to be the same again. You know that there will now be tossers at the gigs who will ‘woo’ when that one song they know starts and then sit there bored for the remainder of the set.
But not you, you have been with this band for years, you saw them at the Tote on a Wednesday night when there were only nine people in the crowd. You turned up to gigs early to see them when they were supporting bigger acts, you were the true fan, you’ve done the hard yards.
There was just a touch of this feeling at the Victorian Microbreweries Showcase last week. It is entirely possible that this is the moment when Victorian craft beer crossed over from struggling pub band playing to three men and a dog to a bone fide hit. Okay not a bona fide Triple MMM type of hit, but a darling of Triple J, might get in the top 30 in the Hottest 100 type of semi hit.
The primary opening line of any conversation at the event was “Christ it’s busy in here,” generally followed by “Fuck it’s hot.” Now Fed Square atrium is not a small space, I’d take a guess you can fit 500-600 people in there, but I’d also suggest that the Showcase has outgrown the space. You would have to think that they are either going to have to move to a bigger space, do this event over three or four nights (I’m not sure this would be popular with the breweries), or sessions; maybe an afternoon and an evening session.
The situation on Thursday was amazing. It started at 4.30pm, we arrived at about 4.40pm to find a queue maybe 150 people deep winding its way up Flinders street and this was only for people who pre-booked tickets, there was a whole other queue to the walk-up tickets. At about 4.50pm we were told it was ‘Sold-out’ (they would be releasing more tickets at about 6.30-7.00pm when some people left). It was 5.10pm before we got in.
We were meant to be meeting four friends inside, but they were all walk-up’s so they never got inside. How many people missed out on tickets? God knows, but if there were 600 odd people inside, there was probably another 300-400 who were turned away. Do the maths people, if this happened on Wednesday as well there are close to 2,000 people in Melbourne who are interested enough in craft brewing to fork out $25 to come to a beer tasting.
We are absolutely on the cusp of something very big in the Victorian Microbrewery scene, but there are also going to be some growing pains. It feels a little bit like the industry is a brewery itself and all its tanks are full, demand is outstripping supply. Taking the next step though is a big call and will require capital and organisation that most breweries just don’t have.
This is not a criticism of the organisers or the breweries themselves, they all do a great job, simply an observation that the event is changing. It is clearly also something that other people are noticing. I note James ‘Crafty Pint’ Smith was running a ‘meet the brewers’ session (sadly poorly attended as it got lost in hustle and bustle of the showcase) because it’s now so difficult to actually chat to the brewers when sampling the beers.
I just hope that with all this interest we don’t lose some of the magic as it gets more mainstream.
Of course we were actually there for the beer and though I’m not going to tell you about everything I tried, there were a few interesting brews and breweries that deserve a mention. I finally got to try the Bridge Road Dog’s Breakfast and it was worth the wait, a great smooth and smoky taste (somehow I forgot to try the Nogne O collaboration brew, it’s gets frantic and I always forget something). Cavalier’s Brown Ale also impressed with big sweet caramel flavours.
There were new beers and breweries galore. I had a couple of beers, an American Pale Ale and a Weizen from brand new brewery Black Heart Brewery, and they were both very nice beers. The Weizen in particular seemed to have people raving about it.
The Two Bird’s Golden Ale, which will be officially launched in the next few days, turned out to be a very sessionable beer that is sure to be to this summer what Stone and Wood Pacific ale was to last summer.
The beer of the night for me was a surprise though. Red Duck’s New Holland a limited release available from November 3rd. It was unlike anything else I had at the showcase. It had this big aniseed flavour, well worth checking out if you get the chance.