Excitement brews for return of beer festival
Geelong Beer Festival founder Kieran Blood has a feeling his upcoming event in the new year will be savoured that little bit more by those who gather in Johnstone Park.
After almost two years of tough times for the event industry during the pandemic, the easing of restrictions has seen beer lovers embrace the upcoming festival with strong early ticket sales.
“There’s just a general vibe – or whatever you want to call it – in the industry, you can just hear it in people’s voices at the moment,” he says of the excitement that’s building in the lead-up to the January 15 event.
“Everybody is excited to be up and about again.
“Every time I’ve spoken to the Melbourne breweries they are saying ‘I just can’t wait to get to a beer festival and do that again’.
“After the last year we’ve had – it has been that extraordinary.
“Events were the first to close and the last to open, basically, so having them back is sensational.”
The Great Australian Beer Festival Geelong will be one of the first ticketed events in the region and a new feature is the introduction of two sessions – a day session from 11am to 4pm and an evening session from 5pm to 10pm.
The day session will feature masterclasses and entertainment includes The Badloves, The Settlement, and local acts The Violas and Izzy Losi.
“It’s more of the beer garden, kick back and have a few beers atmosphere during the day,” Kieran says.
“People can come in for the day session and then head into town for dinner so I think the format works really well.”
The evening session will be headlined by Art vs Science, along with Pirateska Rebellion, Beans and Immy Owusu. Piano Bar and roving performers will also provide entertainment.
A total of 35 breweries will feature at the festival, with seven new additions to the line-up in 2022.
Kieran says the festival continues to diversify, just as the breweries have during the pandemic in developing new offerings.
“Probably a third of our brewers now have got a range of different products that include things like seltzers and gins and different premium spirits,” he says.
“There are so many options with beers, seltzers, gins and we also have Archive Wine Bar from High Street in Belmont serving wines.
“It’s a social occasion like a big beer garden – a big picnic with music in the background.
“But it’s also an opportunity to learn about and appreciate beer.
“It’s a well-rounded event – we’re a beer festival in our name but we’re a real social event.
“It is an opportunity to sip and sample and socialise is what we like to say.”
The first Geelong Beer Festival was held in 2013 and since then Kieran has formed a partnership BeerFest Australia which runs events around the country.
He says teaming up with James Harding and Stacy File from BeerFest will only help to make the local festival bigger and better than before.
Each of the two sessions will be limited to 5000 people per session to ensure there is plenty of room to move, mingle and soak up the atmosphere.
“Even though we don’t have restrictions on density quotiants or that sort of thing, we’re sticking to one person per four square metres,” Kieran explains.
“There’s a couple of reasons for that.
“Firstly, it’s giving people a sense of safety and security that they’ve got the space to move but it’s also an opportunity for them to be able to mingle with the brewers.
“They’ll be heaps of room to get a space with a picnic blanket and really enjoy the day.
“Johnstone Park is an absolutely sensational space for us and the accessibility is excellent with having the train station right there.
“We are hitting up to 55 per cent Melbourne audience to date … and we are sitting at 87 per cent of our sales being from outside the region which is phenomenal. I’ve never seen it that high before.”
Kieran, who is based in Ballarat, is passionate about the craft beer movement and has been in hospitality all his life, having managed and owned hotels around Victoria and in London.
“I had a hotel in Port Melbourne and the objective with that from the very start was to have different styles of beer,” he says.
“I opened that pub in early 2004 and I remember having Coopers and Mountain Goat on tap. Mountain Goat were basically one of the first, other than Little Creatures, to really hit the craft beer market.
“As soon as I tasted those different beers, I was off and running basically,” he adds, with a laugh.
When he decided to take a break from hospitality Kieran made the move into events and the festival idea was born.
He says watching this region’s craft beer industry thrive is a wonderful thing.
“The Geelong region’s beer industry is just going from strength-to-strength across Geelong, the Bellarine, Surf Coast and the Otways.
“It’s a real range of experiences for people who visit because there is coastal, urban, rural and rainforest locations.
“That’s one bit of feedback we do get from our brewers is that after the event they definitely have flow-on visitation whether it be the same weekend as the festival or further down the track.”
To discover more about the Great Australian Beer Festival Geelong and to buy tickets go to the ‘gabfgeelong’ website and follow along on Instagram @geelonggabf.