Illawarra breweries take on international beer festival

Illawarra Brewing Company's Dave McGrath, Shaun Blissett and Ashur Hall will be rubbing shoulders with some of the best brewers in the world at a Melbourne beer festival later this month. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Illawarra Brewing Company's Dave McGrath, Shaun Blissett and Ashur Hall will be rubbing shoulders with some of the best brewers in the world at a Melbourne beer festival later this month. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Two South Coast breweries have been invited to take part in an international beer festival in Melbourne later this month.

Called the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular (or GABS to the beer aficionados) it's a three-day festival in Melbourne from May 23-25.

The event is part of Good Beer Week - a very beery nine days from May 17-25 - which is now in its fourth year.

The Illawarra Brewing Company and Nowra's HopDog BeerWorks will be joining breweries from around Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Japan and the US at GABS, which really is a beer festival with a difference. See, to take part in the event you have to make a brand new beer, something you've never made before.

So with 120 breweries taking part that means 120 beers that punters will be able to try for the first time.

The beer that Illawarra Brewing Company (IBC) is taking down to Melbourne is a session IPA they've tagged Resin Dog (yes, based on the 1990s Australian hip-hop act).

Brewers Ashur Hall and Shaun Blissett decided on the 5.5 per cent beer because a lot of other brewers were making much stronger beers.

"We hadn't decided what to do when the list of the majority of GABS beers came out," said Hall.

"We had a look at it and there were a lot of high alcohol beers on there - 8.5 per cent and above. It seemed like it was heavily weighted to rich, heavy beers.

"We had a chat about it and decided to do something that was a bit lighter in alcohol and that was an IPA.

"We were thinking of names and Shaun said 'I'd always wanted to call a beer Resin Dog'."

As well as Resin Dog, the IBC is making a black IPA - another beer they've never made before - for a cask bar at a festival stall.

The style, which originated in Britain, sees beers served from a cask rather than a keg and with no carbon dioxide or refrigeration.

The result is a beer with little carbonation, a rounder mouthfeel and often a slightly more complex flavour and aromatic profile.

Tim Thomas, owner and brewer at HopDog BeerWorks in Nowra, has made something a little more complicated for GABS.

His beer is a 6.5 per cent blood orange and red grapefruit saison, aged in shiraz barrels and infected with brettanomyces. Yes, infected, but in a good way. More breweries are experimenting with what they like to tag "Brett".

"There are some very strange things that happen when you use Brett, which is a bacteria that sours beer," Thomas said.

"Basically it adds horsey characteristics, sourness, a lot of what people call barnyard as well.

"It's so intense in its character that it does freak a lot of people out. But used in the right way and in good beers, that you're willing to destroy, it's lovely.

" The dryness is one other thing that's really, really lovely."

Thomas, like the IBC team, is appearing at GABS for the third straight year. For him, the appeal of the festival is a chance to create something different.

"It's all to do with one-offs and something you've never brewed before, Thomas said.

"So it does make you think 'Oh, I have always wanted to do something like that' or 'We've never had the chance to brew XYZ style, so let's give it a try this time'.

"If it's a one-off it may never be done again so let's pull out all the stops."

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