GABS Beer, Cider & Food Fest is coming to New Zealand for the first time this week. Organiser Steve Jeffares says he hopes it won’t be the last time.
“Last September we had some of the brewers in New Zealand tell us there wasn’t going to be an Auckland beer festival this winter and they felt GABS would be a good fit. We rang around and asked (Kiwi) brewers if they’d support us and all of them said they would.”
Steve and business partner Guy Greenstone (pictured above) set up GABS in 2011. Their experience with two craft beer bars in Australia – the Local Taphouses – had already made them fans of New Zealand beer, so when they moved into events they brought their favourite Kiwi brewers along. “We’ve held New Zealand beer festivals at the Local Taphouses and even had New Zealand government support for our events. New Zealand brewers have been a part of GABS since 2012.”
GABS began in Melbourne, with the first Sydney event held last year. The Sydney gig was bigger and better this year, and Steve expects the Auckland event to follow the same path.
“Sydney last year was a one-day event. It was small but a great success. This year we expanded to two days and the attendance grew by 65%. It shows there’s an interest in what GABS can offer and it’s clearly similar in New Zealand. So Auckland is a trial and we wouldn’t be over in New Zealand for a one-off event. We certainly hope people who attend this event enjoy it and it can form the foundations that grow into a bigger event in the years ahead.”
Moving into Auckland meant coming to terms with the city’s tougher licencing regulations.
“The (Auckland police and licencing authority) are far more rigorous in making sure its run responsibly and I don’t have any beef with that. I understand they’ve had events in the past that have given them what they feel was cause for concern.
“I flew over to Auckland last October to meet with the police and licencing authority, and they were very gun shy about any beer events. We met for two hours and explained what our event was and how we went about it, and they eventually came around and believed we were responsible operators. They will be keeping a very close eye on the event and will be attending, which is certainly something we’ve not had in the past in Melbourne or Sydney.”
Steve points out GABS is about trying small amounts of many different beers, rather than repeat steins of the same brew. “It’s about learning about beer, sampling beer, and we hope people who attend the Auckland event will understand it’s not a swillathon. If all you do at GABS Auckland is get a hangover then you’ve missed a great event.”
And that range of beers is unique. “It’s not an Australian festival that we’re shoehorning into Auckland. This is very much a New Zealand festival in the GABS model.
“We’ll have 65 festival beers and ciders, of which the majority are made in New Zealand. We could have brought the 120 festival beers we showcased in Melbourne and Sydney, but it is really important to us to have New Zealand breweries in the majority. Some of the Auckland festival beers were not available in Australia, they’re new for GABS Auckland, and that’s pretty exciting. I know there’s a contingent coming over from Australia and one of the reasons they’re coming is because we have enough unique festival beers to make it interesting.” Get a copy of the GABS Official Guide to preview the beers on offer.
“All up we’re hoping to have 4-5000 people attending the event. We hope it will grow in the same way Melbourne and Sydney grew, but we’re realistic. The average person in Auckland hasn’t heard of us yet, and we’re coming in with expectations of putting on a great show for everyone who turns up.”