By BeertownNZ Fri, 08 Jul 2016 National

Beervana organiser Beth Brash says the festival isn’t just for the beer geeks.

“I would like Beervana to be a gateway-beer festival, where people who are beer-curious can come and try something that just changes their experience of beer.”

For years now Beervana has been a gathering of the converted, the annual assembly of people who know and love their beer. But as craft beer is spreading, so is Beervana’s appeal.

“You can look at Beervana as a window to the industry. It started with 200-odd rag-tag people at the Boatshed, then it outgrew that and moved to the Town Hall where it was still small and there was minimal food, then it outgrew that and moved to the stadium where it's still growing.

“That’s something I realised early on with Beervana – it isn’t niche and geeky any more. It’s where beer is heading now – it’s a mainstream thing, and that’s incredibly exciting. I really think that this year it will be interesting to see who is coming along. It will be very different to what it was.”

Wellington Culinary Events Trust took over Beervana last year, less than three months before the big day. This year organisers had more time to put their stamp on the event, and exhibitors are also getting creative.

“There’s an enormous sense of fun from the brewers. They’ve taken up any changes we (organisers) have made and totally exceeded our expectations. This year every restaurant is paired with a brewery and each food item will have its own beer match. But what’s started happening is brewers and restaurants are going on to combine their stands into amazing themed beer and food stands, and we would never have imagined that would happen.”

The old lecture-style educational seminars have been replaced by themed guided tours. “People want to be down on the concourse in amongst the action, so that’s where we’re holding the seminars.”

The action this year will include a German biergarten with an oompa band, and a beer/music matching silent disco (handy for drowning out the oompa band). There’s karaoke and live competitions for New Zealand’s hottest home brewer. “We are so lucky to be in an industry that is a tremendous amount of fun and we don’t need to take ourselves too seriously,” Beth says.

Just don’t try telling Beth you won’t be there because you don’t like beer. “You can’t not like beer, that’s like saying you don’t like food! Take the most puckeringly sour beer at one end, through the range to crazy-hoppy, and out the other side to motor-oil-dark chocolate stouts – how, in all of those beers, can somebody say they don’t like beer? I genuinely challenge someone to try that sort of spectrum and tell me they don’t find something they like. Craft beer is moving away from that traditional beer experience and finding new ways and flavours. Beervana isn’t about just one style of beer.”

And that venue? For years the Westpac Stadium’s concrete cavern has been the only real beef with Beervana. Beth’s heard the criticism, but says there’s nowhere else to go.

“We don’t have another space in Wellington with the footprint that Beervana needs. TSB Arena (on Queens Wharf) is not an alternative. We don’t have access to it because of World of Wearable Arts, and it’s too small for what Beervana’s become now. So we embrace that (Stadium) space and do as much as we can in there. We can have open-flame cooking. It has all the infrastructure and all of the things you need when you run a beer festival.”

The venue isn’t putting people off. All the exhibitor stands have sold out, for the first time. Ticket sales are 50% up on this time last year, and Beth expects some sessions will sell out before the day. Tickets are available now at the Beervana website.

Beervana, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, 12-13 August. No excuses.

By BeertownNZ Fri, 08 Jul 2016 National