Does hanging out with 10,000 other beer lovers, listening to live music, learning about beer styles and matching beer with food sounds like your kind of day? Then there is a new event on the calendar. The Great Kiwi Beer Fest in Christchurch on Saturday 25 February is bringing together one of the best selections of New Zealand and International beers to be had in the South Island in a long time, if ever.
It is the second festival brought to life by Team Event, a Christchurch consortium of six companies. (The New World Wine and Food Festival last December was its first.) Their ultimate goal is to create a portfolio of festivals, adding another one each year.
We talked to Callum Mitchell Team Event Director, about the Great Kiwi Beer Fest. “We didn’t want to make it exclusively about craft beer, more a representation of premium brands in New Zealand.” Both Lion Nathan and DB Breweries will be present at the festival through their Mac’s and Montieth’s brands.
Callum acknowledges that craft beer is the growth segment of the market: “It’s where the numbers are at the moment.” Ticket sales have already exceeded their wine festival total by a good margin. But Team Event doesn’t want to alienate people who don’t like craft beer, and has included ciders and wines in the mix. The idea is to provide a sampling of premium experiences. Says Callum, “It’s really about educating and interacting rather than being consumption focused.”
As with all alcohol related events in New Zealand, care is being taken to minimize the potential for it becoming “a piss up”. To that end, vendors won’t charge more on a volume basis for samples, eliminating the incentive to buy (and drink) larger serving sizes. Fancy dress is also discouraged, as it is a security risk, and may encourage outlandish behaviour. By including a souvenir glass with the ticket, they seem to be expecting us to behave like adults.
The focus is clearly on tastings, and with over 30 breweries and 100 beers on offer, attendees will be spoiled for choice. For us, it will be an exciting chance to try some of the Hashigo Zake imports rarely seen south of the Cook Strait, and of course some fresh Christchurch brews. For locals, it may be about the contingent of nine Top of the South brewers in attendance. (We got a fill of most of them at the Summer Beer Fest in Blenheim).
There are lots of features that have proven successful at other festivals, like beer and cheese matching, brewer talks and, of course, music. A little band called the Black Seeds is finishing off the day, and will likely attract some fans of their own. According to Callum, the music was not intended to distract from the festival focus: “It was always meant to be a beer festival with great music.”
While enthusiastic about the festival’s prospects given the 8000 ticket presale, “It definitely has exceeded our expectations,” Callum has no illusions about the scale of the event. “This first year there will be a lot of issues, but we will iron them out.” They are confident they will achieve a fun day out centred on beer, following the model of their New World Wine & Food Festival: a cooking tent, a seminar tent and a stage in Hagley park with vendors and punters enjoying it all.
This is not to imply that the fest is meant to be an alternative to Marchfest or Beervana. Like us, the organisers see it as more “and” than “or”, positioning itself between the two events. Beervana in Wellington is more purely about beer, while Marchfest is Nelson focused, and serves all new to the public beers in addition to its musical acts.
When asked about the craft brew scene in Christchurch, Callum was optimistic. “It’s growing again after the quakes put some folks out of the action… Aside from Marlborough, Christchurch probably has the highest number of breweries [per capita].”
Yet another centre hoping to lay claim to being the heart of beer in New Zealand? This event makes a good excuse for us to go down and see for ourselves.