The GABS Beer, Cider & Food Fest rolled into Melbourne this weekend, with pre-event hype once again dominated by some of the more ridiculous concoctions among the 170 festival beers and ciders created specially for the event.
Among their number are beers made with bacon, hemp flour and edible ants; arguably safer than festival beers of yore that have contained bellybutton yeast, snails and ambergris.
"It can get a bit silly," acknowledges GABS co-founder Steve Jeffares.
A bit of fun
"But you know what? There will be beers that sound awful on paper, which will be awful, but there'll be other ones that also don't sound so right on the page, but come to surprise us.
"And that's the fun of GABS I guess, the punters turn up in a frame of mind completely willing to take risks.
"There's nary a person that doesn't come out of there that hasn't kind of felt: 'Well, I didn't think I'd like that beer, but gee I was surprised, and I'll seek that brewery out or that style out again'. And that's really fun."
Like the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers poll, the festival started small, featuring a modest 20 festival beers in events held at the The Local Taphouse venues in Melbourne and Sydney.
Now the venue has just about outgrown its Melbourne home of the Royal Exhibition Building.
"It's a beautiful building, but it's limited in lots of ways," says Jeffares.
"But the more I explore other options, the more I realise that it's just too good – it is GABS. There'd be a riot if we moved it and I've flirted with the idea, but it ain't going to happen."
Instead, the organisers have begun expanding the festival outside the building into a marquee that will house the new Yak Ales BBQ Heaven area, featuring barbecued treats from Melbourne's Bluebonnet BBQ, Biggie Smalls and Leonard's House of Love.
But wait, there's more
Also new this year is the Little Creatures House Of Fun, where attendees can enjoy vintage arcade games, crazy mini golf and hay bale bowling.
The Balter Tiñata (think piñata with a giant beer can) will have punters swinging for glory, and BentSpoke's Roller Racing Derby will elevate the heart rate with static bike races.
Groups will also enjoy the Mountain Goat Trail, possibly the first ever competitive scavenger hunt to be held at a beer festival.
"As we do every year, we've tried to keep the things that are really popular and add some new elements so that people who have been every year come along and go, 'oh, wow, that's new and that's new'," says Jeffares.
"One of the most exciting things to see is how Australian and New Zealand brewers are raising the bar every year with the quality of their stands.
"You can't put a trestle table up and just pour beers like you might have done at the local market four or five years ago."
Bigger and better
After Melbourne wraps on Sunday, the festival heads to Sydney in a fortnight, where Jeffares is expecting record crowds.
"Sydney is yet again surprising us with the growth that we are seeing in ticket sales," he says.
"It could just be that people have got tickets a little earlier than previously… but we've always thought that Sydney could become as big as Melbourne.
"The beauty of that venue, Sydney Showground, is that we can just add more space.
"Because it was so popular last year, we've added another hall to the space. And we could probably be double the size, we could have ten or twelve thousand people per session in Sydney, maybe even more, before we max it out."
There's no shortage of weird and wonderful beers to enjoy at the event, but here are some of this year's most oddball creations.
1. Capital Brewing Co (Canberra, ACT) – Hello Darkness Black Forest Black IPA Sour
A kettle soured Black IPA loaded with American and Australian hops, dark malts, plus raspberries and cherries.
2. Badlands Brewery (Orange, NSW) – Dark Side of Orange Specialty Beer
A cherry and chocolate concoction inspired by the nut brown ales of England, made in collaboration with local businesses Origin Chocolate and Small Acres Cyder.
3. Eden Brewery (Eden, NSW) – Grilled Pineapple Smoked Bacon NEIPA
You've had the debate about pineapple and bacon on pizza, now argue over whether they belong in a beer.
4. Wayward Brewing Co (Camperdown, NSW) – Coffee and Donuts Sweet Stout
A collaboration with Grumpy Donuts and Toby's Estate brings a milk stout packed with donutty vanilla and cinnamon goodness, rich coffee, cacao and berry notes.
5. Yulli's Brews (Alexandria, NSW) – Chiho Sipper Sake IIPA
After brewing their own Sake, Yulli's have decided to blend their obsessions new and old, creating 'Chiho', a beer/sake hybrid.
6. 10 Toes Brewery (Alexandra Headland, QLD) – NEIPA'D In The Bud
A hazy New England IPA marrying a full load of dank and resinous hops with hemp flour for the ultimate palate trip.
7. Shifty Lizard Brewing Co (Willunga, SA) – Lizard's Picnic Tyrant Ant Sour
An army of edible Tyrant ants were added to this kettle soured and citrusy brew.
GABS is at Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne on May 17, 18 and 19, Sydney Showground on June 1, and ASB Showgrounds in Auckland on June 29.