The epicentre of the beer world will shift to Melbourne between Saturday May 16 to Sunday May 24 as Good Beer Week 2015 takes place. An astronomical number of venues across the city and regional Victoria are staging a swathe of events ranging from dark beer and even darker metal to the infamous Pint of Origin; The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular three-day festival; food and beer matching is taken to the next level; brewers are flying in from every corner of the globe and it is all in the name of showcasing the delights of the world's most diverse and popular alcoholic beverage. Suffice it to say that the week-long mega-festival has got the local brewing and hospitality scene excited as locals and visitors from all over get set to descend upon the city.
For the uninitiated visitor or even the well-seasoned Melburne local, a quick flick through the Good Beer Week programme might appear highly intensive at best and excruciatingly befuddling at worst. How does one make sense of so much awesomeness packed into the one short week? When time and possibly money are limited there is the very real risk of FOMO ("Fear Of Missing Out" - as the tabloids have dubbed the phenomenon) setting in. And what of the very real risk of hangovers? Fear not, beer geeks and beer geeks in the making! Help is at hand.
First off, put that iPad down and take a few four-by-four-by-four breaths. Yes, the Good Beer Week programme is so loaded it is undeniably overwhelming - even with events being divided into "streams" - but the solution is simple: your portable media device has come with an inbuilt notepad and calendar with good reason. If using the notepad, jot down each day of the week; before returning to the programme to log the time, date and location of events that catch your eye. Repeat as necessary. Like any festival, clashes may be inevitable - however we are dealing with events that go on for several hours (rather than 90 minute sets) here and sometimes events run all day until late. Major clashes are likely to pose a problem only if you are attending a major degustation or meet the brewer event. Relax, time is more plentiful than you might think.
To maximise time even more, familiarise yourself with both Melbourne's public transport network and how it will get you to the venues you have shortlisted. Most venues can be reached easily from the city centre via tram (particularly those along Smith Street which divides the beery neighbourhoods of Fitzroy and Collingwood) while a few are located a little further afield. Perhaps the first thing you need to know is that the city's tram, train and bus networks are painfully slow. Moreover, things get tricky after midnight - the city offers a Nightrider bus service however it is sketchy at best and highly unsafe as well. Check the links below for websites and apps that will help you navigate the city and surrounds:
Public Transport Victoria Journey Planner
tramTRACKER (iPhone / Android real-time tram tracking application)
Uber Taxis Melbourne
It is worth noting that if you really want to maximise time and money, catch a Uber taxi. Melbourne Uber fares have recently been reduced by 15% and for short trips (from Federation Square to Forester's Beer and Music Hall for example) it beats the hell out of standing on a crammed tram for 20 minutes! And let it be known that catching cabs best be the only time spent in a car if you have even a trace amount of alcohol in your system.
Doing It On The Cheap
Beer is so expensive in this country that it is practically a currency unto itself (as it once was). Furthermore, degustations and other dinners range in the $70-200 price bracket which may appear disheartening to those on a shoestring budget. In saying that, the best means by which to avoid overspending - as well as missing out - is to buy event tickets in advance.
It is also best to purchase myki (Melbourne's answer to London's Oyster) cards for multiple days. 7-day passes represent the best value.
The Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular is doubtless the very best way to optimise budget and even time (say if you are in Melbourne for only a few days as opposed to the full week). With an incredible 300 beers being showcased - 120 of which have been brewed especially for the festival - and heaps of great local food (from Mr Claws lobster rolls to American-style barbequed meats courtesy of Meatmother) GABS provides a fantastic means by which to soak in a concentrated version of Good Beer Week.
The best value tickets include $20 worth of beer and food tokens, which can be had at $54.00 pre-sale or $63 on the door for single-ticket purchases. Discounts are available through the awesome Beer Buddy Group buy. Click here for tickets.
Entry to a large host of events is absolutely free and tasting paddles are of course a brilliant way to sample a wide variety of beer. Your wallet and body will thank you.
The vast majority of bars and pubs across Melbourne provide free, readily available water at the bar. For goodness sakes, it is not there for decoration. Aside from taking it easy and not imbibing too much, drinking water throughout the night - not just a pint before crashing - is a far better hangover remedy than something so greasy it would make the Gulf oil spill resemble a sparkling picture of health. Moreover, suffering through a hangover might mean missing out on a major event, hence one more very good reason to stave off alcohol's dehydrating diuretic effects.
But in all honesty at least one hangover is inevitable and equally as inevitable is the craving for something to take the edge off. Check out the following places for what might cure what ails you:
Hair of the Dog Breakfast @ Beer DeLuxe
Fri 22 May - 9:30am-12noon
The Hair of the Dog Breakfast is essentially the afterparty following on from the AIBAs (Australian International Beer Awards). As well as soothing one's head or making that dog even hairier still, there is the chance to meet and greet craft beer brewers at less than half the cost of admission to the AIBA event.
Tickets are still available.
329 Smith St Fitzroy
Pho is well regarded for its legendary hangover curing properties and the legends are indeed true, however a certain degree of gumption is needed to get through all that meat and bone broth. Enter Shop Ramen who kindly provide a much more easily chewed and therefore digestive alternative. They even do smoothies - loaded with life-giving coconut milk.
Lentil As Anything - Breakfast @ The Abbotsford Convent
1 St. Heliers St Abbotsford
Breakfast served between 9am-11:30am
Who doesn't love pancakes? Or just-right poached free-range eggs sitting atop a bed of potato rosti and baby spinach? As Lentils is meat-free you might be asking "where's the bacon?" but in all honesty your stomach will thank you later for going meat-free. The coffee here is top notch and will have you feeling semi-human again in no time. Lentil As Anything is a not-for-profit "pay what you feel" vegetarian restaurant but please give generously - these guys do some amazingly good things for the city's most disadvantaged people.
Curtin House 1st Floor
252 Swanston St Melbourne City
Most may find that after a big night breakfast essentially means brunch. And who says pork belly is not a breakfast item? Come to Cookie for the amazing, hangover-curing mod-Thai and stay for even more craft beer action. Cookie is a proud Good Beer Week venue and you might even meet Jeppe Jarnit Bjergsø while sampling Evil Twin beers. Eight of Cookie's taps will be dedicated to pouring the mad Danish-born gypsy brewer's fine wares throughout the week.
All these tap takeovers and meet the brewer events may take their toll, even after weeks and months of built up excitement. Remember to take it easy throughout the event - Good Beer Week is, after all, a marathon rather than a sprint. With forward planning, a little bit of common sense, proper nourishment and plenty of water, there is no doubt that even the most budget conscious and time starved folks will take home a stack of memories that will be talked about for years to come.