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International festival - Australia

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2006 9:46 am    Post subject: International festival - Australia Reply with quote

international festival
Food & Wine: 16-February-06 by Andrew Bennett

CULTURE: Leif Ryan, of Leederville’s International Beer Shop, says the development of a local brewing culture has positive effects on both product and price. Photo: Tim van Bronswijk
Beer lovers have a great opportunity to take part in a unique event over the March long weekend as Fremantle hosts what is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive international beer festival in Australia.

And, given the difficulties festival proponents have faced in recent years with regard to licensing issues and city council approval, Western Australian beer experts are urging local beer enthusiasts to back the project.

“I would strongly urge people who are into beer to go and support the event because otherwise we won’t see another one like it again,” warns Leif Ryan, co-owner of the Inter-national Beer Shop in Leederville.

He says an event such as the Fremantle International Beer Festival is long overdue.

“In Europe these types of festivals are run all the time. But in Australia, seeing an event like this is rare,” Mr Ryan says.

A beer festival might seem to make obvious commercial sense in a country with such a keen enthusiasm for beer, but the market in Australia is an interesting mix of big players and small, independent, boutique operators.

Lion Nathan and Foster’s dominate domestic beer production in this country. Since the 1980s these two giants have swallowed up numerous regional breweries, although the latest target, South Australia’s Cooper’s, continues to resist.

But as a counterpoint to this, Australian beer consumers are increasingly choosing quality over quantity to guide their beer purchases.

Akin to the consumer revolution that Australian wine drinkers fought a decade or so ago, beer drinkers in this country are now looking for a beer, just like a wine, that over-delivers in the glass.

Although overall beer sales by volume have declined in recent years, consumption of more profitable ‘premium’ beers, of which imported speciality beers are included, has risen steadily. The beer drinkers’ choice to go upmarket has even prompted the two major players to move into this sector of the market.

But while many people wanting a more international flavour go to grab a Heineken, Beck’s or Kirin, they are, in fact, falling foul of implied brewing geography.

“Many people think they are drinking an international beer when they buy something like a Heineken, but in many cases they are simply drinking a foreign beer that is brewed in Australia under licence,” Mr Ryan says.

“True international beer has a real culture and one that needs more time being promoted.”

Take Weihenstephan for example. It’s the oldest brewery in the world and makes a superb range of beers, a number of which will be poured at the Fremantle festival.

But there is also the rich history of Trappist brewing, the strong Belgium ales and pilsners, porters, lagers and stouts.

Names such as Chimay, Kwak, Hofbrau and Belhaven may not be pub regulars yet but their quality and sophistication is carving out a loyal following among beer’s appreciative circles.

Conversely the festival also draws in the important support of local microbreweries, which are busy crafting some of the country’s best beers.

Pemberton newcomer Jarrah Jack’s has been invited to show its wares, as has what is probably Australia’s most northern brewery, the Broome-based Matso’s.

“It is great to see support coming for the local microbreweries in the state as well,” Mr Ryan says. “Such a local brewing culture is beneficial not just in its increased range of products but because of increased com-petition, as it help keep prices of imported beers down.”

Currently there are more than 80 speciality beers featuring at the Fremantle International Beer Festival, to be held from March 4 to 6, with more added to the list every day.

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