Written For and First Published on The Shout.

In line with the growing national trend for craft beer, Adelaide is getting its first craft beer festival.

Taking place at The Highway, South Australia’s Hotel of the Year 2012, the two day event will showcase over 40 crafts beers and ciders from 20 craft breweries, including SA locals McLaren Vale Beer Company.

According to Simon Adami, General Manager of The Highway, the interest in craft beer has been steadily growing in recent times.

“To meet the growing demand for craft beer and cider, where we used to have five or so craft beers on a single shelf,” he says. “We now have to create an entire section dedicated to craft beer in excess of 150 lines.”

Although the higher price tag on craft and boutique brews can sometimes be a stumbling block for some drinkers, Adami says that both craft beer and cider Sales at The Highway – both on- and off-premise – have increased by 145 per cent in the last 12 months alone. He adds that The Highway is making a conscious effort to encourage punters to try new things.

“We run relatively low gross profit percentages for the craft brews on tap, which makes them more accessible to our guests who want to experience the craft beer movement,” he says.

According to Adami, this ‘refined craft beer palate’ trend will only continue to grow.

“Gone are the days of bar staff knowing what “the usual” is for their regular customers – they’re now ordering their beer based on where it’s brewed, the level of hops and most importantly, whether they have seen the label before or not,” he says. “It’s definitely become apparent that venues and bottleshops need to stock a wide range of craft beer and we’re starting to realise that the more obscure the label is, the more popular it will be.”

Down the road, the Warradale Hotel is experiencing a similar craft beer renaissance. The pub features six rotating guest taps, which, according to Thomas French, General Manager at the venue, allows the staff and patrons to explore the still niche world of boutique brands without affecting the volume of beer flowing from more traditional brewers – despite the definite competition created by the small brewers’ beers.

“[We are] particularly focusing on South Aussie brews,” he says. “Locally brewed McLaren Vale Beer Company’s Vale Ale and The Hills Apple Cider have a religious following and when [they were] featured at a competitive price point, sold over six times that of its nearest non-craft competitor.”

With that in mind, the Warradale is looking to maintain the unique options on offer to their clients.

“With careful planning we are continually looking forward with our on-premise tap beer ranging,” says Thomas. “12-24 months of ageing Coopers Stout on site has seen a 4% increase in sales compared to the previous year. This indicates our guests are further satisfied with a unique beer drinking experience, not just a broad range of products available on tap.”

One brewery that will be attending The Highway’s festival is McLaren Vale. The local South Australian brewery is well-known across the country and General Manager, Josh Stuart, is well aware of the growth and the trends in the category Australia-wide. And he says that Adelaide’s craft beer drinkers are vastly different to those elsewhere in the country.

“We find beer drinkers on the east coast of Australia drink craft beer because their mates are,” he says. “The difference for Adelaide drinkers is it’s about making the discovery so you can tell your mates about your new find.”

He also maintains that craft brewers are a passionate bunch who love nothing more than educating drinkers on their brews.

In that vein, the festival will also feature educational experiences with brewers for those guests who may never have ventured into the territory of craft beer previously. Like wine fanatics, beer enthusiasts and novices alike are now seeking information regarding hop varietals, bitterness scale (IBU) and terroir or regional influences, which is information that brewers are more than happy to discuss.

The festival will also be amping up the gourmet aspect with food stalls featuring the likes of Relish’d Burgers’ lamb, beef and vegetarian burgers, Barossa Fine Foods’ charcuterie hot dogs and The Highway’s ribs, pulled pork sandwiches and chicken burgers.

The Highway inaugural Craft Beer Festival is being held on March 16 and 17. For more details, visit www.thehighway.com.au.

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