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Cheers! Beer festival is back

Rev your taste buds, strap on your hops-helmet and get ready for the Gisborne Beer Festival at the Speedway.

In its third year and incarnation, the festival has continued to grow, and with it so has the size of the venue, says festival organiser Ricky Boyd.

This year features award-winning brews from the best in the craft beer game, with 13 of New Zealand’s top independent breweries making the trip with their finest selection for punters to sample.

“They’re bringing their A-game with them, their award-winning beers, it’s not your supermarket shelf beers,” says Ricky.

And the venue is looking to be as top-notch as the beers.

After cycling through locations, alert levels cancelling other venues, by happy coincidence the Speedway came up as an option.

It is a fantastic opportunity to get hundreds of people out exploring new spaces, says Ricky, and it’s such an iconic venue it will make for an incredible festival environment.

Not only that, but the space is ready-made for the event with bleachers for revellers to relax, bathrooms rather than port-a-loos and plenty of car parks.

There will be some 50 different beers on tap with five food trucks lined up in the pit lane to tune-up beer tasters between brews.

Paired with the hoppy drops are some of New Zealand’s best musicians.

It helps that when not organising a beer festival Ricky is a musician by trade, which is how the event first came into being.

“I organised a gig and rang up a friend who worked at Garage Project — one of the more popular craft breweries in the country — and they said, ‘Yeah, we’ll come and bring some kegs and come down for the weekend.

“Then it went away from being my gig to being the beers’ gig.”

Those musical beginnings live on in the festival’s DNA.

Past years’ saw The Beths and Phoenix Foundation play, both of whom have been awarded New Zealand’s band of the year.

This year brings the psychedelic rock powerhouse Sea Mouse along with The Nudge, a group of seasoned session musicians who play in Fly My Pretties.

Tairawhiti’s coastal isolation has been both good and bad in attracting the breweries to make the journey.

It’s no easy feat lugging a half dozen 50-litre kegs around the country, keeping them temperature-controlled and primed for the festival, says Ricky.

“It’s good for those who want a holiday with friends here and are keen on a bit of a surf.”

“It’s a great chance to sample some things you’re not privy to, and take the opportunity to try new styles of beer not normally accessible here in Gisborne,” says Ricky.

Although the beer market can seem diverse, often it is an illusion of choice at bars.

Most beers lining the supermarket shelves and bar taps are all from two big companies.

Classic Kiwi brands like Speight’s, Panhead and Mac’s are made by Lion, while Monteith’s and Tuatara are brewed DB Breweries.

The former is owned by the Japanese company Kirin and the later by the Dutch company Heineken.

For Ricky the aim of the game is to bring locally owned and operated breweries to Gisborne with some of their finest brews.

Being able to bring these cool breweries to the region is wicked — not only are some amazing beers available to try but the people who brewed them are there as well, says Ricky.

That means you can hear about the processes behind the product.

“Because you’re exposed to new styles it can be a bit confronting, but being around the brewers they can help explain the style.”

When the brewer is there to explain the expression of a beer, those conversations can help expand punters’ personal likes and dislikes, says Ricky.

“When you know more about the beers you can appreciate them for their individual styles.”

He has even been getting into brewing himself, falling down the hoppy rabbit hole.

“The only way to learn this game is to brew, and so yes, now I brew too.”

“I was hesitant to brew because I don’t like doing things by half, I want to be good at it, which is why I don’t play golf.”

“So I paused on brewing because I didn’t know if I had the time.

Then his family bought him a beer-making kit and the addiction began to ferment.

And it is not just the annual festival on Ricky’s mind.

He hopes to institute some smaller tap takeovers throughout the year to build the craft beer energy throughout bars — and possibly bowls clubs — around the city.

If Ricky has his way, locals can expect to see better beers around the city as the festival expands tastes, one beer at a time.

Gisborne Beer Festival director Ricky Boyd