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Gisborne Beer Festival out to change beer-drinking culture

I sat down with Ricky Boyd, the architect and builder of the Gisborne Beer Fest. As well as getting all frothy about the event to come, we went in some unexpected directions. We talked about how you grow something to be beautiful, strong and sturdy. Hopefully you’ve seen the posters and have it on your list to purchase tickets for the Easter Saturday celebration of the humble drink that’s had a bit of a glow-up in recent times. Ricky has planned some serious fun in store for us (more about that in a sec). Indeed we collectively thirst for a long weekend and a good time. But did you know the do-goodery that’s also afoot?

The Gisborne Beer Festival occupies a nuanced niche in the landscape of food, drink, and music festivals. This beer festival might not be what you think, especially if you associate beer with skulling and smashing cans on your forehead. Like most “vices,” beer has a reputation that precedes it, namely the aforementioned burping, keg-stand variety that prioritises quantity over quality and an ultimate goal of unambiguous intoxication. But that’s Beer’s cringey past. Modern Beer culture still likes to have a great time, but there’s been a shift to quality over quantity, moderation and balance, and even technological breakthroughs that let beer drinkers enjoy low or no-alcohol beer with all the same complex flavours as their boozy siblings.

“With Craft Beer, which is what we promote,” says Boyd, “that’s all changed. We want to educate people about beer. For people who know beer, they get it. They love it. With this festival, we’re hoping to reach the people not in the know.” What’s to know? you ask.

“It’s all flavours. It’s trying to taste the black currant underneath this milkshake IPA. Someone’s added lactose to a sour beer and it tastes like mango and you can’t figure out how they did this and it tastes amazing. Or it tastes like a dessert. They’re making beers taste like flavours now. If you’re into your food and your flavours, Craft Beer is right up your alley.” You can see the incredible line-up on their website, which includes our local friends Sunshine Brewery alongside other great Craft Beer brewers from all over Aotearoa. (They’ll also have wine from local wineries Matawhero and Spade Oak, as well as canned wine from Uncommon and canned cocktails from Fling.)

The way to facilitate this flavourful good time has changed too. “We don’t promote quantity. We promote quality. Spend the same amount of money but buy 3 or 4 really nice beers… and maybe some zeros to compensate for the extra oomph you get from some of the stronger craft beers.”

This is the changing face of modern beer drinking. Rather than mowing through a box of mainstream beer, enjoy the charm and delight of craft beers’ inventive flavours. And savour the yummy mouthful that tastes like your money remaining with the Aotearoa locals who brew this special beer rather than going offshore where mainstream beer money goes. The Gisborne Beer Festival will have a range of flavours and strengths with plenty of low- and no-alcohol varieties.

Maybe you’ve seen this new face of drinking, the increasing number of your friends showing up to parties with low-alcohol drinks, the lack of raised eyebrows at someone’s low-alcohol choices. As we know, Beer Culture wasn’t always this understanding or enlightened. There was a blatant judginess that pushed drinking to excess. Ricky outs his mates with his version of this shifting tide. “Guys on my soccer team turn up with zeros. And no one teases them. Whereas five or ten years ago, you would've got teased.” Oh, I know, Ricky. I know.

Introducing our local beer drinkers and outlets (where great beer is sold) is still very much the focus. But what changes each year are the particular ingredients of the Good Times spell. Ricky, a musician by trade, always starts there. This year there are four musical acts, all of whom “will serve this market very well. In the beginning I followed the desire to hear my friends’ bands play.” And that really hasn’t changed much. Good thing Ricky has so many musical friends. The list of bands that feature at the Gisborne Beer Festival grows and grows. This year the music kicks off with local favourites, Pray 4 Summer and The Rabbits, both bands who bring energy and a catalogue of Grunge, Indie, Punk, Rock, something for everyone and perfect for the festival. Our younger music fans will likely know Marlin’s Dreaming, a Dunedin-band based in Auckland, playing sold out shows in Aotearoa and abroad and who are, in Ricky’s words “a real hit with the kids.” And rounding up the line-up are Kita, who make genre-blurring mega sound that needs to be heard to be fully appreciated. If you’ve been lucky enough to catch these musicians in Tairāwhiti this past summer, you’ll be excited to see their name on the posters.

Ricky’s roving festival won’t settle down until they’ve found just the right home. This year, he thinks the Soundshell will tick all the boxes for them – it’s got the necessary infrastructure and is close to town so we can easily get home or carry on somewhere local, like Smash Palace, when the Beer Fest winds down. And thanks to Ricky and his persistence and fine tuning, this year’s Beer Fest is shaping up to be the best yet. He’s brought back international buskers, Sean and Heidi, who stole the spotlight last year with their captivating accessories like stilts, unicycles, chainsaws (yep), fire (also yep). They’re the perfect sparkle to accompany the fizz in your cup.

Another innovation that launches this Beer Fest – the Silent Disco. Walk into this weirdly quiet jumble of dance moves and you’ll find duelling DJs rocking the party. But you have to put on one of the 40 headsets to take it in. Choose your channel and dance all your best moves. Myself and Gizzy Local’s Sarah Cleave were exploring the appeal of the Silent Disco. For me, there’s something wonderfully goofy about someone watching me dance with abandon and joy but without my Silent Disco soundtrack. It’s that exact goofiness that will give me licence to shirk any pressure to be cool and instead just enjoy. The invention of the Silent Disco is perfect for that old adage: Dance like no one is listening.

Ricky’s vision is strong: draw people together with top-tier Entertainment while keeping beer on the main stage. Possibly surprising is his goal to give us all a chance to re-calibrate our relationship with modern beer culture, see the big wide world of craft beer, and even change drinking habits for the better. Like a keen gardener who sees the perfect blank space for something beautiful, has an eye for pruning and the muscle to brace something against a strong wind, he is growing something big and sturdy.

The Gisborne Beer Fest is on Easter Saturday (30 March) starting at 12pm.

Get your tickets for the Gisborne Beer Fest here:

Story by Sarah Holliday Pocock

Photographs by Strike Photography

Gisborne Beer Festival


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