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In little more than a week, the fourth Sydney Craft Beer Week kicks off. It goes without saying that this will be the biggest yet as the festival has grown every year. But it’s *really* the biggest yet, with the program bursting through the 100 events milestone, barely pausing for breath and cracking on to surpass 120.
The official printed programs are now in all participating venues, they’re still lining up some soon-to-be-announced special events and you’ll find the festival on the cover of this month’s Time Out Sydney. So what better time to fire a few questions at festivaldirector Joel Connolly, who fills us in on his hopes, dreams and plans as well as revealing the name of a rather sexy international addition to the program that will have many a beer geek trembling in their immaculately polished platinum glass stemware.
Crafty Pint: How are preparations going for this year?
Joel Connolly: Very well! It’s our biggest year yet which has meant a lot more work, but venues and brewers have really started to get into the swing of things. As the festival grows and its impact on craft beer in Sydney gets more significant, we’re seeing a real step up in the quality of events on offer as well as the amount of work venues and and brewers are throwing in to them, which is making our job a lot easier. We’re also seeing a level of awareness of the festival all across Sydney which is unprecedented.
CP: Apart from your own events, what has you particularly excited this year?
JC: So hard to choose! Like I said the quality is really high this year, but personally I’m looking forward to the the Batch and KB Baltimore Crab Fest. Beer, Cheese and Chocolate at Harts Pub (and also The Raglan this year) is always great. Gathering of Gyspie Brewers is going to be a blast. And we are getting Time Out to curate a closing event which highlights the best events of SCBW; we haven’t officially announced this yet but details are coming this week.
CP: What’s your main hope for the 2014 festival?
JC: Same as every other year. We really want to increase the availability of excellent beer in Sydney. We want to see the market grow. As the festival director, my personal hope is that we can keep improving on our processes, marketing and our offering to event holders. All of this is a way of saying that I want to festival to be the best beer event ever… then I can feel good about asking my beer hero Sam Calagione to come and hang out with us one year!
CP: Is the festival spreading its tentacles wider than ever before?
JC: We’re still a Sydney festival, but there are a bunch of outer Sydney suburbs we’re hitting for the first time this year, and we want to keep growing, but always we will be a Sydney festival.
As for national reach amongst brewers, I’m proud to say we try and be a very brewer-friendly festival and I hope word is getting out that of all the festival and beer events to take part in, SCBW is one of the best. That’s our aim anyway but we could always be doing better.
CP: You have your first major international guests – how did that come about?
JC: Not easily. It’s always been tough for us to attract international brewers because we don’t have any other major beer events happening during the festival, so our offer to brewers has to be pretty inciting. And when you don’t have mountains of cash to throw around, this is challenging. That said, when you’re holding a beer festival in one of the most beautiful, iconic cities in the world, it’s not the hardest sell in the world!
On a practical level, we also try and aim for breweries that are trying to establish a presence in Australia, or that have good distribution. Or we ask our friends, which is how Cigar City came about (this hasn’t been that public but they’re coming!).
Still, our focus is predominantly on highlighting and celebrating firstly NSW breweries, then wider Australian breweries. While it’s important to show our audience some of the things going on outside Australia, our focus is on growth of the Australian market.
CP: There’s no doubt that the craft beer scene in Sydney has exploded over the past two years. Do you think SCBW has played a role in that? What other factors do you reckon have contributed?
JC: I would like to think so! When we first started we had less than 20 events and maybe only five or six venues. After only three years we have 120-plus events and more than 50 venues so the numbers speak for themselves.
That said, there are a number of other factors, all of which all contribute to macro and micro growth of the industry. Firstly a nod needs to be given to the brewers. It’s a tough game brewing, it’s not easy to make money, it’s a very cash reliant business and growth certainly isn’t scaleable. I think the fact that there are a number of guys out there who have been willing to put in the hard yards, to persevere in the face of some serious odds, all to make sure you and I have a decent offering on tap when you go to the pub, this can’t be overlooked. This proliferation of breweries has opened up a place in the market for venues that want to offer something other than the yellow fizzy stuff. Previously the availability of craft beer to venues was a serious problem. Now there is stacks of it and if you’re a serious pub in Sydney, you have to have a craft option.
All of this is a long way of saying that the community for craft in Sydney is strong. We’ve played our part but it really feels like everyone is working together to make some serious changes to the sector.