The queue builds up outside in the typical winter Wellington weather which you will feel on the way in but not the way out. The gates open and the crowds pour in to the Westpak stadium concourse. After a brief delay to pick up a glass and a tasting card the beer faithful are loosed on hundreds of beers from all over New Zealand and Australia.
The setup is simple, charge up your electronic wrist band with cash and wave it with anything from sober confidence to a drunken thrashing and your wrist will be debited. It is best to keep things simple for hundreds of people going from beer to beer and so it goes with the sizes. 2 choices are presented: Taster, 75ml and savor, 250ml. From experience from years gone by the savor option is to be used cautiously with reverence for the mountain of beers available which one can not expect to get round in the 4 hours available. I personally went for a taster across the board in order to maintain a semblance of order about my person and to best appreciate the beers.
There are a huge range of styles available and the concourse (which appears to grow every year towards the ultimate full 306 degrees) is not ordered in any way. It is tempting to try to apply some logic to your drinking, this is unwise, ordering your beer will quickly become unmanageable so best to walk from one end to the other going with whatever styles take your fancy. Taking notes is something many do although they do appear to be the hardcore reviewers who are there for specific brews and make a beeline from one to the other. Most take a freeform approach darting from Weiss-beer to Bock to Stout and back down to Pale Ale.
All said and done you can expect to spend about $100 on beer if your really keen you might get through $150 NZD. Beer prices vary but most Tasters are around the $2.50 mark and the savor are at the $6.50 - $10.00 mark. It really depends on what your after, some of the more serious 7%+ beers can go for $10.00 plus but given the amount you will be drinking staying up there in the high percentage range will likely result in a messy afternoon, or more perhaps more likely a forced nap. If you run out there are plenty of fixed and wondering staff to take your money and re-charge your band.
One of the best features of the house beers, (beers that are great but don't have the scale and funding for their own stand) is that you can find some real gems you have never heard of. Also the taps are colour coded from green through to red according to ABV so there is a handy simple reminder how drunk you might be getting as you order.
It was always my goal to review beers at Beervana this year, alas it was not to be, one does not simply review fifty beers in 4 hours, nor is it possible to pick out an individual brew as the stand out, at least not to do that and get round the whole concourse for a real overview of what is on offer. Instead the event is a a fun reminder of the plethora of beer on offer in NZ, there are hundreds of brews on offer and each one has its own characteristics there were some memorable beers however.
ParrotDog's red ale was a highlight for me, having drunk it at the beginning of the afternoon I can say I remember it well, a tasty red ale with a hoppy bitterness that I will be drinking again at home. For me the most strange an unusual award goes to No'8 Wired's Sour which was viciously sour and was definitely not for me. Other than those I have to say I vaguely remember some others looking back over the tasting notes but I was having way to much fun to do a deep dive on all the brews.
Food is freely available and its good, everything from whitebait fritters to Yorkshire pudding is available. Just as well, one needs to soak up some of the beer at each stage of the day, an hourly snack is a must.
In closing we left the stadium with a real appreciation for the range of beers on offer today and more than a warm glow ready to move on to the pub for what was a slightly less exciting pint. I highly recommend the trip to Wellington it is a great venue and event and Wellington is worth a trip in any case. So if your looking for a short break next August make the effort for a serious session at the Westpak Stadium.