GABS has been named one of the best craft beer festivals in the world. Anna King Shahab had a chat to two of the brewers and cider-makers entered this year.

GABS (the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular) is back in Auckland and it's grown bigger and better with another year of age on it. Brewers and cider-makers from around New Zealand and Australia concoct entries (hundreds of them) especially for the occasion, hoping to win over palates, both expert and novice. It's a hotbed of innovation in both flavour and technique.

ALIBI BREWING CO, TANTALUS, WAIHEKE IS

The beer: It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, in the specialty beer category

Chief brewer: Bernard Neate

When Bernard Neate made the sidestep from winemaking to brewing beer at Tantalus Vineyard's brewery Alibi, one of the things he most relished was being able to experiment with all sorts of flavours in the brewing process. A watermelon and oyster gose is one of the more outlandish sounding brews Neate has created, but his first entry to GABS draws inspiration from a more time-honoured source.

"I was sitting down with Campbell [Aitken, Tantalus co-owner] having a few old-fashioneds and we got talking about the bourbon barrels we have on site; I decided to use them to make a brew inspired by this favourite cocktail.

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"Orange is notoriously hard to manage in beer, especially in a stout. We steeped 25kg of blood oranges and navel oranges in muscavado sugar, boiled down more oranges in dark muscovado sugar, put it all in a ferment with orange peel, made a tincture with more orange peel and then laid it down in bourbon barrels for six weeks."

DEVIL'S BREWERY, TASMANIA

Cider entry: Grandma's Jam Cider, in the New World Cider category

Beer entry: Corolla, in the New World Pilsner category

Chief brewer: Dave Tottle

Tasmania is affectionately known as the "Apple Isle"; it also happens to be home to the world's largest hops farms, so Devil's Brewery is sure in a sweet spot to make both cider and beer.

Brewer Dave Tottle, who grew up in Christchurch, put the call out to Tasmania's jam-makers, fruit-preservers, deep-freeze divers and hedgerow-hunters and, as a result, managed to gather a treasure trove of preserves that went into this multi-layered fruit 8 per cent ABV cider.

Corolla is a 5 per cent ABV brew that pays homage to the ubiquitous Mexican cerveza.

"We've added truckloads of Tasmanian Cascade hops and, as a nod to my roots, some Kiwi hops along with zest from fresh Tassie lemons," Tottle says. "It's an easy-drinking Mexican IPA that can be enjoyed straight from the tap - no slice of lime in the neck needed on this baby."

GOOD TASTE

To complement the brews and ciders, GABS has an impressive Street Food Market line-up, with perennial favourites like the succulent brisket from Dixie Barbecue, the never-a-bad-decision Montreal-style potato and gravy offering from Philippe's Poutine and for something sweet, Lalele Organic Gelato.

Devil's Brewery Corolla would be a hit alongside a couple of beauties from Taco Loco.

Puha and Pakeha are bringing their Aotearoa reuben sandwich, a Maori twist on the NY classic, which sounds like the perfect match for Alibi's beer along the same, classically twisted lines. Debbie "Bun Hun" Orr from Judge Bao reckons they have the perfect dish to accompany Grandma's Jam Cider: "Our Death to Wing will go really well with it. The sweeter acidic flavours will complement the Silk Road spice flavours and heat from the chilli."

Lowdown

GABS — the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular.
Saturday, July 30, at ASB Showgrounds. gabsfestival.com