In Conversation with Grand Ridge's Sam Cumming

    Over one big weekend, on February 23 and 24, the Convent will welcome hundreds of craft beer fans to celebrate summer at Brewers Feast, offering up a range of popular beers alongside exclusive brews, plus live music and food pairing experiences.

    We chat with Sam Cumming from Grand Ridge, one of the breweries taking part in the event, about the ins and outs of craft beer, trends in the industry, and what festival guests can expect from Grand Ridge at Brewers Feast.

    Grand Ridge will be one of over 20 breweries taking part in Brewers Feast 2019 at the Convent. Tell us about the brews you will have on offer at the festival.

    We’ll be bringing a range of our beers and some of our latest limited release brews including ‘Juicy Pils’, a modern, Galaxy hopped twist on a classic European Pilsner, and our recently launched ‘Midnight Madness’, a hopped up red ale/stout blend with hits of cinnamon, vanilla and chili.

    We’ll also be launching a new beer at the festival, ‘Ekka’s IPA’, a bold IPA recognizing the efforts of our founder Eric ‘Ekka’ Walters, who had the vision to open a craft brewery 30 years ago, before craft beer was a thing in Australia. He’s giving a talk at the festival about how the industry’s changed in the last 30 years, featuring a few high ABV Scotch Ales and Extra Stong Ales he’s tucked away into his cellar over the last three decades. Needless to say, we’re all pretty excited.

    For those just dipping their toe into the world of craft beer, where do you suggest they start?

    Most non-craft drinkers in Australia start their beer journey drinking mainstream lager. Our small batch ‘Aussie Lager’ is perfect for these drinkers – we don’t add any chemicals, preservatives or additives, so it’s a super clean, refreshing brew. It’s a perfect gateway into craft beer as its hop profile isn’t too in-your-face. Our other recommendation is our ‘Golden Ale’, a little lighter than our pales, with a really fruity Galaxy hop profile which translates into passionfruit and citrus.

    This year marks Grand Ridge’s 30th birthday. How has the craft beer industry changed over this time? What are the current trends among beer drinkers?

    When we started, craft beer wasn’t a thing. Bottle shops and bars couldn’t understand why anyone would want more than two different beers. Just getting a conversation with a beverage manager was nearly impossible. Three decades and a craft beer explosion later, and any serious venue has at least 30 different beers on hand (some have hundreds!). All the new breweries popping up have really pushed the envelope for quality and creativity. The real winners have been the Australian beer drinkers who have so much to choose from compared to a few decades ago.

    At the moment there’s a big emphasis on new and exciting; new styles are popping up all the time and we’re seeing some really progressive brews being accepted by the wider public. ‘Fresh is best’ is also a big trend we’re seeing­ – people are starting to realise that beer is like any other agricultural product in that it needs to be looked after and consumed fresh.

    Brewers Feast takes its beer pretty seriously, and so does its audience. Why do you think drinkers have gravitated so much to premium craft beers in recent years?

    Australia has always been a beer drinking country – it’s an iconic part of who we are. Recently, beer drinkers have really matured. There’s been a shift in how beer is consumed ­– no longer is it about smashing 12 pints after knock off day-in-day-out, but rather about sitting down and really savouring the experience of a few well crafted brews. Maybe we’ve grown up a little culturally, or maybe it’s our shift towards experience-focused lifestyles? We’re not sure.

    The craft industry is a funny one. There are easier ways to make a dollar, so everyone in this industry is driven by passion. There aren’t many industries like that, and I think people gravitate towards that passion. It’s a hugely exciting, positive thing.

    Do you have a favourite drop from the Grand Ridge range?

    I’d have to say ‘Moonshine’ – it’s an 8.5% extra strong scotch ale that we only make once a year. We’ve been making it almost since year one. Back then, it was one of the strongest beers in the world (today it’s surprisingly tame compared to some of the newer high ABV brews). It’s got a lot of heritage to it and gained us a lot of attention on the international brewing scene. ‘Moonshine’ and its big brother ‘Supershine’ (11% barley wine) hold a special place in our hearts. Big and complex, it’s a perfect partner for some top end Gippsland produce on a cold evening. Come say hi at Brewers Feast and we might even be able to give you a taste of the little stock we have left from last year’s batch.

    Is Grand Ridge working on anything else exciting in 2019?

    In short, YES! This year marks our 30th birthday, so we have some really special things planned throughout the year. We’re celebrating where we’ve come from, whilst looking towards the future. We’ve got a bunch of limited releases scheduled across the year as well as a bunch of exciting events. The whole year of celebration really kicks off at Brewers Feast, and the team is working hard to bring our ideas to life.

    Check out Grand Ridge’s offering alongside over 100 brews available at Brewers Feast on 23 and 24 February. Book your tickets now.