Photo: Laurence Smith/Fairfax NZ

I have to admit, I woke on Saturday with dread in my heart. It was the New Zealand Beer Festival day and despite all my positive thinking and words of encouragement, I’d realised the night before that ten thousand people had bought tickets to the festival. I knew there isn’t ten thousand beer geeks in Auckland. I remembered last year. I’d seen this year’s advertising, which stressed the music and dressing up. I worried.

I needn’t have. The New Zealand Beer Festival was lovely, pure and simple. Sure, it wasn’t without it’s faults, but it was such a vast improvement on last year, it’s hard to tell if it was run by the same people.

The good:
– the crowd – a mix of young, old, male, female, bogan, geek and everything in between. It was great to see a lot of couples there, trying out beers together or with the missus trying the ciders on show. I won’t even begrudge that – it gave the festival a less lager lout atmosphere. The older people who were there were also a calming influence.
– the venue – the Cloud is the most amazing space to have a beer festival. The beer stands were inside the Cloud, a large, light airy building, while the music stage and food carts outside. Having the stage outside drew many of the more party types outside, leaving people who’d rather chat able to do so inside.
– the range of beers – there were more craft beers than you could shake a stick at, with mike’s, Mata, Yeastie Boys, Three Boys, Tuatara, and many more. Several beers I hadn’t tried before and some treats were served on handpump, like Yeastie Boy’s Digital IPA.
– location – close to most public transport, the Cloud also had the advantage that when you’d finished with the festival, you could cruise into town to relax over a more leisurely pint at O’Carrolls.

The not-so-good:
– the lack of signage – this was a problem throughout the festival, from the beginning, when it wasn’t clear which door you should enter with which ticket, to the stands, where it was difficult to see which beers were available and what ABV they were.
– lack of info – this is a really geeky comment, but it would’ve been nice if a full list of beers was available beforehand, or at the venue, so that it was possible to plan what to drink a little better. Also, just general information about the venue itself and what was available where.

But these are all minor niggles, nothing that distracted from the fact it was a lovely, relaxed day out. My only serious complaint was the lack of water – at the door they were taking water off people and once inside, it was in fairly short supply. Or maybe I missed it?

I’m no longer dreading the return of the New Zealand Beer Festival, in fact I’m thoroughly looking forward to next year. From what what I heard following the festival, I’m sure I’m not alone in this opinion. But while we wait – why not partake in The Auckland Hop?