Back in May I took off work a little early and jumped on a train to Sydney with one goal: eat many burgers and drink as many different boutique beers as possible. The draw card was the Great Australasian Beer Spectapular (GABS), Australia’s biggest beer festival (probably), at which I would volunteer and then attend. I then built a weekend around this.

After checking in to the YHA Railway Square I made a beeline over the tracks to Keg and Brew (in Surry Hills), which happened to have a pretty good happy hour going on. I had their own Pale Ale (brewed by Rocks Brewing) and then a gose beer by Two Birds.

Keg n Brew Pub Surry Hills Sydney Moose head

The place was absolutely pumping. Clearly a hit with the locals who had just knocked off work and loved a craft beer. The pub had an old English feel to it with a central, timber bar, stools, and hanging glassware obstructing the view of the bartenders. Plenty of taps with plenty of local beers. My kind of place.

Just a couple of blocks away is Chur Burger. Chur wasn’t originally part of the plan, but I have always wanted to try their burgers and since I was close, I figured it could be my appetiser. It’s a reasonably small place but with seating at different heights, it didn’t feel crowded, even with every seat filled. I kept it simple with an original beef with pickles and mustard (the best kind of original). I left the murals behind and continued my trail through the city.

Chur burger Sydney

It’s about a 15 minute walk to Down N’ Out from Chur, which was good because I could start burning off the burgers immediately, but it also helped to whet my appetite again. Having checked beef off the list already tonight, it was time for chick’n.

Between the two soft buns was a perfectly crispy, somewhat spicy chicken slab with lettuce and ranch. It’s so simple, yet what else does it need? Nothing. These boys make no intention of hiding their love of America’s In’N’Out Burger and I have no problem with that. The menu is simple (plus a weekly special) and they nail it – just like In’N’Out do.

Down'n'Out Burger Sydney CBD

Feeling thoroughly satisfied with a full belly I walked down to Darling Harbour to see the Vivid Sydney showpiece: a fountain and light show called Magicians of the Mist. I’d seen a lot of Facebook ads for this show and my initial response was that I think it was a little oversold. But on reflection, I think I might just not have had the best vantage point.

It was 10 minutes of dancing fountains (think Bellagio-style) to intense music with colourful lasers being projected onto the mist the fountains create. It’s a really cool concept (one that Disney’s California Adventure is famous for) but I definitely didn’t get the full impact of the projections from where I was standing.

Vivid Sydney Magicians of the Mist light and fountain show Darling Harbour

After the show, I hightailed it out to Newtown, where I was meeting a couple of friends for drinks. Grifter Brewing – a brewery from literally around the corner – was having a tap takeover so it was a perfect spot to try out some new ales. Of particular note was a watermelon pilsner – a beer I thought would be weird and I would hate, but it was surprisingly enjoyable. There were plenty of others but that’s not really important.

Saturday – GABS Beer Festival

Saturday was a big, big day. It started pretty slowly, as it was a late night in Newtown. But after getting sufficiently refreshed in the morning, I explored the hostel a bit (the YHA Railway Square), and set out for coffee. The YHA is located on the Ultimo side of Central, and since I’ve never really explored the area I thought this would be a perfect opportunity.

I bought some supplies from a supermarket and found a tiny coffee shop that was open (rare for weekends in Sydney). The place was called Boutiq. It had a small kitchen and small sitting area with only 4 stools, but the large window opening out to the street told me most of their coffees are sold on the run.

Boutiq coffee shop ultimo sydney

The coffee was delicious, and the bircher muesli was good too, and I noticed that pretty well everything in the store was a very reasonable price. Also surprising for Sydney.

I made it back to the station to get my 35-minute train out to Olympic Park to start my volunteer shift at GABS. Having volunteered previously I knew what I was in for. About 5 or 6 hours of filling tiny 85ml sampler cups from 2-litre growlers with awkwardly tiny handles. I’m sure there’s a better way but we haven’t found it yet.

Me at GABS volunteering

I was helping out at the food demonstration stage, which is really fun because not only do we get to hand out free beer paddles to all those who come and watch, we also get to do so while watching funny people cook, talk about the beers, and make sausage innuendo (shout out to Chrissie’s Cuts). At the end, we can also help ourselves to a few sneaky samples, which helps in deciding which beers to try later on.

Rows of paddle samplers ready to hand out at GABS
That’s a paddlin’

At around 5 the work had dried up and we were relieved of duty. One large box of chips from Oporto later and we were back in there, this time as punters.

Welcome to GABS Beer Festival sydney

I won’t bore you with the details of every beer I sampled, but suffice to say there were plenty I hadn’t tried before, some very interesting flavour combinations, one with Berocca added, a few freebies, a leaf catcher box competition (I won a furry Fat Yak hat that I’ll probably never wear), and surprisingly, there was even one new style I hadn’t had before.

Beer Paddle samples at GABS Beer Festival Sydney
Look at those colours!

I know some of you will ask so my top picks for the night were Mismatch Brewing’s Hazed and Confused, Akasha’s Lupulin Fog (both New England IPAs), and the Fruit Tingle Kettle Sour by Merchant Brewing.

After a late night, an excellent sleep, and a slow morning, I checked out of the YHA and went to find some coffee. Just on the other side of Central Station at the outskirts of Surry Hills is Single O, a small cafe with chairs overflowing onto the sidewalk. It was a pleasant morning so I was glad to be sitting outside with my coffee, watching the world go by.

Single O Coffee Surry Hills Sydney

I walked about 15 minutes through the townhouses and autumn leaves of Surry Hills to the Clock Tower. I sat in the park on the bench and read my book for about an hour. It’s very rare I have the opportunity to do this so I was grateful for the time out.

I had this opportunity was because I was aiming to have lunch at Bare Grill on Bourke, but they didn’t open for another hour. Bare Grill is renowned for their burgers and I had seen many videos of melted raclette cheese being scraped onto the burger lover’s burg moments before eating, which is their signature dish.

The Epic burger at Bare Grill on Bourke Surry Hills Sydney

I opted not for the raclette, though, and instead ordered what was definitely on the epic end of the “burgers I’ve ever had” scale.  Thick patty, bacon, onion rings, hash brown, and signature mayonnaise. Just delicious.

That burger marked the end of my weekend. I jumped on a train and headed north to home, belly full of burgers and beer, head fully satisfied with a successful weekend.

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