A most unlikely beer festival success story celebrates its 10th birthday this month — if not its actual 10th event.
The Dunedin Craft Beer and Food Festival started in 2013 and while it missed 2021 due to Covid restrictions the 10th birthday is a real milestone. From humble beginnings, the festival has provided not just a boon to Dunedin but now has spinoffs in Auckland (next March) and Hawke’s Bay, next month.
It’s crazy to think that such a far-reaching beast sprang from something as weird as a law change.
When the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill came into law in 2012, it meant a reliable source of revenue for university student associations was gone, as students were no longer obligated to pay membership fees.
Jason Schroeder was involved in the Otago University Students Association (OUSA) at the time and was (still is) a part of the team that dreamed up the festival as a means of creating a revenue stream.
“The other thing we needed at the time was to find a vehicle to change the public perception of students, and the students association, and to grow stronger relationships with city stakeholders like council and police.”
The events team included Rachel Enright, whose Masters thesis was a case study on the viability of a beer festival in Dunedin.
“It started in a small capacity, around 2000 people and it was only on the concrete pad at Forsyth Barr Stadium, a small number of vendors … small everything,” Schroeder recalls.
They had a token system for buying beer, basically poker chips, which was “horrendous” — forcing huge queues and the weird sight of vendors bringing back buckets of chips to be tallied for their payouts.
“We did not get things right in the first year, but it showed a lot of promise and we got a lot of support from the city, which is why we continued to do it.”
There were concerns about the Student Association running a beer event, with the fear it would be just a massive student piss-up but backing early on from Radio Hauraki and Emerson’s helped legitimise it.
Schroeder reckons it took three years to turn a profit and to be fully accepted from not just the city but brewers across the country.
The festival is now a huge two-day event, held on the field at the Stadium with great music and huge crowds. Its success pulled interest from outside Dunedin.
When Covid hit, those running events at Spark Arena in Auckland, Live Nation, approached OUSA to bring in a beer festival in lieu of cancelled overseas acts. The first one in March 2020 was an outright success.
They were then approached to bring the event to Hawke’s Bay as part of the week-long Food & Wine Classic.
One of the things venue hosts like about the OUSA is that it’s a not-for-profit organisation. While the events are designed to bring in revenue for the OUSA, they are not driven by the same commercial pressures a private operator might face.
“It’s important that we make money and everyone else makes money but at the core of what we do is to try to look after everyone.”