There’s a reason Regional Flavours rises above any other event on the Brisbane food calendar. The organisers have a precise, simple understanding of what makes a great festival: two days of the very best food, accompanied by the very best people talking about it. South Bank on a brace of warm Brisbane winter days does the rest.

Regular presenter and renowned local beer expert (and occasional Broadsheet contributor) Matt Kirkegaard counts it as his event highlight of the year. “To have so many thousands of people across two days with such a good vibe is something not many festivals can do,” he says. “It’s full of small, interesting producers that you just wouldn’t see at a more commercial food festival … you can get up close and personal with your food heroes when they’re in a relaxed state of mind.”

In 2016 Kirkegaard is MC-ing for The Hunting Club, where most of the beer action will be taking place, but after four previous appearances he also knows the festival back to front, so we picked his brains about what to check out in 2016.

Eat-Show-Tell
“Every year there’s a line-up of great chefs wanting to come up to Brisbane and be involved with the Eat-Show-Tell stage, and that’s a testament to the way Regional Flavours has been picked up around the country. This year they’ve got all three MasterChef judges appearing at the one festival. Regional Flavours has a low stall fee because they want small regional exhibitors to come along, which creates a lot of interest for people who love food. When you’ve got that really enthusiastic excited crowd, it translates through to the stages, so all the guests and all the celebrity chefs love coming along because it’s not the usual crowd – they’re really engaged. The demonstrations are what get the biggest crowds.”

Queensland Taste
“I’ve obviously got a vested interest in beer, but Queensland winemakers are really kicking goals. This year the Queensland Taste grove has a bunch of great exhibitors and wineries on show. And, finally, Queensland wine drinkers are getting over their local cringe and appreciating them. There are some terrific wineries up at Stanthorpe and the Granite Belt that have invested in varietals that thrive in the climate up there. There’s a wine tasting on Sunday afternoon, and that should be a great way to find out more about the local drops.”

River Cottage Australia at Epicurious Garden
“I’m really excited about seeing Paul West from River Cottage Australia – he’s one of the most authentic, interesting, passionate foodies I know. It’s never about being a star for him, just the love of food and sustainability. He’s hosting the River Cottage Australia at the Epicurious Garden – an installation garden — and you can go along and see how you can become a backyard farmer and then use your own produce.”

The Producer Showcase
“There are some incredible regional producers this year. They’ve got growers from places like the Scenic Rim and Lockyer Valley coming along with produce so you can stock up on your farm-fresh veges, as well as specialty items like boutique chocolate, or jams and preserves from producers like Rainforest Bounty, or vanilla from Broken Nose Vanilla. There’s just a heap of surprising produce, and you can try stuff you might not find anywhere else, like lamb bacon from Mary Macon. The festival’s a great way for local producers to showcase straight to the public.”

Charming Squire’s one-off Smoked Porter in the Hunting Club
“We’ve got four small local brewers who are doing the beers for The Hunting Club, but I want to mention the Charming Squire in particular. They’ve made a special one-off beer. It’s a smoked porter, which is something that Rob Freshwater, their brewer, and I came up with. We were kicking around ideas for things that will work with food. The beer’s not too rich but has this wonderful light smoked quality that works really well with the barbequed food. Beef and lamb are obviously the hero ingredients at The Hunting Club, so it’s perfect.”

Regional Flavours takes over South Bank this weekend July 16-17.