Archive for the ‘festival’ Category
Now that a couple of weeks have passed by since the inaugural Vancouver Craft Beer Week has finished, there’s been time to get feedback in various shapes and forms. Given that we sold out most of our events, that the mayor officially proclaimed Vancouver Craft Beer Week and came to celebrate the festival kickoff with us, and that the mainstream media gave VCBW some good coverage, one could deem it a success for craft beer. Nevertheless, VCBW did not work for some. I want to address a few of the issues that have come to my attention, especially some myths and misconceptions that result in lost opportunities.
First off, I want to point out this was the first such festival for Vancouver; in fact, for Canada. You never get everything right on the first go, but you hope to be in the ballpark (see above). In getting third parties on board, it also didn’t help that we had the Olympics, the Playhouse International Wine Festival, Dine Out Vancouver, and the playoffs as a significant combined distraction. Under the circumstances, one may have to forego the ideal and opt for what is expedient. Next time around, we hope parties will get involved early enough so that we can achieve the ideal for the 2011 VCBW.
At the risk of sounding immodest, Vancouver Craft Beer Week is a big deal. I just did a search for “Vancouver Craft Beer Week” on Google and it came back with 20,600 results. Between Vimeo and YouTube, the VCBW ‘I am a Canadian Craft Brewer’ promotional video has been viewed almost 2,000 times since April 21. There are over 825 followers on twitter and almost 1,400 Facebook fans. Then there are the mentions in the media… (Look for extra coverage on The Peak 100.5 FM and in the WestEnder, especially the upcoming edition on May 6.) All this has really only come together in the past month!
I would say that this rapid build-up of support is due to the fact that Vancouver Craft Beer Week is a simply an expression of the growing craft beer culture in British Columbia, as demonstrated by increasing craft beer sales. And for the first time, it brings brewers, the hospitality industry, and the public together in the largest, public demonstration of what we have in our own backyard.
The heightened publicity does not just benefit businesses directly involved in VCBW. There is a multiplier effect that extends to others, as well. For example, I know that people are coming to Vancouver from Austin, Phoenix, and Los Angeles specifically to attend this event. Given that it overlaps with Seattle Beer Week, brews travellers will be motivated to “kill two birds with one stone” and come here to spend their money. The Mayor’s Office recognized this value, which is why they have officially proclaimed May 10-16 as Vancouver Craft Beer Week. Seattle’s mayor has done the same.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about how what is considered to be the working man’s beer is anything but. Ironically, the worker is persuaded through multi-million dollar marketing campaigns that guzzling a multinational corporation’s industrial lager is more appropriate than buying from a local small business, a style of ale with a history pre-dating lagers by centuries. Craft beer is somehow “fancy,” even though a barley wine, bitter, or brown ale is still made, like lager, with water, barley, hops, and yeast.
It is actually quite easy to shatter this myth if you take the trouble to meet some of your local brewers. The best place to meet them is in brewpubs because they often work within plain sight and even hang out at the bar to eat or have a beer after work. However, if you happen to be shy or introverted, here’s a video produced for Vancouver Craft Beer Week to introduce you to the down-to-earth folks known as Canadian craft brewers:
As you can see, there’s nothing fancy about what our craft brewers do. They just make a good honest brew that doesn’t have to have micro-bubbles, be cold certified, filtered five times, called something it isn’t, or served with a lime in order to sucker you into drinking it. There are more flavours in beer than honey and lime waiting to be experienced. Meet a craft brewer, and they will be happy to show you the way.
You may be surprised to learn that it takes a lot of good beer to make a fine wine. That might explain why Penticton’s Cannery Brewing sells more beer in Naramata than all of Alberta and why Silverado Brewing operates a burgeoning brewpub on the grounds of a winery in Napa. It may also explain why the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale in Penticton has no problem still selling out in its fourteenth year.
This year was the first time I attended the OFOA. I had heard the festival was starting to get on the rowdy side in recent years (from the perspective of older beer geeks like myself). My suspicions were aroused when a half-dozen twenty-something males in the lineup in front of me started whooping and hollering even before the venue doors had opened! They were not already drunk. I guess the OFOA must be their biggest event of the year — combine drinking and two-dimensional food (pizza) with skirt-chasing and brawling et voilà, Christmas in April.
I expected, therefore, to see plenty of young bucks drinking themselves into alcohol-induced belligerency, rather than taking the time to learn about and appreciate the beer. However, festival organizers seemed to have taken note of the downward trend and made some changes. Tickets were reduced by 1,000 for each of the festival’s two days, the cost was increased, and sales were strictly limited to before the event. It was also suggested that the music, for the most part, was chosen to coax a more mellow mood than feed the fire. These measures and vigilant security seemed to effectively keep a lid on things. A number of vendors expressed to me a resulting improvement.
On the tasting side, the majority of the festival was devoted to craft beer. There were 17 microbreweries directly represented, including four Washington breweries; two importers poured five beers from four foreign craft breweries; two mass-market beers squeaked in over the bar; and a smattering of alcopops and a macro-cider were there for the females who think they don’t like beer and will continue to think so until their menfolk graduate from drinking macro lager as their everyday beer.
Molson Canadian managed to weasel in a pseudo presence at the Boston Pizza booth, unofficial sponsor of unhealthy eating and, by extension, unhealthy drinking. Nevertheless, the food offering was actually better than the Washington Cask Beer Festival. The Barking Parrot took it for best value in my books. (How can you beat a cheeseburger for $1.00?) The Kettle Valley Station Pub offered a decent Louisiana Chicken Burger for $2.00. However, the best eating was easily from Salty’s Beach House — Thai Mini Meatballs, Scallops Remoulade, and fresh-shucked oysters. How civilized! The majority of festivalgoers seemed to agree too as Salty’s won the award for best food.
While there were seven hours on Saturday to make your way through the 60-odd beers worth trying; between drinking, chatting with brewers & fellow CAMRA members, eating, and taking in some of the entertainment, I didn’t manage tasting them all. Mind you, I’d had a number already. Things especially slowed down later in the day when the crowd got much thicker and lineups were ten deep in places. I mostly concentrated on trying what was new to me and found myself quite satisfied by the end.
The festival finale was the announcement of the Industry and People’s Choice awards. The people chose Crannóg’s Back Hand of God Stout as the festival’s best beer. A panel of judges, including my editor at Northwest Brewing News, Alan Moen, selected Pyramid Apricot Ale as the best macro beer, while Shuswap Lake’s (aka Barley Station) Sam McGuire’s Pale Ale was their choice for best micro beer. And that’s what I would call a successful conclusion.
Speaking of culinary tourism, Spinnakers hosted their inaugural cask festival on March 14 from noon to 5:00pm. As they’ve been tapping a different cask every weekday since December, it was only a matter of time before they would have a festival. I got word that the planning was underway when two of their employees attended the X-mas X-treme Caskival at Dix on December 6 to take notes.
The timing of Spinnakers’ cask festival was somewhat unfortunate in that it coincided with Just Here for the Beer’s Wine & Beer Festival at the Plaza 500 Hotel in Vancouver. Forced to make a choice, I selected Real Ale and an excuse to get out of town. Even with a high chance of rain, a day spent indoors imbibing cask-conditioned ale from some of BC’s top breweries, in the company of brewers and the craft beer cognoscenti, is time well spent.
The event was held upstairs in Spinnakers’ pub, which meant a limited number of tickets were available. Demand seems to have greatly exceeded supply as they sold out rapidly. Perhaps for the next one they will consider a larger venue. However, I doubt they will close off the downstairs dining room as I’m sure they make a lot more money from regular diners than drinkers.
Nineteen beers were featured, so there was adequate space to stage the casks around the room. The lineup was:
- BigRidge Wrath of Khan I.P.A
- Canoe Habit Espresso Stout
- Central City Empire IPA
- Dix Ol’ 66 IPA
- Driftwood Brother Bart’s Belgian Brown
- Fat Cat Bunny’s Black and Tan
- Granville Island Nut Brown Ale, Ginger Beer
- Lighthouse Riptide Pale Ale
- Longwood Old School ESB
- R&B Dark Star Oatmeal Stout
- Phillips IPA with Cascade or Centennial hops
- Spinnakers Black Velvet, Saison
- Storm Cider
- Swans Pod Porter
- Taylor’s Crossing Mad Scow Stout
- Whistler Brewhouse Bear Arse Barleywine
- Yaletown Mélange à Trois Oud Bruin
In comparison to the more freestyle nature seen at Dix Caskivals, these beers were fairly indicative of their respective styles. A little bit of experimentation was seen with Canoe’s stout, Granville Island’s Ginger Beer, Spinnakers’ Black Velvet, and Swans’ porter, but nothing as eccentric as Dave Varga’s Masala Pale Ale or Tariq Khan’s Chipotle Cream Ale that they brewed for Caskival. Canoe Habit Espresso Stout is a collaboration with a Victoria coffee roaster. I like both beverages; even better together! Granville Island Ginger Beer appeals to all those ginger lovers with plenty of Hawaiian ginger to spice things up — great food pairing beer. Spinnakers’ Black Velvet was a blend of Irish stout and sparkling white wine. This was my first taste of the fest and I found it tasty, light, and refreshing — somewhat reminiscent of Unibroue Chambly Noire. Swans Pod Porter was conditioned with organic Madagascar vanilla pods, giving it a nicely enhanced vanilla flavour that is a major contrast to Granville Island’s over-the-top, cloying Winter Ale. Lovers of the latter should compare the two in a side-by-side tasting.
Although Phillips did not bring a cask, they did do something out of the ordinary that I found most welcome, despite some people’s grumblings — they served their draught IPA through two randalls, one containing Cascade hops, the other Centennial. Basically, they were dry-hopping the IPA even more on the fly. Delicious!
This was the first opportunity I had to try the mysterious Lighthouse Riptide Pale Ale. It’s their first new beer in three years and I must say that it’s about time! Offering seasonal beers is a basic practice for improving marketing: at the very least, you have more to say to the public to get their attention. Naturally, I was curious to find out more about the Riptide — how is it different from all the other pale ales out there; what malt or hops did they use, etc. Unfortunately, they won’t tell me anything beyond their generic marketese: ‘choicest imported malts, mated with a unique hop blend…’ Doesn’t everyone say that? Actually, no. If you look at the festival programme, virtually all of the other brewers talk about the specific ingredients they used for their beer. No big trade secret. Without specific measurements and knowing the particular brewing techniques, it is highly unlikely a brewer will be able to exactly match another’s beer. There are too many variables. I find the secrecy rather silly. Riptide doesn’t have a je ne sais quoi that makes it truly unique. It’s just another pale ale aiming for broad drinkability.
Five hours of drinking means that you need to have something to eat. Spinnakers is a good place to be hungry. I ordered their pulled pork nachos and Highland Beef Burger. There was no need for dinner after! Nevertheless, as a lagniappe, complimentary handmade white chocolate saison truffles were served to sweeten the day’s experience.
I always find these festivals come to a reluctant end. There’s never enough time to talk in a lot of detail to all of the brewers and your craft beer comrades and still be able to taste all of the beers. Fortunately, if you wanted to stay around, Spinnakers honoured purchased tasting tickets and you could order pints of any of the remaining casks. I had a ferry to catch, so I made a hasty departure with my travelling companions, Spinnakers Barley Wine and India Pale Ale malt vinegars for souvenirs.
I’m not actually looking forward to St. Patrick’s Day and that’s nothing against the Irish or St. Patrick. I think many of our holidays and festivals have been taken over by consumerism where the primary rituals now seem to revolve around spending on things instead of just spending time with people, enjoying food and drink in their company. If you think St. Patrick’s Day is about dressing in green, eating green food, and drinking lots of green beer, then you’ve either lost, or been misled about, the meaning of the occasion.
While I’ve done my share of quaffing pints of Guinness on March 17, I guess I’m getting tired of crowded faux Irish pubs packed to the rafters, stinking of spilled beer, struggling to get service from stressed staff. Instead, I’ll probably just make a fine Irish stew and enjoy it at home, toasting St. Pat and the people of Eire with a pint of stout. Maybe I’m getting old.
One of Vancouver’s best beer tasting events is on tomorrow at Dix BBQ & Brewery. This is an annual event held every December to showcase a variety of strong ales that highlight the seasonality of beer. In the colder weather, you might be inclined to reach for a warming beer, as opposed to a refreshing beer that you would seek in summer.
Typical winter warmers are barley wines, Belgian strong ales, bocks, English strong ales, imperial stouts, Scotch ales, and spiced ales. Here’s this year’s lineup:
Some of the brewers like to experiment a little, so you often get a one-off beer that you may never ever taste again. Many of the brewers also attend the event, which is a good opportunity to get to know your local brewer. In addition to the full food menu at Dix, there will be a special open-faced turkey sandwich with stuffing and gravy.
For some of the best beer in the province, make your way down to:
Dix Barbecue & Brewery
871 Beatty Street, Vancouver
Saturday, December 6, 2008, noon – 5:00pm
Cost: $20 entry ($10 CAMRA members); $1.00 per 4oz sample
Vancouver’s upcoming Hopscotch Festival will be the 12th year it showcases Scotch, whisky, and beer. Unfortunately, unlike Victoria, the city continues to struggle in developing a festival that highlights a diversity of quality craft beer.
Part of the problem seems to be a money issue in that the craft brewers don’t have the marketing dollars the macros do to participate in these events. Therefore, organizers default to a beer lineup that would be familiar to the average mass-market beer consumer. In this case, Big Rock, Granville Island, Lighthouse, Molson (Rickard’s), Okanagan Spring, Pacific Western Brewing, Red Truck, Sleeman, Tree, and Unibroue. Lighthouse, Red Truck, Tree, and Unibroue are for the “more adventurous” punters, largely because they are less well-known and not because they are particularly challenging to drink.
The “exotic” beers are supplied by the importers, many of whom are wine agents with a token beer or two in their portfolio: Anchor, Dos Equis, Grolsch, Kirin, Krusovice, Kulmbacher, Palm, Pilsner Urquell, and Tiger. Most of these beers, however, are macro lagers in their respective countries that are available in the majority of liquor stores here. Ho hum.
The Autumn Brewmaster’s Festival at the Plaza of Nations was a step in the right direction; regretably, it expired. Now, the best that Vancouver can do is the cask ale festivals at Dix BBQ & Brewing and Central City in Surrey. Otherwise, when it comes to beer, you’ll find more interesting offerings at The Alibi Room, the Irish Heather, Six Acres or buying your own at Brewery Creek, Firefly, or Viti.
Hopefully, some day, we’ll have a respectable beer festival in Vancouver that doesn’t have mass-market brands (they already get plenty of exposure in the media) or needs to disguise the thinness of its offerings with alcopops and wine. It shouldn’t be a carbon copy of the GCBF either. I think Victoria has earned the right to its current format. Vancouver ought to come up with something else that distinguishes itself from others so as to present us with a greater opportunity for celebrating craft beer, not competing with others.
Postscript: in the fall of 2009, I gathered a team of friends & acquaintances to plan a “beer week” festival, after coming across San Francisco Beer Week on the Web. The following year, we hosted Vancouver Craft Beer Week, Canada’s first “beer week” festival. The City of Vancouver officially proclaimed May 10-16, “Vancouver Craft Beer Week”. Mayor Gregor Robertson opened the festival by tapping the first cask of VCBW Collaboration Ale at the Alibi Room.
The Victoria Times Colonist reported yesterday on an apparent scam that appears to have surfaced in connection with the Great Canadian Beer Festival.
A non-brewer participant with a booth at the festival was offering a free trip to Las Vegas for anyone willing to fill out a ballot with their name, address, and phone number. Those who entered the contest are now getting calls to say they’ve won a four-day cruise from Orlando. However, they are being asked for their credit card information to make a $300 per person deposit to hold hotel rooms in their name.
Festival Chairman, Gerry Hieter said, “I’m really concerned someone’s going to get scammed and give them their money.”
“There’s absolutely no way this is ever going to happen again,” Hieter said. “We might just eliminate all vendors from future festivals for exactly that reason. We don’t need them anyway.”