Beer Festival in Wine Country
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.