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Posts Tagged ‘Great Canadian Beer Festival

A Great Canadian Long Weekend on the Victoria Ale Trail

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Poster for The Great Canadian Beer Festival 2017.

Most of the 3.6 million annual overnight visitors to Victoria – city of my birth and capital of the province of British Columbia – are drawn to its charming island setting, British colonial character, mild climate, and outdoor activities. Each time I visit Suzhou’s sister city, however, I rarely find time to stroll the lush grounds of Butchart Gardens, explore the hidden alleys of Canada’s oldest Chinatown, or join a waterborne whale watching adventure. It’s the craft beer I come for.

One of my favourite times to enjoy Victoria’s fermented delights is in the second week of September when the Royal Athletic Park plays host to the Great Canadian Beer Festival (GCBF). More than 60 breweries participate, attracting approximately 8,000 people. With so many brewers and craft beer enthusiasts gathered in a city of only 86,000 residents, you can feel the excitement.

This year was special. It was July 11, 1992, when the forerunner to Canada’s longest-running beer festival was held at George Pearkes Arena with eight participating breweries. Twenty-five years later, the GCBF has grown substantially from its humble origins and survived many challenges. Its founding organizers continue to serve as directors of the festival society. Needless to say, there was no way that I would miss the opportunity to celebrate this remarkable achievement. Read the rest of this entry »

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BC Liquor Law Reform Post-Election: Where Do We Go From Here?

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by WanderingPaddy

The election hangover has long past. British Columbians who were excited about the possibility of the NDP taking charge and following through on their promise to reform our provincial liquor laws “one practical step at a time”, have come to grips with the reality that we have four more years ahead of us with the Liberals steering the political ship. Hopefully, not four more years of business as usual.

The provincial Liberals have made some positive changes to our liquor laws and policies over the past few years, but have not “overhauled” them as they claimed in a February press release. The Liberal approach has been haphazard, at best, and reactionary, described by the NDP as a “piecemeal approach to liquor policy,”not part of a systematic, comprehensive plan.

The NDP had made it loud and clear, both before and during the election, that they were committed to a full review of current BC liquor laws. This would have included a comprehensive consultation with the BC liquor industry to work out an effective strategy to modernize our liquor policies, which even the Liberals have described as archaic. They have, to this point, also been very open to listening to consumers. I have had meetings with several NDP MLAs where we discussed issues that negatively impact the craft beer-drinking public.

We will never know if the NDP would have been able to keep that election promise. But my sense is that the commitment is real, and that they are ready to continue to push the Liberals from the opposition side of the BC Legislature to start a full review.

So where do we go from here?
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Craft Beer Culinary Tour Highlights Gastown

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Rogue Wetbar beer samples & food pairings.

Whenever I plan to visit a new city, if it isn’t in Saudi Arabia, I’m checking out the local craft beer scene online ahead of time  to ensure I enjoy some of the local flavour. I know I’m not alone in that regard because If you visit Rate Beer and Beer Advocate, you’ll notice each has a section set up for the brews traveller. And with the rapid growth of craft brewing in North America, beer tourism is also on the rise.

Beer festivals, like the Great Canadian Beer Festival in Victoria and the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale in Pentiction, are obvious tourism boosts to those cities. Penticton, however, isn’t known as a beer town. Victoria, on the other hand, is well-regarded in craft beer drinker circles for its high per capita number of breweries, pubs, and brewpubs. The fact that I don’t see much of Victoria outside of those when I visit is a testament to the quality experience our provincial capital offers.

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Why Vancouver Craft Beer Week?

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Vancouver Craft Beer Week logoVancouver has experienced varying degrees of success with its beer festivals, but hasn’t found its groove to the degree that Victoria has with the Great Canadian Beer Festival or even Penticton with the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale. Having heard this topic brought up on a number of occasions over the past couple of years and the inevitable lamentations that followed, I was determined to do something about it.

The main challenge with putting on an event similar to the aforementioned, though, is the money required to stage it. It seems that those with the passion don’t have the money and those with the money either don’t have the passion or don’t have the confidence in you pulling it off if you haven’t already proven yourself. If passion for craft beer and money were hand-in-hand in Vancouver, then we wouldn’t be in this Catch-22 predicament.

Nevertheless, staging a large event on a single day without a reputation from a positive track record is a risky venture. There is a lot riding on just a few hours. The GCBF and OFOA got to where they are today by lots of hard work, building them up over more than a decade from smaller beginnings. Would we really have to wait that long before Vancouver finally has itself a beer festival worthy of its status as the largest metropolis in Western Canada? Could we wait that long?

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Moving Mountains

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Sometimes, changing a culture feels like trying to move a mountain. You put all your strength into it and it doesn’t budge. Of course, being that lone wacko on the fringe is like battling windmills with a toothbrush, you can easily be dismissed. Having acquaintances with earth moving equipment, though, begins to lessen the odds.

Fun at the Fest-of-Ale

Modelling beerwear at the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale, Penticton - April 4, 2009.

In BC’s craft beer scene, we witnessed a slight tremor in the mountain in 2009. Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub inaugurated their first cask ale festival on March 14, which quickly sold out. They followed with another fest on November 21. Both days of Penticton’s Okanagan Fest-of-Ale on April 3 & 4 were completely subscribed. Summer Caskival at Dix Barbecue and Brewery in Vancouver garnered a full house. The Great Canadian Beer Festival always sees full attendance on both days. CAMRA Vancouver’s Oktoberfest celebration at the Granville Island Tap Room sold out. X-mas X-treme at Dix on December 5 had to close its doors less than two hours into the event because of reaching capacity. Now we find that the third annual Feast of Five Firkins at Vancouver’s The Whip Restaurant & Gallery sold out in a day!

This can be a bit of a problem for CAMRA members and their circle who have supported many of these events from the beginning. Venues are at capacity when you visit, or events are sold out with even a day’s delay. What’s a poor beer aficionado to do? Well, it indicates an expansion of capacity is necessary. Events may have to grow or become more frequent. More establishments will have to be persuaded to part with their slavish 10 taps of crap and begin offering a rotating selection from other parts of the beer spectrum. Pioneers have to venture out to tame the frontier, bringing living colour to the glasses of macro-lagerdom.

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The Importance of Imports

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Some of the offerings at Brewery Creek Liquor Store in Vancouver (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

Some of the offerings at Brewery Creek Liquor Store in Vancouver (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

While I’m a strong proponent of “thinking global and drinking local,” Alan Moen makes an interesting point in the Oct/Nov 2008 issue of Northwest Brewing News: that without access to foreign brews, our own beer suffers. I have to agree.

We can see that fact with the emergence of craft brewing in BC in the mid-eighties. If you ask the pioneers why they started brewing, it’s typically because they wanted access to European ales that were unavailable here. Why was Fogg ‘N Suds so popular? Because, suddenly, a whole palette of beer was available when only homogenized macro lager was sold before. Those who had emigrated from, or travelled to, Europe could now satisfy their thirst for flavour.

When I returned from a decade’s absence in Hong Kong and San Francisco, I was surprised to see a decline in the availability of imported beer. The venerable Fogg ‘N Suds was closing restaurants and cutting back on their beer offerings. There seemed to be a stagnation in the local brewing scene. Coincidence?

Within the last 18 months, however, the import side has picked up due to the efforts of beer importers AFIC Group, Beerthirst, and Bravo Beer in conjunction with private beer & wine stores, such as Brewery Creek, Firefly, and Viti. The arrival of Brooklyn Lager seemed to be a catalyst that sparked a swell in imports, giving us the likes of Anderson Valley, Bear Republic, Binchoise, de Blaugies, Bosteels, Dogfish Head, Dupont, Flying Dog, Gordon Biersch, Green Flash, Hook Norton, Lost Coast, Mill Street, Moylan’s, North Coast, Oud Beersel, Pike, Pyramid, Rogue, and Van Steenberge, to name just a few.

In the meantime, the availability and variety of cask ale in Vancouver has been increasing. Dix and The Whip have been offering weekly casks. Now the new Irish Heather offers a cask daily, a first in Vancouver. We’ll see if Victoria catches up as the British brewing tradition is their trademark. We may see Spinnakers start pushing this in 2009.

We’ve also seen brewery expansions, either with capacity increases or moves into new facilities. This has been the case for Cannery, Central City, Dead Frog, Fernie, Howe Sound, Mt. Begbie, Phillips, and R & B. Taylor’s Crossing will be adding new capacity to meet the growing demand for the Mark James Group’s Red Truck Ale and Lager until they complete a dedicated production brewery for those two products on Terminal Avenue in Vancouver.

Consequently, we are also seeing the emergence of new beers. Howe Sound is exploring an Imperial IPA and and Imperial Stout, both of which were consumer tested at this Great Canadian Beer Festival. Fernie Brewing successfully released a Huckleberry wheat beer as a summer seasonal for the first time this year, while Phillips came out with a blackberry wheat in support of local farmland. Granville Island launched two new Limited Release beers—a Witbier and a Belgian-style blonde ale—and will drop their upcoming Merry Monks Doppelbock and Scotch Ale for two new styles. Yaletown Brewing’s Iain Hill will release an Oud Bruin next month.

Then there’s Driftwood Brewing, a completely new brewery in Victoria that aims to carve out a special niche. According to brewmaster, Jason Meyer, they plan on “providing an eclectic mix of high quality brews with a continuously changing selection and a decidedly Belgian slant. Expect to see everything from styles familiar to Northwest beer lovers (we love our “C” hops as much as anyone) to wild- and brettanomyces-fermented, wood-aged, sour mash, and other adventures in flavour.”

The hop shortage has also spurred innovation by forcing some brewers to come up with ways to maintain the flavour profile of their recipes or brew styles that use less hops. Taylor’s Crossing, for example, will focus their remaining seasonals on either unique flavours produced from yeast or from different adjuncts.

It’s an exciting time for brewers and beer drinkers in B.C. We just need to work on the government to remove some of the Byzantine barriers that prevent us from achieving what Belgium, Oregon, and Washington have.

GCBF Cruise Scam

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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.”

Written by BCbrews

September 20, 2008 at 2:31 pm